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In the current global context, progress and development of any nation is distinctly, dependent on the texture and quality of its 'education parameters and paradigms', particularly higher education. It is now being increasingly realized that training students in communication skills, hitherto considered insignificant if not unnecessary as compared to the main curriculum, has come to occupy a cardinal and essentially significant position in the echelons of higher education. Though each of the various stakeholders involved in grooming the students into effective communicators has a distinct as well as significant role to play, the faculty in our educational institutions is the most critical link in the chain, however, even now, in most of the institutions, both, the communication skills training and the concerned teacher, are usually treated as subsidiary to the mainline courses and their respective areas. If Indian has to emerge as knowledge, and eventually an economic, superpower, grooming students, particularly those pursuing higher education, in soft skills should assume importance as never before and hence, the serve the need for well - trained faculty.
The winds of change are belowing ever faster on almost all fronts of development and touching most aspects of existence in the wake of liberalization, privatization and globalization and education too is being subjected to unprecedented changes. If primary education provides for the foundation of the nation's basic fabric, then higher education certainly acts as a vector for her forays into strategically important specialized and focused avenues.
However, it is being progressively realized that education cannot remain divorced from the real experiences of life. In other words, education, especially professional and specialized courses, cannot remain confined to the altruistic theory based instruction insulated from the actual happenings around.
It is now being felt strongly that there has to be a paradigm shift in the entire process of education from the very concept stage of the commissioning, to respond to the exigencies of current existence. This is a significant development in a situation where the world has been reduced to a highly networked and mutually dependent global village. As a distinct fall out of this, communication skills, as multifaceted ability to network, have gained paramount significance in virtually every field and aspect of learning and instruction. Due to this, nowadays no discussion on higher education can reach its conclusion without paying due cognizance to both the relevance and importance of communication on the one hand and the consequent progress in Research and Development (R&D) in the discipline of communication studies on the other.
In a very simplistic analysis, the gradual enmeshing of academic disciplines and the progressive growth of the symbiotic relation and their mutual dependence is primarily due to the changing nature and notion of professionalism today. In this era of growing culture-contact situation, insulated culture-specific attitude and behavior does no longer holds good. Thus an insular and parochial deportment a well as communication idiosyncrasies besides ignorance of emerging trends and norms of negotiation, networking and interpersonal skill, especially by the international standards, is proving detrimental in any profession
The present age is such that higher education, which should be designed in such a way as to cater to the international requisites, must take note of this factor and thereupon respond to it to the best of its ability. This is the collective responsibility of all the involved stakeholders. These stakeholders include the 'government' as a decision-making and also monitoring agency, the 'industry' or the employer, the 'institution' as the grooming body, the 'teacher' as the working gear, the 'parents' as the guiding force, and the 'student' as the final product. It is clear today that no training, instruction or education is complete till all the other stakeholders strive to produce the student as the meticulously chiseled complete product. Though each of these stakeholders has significant role to play in shaping the country's destiny, we shall be examining the particular facet of the teaching fraternity or the faculty in this study.
Any profession, be it the high profile white collar jobs like the administrative and financial services, the glamorous ones like those in fashion and electronic media, corporate and hospitality management, and so on to relatively low profile professions like research the teaching, it is almost mandatory that academic excellence must be accompanied by working efficiency, if not excellence, in one's soft skills and abilities. An undeniable adjunct is thus the need to communicate under vast and varied conditions with individuals belonging to different societies and cultures with differing communicating norms and patterns. Education in our age has to invariably accept the additional task of training students in communication or soft skill efficiency as leveling factor. No disciple and no academic program can deny this current need.
It is equally true that with the passage of time, concepts, notions, theories and applications in communication or soft skills have evolved tremendously to the point where studies in the field have assumed the proportion of an independent discipline in the name of communication studies. It is indeed an existential need of our times that academic courses pay heed to and borrow from this subject to finely prepare its disciples. In this situation, tow significant factors and trends emerge to arrest attention:
Current trend of offering basic programs like Business English, Technical English, English for Engineering Students and so on in the name of training in communication skills that fail to suffice the needs and requirements of our time.
