“You don't learn to walk by following rules.You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
– Sir Richard Branson
The Aamir Khan starrer movie, '3 Idiots', starts with a middle-class family around a cradle telling the 3-hour old boy - "Mere Beta Engineer Banega" (my son will become an engineer). While the comic timing of the movie is flawless, it is the story of more than 68 million students every year in India who have been thrusted with this choice at some point in the lives.
The curious case of these "aspiring" graduates from any stream of education – doctors, engineers, lawyers or accountants, is often that they are hardwired about their passion that they are unable to process what drives them. The average life expectancy in India is about 67. When an adult spends over a quarter of their life internalizing that a field of study is their true calling, the Indian education system is fairly good at giving them a rude shock when they start graduation to understand that it is an extension of school with even more rote learning. We eventually start to see their grades drop like internet speeds when the data pack is over.
After 3-4 years of graduation, when the campus placements come to light the lucky few get placed in organizations that are well respected by the next-door neighbors or can hide their plight in their salary "package". When these select few enter the corporate world, most can’t stand their jobs. This the first time in their lives they are left on their own they are made to think on their own and it starts to hit them that the lack of purpose knocks on your door as if it came from inside you like a yell of despair. We are already seeing the increasing number of young graduates who seeking sabbaticals, have work-related depression, burnout and a select few, willing to risk entrepreneurship.
So, the underlying question is that at what point can the students make the choices which are reflective of their inner needs?
However, the answer to the latter lies in learning learned outside the traditional classroom setup. Their learning belongs to them and no institution can give it to them. The concept is called Experiential Learning. The traditional definition of experiential learning as defined by David Kolb is “learning through reflection on doing”. It involves learning through emotions which have been recognized as an important part of the process. Studies have shown that experiential learning is 15 times more effective than learning through books and lectures.
The process of experiential learning is a 4-step process:The process of experiential learning involves being involved in an experience outside the daily life, a self-reflection of the experience, conceptualization of the experience and finally experimentation on the concept. One needs to be ready to embrace failure in the process.
At the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum at Davos earlier this year, the Forumhad organized a simulation called – ‘A Day in the Life of a Refugee’. After strong recommendations, I go to this simulation which starts with the main lead outside the camp explaining what we can potentially experience inside. Everyone receives a new identity, a role, and a family. An alarming announcement is made and everyone must run with just their identity cards and with luck, a little bit of money.
A hail of bullets and screams accompany the escape, away from the city and across the border into a refugee camp. Here, the psychological terror begins. Men and women are distributed haphazardly in tents. Soldiers shout their orders all the time: "Sleep! Get out of the tent! Why are you making trouble, you're supposed to be asleep!" But no one can sleep. Someone's dragged out of the tent, shots are heard. Lining up, again and again. Please, threats, confusion. The quiet moments don't bring any peace.
There's a school, but it's of little help because the teacher doesn't speak the same language. Food only comes in exchange for bribes - a watch, a cellphone, and a wedding ring - which is worth a small bowl of water. The doctor is supposed to have medicine. But in her tent, there are only random body parts. A soldier, also supposed to have medicine, isn't about to settle for money or goods. "Do you have a daughter?" he asks the 45-year old farmer, my character in this simulation. He's not interested in the answer. "Bring me your daughter tomorrow, then you'll get medicine." This loss of control, uncertainty through aggression and violence, and plain fear still has me reeling from the 45-minute simulation of what some refugees have gone through for more than 2 decades. I still can’t hold my tears often thinking of their lives. These feelings would have never been possible through any amount of reading articles or videos.Experiences give us perspective. The new experiences not only seem to slow down the perception of time and more importantly, they seem to prevent us from being stuck in the ways that we think.
Dr. Brene Brown in her research says that "Stories are just Data with a Soul". And I believe we are the collective of every story in our lives. We are the books we read, the films we watch, the music we to listen to, the people we meet, the dreams we have, the conversations we engage in. We are what we take from these and the moments that we create out of these experiences. So, when we ask ourselves the question that what choices can the students make which are reflective of their inner needs, I'd say “If you want the things you've never had, you’ve got to do the things you've never done.”