Showing posts from 2017

On The Uses of Compassion

The easy point to miss about the different modern institutions that we live by - markets and democracy - that these take for granted a compassionate society. Take away compassion and democracy looks like a majoritarian oppression, and markets a grinding mill where all human values are destroyed for a self-defeating end. Hannah Arendt may have got Adolf Eichmann wrong and took his defence strategy - that he was a mindless, powerless, small cog in the Holocaust machine - too seriously, but she was accurate in her meta-diagnosis of the Nazi mind, the complete incapability to see anyone else's point of view or to contemplate the consequences of one's own action. The difference between the American Democracy as imagined by the Founders and in the age of trump is the abandonment of compassion, and suddenly that shining example of Republican imagination looks like a belligerent monstrosity intent on tearing itself apart. And, withering of compassion turns Adam Smith's dynamic

Working Notes on Nazi Ideology and Holocaust

I have spent this holiday season working on my essay on Nazi Ideology and Holocaust. Earlier this year, I spent the first two weeks of the New Year doing another essay, a mistake that I don't want to repeat this year: I would rather start the New Year completely focused on making a new start on the various work projects. So, in essence, I am working through the holidays, which may not sound like fun, but I feel very good about it.  However, the claim that I am working on the essay is a little overblown, because I have not typed a single word yet. What I am doing now is reading and thinking, and writing the essay in my mind. This is usually my style - I take more time thinking and less time writing - though this is by no means optimal and many a times in the past, I pledged to myself to start writing sooner. And, yet, here I am - doing this again! However, this time, I hope, I am not just procrastinating, but rather developing concrete ideas. So, what I am trying to do is

Summing Up 2017

When I migrated in 2004, I suddenly became, from being comparatively well-off in a poor country, poor in a rich country. I did not come with a job in hand, and did not have a technical degree of one kind or another. So, I had to start from scratch: From an warehouse to a front-line sales job and thereon. At this point, I developed a theory of existence: That the world is not going to be perfect, but as long as I have done better in the current year than the previous one, I have done well.  I ended up violating this golden rule of immigrant existence in 2017. As I end the year, I have gone backwards. Ironically, this is a result of one thing I knew an immigrant can not afford - living in hope - and yet I took the eye off the ball. Got carried away, as one would say, as I loved what I was doing, and let other considerations, rather than the maxims of my own rule, take precedence. So, I am back at ground zero, almost. When I made a comment about going back in time on Facebook, a

The Idea of India At A Crossroad

The Idea of India, as conceived just after the country's independence, is facing an existential challenge, but that may not be a bad thing. It is being challenged because it was an act of imagination, something that ought to be clarified from time to time. Republican Nationhood should be no stranger to challenges - the American nationhood was forged not just through its Founding ideas, but also through the travails of the Civil War - but rather be a dynamic concept which is refreshed from time to time, and such a moment is now. At this point, though, the politics of secularism is a baggage. By this, I argue not for abandonment of secularism, but placing it in the proper order after the commitment to Republicanism and Rule of Law. The politics of secularism reverses this order. The objections to the current regime is expressed because 'it is not secular' and being 'secular' becomes a goal in itself. This makes 'Secular' a sacred idea, and debate about t

Innovation in Education: The Hidden Challenge

Even when the limitations of an education system are quite obvious, innovations are hard to come by. This is a lesson many well-meaning investors and hard-charging entrepreneurs have learnt at great cost, yours truly included, but why this is so has evaded them completely.  Usually, one finds soul-comforting explanation in bureaucracy or in institutional politics. But this do not explain why there is so little demand for all these 'innovative' offerings and why, unlike other sectors, the customer preferences - employer demands and students' desires - do not overwhelm the traditional sectors and ease the path of innovation. And, even where swelling demography and broken education seem to be hurtling towards certain disaster - like in Asia and Africa - new ways of educating appears more, and not less, difficult.  For example, India, faced with the task of educating a huge workforce at a time when automation and reversal of globalisation threaten most jobs and indust

The Relationship Between Learning and Technology

When someone asks what I do, I like to say I work on Education Innovation. This sounds vague enough to give me two advantages: Most conversations end there, and only the interested, and interesting, progress. I get an opportunity to make the point that I am in Education, but play no part in the current multi-billion dollar 'industry', that gigantic factory of human processing; rather, I slog in the twilight zone of impossible transformation, hoping that another, fairer and better, way is possible. And, then, I am hit with the question: 'So, EdTech, eh?' At this point, it becomes a choice how boring I want to be. Imagine this moment as one when the Party gets going and other people are already engaged in more interesting conversations about money, cars, holidays and other things that fascinate men. I am about to hide in the quiet corner where no one can find me to pull me to the Dance Floor. This is usually the worst sort of moment to try make my point that Educati

'Neo-Liberalism' and Its Symptoms

'Neo-Liberalism' has come to eat the world.  The term pops up every now and then, sometimes in unexpected places. Usually derogatory in its employ, it appears to signify both the cause of the disease and its symptoms. I am not sure if anyone calls oneself 'neo-Liberal' by choice, but in a sense, all of us, mortgage-wielding, Cappuccino-sipping, Economist-reading, English-speaking, Starbucks-bound middle-class men, are. In its usage, it is nothing like 'Nazi', or 'Fascist', or 'Communist', as each one of those were specific categories (one could be called a communist and could admit to be a communist), but rather a label that is necessarily bestowed on others, with its main function being absolution for the speaker: That is, if I can call something, or someone, 'Neo-Liberal', then I am not. One thing for sure though: It is deemed to be something bad. Just calling someone 'Neo-Liberal' isn't enough, you have to say the

