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Academic excellence vs. professional excellence

Most students who excel in their academics don’t necessarily excel in their profession. For example; most CEOs are not necessarily toppers from the best B-schools. Why most often academic excellence does not translate into professional excellence? Where is the gap? Is it in the curriculum, system, corporate set up or somewhere else? How can we bridge the gap?

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Academic excellence vs. professional excellence

  1. 1. Why Academic Excellence does not always translate into Professional Excellence? Author: Prof. Abhipsa Mishra, Leadership Coach, Academician, Writer, Blogger Most students who excel in their academics don’t necessarily excel in their profession. For example; most CEOs are not necessarily toppers from the best B-schools. Why most often academic excellence does not translate into professional excellence? Where is the gap? Is it in the curriculum, system, corporate set up or somewhere else? How can we bridge the gap? In this fast moving competitive era; where we are trying to make everything six sigma – errorless, this is a very apt question to discuss and solve. Earlier; say the previous generation struggled to fetch 60% marks (first division), our generation was somewhere around 80s and today the students score 99.99%. Do they all excel in their careers? Do they make successful CEOs? There are many elements for a university topper that collectively compels him to become a real life five-point-someone. Here is what the experts in Learning & Development forum think: In corporate setups it’s not just the IQ that is required, other factors like Emotional Quotient (EQ), Social Quotient (SQ), Values, Beliefs, Attitude, Knowledge, Family, Culture and upbringing, also have its significance. Guru Swami Chinmayananda says; “Proficiency is not Efficiency!” So we have to start from the childhood to understand the root cause of why bright students many a times fail in professional expertise. Upbringing: “50 percent of what we are is because of our nature; 50 percent of what we are is because of our nurture” Family plays a critical role in one’s life. No doubts on the fact that we have examples where children have studied under kerosene lamps had a single meal a day and have cleared the IAS examination. But a child who has been given proper care, assistance, culture and knowledge about good and bad develops a better wisdom. There is a school of thought that says attitude; perseverance etc. depends upon parenting, and upbringing. People take off from work life for 2-3 years on birth of a child. Here is where the child learns the very essence of life from his parent(s). He develops a right attitude; he imbibes the culture of the family, and he learns about his religious prodigy, learns about his land – his country. That parent acts like an influencer to the child. If the parents abdicate it, someone else will take over by default; like tabs, games and YouTube. Lot of people are lost and don’t know what to do. Either its lack of direction or realization. Do we blame our society or education system? We should actually start from home.
  2. 2. Elementary Education: “Education is the spark plug to ignite talent There might be a debate on the fact that talent is inborn but we have factual evidences of people changing. Proper education at proper time helps a child understand his area of interest and develop on it from the very beginning. We need to find out the elementary education pedagogy to understand what education today is focusing on. Few drawbacks in the present education system: Biggest gap in Indian education system and our mindset is applauding marks rather than appreciating the natural talent, innovation and encouragement for innate attributes which can be nurtured. Our professions should be an extension of our passions and not just a method of early livelihood! Creative people tend to do worse on grades at each level of schooling, yet their success measures can be very high in their fields. However, creative people can also be abject failures as a result of their creative natures; so we have no good metric that predicts how successful these people will be. We often do not know the underpinnings of their behaviors until much later, and many may have been crushed under the molding systems of our schools.  Students are encouraged to mug up the syllabus and the subject. The practical applicability of the theory is something that schools are not focusing on. An iota of practice helps children understand the fact rather than an entire gamut of theory.  Inflated grades like 99% make it difficult to judge the actual competency of a student. Harvard’s student newspaper recently reported that its median grade for undergraduates is A. 7 percent of undergraduates in the 1960-70’s had grades of A (60%) in contrast to 71 percent now. Similarly, grades of C (33%) or less have dropped from 25 percent to 5 percent. Similar are the figures in post graduate colleges. Students today are more pampered, sheltered, and spoiled than earlier years. This is a generation that has never been allowed to skin their knees. They all won awards at everything they have ever tried — most improved player, fourth runner-up! They grew up with an inflated sense of triumph and expect to keep on receiving awards or at least admiration for everything they do. After interacting with a few organizations which come for placements to our college I have found a similar criticism from many of them. They say the recent college graduates hired expect to be rewarded for showing up at time, they want the ‘keys to the kingdom’ on day one, asking for a raise after a month of mediocre work, having their parents fight their battles, and being unable to take criticism.  As the popular Jim Collins book ‘Good to Great’ states – “Good is the greatest enemy of great” – the students don’t work genuinely hard on the subject as they think they are already good at (influenced by grade inflation). Fundamentals on subjects are very important which students lack. Metamorphosis from college to B schools: “Knowing is not doing; doing is doing.”
