School Exams

There is, for obvious interest, quite a bit of interest in the subject of subjects, or, rather, in the subject of examinations on those subjects. The newspapers recently reported that Central Advisory Board of Education has recommended re-introduction of the class X exams. Another subject the article talks about is the policy of student detention based on exam results.

This brings us to a basic question … what is the purpose of exams? While there is definitely a need within the education system to assess achievement of learning objectives, the problem begins when exams are seen as a mechanism to weed out students who may not meet the criterion of meeting learning objectives. If the intent is to ensure that students learn the things they are supposed to, would studying the same thing again help a student understand better than the first time? This is akin to repeating something in the hope that just by repeating it, the other person will understand it. If the student didnt understand it the first time, isnt it more than likely that he wont understand the next time either?

Instead of having the student go through the entire year, it would be more helpful for the student if the focus was to be on topics the student was facing difficulty in understanding. A quick look at the answer sheet for the exam will give the answer. This, though, wont scale without the use of technology to support this, and today, we have the technology to move assessment in this direction.

Another aspect is to find out what we are testing. Are we testing memory of the subject, or are we testing understanding? If we are trying to assess achievement of learning objectives, we need to focus on understanding. This means the pattern of testing needs to change towards application of concepts from simple recitation of concepts, and we, as a nation, probably need an examination/assessment policy to complement the education and learning frameworks in the country.

What Do Marks Measure?

We are told that marks (or grades) and qualifications are signals which serve to tell prospective employers about the worthiness of candidates for jobs … this as per classical economic theory. However, reading this article makes one think … what are marks measuring in the contemporary examination system in India?

There are a few possible things one could deduce from here:

  1. Children graduating schools are made up of different stuff, and are extremely bright.
  2. The University folks have lost it.
  3. The exam system is not exactly measuring earning.

Back when we were in school (this is another millenium, remember!) getting 80% in English meant you were really, really good at the subject. Mere mortals managed anything in the low to mid-70s, with some folks managing the 60s. Today, we are seeing a cut-off of 100% for Computer Science courses. If this is based on PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics), then one can assume that the kids are graduating school with exceptional understanding of the subjects. However, by the time these kids graduate, we find that corporates struggle to meet their hiring numbers. On the other hand, scoring 90s in English today should mean the kids should have an exceptional grasp of the language, but that isnt borne by observation.

Personally, I believe that the exam system is barking up the wrong tree (for biologists), or climbing up the wrong pole (for the rest of us). Marks dont seem to be measuring learning, though I dont know what they are measuring. To get a real understanding, exams need to test the kids, not on straight application of formulae, but to ask questions two or three steps removed from the data. And this isnt quite difficult to do.

Virtual Education

Over a period of time, I have written about how virtual education can be used to address some of the problems facing education today, namely, shortage of good faculty, and the high cost of getting high-quality education to a large number of students. Few days back (which is when I had made a note to write this, but didnt quite get round to it, maybe because of the New Year holidays, but then, that would be just an excuse) I read about virtual courses offered by IITs being attended by students from other colleges (please help with a link if you could find … have been searching, but not to much avail). In this, the college from which the participating students come from decides whether they want to give credit to students for the courses they attend virtually, but if they do, then this is a step in the direction I have written about. For the participating colleges, there is, of course, the additional aspect of building the infrastructure to support the learning around these courses, in the form of labs, Q&A sessions, tests, and so on, but there is a benefit too. This would arise in the form of the content being made available to students, around which the learning then takes place.

Taking this one step further, is the possibility of building Centres of Excellence, hosted by one or two colleges, and have courses around these topics being delivered virtually by Professors from these colleges. For instance, these centres could be like Material Science, Thermodynamics, Engines and Turbo-Machines, Operations Research, and so on. Based on mutual agreement, specific colleges could be identified as CoEs for each of these, and courses delivered on these areas by Professors from these colleges, with students participating from all participating colleges. This would give the benefit of standard, high-quality education being delivered to students across the country, without necessarily replicating faculty skills at multiple locations, and enhance access as well as address cost issues.

From here, the individual colleges could take over, in supporting the learning process around these courses. This would be in the form of Q&A, homework assignments, labs, case studies, projects, exams, and facilitating cross faculty-student collaboration. In this way, the participating colleges get access to world-class content, delivering colleges build a source of revenue, and there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. The participating colleges give credits for these courses, manage the learning process, and give degrees based on their own criteria.

