The more we do it, we love what we are doing, and this must be a good sign. But even better is that we are learning as we go along - we have tested every assumption that we had and now have a fairly clear idea of the constraints and the opportunities - and I have learnt more in the last nine months about the business of international education than I did in my previous twenty years. There are several reasons why I feel that way, but chiefly because I can now push the boundaries and trying to do something which is truly ambitious.
Also, it is an important fact that we are really small, just a start-up with few people and quite finite resources, and this puts things in perspective. So, for us, ambition is not a fancy thing to be indulged upon, but rather a constant reminder of our limitations and an invitation to be innovative. Which means every new opportunity means revisiting the business plan, a temptation to meddle with the sacred Excel sheets that we got made through a friendly corporate financier, and often, a reconciliation with the obvious, that we are too small to change the world.
But let me correct a notion that may be building up here: We don't feel insignificant. Every such a-ha! moment, as we stumble upon insights and discoveries, we know we are onto something that the bigness of much bigger corporations obscure. Yes, we feel constrained, and sometimes frustrated, but never insignificant. There is something precarious about seeing the great global opportunity of education first hand, but it is never boring.
We know what we are doing: We are building a global operating system for education. This is far away from the politically entrenched systems of Higher Education, with their inbuilt notions of national prestige and outmoded cultural assumptions; this is even distant from the great reductionism of Massive Open Online Courses, which relies on big data but cancels out the human variability somewhat. We are integrating, in a labour intensive way, partner by partner, country by country, classrooms on a common framework of a global certification, each providing a pathway to awards from universities in these countries but also from other countries, each constructed on a global-local framework. We are using technology, but not to deliver education cheaply or to collect data on learning behaviour, but to enable the connections, learner to tutor, tutor to tutor and learner to learner, all at the same time. We are celebrating the two possibilities of education that were hitherto obscure because of the welfare state systems of education: One, that a different kind of education, knowledge creation and dissemination, become possible when conversations across the borders are enabled, not as an exotic feature but a default mode of education; and two, that a competency-based core - an education system focused on what learners can do rather than what they know - can serve as a common base for any education system, and is inherently attractive for any university squeezed by the employability question, as long as there is enough flexibility in defining the content and context of the educational experience.
Surely, our task is as much of an educational innovation as financial, because this is not a common model and do not fall inside one of the boxes an investor is used to seeing. Our previous engagements with investors exposed us to the limitations of the usual investment models as well: The private investors, particularly in Western Europe, are just about coming to terms with investing in education, and as early comers, looking to back known models of education though this is precisely what they wish to disrupt. The thinking is to squeeze value out of inefficiencies, like making a professor teach 16 hours a week rather than the current 6 or 9, to have a value for the investments, though everyone around the table may know that this may not work, and may not happen anyway. The global education spectrum is just too complicated in this context, which makes our lives slightly more complicated than it needed to be. However, as we learn through the process, we have learnt to look at alternative possibilities, mergers with a bigger player would be ideal as long as they help us to protect the business model, but we are also seeking to align ourselves with other kinds of investors, foundations or family offices, which may have a different perspective to education than the other institutional investors.
The months of living as Entrepreneurs changed our characters somewhat: We have become accustomed to dreaming, but have learnt to protect our dreams by being realists. We have become aware that we are onto something big, which needs an effort bigger than ourselves, and have learnt to be flexible and imaginative to make this happen. After all, the goal of building a global operating system for education, which can enable talented individuals all over the world and change the educational offerings of colleges and align them to the needs of the employers of today, is larger than any one could have. As we reach the end of the beginning, we are now onto building a platform, a global collaboration of institutions, individuals and investors, to make this happen.
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,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
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
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
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
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.