  3. 3. We need to ensure that B schools get the exposure of corporate life. An MBA institute should be one which advocates a work environment and not one which is devoid from it. This view may be highly debatable but if you want your students to be 100% employable there has to be a work environment where they are actually doing the work, to learn it. In order to derive knowledge from work you need work in action.  There is hardly any doctor who is struggling for a job. We may not find a Chartered Accountant who is jobless. Then why MBAs have this problem? Why even the brightest student doesn’t prove himself? Let us understand the pattern of study of a medical practitioner or a CA. There is no medical college without an attached hospital. There is always a catering/hotel management college with an attached hotel, they why an MBA college runs without an enterprise?  Post graduation courses should be strictly pursued after a one to two year exposure to corporate world so that the candidate would be in a better position to pursue the right stream of higher learning. Role of Teachers “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” The B-School professors’ needs to have a strong connect with the industry. There should be no difference between an academician and a real practitioner in the industry. Like a professor in a medical college is actually a practitioner in the attached hospital. A professor in a hotel management institution is actually a head chef in the attached hotel. A B-School professor should be a practitioner (not having past experience) in some organization. Role of Mentors “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Mentors may be parents, teachers, coach, boss or anyone. There are a few things which get neglected while we think of blaming a family on their upbringing, a school/college in their pedagogy or a teacher in his expertise. Those neglected things can be taken care of by a mentor.  Many-a-times children don’t plan their career or in different words time their plans. It is interestingly called as the ‘Bumble Bee Syndrome’. While world discusses aerodynamics of whether it can fly, the poor Bumble Bee doesn’t understand all that, so it just flies away! Proper planning of the career and courses to opt for is critical for success.  Pursuing the right education for the right career is another vital decision to be made by the children. If engineers don’t pursue Engineering, how will true innovation happen? There are many Engineering graduates who learn to develop codes for 4 years then pursue MBA to end up selling soaps. Then they get frustrated of what they are doing. Here is where the mentor should intervene in making the right decision to pursue a career.  Education gives a foundation to one’s personality; what makes the foundation strong is the values, passion towards a goal, driving business beyond responsibility, sense of ownership, risk appetite etc. A mentor might play an imperative role in giving shape to these innate qualities.
  4. 4. The way forward: “Being fully present is the best guarantee for a bright future.”  International Baccalaureate is a Swiss organization and their entire approach to academics is holistic and application oriented. It deals with depth of knowledge rather than width. Universities across the world welcome IB diploma holders (12th grade certification). Many schools in India are also following the IB. They provide a great bandwidth for creativity and innovation in their pedagogy.  On the brighter side, B-Schools are looking forward to the concept of Assurance of Learning (AOL). It is a system given by Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) – an accrediting body for B Schools globally. It talks about creating rubrics to ensure holistic learning being provided as a part of each subject. Few renowned B-Schools in India are already AACSB accredited. So while developing the soft skills, a solid process like this complements in creating true graduates.  Learnabilty – Curiosity to learn a new thing or think in a different way is something that lacks in the present generation. Educators need to explore how to help the students keep learning and applying them  Amir Khan in his blockbuster movie ‘3 idiots’ advocated a great concept – Kaamyabi and Kaabiliyat. The crux of the matter is at a place where everyone has the talent, talent alone can’t make the difference it’s your ability coupled with your attitude that’s going to make that kind of a shift which can take you miles.  Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligence is classic philosophy of how every child can be nurtured into genius if we could map their abilities than subject them to standard curriculum… That we can have more scientists/ innovators etc who create rather than follow rule books.

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