Teaching Tip #13: Relevance of VUCA in Education

The term VUCA originated in the US military in the late 1990s and is a way of assessing and providing for the changeability of general situations and events. Today, in management studies, it is a panacea to all sorts of situations where the leadership needs to understand its internal obstructions and plan and execute accordingly. VUCA stands for ‘Volatility’, ‘Uncertainty’, ‘Complexity’ and ‘Ambiguity’ and its four-quadrant framework is thus likely to find as snug a fit in the world of the practising teacher as in any other professional world. As strategic leaders, how does one buffer the effects of the changing scenario on stakeholders like principals, teachers, students, parents and community? How does one make for the space for innovations to happen in a VUCA environment?

Let us look at what these words encompass when mapped to teaching, learning, the students and the classroom. The four words relate to how people view conditions under which they make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems; in other words, ready themselves. V or Volatility is about the nature and dynamics of change, and rapidly changing contexts and conditions. Say for instance when a teacher needs to change student disciplining strategies because disciplinary measures taken earlier cannot be used now. The VUCA environment has been created out of RTI, CCTV-based surveillance, changed dynamics in parental involvement in the teaching-learning in schools, the increased role of digital and social media. U or Uncertainty is about the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, due often to some missing data, say sudden and unforeseen behavioural change in students that a teacher has to cope with in class, as a result of having taken some disciplinary measures. C or Complexity is the interconnectedness of cause-and-effect forces, or multiple factors difficult to categorize or control, say for example, the degree of severity deemed appropriate when correcting misbehaviour in students. A or Ambiguity is vague data, subject to multiple interpretation and the mixed meanings of conditions. A teacher may be confronted with parents’ intervention related to student disciplining, which she reads as ‘interference’ and there are ambiguities. This looks like a classic lose-lose VUCA environment and is characterised by disruption.

Once strategically handled, VUCA translates into ‘Vision’, ‘Understanding’, ‘Clarity’ and ‘Agility’. So how does one cope with the VUCA world? First, teachers need to have an aptitude to learn. The desire to learn will help the teacher attain the necessary knowledge and skill sets to succeed and anticipate the challenges in the future, and humility will help to unlearn; failures experienced by teachers and leaders of organisations are due to their unwillingness to innovate and explore new ways of doing things. Relearn helps too, because when it comes to surviving in a VUCA environment, timeliness in taking the right action is of utmost importance. Secondly, teachers must embrace change and have strategic insights to anticipate VUCA conditions and counter them with strategies, processes, crisis management plans to successfully mitigate difficult times. Change agents like teachers, the administration, students, and parents must learn to anticipate and embrace change in these ways or else lose their relevance in a rapidly changing world.


Author: Sonali Bhattacharyya




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