Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Art for art’s sake

“Are we changing our paradigm? And the obvious riposte to that is: What is so threatening about a change in paradigm, unless one stakes one’s reputation with an obsolete model of things? And this, I fear, is the problem. Much of the resistance that advocates of a thorough overhaul of legal education comes not so much from theoretical objections, as from threatened egos and shattered self-assurances anchored on what many have quite speciously taken to be their badges of distinctiveness!” [Genuine outcomes-based education, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Pensées, Manila Standard Today, 24th Nov 2014]
Our saving grace as Pinoys is the challenge isn’t confined to PHL. In the West, industry has long raised the issue and at my old MNC company, as did countless global companies, we developed an extensive education and training curriculum in pursuit of continued people and organization development efforts.

“Outcomes Based Education . . . I argued, was one kind of an ‘integrating’ paradigm in ASEAN and even beyond! There is outcomes-based education, to which I fully subscribe . . . One reason for OBE is the frequently-raised (but hardly ever addressed) complaint of the mismatch between schooling and the needs of society and of industry. Our graduates . . . are loaded with knowledge and skills of which society has no need . . . OBE starts by asking what the needs of society and industry are and moves backward by constructing a curriculum and deciding on the course-content.” [ibid.]

“[T]he Japanese have this much to teach us: It is wrong to think that of the law school as principally orientated at producing lawyers . . . If our concept of legal education does not go beyond the production of lawyers, then given the fact that only about 25 to 30 percent each year of graduates who sit for the Bar Examinations ever make it through, then law school is a tremendous waste of human resource and human potential . . . That points to the fallacy of equating legal education with the production of lawyers. OBE then forces on legal education a very important question: How does Philippine society make use of its law graduates—whether they become lawyers or not? And knowing that, we shall be better able to restructure a responsive law curriculum.”

Disclosure: At my old MNC company I was part of the council that developed our education and training curriculum. And the initiative was driven by the need of global companies for succession planning and by definition, the imperative to excel in individual development efforts – i.e., knowledge, attitude, skills and habits. While a big piece of that is leadership, to describe the challenge in a universal sense, industry translated it for the benefit of the education system as: to develop people’s critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills.

In other words, OBE is not art for art’s sake. “Much of the resistance that advocates of a thorough overhaul of legal education comes not so much from theoretical objections, as from threatened egos and shattered self-assurances anchored on what many have quite speciously taken to be their badges of distinctiveness!” [ibid.]

The education community has their work cut out for them? And if it’s in fact a cultural challenge, it won’t be easy to overcome? In the meantime, industry will have to address their needs and invest in education and training. And especially my Eastern European friends, knowing full well that they're relatively new to free enterprise, and are doing it with doggedness. And one of the responsibilities I’ve taken on is that of trainer and coach – the overarching challenge being for the enterprise to attain sustainable growth. But is the industry perspective something that the education system doesn't necessarily embrace – being too narrow for purposes of higher education?

But then again, growth and development is integral to nature – and to individuals, peoples and nations. And if the barter trade was one of the earliest expressions to actualize development, how could economic development not be inherent to human development – even assuming that it is the outcome of the efforts of commerce and industry but, as importantly, good governance? And good governance goes beyond “daang matuwid” – i.e., it includes creating the environment and the platform of an ecosystem.
And in PHL it appears we have yet to get a full airing of what an ecosystem is about? Yet we want to be holistic and/or inclusive – but without a good handle on the requisite ecosystem, we are pulled in different directions (unable to focus on the vital few) and in the end hierarchy wins out, not surprising, given our cacique system and structure? For example, for decades given the dependence of rural Philippines – and where the bulk of the population is – on agriculture, we assumed that farm-to-market roads were a panacea?

But as the world now knows, infrastructure development demands much more – from power to roads and bridges to airports to strategic industries that are globally competitive, among others, as demonstrated by the Asian Tigers – if a nation is to satisfy the yardstick of an ecosystem. And at the industry level, an ecosystem – given the demands of global competition – is characterized by a commitment to investment, technology and innovation as well as people, product and market development.

The debate about agriculture taking precedence over industrialization must capture that the world has become highly competitive and global. That agriculture like any industry must develop the capacity to move up the value chain – into agribusiness and beyond basic produce. Irrespective of industry, basic products must pull its weight in the broader portfolio that in aggregate must generate sustainable returns – and which is what food security is about. For example, Greece is a major producer of olives yet branded olives – that find a wider global market and yield higher income levels – are synonymous to Italy. And precisely why we need progressive leadership to benchmark our perspectives and efforts against the rest of the world, and be truly competitive. There is no free lunch. And more precisely, nations can be parochial – and uncompetitive – at their peril.

And so the reality is commerce and industry isn't anathema to higher education because problem-solving is at the heart of an enterprise and that can’t be narrow by any stretch of the imagination? For instance, Einstein was a product of higher education but was also discriminating: “the value of education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.” Of course, unfettered capitalism is abhorrent, and is in fact a disservice to free enterprise being an expression of freedom and democracy. When I first worked with a group of ex-socialist Bulgarians, they were unequivocal in their need to traverse the path to a free market. But one would wonder if they were at home with the characteristics of an egalitarian enterprise – i.e., openness, transparency and diversity.

To make them tangible, we had to establish the core of the organization around R&D and Marketing led by a business unit manager that was also responsible for manufacturing. From the get-go it would undo any thoughts that one discipline or another is more superior hierarchy-wise. And it would pave the way forward into business planning and execution – i.e., pulling in and making the sales team to consciously interact with the core of the organization and ensure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. In short, an organization must be a synchronized system.

Still, the need to develop their skills in critical thinking, communication and teamwork would be a constant. For example, the education system in both East and West given the construct of a course syllabus makes linear thinking the conventional thinking process. Yet problem-solving and the spirit of discovery go beyond – and thus the imperative to develop the skill-set around lateral thinking. That is to say, to make openness, transparency and diversity the default perspective – because they are a mandatory in the pursuit of critical thinking, innovation and creativity. But in PHL we take them for granted because of our hierarchical cacique system and structure? And more to the point, are our assumptions, beliefs and values compatible to openness, transparency and diversity? How do we explain the struggle to enact the FOI?

Simply put, without openness, transparency and diversity, how would critical thinking, communication and teamwork be nurtured and much less thrive in an organization or an economy or a nation? Why have we as a people failed to confront the challenges and problems that have stunted PHL progress and development? Is it because we are philosophical about the world and so we like to claim we're the happiest people? Or is it because our hierarchical system and structure makes us truly leader-dependent – making innovation and creativity alien to us? Or are we simply not a problem-solving culture? Or are we a very sophisticated people that art is for art's sake? Or does it boil down to the human condition – that it is all about me and myself?

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