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Taking Inspiration From Japanese Culture To Improve Our Education System

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Hey educators,

How have you been? I am sure you all are safe but also baffled with this changing climate of the global education system. The rising coronavirus cases and the gloomy outlook of vaccine availability soon might force you to move online.

But there is something more perplexing and worrisome in this scenario: “the engagement”. Yes, it is a big question of how you will make sure that your outcome, your products (your students) are actually studying and using their time productively. Your anxieties might have skyrocketed with the rising addiction rates of pornographic content in this lockdown (especially among the youths) and rising suicide levels among teens.

Are you sure your students are not exposed to these anti-social emotions? Are you sure they are participating enough in the course curriculum? You may be puzzled; there are question marks on your mind. But the good news is, we have a solution. And the answer is “lean management philosophy”.

What is Lean?

lean management
What is lean management?

Lean refers to the identification, elimination and reduction of waste. Waste or “muda” (Japanese term for waste), is any non-value-adding element in the system. For example, take a Diwali light manufacturer, for him producing Diwali lights in the non-festive season is a waste.

The roots of lean management go to the lean manufacturing processes employed by Toyota Production systems in the 1970s, which soon turned into a globally recognised and employed management philosophy. It was at the end of World War II when Japan started to lose its grip over the automobile industry, this company named Toyota started redesigning it’s manufacturing setup. The idea was to weed out “muri” (unreasonableness), “mura” (unevenness in workload) and “muda” (waste or non-value adding activity).

They made revolutionary changes in their production system like focusing on a pull system than traditional push system, trying to be flexible, visualise their production lineup and be flexible. At the same time, they made sure that they never got complacent and kept on improving and analysing. The two main ideas they employed were:

  • Just in time: Right thing at the right place at the right time. Or what we can say, giving customers exactly what they desire at the time they want it to be with them and at exactly the place they want it to be.
  • Jidoka: Automation with the human tough, or more specifically, having a watchful eye towards every process and step in the production line.

Further, three main ideas form the basis of this Toyota Production system:

  1. Heijunka: Equally distributing the workload.
  2. Kaizen: Continuous improvement.
  3. Standard Work: Most efficient usage of the workforce, equipment and machinery.

Principles of lean Manufacturing:

  • Identify value: Identify who your customer is and identify value from their perspective.
  • Map the value stream: Have a picture of your process so that you can begin making improvements.
  • Create flow: Moving people or product from person to person or department to department.
  • Establish pull: A pull system entails a service or product exactly at their demanded time, not before that, not after that.
  • Seek perfection: Never stop after first analysis, production or service, this is your job and you need to be perfect throughout your life.

Manufacturing is fascinating, isn’t it? But now let’s get back to education. First and foremost, we need to understand who our students are, we need to identify value from their perspective and here we go with the first principle of lean management.

Identify Value:

Who is your customer? Definitely parents. Since the parents are shelling money, they are supposed to get an educated, intellectually smart and mature individual in their son or daughter, who can support them at their lowest stage of life.

Now we know that there is no value for a Btech degree without strong technical skills and ability to innovate, there is no value of a finance degree if a finance graduate cannot solve basic financial problems in the real world scenario, there is no value of an MBBS/MD/MS degree if that specific person cannot even identify the basic disease bothering the ailing person.

At the same time, if a 12th class pass out is in a conundrum and is not sure about what they should do after their schooling, then the overall schooling of that particular student was a waste. We can, therefore, bring out certain waste or “muda” from a customer’s perspective.

  • A high school pass out with very low intellectual capacity and maturity is a waste for higher education.
  • A college passout with very low employability is a waste for customers called parents.
unemployable youth in india
The number of educated youth (age 15-29) who are not in Employment, Education or Training had increased to 115 million in 2017–18 from 70 million in 2004–05.

But, we know that our education system has been consistently delivering wastes on a large quantity. We know that around 80% of engineering graduates are unemployable. Further, around 93% of MBA graduates are unemployable. This also implies that many students (12th pass outs) take up courses that they are not passionate about. And many of them opt for a wrong stream itself.

Is there a defect in the overall production line? The answer lies in “Jidoka”. Jidoka means the process stops automatically if there is any irregularity. This has to be done in education. When a student fails to reach a specific benchmark of intellectual capability, they should not be promoted to higher classes.

Further, that specific student should be counselled and given a strong understanding of mature behaviour. There is a need to make them realise their true potential and there should be a proper habit training where their parents have a role to play too. Counselling matters here.

Now coming to the next possibility, what about a student who is passionate about their subject, or maybe they have always been a good student but have started failing lately. There is a need to identify the reason. One reason may be that they are not getting what they need, or maybe they are not getting exactly at the right time.

