Having taught business studies for over 17 years in almost all major higher educational institutions in the country there are some important issues which need to be highlighted.

I started teaching at Bahria University Islamabad and was exposed to an excellent student body, both executive and non-executive MBAs whom I had a chance to teach Strategy and Organisational Behaviour. This was a group of government employees, twenty somethings and corporate managers. Having been trained at the Lahore University of Management Sciences LUMS in case teaching, I introduced the case methodology at Bahria which was met with resistance by the student body because most were not acquainted with it. The case methodology offers a business decision that has to be resolved from the perspective of the decision maker, thereby honing student skills in decision making and instilling critical thinking. The roots of case teaching lie in the Socratic method which is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals; based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. The methodology is widely used in all premier universities of the world and is an effective means to examining a claim, questioning that claim, and finding true knowledge.

Sadly, most students were unable to understand what critical thinking was and how to analyse any case study. The case studies that I had published under the auspices of the Centre for Management and Economic Research at LUMS were also written with the above-mentioned framework with the audience not being able to understand the nuances and intricacies managers out to understand in a real-life business environment. The idea was not to impose a cookie cutter model of teaching, but to bring back thinking using case facts to arrive at a decision.

Therefore, I was led to believe that perhaps our students were lacking comprehension and facing a language barrier of sorts. By language I refer to mathematics, statistics and English. Unfortunately, this was also true as basic statistical functions and English comprehension was lacking. Wittgenstein who was a philosopher of logic, mathematics, and language was of the view that “The limits of my language means the limits of my world”. The first statement seems to imply that Wittgenstein believes there are things that we can know (and be shown), but that we cannot say (express in our language). Business education I believed, was no different and cannot completely be learned vicariously, so I started sending students on field visits and taking them to corporations where they would see for themselves how things would work.

By this time, I had had a colourful stint with several academic institutions around the country including NUST, CASE (which I had the honour of setting up), IBM UET (again set it up), Beaconhouse National University, where I setup the School of Education and the Lahore School of Economics where I replicated the Harvard Business School curriculum and ran simulations.

However, when asked to write a report on what they had learned and observed, some students lacked basic comprehension to write what they thought and there was a disconnect of sorts close to what Wittgenstein had posited. So I took to Bertrand Russell’s advice on not fearing to be “eccentric in opinion since every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.” I collaborated with the Harvard Business School and started running simulations which was at first, an eccentric way of teaching, but was an effective pedagogical tool to simulate a real life business environment much alike an aircraft simulator where the pilot learns essential skills before taking on a real aircraft flight. The simulations were run remotely. Despite asking administration to set up WIFIs in classrooms or a lab where the simulations could be run, I had to resort to asking students to set up teams and run their rounds of a global supply chain simulation at their homes. Most results were discussed in class and the students had had a great understanding of balancing intricacies in managing strategy, finances and economic implications of a seemingly simple way of running a business.

Come COVID19 crisis and my suggestions perforce had to come into effect. Everyone inevitably had to go online. This presented both opportunities and threats and was not far removed from what Iqbal had said:

You (God) created the night, I the lamp;

You created the clay, I the vase.

You created the jungle, mountains and deserts

I created gardens, orchards and flower-plots.

It is I who make glass out of stone

It is I who extract elixir out of poison.

Necessity is the mother of invention and therefore in testing times, nations put their heads together to come up with creative solutions. Having pioneered the distance learning programme at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering at Islamabad, I did not hesitate to ask the students to start collaborating online and creating a safe environment where they could discuss, learn and interact with each other. This was supplemented by a hands-on WhatsApp group where I kept their morale high, ensuring that my availability as an instructor was only a few taps away.

Having done all this I still feel that there is a lot of hand holding that we as academics do for all students. This is in stark contrast to what I had experienced as a Chevening Scholar to Judge Business School at Cambridge where I had to bike every morning in the bitter cold against ominous gusts to reach classes which were spread across the campus in different parts of the university city, not to mention having to source books from dispersed libraries. There was no attendance and no one bothered about how we learned what we learned. We attended lectures, were given assignments and had to deliver. My graduate students seem to use lack of connectivity as an argument against their inability to attend classes. This can very easily be resolved given that Pakistan’s tele-density is almost 78% which includes mobile phones and laptops availability. Technology is the name of the game. We have YouTubers, Twitteratis and Snapchatters which almost all students are aware of, not to mention smart watches which they don quite fashionably. Technology is here to stay and therefore, our far-flung underserved areas of Pakistan need to be brought under consideration for access to education through telecommunications, laptop disbursements and the availability of cheap wide area networks.

Also, the global job market is geographically dispersed and working from home and online meetings and collaborations are ubiquitous. I would imagine that online teaching and learning would help our graduate students train in ways to meet this criterion. On the bright side, Zooming has cut down on commuting time and allowed me to be more productive at home and work simultaneously.

Teachers can benefit while attending Massive Online Open Courseware (MOOCs) or Coursera and are more than welcome to connect with me for the webinars, online simulation trainings and the global collaborations that I have been conducting over the last so many years and more so in these testing times.

Mahvesh Mahmud

The author is a Shell-Chevening-DFID-Noon Foundation Scholar to Judge Business School, to the University of Cambridge, UK with a Kate Bertram College Distinction and an Assistant Professor at the Lahore School of Economics. She can be contacted at mmcambridge@gmail.com