Introduction There are an estimated 4800 colleges that teach the MBA course in various parts of the country. There are stand-alone B Schools that teach the Post-Graduate Diploma In Management (PGDM), which is recognized as equivalent to the MBA. There are Departments of Management in most Universities, including the Deemed Universities. There are many colleges affiliated with the local Universities and including the Arts and Science Colleges as well. The only problem with such colleges is the total lack of exposure of most students to the hard-core corporate world. To make matters more complex, every book comes from the USA and the standard of English is very high.
Tamil Nadu is no exception here. The Tamil language is the only main vehicle of communication. The individual teacher should have the unique ability to understand the most advanced concepts and their latest developments and then translate that into Tamil. Marketing Management is a relatively easier proposition, as the student can easily relate to the surroundings around him.
In the recent past, I had the opportunity of meeting one such teacher in the MBA program. He is currently doing his doctorate in Management on a part-time basis but has been able to make an impact because of his couple of years of experience in a fairly good Deemed University of Chennai.
This case study is based on his experiences. This article is not an evaluation of his teaching methods. Neither does it claim that this is the perfect alternative. Of course, the best alternative is for the MBA student to understand the advanced literature in the English language and also articulate his or her thoughts in that language. What we are talking about is doing something different in a semi-urban town, where the standard of industrial culture is almost nil, except for a few small-scale agro-industries.
The case study, as narrated by the teacher, concerns the teaching of three main concepts of Marketing, namely Segmentation, Positioning, and Advertising.
Segmentation The teacher would first explain all main concepts in Tamil, with some examples. For example, customers are called "nugarvor" and the market is called "sandai". Marketing is called "sandhaipaththuthal". He would go on to explain the concept of segmentation. In Tamil, this would translate, according to him, as "vaanguvorin sakthiyai poruthu porulgalai sandaipaththuthal"(splitting the market as per purchasing power of the customers). The concept of Marketing would be explained in detail, including distribution management, supply chain management, etc. Customer delight would mean "nugarvorin muzhu thirupthi". I think the teacher was bang on target, as I had many articles with similar meanings to the different concepts.
Day 2 was more interesting. After a half-day class, and with one session starting an hour early, the students were divided into five groups, with four groups having seven students each. All of them were in their first year. The four groups were asked to go to four different mini-supermarket, and the fifth group was asked to go to a relatively big local Kirana store, that had been in existence for over four decades. The owner of this shop was not at all happy with the new competition, but that is what happens in most towns of Tamil Nadu.
The students were asked to observe each purchase by helping those doing the billing. Two students would do the analysis, based on computer records of purchases made. Since most customers were somewhat known to the students, it was easy for the students to relate to them, and ask them about how they purchased the different items, the details of impulse purchases, etc. There were many different types of customers, including daily wage earners, Government employees, bank employees, students, and so on. The feedback would be analyzed on day 3, and the groups would make their presentations in Tamil. After these presentations, the teacher would chip in with the PowerPoint presentations in English, to reinforce learning.
Positioning The teacher's explanation of two keywords that define the concept. as per the Marketing Guru, Philip Kotler, was part of everyday usage in Tamil. Every student knew what it meant. Many Tamil movies had also made the usage of these two English words common, and hence their meaning was very easy to understand. The classic definition of Positioning, by Kotler, runs thus: "Positioning is the act of designing the company to offer an image so that it occupies a distinct and valued place in the target customer's minds." Each student was able to perfectly understand the offer and image easily. More so, image, as they knew the image of leading Tamil actors.
Day 2 was a repeat of what had happened earlier. Except that the learning happened during after-class hours. The five groups of students would interact with customers who checked into the same shops. In addition, they interacted with the few customers who purchased branded mobiles, televisions, and so on. Further feedback was also obtained from the owners of the two big branded outlets. (these were two big retail outlets of two famous brands of retailers who had branches in many places). The students were also made to get feedback from at least six local brands of soaps and detergents, whose main market was found in numerous small towns and villages.
According to the teacher, learning was far in excess of expectations. The brightest and most proactive students wanted to learn even more. This is perhaps the case with most rural students who sort of cement their understanding of concepts when they start thinking of the practical applications in their local language, rather than English.
AdvertisingAccording to the teacher, he was able to connect the professional definition of advertising with the students easily. What he demanded from the students is to listen to each advertisement made in Tamil, on the various local TV channels. Of course, these channels today reach audiences in most parts of the world, but when rural students research local advertisements they often come up with the learning of a tall order, more so, when they also refer to the print media for the connect.
Since the learning was largely related to local products, the students were made to present their learning in Tamil, about two brands -- a hair dye and another shampoo, both very famous brands of a Chennai-based FMCG, with a national reach. The students were able to quickly able to relate to "the namma product".( our own product). For example, the shampoo had a base in what is called is called shikkakai, a herb. This is largely unknown in North India, where customers prefer only chemical-based shampoos.
The same company introduced a sachet packet of chemical-based shampoo, which was a super hit. Thus, the teacher was easily able to connect the dots and the learning points that indeed connected the three concepts in Marketing Management presented good learning to the student.
For the second-year students, he said that he had planned to invite an old student, now gainfully employed with another smaller FMCG, that manufactured a detergent brand well known in rural and semi-urban Tamil Nadu, to explain all his practical experience in Marketing.
As you can see, with just 34 students, against a sanctioned student strength of sixty, the teacher did a very good job. More so, when the industrial base of that small town, is poor.
The way forward The teacher explained that the scope of learning through the local language is limitless. The main problem arose when the students were not able to articulate their ideas in English when they joined the Corporate world. To overcome this problem, the college had planned to tie up with a good institute that offered spoken English training, from Coimbatore city. Hopefully, when this happens, the MBA students will feel a lot more confident.
Conclusion Only a few main points, as related by the teacher, have been mentioned above. The name of even the district is not mentioned, as per the teacher's request. The challenges of enabling rural area students to catch up with their urban counterparts require a lot more creativity and effort. This case study is one step in this direction. The teacher would have to innovate even further when he goes ahead with his plans of doing something for the MBA students of this small town. He is not alone, for sure. For, the problems are quite similar in other locations as well.
There are two ways to look at this problem. One is to see that the rural PG students will improve their subject knowledge by imparting them education in their local language. It is a good concept but I fear the chances for such students will be limited to their state only or maximum to the states where their local language is spoken. The other way is to teach English to students from a rural backdrop and see that they will compete with their counterparts in speaking and understanding English. This will enhance the chances for rural students also to go abroad and increase their prices by showing their worth.