Showing posts from September, 2014

Does Higher Education Need Disruption?

All investors love disruption. This is the new mantra, a sales pitch that can't be denied: The dot-com era's 'dent in the universe' has lately become 'disruption'.
Clayton Christensen should be worried. The history of management ideas is replete with examples of oversell. And, indeed, oversold ideas die quickly thereafter. The insight of disruption is a great idea, but when it is slapped around on everything, it loses its meaning. One would suspect that such a disruptive moment has now come to disruption.
One case in point is the discussion about higher education. Everyone wants to disrupt higher education. Even the great and the good have caught up with the 'D' word. But wasn't Christensen's original insight about low quality, low price products disrupting the market leaders because they had overshot the customers' requirements and become unnecessarily expensive? Anyone for low quality education? Can Silicon Valley beat the price points ed…

Conversations 17: An Update on My Life

I am currently in Manila. It is good to be back here after almost four years, and meet old friends and new people. Most of the people I meet here, I met them first time for business reasons (I met others through them, so that was business too). However, now that I have no obvious business proposition to meet them, I still feel like seeing them - and they do too. I would like to believe this is a very Asian thing, but perhaps not, because the same thing happens to me in England too: I meet people without business reasons, or at least, without ones that are apparent. While this may sound incredibly pointless to some of my more business-minded associates, I have come to realise that this is my style. I don't meet people to do business, I meet people and then may end up doing business with them.
For those who may wonder why I am not very successful in my business career, this should be an easy explanation: That I don't begin with an end in mind. If I appear to lack a sense of urg…

The Meaning of 'Skills'

There is a lot of talk on skills in India. Its Prime Minister and other functionaries keep talking about 'skilling'. Indian policy makers have somehow convinced themselves, based on no other claim than managing to waste the largest amount of money in skills education ever in history, that this is one thing that they do well. They are further encouraged to think that way by the myriad skills education providers from around the world who want a share of the spoils and show up at various conferences to participate in the biggest skills 'mission' in the world. And, in this circus of the absurd, everyone have now convinced themselves that the job is already done and the rhetoric should move to the next level: The claim now is that India has the skills and it must now 'make'.
Yet, if anything, the availability of skilled personnel has reduced, not increased, in India. This is perhaps because the melee around 'skilling' - a quick capsule of trai…

Being in the Middle when the Average is over

How does it feel to be in the middle when average is over? The middle classes know: They feel squeezed, and clueless, as the fusion of ubiquitous globalisation and pervasive automation push the economies to the tipping point of making people in the middle redundant. The middle class values, of moderation, patience, of deferring consumption and long preparation, continuity and persistence, are all baggage in this brave new world of superstars. Bragging, not modesty; consumption, not savings; street smarts, not preparation; opportunism, not commitment; the things that win are instinctively abhorrent to the middle classes - or, the old middle classes, more correctly. They have been left behind, comprehensively and irredeemably, in the world we created.
But this means more than just the decline of a class of a people: It may mean a change in the way of life. Civilisation is a big word, but it is not altogether inappropriate to say that we did build a whole civilsation around the emergent…

Culture, Power and Learning from Experience

As I work on implementing project-based learning in different countries in Asia, one objection, that this 'idea' is not Asian, comes up all too frequently. Citing anecdotal evidence, my correspondents tell me that the Asian students are taught not to challenge and to ask, and that this approach to learning, built around a passive and respectful learner-teacher relationship, is too Asian to be swept away anytime soon. Correctly, they point out that the Asian students often behave the same way when they study abroad, at least initially, attending the lectures and displaying unquestioning respect for the teacher, trying to photograph every slide, note down every word. 
The usual argument is that the same students will start learning differently, if exposed to a different system of learning, should be investigated in the background of these observations. Because, this discussion is not just about teaching methods, but learning: A Different approach to inquiry may lead to a differ…

Conversation 16: The Alternative Futures

This blog has become my space to converse, learn and reflect about education. Education, however, is a forward looking enterprise: While I explore motives and purposes of education, which is what I tend to do, such ideas are invariably embedded within our view of the future. My sense of urgency to work for educational innovation comes from the sense that we are at a discontinuous point in our history, and the magnificent model that we have built over last two hundred years may have run its course. This sense of urgency drives all my work, my current endeavours to set up online competency-focused higher education, to organise conferences around education innovation, of writing this blog and my studies and conversations. But, all these, as I am as aware as anyone, are laden with assumptions about the future. 
While we may all anticipate a discontinuity - because our recent living experience has been a journey of continuous discontinuity - we may not necessarily all agree on the exact s…

