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Showing posts from February, 2015

Universities, Disrupted!

When I talk about universities being obsolete in a decade, I usually get the bewildered looks measuring out whether I am crazy. How could an institutional form, which is perhaps the most expansive and at the peak of their prestige right at this moment, be in any danger of obsolescence? This conversation also angers some people, who see in all this a neo-liberal conspiracy and me as a messenger of the For-Profit side, though my case applies as much to For-Profit universities as much to the Not-For-Profit and Public ones.
There is huge amount of data coming out measuring whether universities are good investment, particularly as the students have to pay the full cost of education in an increasing number of countries. The case for universities, for the champions of that side of the argument, are hinged either on a teleological argument, that universities have a specific purpose and they are indispensable in a democratic society, or on the existence of a graduate premium. But both these a…

How To Think About Education Technology

Ed-tech has come of age. Gone are those days of HTML scripted pages with two big Next and Back buttons, the databases merely reporting how many seconds someone looked at a page and document repositories to be downloaded and printed at convenience. But how this came about may be slightly more contested. One may think it was video, made possible by robust bandwidth and multimedia in everyday computers, that changed everything. Yet others will think, like everything else, it was mobility, the ability to hold in hand a powerful enough device with a screen that does not tire off the eyes, that facilitated a different level of engagement with all things electronic. Social is also a big thing, and its advocates will claim that connecting with others electronically is changing everything. And, yet others will point to the emergence of the cloud, or affirmation of what they used to say in older times, 'the Network is the Computer', that changed computer from a box on a desk to a space…

Knowing and Doing: Are They Different?

Our minds love classifications, neat boxes that we can put stuff in. But, often, these boxes are just created by us rather than being a fact of nature, though we seem to assume that nature is indeed organised in neat boxes as we want them. The dualism that we apply to knowing and doing is one of those false classifications, which we created perhaps to preserve the dignity of what we call wisdom from the messy realities of the world, but as we keep pushing the boundaries of what we can do, this dualism has been outed as false, and even dangerous.
Indeed, I am just quoting Dewey more or less in saying that Knowing and Doing are actually one and the same thing. There is no knowing without doing and doing for a sentient being involves some knowing all the time. This is the principal difference that human beings have from other animals, for whom doing and knowing may not be connected - and indeed, therefore, an animal may not know anything at all.
So, this argument that one must learn the…

On My Way

Whoever said it: The maxim of corporate dysfunction is when someone discusses their airmiles on the dinner table. While I scrupulously avoid it, making some of my friends what I really do when I frequently disappear for business trips, I can't avoid another frequent flyer syndrome: Having my moments of existential crisis at Airline lounges!
So, here I am, in the quiet poshness of the Gatwick Lounge, and devoid of any conversations; the assorted Golf and Lifestyle magazines rather useless, staying off food in consideration of my soaring weight, with a touch of Internet fatigue (this post is being done retrospectively, or should I say, posthumously, after the thoughts have died). It was one of those moments when I don't want to start reading the books I am carrying in my bag, because I have to read them anyway for the next 7 hours, as I have seen all the movies that are there on Inflight entertainment (one less spoken about downside of Carrier loyalty) - and therefore, plunged in…

Amartya Sen Resigns

Professor Amartya Sen has withdrawn his candidature for the Second Term as Chancellor of Nalanda University, the prestigious International University the Indian government has set up. The reason is apparent reluctance of powers that be in Delhi to clear his appointment, even after being elected by the University board, and use the protocol requirement of President's approval of the Board Decision to signal their disapproval to Professor Sen's appointment. 
Professor Sen's resignation has been met with the usual flood of ridicule on social media by the current Prime Minister's ardent supporters. Professor Sen was always an outspoken critic of the current Prime Minister on ground of his Human Rights records, and once he came to power, a retribution was expected. Indeed, Professor Sen's resignation taints the whole Nalanda University project - who wants to go to an university lorded over by Fascist lackeys - and undermines India's soft power further.  
However, t…

The Mis-utopia of The Sharing Economy

As far as euphemisms go, one can't do much worse than calling something a Sharing Economy which is neither about sharing nor an economy in the usual sense of the term.