Lack of finesse and expertise in teaching communication in majority of the universities and engineering institutions in our country besides absence of requisite basic facilities for such training.
The first factor pertains to poor quality and outdated academic content in communication skills training, especially as integral part of most of the university courses. Even a cursory preview of such syllabi indicates lack of vision and commitment in their design and development. In a global context, communication training has to transcend the traditional instruction in basic writing skills, such as letter, report and the current emphasis on resume writing in addition to some fundamental training in speaking, mostly in English.
It has to be realized that communication is essentially a multiskilled ability to network, negotiate and communicate information in a highly competitive world that hinges on interdependence and cooperation. so, any training in communication efficiency, as an integral part of a higher education program, has to take cognizance of this fact. However, it has to take great care of the fundamental principles of communication efficiency or the four basic skills in communication. These are the skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing.
This lacuna can be addressed by revamping the very attitude that design the curriculum. The faculty too needs to be proficient in the primary soft skills and just a cursory masters degree, say in English literature which is the general and prevalent trend, will not suffice, Further, the institution ought to be better - equipped with at least some essential tools and techniques, like an independent communication laboratory. This will require a relook at the entire process of communication.
Process of Communication
At an initial stage, communication is a 'sensory activity', i.e., communication is heavily dependent on the five basic human senses. To transmit, for example, a human being usually uses a combination of these basic senses. S/he speaks, touches, makes gestures and so on to 'transmit' or to connect. Thereupon, with progressive and growing complexities and sophistication in the process of communication, one resort to greater acquired skills like writing and using technology to get the message across. Similarly, to 'receive', initially one uses the basic senses like seeing, hearing, smelling and touching. Ultimately, the stimulation of these basic senses is processed intelligently to reach cognition and understanding. Thus communication, due to its own inherent logic, has to give credence and credibility to the sense perceptions. Since the process of communication is essentially a "two-way meaningful exchange of information, knowledge, emotions, and intelligence between two or more individuals", reception of the communication is as vital as the transmission! Today this is a major reason for treating communication studies also as a 'Behavioral Science' and not just a language course.
Two way Process of CommunicationThe very basic 'two ways exchange mechanism of communication is shown in figure.
In an elemental sense, behavior is the response to stimulus. So is communication! It is only that the latter is more specific both in its transmission and reception. Transmission, in the process of communication, acts as a stimulus that intends to elicit a desired response from the receiver. Skill in communication is all about gaining conscious control of and achieve efficiency in this stimulus - response system.
While dwelling upon the involved sense perception in the process of communication, it becomes obvious that while communicating, all our sense organs are in active participation. It is altogether a different matter that whether these faculties are used independently, in combination or simultaneously. For example, a power point presentation on coffee may become more effective and interesting by stimulating not only the sense of 'hearing' and 'sight' of the audience but also with the arousal of the olfactory senses by introducing the aroma of coffee in the session besides exciting the taste buds!
Skill in communication is not only about the effective use of the sense but also their conscious manipulation to maximize the desired objective of a particular communication, along with the conscious minimizing of the operating, interfering and the inherent snags and barriers in that process. Quite naturally, any effective training in communication skills has to make its beneficiaries appreciate this reality at the very onset of the training. Thereafter, a sustained pressure has to be maintained to keep the students constantly aware of it through the program, so that the learners permanently internalize these basic commandments of communication. Thus a mere good degree in English language may not suffice as the prerequisite of an efficient and effective faculty in communication.
The H+5W concept
Along with the conscious control of one's senses, skill development in communication efficiency also implies the development of the awareness that would make the individual realize and understand the very process of communication. This understanding is basically the concept of 'H+5W',
H = How,
W = Why,
W = What,
W = When,
W = Where,
W = Who.