Learning from Experience: Approaching The Future

I wrote about the contrast between John Dewey's concept of Learning from Experience and the conventional ideas of Experiential Learning (See here) and the limitation the latter may have, despite its popularity, as we climb into a future with smart machines and pervasive globalisation. I see Dewey's concept of creating engaged individuals to be central to the system of education we ought to build - and indeed see that the modern education system, with its focus on creating humanoid workers, is precisely its anti-thesis - and believe that we need to promote the concept of experience not as isolated special events but as an opportunity to interact with one's world. 
The key difference that this different approach to experience makes is in the idea of inquiry. Learning from Experience depends on the emotional engagement with the world and asking questions: This much everyone agrees upon. But it matters what kind of questions we are asking, because they shape our abilities dif…

Learning from Experience and Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning is the old hot thing. Not only everyone likes the idea - that learning should happen from practical life - it has a great pedigree in education theory. The new formula of competency-based learning, that learning should focus on useful competencies required at work, takes this idea further, and tightly weave all learning around experience, making all else superfluous. However, while this has become the new orthodoxy, one limitation of this conception is how to fit this into a rapidly changing world. When everything changes, and today's competencies may not translate into any future advantage, one would wonder whether experiential learning is enough. Besides, one ought to ask how to approach learning when change happens in our life and work so rapidly.
The answer may lie in learning from experience. I use the term in the classical sense, as used by Dewey, and as opposed to the idea of experiential learning. Dewey himself contrasted his idea of 'experience&…

Education and Secular Morality

Education, to be modern, it is generally assumed, should be overtly technical and value neutral. The pursuit is not of values and beliefs, but rather of 'quality', which, in a self-fulfilling way, is defined to be meeting the proclaimed objectives. 
Morality, one could almost anticipate the argument, is not about day to day lives. It is one of those big things that the student-as-a-worker may not need to concern with. However, if one benefit of modern life is expansion of choices, the flip side of it is an expansion of responsibility: Suddenly, what we eat or what we wear, not to mention how we travel or where we bank, have a moral implication. The more control we have on our lives, the more power we have over nature - the very gifts of modernity we celebrate - expands our moral involvement. 
The fact that a technocratic education, which most people tend to receive, seek to leave such questions out - and yet those questions keep coming up - create two different realms, one of…

The Next Wave and The Educators' Dilemma

The writing is on the wall: The next 10 years will not be like the last 10 years for jobs and work in the emerging markets.
In an insightful article in Foreign Affairs, Andrew McAfee, Erik Brynjolfsson and Michael Spence argue that the current convergence of globalisation and automation is fundamentally reshaping the world economy and altering the patterns created by the last wave of IT and globalisation. With the advent of World Wide Web, cheap intercontinental communication and expansion of global trade, there was a wave of 'outsourcing' which benefitted the low-cost countries and created a new middle class. However, with intelligent machines and an altered dynamic of globalisation after the Great Recession, this pattern is altering. Labour is no longer the biggest cost for a manufacturer, for example: Transportation is. So, manufacturing is coming where the consumption is (iPhones in Texas) and even China, despite its great success in manufacturing, has been quietly losing…

What's wrong with Western Education? : 3

Let's start with the outrageous: Why is it that a woman wearing a Niqab a sign of oppression while consuming umpteen bottles of wine and getting drunk a sign of freedom? While this may appear to be a question designed to irritate the French, what this is really about is a concept the French pioneered: Liberty!Liberty is central to the proposition of Western Education in the traditional societies - it is supposed to make one free - but when one is in a debate such as this, it makes sense to go beyond the rhetoric and what this stands for.
Western Education, which could be defined as a system of education representing the values and beliefs of the European and North American societies and which are usually imposed on societies of lesser means with superior financial and publicity support, draws its legitimacy from four interlinked philosophical claims: That it makes one free, that it creates refinement, that it helps to build superior and prosperous societies, and it enables agency…

What's Wrong with Western Education?: 2

I wrote a note on Western Education yesterday. The immediate context was this film - Schooling The World - which puts many of the issues to the fore. While I mentioned two distinct objections to Western Education, its association with decline of the traditional societies and ways of life and the recognition of the imposition of a power structure implicit in such education, the film's argument is essentially that it is not one or the other, and the destruction of the ways of life is indeed because of the imposition of the power structures.
In a way, I do what the film is against - try spreading Western education. However, I don't think if I stop taking Western university courses to India and elsewhere, and choose to take courses from the universities in India instead, anyone will be better off. Because the 'Western' is no longer just where the system of education comes from, but a way of thinking, deeply embedded in universities in India as well. The points made by Car…

What's Wrong with 'Western Education'?

