Tag Archives: design

The Perils of Big Data: Don’t talk to the Profile

4 Dec

It is not an easy time for educationists. And an easy one for ideologues.

Ideologues have made their choices. They know what they stand for in education. Standardised classrooms. Common Core Curriculum, to use the name of the American version. Most countries have something similar. A taxonomy of learning styles – and lesson planning based on similar theories that evolved decades ago. Private schooling. Education as a (quasi) public good. Teacher training as academic instruction. The list goes on.

There have been traditional ways of doing things. And then, there have been grand experiments. Or what some people call experiments, others innovations. The sad truth that we have to acknowledge is that most of these have had little impact on improving learning outcomes.

As a teacher I would be very confused. Entertain your students, engage them with laughter. No, you are not a joker in front of the class, don’t demean yourself. OK then. Another one – Children learn more with peer learning methodologies, they learn more when they are doing things, they learn better with individual instruction. Children don’t need teachers, they need mentors. Teachers are just facilitators, they do not need to teach. Don’t teach, because no one can be taught, they can only be brought to learning and shown the path.

No wonder teachers have stopped teaching.

Thankfully, not all of them. We still have many wonderful teachers, inspiring school heads and balanced school boards. But many many more school teachers, heads and boards will just continue to do what was traditional. Not because they know it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only thing they know how to do. It has been done before, it must be right. We’ve survived so far, have we not?

For the non traditionalists, the news is not so good. After years, even decades of optimism about new ways of teaching, years of positive results that seemed to indicate that we are close to figuring out how to make sure that every child gets nurtured and reaches their potential – things have changed. Charter schools, experiments such as KIPP and Rocketship continue to have their ups and downs making them and private education an easy target. As a teacher, educator – I take no sides here. I stand, confused. Honestly confused. As does anyone else who dares to be honest.

Maybe it is as they said in KungFu Panda – there is no secret sauce.

Maybe it is as simple as this: Good teaching and learning depends on three things:

How much a Teacher cares
How much a Teacher knows
How many chances you get

There is no recipe, there are no fixed proportions. There is no fixed formula. Not for the whole of education anyway. One size does not fit all. Yet all solutions that seem to emerge these days are seeking scale and aiming for standardisation in the name of improving standards for all. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that such standardised education provides any improvement in learning outcomes. The quest for the secret sauce continues.

Evidence stands in favour of none: Neither the innovators, nor the standardisers. Not the private sector, nor the public sector. Each has had their failures, their moments of glory. Each has had impressive improvements that the others race to chase for a while. Often it works, even across countries and contexts. Often it does not, and we lay the blame on the ‘Lost in Translation’ effect. Am I oversimplifying this? Trust me, I am.  Even the ideologues would agree with me that we would love to see more proof, more evidence of what works in education.

There isn’t enough evidence, we complain. If only we knew more about what each student was doing, what clicked for them and where they zoned out. Maybe we should be watching them more. Let us monitor them using technology – keystroke analysis, pupil dilation, brain stimulation. Let us watch them in the thousands, millions across the world. Big data. And then try to reduce that to a simple formula. Then we will know, won’t we – that a child in the third grade who slows down after two hours is unlikely to make it to higher education. Right? Or similar results. Let us profile the children and then design for the profile. I am sure we will improve learning outcomes by teaching to the profile.

I am not a profile. I am sure none of you reading this are a profile either. Nor are our children. We are people. Creative, dynamic, unique and diverse. And we have had enough of adjusting to an education system – we now expect the education system to adjust to our aspirations. The goalpost has changed. No longer does the education-industrial complex work, nor are classes relevant any more. Classes serve one type of profiling, Edu-tech solutions serve another type of profiling. The hurdle ahead of us – as educators – is precisely this: How do we design for the person, not the profile?

I stand here, as one of the learners, and I repeat: Don’t talk to my profile. Talk to me.


Six Pillars that the Narendra Modi Government should Adopt

4 Dec

‘India has become a magnet’, Dominic Barton of McKinsey is reported to have said recently, reflecting both the optimism and the aspirations vested in the country at the moment. Six months in, Narendra Modi’s cabinet has shown some sense of its own vision while very clearly not rocking the boat. Building a credible base is essential for every start-up, and this is what this government is – a start-up seeking investments. India Inc. is run by them and India’s needs are clear: growth, inclusion and freedoms.

