I have an aversion to the word Great! This is one of the words in English language, employed to describe a little island, which has taken an altogether new level of superficiality in the usual American habit of splashing it onto anything: For example, "the Great Country of North Korea" - ok, except that!
I was, therefore, naturally suspicious when I come across The Great Courses, the audio/video learning content aimed at Lifelong Learning (another meaningless expression, admittedly, except that it has a specific meaning in the European Union). I came across these through the regular advertisements in The New Yorker and The London Review of Books, and also, in a Bill Gates interview, where he mentioned that he uses The Great Courses to learn about different subjects. Gates' point was interesting: He was arguing that more than the MOOCs, The Great Courses, high quality recorded videos on a rage of subjects, designed for self-study, has great potential to change Education. Indeed, Gates seems to have put his money on this since then, as this story in The New York Times reports.
Bill Gates' views on education is not everyone's cup of tea. Surely, his Common Core idea has many opponents. Besides, he seems to focus on 'Content' more than the process of education, which is perhaps quite normal from his vantage point, a highly intelligent self-educated geek billionaire who made money out of selling software! Usually, I hang out with the crowd who would say, Content does not matter: As content is costly to produce and to refresh, it does not therefore fit the quest for efficiency some investors in For-Profit Education or EdTech are focused on. In a paradox worth noting, despite the talk, most big EdTech or Education deals are done in content - think of Linkedin buying Lynda.com - and the excitement about MOOCs were all about content or elements related to that (universities involved, courses offered etc).
I have now become a convert to The Great Courses though. I am now working through a course on The American History and have already finished a couple: One on the Cultural History of Japan and another on Masters of War, the great strategic thinkers in History. These courses, though I usually bought them on special offers in the magazines I mentioned, are not cheap: The American History course retails at $200! I bought the DVD versions using the free postage offering, but mostly used the Free Video Streaming offered alongside. These courses are, expectedly, courses - scholarly material delivered by learnt men - and not the usual TV programmes that I was expecting initially. They use complex concepts and ideas, delve into a level of detail that should be expected in a college course and usually presented by people with real credentials (I am eyeing now a course on Existentialism taught by the philosopher late Robert Solomon, an authority on the subject, for example).
Here is my point why I think these courses make a difference in my personal context. I am passionate about Liberal Education, and believe, particularly in the context of India, that too much focus on Technical Education is now leading the country to a crisis, as the process-based jobs get increasingly automated. But while I argue passionately about humanities and social sciences and have argued that the Government should stop giving university licenses to single discipline Engineering schools (many technical schools try to get 'university status' to start granting their degrees) and that Undergraduate Business courses should be based on a Liberal Education structure, I have found that these arguments have few takers in India (though an argument being unpopular does not mean it is wrong: A lot of people in India believe that they should not bother about environment as catching up on development should come first). The Great Courses does two things for me: One, it allows me to work on my own knowledge and understanding, a critical requirement for my long term objective to set up a Liberal Learning institution in India. Two, it shows me a way how good Liberal Learning can be made available to all classrooms: I can see the magic in Gates' method.
Therefore, The Great Courses - really great stuff, for once! It is something I shall continue buying and studying through, but this also gives me all sorts of new ideas for things that can be done in India. I have started reaching out to people I know and encouraged them to buy and start doing a course of their own choice. This has also given me an impetus for looking at the whole idea of liberal learning from a new perspective, and connecting my other ideas, an education based on practise and connection with real life, and usage of human-centred technologies in Education (rather than those to replace people), I feel somewhat close to a model that I should pursue. Someday!
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.