Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why should a student make a plan instead of only choosing career option?

In my coaching, I have never observed a student making a plan in their student life. In my observation, students do not draft a plan due to three reasons. One, students do not know how to plan. Two, they do not know what to plan. And three, students do not know what to do if the plan fails. In other words, they do not know the purpose and benefit of planning. They are just happy to choose one career option and hope that it will work wonders automatically.

Why should student make a plan?

Single biggest reason of making a plan in student life is to 'excel' academically. If the students IQ is well above average, he can excel in many subjects and areas. He may not need a plan. But most of us need focus of efforts and time to excel. That is why a student must first choose a career option to focus his energy. And then he must also make a plan to channelise his efforts to excel in a chosen career option. This is not possible until he draws a plan. Drawing an action plan in the school life is a plan for 'ensuring excellence in academic life'. Therefore let us call this plan, Unique Learning Plan, or ULP in short.

Unlike a student excelling in entertainment or sports ( such as Lata Mangeshkar or Sachin Tendulkar), a student in cognitive field ( please see this distinction of cognitive and Aesthetic field here) requires a ULP. A student in entertainment and sports field starts his race (playing music or playing sport) at the age of 8 and therefore has a greater chance of excelling. On the contrary, until the age of 21, a student in cognitive field (also called as knowledge field) is engaged in reading and understanding concepts that he may or may not use in the later age. Until the student starts working, he will not apply these concepts in real life and verify his knowledge he has gained. ULP is required because it enables a student to focus his efforts in his long academic life on meaningful actions.

Two critical areas in Unique Learning Plan (ULP) 

The Unique Learning plan should cover at least two type of subjects: Core subject and complementary subjects.

One, it should help the student to build deeper knowledge in his chosen core subjects to become 'excellent'. More often than not, student chose core subjects such as physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics because they are traditionally considered to build the skills that are demanded in a skill-market. These are the left-brain oriented subjects. To ensure admissions, a student has to work with dual objective:  Work on getting good marks in the subject, say physics, and also work on acquiring deeper knowledge of Physics. Most of the coaching classes today help in scoring higher marks in the subject, say physics. But it requires a different type of teacher ( and also some additional avenues like Physics Olympiad) to help the student gain deeper knowledge of a subject in physics. This deeper knowledge helps develop excellence in physics which is later useful in student's work-life.

Two, ULP should also include a plan to understand and apply complementary subjects. Complementary subjects are those subjects that complement the benefits of core subjects. For instance, subjects like Language develop the art of communicating one's thoughts and ideas in a cogent manner. Without this basic skill of communication, a student excelling in physics and maths cannot benefit. Because of this lack of focus on language, you will meet many brilliant students who are unable to express their thoughts coherently and therefore fail to maximise the benefits of their academic excellence. Likewise, subject like history helps student understand the history of our country, and how the philosophies of leftist or rightist political parties are influencing today's policies and governance. Without knowing where he stands in his community, a student feels like a traveller who has lost his way in foreign land. Subject like Geography helps the student understand the inter-related variables of environment and therefore appreciate the dynamic complexities of one's environment. These right-brain oriented subjects are therefore very useful for the student to 'develop the qualities' that will complement the student's core left-brain oriented subjects. For more detailed exploration of right-brain and left-brain, please see Ian Mcgilchrist's detailed exploration.

In earlier days, students typically chose left brain subjects as core subjects to excel in their career. But in today's economy, the right-brain subjects are equally in demand. Today, you will find many students choosing  right-brain subjects like Language and History as core subjects of choice. For them, complementary subjects therefore become physics and chemistry, as they have to learn left-brain subjects to 'structure' their thoughts. Core subjects for one student could be complementary subject for another student and vice versa. Therefore, depending on their ULP, every student has to spend different 'time' and 'type of effort' on each subject.


An ULP therefore helps a student start the race, because there is no benefit in waiting for the race to start. The earlier you start running the race, the ahead you are in the race. The biggest benefit of ULP is fully utilising the years you spend in the academic life to excel. This excellence helps considerably in the later work-life.

However, the biggest benefit of ULP is indirect. It channelises a student's bubbling and restless mental energy  ( adolescent age also brings its own energy and force) in a focused direction. This helps a student discipline his whimsical mind. For instance, taking all the necessary actions in the ULP - studying core subjects or complementary subjects - requires a disciplined mind. As a student mind in this age is easily distracted, ULP enables him to reduce these distractions. LP enables the student to develop the required willpower to focus. As LP requires taking assistance from friends and colleagues to understand a subject; this forces a student to interact and collaborate with friends. In other words, ULP enables student to develop his mind. We have also seen the definition of Mind growth and how it is different than academic or intellectual growth. Mind growth is facilitated unconsciously by LP.

