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Learning Unfettered in the Management Classroom: Experiential Learning
By Dr Aparna Rao*
'When burden becomes responsibility and when concern triggers creativity, we encounter Gandhian spirit in action!'- Dr Anil Gupta, IIM Ahmedabad
Abstract

Background

Challenges for Management Educators
Preference for management education is an increasingly global trend in career planning. Growing demand has led to varying needs and expectations from this field. The spectrum of aspirants for management education ranges from undergraduates to experienced and senior professionals, from employed personnel to entrepreneurs, from primary sectors like agriculture and mining to tertiary sectors like banking services to secondary sectors like manufacturing and production.
The varied demographics of students opting for management studies results in equally varied perceptions about age, qualifications and experience for enrolment for MBA. Management courses being offered are aimed at meeting the various kinds of demands. This reflects in the numerous courses offering MBA or its equivalent. These requirements have triggered a wide range of courses catering to different segments of the population - full time two year courses to one year, to six months to distance learning to online courses in management education.
There is a vast variation in the profiles of students for MBA. An observed trend is that students in their early twenties opt for management education immediately after graduation. The crucial fallout of this is the question mark on quality of delivery or the teaching learning approaches followed for various courses.
Karoly A. Lynn and Panis W.A. Constantijn in their monograph for RAND Corporation 'The 21st Century at Work: Forces Shaping the Future Workforce and Workplace in the United States' discuss the demands of the emerging workplace. The study was meant for the US Labour department, but the findings are relevant for India as well. The skill sets described are universal.
The study discusses present trends in the workplace. Educators must consider at least three of these trends:
  • Globalization
  • Emerging Technology
  • Cultural diversity at the workplace
Workplace demands have evolved and grown due to these trends. As a result, personal and professional challenges too have multiplied. An understanding of the requirements of the workplace would prepare students for their corporate careers.
Similar opinions are being shared by educators globally. One of the challenges faced is that business education needs to be established as a 'genuine discipline ... to be credible.'- Bowander, B, and Rao, S.L., (2004).
Srikant Datar of Harvard University points out the challenges facing educators today. According to him, a major issue is that management education emphasizes more on science than arts. The stress has been mostly on cold analysis.
He highlights the importance of focusing on 'doing' skills. According to Prof Datar, 'the major challenge is to engage students. B- schools should ensure that students think critically. A number of fundamental things should be taught to students before they go to work. Also, pedagogies need to be changed to develop certain kinds of skills, values, practices and attitudes.'
Hanif Kanjer, founding dean, Rustomjee Business School in an article 'Students Benefit from Improvements in Pedagogy' brings out the importance of improvements in pedagogy in management institutes. According to the article, 'business schools are working towards faculty development programmes and sharing of resources and knowledge.'

Pedagogical Experiment in Entrepreneurial Learning - Learning, Earning & Scoring
Faculty and students at Chetana's Management Institutes conducted an experiment in practical learning. Jagruti is an awareness and outreach programme for Gandhian literature. Project Jagruti is designed by the faculty members of Chetana's Management Institutes on the lines of Gandhiji's concept of education - Nai Taleem - wherein 360 MBA students of Chetana's Management Institutes are working in the field for their curricular learning.
The aim is to create awareness and encourage sales for Gandhian literature. Students are encouraged to read Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography and integrate their learning from the book into their field project.
While the concept was designed by teachers, the project was largely student driven. Right from the name - 'Jagruti: Wake up, take up, move up...together' - to the execution, students take charge.
Through the project, they earn and learn concepts earlier discussed in the classroom.

Why Gandhian literature?
'The Story of My Experiments with Truth' makes for a wholesome book for learning self management and people management. The book very simply demonstrates the journey and evolution of a leader who has shown the world that leadership is about walking the talk, everywhere, every time and with everyone.
According to Axelford Alan, he "stimulated and enabled the rebirth of India, at the time a dysfunctional, failing enterprise on which the welfare of millions depended... and he redefined the very medium - civilisation, no less - in which that enterprise operated". The means by which Gandhi achieved this included "a strategy for productively breaking out of the all-too-limiting box of conventional thought, outworn tradition, and received wisdom. All brought about through insistence on Truth.'
Students discovered through the book his adaptability and willingness to take up any form of work - menial or intellectual - without judging. Their opinions went through a transformation at various revelations in the book.

