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A very nice presentation on the myths associated with virtual learning

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A must read lecture by Gardner

The advent of technology has raised an important debate over its relevance to education and thereby whether its justified to use taxpayer’s money to increase investment in that direction. This article from NY times is worth a read

India, unlike several other nations of the west, has entered into the 21st century with a lot of promise and possibilities. In the midst of increasingly flattening world, change is sweeping the nation from all sides.  To assess the appropriate response towards these times, it is critical to understand beforehand what these changes are and thereafter what are their implications. Probably only then can we prepare to face them with clarity and conviction.

With ‘Right to Education’ getting included as a Fundamental Right at the outset of this century, there is an ocean of responsibility in front of educators. There may be several important things which might be influencing our kids, but few of these aspects of this 21st century are to be noted carefully to understand what they imply for schools.

Few trends that dominate our times:

1.      The juggernaut of Western culture

Trend:  In the age of globalization where most of the attractions are driving us towards the western way of living, celebrating, communicating and making our decisions, what would drive one child to find out what lies at the ancient roots of our marvelous country.

Implications:  We as a society have not really been successful in taking the ancient thoughts of this country to a level whereby they become part of our everyday lives. Only when the child is firmly rooted in the nation’s rich ethos can he/she understand the direction of the western winds. Schools can play a huge role and in helping the child to draw the best from the East and the West rather than to get swayed in one direction.

2.      The increasing need for collaboration

Trend: People in this age would not be working in isolated cubicles. They would be collaborating with other employees from different nations and would be expected to think together with them.   Compartmentalization of roles is passé.  People will rise above the narrow definitions of identity that marked society in the past.

Implication: Schools have been traditionally designed around individual excellence which is the smalles unit of ensuring and monitoring development but they would also need to prepare students to embrace diversity, collaborative learning, working and solving problems harmoniously.

3.      Shift of power from access to information to ability to handle information

Trend: With the advent of information age, access to content is no more the differentiator. As technology becomes more and more pervasive, students would be able to access the best of the literature available in any part of the world and use it to develop their understanding.

Implication: The teachers of this century would need to help students seek information, understand its relevance, apply it and also develop the ability to create knowledge. Teachers who only transfer information from the text book to the child out there by virtue of their position of authority are likely to lose relevance.

4.      Changing Communication methods

Trend: Some of the new age communication tools which are proliferating are completely in contradiction to what it takes to express well with due contemplation. Tools like SMSes, Twitter and Facebook that teachers got familiar with after probably they reached a level of matured thought are methods which children are using from a very early stage. One of the articles in New York Times recently questioned whether they are enemies of contemplation since these are huge distractions even for adults.

Implication:   Students need to be taught the value of thinking well and expressing with richness. A couple of lines here and a few words there don’t necessarily allow us to be understood well or to take our thoughts to wide audience. Teachers would need to encourage children the virtue and skill of expressing their thoughts in detail and the extremely significant role that communication plays at every level of our existence.

The wisdom to choose one’s style of communication and the medium would not come naturally unless it is taught with care over a period of time.

5. Plethora of distractions

Trend: From the ancient age of Guru-kula with all its philosophy and richness, India has now entered the age of hyper consumerism- irrespective of whether we like it or not. Children today are living in a world of myriad distractions. Probably the distractions were never more. When adults are not able to resist the temptation of changing cars, mobile phones, laptops within a short span, how can we expect children who are perhaps in the middle of the most diverse set of signals or distractions like gizmos, video games, food stuff, toys, apparels etc to decide with a clear mind.

Implications: How many times have we seen kids diving into their cell phone and cacooning themselves from the world around them? Children would need a lot of help to understand what really matters in life. How to value healthy friendships, value the quiet silence of nature, working with attention, reading a book with a thoughtful mind, playing with friends and also at times playing computer based games for that matter. Advertisements will keep on enticing them to buy more and more. Children are getting tested both outside as well as within the classrooms. It would take a lot of empathy on the part of the teachers to realize what is going on in their minds and help them seek clarity.

Thus as we progress confidently in this century, we have traded prosperity for a lot of conditions which are fraught with uncertainty and risks. Very few organizations would ever try to own the responsibility of understanding the long term social implications of this change.

Thus in this new age, the teachers and parents would have to jointly collaborate to understand how the mind of the child is getting shaped and how is this learner really learning along the way. If left to himself or herself, there is doubt if a child would really be able to maneuver through this labyrinth of complexities with ease.

Nice article on gap in Civics education amongst students.

Gardner’s interview on personalization of education

I recently had the opportunity of participating in a seminar on ideas to improve education so that it builds entrepreneurial capacity in the students.

