I often tell Venkat, my better half, about the massive transformation in students' attitude and behaviour since the time I began teaching in business schools (B-schools) sometime in the mid-1980s.
Earlier, the students had a modicum of respect for their teachers. Now the situation is vastly different. Students wish you ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’ so long as you teach them during a semester.
The moment that they know that you are not going to teach them during the next semester, an eerie indifference develops. They become strangers.
As always, there are exceptions to the rule. I still have some of students whom I taught in the mid-1990s coming up to me through social media and wishing me on important occasions.
My niece Deepa, who takes home-tuitions in Kerala, says that the expectations of students have increased manifold. Everywhere the notion of “I-am-paying-money-so-I-want-the-best” has emerged.
We are living in a digital world characterised by instant feedback. Whether it is a doctor, dentist, teacher, educational institution, resorts, and hotels—you name it—and there is ample opportunity for people to give their feedback.
If people are spending their hard-earned money, they would naturally expect the delivery of the service to be commensurate with the money charged.
However, teaching is slightly different compared to ordering pizza and garlic bread from a fast food joint.
Teaching is a process where both the teacher and the student need to be on the same wavelength so that the latter is more receptive to concepts taught.
An enthusiastic student will motivate even a callow teacher to push the envelope. No wonder, student engagement in business schools is now becoming the hot topic for research in social sciences.
Venkat often feels that even the process of giving feedback must be taught to students.
However, B-schools are in a mad rush to quickly collect feedback and collate data so that they can pare down the emoluments of teachers.
So, in most middle-rung business schools, teachers have to deal with lots of trash written by students and so the feedback is religiously dumped into the dust bin. Neither the teacher nor the students benefit from it.
I would appeal to B-schools to internalise a feedback mechanism that is more contemporary and where personality traits do not overshadow performance of the teacher concerned. Ironically, business schools wax eloquent about innovation but fail to do that in some of the key institutional processes.
Recently, I met a relative at a social function in Pune. This girl, who is related to me from Venkat’s side, is a qualified engineer. After having worked in Cisco for close to five years, she quit because it was becoming difficult to manage both home and work, thanks to the crazy working hours.
She now works in a school as a computer teacher. She mentioned to me about a class VI student who, when rebuked, told her that, “My father has paid lakhs in donation. So why are you punishing me?”
If a school student behaves in that fashion, what can you expect from students in B-schools?
B-school is more of a training ground for future managers. But students carry their degree college baggage to their own peril.
I have often seen students remonstrating with their teachers for the most silly reasons. Students having a field day in classroom get offended when their reverie is interrupted by a conscientious teacher.
Gadget addicts that students have now become – they find it a pain when rules prohibit usage of Smartphones in classrooms and corridors.
Students who are not punctual are a real pain. In institutions where academic regulations and rules are quite stringent, this attitude of students causes great stress to teachers.
There are students who are forever late, give loads of excuses and, once excused, they make it a habit to come late.
If the teacher is an easy-going person who does not mind flouting rules to appease the students (with a latent objective) then this matter gets exacerbated.
This is why most institutions have now started using technology to provide daily updates to students about their attendance status.
There are students who have killed their grandparents so many times to get an attendance waiver.
One girl in a Pune college went to the extent of claiming that her mother had met with an accident just so that the teacher would give her an attendance waiver. When the girl’s mother came to meet the dean in the afternoon, the cat was out of the bag.
Ideally, a semester in a B-school comprises classes that are conducted over a span of three or four months. I find it shocking that students find it difficult to attend classes even for this limited period. Then what kind of future managers are we building in B-schools?
More so, when the workplace of today is fast becoming a 24x7 workplace. Sagacious students would seldom use excuses for getting away. No wonder the industry finds that the present lot of MBAs are far from being employable.
Institutions that lack a technological infrastructure for mapping attendance of students face a humongous challenge when students come up with lies, such as: “I was present in the class but Madam has marked me absent.”
If the dean does not relent then the student would bring all his family members to bargain for attendance and in some cases, violence erupts when students use their political contacts or contacts in the University to get things done.
Deans with an open-door policy and "I-am-your-friend-and-well-wisher" approach expectedly face more hurdles on this front than those deans who go by the rulebook.
I do not want to sound like an old fogey carping too much about the present lot of students.
I would like to reiterate that there are good students too but I am afraid that they belong to a minority group.
As one of my colleagues Saritha Pasupathy once remarked, “If students have not been taught values till they attain 21 years, what do you expect B-school teachers to do?”
Saritha quit teaching a while ago and is now busy writing books and conducting cooking classes in Pimpri.
The situation is, indeed, glum. But the question is: How do we bring a transformation?
Students are smart and tech-savvy. There are no doubts on that front. But values? Aren’t values important in life?
This phenomenon of erratic student behaviour is not endemic—it has become the norm now.
Uncouth students scoff at maudlin advice as they are too busy puffing away.
As the instances of students taking to smoking and drugs keeps increasing, it is time for introspection. Mere grunting is not going to be enough. Is there a way out of this mess?