Students' Insights from Blogs
'As I flipped one page after the other I realized that there was a lot in store for me and a lot to imbibe. To concise learning so deep is a task in itself. Gandhiji was very observant, he came across so many co-workers, party members, people in the village and the list goes on, but he always tried to find the best in every individual he came across, even though their ideas and thoughts were not inconsistent with his.
He was tenacious with his principles and independent. This is how managers are expected to be, strike a balance when it comes to ethics and being more tolerant...'
'Before reading the book, I thought I knew almost everything about Gandhiji, but post reading experience was very different, it was as good as value addition, also I got to know a lot about his life, his revolution, reforms, struggle for Indians' rights and his love for spirituality and religion. Here are few of the incidences that I felt are very inspiring...'
I never believed in Gandhiji, never thought he was an ideal leader, this was because sometimes we pursue that a hero should have all those qualities, which an ordinary man dreams of but we forget the loan fact that a hero is born from an ordinary man and this is what I learn from this book...
Some of the key concepts that can be learned from the book -
  1. Leadership
  2. Communication
  3. Analytical Skills
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Entrepreneurship
  6. Inclusive Growth
  7. Business Management & Administration
  8. Learning by Doing
  9. Importance of Teaching Ethics at a Young Age

Relevance of Gandhian Methods for Management & Education
'Technique and technology are important, but adding trust is the issue of the decade'. - Tom Peters, Business Author
Dr. T. Prasad in an article 'Towards an Educated India: Gandhian Engineering of Higher Education' points out that as early as 1938 Mahatma Gandhi had experimented extensively on teaching and learning and documented his innovations as 'Nai Taleem'. Gandhian principles of education seem to have ready solutions to many problems faced by our education system. The article highlights three key principles for effective learning.
  • Learning must be practical
  • Learning must be holistic
  • Learning must be self-supportive
Henry Fagg in his book 'A Study of Gandhi's Basic Education' stated that the understanding that Gandhi gleaned from such writers naturally informed his own critique of Western values and helped him to consolidate his own views on society as a whole. This is important since the interrelationship between schooling and society is of course intimate, and even more so in Gandhi's scheme which virtually convert the school into a microcosm of society itself.
This was Gandhi's recognition that, over and above external achievements, inner illumination and inner transformation, or in other words 'character-building', were the educational imperatives for building a just nation-state. Without the moral enlightenment which that kind of education could bring about, true swaraj could never be achieved.
Alan Axelrod in 'Gandhi CEO' points out how Gandhi performed a revolutionary reanalysis of business & management, reinventing the leadership role from the ground up, and then applied his discoveries in a relentlessly practical way.
According to Swami Yoganand Paramhans in his book 'Autobiography of a Yogi', 'Gandhi had sound economic and cultural reasons for encouraging the revival of cottage industries, but he does not counsel a fanatical repudiation of all modern progress. Fifty years of public service, in prison and out, wrestling daily with practical details and harsh realities in the political world, have only increased his balance, open-mindedness, sanity, and humorous appreciation of the quaint human spectacle.'
One of the books recommended for management students is 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.' According to the author, Stephen Covey quotes the 7 Deadly Social Sins identified by Mahatma Gandhi form the base for the 7 Habits. He quotes from Gandhiji in his book 'Speed of Trust'.
Dr Raghunath Mashelkar discusses the relevance of Gandhian methods for engineering through examples like Tata Nano, Aravind Eye Care – Philanthropy of Sight. According to Mashelkar, 'Gandhian Engineering would be the savior for the world. And Gandhian Engineering could be India's greatest gift to the world in the twenty first century.'
Maslow is taught in the halls of learning, but Gandhi is not. It is time to revisit management from the Gandhian perspective.
Baba Kalyani in an article 'Empowering Rural Youth through Education' points out that 70% of our people are 'at the bottom of the pyramid – the grassroots in rural India.' According to him, the starting point for growth should be here. He recommends that the task can be tackled and achieved only through effective Public-Private Partnerships.' This, in a way, would merge Gandhiji's two important concepts – 'Nai Taleem' and the 'Principle of Trusteeship.' This approach would ensure equitable distribution of wealth and other resources and inclusive growth.
The relevance of Gandhian methods in management education is obvious in different areas such as leadership, education, personal development, industrial development. It is the responsibility of B-schools to prepare students to be sensitive to a society demanding inclusion, education, development and sustainable growth. Project Jagruti has been designed with this aim in mind.

Objectives of the Project
  • Creating awareness about Gandhian methods of management
  • Providing hands on learning through direct experience
  • Help students to gain insights into the integration of business functions
  • Apply theory to practice
  • Trying to create an economic value out of learning process

Pedagogical Design
management
Students are enabled to work on one single field assignment - Jagruti and make use of field experience for learning a portfolio of subjects.
Jagruti is a unique campaign designed to combine philanthropy, passion and a practical approach to help inculcate management skills through field experience. This method encourages learning and earning. This is nothing but reiterating Gandhian concept of Nai Taleem with handicrafts method to operationalize learning.
The project is completely student driven. Even the name, the slogan, the creatives and the logo design are created by students. The students will also manage the operational functions independently. This independence to design the project motivated students to take ownership and responsibility for effective execution of the concept and enjoy the process of learning.

