Addressing challenges of Undergraduate Comprehensive Learning: A First-hand Experience
I recently had an insight into the challenges of Comprehensive Learning at the undergraduate level in an Arts and Science College in a semi-urban location. This article is an attempt at describing this learning in some detail.
Introduction The need for comprehensive learning has been emphasized by hundreds of experts in education. Yet, there are so many learning gaps, and the problem easily leads to the learning gaps and the need to address them. I was recently invited to address a group of undergraduate students from the BBA and B.Sc. (Information Systems and Management) streams of an Arts and Science College, for women. To my shock, the students of all years were bunched together. The Management wanted to create a record of guest lectures but this has to be very cost-effective. The town is known for its agricultural base. It is now growing into a big city, because of Government support for infrastructure.
This presented a problem: I had to start from scratch with some explanation and also go to the slightly advanced level when I dealt with the more recent developments. This was not the only problem, though. The Comprehensive learning gaps related to a) Lack of business history fundamentals b) Total lack of basic business fundamentals c) Problem with the English language d) Fear of the Unknown and e) Need for catalysts to ignite creativity and passion for learning.
Lack of business history fundamentals The topic for the guest lecture was "Globalization: Its Impact in India and the Road Ahead", and the topic had four PowerPoint presentations conducted in January 2023.
The students lacked even basic knowledge of how Microsoft and Apple Computers reached their present positions. Not a single student even mentioned the name of Steve Jobs. Particularly in the field of IT, it becomes so essential to learn the business history of so many global organizations. Steve Jobs had taken some dramatic decisions that changed the course of the history of Apple Computers. I had to take some pains to highlight what he did. The college lacked the facility to screen videos. Since there was no way I could show any video on Steve Jobs, I was a bit handicapped. Yet, I was able to explain everything in Tamil, as I had prepared the basic points related to the growth of Apple Computers. What comes out very clearly is the need for comprehensive knowledge, as far as business history is concerned.
Lack of basic business fundamentals It was rather surprising that the students of the final year had not even heard about the concept of core competencies. They did not even know that the brand called Bingo is owned by ITC. They do not even know the meaning of mergers or acquisitions. They did not even know how Samsung became a big leader in cell phones.
The problem, as explained by the teachers, related to the anxiety of the students to pass the term-end examinations. Hence, the teachers merely stuck to the theoretical inputs, and most of this was done in Tamil. The students were mostly from farmer families and were first-generation learners, who would become graduates. The girls were also keen to just acquire theoretical knowledge and nothing related to the real world of business and industry. However, through a process of constant questioning, it was revealed that the students were so keen to learn. They lacked the exposure and since their family backgrounds did not have the supporting infrastructure to give them the needed urban exposure, they were somewhat lost in their quest for contemporary knowledge. The students were very knowledgeable about organic farming and the chemical fertilizers used by their fathers and also the markets where the products were sold. Hence, what became clear is the learning gap regarding the practical application of concepts in the industry. Further, it also became clear that the teachers need to be given the right orientation in this regard.
Problem with the English language When students improve their command of spoken English, everything will fall into place. There is always evidence that students who know to speak English very well, go up in their careers. The students were not able to express even the basic ideas in decent English. The only point that became loud and clear is that if they are given enough space to continuously talk in English, they will vastly improve and hence also acquire the comprehensive knowledge that is so essential. Their lack of exposure is also a point, but this lack of exposure can be traced to their problem with the English language, which remains a challenge for them. The transition from the Tamil medium to the English medium does take time and hence the students will take some time to go through the process. However, some more efforts are clearly needed to put things in the right perspective.
Fear of the Unknown As already noted, the students are from a semi-urban town. However, the students as such, come to the college from the numerous villages near the town. Their fears of getting a good job or acquiring a higher qualification like an MBA, even after getting married are all real.
However, addressing this fear has to be taken up rather urgently and action has to be taken. I was able to address this fear rather easily. This fear came out during the interaction with the students and they were really confused about what they could do, given their situation. The teachers appreciated my feedback and indicated that they would take it up with their Management, on an urgent priority basis. One can only hope that in my future sessions, this fear will be rather less than what it is now.
Need for catalysts to ignite creativity and passion for learning As already noted, the students are from farmer backgrounds. They have deep knowledge of agriculture and organic farming. Hence, they have a passion for learning. The starting point for learning has to come, necessarily, from the things that they already know. The catalyst for learning has to start with the basics and then proceed to far bigger things.
For example, the students can be motivated to view the Tamil YouTube videos on Steve Jobs, Microsoft, and so on. The learning can easily come from such videos and their learning will start. The catalyst has to then come from a team of teachers who can be mandated with igniting the creativity and passion, after four months of ground work. This feedback has been given to the teachers.
ConclusionWe need to urgently address the gaps in comprehensive learning at the undergraduate level. The learning from a first-hand experience has been presented in the aforesaid paragraphs.