I could not help but marvel at the thirst for knowledge exhibited by students.

May 22 - May 28, 2006

Last month I had the most unusual request from students of Karachi University's MPA (Masters in Public Administration) programme. They wanted me to come at KU's MPA Programme as a course instructor for Brand Management. Since timing was an issue with me, we agreed that I would come for a few Sunday's for three hour sessions, and give the students an overview of Marketing, Brand Management and Advertising. This was to be done voluntarily by both sides.

So off I went to KU the following Sunday. For starters, I re-lived my past. I was held up at the gate by the security (just as in 1990 when I joined IBA). After a few calls by the MPA management, they let me through. After following the instructions, I arrived at the MPA Programme building, bit dilapidated, but standing. The open spaces around the building was fascinating and the lawns actually had grass on them, much to my delight.

I was escorted to the office of the Dean, who turned out to be a rather pleasant and nice individual. Originally from East Pakistan, he has been at KU for sometime and seemed committed enough to come to the campus even on a Sunday. I was then taken to the auditorium. Some 50 or so students were awaiting the start of the session.

This was shocking to say the least. Why would 50 normal, healthy, young Pakistani males and females want to spend three hours on Sunday to listen to someone talk about Marketing, when they could easily have ignored to come? Remember, participation was optional.

Anyway, the first session went well and for three hours we exchanged ideas on Marketing. I wasn't sure how many of these students would be coming back the next Sunday. I had to wait for a week to know the answer. This time, when I walked into the hall, at least 80 faces were there to welcome me. At the end of the session, I discovered that some of the students who had passed out of the programme earlier were also attending. This continued for the next three Sunday's. The dean informed me that the request to attend the sessions was increasing weekly and they had to refuse permission due to space constraints.

While all this was personally quite flattering for me, I could not help but marvel at the thirst for knowledge exhibited by these students. Having taught at institutes like IBA, CBM and Szabist, I have never seen such enthusiasm from students ever. That it was a group belonging to KU was even more heartening. In order to ensure that the quest for learning continued, the same students who had approached me initially, set-up a yahoo group where regular marketing debates take place. I am a keen member of it and learn everyday from these enlightened and inquisitive minds.

Needless to say, this has been the best learning and the most fulfilling experience in my life. I always used to feel that students I teach (mostly BBA and MBA programme students) never really appreciate the opportunity they have of having parents who can afford to send them for higher education. For that matter, did I as a student or those who studied 15 years back really appreciate the fact that we are amongst the 1% or so population of this country whose parents can afford to provide higher education to them? And if so, how can we best use this opportunity?

I can't change the way I thought 15 years back. But I do realize the importance of the opportunity kids I now teach have. I only wish more teachers made them aware of how to make best use of this opportunity. For starters, I think one should encourage students to think for themselves.

Unfortunately, most teachers do otherwise. Our egos get in the way of their learning. If a student asks a challenging question, we think it is being asked to humiliate us, and hence we become defensive. Instead, shouldn't we encourage them to ask more of such probing questions? This way we are always going to try and know more, and even if we don't know the answer right away, we can admit so, and try and hunt for the answer to whet their curiosity (and learn more ourselves).

Secondly, it is important to use latest books written by authors who are held in some authority over the subject at hand. One tool I have found useful in teaching is to always try and use a different book every time, even if the course I am teaching is the one I have taught before. This way, I am forced to change the way I am thinking when approaching a subject a second or third time.

Giving practical examples to illustrate theory always helps. If it can't be demonstrated in action, theories will always be words student cram for exams and forget. Encouraging students to read is essential. Suggesting books related to the course at hand is good, but I feel the mind truly expands when one reads about diverse subjects. Reading books on marketing is a passion with me, but I try and add books on management, politics, fiction, philosophy, spirituality etc to my reading list, as it helps the mind to become enriched with various ideas and also makes us interesting individuals.

Similarly, proliferation of media now allows students to watch channels as diverse as the National Geographic and the History Channel, besides the various sports, news and entertainment channels. The generation of today watches far more TV than it reads, but mostly watch non-informative channels.

I remember reading a quote from Sonia Gandhi at a time when our relations with India were sour, she said India did not need to fight a war with Pakistan, it had already won the media war. It is true that Indian channels, films and music have a huge influence on our youth, and hence it is imperative to make kids watch some worthwhile programming, instead of the usual filmy stuff.

The KU experience has demonstrated to me that there are students who are eager to learn and improve themselves. This bodes well for the country, where education is needed at every level to ensure that the process of improvement starts. It is up to the teachers to ensure that curious minds are encouraged to think for themselves, so they can find answers to questions still eluding this nation.