Salient of features of Jagruti
  • 360 MBA students read sections of the Autobiography to gain insights about Gandhiji
  • Students target to campaign the autobiography in the field
  • Students will work in the field in Mumbai, for individual and corporate sales for four days
  • Integrated learning for SIX subjects through the project - Managerial Process Skills, Marketing, MIS, Communication, HRM and Financial Accounting
  • Students will be evaluated on their targets and reporting while campaigning the sale of the autobiography of Gandhiji
  • Gandhian literature for Jagruti is arranged in collaboration with Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal

Learning, Earning, Enthusiasm, Excitement - The Field Work
The most happening aspect of the project was the field work. Students went to field for 4 weeks in a row. Teams of 6 decided upon their team strategy for their sales project. They made sales pitches at railway stations, market places. Displays were put up at corporate offices, government offices, malls, schools and colleges. The attached report provides details of Jagruti 2011.
The process of approaching people - known and unknown - with a sale in mind, making a sale and getting the first customer was a process of self discovery. They learned from their mistakes, the rejection and the acceptance. Displays were put up in Government and corporate offices, awareness drives in schools and colleges and in public places like railway stations, parks, joggers' clubs etc. The learning from the entire process of approaching senior officials in corporate and government organizations and educational institutions was immense.
The students discovered the dynamics of team work, the challenges of managing logistics - picking up heavy boxes of books, travelling, distributing to students according to requirements - the issues related to finance along and marketing. They also got insights into consumer behavior and marketing. Out in the field with a target to meet brought out the creative energies. They learned that experience is the best teacher.
The excitement was enhanced by the media coverage that the project enjoyed. The project was covered in prestigious newspapers - Gujarat Samachar, Mumbai Samachar, Financial Express, Deccan Herald, Sakaal, Dainik Bhaskar, IBN Live, MUST Radio, Mumbai Mirror, DNA, Maharashtra Times, LokSatta, a Malaysian daily - Bernama etc. The core student team enjoyed their first media interviews and the process of going on radio.
Students also enjoyed blogging about their experiences on Google Knols, Blogs and Facebook. The process of writing in public space was a learning experience by itself.
The faculty members involved in the project were highly motivated by the energy and zeal of the students. The success of Jagruti 2011 motivated other subject teachers to join hands and design a master assignment involving MIS, HRM, Marketing and Financial Accounting.

Observed Outcome
So far, 720 students have participated in Jagruti 2011 and 2012. A systematic feedback was taken from students for Jagruti 2011. 360 students participated in the survey. The short questionnaire focused on points like learning and experience. All the students reported that the Project was an effective way for them to learn.
There was an initial resistance and reticence to go to field for sales gave way to excited planning for displays and sales strategy. The enthusiasm was so infectious that the shy, reserved students were encouraged to take the plunge. The less confident students were transformed after their initial sales.
To quote one student: 'Now we feel we are really learning Management.' Over 90 % of the students reported that their learning had been far more effective through the field method as compared to the classroom method. The experiment also caught the attention of recruiters during campus placements.
The following are learning experiences from their various field and corporate interactions:
  1. All business functions need an integrated approach
  2. Their communication skills had improved as that they had to make presentations and speak to total strangers in different languages
  3. The confidence to approach strangers
  4. Such projects would help them learn all subjects of management
  5. The relevance of Gandhian methods in modern world – students discovered that businessmen, professionals from across sectors hold Gandhiji in high esteem. This in turn impacted their approach towards the personality they represented through Jagruti.
  6. It is important to know your product before you sell; those who read the book were more successful.
  7. Ego management - facing rejection and open criticism in the field
  8. Team working skills through the process of delegation of roles
  9. Leaders emerging through the process

Conclusion:
Management educators globally are concerned about hands on experiential learning. Project Jagruti is Chetana's contribution to practical learning approaches. The method is reading the autobiography, classroom sessions related to entrepreneurship and business management, and field work for promotion and awareness of Gandhian literature. Project Jagruti has been successfully executed for two years – 2011 & 2012. Students' feedback can be accessed on blogs and Facebook. The method can be implemented for students for an integrated learning approach for all management subjects.
The introduction of manual training will serve a double purpose in a poor country like ours. It will pay for the education of our children and teach them an occupation, on which they can fall back in after life, if they choose, for earning a living. Such a system must make our children self-reliant. Nothing will demoralize the nation so much as that we should learn to despise labour. - Mahatma Gandhi

References:
  1. Axelrod, Alan. (2010). CEO, Gandhi.
  2. Covey, Stephen. (2006). The Speed of Trust. Pocket Books, Great Britain.
  3. Fagg, Henry. (2002). A Study of Gandhi's Basic Education. National Book Trust, India
  4. Gandhi M.K. The Story of My Experiments with Truth
  5. Kanjer U. Hanif. Students Benefit from Improvements in Pedagogy. DNA, 20 March 2012.
  6. Lynn A. Karoly & Panis W.A. Constantijn. (2004). 21 Century at Work: Forces Shaping the Future Workforce and Work Place in the United States. RAND Study Report Prepared for US Department of Labor.
  7. Mashelkar Raghunath. (2010). Timeless Inspirator - Reliving Gandhi.
  8. T.Prasad. Towards an Educated India: Gandhian engineering of Higher Education, Free Press Journal.
  9. http://chetanapgdma.blogspot.in/2012/09/gandhijis-autobiography-review.html
  10. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2010-06-03/news/27591054_1_mahatma- gandhi-enterprise-alan-axelrod

* Dr. Aparna Rao is a Associate Professor, Chetana's Institute of Management & Research, Bandra, Maharashtra, India.