Global Village Idiot: A professor, a musician and two edtech founders walk into a bar ...

Published on Jul 01, 2022 04:14 PM IST
Three stories represent three different trajectories of how a career or vocation could move to success
Life can be full of achievements and goals at every stage. (Melpomene - Fotolia)
Life can be full of achievements and goals at every stage. (Melpomene - Fotolia)
BySanjay Mukherjee

The past 30 days have been interesting, exciting, and inspiring in that order. Interesting because a number of people in my network have achieved milestones or initiated meaningful new directions; exciting because two passionate Indian educators turned edtech entrepreneurs are now poised on the threshold of global dominance in technology-enabled education; inspiring because of a lifetime achievement honour for an educator in the field of communication.

On May 28 this year, at a glittering function in Mumbai, Pune-based musician Shitalchandra Kulkarni won the IRAA award for music producer independent (Instrumental & Fusion, 2021) for his track “Natural Understanding”, from the album “Endless”. The IRAA (Indian Recording Arts Academy) award selected by jury is an accolade that Shital holds in high esteem, given its focus on technical competence, evaluated by an eclectic panel of accomplished music industry professionals. IRAA probably serves as a benchmark for serious musicians and music producers, helping them define their approach to work, improving the art and craft across the industry.

In a career spanning 36 years (and counting), Shital carved his initial reputation into the Pune western music landscape as a rock guitar player, growing into an accomplished composer, recording artist and producer. His passion for working with new generations is reflected in his credential as a reputed music educator (he is instructor and director at the Institute of Modern Music in Pune). In the past decade he has won several awards, including InterContinental Music Awards for his work. There are many great western music luminaries in Pune, as also great music educators and producers. What sets Shital apart is that he formally straddles all three, blending traditional Indian guru-shishya and western music school approaches. Over the past 25 years, I have watched him reinvent and reconstruct his work, incorporating learnings as a professional musician, and evolving due to his deep understanding of multiple instruments and evolving music technology. There are at least two generations of musicians and producers out of Pune who consider Shital as a guiding force.

On June 30, the Hindustan Times published an article that was super exciting: Bengaluru-based global EdTech giant BYJU’s has apparently made an offer to acquire Nasdaq-listed 2U.

The significance is that a tutoring and video-based learning programme business started in 2011 by a Bengaluru-based educator couple (Byju Raveendran and Divya Gokulnath) has grown into a global EdTech giant within a span of 11 years. According to HolonIQ’s June 17, 2022 report, there are now 35 edtech unicorns in the world, 15 of which are based in the USA, 8 in China, 7 in India, while Austria, Australia, Canada, Israel and United Kingdom have 1 each. These 35 companies are together valued at 104 billion USD, and sitting right at the top of this elite group is BYJU’s with a valuation of 22 billon USD (ahead of China’s YuanFudao at 15.5 billion USD). What I find exciting is that Byju and Divya’s business is now only one of three decacorns and entering a pure inorganic expansion mode, assimilating different edtech offerings on the path to cobbling market share in different geographies. This is a tutors-to-entrepreneurs story bought into and backed by global investors which would make a great movie or strategy game.

Finally, the most inspiring story of the past month. Approximately 13,500 kilometres from Pune, in Rock Hill, South Carolina in the US, is a public university called Winthrop. On June 24, 2022, the board of trustees of Winthrop University approved a resolution to recognise seven faculty members as having attained emeritus status with all the rights and privileges bestowed at the university. This honour was conferred upon them for their professional commitment, tireless service and loyal devotion as outstanding educators in higher learning. One of those educators is Padmini Patwardhan, professor of mass communication (recently retired).

A firebrand, modern and innovative educator, Patwardhan has influenced and guided students and industry professionals in mass communication (in India and US) for more than three decades. I met her in 1996 at the department of communication and journalism, University of Pune (Savitribai Phule Pune University) where she taught advertising communication and public relations. She was then known as PP among diploma, post-graduate, and masters students. Never shy of engaging students in deep debates, or thinking through ethical and practical impact of academic models, PP was always pushing students to research, to think before doing, to do before offering critical opinion, to analyse before consuming content and to opine objectively before walking away from any social or ethical debate in the context of content consumption. She had a deep influence on my approach to journalism and mass media at large, because my debates and interactions with her (although in the context of advertising and PR) led me to consider multiple facets of social impact of mass communication, including how models and our interpretations might change as technology evolved.

An alumni of Fergusson College and University of Pune (masters in communication and journalism), PP moved to the US in 1999 to pursue her PhD in mass communication from Southern Illinois University, where she completed her doctoral degree. She then worked as assistant professor at Texas Tech University from 2002-2005 before moving to Winthrop University in 2005, where she spent 17 years in a distinguished career, retiring in 2022. Her expertise is in integrated marketing communication and mass communication and research agenda focuses on leadership development and training needs in communication industries, culture shifts and change management issues in advertising.

A scholar-researcher with more than 30 peer reviewed publications and 40+ conference presentations, Patwardhan has won several prestigious accolades, including the Kinard Award for Excellence in Teaching, Winthrop University, Distinguished Teaching Award (Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication), Sandage Teaching Excellence Award (American Academy of Advertising), among others. Patwardhan’s achievement of professor emeritus is a matter of pride for Pune and her career is a great role model for students and industry professionals alike.

So, how do the three stories relate? They represent three different trajectories of how a career or vocation could move to success. They also represent three different stages in a mastery cycle: BYJU’s is in early stage, Shital’s is the mid-career stage while Patwardhan represents a full dedicated career, setting the stage for retirement ventures and achievements. Life then can be full of achievements and goals at every stage.

Sanjay Mukherjee, author, learning-tech designer and management consultant, is founder of Mountain Walker and chief strategy advisor, Peak Pacific. He can be reached at thebengali@icloud.com

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