Technology & Performance Management

I am these days reading a book about Big Data, and going through some of the applications of the technology, I was thinking about some of the ways Big Data can be applied in people matters. I tried to google about usage of Big Data for Performance Management, and didnt quite find much (or maybe thats because the search terms show results for application performance management). One aspect of using technology in HR, I feel, is in the realm of Performance Management.

Today, appraisals are done in an objective manner, with ratings which try to capture achivements and performance. However, as we know, these are a sort of force-fit. What does a rating of “Exceeds Expectation” mean? Does this mean, for instance, that performance is high, or does this mean that expectations are low? Somehow, this seems to be like fitting a square peg in a round hole, or a round peg in a square hole, if you prefer it that way.

An alternative to this could be the usage of technologies like Big Data to handle this. To begin with, managers could have the option of writing their observations, along with specific examples or scenarios as part of the appraisal process. This kind of input gives us rich information about people performance. Instead of trying to fit performance into a quantitative scale, this has the possibility of giving us qualitative inputs into performance.

Add to this the fact that plenty of business-related data is available from finance, sales, and operations, and we have immense data, both quantitative and qualitative, with which to work. Using this data as the starting point, Big Data technologies could be used to build correlation between manager comments and business performance, and deriving employee performance based on this correlation. This has the benefit of giving a descriptive picture of performance, one which describes achievements in a more meaningful way which can be used to drive talent processes.

Theres much more that Big Data can be used for, as this post by @josh_bersin describes.

Cricketing History

Now this video should be a mandatory part of any cricketer’s education … and if you either have dreams of having been a batsman, or aspirations to be one, then this is a must-watch.

All six of them effortless. Sheer poetry.

TM & SCM – Contd

Continuing from this post, I was thinking about more details about this parallel between Talent Management and Supply Chain Management. The first principle, from which I am trying to derive things here is that in both cases, there is a demand (in one case for talent, and in the other case for products), which needs to be met, and frameworks or processes put into place to match supply with demand. With products, the source of demand is simple to visualize. Not so with talent. So lets begin by taking a look at that.

The need of strategies, processes, and practices in the organization is to meet the business vision of the organization. To meet this vision, some work needs to be done by some people, and therefore, there is a need for people, equipped with the talent to do this work. So, the demand for talent arises from the work to be done to meet the strategic goals of the organization. Add to this the fact that there is specific talent available within the organization, and from there, its a question of trying to match available talent to the demand for talent, and based on this, determine what talent is required (in which area) to meet this demand. The supply of demand comes from employees, contractors, applicants, and L&D. I say L&D because learning is one way for creating talent supply to meet the talent needs of the organization.

Having said this, the basic concept which is the core for SCM is the concept of the part number. This is the unique identifier which tells anyone across the supply chain which specific material or product is being talked about. There needs to be a concept similar to this, something which uniquely identifies the attributes of the talent required (somewhat like part number which uniquely identifies the specifications of the material being spoken about). Different organizations meet this requirement in different ways. As you will read here, IBM solved this with the concept of JRSS, the Job Role Skill-Set, which is a composite of the job role, the role that an individual performs, and the skill sets that the individual has. This is the common identifier which can uniquely define what talent is being spoken of in the talent planning process.

Youth is more than the theme of the day; it’s the theme of the decade


A number of reports are telling us that there is a fundamental mismatch between the skills required of young people, and the skills our education systems are imparting to them. A fundamental rethink of the system of delivery, especially in the developing world is imperative. There needs to be significant public investment this area, but there needs to be lots of innovation, given the tools which have become available to us over the last few years, in education delivery.

Originally posted on World Education Blog:

On International Youth Day, this blog looks at the continued importance of keeping the spotlight on better skills development for young people.

2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work The 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report: “Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work”

In 2012, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report analysed the youth skills gap and reported that it had reached new highs in the wake of an extended global financial downturn. According to this specially themed  Report, Putting Education to Work, 200 million young people had not completed primary school and lacked skills for work. This International Youth Day we must revisit this theme; it’s as relevant today as it was two years ago.

As International Labour Office (ILO) phrased it in their recent report on youth employment, ‘it’s not easy to be young and in the labour market today’. Reaching record levels, as many as 73 million young people worldwide…

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