Soft skills, strong views

July 1st, 2011

First there was smoke. And then there was no fire.

Here’s how it all got started. Sometime in 2010, IIT Delhi ran a special 10-day programme for improving the communication, time management skills, self-expression etc of its participants.

Close follow-ups and several assessments later, the Institute decided to do a redux.

This year, sections of the academic world said the redux ’smacked of apartheid’, simply because it was targetted at scheduled caste and secheduled tribe students.

The institute, though, was quick enough to deny that the programme was strictly for SC-ST students. IIT-D issued a press release from the Registrar’s office that categorically said the grooming programme was open to all categories with preference given to SC/ST students.

Let’s think of it. Is it a mistake to acknowledge that sometimes students from different backgrounds may need special attention like self-enrichment programmes?

The ‘etiquette lessons’ for students with special preference to SC-ST category is a response to certain shortcomings in that section of students that the academic community might have noticed over a period of time. Okay, they could have made the programme optional at the inception and given SC-ST students the right to opt out of it.

However, this ‘Self-enrichment class’ is made of modules on communication, personality development and public speaking classes, all of which are soft skills and very much a regular feature in several institutes. Industry does stress on the need for soft-skills training along with theoretical learning.

Studies suggest that hard skills contribute to only 15% of one’s success while the remaining 85% is attribiuted to soft skills. Most employers these days want to hire candidates who are effective in spoken and written communication, dependable, resourceful and having positive attitude to learning.

Abhijeet Kamath, External Relations Cell, IIM-Calcutta says that at his institute they do have training sessions in effective oral, written and presentation skills.

Kamath adds that the idea behind the programme implemented at IIT-Delhi is noble since communication isn’t a strong point for most undergraduate students.

As a part of the PGP curriculum in the first year at IIM-C, students are mandatorily required to study Managerial Communication, a course that has 30 hours of teaching spread over two terms, emphasising on developing excellent written and oral communication skills. The course is a non-credit pass-fail course (you have to mandatorily pass this course to complete the degree requirements), and students are evaluated on the basis of their presentation skills, ability to write business notes, and ability to analyse business communication.

Then to begin with, one of the three pronged strategies in the Constitution to improve the situation of SCs and STs says – ‘Provide for resources and benefits to bridge the wide gap in social and economic condition between the SCs/STs and other communities.’ The basis of having a ‘reservation’ policy was background. Never mind that now there are enough successful SC-STs to make reservation policies redundant.

The point is why take such a serious approach to something constructive? For those who are against it, don’t they really not feel that such special attention is in fact a step in the right direction where the students will actually benefit in the long run during the campus placements or even otherwise?

If self-enrichment for SC-ST is apartheid, why don’t we apply the same yardstick to reservations?

Just because reservations give a huge advantage to SC-ST candidates in the job market, they are embraced. On the other hand, IIT-D’s programme hints, which  also seeks to empower them, is slammed only because it points to a certain weakness in such candidates.

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