Showing posts from 2021

Human+Tech in Education: Meeting Bloom's challenge

  For this post, I owe a debt of gratitude to a fellow-traveller who connected through this blog and introduced me to Bloom's 2-Sigma problem . Serendipitous as it was, the conversation led me to think of my own quest in a new light and, to reframe the Human+Tech network proposition with a new sense of purpose. It was no longer a solution searching for a problem; instead, there was a clear goal and even a metric against which we can measure the efficacy of our intervention. For me, this is also a great way to move beyond the false binary (as described in an earlier post - Human+Tech in Education ) of human vs tech in education. While I celebrated the possibilities of technology - my entire career was about deploying new technologies - I always resisted the logic of automation: I do not think that the technologies can replace the human in education. Instead, I see Edtech's big - and sole - role as one of augmentation, one like the mobile phone that can carry human voice across t

Human+Tech in Education

  I wrote in an earlier post, that it is time to move beyond the false binary of online vs offline in education. After the pandemic, it's going to be both. But, as I explained, this is not going to be 'blended' learning of the vanilla variety. That is because the word 'blended' presupposes content as the driver of education. The post-pandemic priorities will demand moving away from the publishing paradigm. We already know that it's context, rather than content, that drives meaningful educational outcomes. We have to do much more than blending the content now. As we look to do this, we should also demolish another, equally false, binary: That of human vs the tech. We often mix up humans with face-to-face and tech with the online side of the argument. But that is a mistake, at least now, when tech is getting smarter and laying claims on human functions. The publishing paradigm in education, based on the view that serving content is what the teachers do, exacerbate

What happened in West Bengal

Finally, the poll results are out in West Bengal. While Bengalis like me are not surprised - the feeling is more like a collective sigh of relief - many friends from outside are very surprised: Over the last few years, they have got used to big-man politics and never saw this coming. Here is my I-told-you-so moment, but I think I owe them some explanation why these results were predictable. But, first, what I think it is not. To start with, it is not a win for vote-bank politics. This is how the BJP would want to portray it - that Mamta Banerjee has won this election by pandering the muslims! But BJP pandered the Hindus in equal measure, and during the campaign, Ms Banerjee tried to be as even-handed as she could be. If anything, this result is a rejection of BJP's strategy to turn this into vote-bank election. But, equally, this is not a triumph of secular politics. If that would be so, then the Left and the Congress would have something to show for their efforts. That the two par

Higher Education after the Pandemic: Shaping the expectations

While I am, like everyone else, weighed down by sadness of the human tragedy of the pandemic, it is clear that we know how to end the pandemic. Vaccines are working, testing has become more accessible and there is a treatment around the corner. From now, it is a question of political will and logistics, and not an intractable battle with nature (as is the case with AIDS, for example). Therefore, the horrific scenes on television notwithstanding, it is worth thinking the post-Pandemic world. If history is any guide - and it usually is a reliable guide - this worldwide disruption should set off a new 'golden age'. Pessimism, at the end of such disasters, usually turn to optimism. Who would have imagined that the daily commute to office can ever be something to look forward to? Therefore, getting back to normal with a vengence is indeed a distinct possibility. Such a scenario has already been factored into the expectations, in stock markets, house prices, in all those loans given

The world's most neo-liberal country

India loves global kudos: They were credulous that their Prime Minister was declared by the United Nations the best Prime Minister in the world only recently. Therefore, I believe that the honour of being the world's most neo-liberal country would be received with enthusiasm.  Of course, this honour had to be hard-won. The standards set by United States and United Kingdom are high. India joined the bandwagon early, of course, signing up to go down the road early in the 1990s, but it only took a lot of hard work of dismantling institutions and buying up the democracy to finally arrive at the billionnaire raj. While other nations had to tread with stealth, careful not to completely wreck the modern social contract their nations are based upon, India was bold, cheered on by its middle class - which hoped to be a beneficiary - and went about marginalising minorities, steamrolling the environment and tearing up constitutional protections in a breakneck speed. All in the name of developm

The case for Cultural Education in India

India's New Education Policy - which sets the legislative agenda for Indian education in the coming years - recommends that the core of India's higher education should be a system of 'liberal education'. It cites several reasons for this: Human capital justifications such as the changing nature of work and workplaces and the need to be broadly educated (what some will call 'T-skills'). What I want to argue here is that this is only a limited view of the requirement and we need to define what kind of 'liberal education' India may really need. The central problem of Indian nationalism has been that while it defined itself against the European, and more specifically the British, imperialism, it was itself built upon essentially European concepts and ideas of nationhood and self-determination. Not only such concepts were only understood by a small, European-educated elite, these did not provide the broader populace any clearer definition  of their own role i

