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Simi Devasia: Since hotel management is a skill-based programme, facilitating practical skills through digital platforms poses a challenge

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With the main campus located 6500 ft above sea level in Thachankary Hills, Sooryanelli, Munnar, Kerala, the Munnar Catering College is established and managed by Thachankary Foundation. The city campuses of the college are established at Kochi and Trivandrum. In an exclusive interaction, Simi Devasia, principal, Munnar Catering College, talks about the Covid-a91 impact on hospitality education and the challenges are awaiting institutes in the post Covid-19 phase

How has Covid-19 pandemic impacted hospitality education in the country?

It is for the first time in the history of education itself and hospitality education in particular that we are facing such a challenging opportunity. It is even more challenging to impart hospitality education during this pandemic situation. Even as the first cases of Covid-19 were being reported in Kerala, we had decided to shut down. And as lockdown continued, it became imperative for us to conduct the semester classes through online mode.

This was a peculiar circumstance not only for our institution but also for all hospitality institutions across the country. The various affiliating bodies such as NCHMCT, DoT, AICTE and other State Universities issued directives on conducting classes through online platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Gotowebinar, Gotomeetings, Google hangouts, Google classroom, Microsoft team, Whatsapp. Virtual tutoring and group chats have now become the new norm for hospitality education. The learning curve for the facilitators was steeper than that of their millennial students, for whom it was yet another platform to explore. The only limitation is that the synchronous classroom is possible, but only for the theory classes and the challenge to impart practical skills is still left unattended.

However, on hindsight, the silver lining to this situation is that faculty from various hotel management institutes were enablers to their contemporaries in knowledge sharing and in some instances with students of other competing institutions. Even hospitality professionals are now keen on sharing their knowledge through these online platforms as well as through Facebook live streams.

What challenges are awaiting the institutes in the post Covid-19 phase and how can they be resolved?

The challenges are multi-fold as of now, and we are addressing each of these on a priority basis.

The foremost challenge in that post Covid-19 phase would be the conduct of practical classes, examinations, placement and internships of the students. With practical classes being conducted, we would have to look at conducting the same with the social distancing norms being maintained and high level of hygiene standards maintained at every touch point. Hygiene and sanitation SOP (standard operating practices) would be the main focus for all the practical sessions.

The examinations are the immediate challenge since as of now since the final examinations for even the previous batch 2017-2020 has not been completed. The  conduct of the same for the various batches will be the next challenge and we would have to look at conducting the same in a very systematic manner and at the same time ensuring that the students are able to recollect all that has been taught during the pandemic situation

Placements and internships for the students would be the next challenge as there would be almost 2 batches of students that would be ready for placements once the pandemic settles down. Ensuring that all students are well placed would require careful planning and coordination with both the industry as well as the students.

What speciality courses are offered by your institute and what new courses will be offered to cater to the new demands of post Covid-19 hospitality?

Our institute have been offering various courses in the field of hospitality catering for students with varied interests with varied approaches to this stream. The various programmes offered by our institution are:

  • 3 year degree programme in Hospitality and Hotel administration – In this is a programme offered by National Council for Hotel Management & Catering Technology, Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India, IGNOU, students are enrolled to this programme through JEE
  • 3 year diploma programme in hotel management and catering technology. This programme is offered by Directorate of Technical Education, Govt of Kerala. Students pursuing this course could also enrol for a degree programme in tourism studies offered by IGNOU, thereby giving the students of an added advantage of doing two programmes and as well as looking at career opportunities in both Tourism sector as well as Hospitality sector
  • 4 Year twinning programme – Graduate diploma in International Hotel management and Tourism and Bachelor of Arts in Global Tourism Management (BAGTM) or Bachelor of Arts in International Hotel Management (BAIHM). The graduate diploma is offered by Munnar Catering College, the Bachelors programme in Arts (BAGTM & BAIHM) are offered by Royal Roads University, Canada. In this programme the student has to complete 2 years in Munnar and he completes the next 2 years in Canada. This is one of a kind programme offered by Royal Roads University, Canada
  • 3 year Integrated Programme – In this programme student enrols for a Graduate diploma in International Hotel Management and Tourism offered by Munnar Catering College and Bachelors Degree in Tourism Studies offered by IGNOU. This is for students who have cleared 12th standard or equivalent.
  • 4 year Integrated programme- In this programme student enrols for a Graduate diploma in International Hotel Management and Tourism offered by Munnar Catering College and Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism Studies offered by IGNOU. This is for students who have cleared 10th standard or equivalent. Students are enrolled for Senior Secondary from NOIS and on clearing the same they are enrolled for the degree programme. Also, the students post completion of 3 years at the campus will be going for 1 year on the job training in reputed Hotels in India and abroad
  • 3-year B. Sc programme in Hotel Management and Culinary Arts, this programme is offered by Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. This programme focuses primarily on Culinary Arts.
  • 3-year B. Com (Vocational) programme in Travel and Tourism, this programme is offered by Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. This programme focuses on Travel and tourism sector predominantly.
  • 2-year MHM (Maters in Hotel Management) offered by Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, this programme focuses on all the four major departments of hotel but also on Marketing, Entrepreneurial Development as well as Human Resources Management.

Apart from these programmes we also offer short term courses:

  • 2-year Graduate Diploma in International Hotel Management and Tourism offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 12th pass or equivalent
  • 2-year Higher Diploma in International Hotel Management offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.
  • 1-year Diploma in International Hotel Management & Tourism offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.
  • 1-year Diploma in Professional Cookery offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.
  • 6 months Certificate in International Hotel Management & Tourism offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.
  • 6 months Certificate in Professional Cookery offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.
  • 1-year Diploma in International Business Management offered by Munnar Catering College, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.
  • 1 &1/2-year craftmanship certificate course in Food Production and Patisserie programme offered by NCHMCT, Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India, eligibility being 10th pass or equivalent.

Your insights on Digital vs Physical classrooms?

This pandemic situation has enabled us as facilitators to explore virtual learning platforms taking the learning experience to a different level, I hope. At the same time these digital platforms pose a new challenge in the whole learning experience in terms of imparting the practical knowledge. Even though digital classrooms have now become the new normal, each session needs to be managed in such a way that students are not distracted and remain focused on the sessions. Since hotel management is a skill-based programme, facilitating practical skills to the students through digital platforms poses a challenge and an impossible task

How will Covid-19 change campus recruitments?

Even before Covid-19 hit us, all our recruitment has been through video conferencing mode to avoid travel and attendance shortage for our students. Now with Covid-19, I assume all institutes would have to follow the same norm of conducting recruitment through video conferencing mode.

Do a lot of Indian students choose culinary arts? And how important is an international degree for such students?

The popularity of MasterChef competitions, celebrity chefs appearing on television and exhibiting their culinary skills, channels devoted to food and travel have all seemed to this huge demand for Culinary Arts, as the stigmatised image of a chef has transformed into that of a career much sought after. The skill set being so much in demand, at Munnar Catering College we offer a 3 year programme in Hotel Management and Culinary Arts as well as 1 year Diploma in Professional Cookery and 1 &1/2 year craftmanship certificate course in Food Production and Patisserie programme. An international degree gives these students an added advantage in terms of international exposure, thereby helping them to secure themselves in a hospitality career.

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