Therefore the process involves not just knowing now and why to communicate what in the first place, but also what, when and where and especially to whom though the sequence could vary.
It is to be realized that the very raison d'etre of any communication is to exchange or share information, knowledge, emotions and intelligence. This is fortified with the understanding of the process of communication and the significant role of senses in communication.
With a progressive growth of complexities in the content of exchange, communication gradually evolves from its initial simplistic and childlike exchange mechanistic stage to becoming the sophisticated 'multi-skilled' paradigm. In the sophisticated and demanding nature of communication at a professional level, efficiency in the process is achieved with the essential 'awareness' of the presence and participation of the other person or party. Beyond a basic common sense, which is inadequate in the current context of tremendous competition, training can make the individuals more conscious and capable of using one's own senses and developing the poignancy to effectively manipulate the same for communication efficiency.
The awareness of the process of communication and the role of human sense involved in it should enable the individual become a 'thinking and intelligent' communicator. This means that the individual will consciously be aware of the 'stimulus - response mechanism' of the process of communication, and thereby able to select, filter and choose the right one from the numerous stimuli that one is subjected to during almost every conscious moment. This will enable the individual to simultaneously apply the rule of H+5W' concept and address the stimulus-response mechanism of the communication paradigm.
It is obvious that innate skill often does invest some of these attributes in an individual but to master the entire package, which today is commonly known as soft skill development, training is both imperative and unavoidable and hence again the need for well trained and adequately equipped faculty. However, delivering the entire package of such sensitive skill development program may not be possible in one go due to various constraints under the existing situation and several related issues need to be taken into account. Only some such areas of concern, which are highlighted here:
Frequency and the duration of such training programs.
The seriousness with which the program is offered.
The mode, means and quality of its assessment.
Infrastructure and financial back-up of the programe.
Indispensable synergy with the industry.
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
There is also a silver lining in the clouds. Sector but there are also some shining examples in our University, due to the enormous competition by following the adage or maxim of the United Nations - Think Global, Act Local. Of late, such welcome signs of change are becoming visible and also tangible. One sure outcome has been the work done on the syllabus and curriculum of some institutions. BIT Mesra, for example, has regularly revised and updated its syllabus in the last five years and the management including the Vice Chancellor means business especially where training students in communication skills is concerned. The constant prodding for seminars, symposia, research and industry - institute interaction in the area demonstrates an enlightened approach for orienting the entire system and particularly the concerned faculty.
Another significant development is the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the west Bengal Technical University with the British Council in July 2005. As a part of this pilot project, the latter will train about 70 engineering students of the former under its popular Business English Certificate Program. If the training achieves the desired results, then the course would be introduced in the affiliated colleges. Significant research and findings like the recent NASSCOM report, that only 7% of the students, awarded professional degrees in our country get recruited in worthy jobs due to skill in communication go a long way in generating the right awareness amongst the involved players.
The design and implementation of specific training program on communication skills for professional students should begin with the introduction of the 'basic skills'. These basic elements of communication are the fundamental skills of 'speaking - listening', and 'reading - writing'.
Four Basic Skills
Though, the current pattern of education provides for intensive tutoring of the writing and speaking skills. There barely is any evidence of systematic attention being paid to the areas of reading and, more so to listening efficiency. In fact it has been pointed out that the amount of training given to the four basic skills is as follows:
Listening - Least,
Speaking - Next least,
Reading - Second most and
Writing - Most.
It is rather unfortunate that teachers fail to work on the composite skill development in the young students, where all the four skills should be fundamentally treated as an essentially synergized and mutually dependent package. Interestingly, as per an international study, the four basic skills are learnt in the order, listening - Speaking - Reading - Writing (LSRW) and in the following pattern:
Listening - 45%,
Speaking - 30%,
Reading - 16% and
Writing - 09%.