India's business culture in the brave new world

The Indian economy is at a crossroad. Its internal markets have sustained the economy through the global recession of 2008/9, but as it looks beyond the pandemic, that would clearly not be enough. Its own version of 'Great Leap Forward', hastily imposed neo-liberal reforms of the economic life, has stunted the domestic demand and ravaged the banking sector - and it must find new sources of growth. The government's hopes lie in the exports - the aspiration that India could be the new China, workshop of the world. Labelled somewhat misleadingly as Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India), a new set of initiatives has been rolled out in search of this illusive export success. In this quest, India's key strength - perhaps its only one - is its people: A large working-age population ready to work for relatively cheap wage! How we view India's demographic opportunity has undergone a subtle shift - its young population was earlier seen as an exciting market and only now, as

Designing Education for 'Employability': 2 Illusions

I wrote earlier about my recent experiences regarding the design of education for 'employability' and the field of constraints that any design must consider (see here: Limitations ).  The focus of that earlier post was on the educational side of the equation, which is not the only constraint for consideration. In fact, an even bigger challenge is right at the centre of the employability initiatives - the myth of the employers!  The mythical employer (employers, more correctly) who is invoked all the time in the employability talk has one problem - she does not exist! The logic of the employability initiatives - that employers demand certain abilities which universities can not educate for - is based on employers being fully aware and being able to fully articulate what they want. However, it is time to say, after Steve Jobs, that employers do not know what they want. This may seem anachronistic: After all, employers are the customers for employability initiatives, right? But ap

Designing Education for 'Employability': 1 Limitations

A large part of my work now is designing an educational programme that can sit alongside university curricula aimed at student 'employability'. We started this very predictably - with a mandate to ensure early preparation for the job market and industry connections - but as we assimilate various ideas and learn from experience, we know that we can't stick to the business as usual.  By business-as-usual, I mean the mechanistic employability programmes that are now so popular. A degree does not ensure jobs any more. Besides, the governments across the world are paying more attention to student loan books than they previously did and holding universities responsible for employment outcomes. Hence, it's common to see training programmes that prepare students for job search, CV writing and interviews.  There are clear limitations to what such training can do. These make two assumptions which are not necessarily correct: First, it assumes that the job the students will have e

India's Education Dilemma: More Indian or more global?

A close reading of India's New Education Policy illustrates a dilemma at the heart of India's Higher Education: Whether to become more Indian or more global?  For a service economy servicing a global clientele, a Higher Education system that prepares people with global service economy skills is critical for India to build. Higher Education is one sector in India that needs 'liberalisation', thirty years after the rest of the economy opened up. And, besides, it is hard to avoid the global drift when the Higher Ed policy narrative is framed within the human capital paradigm. On the other hand, there is a deep cultural agenda of the policymakers to make Indian Higher Ed more Indian. It is not just revivalism or Hindu fundamentalism. This is also based on an accurate reading of the chasm at the heart of the Indian society, between an English-speaking elite and vernacular rest, which is threatening the cohesion of the state. This is also about undoing the colonial legacy, th

Right or Left? Figuring out the politics of 21st century

I am sparred into writing this post by a rather awkward exchange in a recent business meeting. I was there to discuss a project, but my client asked - before we discussed anything else - which side of the political divide I belong. The trigger was the emails that he regularly receives from a diaspora think-tank, where I serve as a trustee and which occasionally sends out emails in my name. Desperate to move on, I mumbled that in politics, I sit on the fence, though the fence is getting increasingly narrower. But I knew it was an inadequate answer: Fence-sitting is a poor excuse at a time of all-out war of ideologies! With reflection, however, I realise that this is indeed the right description of my political persuasion, though fence was a poor metaphor. This is because 'sitting on the fence' implies a lack of commitment, an opportunistic pandering of both sides. But that's not what I do: I am very much committed to my politics, though I may not buy into the labels of right

A dream without a door

  The two weeks of Covid, it seems, wiped my memory clean - but given me new ones. One of those is a dream - of the most feverish nights - in which I was in a room where all doors out led back into the same room again. Its mosaic floor was of the room I grew up in, back home in Kolkata; its door a white one like the one in Croydon; its windows showed nothing but an endless array of houses nearby, somewhat reminding me of a flat in Hyderabad where I spent some time. In the dream, I was forever trying to go out of the room and turning back up in it, again and again, even when I was not sleeping anymore. It was one of those that extend from sleeping to waking to sleeping back again, making me more desperate to escape in every turn. If I ever write a story about it, would I call it 'No Exit'? I thought about it later on, as I continue to limp back to normal life. The jarring point is the existence of the door though, a wide white-framed one, which was there for a reason. It was per

