In a candid interaction with Mahesh Kallayil of Education Today, Yatharth Gautam – Director & CMO, Birla Open Mind International School speaks about the initiative they are undertaking to develop soft skills among students.
Please tell us about Birla Open Mind International School. How does the company contribute to Indian education sector?
The Birla family has a legacy of nation-building and understands the importance of a good education system. We provide an undiluted focus on preschool, K12 curriculum design and teacher training, that captures the concept of new-age learning. Birla Open Minds converted passion into a business and created a brand that stands for integrity, dependability, sustainability and credibility.
We signed our first school in 2009 and since then, created path-breaking victories by expanding our presence across the country, penetrating cities that others steered clear from. With a zeal to further expand our network, Birla Open Minds started associating with dedicated investors who shared a vision of setting up a world-class educational institution for children.
Touching new pinnacles of success with each passing year Birla Open Minds today stands tall with its vast network of 130+ world-class institutions spread across 18 states within India; with a year on year growth of more than 70%. We have always emphasised on the after-sales services and ensured continuous support to our business partners with the help of skilled and highly reputable professionals who are working with us as regional managers across each zone in India in addition to those at the head office.
What is Birla Open Mind International School’s vision with reference to soft skills in education?
Soft skills are the key abilities that everyone needs to succeed in any aspect of life may it be work or relationships. Preparing our students for a successful career and a productive life has always been our motto at Birla Open Minds.
Soft skills are such a crucial element, that often gets misplaced and ignored. The requirement of these skills, be it communication, listening or even as simple as time management are crucial to any individual’s development and progress. It is this discipline that often makes future leaders stand apart from followers. Given the geography we cater to Pan India, our vision includes ensuring that these skill sets are well honed and ingrained in the DNA of each student that is a part of the Birla Open Minds family. Tomorrow, when these students set out on their respective career paths; we are certain that with a strong base of soft skills learnt through Birla Open Minds, they would not only be recognized by their future employers, but will be able to set examples for their businesses as well.
What role Edtech companies can play in soft-skill development?
Edtech companies are primed to cater to soft-skill development today. With most of their consumers now embracing the technology aspects of education accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are in a prime position of supplementing their learning aspects via technology to not only better hone those skills, but also map them in a manner that is tangible and measurable for the students. Classroom learnings do have their gaps, owing to limitations which can stem from multiple factors, such as class size, student aptitudes; which differ from child to child etc. however, through the technology platform, these soft-skill developments can be customised and more individual centric.
What are the initiatives Birla Open Mind International School undertaking to develop soft skills among students?
There are five main soft skills which are undervalued but nonetheless require honing. The first one being Learning Ability. It is the ability to learn and not the IQ which matters and we at Birla Open Minds make sure that every student is taught in such a manner by catering to multiple intelligences in such a way that each student’s ability to learn and process information is multiplied twofold.
The second is emergent leadership, as opposed to traditional leadership. The leadership quality we wish to nurture is not power but is teamwork and collaboration. This is enhanced when our students are taught to work together collaboratively towards solving problems and finding solutions.
“Innovation rarely happens in instantaneous individual breakthroughs, but rather evolves through collaborative group endeavors in which personal adaptability is a necessity. This absolutely requires humility, for successful innovation can only be driven by learning, imagination, and by data, never by ego.” It is extremely important, then, for teachers to create learning environments where students get to brainstorm, thinking imaginatively through ‘Reader Response Theory’, and research big questions on a regular basis, in the company of others. We do this invariably to enhance the 21st Century skill of being innovative, creative, solve problems and decision making and all this while being a team player.
To top these communication skills both interpersonal and intrapersonal are honed through the approaches to teaching which we have adapted in our curriculum. Our basic approach to language teaching is the Communicative approach. Over and above this, we pay attention to the LSRTW (Listening, Speaking, Reading, Thinking & Writing) skill development through various innovative activities and latest teaching – learning strategies such as self-reflection and Book Reviews, etc.
To top these all, a positive attitude towards life is what students at Birla Open Minds achieve. We can proudly say that right from Preschool to the end of High School we are Nurturing India’s tomorrow!
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the fastest-ever shift of education to the online platforms. What strategies have you adopted to cope up with this situation?
It is true that the pandemic accentuated online learning, and adoption rates increased throughout the industry. Birla Open Minds was placed fairly well to tackle the demand and cope with the situation owing to our historical learning modules and methods, which were technology based years before the pandemic hit. I can confidently say, that we were fortunate enough to be less reactive to the chaos that followed post March 2020 thanks to our proactive approach to education offline and online. This approach helped us maintain our systems and processes in place, tweaking them only to better the experience of online learning and ensuring that no child or teacher suffers an educational break. We have constantly monitored global aspects of education and even partnered to share knowledge on how to best implement education to the online platforms. One of our sister concern companies, was already on track to supplement the online learning space prior to the Pandemic, and acted as a support pillar during these times. We must remember that one of the major challenges we faced was not of demand or supply of education through the online platforms, but that of “user onboarding” or “change in habit”, if I may say so from the students and parents aspect, considering we cater to tier 2,3 and 4 cities. This was something we knew would act as speedbumps in imparting education during the pandemic, and hence, it was our top most priority to strategise around easing this for our parents and students to the fullest extent possible.
Why do you think India lag behind when it comes to skill development?
I would’nt say India lags behind in skill development per say, however I would put it slightly differently by saying not much emphasis has been given to it in the past.
To cite a few examples, lets look at it from a job perspective first;
We have seen instances where job seekers often have to face the brunt of rejection, not because they were academically short of expectations, but because they lacked certain skill sets that would assist them in their journey in the company. As a company and an interviewer; we would ofcourse provide the feedback for the candidates to improve for their next opportunity elsewhere, however how many candidates actually “know” how to improve these skill sets? Where to seek assistance for upskilling? Whom to reach out to?
We have also seen instances where current employees are stagnant in their roles, and often or not, this is owing to employer’s not offering enough up-skilling opportunities for them to further learn and acquire new skillset’s or improve on their existing one’s which would only help them transition to a senior role within the organisation in a seamless manner.
This problem stems from their foundation years of schooling too, where probably skill development wasn’t emphasised on enough, or maybe it wasn’t part of a metric that required to be monitored in the correct manner?
I do feel that the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) is a brilliant initiative to plug these gaps, and we have seen several outcomes from it that proves it is on the right path. The government is doing what best they can do on this front, however, employers also need to take accountability and responsibility to ensure the current workforces are up-skilled where required.
What are the challenges you are facing? How do you see them as opportunities?
Some of the challenges we are facing are ensuring that the parents understand how difficult it is for schools to operate without their support and encouragement, ensuring teachers stay motivated and enthusiastic to impart knowledge to students and ofcourse bringing on budding edupreneurs to invest in schools. These are certainly seen as opportunities for us as the first one provides us the platform to strengthen our commitment and dialogues with our stakeholders at a very personal level, which has a higher ROI than anything a school or an educational company can ask for. When it comes to our teachers, this has provided us with an opportunity to motivate them and train new teachers via our teacher training courses that are part of Birla Open Minds offerings and last but not the least, reinforcing the belief that education is always here to stay and that there is no better way to give back to the society when edupreneurs partner with Birla Open Minds ensures that we stay true to our motto of Nurturing India’s Tomorrow. We must always remember, that its not the end result that matters, but the journey; and Birla Open Minds intends to happily embrace each aspect of this beautiful journey.