Through most primary and secondary school education pattern, atleast in the government school in India, is based on the Gandhian notions which stresses on the 'all round development of the child', yet in reality the execution is a far cry!
Somehow, even in the commonly handled areas of writing and speaking skills, distinct and also bothersome differences arise, primarily - due to the following conditions:
Rural - Urban divide,
Public/convent school - Government school distinction, and
The geographical ethnolinguistic factors and traditions.
This lack of consistency and uniformity poses a challenge in designing a common minimum program for the graduating students. Almost all the institutes, be it government or private, reputed or newly established, urban or semi-urban/rural accommodate a motley composition of students coming from all over the region, if not the entire country. The syllabus has to pay attention to and cater to conditions listed above and the consequent individual differences to attain a basic semblance of success.
Role of the Trainer
Though most of us are blessed with some natural talent that gives us a headstart, yet skill and proficiency can be developed due to the influence of grooming and socialization that we are subsequently exposed or subjected to. However, fine - tuning of the soft skills invariably happens during the training that the individuals undergo at various levels. Though each stage and level has its own relevance, yet the notion of 'catching those young', especially during the graduating stage, has its own benefits.
Interactions with the various stakeholders like the students, their parents, communication skills faculty, institution heads, employers, and government officers and entrepreneurs, indicate that to make progress in any profession, one has to be a good communicator and hence the relevance of training in communicating skils. Communication today is no longer a unilateral and unidirectional skill in speaking, listening reading and writing ability through language proficiency. It is rather the skill in using all these fundamental and basic communication elements holistically.
The faculty or the trainer is the guiding force of any training program and hence occupies a position of extreme sensitivity and importance in the overall success and accreditation of the training program. Quite often, it is the teacher who bestows 'velocity' and 'magnetism' to an otherwise dull program working against significant odds. During the course of teaching communication skills to students pursuing professional courses in Management and Information Technology, it was strongly felt by the author that overall success of a communications training program primarily depends upon the skill, dynamism, attitude, experience, expertize and finally the commitment of the training program too plays a critical role along with the role of the beneficiary or the student.
Profile and Perceptions of Students
Significantly, the experience of English Language Teaching at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, to learners who were generally working men and women in 30-35 years age group and conducting personality Development and Communication Skills at Father Agnel Polytechnic, New Delhi, and the Birla Institute of Technology, for young students in 18-24 years age group with little to no work experience but full of zeal, dreams and aspirations, revealed that these were two distinct experiences. Except for the fact that in both the situations the learners aspired to become letter communicators and believed fluency in the spoken English was a major contributing factor, the motivation level, the drive, the approach and attitude, and even the level of commitment in the two situations were sharply different.
While interviewing faculty of various institutes it was revealed that generally as compared to the more mature and senior pupils, the mostly cheeky audacious brats in the classrooms in metros undoubtedly required less diplomacy but more tact; less caution but more patience; less reserve but more dynamism, vigor and imagination; less content, but more volume, experience, exposure and style.
The working adult students were often cynical, especially to new ideas Long pedagogic lectures, where the teacher was able to quote at length especially from foreign authors and from research conducted in foreign universities were held in more esteem. Encouragement likes 'of course, you can do it'; rarely cut ice with these students after two weeks as it invariably did with a younger lot! Somehow, monotonous theory and long lectures aided by audio - visuals gained currency with the veteran learners. On the other hand, young students abhor any prolonged monotony of theoretical lectures! Real life examples or case studies, stories and fiction kept them occupied and attentive, interestingly, even the students who could barely articulate in English, craved to participate in the classroom experience and usually felt greatly rewarded once they did! Quite surprisingly, after a few of participating ventures, most of the students including even the poor communicators generally grew significantly and obviously confident.
In another study, about hundred undergraduate students of Management in the BIT, Mesra (Nodia Extension Center) were asked to comment on their communication skill classes. About 80% said that long stereotype, non-participatory lectures were a burden and they wanted a reprieve from such classes. Over 90% craved for practical, hands - on work or in other words 'show how' instead of know how'.