Consider the beginnings, all that excitement about technologies of connection and collaboration being available cheaply and at a global scale, which was thought to have the potential of unlocking the gift economy, those little things that we do for one another without necessarily expecting anything in return, and give it a scale and scope not otherwise possible. However, the Sharing Economy, as the idea was usurped, became exactly the opposite, a mad rush for monetising every little thing - a death sentence for 'sharing', that is. 
And, this is hardly an economy. An economy is a system, not just one for commission-for-everything deal making. It involves people, winners and losers, yes, but not one where only bookies stand to win at everyone else's cost. And, indeed, it involves relationships, even when …

Should India Allow Foreign Education?

The new Indian government, which has come to power promising development, wants to be friendly to foreign investment. After all, this is what Mr Modi, the new Prime Minister, had done previously in his home state, Gujrat, and this is what he has projected to the young, aspiring nation. Already in power for most of an year, expectations around him and his government are now focused on a budget due later this month. It is reasonable to think that it would do a few things to simplify doing business in India - which is one of the most difficult countries to start and run a business in - and offer some sweeteners to businesses wanting to set up shop in India. The question is, however, whether such openness would hold for education.
One can keep talking endlessly about the Foreign Education Providers Bill, which was there on the legislative agenda for more than 15 years now but never got passed. It is indeed unlikely, despite strong speculation on the contrary, that the Indian government w…

Conversations 27 - In Search of A Creative Life

Why do you do what you do - someone asked by email. 
Is this a life of drift that I live, doing what I like at any given moment, or is there a design, a career plan as one may call it, was perhaps the intent behind the question. My answer - that I search for serendipity - perhaps answers the question and it does not, at the same time. 
It does, because that is precisely the plan. It does not, because that looks too much like a convenient excuse for drifting. How could one plan for serendipity? My answer, by expanding possibilities, by setting off in a journey, by doing various things, by engaging in myriad endeavours, by meeting many people and by pursuing many ideas, is logically correct - this is the only way to find possibilities that one otherwise may not - but falls outside what we mean by planning. It is being deliberately unintentional - something along the lines of Churchill rehearsing his impromptu remarks - an oxymoron.
But, at the same time, it may explain a few things. W…

The Meaning of Character

A kind commentator dropped by and left a comment in one of the older posts, pointing out that the approach I wanted to promote - a practical education built around the humanities - is what he calls building of character. In the work he does, he focuses on Character and Competence, side by side, which makes abundant sense. 
Indeed, character is a high sounding word with a lot of legacy, most of it going back to colonial times. So, talking about character in my work, which is mostly done in developing countries, is not going to be straightforward, without explaining what it is going to be about. But, such explanation is needed and timely, because one could perhaps claim with justification that the technocratic nature of education is the reason why we have the social problems we have.
But even before we go into the discussion about character, it is important to state, perhaps re-state, the case why we need to look at humanities seriously. Those who believe that humanities education is n…

Competence and Interests

The big question for Higher Ed is how does it remain relevant when almost half of those pursuing it do not get what they pursue it for, a job. The Higher Ed expansion since the 70s, and in developing countries in more recent years, was based on a middle class dream which has now disappeared, and with it, the legitimacy of the present structure. Besides, the withering of the Welfare State, and the coming of modern corporate statism, undermined the mandate Higher Education institutions had of delivering a middle class economy (a term Obama resurrected, but perhaps past its sale-by date).
Everyone is trying to answer this, and not least, the global network of investors, who sees Higher Education as an essential ingredient of hope in the future, a key element of expansion of credit and a driver of consumption like no other. Higher Ed, from their vantage point, is crucial for sustenance of the modern economic vision, the dynamic status quo that they bet, literally, on. They have a soluti…

On Critical Thinking

We built an education system designed on Information Retention skills because information was, until about very recent times, scarce. We needed to memorise because timely access to information was a problem. The analog, printed stuff that we had - which was the primary form information was stored - was place-bound and time-shifted. Even if someone knew it, it took some time to be available for general consumption. And, it sat on bookshelves or filing cabinets. Knowing things, as in remembering, was the mark of an educated person.
But we have the opposite problem now. We have too much information. Gutenberg and his press brought a revolution that doubled the information stock of the world in fifty years. Now, we are doubling it, a much larger information stock, in three years or less. Every person in the world has 320 times more information than was stocked in the entire Library of Alexandria, designed to hold all the knowledge of the world. And, within this deluge, even if we miss a …

