There is a remarkable quality movement afoot centered in South Asia with tentacles that reach to the United States, Europe, and Africa.
Starting in primary school and extending throughout high school, students are introduced to the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Philip Crosby, Kaoru Ishikawa, and many other great figures of quality. They learn quality problem-solving tools, basic kaizen, 5S, benchmarking, and a host of East/West theories about human development and motivation.
I saw this with my own eyes. This three-minute video clip of these young students says it all.
This movement is centered in the city of Lucknow in northern India. With a population of nearly three million, it’s India’s 12th largest city. Home to the movement is City Montessori School, which, with its 40,000 students, is the world’s largest school in pupils, per the Guinness Book of World Records. Dr. Jagdish Gandhi and his wife, Mrs. Bharti Ghandi, founded it in 1959 and began including quality concepts in their curriculum during the 1990s, as they saw what Japan had accomplished.
Jagdish Gandhi’s teachings have spread throughout India and various parts of the world, in particular the neighboring South Asia nations of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and—due to its close ties with “Mother India”—the African island of Mauritius. The teachings are shared primarily via an annual convention called the “International Convention on Students’ Quality Control Circles (ICSQCC). It’s held regularly in Lucknow but has also been in Houston, Singapore, Katmandu, and Mauritius. In 2014 it’s scheduled to be held at London’s Kingston University.
The convention is an opportunity for the best teams to showcase their prowess at quality improvement, and promote a culture of quality through art, drama, and dance. Additionally, several international speakers from all continents attend to present to the students and faculty in attendance the latest ideas on topics that are connected to quality in some way.
The team competitions are a blood sport. Students take their competitions so seriously, the final night’s award banquet is filled with emotions equal to a night at the Oscars. Tears of crushing disappointment for a loss and shrieks of joy to win one of many awards provide the setting for the evening. As you can see, these kids were dressed for the event!
The convention itself is a huge production, and Gandhi is able to attract some regional star power. The 2011 guest of honor was one of the Prime Ministers from Sri Lanka. In 2009 it was the President of Mauritius. Not bad for a high school competition.
For the students from India, given the backdrop of India’s economic rise, one can only wonder what fantastic career paths there will be for these future leaders when they infuse the vigor of their childhood training in quality into their country’s industrial bloodstream.
One of the many remarkable projects belonged to the team that solved the problem of the poor health of the school’s milk-producing cows. (There’s a farm that’s attached to the school to help supply food for the students, teachers, laborers, and community). A seemingly intractable problem, the students nonetheless took it on. They started with a proper definition of the problem, then collected data as to the magnitude of the underlying issues, and stratified the available data. When they needed more, they took samples—statistically valid, mind you—of cow dung to test for parasites, and coordinated with a lab for analysis. Then the team went on to investigate causes, analyze possible solutions, and perform tests. It was a magnificent demonstration of so many aspects of quality management—and yes, the cows returned to good health and a productive life.
Of course, there was the question that I couldn’t resist asking after their results were unveiled: “What did the farm manager have to say about all this?” The students’ eyes raced to each other in a moment of discomfort. “Well, sir, we tried to make him part of the solution.” They also teach tact at this school.
Don’t be fooled into thinking these children are simply parroting the quality exhortations of their masters. Quite the contrary: They embrace these teachings. They are not converts—they are disciples. The intensity with which these kids speak of becoming a “total quality person” leaves you a bit choked up.
What we saw was a refreshing young class of future leaders. There is little doubt that their early grounding in quality philosophy and tools will strongly influence how they will one day lead, and live.
“Sir, quality is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice.”
—Student at the ICSQCC 2011 convention