In Communication skills training, the need for an 'audio-video research center' or a 'communication laboratory' cannot be over emphasized. Young students as fresh as sophomores, are nowadays joining academic programs with sharper focus and greater overall awareness. Naturally in that case, perfunctory lectures especially in areas of utmost importance are starkly disapproved by them. They appreciate any sincere effort, but at the same time, expect the teacher to 'deliver'. This is what currently most teachers in most academic institution are unable to do, either wittingly or unwittingly.
Young professionals are generally vulnerable where expertise in communicating abilities is concerned! Even the so called 'generation X' from a metro like Delhi acknowledge the need for 'tuning up' when stakes are high. Thus hands-on exercises in a communication laboratory act as great leveler. This is an element that a communication skill teacher has to focus on, and use to one's own advantage. The institutes as well as the faculty doubtlessly need to borrow some unique elements especially in terms of content from the existing models like that of British Council.
Unlike the heterogeneous motley crowd, that throngs the commercial courses of British Council and other such entities, the academic courses admit uniformity! This homogeneity is in terms of age, educational qualifications, merit and aspiration in the students. Uniqueness lies in the areas of economic solvency and rural-urban distinction of the students, primarily. Thus, the teachers should keep in mind this vital factor, along with the differences, discussed earlier.
So to begin with, the profile of the communication skills teacher, handling the communication skills classes in a professional institute as part of the overall academic program, both at the under graduate and post graduate level, needs to be developed keeping in mind the following vital factors:
The teacher is most often the 'working gear' of the program.
Communication skills classes in a regular college are essentially and inherently different from commercial ventures, even from those conducted by recognized traditional and time-tested international players like the British Council. The difference is predominantly in terms of the students' profile, infrastructure, budget and objective of the program.
Due to this undeniable and often over powering sophistication and also the market-value of their programs, the faculty handling such communication classes in the commercial institutes usually does not have to struggle for either credibility or the basic dignity of the profession. Also, since majority of the instructors is westerners, especially in most of the popular and coveted courses, they still have a psychological appeal and enjoy better acceptance.
Along with these factors, the students the enroll in these smart and savvy 'pay and learn' institutes too, despite their diversity in background and age, are serious participants; the very cost of the programs generally ensures that. This seriousness coupled with the precise and professional ambience in these commercial outfits' brooks no nonsense! Time means business, and business means money to all the concerned, hence there is actually no scope for frolic and excursion. Further, the gizmos and technology used by such 'mea' players with solid financial backing often dazzle the students further into appreciative silence, if not a stunned appreciation.
A British Council lecture room, for example, even way back in the early 1980s in Kolkata, sported a color television, a closed circuit camera, telephone instruments and intercoms and a computer programmed with 'skill assessment tests'! How could a state run institution fighting for financial austerity compete with this? ! How could a state run institution fighting for financial austerity compete with this? Unfortunately, except for the flashy privately run Management and Technology institutes, which are currently mushrooming across our country, most of our institutes including some accredited colleges and universities can reach nowhere near such grace and quality in terms of infrastructure, even today. In situations like this, which gets replicated in most government set-up that is more concerned about mainstream academic, the overall infrastructure generally cries for attentions. They neither have space nor are equipped to conduct communication skills lecturer in the modern state-of-the-art sense. So the attitude is lackadaisical towards the program and at times step-motherly towards the teachers. Soon, the attitude affects the students also and one hears jibes doing the rounds in the campus. These poor communication teachers thus often lives at best as a second class citizen in the institution premises and in even the staff room has to fight and find her/his own dignity and status!
The Budget allocated to such programs is usually minuscule at best, whereas in reality, the initial cost of running communication classes is relatively high, and thereafter there is the recurring cost of sustaining the program. Further, investment in the indispensable Audio Video Research Center will be about one million rupees in capital expenditure. This would stun most Government University and college administration and stunt the growth of the program further. Thereupon, the recurring seminars, workshops, symposia, industry visits, etc., are constant add-on. Yet no program in communication can do away with these if it intends to be true to its mission and purpose.