Two Ideas of Leadership

I sometimes catch up with ideas and concepts long after they were needed. Call it slowness if you like, but this is not about slowness of wit but the lingering of love that I am talking here. This is not about missing out on something while I am at it, but rather indulging in an ongoing engagement even when the immediate need has been fulfilled. So, I really discovered the fascinating world of economic history - so much so that I may end up reading those books while on holiday - only after my formal education in economics was over. My obsession with John Dewey came only after I have completed my Masters in Adult Education, and I believe I understand him better now as I have completed the course earlier. 
My current reading concerns leadership. I have got to it in a roundabout way. It all started with Vienna, where I am planning a short holiday around Easter, and Freud, upon whom I stumbled upon in course of my engagement with Modernity, itself a hangover from the Coursera course on M…

The Delhi Revolution

Sometimes, fairy tales are possible. One is unfolding right now in Delhi.
Just as I was contemplating writing a post on the decline of democracy, Indian voters demonstrated what is really possible. It is a return of hope with a vengeance.
This one is for the world, worthy of celebration more than Indian Mars Mission and stock markets. So, I must recount the details even of this famous event, lest someone has missed.
In Delhi, the Capital city of India which is also a State, an assembly election was held at the fag end of 2013. Despite everyone thinking that Indian politics is a two-horse game - and the choice is really between heir apparent Rahul Gandhi and business-backed Hindu supremacist Narendra Modi - a new party gets the most seats. Started by a former taxman, the diminutive Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Admi Party ran on an anti-corruption manifesto, and almost won a majority. 
Since the two big parties can not form a coalition among themselves, eventually Mr Kejriwal was asked to…

Employers and Education - A Strategy for Engagement

There is an Education-to-Employment gap, numerically speaking. But it is more - a social problem - when education is sold as a way to middle class life and fails to deliver. It is therefore worthwhile to identify the reasons for the gap - and to rectify it.
McKinsey, which coined the term E2E gap, sees employers and educators taking parallel paths and not talking to each other. This is rather strange, given the interests of both parties in working together. Some observers blame this on the educators, and bring up the age-old Ivory Towers accusations. Others, educators, blame the employers, as they demand very specific skill-sets and experience, and are more interested in poaching from each other rather than participating in education process. 
There are different attempts to address this gap, and mostly, these attempts seek to engage the employers as closely as possible with the education process. By way of disclosure, I am professionally engaged in one such attempt. While it looks s…

To India or Not To India

That indeed is the big question that featured throughout the 10 years I have written this blog! What started as a brief educational trip - my stay in Britain - ended up becoming semi-permanent, as one thing followed the other, but my picture of ideal life, deeply attached to the city of my birth, Kolkata, continued to surface at regular intervals. There is a mix of sense of duty, commitment, of finding the zone of comfort - and this drives my thinking, and reinforces my sense of impermanence. However, as expected, this does me no good - and one of the key things I want to do now is to figure out what I really want to do.
Apart from my desire to be near my father, and my attachment to my childhood home, there is another, more practical, reason to be in India. It is indeed the most exciting market for the sector I chose to specialise in, Higher Education. Britain, with its declining number of college goers, does not seem to be an ideal location to be thinking disruptively about Higher …

Why Technology Would Not Save Us

One does marvel at the technological progress that we have made over the last two centuries. It is all but natural to make this the new God - and expect technologies to appear to solve our problems. When we talk about an environmental apocalypse, it is common to refer to the first environmental conference in the world, which was convened at the end of Nineteenth century to deal with the seemingly intractable environmental problems of the cities - Horse Dung! The conference ended in a failure. Yet, in a few years, automobiles were everywhere and the problem completely disappeared. We believe that the technologies will indeed appear when the problems become urgent.
Yet, technological development is not a value-neutral process. It is dependent on the social power, and the agenda of the powerful. This is why we can do advanced robotics but may not have a cure for Ebola. This is exactly why technology can kill - and we know it does - and it is naive to keep an unquestioning faith on techn…

How To Lose Market Leadership - A Case from Indian Education

Indian Education is a fascinating opportunity. It has scale and an extensive ecosystem of demand. It is badly regulated, but as such things mean in India, which helps the people who are already in and keep others out of it. As the Indian consumers get richer and demand more education, the opportunity in India gets more attractive. This is one of those multi-billion dollar market opportunities, which seem to lay untapped. And, as it is happening in other industries, one could reasonably expect a world-beating company being made by this market. Following the classic model of business growth, it should be possible for a visionary company to take advantage of this relatively protected domestic market and emerge as a player in the global stage.
So far, it has failed to happen. There are some Indian organisations came close, NIIT and Aptech, the two computer training companies, among them. But in a fascinating saga worthy of strategy case studies, they both lost steam just when it seemed t…

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