Most of the speakers were people who had studied both in India and in the west and after that had started some organization of their own. They were extremely critical of the education system in India and one of the members in the audience went on to the extent to express that if teachers are put in corporate roles, they won’t be able to survive for over 15 days. I don’t know whether he is right or wrong in stating that. But i feel that somewhere we have to be more cautious even when we try to take the stand of criticism.

For me that was a bit of an exaggeration. Many people who have not delved into education with some interest would always tend to base their opinion either on their own experience (which is surely a very important reference point) and then the experience of probably their siblings or kids (in case they are parents at that stage).

The problem lies in according ‘schooling’ (not education) to be the panacea for all that the economy demands. Entrepreneurship is a deeply inner drive to start something of lasting value for which there are a lot of external and internal factors that need to be created. For example ability to take risks, to have independent thought process, ability to look into the future, to read patterns, welcome criticism etc. Now some of these internal factors can surely be nurtured in schools, but can there be an education system which purposefully nurtures entrepreneurship. Is that possible?  I really don’t think so since probably entrepreneurial mind set is much beyond that.  But yes these capacities of mind are fundamental. They are needed by a brand manager in P&G as much as they might be needed when someone goes about drafting a business plan for his venture.

I say so because after all wanting to start an organization or to work in any capacity- as employee, free lance, part time etc etc is all an individual’s prerogative and depends upon the world view of the person and is also a function of how the individual wants to engage with the world around.

One of the points that struck me positively was raised by a gentleman from Unlimited India who stated that education should not be anti-entrepreneurial. And this made a lot of sense to me.

In a world with increasing complexities, people would be required to be entrepreneurial, to be active citizens, to be responsible to the environment, be socially conscious, provide for their families, be technologically savvy, be great at communication, pursue their passions, not ignore their health  etc etc. Can this in that case be made the aim of education? Won’t we be making the life of our teachers complex beyond imagination if a child say doesn’t exhibit great appreciation for art but shows express interest in say civil services.  Does that mean that teachers didn’t do their job well because the person wants to do something which lakhs of Indians have already wanted to do in the past?

I feel that the idea should be to nurture basic capacities of mind, hands and heart and ensure that the same is done well so that the child is able to think what he/she wants to do, look at the world around with a sense of care, concern, joy and constantly strive to understand how he/she needs to engage with the world with all its myriad complexities and if possible leave the world better than how it was when he/she started working.
Giving precedence to one path of growth as against another will really not make the task of educating either simple or even worthwhile.

Our memory of visual imagery is quite strong during our childhood days and gradually the world of words and meanings gains precedence. Thats one of the reasons why kids probably love stories as they get a joy out of visualizing fairies, witches,  Vikram and Betaal, Pinoccio, Cinderalla etc. As adults probably we may not be able to appreciate these characters too much.

In one of our sessions recently, we introduced kids to the story of Natalie du Toit who is an ace swimmer and how even after meeting a terrible accident at a very young age, leading to her losing one leg she continued her passion and successfully proved her might even in Olympics.

Her message is

The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals;
The tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach for.
It is not a disgrace not to reach for the stars,
But it is a disgrace not to have stars to reach for.

Isn’t it remarkable !The eternal power of human spirit I guess.

We shared this story and children listened to it with rapt attention.  We showed them the image on a computer and they were excited to have a small image of hers with them.

Interestingly, in my next session I forgot to get the image of  Natalie but they didn’t forget to ask for that image. They kept on reminding me and I kept on testing their ‘need’ to have that image with them. Finally they each got a copy after close to 10 days or so.

I surely can’t say that they suddenly became more determined towards their goals from the next day. Nothing like that.  But I just feel that if the image stays with them, they may exceed their self imposed limitations and shine through the problems that they encounter in their lives. It may happen in the near future or it may happen late.

Child labour is a big issue in India. As per the recent reports, there are over 12 million children who end up in working because they are not able to afford their education.

Recently I had an interesting experience at our batch where around 4 young boys of around 12 years age group suddenly stopped coming. On some casual questioning from their peers I was told that they have decided to go and work in a shop where they are required to make boxes out of perforated card board.

This task fetches them around Rs 10 per hour. Thus when they go and spend around 4  to 5 hours from afternoon 3 pm till 8 pm, they manage to get 50 Rs in their pocket.

The interesting part about it is that none of these kids was compelled by anyone in their family to go and earn money. They went out of sheer curiosity of this new mode of making money and somehow they must have felt good to get pocket money which otherwise is denied to them since their parents can’t afford it.  This need for financial independence and probably the attraction of riches around them in contrast to their own state of deprived existence would always create that tension where even if no one is forcing them, they themselves may want to see their economic position improve.

Thus child labour may not  necessarily always be a resultant of coercive forces from back home. It can also arise if the child who is not able to see beyond next few months just wants to break himself free!

Anything ‘immoral’ about that?