The teachers handling such programs also require such basic aids to deliver a meaningful package, and assume the position of importance and sensitivity expected of them. Yet, when such 'action aids' are missing, the already pathetic situation further deteriorates. Invariably, at the end of the day, the communication teacher irrespective of one's professional credibility and expertise loses sail and the training program or classes merely become rudimentary 'Business English' and 'Technical English' lectures.
Any serious faculty in a professional college has to thus work much harder to gain the same mileage which otherwise would have easily supported and sustained her/him. One progressively popular trend is to have teachers trained by various big banners. An English Language Teaching (ELT) faculty, trained in programs conducted by the Central Institute English Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, the IIMs, or the British Council and InLingua advance courses, will authomatically serve a dual purpose. Firstly, the concerned faculty, due to this value addition, will not only be held in greater esteem amongst fellow colleagues, students and other conscious stakeholders, but also feel more gainfully confident due to the exclusive experience and exposure. It is also seen that this peer-appreciation generally permeates quickly, spreading the name and fame of both the institute and its courses and the teacher as well. Significantly, the 'market' also responds rather favorably to such moves.
Closer analysis reveals that this trend has some extremely useful aspects. Usually an individual who has majored in English from a university is hired or recruited as a communication faculty. Thus, any additional training related to the wide gamut of avenues of soft skills become easy, interesting and stimulating for the concerned communication teachers. Simultaneously, the institution that is recruiting the teacher recovers the additional expenditure incurred in sponsoring the teacher's training many times over. Further, such exercises lead to significant 'value addition' to th very institutions, the curriculum and the teacher. This is indeed valuable mileage gained in the times of cut-throat completion, which even the institutions cannot ignore.
Further, a continuous interaction and interface with the relevant industry also adds value to the course. Communication Skills training, especially, as part of an academic package, is basically, aimed to prepare students for the professions. This can only happen when the communication training is tailor-made for the industry requirements and the teacher is aware of the current trends. To get the training thus fine-tuned to the industry's requirements, the approach and attitude of the course and the teacher has to match both the fashion and pattern in the industry. Hence it is unavoidable that the soft skills teacher gets 'connected' to the industry in a sustained manner. A significant 74% of the executives of the industry interviewed in Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and Hyderabad, showed eagerness to work in tandem with serious, committed, and enterprising communication teachers. Most of the manages felt that this would help the industry as well by providing in times of need 'trouble shooting' support to ease communication problems that plague all organization - big and small.
Often the teachers must rejuvenate, refresh, revise and essentially refurbish their content and style. Unfortunately most of the universities rarely revise a syllabus in less than five years! A communication teacher actually cannot remain idle and confined to the syllabus that is at least helf a decade old! This would actually tantamount to professional suicide! Thus, keeping abreast by being in touch, and thereafter constantly remaining so and adjusting according to the exigencies, is the order of the day. This is also exactly what the students' desire. A dynamic, proactive, energetic an current attitude is one of the recurring expectations of the overwhelming majority of the students interviewed.
Similarly, a communication Skills teacher has to believe in the mission and value of the program or training s/he is handling. Till the teacher develops the right attitude and respect for both the profession, in general and the curriculum, in particular, the desired regard, appreciation and thus the necessary administrative back-up will be missing. Without this 'sanctity', no soft skills program will ever succeed. Hence, the communication faculty has to first win and earn respect and credibility by being sincere, and up-to-the-mark and thereafter inject fresh blood, meaning and relevance to the training. This is perhaps true of all professions, especially teaching. It but assumes difficult dimensions for soft skill faculty as the present generation of communication teachers are indeed pioneers and they have to face all the hardships of 'pathfinders'. The glory can await the next generation of teachers that in it will be a great reward for the present generation.