Tag Archives: education

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.

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/dont-talk-to-the-profile/

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

Asserting National Narratives with Credibility

21 Nov

It is not unusual for countries to glorify their own past. Nor is it unusual to include that in the schooling system – one that is normally considered a quasi public good, and thus controlled by governments. India too has been focused on it’s own past in the curricula that have served an entire generation and more. Yet, it does not seem to be enough. The current controversy on a mid year switch to Sanskrit away from German is going to run it’s course. It will be debated away as a procedural correction, not an ideological position taken by anyone specific. Yet, the bigger issue will remain – how much of India’s past should shape India’s future.

There are good arguments on either side. On one hand it is undeniable that India has had a glorious and under-researched past in the fields of drama, literature, science, medicine, strategy, economics, architecture and more. It has shared much of it’s knowledge freely in the world – so much so that much of it is deeply embedded in the histories of many countries. Some of it is remembered – such as the work done by Indian artisans in the great Alhambra in Spain, or as India is fond of reminding everyone – the invention of the zero. It is also undeniable that India was a colonised country, and every country that finds itself subjugated for a time feels undermined. Without going down the cul-de-sac of blame storming, there does seem to have been a loss of self worth, possibly a loss of national pride. Or so it is said, and retold, often by those who have not been able to participate in, or learn about moments of national pride.

The discourse for greater national pride is often undermined by the very same people who espouse the cause. It is difficult to deal with calls for greater attention to be paid to one’s history when the general level of discourse reflects both ignorance of the past, and worse – a lack of rigour in process. For those who seek to vilify some leaders in history and glorify others often speak from hearsay, not research. Having heard a part of the story, and liked it, they add to the noise. This does not help – any shallow argument is soon exposed and gets little respect. To be able to lay claim to anything one must first build a solid credible foundation before laying siege to current beliefs.

This is not to deny the possibility that India may have invented everything that is great and good in the world today. Of course it is possible. Unlikely, but possible. The nature of knowledge is to advance itself iteratively, incrementally. One learns something, shares it across the world. Then someone adds to it. Shares. It goes on, often with a few people making the same grand discoveries at about the same time without having collaborated or even known each other. The game for credits is important, sure, but only in a world of patents and trade agreements. This is where one must step carefully and build a strong argument rather than allow oneself to become a mocked nation. The tendency of Indians to claim everything as Indian but not be able to back it up with any solid audit trail has made it into a bit of a global joke – and this is the trap to avoid. There have been sit-coms with this theme as a meme, and more.

It is easy to leap at the slightest link between current scientific discoveries and similar references in Sanskrit texts – both ancient and more recent ones. Sanskrit was one of the languages of the erudite. It had a discipline and process that enabled dense conversation and communication of deep knowledge. So much so that unraveling it is a science in itself. This is where there is a huge gap in our understanding of the achievements of the past. Just an assertion in a text, or a verse from a mythological or literary text is not enough to claim it as ‘Indian’ knowledge. There needs to be a much more rigourous research process that builds the arguments towards such claims. This is where one feels the lack of a strong research culture in the social sciences in India. The capacity for such research will need to be built as one builds the case for one’s history. Greater investments in higher education research are the first step. Autonomy is an essential ingredient – let the counterfactuals fight it out to build muscle in the arguments. A more realistic understanding of our own history and position in the world is essential to a generation that has been unrooted by rapid growth to give it a sense of it’s own direction and purpose.

A version of this article appeared in the Daily Pioneer on November 19, 2014 and is linked here: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/sanskrit-lessons-in-indian-civilization.html

Disruption is essential to Innovation in Education

17 Oct

Reinventing Innovation

10/09/2013

student

 Image: Shutterstock

“Yes, he has got the right answer but the method is all wrong. Where is the method?! It was given in the class so many times, but he does not do it! ”

I stared at the teacher dumbfounded.

(No, I was not about to comment on the language or tone used, though that was pretty objectionable too.)

This was against all the principles of good education that had been shared at every conference, teacher training programme and seminar I had ever attended or led. Learning was supposed to be a journey of discovery. This was standardisation to the level of micro management, approximates to learning by rote, and leaves no room for individual growth, let alone individual pace within the system. It is a system designed for efficiency, geared to a specific goal. Change the goalposts, and the system flounders. The goalposts, of course, do not stay the same ever, and this system is clearly not future proof.

The quest is always for higher standards in a system, not mass standardisation at the last mile. If every notebook in the nation is expected to look exactly like every other, then all we are doing is raising a nation of replicators. They are trained to repeat what has been done before, not to create and bring rigour to their inventions or innovations.

