Showing posts from November, 2013

Waiting for a Future in Kolkata

It's a slow city. One can notice this as they watch the taxis mill around, somewhat slowly pulling over when waved at, declining a fare if that would make them late for lunch; one can hear that in the art of making conversations, bringing up things which may not be of any immediate or practical interest, but would just fill an empty time; and indeed, feel this when one goes around the city, as if it is frozen in time, in its degenerating buildings, unkempt roads, lazy policemen, people loafing around endlessly. 
One can see that Kolkata's attempts to catch up with the modern and the fast is somewhat out of sync, somewhat comical, in fact, if one cares, mostly tragic: One could take personal stance about how to view the Office Secretary spending a day at South City Mall peering into the branded clothing all day, but, unlike as her counterpart would do in Oxford Circus, never really having the courage to buy anything that would max her credit card out. It is melodramatically sw…

The New Humanities Education

Humanities education needs to be reinvented.

Most of the conversation about humanities education today, led on by the Professors of Humanities, is defensive: It is about the value of humanities and why it needs to be protected for the sake of a democratic society. While the proposition is possibly correct, the style of reasoning creates three problems: One, it denies the obvious need that we must interrogate humanities education as it is done today; two, it somewhat projects that humanities subjects are somewhat superior than other subjects in fostering democratic values, which makes the argument elitist; and three, it overlooks the needs of the individual middle class students, of the kind of flocking to the universities today, and forgets to establish the link between humanities studies and jobs and careers.

The flaws mentioned above makes the case for humanities elitist and fails to appeal to people thinking about university. That it is important for democratic society will be app…

The Limits of Jugaad

We have duly celebrated Jugaad and made it part of the management canon: It has now come to be seen as the ethic of Indian business, perhaps Indian life, where one has to make do with less. What seemed once an awkward thing - visitors to India would often wonder about the Bamboo scaffolding used in the construction sites, for example - has now been accepted as evidence of Indian ingenuity.

We should celebrate Jugaad, and even see it as a precursor to things to come. The life of abundance, afforded by the industrial revolution, may soon face significant constraints as natural boundaries of our civilisation get exposed. And, even if this is an unreal fear, there may not be enough for the middle class millions in Asia and Africa as they aspire for good life. Improvisations, with a scene of constraint, the spirit of Jugaad, may indeed define the ethic of modern living at the periphery.

However, at the same time, we must be cognizant of the effects Jugaad ethics may have on India and Indi…

Building An Alternative to University

It has always been difficult to build an alternative to the universities in the modern times. Even if any innovation in learning happened outside the universities, the system expanded to absorb the new areas: Medical Schools, Business Schools, IT Schools, all started outside universities and prospered for a while as private initiatives, but then the moment university system expanded to absorb the new areas, the challengers withered. 
However, at this time, we are approaching a point where these venerable institutions look increasingly open to challenges from outside, and look vulnerable. There are several reasons for this: The universities have less resources to keep expanding, for a start. And, new global possibilities are emerging which publicly funded universities can't do very well. Technologies, not just of learning delivery, but of community building, of measurement and management, are emerging, making 'open source learning' possible. And, besides, universities them…

An Argument about Public Higher Education

During my current tour of India, I got involved, somewhat against my will, in a long discussion - argument is a better word perhaps - about the necessity of public funding of Higher Education. This is one debate I usually seek to avoid, because, on this issue, there is little opportunity to have a nuanced position, and I do have a nuanced position. In this particular case, my correspondents were committed defenders of Public Higher Education with a 'you are either with us or against us' stance, and indeed, my reservations about the bureaucratisation of Higher Education (combined with my background in For-Profit education) immediately made me a target of vociferous attacks and compelled me to defend my views. This post is a short summary of the arguments that I made.
My first problem with the high pitch defense of public funding of Higher Education is that this is hardly an honest stance. Most of the advocates of public funding represent themselves to be in opposition of marke…

An Education for Indians: An Alternative Narrative

While I have been studying and thinking about the political dynamic of the Foreign Education in India, I wrote about the past of English Education in India, which helped to create a new professional elite, the vanguards of the eventually independent Indian state. I have been somewhat critical of this development because consolidation and continuation of the privileges for English educated in Independent India has been one of the stumbling blocks for the country's development, vested interests pooling subsidies and resources towards itself and away from development efforts. Besides, in a subsequent post, I also questioned the rhetoric emanating from foreign providers, as they rest their great hope for access to the Indian market on the dissatisfaction of the Indian employers with current graduates: While this dissatisfaction is certainly real, it is situated very much within India's labour market context, I argued, and simply having a foreign education provision wouldn't g…

Politics of Foreign Education: An Education for Indians

In the debate about Foreign Education in India, one question is left unmentioned: Why does India need foreign Higher Education? There is an educational response, or several possible different responses, ranging from it is desirable to have a global view of education (or that one can't have a modern education system without a global perspective) to various specific responses, such as the rote learning currently practised in the Indian system isn't good enough, and more must be done, arguably through foreign collaborations, to enhance skills such as critical thinking etc.
However, whichever end of the argument one starts with, there is a political case to be answered. Globalisation is a contested field, and its benefits may be more obvious to the readers of The Economist (and other Western periodicals) than those living in villages and small towns of India. Besides, the question of globalisation - and globalisation of education - is intertwined with the colonial memory in India…

In Defence of MOOCs

You can love or hate Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but you can't ignore them. This is my cliched response to the equally cliched ritual that has become a feature of conferences about education: The designated speaker about education technology almost always seems to start with the sequence of questions: "How many of you have ever joined a MOOC?" and a few hands go up. And, then, almost invariably, "How many of you have completed any?" - almost no one responds to this one.
Almost no one, because I am getting used to being the only one in the room who has completed a  MOOC. In fact, I have completed five now, and enjoyed immensely the ones I completed. But, I raise my hand not proudly, but hesitantly, because I expect no kudos for completing courses that almost no one seems to bother about: I don't get any, expect a dismissive "well done" before the speaker moves on to make his/her point.
Which is, essentially, no one completes a MOOC. That …

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