Showing posts from January, 2018

My India: Escaping 'Self-Colonialization'

My journeys abroad was to make sense of myself, to see from the outside what can't be seen from the inside. Perhaps predictably, but at once ironically, I ended up in England, mother country of modern Indian imagination, hawking - as I can't find a better word - English manners and experiences to the fawning middle classes. Admired simply as I live in England, it became increasingly difficult for me to leave, as all suggestions of my intent to return were invariably met by premonitions of something being wrong, as no one really ever wants, or should want, to return. Even the rather satisfying moments of canvassing India's economic progress were almost always punctured by grossly embarrassing proclamations of 'special relationship', in full knowledge that the affectations flow only one way; in my stock of trade, Kolkata wants to be London without ever London wanting to reciprocate. Therefore, 'self-colonialisation' as a concept appears real from my vant

Middle Classes and The Middle

The Middle Class is all about paradoxes.  Those who embrace Middle Class claim not to believe in classes at all, or at least in class as a determinant of human behaviour. For Middle Classes then, it's about in the middle in terms of income and not about being a class at all. In that sense, Middle Class is only a temporary, transitional, identity. Also, this 'Middle' is neither the average, nor the exact middle point and nor the most common level of earning, but rather, about being in transition - not being defined by what one is, but what one wants to be. So, the most plausible definition of the Middle Class is not about class, or a point in income distribution, but a mindset. Now what that mindset is, there is no clear agreement on that. One view holds that middle class is about striving, trying to get better, doing better than their parents did. The other is that the middle class is about an endless struggle not to be poor, by mimicking the techniques of t

Enabling Innovation: The Role of Systems and Chaos

We have come to love Innovation as the engine of growth and progress. Being innovative is no longer a pejorative, but a compliment; even totalitarian Governments set up innovation ecosystems and Analysts put innovation premium on company stocks. The Corporations want to reinvent themselves as colourful innovation hubs, the universities justify drawing public money for they bring about innovation, and it is not unusual for entrepreneurs in India to pray in front of an idol so that they can be more innovative. In short, innovation is eating the world - and, everyone, with power and money, wants to bring about innovation. As we celebrate innovation in conferences, it is easy to forget innovation is usually a complex affair. We love to speak about magical discoveries: A naked Archimedes running through the streets as he discovered his law, Galileo figuring out the secrets of the pendulum in one night after observing the Cathedral's chandelier swinging about, Darwin's great

The 'Dream Hoarders' and The Indian Economy

Right now, India is one exciting economic story. Its population is young and its economy is growing. The government, with a strong mandate in Union and State levels, have been introducing a number of structural reforms that the previous governments, over a quarter century, could not do. With legislative reforms, private participation in infrastructure building is becoming easier, and there is hope that India's rickety ports, faltering railways and mostly potholed roads would soon appear in a different, shiny, avatar. In a lot of ways, India is at a moment like China in the early 80s: The structural changes should unlock a steep growth, quick growth of employment and a new cycle of private prosperity. This would be a reasonable expectation but for India's deficiencies in Education and Health, which may mean that India's demographic potential would never be realised. Structural reforms and infrastructure building can create the opportunities, but without corresponding g

The Race Between Technology and Education: Round Two

Indeed, I have borrowed the title from Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz's classic study, because we are living through a time when the race has entered a new phase, showing up in all its splendour with anxious hinges and critical turns. It's time to decide and act, and every step counts. Of course, technology is not autonomous and we are indeed the 'driver in the driverless car', and the choices we make today will decide whether technologies will tear apart our society, as some fear, or, if it would unleash the next cycle of prosperity. The optimists have empirical evidence, indeed. They cite - and this is what Goldin and Katz were primarily looking at - Industrial Revolution. Despite all the early fears of job losses and social unrest, the technological progress eventually ended up unleashing a new era of prosperity. The prosperity took time to build, and there were many social unrests along the way: Malthus came along to make us think people can be surpluses and

The College and The Coffee House: Local or Global?

Should Education become more local, or global? This was a question posed to me in a conversation: As in these cases, I improvised an answer. But, as usual, the obvious answer is not necessarily the right one, and is indeed worth interrogating. Most education, at the present time, is locally focused. This is because Education, at least mostly, is a part of the State, that funds its existence and direct its agenda. Many educators around the world work for the State, or at least, their wages are subsidised by the State. Even in cases where a global institution sponsors education - Church is the most prominent example - the State controls it tightly, through curriculum and credential.  The dynamic of work and commerce, however, has been global. The WTO-inspired globalisation touched far corners of the world over the last few decades, as did the crumbling of the cold war politics. English as a language has gained currency, even in China, and the Internet and the Worldwide Web has

The College and The Coffee-House: 1

I wrote earlier about the tension between The College and The Coffee-House - between formal and informal systems of education and knowledge sharing - and I intend to focus my attention on this in my work in 2018. My thesis is simple: Most learning is experiential, contextual and situational; however, learning as a socially mandated function must have form, be broadly applicable and based around general principles. This tension is indeed central to the idea of knowledge, between the high ground of theory and field of practice, and it is a dialectical relationship. The societies value both, but often more one than the other, depending on economic and political situations of the time. Generally, stable societies privilege 'scribal' classes and formal learning, but breaking of times and paradigm shifts are generally brought about by ideas emerging out of practice; therefore, when times change, Coffee-houses play a crucial role. In our own time, right now, we have privileg

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