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Mumbai Social Entrepreneur and Educationist Maya Shahani Shares her views on Education System

Mumbai Social Entrepreneur and Educationist Maya Shahani Shares her views on Education System

Excerpts of the interview:

Dr.Neha Jagtiani: Mam, being in the educational profession, what changes according to you should be done to increase the literacy rate??

Maya Shahani: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. Thadomal Shahani, the Founder and Patriarch of the Thadomal Shahani Group always told his four sons that Education was the best service they could offer to humanity. With this noble aspect in mind, the family forayed into the educational field in pre-partition days with a school and college bookstall in Karachi, to opening an educational publishing company in Mumbai. They were sought after educators and taught the British the Indian language with the help of dictionaries published by them. Illiteracy was common in the late 19th century. Thadomal’s elder sons began to provide elementary education in reading, writing, and arithmetic. The Shahani family has been part of the Hyderabad Sind National Collegiate (HSNC) board which came into being seven decades ago to provide education at an affordable price.

As one the Trustees of the Board I take a keen interest in the running of the institutes. Over the years, there have been various changes in our education system as the country went through several corridors of power. The Gurukuls were the traditional Hindu residential schools of learning, held typically in the teacher’s house or monastery. Even though education was free, the students from well-to-do families paid the Gurudakshina which was a voluntary contribution after the completion of their studies. At the Gurukuls, the teacher imparted knowledge on various aspects of religion, the scriptures, philosophy, literature, warfare, statecraft, medicine, astrology, and history. This system is referred to as the old system of education which declined with the advent of British rule.

Compulsory Free education has been a good move. The Right to Education which reserves 25% seats for the under-resourced in elite schools is also a good move as we believe in equity in education. However, the Mandal Commission Report which recommended a 27% reservation for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) created a lot of heart burn as financial background and not caste should be the fulcrum to provide such criteria. In such a move, several better students get edged out.

In this technology-driven age where innovative inventions and research throw up something new every day, our outdated curricula do not serve our students well. The focus should be on skills training to develop the student capabilities in terms of problem-solving, critical thinking, writing skills, verbal skills, communication enhancement, physical fitness, and more…

Dr.Neha Jagtiani: Mam, What are the changes that you want to bring in your educational institutions?

Maya Shahani: Neha, India has the highest youth population in the world with half of the country’s 1.3 billion population being under 25 years of age. This is a big boon for our country which if tapped properly, can harvest rich dividends for India and the world. To empower the youth, the first thing that the country needs to pay heed is to change the education system of the country. The Indian education system especially has been the target of many allegations from students, parents and teachers. Students think they are overburdened, teachers think they are not paid enough and parents want their children to get 99.99 percentages. Where does the buck stop??

The Thadomal Shahani Group is working seriously in this area and is bringing the industry and academia together to create skilled and employable graduates. Our group won the DNA (instituted by the newspaper Daily News & Analysis) Award and the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) Award for the best business school for industry and academia linkages. It was ranked as number 3 by Outlook Magazine for providing Global quality Management Education.

Education should be intellectually stimulating and should question assumptions rather than be based on rote learning. The biggest flaw in our education system is that it encourages memorizing textbooks and notes rather than understanding the subject with the individual’s own thought process. The goal and policy of the new education system should be on creating entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, thinkers, and writers to create a knowledge-based economy rather than the prevailing low-quality service provider country we are turning out to be. The magnitude of youth unemployment, skill mismatch, and suicides due to academic, parental, and peer pressure should be a cause for deep worry.

Classroom lectures have become too boring which leads to a lack of student involvement. But, if the teacher brings practical and exciting analogies to teach, the classroom becomes more interesting and lessons become easy to understand. Many successful entrepreneurs maintain their success is based on their experience and interactions and not on theoretical knowledge. This is why in the Thadomal Shahani Institutes, the faculty comes mainly from Industry and they give the benefit of hands-on learning to our students.

Then there are flipped classrooms. We curate the subject matter and post it to the students who come prepared to the classroom after doing their own research and discuss issues with the faculty who act more like facilitators.
The marking system needs a total overhaul. It is highly unfair that students are evaluated only on the basis of their performance for the duration of three hours of the exam. In our Shahani Group colleges, we have started the experiment of not having exams for some of our media courses and are grading students for classroom participation, project work, communication, and leadership skills, and extracurricular performance. This way, a genuine student will stand-out.

