Showing posts from 2020

Would Higher Ed go back 'offline' again?

The pandemic made the universities scramble into online education. What happens next is the question.
One line of thought is that this is just a temporary disruption. Life will return to normal, perhaps in 6 to 12 months time, and the classes will resume. Online will disappear to the margins, where it was.
The other is that this is an irreversible loss of innocence. The rubicon has been crossed and a new normal has emerged. Even when this pandemic is behind us, we will never go back again to education-as-usual.

Temporary disruption
Indeed, it is perfectly logical to see the pandemic-induced online surge as temporary. As we live through imposed constraints, it's hard to imagine anything to be long term. The changes have happened overnight and we have had little time to adjust to it. We are hoping this will pass - soon - alongwith all its relics and practices.
It is also true that online education has failed to live up to the hype. Universities and colleges went into poorly prepared, as…

Fragements on Lock-down


How would it sound, if many years hence, a novelist starts his novel with

It was a time of uncertainty, it was a time of prediction, it was the age of realisation, it was the age of illusions, it was an epoch of science, it was an epoch of leaping in the dark, it was the season of end of the world, it was the season of new beginnings, it was a spring of staying home, it was a summer of giving up, we had everything behind us, we had nothing before us, we were all together in saving the civilisation, while we were tearing each other apart to save ourselves - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Would we recognise the time - or, is it indeed like any other time?

Would we miss the lock-down once it's over? Once the busy life starts again, if it does. Do we miss the packed trains, hurried lunches, noisy evenings, attachment-free …

'Make in India', anyone?

In the middle of the ongoing economic chaos, many in India find solace in the hope that many manufacturing companies would now leave China and shift their factories to India. They enthusiastically share many stories about companies deciding to move out. While the COVID19 pandemic, still in its early stages in India, is stress-testing the Indian economy, India as the next global manufacturing hub is indeed the dream worth dreaming about.
This is an old dream, however. This - 'Make in India' - was a campaign slogan in 2014 General Election. In fact, this has been the key economic strategy of the government of India, to elevate India into its next stage of economic development and reach the benefits of economic growth more widely than the service-led economy has achieved so far. It was presumed - then - that China had become too expensive for manufacturers and they would now move to cheaper locations, such as India. And, it was not wishful thinking: Manufacturers were indeed gradu…

The comfort of Conspiracy theories

As our world falls apart, we have learnt to take comfort from Conspiracy theories.
Dean Koontz did write about Wuhan-400 years ago, didn't he? Have you not watched the South Korean documentary from 2018 which uncannily predicted just this? How could China contain the virus, one that is tearing apart Europe and the United States, so quickly? Maybe this was accidentally released from the laboratory where they were building up this nefarious bio-agent? After all, Trump and Pompeo have said they have seen the evidence!
We live in the age of credulity. We would like to believe what we are fed, without questioning. If something is written in English and published on WhatsApp, it must be true. 
Once this crisis is over - and it will be - we will be scarred more by our indulgences in conspiracy theories than this virus itself. That is indeed my case for resistance - I don't want to get into the habit. I would rather keep my brain slightly active and neurons alive and not give in to t…

Rethinking Liberal Education for a New India

It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. 
I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study education and educ…

Fake News, the Desi way

Howard Rhinegold saw it before anyone: That, in the digital age, 'crap detection' (euphemistically  'critical consumption of content', if you like) would become a critical skill. If this needed any validation, one should look at India in the middle of this epidemic - not the one inflicted by the Bat-virus but rather one unleashed by the deluge of fake news. It's a sad spectacle: A billion people endlessly manipulated by WhatsApp messaging! And, true to form, the Indian trolls don't do nuanced nudges, carefully skirting around the boundaries of civility: They go naked, hairy, big and clear - flaunting falsities with confidence, certain that their forward-happy audience will spread the message with gusto.
There are two things such a deluge of detritus are designed to do. It is supposed to manipulate a vast majority of people and make them believe something (that the Virus is a Chinese bio-agent), exaggerate something (that the crisis has been caused mainly by on…

On Pandemic and Technology

As I wrote about technology and online learning earlier, this pandemic is condensing the Hype Cycle and, within a few short weeks, establishing what technology may or may not do for us. Observations that would have taken a full career cycle otherwise - from the claim that everybody will soon be doing online learning to the admission that the server can only take a thousand people at a time to the realisation that there are too many operating system versions out there in the world - are all happening right in front of us. 
But this is not just for online learning. Our claims and assumptions about technology ecosystem have been tested quickly and thoroughly as the pandemic brought the world to a sudden stop. In many ways, this is quite a predictable pandemic: A respiratory virus, with similarities with the ones we have seen before, following an infection route mirroring the pattern of global commerce. But Big Tech could do little in anticipating, tracing or responding to the pandemic. …

Education: Are we all going online now?