Compassion: The Soft Skill We Need

It has become a commonplace to say that, with globalisation and automation transforming the world of work, we need more 'soft skills'. There are various lists of these 'skills' available on Twitter or Linkedin, and often they are just similar things expressed with a slightly different twist. The idea is that when cost pressures push the corporations and investors look to capitalise every ounce of 'value', our very human qualities matter more than our ability to carry out instructions. In the battle for our career with robots, we can only survive by being more ourselves. However, these things are usual staple in Conference Circuits. Books have also started to appear on the subject - a few dystopian ones in a sea of very enthusiastic elegies to the brave new world - and the message is very similar. Howard Gardner may label something 'Creativity' which Daniel Pink calls 'Play'; Howard Rheingold may call something 'participation' which

Why Apprenticeship Schemes Fail?

Apprenticeships seem like one idea whose time never comes. Or, its time may have come and gone, long time ago. Its past makes it appear romantic, just like medieval castles and knights. Its reality, however, might have been very different: Apprenticeships might have been too long and too limiting. There was a reason why it was one of the practises that died off with time. But its passing is mourned, and its memory evokes a time when work meant a long commitment and lifelong engagement. It signifies a different reality from today's uprooted workers and dehumanised workplaces, something we feel nostalgic about. So it is evoked from time to time, as the policy-makers run out of ideas. As job crisis hits countries - an effect of the twin forces of globalisation and automation - college, the enabler of middle class dream, seems to fall short. College's own medieval mystic, that of a detached pursuit of humanistic knowledge, looks out of place - too long, too academic, too

Getting Ready For Automation

Automation sounds like Science Fiction. There is an eerie feeling watching a Humanoid Robot on stage. It's indeed there, all over Facebook, but like the other strange things, it is easy to assume that this is distant, out of the ordinary and not going to come and live next door. The more it is hyped, the easier it becomes to dismiss. Until it arrives, not with a bang but in just everyday-way! That moment is now, almost. One may dispute how long it will take for technology to become smart enough to replace humans in one specific role or the other, but the indisputable fact is that it would happen. That moment is not lifetimes away: Within our lifetime, and definitely within that of our Children, it is going to get there. Humanities great hope of survival can not be that Moore's Law may not hold. And, besides, it is not just the technology but also the financial will behind automation that will power us into the 'second machine age'. The challenge we should focus on

Building University 2.0: Beyond Platforms and McDonaldization

In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation. To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history.

An Update On Me

I have come back where I started. I decided to write this blog in a diary mode yet again. This is how I started anyway, but abandoned the banter as I got more people reading the blog. But I just feel too constrained to fit myself into a crusty professional self - this has been the bane of my career, I would suspect - and I found out that churning out wisdom on the blog is not my kind of thing. I tried and stopped, stopped and tried, and like now, and I am at another moment of fresh start. A part of how I approach this blog is about my professional responsibility as well. When I am in employment, rather than being my own boss (I alternated between the two modes several times), these constraints matter more. I never wanted to write what I had for breakfast on this blog (I am not famous yet) but about ideas and situations that stimulate and make me think. And, some of these are disappointments: In fact, I figured out, disappointments stimulate more than a happy night out. Or, for th

Reinventing The High School

There is not much we agree upon these days, except that more and more people should go to college. This has become the self-evident truth of the late Twentieth century, and achieved the status of a divine revealation in the twentyfirst. Contrarian views, voiced from time to time by a few elitist conservatives, who believe college, along with the privileges to govern in perpetuity, should be preserved for a small group of people, look dated and out of place even among the political right. Countries speak of knowledge economy and equate it to the size of college-educated population. Technologists speak of automation and artificial intelligence and see college education essential for producing, consuming and living in the world they wish to make. Economists speak of productivity and equate it to the level of education. Everyone everywhere seems to think more college would mean more progress and well-being. This, without any real evidence! College, historically, has been a system of

Hiring To Fit 'Culture'?

It only seems natural to hire people who fit the organisation's culture. In fact, the most common excuse for executive failure is the inability to fit into the culture of an organisation. We all have our own stories about colleagues or bosses who were complete misfits and caused havoc. However, a recent post on Linkedin presented the downsides of hiring for culture and that is this: That it breeds conformity. Seen from this perspective, hiring for culture is another 'corporate creep' that at least the Start-ups must avoid, as the objective of a start-up as an organisational form is to confront the status quo. I have observed in my life with the start-ups that while many, most of them, want to change the world, they don't want to change themselves. While their motto is to upturn entrenched industries and introduce new ways of doing things, organisationally and structurally, many start-ups are derivatives of some defunct organisation of the past. This is human: We a

Can India Export Higher Education?

The inspiration behind this post comes from several conversations with my colleague Pratik Dattani, the former UK Director of FICCI, an Indian trade body. Pratik, in a regular column he writes for Dainik Bhaskar, pointed out India's meagre tally of 30,000 odd foreign students, against 450,000 in China (which is growing at 10% annually), is a huge missed opportunity, in terms of foreign currency earnings, 'soft power' and diffusion of foreign cultures and ideas. And, besides, number of foreign students in India may be going down rather than up, and several factors, not least anti-African sentiments in some Indian cities, are contributing to it.  Pratik and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the years and I have been closely involved in a Conference, now in its fifth edition, that he organises on Education Innovation in London and in India. We both agreed that India's continuing weaknesses in attracting foreign students is something we want to put on t

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