There are many choices available to students today and it is no longer restricted to Engineering, Medicine, or Law. We should not look down on Vocational streams. Through career counseling, we inform the students of the various streams that exist and what importance each of them plays to make an economy diverse.

The current college model in India is unsatisfactory due to Government regulation, outdated education techniques, and community-based management. India needs a professionally run college group that creates students who are employable as per industry needs. The Shahani Group has been building such colleges over the last ten years and runs colleges in non-regulated areas of higher education like a business, media, real estate, technology, etc. We partner with global academic and industry partners for course accreditation and running online systems for assessing, educating, and placing students, executed through offline campuses.

Dr.Neha Jagtiani: Mam, looking at the status of women in India and several other countries, what are the things that you have done to educate them to improve their condition?

Maya Shahani: Women need to be financially independent in order to live a life of their choice. Gender inequality weakens families, societies, nations, and the world as a whole. Yet, too many women are prevented from enjoying their full rights because of discrimination, poverty, violence, and inequality. As a recipient of the World Trade Centre’s 6th Global Economic Summit Award for Women’s Empowerment, I strongly advocate that women need to be made aware of their self-worth through education and job placement. Women should get equal rights in the economic, social, and political spheres as they have the power to change their lives, that of their communities, and their world. The Shahani Group works closely with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and Global Dialogue Foundation to bring in a Unity in Diversity in different cultures within campuses and companies. This also includes gender diversity and the group hopes to create an environment of inclusiveness where women are considered equals to men in every field. The Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management (TSCFM) works towards the empowerment of girl students by offering them vocational training courses like Real Estate Management, Integrated Media, Advertising and Communication as well as Banking and Finance amongst others which can provide lucrative careers and give women an opportunity to be independent. As a Property Consultant, a woman can easily be in the high-income bracket with the added benefit of flexi timings.

Dr.Neha Jagtiani: Mam, In today’s world, what is more relevant–to be gender-specific or gender-neutral and why?

Maya Shahani: Neha, the way I see it, if you have a sense of self-worth, it does not matter whether the environment around you is gender-specific or gender-neutral. It is only when you consider yourself superior or inferior, body consciousness creeps in and you strive to be assertive in some way or the other. Just as a “rose is a rose is a rose” and no one can take away its beauty or fragrance, a ‘woman is a woman is a woman’. She is unique. So allow her to be comfortable in her skin and call a woman, a woman, and similarly, a man, a man. I have never believed in women’s liberation, as I know a woman is already liberated and powerful. So I see nothing wrong in being gender-specific. I am proud of being a woman, and I am proud of the fact that men are equally unique and powerful. So let us complement each other the way we are meant to instead of trying to prove who is inferior or superior. It is a language that reflects the way we think. It also shapes our thinking if words and expressions that imply that women or men are inferior are constantly used.

Neha Jagtiani: Mam, could you please throw light on your introduction of several transformational gurus at your educational campus?

Maya Shahani: Well, the prime focus of our Thadomal Shahani Management School is on experiential knowledge rather than rote learning. Keeping this in mind, we invite guest speakers regularly to our campus to impart a holistic approach to our students so that they become ethical and global business leaders. For example, Frank Bond of Gold Smiths, University of London, gave our students a talk on ‘Mindfulness’. Based on the teachings of the Buddha, he explained meditation from a westerner’s viewpoint which came across as a professional approach rather than a spiritual approach. Our students lapped it up as a new age teaching which highlighted the concept of mind fullness in a corporate environment.

There are many more such examples of high level global and local speakers who enrich our students, faculty and staff with their vast wealth of knowledge and personal experiences. These interactions give our students a global outlook as well as help them with their inner growth to make them well balanced, insightful individuals.

Dr.Neha Jagtiani: Mam, thanks very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us.

Maya Shahani: Neha, thank you very much and it was a pleasure interacting with you.

Interview by: Dr.Neha Jagtiani: Guest Editor, Hello Mumbai News. She is also Incharge Princpal of R.D.National College.

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