Page last updated at 07:38 Asia/Manila, Tuesday, 09 May 2017 PH
As Dr. Quismorio explained in her talk on “Closing the Talent Gap in Business Analytics: UA&P’s Pioneering Curriculum”, those who crafted the program took pains not to fall into the temptation of offering an undergraduate program with a major in business analytics. That would have required an overdose of tools- and techniques-oriented subjects similar to the myriad of bookkeeping and accounting subjects that our generation of accounting students had to endure in the last century, making it impossible for us to take the more liberating subjects of the humanities. The UA&P business analytics course is only a specialization within an undergraduate curriculum that combines a strong liberal arts foundation with a major in business administration that exposes the undergraduate to both the humanities and the various functional areas of business. Especially at the rate digital technology is changing literally by the seconds, most of the tools should be learned in the work places. I still remember my horror when I realized that some of my contemporaries at the Harvard Business School who had no accounting in their undergraduate years because they were medical doctors, engineers, musicians, social or physical scientists, learned the fundamentals of accounting in two weeks (which took us accounting students four years) and ended more qualified in analyzing financial statements than most CPAs.
During my talk in the conference, I reminded the audience that as defined in Wikipedia, analysis is the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better understanding of it. The technique has been applied in the study of mathematics and logic since before the times of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, although analysis as a formal concept is a relatively recent development. I admitted that we economists can also be faulted for failing to understand that the human being which is the subject of any social science like economics is a complex of many dimensions that go beyond the material needs of man. Integral human development should take into account not only the economic needs of human beings but also his political, social, cultural, moral and spiritual needs. Capitalism has gone astray because it has been founded on a very narrow conception of a human being as a profit or utility maximizing animal without considering all his other needs, especially the innate desire in every human being to seek the good of others without expecting anything in return (called gratuitousness by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).
The business analyst should be wary about making the same assumption especially as he delves into organizational structures, requirements analysis, strategic planning, process improvement and policy development. In fact, I have to deal daily with the complexity of the external environment in which a business enterprise operates. I have to make use of the so-called PESTLE technique. I have to be conversant with the political (current and potential influences from political pressures); the economic (the local, national and world economy impact); sociological (the ways in which a society can affect an organization); technological (the effect of new and emerging technology); legal (the effect of national and world legislation) and environmental (the local, national and world environmental issues). A business analyst who has focused almost exclusively on tools and techniques will have serious difficulties in putting together all these factors that impact on business operations.
It is also important to point out that it is part of the liberal arts foundation for anyone going to business analytics to go much beyond college algebra and trigonometry. The typical humanities curriculum should introduce every undergraduate, whatever specialization she will pursue, to the Calculus. This branch of mathematics should no longer be limited to those who go to engineering or the sciences. In a publication of the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics of the U.S., it was pointed out that research data show that millions of people have been victims of false assumptions about who has the ability to master mathematics. The Philippine educational system as regards mathematics education should be patterned more in line with the practices of our Northeast Asian neighbors like China and Japan than the United States. In China, where far fewer resources can be devoted to education, almost everyone learns advanced mathematics. Educators in China assume that everyone can master advanced concepts and everyone is expected to do so. In his book The Work of Nations, labor economist Robert Reich wrote that “Japan’s greatest educational success has been to assure that even its slowest learners achieve a relatively high level of proficiency in mathematics.”
In an article in the Financial Times, Joanna Perkins opines that “we are teaching today’s children the wrong type of mathematics.” It is not too late for our undergraduate programs to take into account new approaches to teaching mathematics to all students in the general education or liberal arts curriculum, especially those who are contemplating a career in data analytics. She observed that “Before modern computers, calculations were very expensive because they had to be done by hand. Therefore in real life you would try very hard to minimize the amount of computation, at the expense of more upfront deliberation in defining and abstracting precise questions to tackle. It was a meticulous process.” The digital revolution has changed the technology in which mathematics can be taught. “Nowadays, a much more experimental approach can be combined with a looser initial question because computation is so cheap and effective that one can try a multitude of approaches. These processes, starting with defining questions, translating them into maths, computing the answers and interpreting results, are the cornerstones of computational thinking. Many people, though, do not think of this as maths, which traditionally people assume to be synonymous with pure calculation: narrow and devoid of real-world application.”
Especially since graduates from our high schools going to college would have had two more years of basic education under the K to 12 curriculum, we can really demand that all those going into the professions should be trained in computational thinking. As Ms. Perkins rightly points out: “To significantly increase uptake and engagement of maths in schools we need to focus on computational thinking, the process that drives real-world application of mathematics. The magic is in optimizing how process, computer and human reasoning can be put together to solve problems. This approach needs knowledge of what is possible, experience of how to apply it and know-how of today’s machinery for performing it. These are the core STEM skills that a 21st-century student deserves, harnessing the power of automation.” I sincerely hope that those involved in designing curricula for future data analysts will take into consideration these suggestions of educators from different parts of the world. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.