We have been told that among the many changes that the Corona Virus will bring to our lives, one of the most significant will be education going online. 
With the forced shutdown of schools and universities, online education has become normalised. The moment many technologists were long predicting - classrooms have disappeared and people logged onto online learning sites in millions - have arrived. 
I am not so sure though. For a start, I did not know whether veteran professors discovering this 'wonderful new tool' called Zoom is good or bad news. I work in online learning and I like the attention, but I feel uneasy that the whole business is basking a little too brightly in its association with the lockdown. It's not being normalised; it's like Joe Wicks, a routine for exceptional times.
Besides, not sure the Internet economy has stood up to the scrutiny. It did not certainly come through the end of the world scenario unscathed. Amazon has failed to deliver, Netflix …

On Globalization and Pandemic

After undermining the threat and overdoing the panic, we are starting to discuss, if only very gradually, the possibilities of a post-Pandemic world. After Donald Trump's April 12th came and went, we are pinning our hopes on the ever-so-slight flattening of the slope of the curves in various countries. France's 11th May target to reopen the schools, on the sound logic that digital deprivation is now turning into an educational gap, is being taken more seriously. 
However, we know this is not going to be a return to normal as we know it. There is increasing speculation whether this is the end of Capitalism. At least one serious thinker, Slavoj Zizek, believes that this is the moment we will start taking communism seriously (not of the soviet variety, but rather of the war economy type that we are living with now). Though this is rather unlikely - socialism of the temporary kind ends up concentrating ever more resources in fewer hands, as we have seen from the last financial cr…

India versus Bharat

This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic (read here). 
While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. 
In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. 
I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacular schooling an…

Many possible futures

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on the Corona Virus pandemic and the pivot, or lack of it, that this may represent (see here). I was optimistic and concluded that while science will rise to the challenge, the shock will not break the economic system but instead reinvigorate it. But at the same time, a short crisis would indeed consolidate some of the worst aspects of our current social system - inequality, the surveillance state, national chauvinism - and leave us even worse off. The only hope I could see was in the resurrection of our political selves while the economic man has been forced into hibernation. 
However, while I was far too certain, I was perhaps not clear enough. I considered only one kind of future, a rather short crisis, and yet, did not say what life on the other side of the crisis would really look like. While I am painfully aware that prediction is a perilous business, speculation in this season of uncertainty isn't out of place. But this, though, must start w…

A Sense of Endings and Beginnings

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 those Liby…

Virus diary: Did we need more isolation?

I spoke more than I ever did.
I thought this would be a day of quiet. I pulled out the books and papers I used for writing my dissertation on the history of Higher Education in India, with the intent to turn this into a book-length work. Basically, I was doing what most students do once in a while: Try to read the books they did not read when it was necessary.

But, then, it became a day of calls. From different parts of the world, with different people. Some chat too, long ones. And, unlike a normal business day, this was no business. Rather, it was a festival of relationships.
But this is a perfect time to look back. And, given my current state of life, wanting a pivot in life isn't unnatural. Despite promising to myself never to go back to teaching again, I have lately discovered that it is exactly what I wish to do. Only thing is that I would rather teach History, what I really like, rather than pretend to teach business management.
If anything good comes of this enforced idl…

Virus diary: Retreating nowhere

This lockdown couldn't have come at a worse time for me. I was just about to start travelling and was looking forward to fusing my ideas and lessons learned in a new form of global education, and then everything stops.
I am tired of doing bits and pieces. For some time now - 9 months to be exact - I have been doing things I don't really believe in. It's such a contrast with what I was doing this time last year: Then, I had the opportunity to apply the insights I gained from my work at Knod into corporate learning. What came off it was inspiring: A completely new way of doing things at work. 
But, since then, I have faltered. I signed up to set up the European campus for a private education company, but that project was not destined to go anywhere. My over-optimism, not for the first time in life, came to bite me. Not for the first time, I failed to distinguish projects with strategic commitments behind it from mere good ideas and exciting talk. And, when the project final…

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