Showing posts from March, 2020

A Sense of Endings and Beginnings

A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here?  My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th

Virus diary: Did we need more isolation?

I spoke more than I ever did. I thought this would be a day of quiet. I pulled out the books and papers I used for writing my dissertation on the history of Higher Education in India, with the intent to turn this into a book-length work. Basically, I was doing what most students do once in a while: Try to read the books they did not read when it was necessary. But, then, it became a day of calls. From different parts of the world, with different people. Some chat too, long ones. And, unlike a normal business day, this was no business. Rather, it was a festival of relationships. But this is a perfect time to look back. And, given my current state of life, wanting a pivot in life isn't unnatural. Despite promising to myself never to go back to teaching again, I have lately discovered that it is exactly what I wish to do. Only thing is that I would rather teach History, what I really like, rather than pretend to teach business management. If anything good comes of

Virus diary: Retreating nowhere

This lockdown couldn't have come at a worse time for me. I was just about to start travelling and was looking forward to fusing my ideas and lessons learned in a new form of global education, and then everything stops. I am tired of doing bits and pieces. For some time now - 9 months to be exact - I have been doing things I don't really believe in. It's such a contrast with what I was doing this time last year: Then, I had the opportunity to apply the insights I gained from my work at Knod into corporate learning. What came off it was inspiring: A completely new way of doing things at work.  But, since then, I have faltered. I signed up to set up the European campus for a private education company, but that project was not destined to go anywhere. My over-optimism, not for the first time in life, came to bite me. Not for the first time, I failed to distinguish projects with strategic commitments behind it from mere good ideas and exciting talk. And, when the p

Virus diary: Almost spring

It's almost spring. Mildly cold, with occasional rain and green shoots everywhere. I am waiting for summer like everyone.  This was the mildest of the winters and yet, this is going to be one of the most enthusiastically received summer in history. A summer that will save civilisation, as well as ourselves. It's somewhat revealing to see how fragile our 'civilisation' is. Even a virus that doesn't kill has shaken it to the core. Soft vowels are shaking; decency has been done away with. Frankly, it was a disaster putting a couple of scientists in front of the TV Cameras in the vain hope that people will regain their faith in science. After years of voodoo, that was not going to happen. And, besides, this was the wrong game: Most scientists are not very good at saying 'I don't know' and that was exactly these scientists were required to say. Will this, as it will not kill me, make me stronger? Or was that a mere wordplay of a nihilist, da

Education innovation and domain knowledge

There is an argument, common in the education start-up scene, that one doesn't need to have prior education experience to create a successful education company. The reasoning goes - what's the point of knowing anything about something we are going to break apart?  Some go even further: Prior experience in education, for them, is a handicap. It breeds bad habits, with obsolete mental models.  And, this is not frivolous self-justification of a few founders: Investors put money on this basis. In fact, one person, a very experienced former University president struggled to raise money in Silicon Valley because he was too old for them and had done too much education already. His handicap was that he knew what he was talking about. No wonder then that we don't actually get to hear too many successful education start-ups. Some float a while on the bubble of private valuations, which is nothing special in this day and age of interest-free money, but almost alw

Getting back to International Education

I am back in International Education again. I had a three-year break from international education. Part of the reason was my own work preference: In 2016, fatigued from years of constant travel, erratic habits and living out of a suitcase, I requested a change of role into a more home-bound one. I always enjoyed travelling but perhaps I did too much of it. After years of boasting about Airline tiers and the quality of food at airport lounges, I was, at that point, keen on a new life of office work and daily routines. But that was only part of the reason. The other part was that I became all too aware of the limitations of 'global education'. I wholeheartedly believed in what I did: That project-based education would represent a great step-change in education. I engaged with all my heart to bring employers ever closer to the learning process. But, as I did that, I saw that any universal formula really doesn't work - the tension between the specificity of the empl

Should India ditch English?

The use of the English language has always been a contentious subject in independent India.  It was after all the language of the colonialists, imposed on a subject people by force. It was then, as it is now, spoken by a tiny minority of Indians. It never became the Lingua Franca that some claim it to be. In fact, it never could attain, despite Macaulay's dream, the status of Sanskrit or Arabic, as those languages shaped the religious and spiritual lives of Indians the way English never would. In that sense, it was never the equivalent of Latin in England: It was rather like the French of the Normans, a symbol of a scandalous subjugation. The argument that colonialism civilised India has been long debunked. The import of English education in India was the cultural side of de-industrialisation, an act of destruction rather than creation. It was no mere coincidence that abolition of East India Company's monopoly on India trade moved lockstep with the introduction

India and the Anglosphere

Prediction is a perilous business but it pays to be ready. If 2016 was the start of a worldwide reconfiguration of ideas, institutions and alliances, 2020 is poised to be the year when the contours of the new future become visible. When Brexit finally happens and Trump betters Biden, the benign post-imperial configuration of the twentieth century would give way to a muscular reassertion of Anglo-American hegemony. The commercial and financial globalisation of the previous decades would now bring about a political one: The various regional entrepots melting into a politics of new spheres of influence. At the wake of Donald Trump's lovefest, many Indians - though not necessarily its government - want their country to belong to the Anglo-American camp. It's a country that loved the previous wave of globalisation and benefitted from it through the deployment of its English-speaking IT workers who brought home the Dollar. Its great hope for the future is, some argue, in be

Would the entrepreneurs save the day?

There is a jobs crisis within the global supply chain. Squeezed between trade tensions and process automation, the global service economy that would have lifted all - or at least most - boats, hasn't been doing well lately. Even before the Corona Virus moment, China's factories were using two-thirds of the labour for like-for-like jobs compared to only a few years earlier. Ever-expanding back-offices in India had no net new hiring for some time now. And, yet, millions of people in these countries, as well as in Africa, South East Asia and the Americas, are reaching working age every month and looking for work. It seems that the great middle-class dream is about to go bust. But you always meet a particular kind of people who read book summaries and take the conference presentations too seriously. They were never out there and they usually find details boring. They keep their prophecies in the abstract, big picture level. For them, stories of the economic slide of the mid

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