Over the past weeks we learned what it is to go home, open the door and see a gaping space where there used to be a floor. Though we have all read stories and heard homilies about not taking anyone or anything for granted, the real-life demonstrations of these facts arrived without any warning. We found out how delicately the web of social and economic lifelines are linked and how no amount of management skills learned at expensive training institutes can save us when everyone is on snipped salaries and war-time rations.
I was therefore taken aback while leafing through many useful accounts about how to manage sharply altered daily lives, when I came across a report on courses that train future chief executive officers. Online courses. Of course.
Long before applying for a position, before being an employee, before achieving a single task or project in the real world, these training programmes promised to help children to think like corporates.
Who makes it to the spot of a managing director? Only persons with a high degree of patience, courage, and an understanding of what it takes to motivate and inspire staff at all levels? Such a position also requires emotional maturity, which in turn can only develop with age and experience because intellectual growth needs to harmonise with emotional growth. Can the interpersonal skills learned in hours of human-to-human communication ever be replicated through a screen or words or telescoped into a couple of hours for a child in his or her early teens?
All an ambitiously titled online course does is to put money in the pockets of its promoters and children in front of yet another screen, dreaming about the power and glamour of being a corporate star.
A good prospect during lockdown times? A retired school principal told me to think again. “What are the managerial skills required for top corporate jobs? Children who have not met before and are from different backgrounds work together and learn to accept fresh views and ideas and then make decisions. Wait a bit! Aren’t listening to others, accepting differences and considering other perspectives, life skills which everyone should have?” These skills do not come from closing the door and locking down with a device. Online learning, which is being touted as the solution to all ills, deprives children of what Jared Diamond calls social capital (trust, friendships, group affiliations, helping and being helped and being a member of different sorts of groups) to build networks of civic virtue.
A final thought about over-dependence on online courses is that it encourages young children to think that they can manage quite well all by themselves without the bother of cooperating with others of their own age face to face and every day.
How safe is that?
The writer is Series Editor, Living in Harmony (OUP).