The path to these is via a sustained, sound and progressive education system. Education i.e. the task of building a range of competencies, skills and abilities –  is the tool that will power the growth engine. While we tackle teacher shortages, learning outcomes, access to resources, school leadership etc. on a daily basis, here are six pillars, or even principles, that will enable sound choices.

Strategy is key to any good implementation. This government achieved one of the strongest mandates based on an election campaign that revealed a sharp sense of strategy, tactics and operational delivery. We need to see more of that. No policy can be implemented without a good strategy that informs all the stakeholders so that they can align their investments to the national strategy. It would be foolish for an individual (or even CSR funds) to invest in, say, community colleges, if the national strategy is going to support skills academies. If there is a goal, let us all pull together to make it happen rather than scatter our efforts because we were shy of investing in, or declaring a strategy. Designing this engine of growth and rolling it out to meet national goals is the first, if not the only task for this government. Unleashing the potential of the country lies not in its passive demographic dividend, but in its systems for an educated and productive people.

Inclusion must be about value addition and can no longer be about handouts, trickle down, low productivity, poor quality or low value added economic activity. It is not necessary that the poorest be stuck with poor quality or shallow opportunities. And this change must be driven via better education and access to fair opportunity. We have enough evidence of the people at the bottom of the pyramid achieving much – whether it is admission to a prestigious IIT or a transformative innovation that goes beyond mere jugaad. Inclusion now must give every student sight of global standards and they must be enabled to deploy their skills in ways that raise the bar for themselves, their school and community. The goal of education now needs to become one of continuous improvement and greater value addition. For each student, each teacher, each school, each college and university – the test has to be the question- “How did you make it better?” (And by how much)

Opportunities for mobility along a quality ladder e.g. via lifelong learning, are essential to enable each individual to grow regardless of missed chances. It is not just the youth, but the others too who must be included in this journey. The charge to improving this has to be led by the educational institutions. But they need to be let out of their regulatory shackles to breed a culture of enterprise, growth and innovation to ‘make it better’ knowing that they will be held accountable for the outcomes. Learning needs to engage with the goal of improving quality and value. ‘Make in India’ is a great slogan, but at this stage it is powerless if delivered to current productivity and quality standards.

Governance, as promised. Which means oversight, supervision, accountability but does not mean either standardisation or micro-management. Education gets stifled if one tries to create a one size fits all template for all individuals. Governance systems need to be minimal, designed for easy and elegant operations so that there is no reason to bypass them. The purpose of governance mechanisms is not to command or control but is to constructively identify areas for improvement and address the gaps. This is not only a call to fund gaps for quality enhancement, but also a call to use funding intelligently to incentivise good performance.

Partnerships are the only sensible way of proceeding given the scale at which education needs to be delivered and the diversity of the contexts and goals. It would be foolish to leave out private investments, solutions, energy and commitment just in the name of an ideology that has not even been able to prove itself as superior. India has some great examples of both (i) sustaining diverse ownership models and, (ii) of collaborations within the government system that helps improve learning outcomes for all.

Freedoms are fundamental to fostering entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity – all of which are essential to the growth that the nation needs. Higher Education Institutions need to raise the bar and focus on finding and working their core speciality, aiming to be the best in the world in that area. There needs to be a diverse range of teaching, research and problem solving institutions, and each needs to have the autonomy to find their own path. They remain accountable for outcomes but cannot be subject to templatisation. In schools too – there needs to be firm accountability and consequences – but much more space to engage in meaningful learning so that students grow up to be productive, value adding individuals rather than rote learning test takers.

India’s demographics are such that for many years it may end up supplying much of the world’s middle management and even leadership, but it certainly does not want to remain at the bottom of the pyramid. The way out is via education for higher order skills. Each of us who goes out, often to return to the country, is an ambassador building the nation’s credibility and therefore in a position and with an ability to negotiate on the world stage. Let India educate a billion ambassadors – each one making India proud, standing tall on the world stage, not because of the past, but because of a productive constructive present. Yes, I have a dream.

This was published in the DNA http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/standpoint-6-principles-that-the-narendra-modi-government-should-adopt-in-the-education-sector-2040252