One strand of argument in many developing countries is that western education destroys local cultures and ways of living, and causes misery and destruction. This is at the heart of some of the most potent social debates that are going on, in India and in many other places. Both sides of the argument present this as a black-and-white thing: Either western education has brought all progress, or it has destroyed all good things that ever was. As usual, the truth perhaps lies somewhere in between.
Many well-meaning western academics and intellectuals, who have no intent to harm anyone else, perhaps see anything less than wholehearted appreciation of what they do as an act of ungratefulness. After all, 'western science' is primarily responsible for the great improvements in standards of living in the last three hundred years. What's called Western Education spreads the message of scientific progress and rationality, and this has been the argument for spreading it even for the …

Conversations 15: The Search for Home

The new phase in my life has well and truly began. Not that all the bits in the new life has fallen in place yet and some work from my past, mostly assessments related to the teaching works I have done earlier, is still pending, but the shift in my lifestyle is distinct. I am back in the UK for a few days, but in less than a week, I go to Madrid and then on a two week journey to India, Philippines, Singapore and Dubai. 
Such opportunity to travel should be fun, but this being the second time in my life, there is less excitement. In fact, I am wiser, with a clear view of what this life entails clearly in my mind.
Poverty Jet Set: A group of people given to chronic traveling at the expense of long-term job stability or a permanent residence. Tend to have doomed and extremely expensive phone-call relationships with people named Serge or Ilyana. Tend to discuss frequent-flyer programs at parties. (Douglas Coupland: Generation X)
For me, rather, this is an opportunity to connect to India.…

An Invitation to Think Asian

Traditionally, the modern Indian education, instituted and shaped by the British colonists, have developed around 'the temptation of the West', built primarily around the English language and the values and attitudes that come with it. Even the attempts at indigenous education have almost always been shaped by European revivalist formula, looking backwards to draw inspiration from an imaginary past, based on a fantastical idea of racial purity and exclusion of the others, expressed with a triumphalism devoid of content and context. And, this whole idea was to be played out within the bubble of a modern consumer economy - Levi's celebrating 'Khadi' is perhaps symptomatic - a doomed approach to fashion an identity devoid of commitment, values and connection. 
This affects education more than anything else perhaps. Uneasy with the identity question, Indian education has developed an escapism, resorting to blind technocracy rather than a search for answers. This has n…

Education For Employment: Getting Lost in Translation

Two conversations in a space of a few days give me an aha! moment: A vexing problem seemed to have become clearer. This is what I intend to write about here.
The first of these conversations happened in Delhi. I was speaking to a senior official in one of the large employer organisations. The Indian government, after blundering around with vocational training and wasting huge sums of money on it, has recently asked this employer organisation, along with other similar organisations and trade bodies, to set up sector skills councils. The idea is to focus on the skills needs of India's most promising industries, and draw up some kind of list which the education providers could follow. Such specifications, concluded the policy makers, will remove the ambiguity that educators face, and hopefully bridge the education-to-employment gap. 
The person I was speaking to, a senior Director of the organisation leading one such project,  recounted to me how difficult it is to draw up such a ma…

The Great Indian University: A Rejoinder

Since writing the post on The Great Indian University earlier, I received an email from Mandeep S Bakshi, a valued colleague and co-traveller, someone who is interested in Indian Education, both as a concerned citizen and a parent of someone taking career decisions. These views were put on an email because it was longer than the word limits allowable for comments on posts, for some reason which I don't understand. However, I thought it was appropriate to publish the email in full for public consumption, and make a separate post, as this email enhances my understanding and previous statements regarding the issues involved.

Hi Supriyo
With reference to your blog on A Great Indian University on August 5, I would like to pen my thoughts. These are based upon my understanding and appreciation of the issues involved.
If you recollect, in one of our earliest interactio…

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