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.
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
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 …
This has been the best and worst of the times for Higher and Professional Education. While people pursuing Higher and Professional Education has attained a new peak globally, new questions about its relevance and cost have arisen too. The expansion of formal education has crowded out the ecosystems of informal learning, in effect depriving societies with one of the tried-and-tested coping mechanisms for social and technical change (see my earlier post on this), but it has offered little in its space. Its claims on the territory, in various avatars of Lifelong Learning or Massive Open Online Courses, have underachieved, being too structured, too bureaucratic, too content driven and too top-down. Finally, its claims of being able to assess everything overshot its capability, and created dissonance with employers as they struggled to work out hard measures of the 'soft' skills.
However, among all these debates and questions, one that attracts maximum attention is the one about …
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 remember this awkward dinner conversation. I was with my colleague in Northern Ireland, and a friend of his joined our table. After we were introduced, he wondered at my name and asked me what religion I belong to. I went for the simpler answer and kept my doubts aside: "I am Hindu", I said. That made him even more confused. "What's a Hindu?" he said, "Is that some kind of Muslim?"
When I tell this story to my friends in India, they are usually outraged. What an ignorant person, they would say. Particularly treating Hinduism as a branch of Islam, when Hindus love to believe that everyone was originally a Hindu, upsets them. I have also reflected upon this conversation later. It may indeed be that he did not know. He was particularly ignorant, just as ignorant as the lady, who, standing inside the Irish Bar at Mumbai's ITC Grand Central hotel, asked my colleague - the same person as it happened to be - where Ireland was. But the confusion about …
Since October, as I walked out of my job, I have been looking to fine-tune my ideas about Education-to-Employment transition.
The first step of this was to look at the experiences of last six years, which I spent developing, first, an online competency-based education programme and then on building employer-engaged online project-based education. These were all good ideas, and the reason that I am not doing these any more are partially operational: The first business was underfunded, and the second one was poorly conceived and implemented. But those are discussions for a different day. I am focusing currently on understanding the key conceptual elements - what works and what doesn't work - of a successful education-to-employment transition.
Indeed, the claim that we can make a student employable with a few months of training is apparently pretentious. The years of schooling, family background and the students' dispensation, and luck, plays a much bigger role than any traini…
It is possible to see the recent history as an interplay between Politics and Economics, and 2016 as some kind of inflection point that made politics interesting again.
Allowing for a broad generalisation, my point is that the narrative of harmonised economic interest keeping the status quo, which effectively meant a professional political class indulging in risk-free politics, is no longer the only story in town after 2016. The broad consensus that kept emotions out and interests predominant in public affairs has taken a serious beating in Brexit, Trump and myriad other political changes around the world. This includes the failed bids too, as Marine Le Pen reaching second round or AfD entering Parliament make politics something that all intelligent people should be engaged into.
And, yet, if the 2016 was only the beginning, the events in Catalonia yesterday mark a political turn that all the preceding events pointed to. Whether or not this really leads to a Catalan secession, this …
Earlier, I claimed Ed-Tech is over-rated: It promises too much and delivers too little. Worse, the noise of EdTech obscures Education Innovation, which encompasses lot more than gadgets and apps. My point was that the Education Innovation happening away from the limelight of twenty-somethings, venture capital and conference circuits deserve attention. (See here)
The question is what innovation is really there in Education. Raphael's School of Athens makes a popular slide in Conferences, as the speakers often claim that the classrooms today look exactly as they were in Ancient Greece. That statement is symptomatic: It is instructive to pause at School of Athens and reflect on the claim - what counts and does not count as Innovation in the Conference Circuit.
Surely the classrooms do not look anything like Raphael had painted them. Raphael's school is an Open Portal, and don't have rows of chairs and tables, people seating in neat rows. There were no black, white or smart …
The inspiration behind this post comes from several conversations with my colleague Pratik Dattani, the former UK Director of FICCI, an Indian trade body. Pratik, in a regular column he writes for Dainik Bhaskar, pointed out India's meagre tally of 30,000 odd foreign students, against 450,000 in China (which is growing at 10% annually), is a huge missed opportunity, in terms of foreign currency earnings, 'soft power' and diffusion of foreign cultures and ideas. And, besides, number of foreign students in India may be going down rather than up, and several factors, not least anti-African sentiments in some Indian cities, are contributing to it.
Pratik and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the years and I have been closely involved in a Conference, now in its fifth edition, that he organises on Education Innovation in London and in India. We both agreed that India's continuing weaknesses in attracting foreign students is something we want to put on the a…