I wrote about my career pivot, moving away from start-up kind of work and focusing more on introducing innovation within educational institutions. This means I am spending more time thinking about introducing new tools, formats and relationships within existing institutional structures and less time trying to woo investors who speak about disruption but behave like herds, responding to verbal cues (the magic word, this year, being 'blockchain'). Accordingly, I have started shunning those conferences which parade entrepreneurs based on valuation, and going to ones that deal with less exulted topics like educational design, funding and student services. Yes, sometimes, these are infuriatingly boring; but at least, delegates at these conferences do not think that all you need for better student experience is to give them an App!
The world I am trying to get into is an in-between zone - between the entirely false claim of the timelessness of educational enterprise and the entirely false claim that our educational ideas all changed on or around December 2010. But then I have lived in this world before: Remember my first job involved doing comparisons between emails and faxes! Despite the fact emails 'won' and faxes become so totally obsolete, I totally remember that transition: None of our fancy email software convinced the users, but one big step, the dusty old state telecom monopoly introducing a new subscription service called 'the Internet' really did!
It's not a celebration of the foresight of state monopoly that I wish to do. But this gives me a new perspective on change, a crucial distinction between the rhetoric and reality of change. This tells me that change needs more than shifting consumer preference, because, as Steve Jobs would have found out in the Eighties - 'the customer doesn't know what he wants'! This is not just about education, but definitely, in Education, that change would be brought about by institutions themselves, rather than outsiders trying to tear down the house. This is because, in spite of the screaming claims about education being broken, its popularity, at least when one considers the vast young populations of China, India and Africa, is growing, not declining. The very American argument that campus-based educational experiences are passé and it is the time for online is simply so alien to the young people who see those campuses as freedom, a very special time of their lives, an opportunity to avoid their parents' lives and shape their own. As I come to think of it, the pessimistic Western paradigm of education innovation, driven by concerns of cost, declining birth rates and stagnating middle classes, have nothing to offer to the vast young population of Asia and Africa, where the quest of possibility, young population and surging middle classes shape an optimistic agenda.
And, this, perhaps, is the most valuable perspective I have gained: That education innovation, based on the premise that traditional education is broken, misses the point completely. All the fancy new online education companies, as it happens, miss this, because they are very similar at least in one sense: They all have an 'investment thesis' at their core, backed by a banker of some kind, shaped by a deep pessimism about human future - of an ageing population, limited human ability pitted against ever-expanding capacity of the machine, of basic conflicts of class and interests. Apparently, these can't just be the assumptions for educating the young people in Asia and Africa. Indeed, these 'facts' are presented as self-evident: That machines will replace humans in every human activity, humans can't compete with machines in what they do, etc. But, apart from the fact that Moore's Law may have reached its limit, the tasks - what we need to do and what we don't - are defined by humans. We may not need mortgage plans which can only be designed by computers and be understood by computers: Using technology to explore deep space and genetic structures are not comparable to our tendency of creating tasks for technology and then claiming that humans are not good at it.
But I digress: I want to re-imagine my work with a more optimistic view of the humans. I want to believe that we can educate people better, not with the assumption of Bell Curve and most people are morons, but that most people have abilities and they can contribute. This gives me a different perspective of Education Innovation. I don't have to have accept the assumption that scale is king: Rather, building locally relevant education offerings, informed by cultures and values of the local community. In fact, this is as disruptive as it can get, because the quest for scale is industrial and the search of relevance is really the 21st century thing. I don't want to assume that humans can't ever do what machines can do: Rather, I want to think that the students can define what needs to be done in a way that has the maximum social benefits, not just benefits to a few financiers.
The point is that this approach returns me to the institutions. I see human history as a history of progress, and the great machine was not just individual ingenuity but the institutions that we built: The ones which, like the DNA of civilisation, passes the torch of progress from one to another. Yes, indeed, they decay - I have no great regards for today's universities, for example - but they always change. Being the change agent within the institutional set-up is what I am trying to be.
Popular posts from this blog
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
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving 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 et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (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 s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
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,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
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
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.