Earlier we had seen how mind growth directly influences work-life excellence. Mind growth also impacts academic life equally strongly. Later we shall see how it impacts the academic excellence and what steps should one take to consciously plan for Mind growth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Selecting the right career option is less important than making a Unique Learning plan

Anushka went through a thorough process of selecting her career options when she was in 10th. She also gave aptitude test where she discovered that her logical skill is very good. She wanted to go outside India, have a career that has got lot of potential. So she chose Diploma in software, and wanted to take a degree course in software later. She did very well in all the three years. She scored first class throughout. However, in third year of diploma, she discovered she cannot continue with software discipline. But everyone strongly dissuaded her. Her friends told her that her marks indicate that she is fit for software. She was thoroughly confused.

What did Anushka do wrongly? Did she go through wrong aptitude tests? Or did she select a wrong career option? Or did she make a mistake because her mind was 'used' by her emotion ( instead of using emotion to take the right decision) that she wanted to go out of India? What do you think went wrong?

Aptitude tests are only indicative. They will tell you that your logical skill is good, or your numerical skill  is poor, or your spatial skill is OK. Aptitude tests do not tell you that the career option you must choose if your logical and numerical skill is good. With good logical and numerical skill, you have many options: Mathematics, any engineering discipline, physics and others. Infact, by going through your past exam scores in different subject, you can find 'which skill' of yours is good. You do not need an aptitude test ! In other words, aptitude tests are not useful in taking a career decision at all. As Benjamin Bloom, the researcher who has researched talented people found out, that not even the best of the talent have unusual talents at a young age of 12-15.

But Anushka did a much bigger mistake. She got satisfied by selecting a right career option. Because of too much data about the skill market and too little information about yourself, no one can choose an ideal career option at such an early age. In other countries, career options are taken in early twenties. Because of this inherent complexity, it is more prudent to draw up a Unique Learning plan, a plan that will enable the student to develop his/her abilities.

In other words, Anushka should have made a Unique Learning Plan to develop her abilities. She may use her abilities in different domains depending on her interest ( such as software, other engineering disciplines). , She may design an engagement that will her develop her abilities deeper, and change her future options by finding her growth in her chosen abilities. What Anushka needed was a Unique learning plan, not a career-option which will come later? Career-option is just using one's ability in a domain. Career option taken at an early age can never be accurate; because one has to get ready to face different scenarios which are different than predicted. A flexible career option required to tackle different emergent scenarios can help you prepare better when your chosen career-option turns out to be wrong. If she had made a plan, Anushka would have been ready with the next option without feeling confused and lost.

The second feature of unique learning plan is equally important: the feature of engaging with the external world that will help you engage 'fully' with the chosen abilities. Although Anushka did not make a plan, she engaged with the field of software completely; not half-heartedly. Her marks in software proved her full engagement. Project work that helps one apply the learnt principles, is another indicator of full engagement. Anushka did her project work well. So when despite full engagement, one finds that one does not like the field, like Anushka did, it is time to take a call. That she got good marks in software is a proof of her engagement, not a proof that software suits her. Anushka's friend confused her, because they misunderstood the 'meaning' of high marks. This confusion happened because Anushka had not prepared a Unique Learning Plan. Software domain is just an option to use her abilities, not a fixed path that has to be taken.

Third feature of Unique Learning plan is the design of cross-road point ( the point where you can change your chosen abilities if something went wrong in the growth of those abilities). In Anushka's case, this cross-road point (shifting from software to some other engineering discipline) automatically got created because she realised she is not so good in software. Imagine what would have happened to Anushka if she had decided to do software degree course after 12th. She would have discovered that her choice is wrong at the end of degree course. She would have perhaps done what most other engineering students do: Do MBA after finishing engineering. That is why you find, that even today, 80% of the students in IIM come from Engineering. When a student chooses career option at 12th class, with very little engagement with outside world, it is bound to be wrong. This is why a Unique Learning plan is required to develop and use those abilities, not just making one single career option.


Designing a flexible Learning plan is more important than choosing one best career option, because that allows you to readjust your plan with the changing realities. Your plan should help you chose alternative options (based on alternative scenarios that are applicable to the specific student), chose engagement that will help you find if the chosen path is right for you and design cross-road points that will help you change the path, if required.

What are you doing for your child? If you are just trying to find one ideal career option for your child, you are not helping your child. If you are really wanting to do something meaningful for your child, please help me make a career-plan.