Rajesh Panda, Founder & CEO, Corporate Gurukul

With the emerging need to deal with real-time problems, challenging environment, and pressure handling ability, the students are expected to have inherited management skills at multiple levels. Inculcating a gurukul methodology in the Indian education system will help students to inherit the capabilities to understand the corporate world workings. Corporate Gurukul is a learning and development company to make young managers, globally employable via the ‘Gurukul System.’ At the helm of its affairs is Rajesh Panda, Founder & CEO of Corporate Gurukul, who is an industry veteran with an experience of 20 years and the Chairperson of the Higher Education Forum (HEF), Singapore Chapter. In an interaction with Higher Education Digest, Rajesh Panda talks about the journey of Corporate Gurukul, how can Ed-Tech platforms prepare students for the corporate world via ‘Gurukul’ approach and many more. 

 

Please tell us about Corporate Gurukul.

Corporate Gurukul’s focus is on upskilling students through applied learning experiences, internships, and research interventions, in association with the world’s top-ranked universities and corporates.

Students are already acquiring a lot of knowledge through self-paid academic coursework online and in the classroom. The challenge is they are not able to apply it to real-world problems. However, the industry needs students who have applied their knowledge in real-world situations. So, we addressed this need with self-paid internships and applied research with the world’s best universities and corporates.

How Corporate Gurukul does it?

We deliver these applied learning interventions by:

  1. Providing hands-on or experiential learning for students to enact authentic industry and real-world scenarios
  2. Equipping students with the skills to engage in the practical application of knowledge
  3. Partnering with the industry, community, institutions of higher learning, and/or professional training bodies.

Our internships and research interventions are in areas of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership. They are delivered in association with the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Hewlett Packard, Amazon, and SoftBank. Students choose their area of passion for working on. Our partners train, mentor, support, and guide the students in their journey of applied learning and research.

Students take up these internships and research interventions on-campus or online. With COVID, we are also exploring the blended learning model.

Tell us about your journey to date.

I come from a brahmin family of teachers and educators, where top priority has been to acquire and impart knowledge. Self-Respect and respect from society for what we do came above everything else. My mother retired as the Principal of a government school at a salary of Rs 12,000/- per month after 34 years of service. Her commitment and dedication were impeccable, and it had a strong influence on me personally.

We are bootstrapped. So, my journey has been powered by the fuel of realizing my passion for taking every student from good to great. We have always counted our success based on the number of alumni who have excelled in their area of passion and career of choice.

Some facts and figures:

Our journey started in 2007, with upskilling polytechnic students in Singapore. In 2008, we started delivering employability training and assessment for the Government of India. Beginning in 2009, we also independently worked with universities to address employability gaps in their students. In 2010, we kick-started applied experiential learning interventions for students from India with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, NUS, and NTU in Singapore. And then, as they say, the rest is history. Over the last 13 years, we have imparted applied learning experiences to over 150,000 participants from 21 countries across Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. We continue to be headquartered out of Singapore.

How is it becoming one of the leading internship platforms in India?

Research internships are especially useful for undergraduates focusing on higher education or taking up R&D roles is new-age tech companies. We are leaders in ‘research internships’ and ‘applied learning’ in Asia.

In India, we work with some of the top students from IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, BITS Pilani, SRM University, VIT Vellore, Delhi Technological University (DTU), Manipal University, and KIIT University among others.

Since 2015, a combination of on-campus and online delivery models has helped us scale-up in the area of academic internships, research internships, and technology boot camps.

What is the industry market size of the segment that you operate in? Who are your direct competitors?

In India, our target segment is the 4.5 million engineering undergraduates who want to apply their learning to the real-world. More importantly, among these students, our target will be students who have the courage to pursue their passion.

In Asia, we do not have any direct competitors in academic internships or research internships. Some of the top universities themselves offer internships and students do apply directly. However, the demand-supply gap is huge and needs to be addressed at the earliest.

Can ed-tech platforms prepare students for the corporate world via ‘Gurukul’ approach?

The essence of gurukul pedagogy includes:

  1. Learning integrated with society and real-world challenges/needs
  2. Vocational training/ applied to learn at the core
  3. Learning residential on-campus

The above are being attempted/ delivered in various formats for on-campus university interventions but not in the ed-tech/ online world. There is a strong need for vocational training and applied learning which is now imperative as part of National Education Policy 2020.

We do have a few experiential learning ed-tech platforms which have come up recently, but we will have to wait and watch their success in implementing ‘gurukul’ pedagogy.

Summing up, I haven’t witnessed ed-tech platforms prepare students with ‘gurukul’ pedagogy, yet. However, they are imparting knowledge through various platforms and making learning interesting through gamification, simulation, and other methods. Let us wait and watch how the ed-tech platforms and industry evolves.

What kind of experiential programs for students will help them to grow better?

As AI takes over the planet, some of the top future skills needed are:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. Cognitive Flexibility
  5. People Management
  6. Negotiation
  7. Judgment and Decision Making

Experiential learning programmes designed to immerse students in communities, real-world challenges, cross-cultural business scenarios, etc. can really help them evolve critical thinking, people management, and decision-making skills.

For example, Corporate Gurukul conducts one such programme on ‘Design Thinking for Business Innovation’ with Nanyang Technological University (NTU). This Bootcamp is designed for international students who immerse in Singapore for 4 weeks, conduct primary research, understand and identify problems across industries, ideate solutions, and create prototypes. Most of them report in their final presentation that it involved a creative approach, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and cross-cultural understanding – aspects they seldom explore even in their home countries.

What are your thoughts on Upskilling, should students focus on it during this pandemic?

The future of learning and upskilling will be:

  • Learn Online
  • Apply on-campus or in real-world

As we experience lockdown, this is the best time for students to learn as much as possible online. Personalization of learning at scale across various platforms also helps students to learn at their own level and pace. So that should be the focus in a pandemic.

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