At times, opportunities are right at your door. I remember the Building University Capacity to Support Business Incubation in Nepal (BUCSBIN) project being one such opportunity for me. I did not understand the core concept back then. However, the research component of the project attracted me to it. In the beginning, it all sounded vague and distant to me. At the end, it deepened my understanding and most importantly it made me exuberant.
The project’s objective was to increase the capacity of Nepal’s universities to develop and teach entrepreneurship and business incubation programmes. It was taught in collaboration with Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OAMK) and its innovative and award-winning incubator programme, namely the OAMK LABs.
During the initial phase of the project, we visited OAMK and its LAB in Finland. The experience gave me a different level of awareness about the different methods of teaching. The university’s LAB based teaching course is a credited course at OAMK and takes a period of four months to complete. I attended a four day workshop on LAB based learning. The four month credit course was developed into a four day workshop for Nepali partners so that they could experience it. Similarly, it was then conducted again for five days for students. The students were from Nepal as well as from OAMK. Here, we experienced the training as coaches and mentors.
The LAB based course doesn’t just teach, it also attempts to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in students so that they have the necessary 21st century skills essential for success.
It is apparent in the context of business education in Nepal that the focus has always been on informing students about various management courses. Furthermore, it is noticeable that knowledge and skills are often assumed as separate things. Thus, a student goes to business school to gain knowledge and get the degree and attends training sessions to develop practical skills.
The Lab based method challenges the idea of knowledge and skills being separate. It further focuses on building the proper mindset for 21st century skills. Globally, the trend is more than ever leaning towards integrating the humanities into technical as well as business education. The argument is that there will be computers to perform hard skills so humans must possess the “soft skills” which are now termed as “essential skills”.
Furthermore, teachers and colleges should now be orientated in the humanities to build these foundational skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, empathy, social perspectives, active listening and communication skills not only by offering degree programmes in the humanities, but also by integrating more humanistic teaching into business education.
This global trend made me reflect on my own approach to teaching. It was difficult to accept that after four years of teaching my approach may not have been humanistic. I was highly focused on transferring research skills to my students. My experience at OAMK and the workshop made me realise the importance of “essential skills”. I tried to change some of my teaching methods. It resulted in better teaching and better feedback from students. I am still looking for answers on topics such as, “How to make my course more human”. Furthermore, as a team member of BUCSBIN, my question to myself and other team-members is, “Do we possess the 21st century essential skills that we want to deliver to students through the LAB based teaching method?”
Replicating a five day workshop and a credited course is possible. However, the challenge lies in transferring the “essential skills” in the same manner as the LAB master and coaches in Finland. Some of the integral questions that need to be settled if we really want to conduct what we plan to without losing the essence are: Are we honest with each other? Do we collaborate when we say collaborate? Do we have empathy for each other? Do we really want to make a difference? And, for those of us who have taken up the roles in this project, do we know why we have taken up the roles?
It was rightly pointed out, for instance, that if we want to instill the essence of planning and remaining fixed to time schedules, we need to model out. Talks, motivational speeches are wearing out. They don’t have the kind of impact they used to have when these talks were rare and people who made these talks walked it as well. Our classes are falling apart. In the first day of a research class, I asked students what motivated them to study research. Many of them joked, “We don’t have a choice, it is a compulsory course!” Another student whispered to his friend, “I like coming to college but not to class!” This simply shows us failing as educators.
Essentially, it is important to have the 21st century skills in place even before attempting to transfer them to students through the LAB based method. It is easier to tell students to sort out differences honestly in team-work but exhibiting it from my side is far more important. It is easier to be effective when one tries to transfer the skills that one possesses. We must achieve these “essential skills” if we want to successfully adopt the project based learning system in our pedagogy.
The author is Assistant Professor, General Management (HR) and Student Research Project In-Charge at Kathmandu University School of Management.
--BY SABINA BANIYA CHHETRI