Here comes the case of “Just In Time”. You don’t want a student to get overwhelmed with knowledge in one class, right? At the same time, you don’t want to waste their time. Just In time involves the least usage of inventory and employing a pull system where the process runs on the customer demand factor.

A student who is going through mental or physical trauma, a student who at some instance finds one or two of the topics difficult to grasp immediately, there is a need to slow down the process for that particular student. Also, there is a need to bring things to the student’s desk when they have to be on bed rest. It seems that the coronavirus has necessitated this part and, therefore, almost all the institutions have gone online.

But here we have lost the direction by phasing out those students who don’t have either internet connection or computer technology. Further India ranks 131 in mobile internet speeds. Further, India’s internet speed did improve in 2019, but it is still not much. Such infrastructural challenges, along with current pandemic restrictions, make it a challenge for Indian educators to follow JIT principal.

However, this puts an impetus on government planning and infrastructural projects to tackle the tricky challenge. Educators, however, need to realise that value lies in the perspective of the ones who are paying fees. If they aren’t gaining, you aren’t delivering. There should be ways a student can cope up this inventory period; there should be ways a student can keep getting knowledge when they want it.

Further, there should be ways a student can stay positive; there is a need for connectivity. At last, a student should be given time for self-exploration; they should not be burdened with assignments and exams so much that they cannot keep up with the pace.

The “takt time”, we say it in lean management, which is also conceived as the heart of lean manufacturing. Takt time is nothing but the rate at which the customer wants the product. If a student cannot learn a topic in one day, there is no meaning to start a new topic just the next day. Instead, make the class engaging and make the concept rock solid for that particular student. Takt time is the key.

Map the value Stream:

A well-designed lesson plan with proper entry and exit points, which are satisfactorily met, is the need of the hour.

There is a need to have a clear cut education policy and a clear cut education pathway one can follow. From the educator’s side, there is a need to have a clear cut lesson plan they can follow. They need to be well aware of the production process and the flow within it.

A well-designed lesson plan with proper entry and exit points, which are satisfactorily met, is the need of the hour. So plan your stages of perfection. Keep a check on your products (student’s proficiency level) and characterise them according to the stages of proficiency they are in. The result of your program will highly depend on how well you visualise that particular value stream (student’s comparative results and their proficiency).

Create Flow:

A student never stays in a particular class for long. Your students are going to pass and go to the next class, college, next level of study or maybe a job. You might not know what they will do, but your education should make it easy for them to move swiftly.

The best way you can do that is by improving the standards of your educational institutions. A poor quality educational institution, with substandard academic practices, can be a hurdle to a student’s development and flow to a higher level. At the same time, a high-quality educational institution, with best quality research practices, can be a big boon to a student’s fluent adoption at a higher level.

Sadly Indian universities crumble a little when it comes to the quality education. There is no Indian university in the top 100 in QS World University ranking. Only IIT Bombay, IISc Bengaluru and IIT Delhi featured in the top 200 list.

Further, a total of 21 Indian institutions feature in top 1000 and only 24 have secured at least some rank. There is a need to employ healthy faculties and conduct evenly good quality research activities within the university so that the activities which students perform while their stay in the university is of any significance to the world they are going to face in the future. Flow creation is greatly necessary when a university needs to match world standards. India needs more world-class universities and colleges and this will make their students world-class.

Establish Pull:

Guiding students while they are at home has always been difficult. But in this pandemic, this problem has just magnified.

While we are entering into a pandemic, having a pull system in education can be a big challenge. It might be difficult for an educator to understand what is going on in a student’s mind. It won’t be easy to measure the efforts put on by the student’s side and, therefore, we need better strategies to make efficient pull systems.

Teachers need not be monitors and proctors; rather, they should now act like friends. And why not? Either way, a friend or a guardian should be a student’s teacher. With a low student-teacher ratio, India finds it difficult to make a student-centric education model.

Guiding students while they are at home has always been difficult. But in this pandemic, this problem has just magnified. However, there can be situations where a guardian can act as a teacher, and to an extent, keep a check and guide a student during difficult times. A guardian or a reliable peer group can, therefore, be much more effective teachers to a student than a teacher on a video call. 

Never Stop:

Every age will come up with its challenges. Students in today’s day and age have far greater challenges and some of the best possible tools than a student of 1950s or 60s. So with the evolving climate of world standards and changing society, we need to evolve our education system continuously.

Lean management philosophy, at its core, asks for continuous improvement. “Kaizen” is the word for that. So, while you are teaching, building learning systems, you are continuously learning too. Keep it up and keep up with the pace.

Kind regards,

A fellow learner.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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