Showing posts from August, 2020

Needed: A new theory of autocracy

Autocrats are on the rise. Many societies, presumed to be democratic, are under the sway of autocratic leaders. Others, who had been under autocratic rule for some time and recently disposed off the long-reigning autocrat, have gone back and got a new one.  Commentators, who initially saw such a political turn as aberrations and predicted democratic tendencies to triumph eventually, are now recalibrating their outlook. Books with titles such as 'death of democracy' are out now and those calling democracy a disorder seem to be around the corner. Protests, which are everywhere, are producing unintended consequences: Few years of battling Brexit have produced in Britain the most authoritarian right-wing government one ever imagined there would be; the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States may just help Donald Trump to scrape through again. The commentaries on how this came about focus on the usual suspects: The great recession of 2008, inequality, effects of globalisati

Does India really want foreign universities?

India's New Education Policy makes the clearest statement yet about India's intent to attract foreign universities to set up campus in the country. It recognises the need and makes a promise to introduce legislation allowing the foreign universities to set up campus in India in near future. But, at the same time, it betrays a lack of understanding about international education and branch campus dynamic. The barely concealed assumption that all universities must be very interested about Indian 'market' for demographic reasons and the country holds all the cards on who to allow is completely off the mark.  For starters, this offer is for top 100 universities in the world, the policy states, without specifying how this ranking would be determined. The easiest way to do this would be to take one of the global rankings, but choosing one over the other going to be contentious. Besides, rankings have now moved on from simply ranking the world's best universities to all kin

Meritocracy's discontents

Meritocracy is a convenient lie, as Socrates foretold, and it is the ballast of the social system we have built. The story goes like this. Once upon a time, we had kings and queens and their families and nobles, who got the best meat and the best mate, and everyone lived happily. But then the things fell apart as luxury corrupted the nobles and feebled the spirits of their offsprings - and the peasants and the artisans came claiming their fair share. So we had the age of revolutions in Europe and North America, when we created a new, fairer social system, under a 'natural aristocracy of men', where destiny was no longer shaped by birth but by intelligence and hard work, and anyone could make it in life. And, everyone again lived happily ever after. Of course, this did not really happen. Slavery persisted, at least for a long time. The 'fair' system mostly excluded the real peasants and workers and once they have done their duty dying for various revolutions, they were s

Today in history

73 years ago, on this day, India was divided.  Of course, this is a well-known fact. But it's worth repeating. We must remember that the division of India and creation of Pakistan was an imperial act, driven by self-serving motives.  Indeed, it's an easy thing to forget. In the intervening years, the political class in both countries, which owed its existence to this new configuration, took the existence of the two (and later, three) nations as a given. It was deemed as a historical, cultural and geographical fact, on the basis of which all later thinking sprouted. Each year, the countries drifted apart, obsessed as they were with one another. However, we must remind ourselves - periodically if we must - that this division is an artificial, imperialist one. I am sure there are plenty of people who will disagree to this. They will, because their political power, status and affluence depend on not agreeing with the artificiality of this division. They do their best to keep alive

Labour markets, competency frameworks and quest for good education

  Over the years, competency-based education has become a central focus of my work.  This started with a simple assumption: That the transition from education to employment would be smooth if the education that learners receive correspond directly to the competencies that the employers need.  What it translated into practice is: First, instead of writing courses driven by content, identify the job roles that the employers are finding most difficult to fill - and work with the employers to create a competency map for those roles. Then, prioritise these competencies (using classification such as must-have, should-have, could-have and would be nice to have) and work with employers to define the acceptance criteria for someone to be deemed competent in each of these. Finally, do what educators do and map assessments and content to this to generate a course. But the practical challenges Of course, this process requires unfettered access and trust of the key employers. I have been somewhat

What a Liberal Education is not

India's new National Education Policy argues for a new Higher Education system, which will have a Liberal Education undergraduate curriculum at its heart. This is great news. Globalisation since the 1990s shaped the Indian economy and particularly its service sector, which, in turn, shaped the priorities of the Indian Higher Education system. But, of late, populist politics in the Western nations and automation of work have started changing the shape of the global value chain. India, which banks its future on 'demographic dividend', must adjust to this emerging economic reality - and must construct a new model of Higher Education alongside.  But, while we should welcome the commitment to reimagine the undergraduate education, and free the Indian student from the Engineering fetish which has stunted a generation, it's important that we don't just mimic some American formula of Liberal Education. We must keep in mind that in the United States, Liberal Education colleg

The case for a platform model in private higher ed

Universities are at an inflection point; so too is private higher education. The education entrepreneurs and private equity backing education ventures may present private higher education as the solution to higher education's current woes. In reality, however, most private higher education institutions are innovation-challenged and fail regularly. While some, like University of Phoenix or Hult Business Schools, have managed to be financially successful for short periods of time, such success is both rare and has been short-lived. Private higher ed model needs as much rethinking as that of the universities. In most countries, private higher education plays a demand-absorption role. When demographic or economic changes result in significant expansion of student numbers and public education, because of their nature as bureaucratic institutions dependent on advance planning without unfettered access to risk capital, private higher ed steps in to absorb the excess demand. However, what

The brave new world of India's New Education Policy

India's New Education Policy, which got cabinet approval on the 29th of July, is to be celebrated just for itself. A nation of 1.3 billion people, most of whom are young, which claims its population to be its chief strength, had its first education policy update since 1986. So the last time Indian Parliament and Cabinet agreed on an education policy just as Microsoft released the first version of Windows (which no one used yet), the Domain Name System for a future Internet was just being finalised and mobile phones took 10 hours to charge for a 30-minute talk time. A country called Soviet Union was engaged in something called a Cold War with the United States of America. The point being, the world has very rapidly changed since, without an education policy update in India. This anomaly is less significant than it sounds. That the government did not update its education policy does not mean nothing changed in education. A lot changed: Literacy rates jumped (though it's still not

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