Bill Gates have now given us a new word, or more precisely, a new meaning to an old word: Decoupling. He suggests that knowledge and employability may be 'decoupled' from university degree in the coming days. Which effectively means that he is predicting university degree may not be relevant anymore. It may sound counter-intuitive, but coming from Gates, the statement is worth exploration.
One could argue that college education was never more popular: College-going population worldwide has surged and is continuing to grow. So, the demise, or irrelevance, or, if we must play safe, 'decoupling', of a college degree may sound fantastical. But then, the surge needs to be seen in the perspective of the global jobs crisis. The college has not created jobs, nor it can: It has been an instrument to sell middle class dreams to many, only for those to fail eventually to achieve the promised life.
In fact, the surge in college education may be seen as a part of the global consumer revolution, where a certain way, western way, of life was idolised and societies across the world subscribed to a somewhat consensual definition of prosperity. So, growth in income and consumption, easier credit, house owning, ownership of an automobile, private education, college degree, credit cards and mortgages, air travel, certain global brands, gym membership, etc became common currency of middle class life. Only till a point though, when unemployment, rising interest rates in the rest of the world, street protests, and austerity, entered the equation and made things different.
Gates is an optimist and he sees 'decoupling' through the liberating force of technology, where access to knowledge becomes free or nearly free. However, even 'free' needs to be interrogated: This 'free' may be free as in beer, but may not be free as in free speech. Reducing knowledge production to those who can afford to feature in, and pay for the production of, MOOCs, say, may make these available to lots of people at no or minimum cost, but this will only be done by certain people at certain universities, in a certain language and reflecting a certain worldview. I love Michael Sandel's lectures on Justice and attended his free course on HarvardX, but completely agree with the observation made in Nathan Heller's 'Laptop U' that one may need different varieties of discussions on Justice. Surely, a lecture on Justice in an Indian, or Chinese, or a Catalan university will sound very different, and one must not lose sight of this variability as a core element of an education experience.
But his broader point that 'degree' is failing its social mandate - its symbolic value of identifying the educated - remains true. This is very much a reality everywhere, in India, in China, in the United Kingdom, in the United States, where which university went to matters more than what degree one has. There is already a decoupling therefore - not by the liberating force of technology, as Gates predicts, but by the crusty old power of privilege, of degrees and institutional affiliations. What Gates is now talking about a more 'democratic' access to knowledge, which is technologically possible, though one would be more sceptical whether the form permitted by the economic rationale of such projects would necessarily result in a better and more relevant education.
Our experiments with global higher education, though it is only a small project with very limited funds, were to explore this 'decoupling', to create a competence-based education structure running parallel to degrees, indeed with established pathways for people who may want to gain an academic credential, but primarily focused on the urgent need of boosting employability and relevance of learning at the workplace. Technology was at the core of this experiment, but not to reduce varieties into one view of the world, but as an enabler of global collaboration and conversation, a platform for global-local learning, where knowing is interrogated by doing, and the dialectics of application results in the production of knowledge.
Gates' point therefore deeply resonates with us. Indeed, our experience of talking to educators was deeply frustrating, with most of them fixated with the outcome (degree) but not the process or content of education. After our initial conversations with colleges and universities, where this 'degree disease' is most prevalent, we have started aligning ourselves, consciously, with entrepreneurs who want to shake the status quo, build an alternate offering and create a parallel system of education outside the officially mandated one. So, we are creating an architecture of 'decoupling' and Gates' comment is, therefore, deeply encouraging to us.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.