Imagine for a moment that you are a university professor, in front of you are sitting 30 students, and you have their best interests at heart. How do you equip someone today with the skills they need for a job five to ten years from now, which doesn’t even exist today? A new role in a new sector that we cannot yet imagine. A daunting task, isn’t it? But that’s exactly the question we asked ourselves in a recent series of meetings at the Graduate School of Management (GSM) at BRAC University. To help us with our work, we scrolled through 21st Century Skills as defined by the World Economic Forum, which we found to have a fairly close expiration date. However, in doing a curriculum review today, knowing the paperwork and associated time to implementation, we need at least eight to ten years of time.
Recently, we had the honor of moderating a panel with a very experienced group of human resources (HR) managers from Nestlé, bKash, Grameenphone, Renata, Standard Chartered and the World Food Program. We confronted them with this question, and their response was quite astonishing.
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They all agreed that the content of the curriculum didn’t matter too much (something we focus on a lot to this day) – what matters are the teaching methods used and the skills learned. These, they argued, would be largely independent of actual discipline. Additionally, since the pandemic, many young applicants have literally transformed themselves through self-paced e-learning, meaning that a marketing graduate in today’s world doesn’t necessarily end up in the market. marketing department or a finance student in the finance department. These limits have been greatly relaxed, and instead we now have more versatility in students and more flexibility in employment.
In addition (for the student reading this article), in your next interview, prepare for the following questions: what did you do in 2020? How did you deal with the pandemic, what did you learn during that time, and how did you use it to better understand the world and yourself? These are just a few of the questions an interviewer might ask you.
It was in August 2011 that Marc Andreessen invented the famous phrase “The software eats the world” in a the Wall Street newspaper opinion piece. This easily leads to the assumption that when choosing a subject, the student should instead focus on topics related to software engineering. However, our panelists emphasized that they did not expect their candidates to always be tech-savvy, rather it was awareness and curiosity for technological change that was a must (again, regardless of the discipline!) and that it was crucial to have a general awareness of what is happening in the business world. The recommendation was to follow the top executives on LinkedIn (not Facebook!) And see what is on their minds.
So where does that leave us at GSM? We must, and to some extent have already been forced (given the closure of universities due to Covid-19), to transform the way we teach. As Jack Ma rightly said, if machines are to take over, you have to find your niche where you can compete with them. This gets us thinking, not how to teach someone to memorize a text in a short time, but for example, how a leader empathizes, something that the the smartest algorithm will have a hard time learning. Or how to think and judge critically on the basis of strong ethical foundations. As the late Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, said: “No computer was ever designed to be aware of what it does.”
BRAC university’s online learning platform, buX, allows students to study at their own pace. These days, by default, all exams are open book, or rather open internet, which means that the questions we ask should touch on exactly the points our HR managers were emphasizing: critical thinking, knowing what is important. and what is not. If I have the entire Internet at my fingertips, the exam questions should test exactly those skills. Panelists even went so far as to recommend leaving PowerPoint at home and focusing only on engagement, as students need to learn how to function and contribute effectively in a group. So it’s not so much about the content as it is the style, methods and skills you aim for your students to acquire through everything you do as a teacher.
In addition, we were particularly pleased with this remark from our HR managers, declaring that there must be a lot more interactions between companies and students, and that internships are not one of them. Building on the great success of the Bangladesh freelance community providing services to businesses around the world and a strong community of budding entrepreneurs, it was suggested by the panel to focus on this type as well. targeted engagements with companies, for example, via an opportunity market. Why not invite companies and representatives of startups, not only for motivational speeches, but also to engage with students for active interaction?
In summary and borrowing once again from Marvin Minsky: “If you understand something only one way, then you don’t really understand it at all. The secret of what something means to us depends on how we have connected it to everyone else. things we know. Well-connected representations allow you to change the ideas in your mind, to look at things from many angles until you find one that works for you. And that’s what we mean by thinking! ”In the spirit of an open society, this is where our young people need to excel and what universities need them to prepare for.
Dr Sebastian Groh is Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Management (GSM) at the University of Brac, and Dr Eileen Peacock is the Executive Dean of GSM at the University of Brac.