Robots are coming for Private Higher Ed

Robots are coming for private higher ed. It is usual to toast the rapid automation of work at investor conferences, in the hope that this would break the State monopolies on higher ed and usher in a new era of education innovation. What's left unspoken is that the public higher ed will eventually die, underfunded and unloved, under the sheer weight of its bureaucracy.  However, the collateral damage in this brave new world may not be public universities, the better of which are far better equipped to handle the coming of the Robots, but the private higher education that has grown rapidly worldwide over the last twenty years. Indeed, the same investors have billions of dollars at stake in private higher ed and wouldn't be pleased if the first casualty of the very disruption they celebrate costs them a bomb.  But this seems likely for two reasons. First, the impact of automation will be most felt in the jobs that involve narrow specialisations and process-based jobs, exactly the

Alternatives for India

India prides itself of its diversity, but lately it has decided to go monochrome. Suddenly, India's model is China, though no one would admit of it. Harmony, after all, is good for economic growth, goes the thesis. Therefore, Indian institutions - and the states - are being harmonised in the quest of economic growth. The protests, the cacophony of opinion, unmissable characteristics of Indian democracy for its first seventy years, are increasingly branded 'un-Indian' and pushed to the margins.  I am aware that my timing for bringing this up would immediately position this as a reaction of the farmer's protests and the Indian government's indifferent handling of the same. And, it is indeed something worth talking about : The lack of consultation and due process, the silence of most of the mainstream media, the underhand techniques used to undermine the credibility and even the Supreme Court's actions, indicate a total absence of space for alternative views. India

The trouble with career design

My current work involves the development of an employability programme. As I worked on it, I had a deja vú, an old idea really, which is worth posting about. Years ago, I discovered the obvious: That it's not easy to educate for employability. Not only education has a broader goal, which is often undermined when one narrowly focuses on the requirements of one industry or another, labour markets, particularly in the sectors which are technology-driven and globally connected, are notoriously fickle. Hence, I concluded then, that career planning for students is a pointless enterprise and instead, we should develop a design approach to career (see Career Design, not Career Planning and How to do Career Design ).  Indeed, since then and through different projects I participated into and many coversations I have had with people working in the field, my convictions have only deepened. In general, I think, we are accepting that all knowledge is provisional and our ability to predict the f

How we made the Pandemic?

Last spring, people who could not understand, or could not accept, the difference between a Computer virus and a naturally occurring one, were pushing hard the idea that the Novel Corona Virus - which was raging through Europe and the Eastern Seaboard of North America at the time - was made in a Chinese lab and then sent out to the world. Whether or not one believed it then, come Winter 2021, there is no doubt that we have made this pandemic our own. Then, I believed that the simpler explanation - that the Pandemic occurred from Bats and through Pangolins - was more plausible; a price we paid for careless exploitation of the natural world. China was guilty, of delayed action, of obfuscation and of - at another level - allowing potentially dangerous practice of eating exotic meat, but not of making the Virus which would affect and kill a lot of their own citizens and dent its global prestige.  Now, as the contagion shows no signs of slowing down and the virus is creating new, potentiall

What is the point of college?

I have spent a long time making the case for college education and I see I used two different arguments interchangably. The first of these was the human capital argument, the one about skills. Usually, given my line of work, this was about telling employers about work-ready graduates and students about jobs and income. After the universities, I used to cite 'graduate premium', not telling the whole story - that the figure is inflated out of proportion by the incomes of a few winners and collapse of the non-graduate income; most graduates have seen their income stagnate or decline in real terms ever since 2008. I used to argue that the quality of education is best expressed in the starting salary of the graduate (a desperate oversimplification that takes the labour market and all the implicit issues of race and gender out of the consideration) and that the countries should invest in colleges to gain competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.   The other argument was the dem

Why technologists will not save education?

Post-Covid, will technologists save education? It certainly needs saving. We are perhaps looking a whole lost cohort - may be two - who will graduate in a terrible job market and struggle to make a start. Too many pupils, coming out of forced loneliness of a year, would struggle to adjust in colleges. Those who deferred their studies, will have to find the momentum again. And, as if after a great reset, the conversation what education is for has to start in earnest. Technologists will offer no answers to any to these big, burning questions. In fact, after the year when technologies became so embedded in education, it's role will be seen differently. In a way, this has been the best of the years and worst of the years for education technology: Technology's role as infrastructure has been recognised and technology's limitations to revolutionise education have been exposed. We now know that while technology may have answers to our many questions, technologists are often asking

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