Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
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The Project of 'Global Education'
One of my key interests is to study 'global education' and what impact it has on developing societies. Like my other projects, this is a conversation in progress, and therefore, much better covered, at least at this stage, as blog posts rather than in any other form. This interest also sits in the intersection of my work, which is about using the possibilities of technology to broaden access to education and to connect it to the needs of a modern service economy, and my political beliefs, which, being Indian, is of mixed feelings about modernity itself.
The claim that globalising education, among other things, brings a greater capacity to think critically is of immense interest to me. The components of this claim itself are worth studying: That the Indian education is traditionally based on rote learning, and the Western scientific education is based on critical questioning of the world, is presented as an absolute starting point of this discussion - and by definition evades critical assessment - shows some contours of the nature of this debate. Through the prism of this definition, learning Upanishads, or Koran, or Budhdhist Texts, are rote, because one is engaging with a text and memorising it perhaps. On the other hand, learning the history of one's own country with reflections on authoritarian regimes of the past, such as Stalin and Hitler's, perhaps guards one against buying into the same authoritarian propaganda in one's own time. These examples are powerful, but evades questions such as, whether memorising Budhdhist texts s about knowing the words, or about reflecting and discovering the deep unity of the universe, and whether, despite the apparent otherworldly nature of that learning, this unity could be understood without connecting with everything else. Seen that way, anyone with even the rudimentary knowledge of those texts will know that they are not achieved through rote. On the other hand, one could perhaps see that the choice of examples of authoritarian evil is always quite deliberate: Stalin's collectivization and Mao's Great Leap Forward are always cited as great examples of cruelty and barbarism, but the deliberate diversion of food from Bengal by the British administration under Churchill's instructions or indiscriminate bombings of Vietnamese citizens are usually kept out of the discussion. Similarly, we may talk about Hitler or Polpot's massacres, but never that of Suharto or Pinochet. And, yet, it is critical consciousness that a global education brings, if only by claiming to bring it.
Someone indeed told me that the Critical Consciousness of the type I am talking about isn't necessary. All the people should care about is to find ways to solve their problems, and that limited use of critical 'reasoning' is what makes a better life. Yet, most people don't know what their problems are, and one of the key jobs of modern consumerism is to actually make people realise that they have a problem, to make them unhappy. One perhaps didn't know that one needs a BMW , nor that one's wife should have been more beautiful or smarter, before an alluring advertising was shown to him on telly. Identifying these false problems at least should be part of a person's repertoire in modern economies. Only focusing on critical engagement that helps solve a problem, which will basically depend on process-based evaluation of the options (may be it be of huge variety), which is exactly the kind of education one receives in a business school, structures a life lived on the command of others. And, indeed, those who claim that global education will bring critical consciousness to all the developing country learners never let it out that their agenda is really to trap the learners withing the 'cage' of modernity, forever solving the problems set by other people, within the options and parameters set by other people.
Yet, this is what global education is for, not to encourage resistance to modernity, but to create a framework of obedience based on presumed requirements of consumption, mostly of commodities and services coming out of the metropolitan centres of the world, or the commodities or services produced by near-slave labour based on designs, formats and ideas shaped at those metropolitan centres. This is about as much critical consciousness as an Indian worker will require to get a job that pays $500 a month (while that job may cost $5000 in the US) because now she can afford things which her parents could not; but this critical conscious should not go as far as to let her question why her time is one-tenth as valuable to that of the US worker (and by implication, her life is less valuable) and whether she should seek to challenge the rules, set by the system, and to change this. In fact, the 'global education' project can be seen as one massive scheme of bringing people to modern consumption and move them away from politics; at its core, the proposition of 'development', which is a formula based on growth in consumption and credit, and which must not be questioned on such grounds such as social or environmental impact. In a way, the project of 'global education' perfects General Suharto's 'Floating Mass' formulation, a body of people who must not spend time in politics of groups, but focus themselves on economic advancement.
The question that I pursue, however, is whether this will result in greater welfare, or even achievement of the promised goal. The 'globals', which is very much a legitimate label in studies by consultancies such as McKinsey, may actually not just destroying all opposition but even the ground they stand on. Buying into the neoliberal rhetoric, they are, at the same time, undermining and using the state: Their corrupt control is undermining the state authority, yet it is the state's authority the legitimacy of their ways, which is often quite violent and exploitative of all other groups, is based on. Besides, they are tending to cite the state as the problem, after the lessons taught in global schools, and yet their very existence is so precariously dependent on the state, as exemplified in countries such as Tunisia.
So, to rephrase a very famous line - the project of global education seems full of triumphant calamity. My quest is to understand the dynamics of this in the Asian context.
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 appeared …
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 etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (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 season, is …
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, as I …
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
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 inside …
I didn't write for almost three weeks as I was in India. The essence of my work there is to deal with employment creation. Part of my work is pro-bono - a city initiative focused on Industry 4.0 - and the other part is commercial, advising a large Indian corporation on the development of next-generation Skills training programmes. But the sense of crisis regarding unemployment cuts across scale and scope of my work and is a recurrent theme that pops up everywhere.
India has a really big challenge. About 2 million people reach working age every month in India, and even if only half of them are actively seeking employment, the few thousand jobs that the organised sector creates are woefully inadequate. India may be the fastest growing large economy in the world, but demonetisation of 2016 and poorly implemented General Sales Tax (GST) have hit businesses hard and froze up recruitment in many sectors. The widely promoted 'Make in India' initiative - the government's atte…
Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.
For, despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.
We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.
When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all develo…
Today is the Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
Tagore was the first global Literary Superstar, the first Nobel Prize Winner from Asia, whose flowing robes and the white beard helped form the public image of an Indian sage on the global stage.
It is somewhat peculiar what Tagore is now known for. Given that many people reading this blog wouldn't know his name, I had to mention his Nobel prize. Yet, Tagore was somewhat resentful - and said so when he was facilitated in Calcutta after receiving the prize - that his countrymen would only recognise him only after the West had given him an award. The alternative way to tell who he was - that he was the man who wrote the National Anthem of India, as well as of Bangladesh - is equally problematic: Not just this brings up an old controversy (see An Exceptional Man) but, at least in case of India, reminds one of a Cosmopolitan Republican Nationalism that the current Indian government so love to hate.
Robots were supposed to take over the universe. Singularity - the end of human history - was due in about a decades time. And, then, it was to be a different world altogether - one with self-knowing, self-replicating machines.
But it seems that future may have been postponed.
If there is anything that the history of technological progress should teach us, it should be that we ought not to believe in the excited predictions that technology industry loves to make. It is part of their style - all those world-changing predictions! There is a vast difference between the rhetoric of Microsoft's seamlessly connected world and the reality of clunkiness of Windows; E-Commerce did well but the prognosis far outstripped the performance, and these are only the good examples. No aircraft ever fell out of the sky despite all the warnings of the Y2K doomsday: It did create a multi-billion dollar outsourcing industry though. And, there are those who are still waiting for the day when everyone l…