Conversations 13: Of David and Goliath

My weekend, spent boringly in Bangalore, was about catching up on some readings and watching some TED videos, including this fascinating talk by Malcolm Gladwell.

In fact, this made me so interested that I ended up watching his longer talk at Google (below) which covers the same ground and more. In fact, this next talk highlighted one more issue close to my heart, which is, when you are at a disadvantage, you need to learn to play a different game. Indeed, this comes from the story of Vivek Ranadive, recounted here in this second talk, and this has profound implications, or so I think, for what I do.

Without saying much more about Gladwell except that I shall surely read his book next (and recommend everyone to see his profile on CBS by Anderson Cooper), let me try to summarise what I am learning from all these discussions. My obsession remains with how to educate someone who did not have the advantage of a selective education so that s/he can live a productive and happy life in a modern economy. Taking advantage of being in India, I want to develop a better understanding of what goes on in the vast vocational education efforts that are going on in India. But even before I could have the opportunity to spend time on that, this David-and-Goliath story points to one problem in the whole scheme.

Employability training, as planned and perceived by those with privilege, is all about training up those without privilege on the skills that the privileged are presumed to have. But this means both discounting all that these learners have going for them, and making them play a game that they are disadvantaged at. When I mentioned the point to someone who I met from Azim Premji Foundation, he gave me a great example from their work where they are trying to use street drama to work in various villages to raise awareness and participation. I guess the bottom line is exactly that: To empower those we want to empower, it would need more than Powerpoint. However, once the governments get into the numbers game - the Indian government wants to train 500 million people and want to get credit for that - such things become impossible. 

The economist Kaushik Basu recently tweeted: "The reason India is trailing in its once-strong higher education is not that it's doing things differently but not doing things differently." Absolutely.



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