Innovation often starts in the classroom where any exploration or creative journey into the subject is clearly inefficient use of class time. The rote learning method with micro standardisation is the most efficient way to demonstrate results, with the consequence of leaving little room to develop the higher faculties of the student. If a child cannot ask disruptive questions, then their learning has been stunted. If they are not appreciated for breaking the mould and creating new solutions, then they are merely being trained to be followers–and that is not where the premiums head.

Innovation needs to extend beyond classroom content and classroom processes to school systems. Local administrators and policy makers play a key role here–those that are supportive have found massive improvements in school achievements in their areas. Others, we hear, are keen to maintain the status quo and do no more. These areas tend to stagnate.

This carries through beyond schools, into higher education and research laboratories too, where hierarchies determine the degrees of freedom (and credit) received.

Creativity is a habit as much as it is a discipline. The process of creativity needs to be fostered if innovations are to be scored and used. Strong hierarchies, where research agenda are set by those of a previous generation, may not always be the best way to plan future knowledge building. Fresh entrants are often bubbling with new ideas, many scholars admit their best work was done in their twenties and thirties. The brain, we know, tends to atrophy with age. An innovation culture must do its best to capture the ideas of the young and foster them to create value.

Innovation, by definition is a disruptive process, it needs disruptive attitudes to foster innovation cultures. An excess of respect, lack of humour and continual deferring to those who came before are not always ideal. While I see many go tut-tut and say the young are disrespectful, an excess of ‘respect’ is stultifying. Let me say it straight out–many Indians are over sensitive about hierarchy and respect. And the continual deference to the guru- figure stems the exchange of ideas and the discovery of new pathways. Sometimes (and it is reported in less than hushed whispers), the incentive to innovate is lost when credit is taken by the ‘seniors’.

The process of innovation starts with the meeting of ideas and process. This is where strong structures of mentorship, not just hierarchies of process, are useful. The role of the teacher, research guide and even workplace senior is critical to innovation. Their experience and networks can foster the idea and bring it to fruition in ways the young ideator may not even be aware of, and thus incapable of implementing.

What does this mean for the learning leader? It means they need to change the way they do things. It means they need to include a wider range of opinions and options in what they discuss. It means, they should let students have some fun while they are learning–to take a little side path once in a while, a little self exploration before coming back to what they ought to know anyway.

Things are changing slowly but surely globally and in India. Singapore, as they often are, have realised that creativity that leads to innovation will be the growth engine of the future and have now changed their curriculum and assessments to grow such creativity. Many other countries are investing in fostering a research and innovation culture. India does not speak of creativity and innovation directly in its education policy but the introduction of continuous assessments in class give teachers enough room to foster it, if they choose to–and are able to handle the workload. Unfortunately, this is not enough.

Innovations in the classroom do exist, but many of them remain underexposed, and so under-utilised. Micro-innovations need to be fostered and shared. STiR (disclaimer, I am on their advisory board) does stellar work in gathering, sifting and fostering such classroom innovations and seeding an innovation culture in schools. Little things make a difference–celebrating teachers who find new ways to help students learn, listening and nurturing smarter ways of working, sharing content or a process that increases student achievements. The need is equally great in higher education where innovations are required to jumpstart the process of quality enhancements without which India has no claim to a place at the global table.

It is time to accept dissent as part of the discussion, to be secure enough to deal with change and to be smart enough to create new ways of working.

League Tables are Over-rated

17 Oct

League Tables are over rated. Then why do we pay so much attention to them?

09/13/2013 |
Just this week the annual QS league tables were released, and as expected Indian Universities were not in the top 200 or 300 ranks. This has been the trend for years in all the league tables including the Times Higher Education Rankings and the Shanghai Rankings. The distress at not ranking high is palpable, but before we do aim to do so, it might be a thought to review what league tables can and cannot do for us.

League Tables are over rated, clearly. Then why do we pay so much attention to them? Because they are all we have as a tool to bring an objective comparison to the quality of institutions of education.

Every soul of some erudition knows that the right thing to do is to look into the middle distance, then narrow their eyes and shake their head while slowly saying, “Well, you know… league tables.. they are not really a measure”

True. They are not a measure (of what? Presumably Quality). They are a collation of proxy measures of Quality in education institutions that enable comparison.

League tables can only measure the things that can be quantified. Their criteria have to be designed in such a manner that ensures that they are able to collect data from all educational institutions in a consistent manner. This is their claim to fame – being able to bring objectivity and therefore the ability to compare across contexts.

There is a lot that cannot be captured by league tables. Some will say, especially in education, that none of the real things that matter can be captured by league tables. There is as much truth in that as saying that a photograph in two dimensions cannot capture three dimensional reality.

So, while research output can be measured by the number of papers published, one cannot really use that to judge the quality of those papers. To manage that, one tries to restrict the set to journals that are of known and accepted quality, often peer reviewed. If the papers are accepted by these journals, then they will be included in research output, else not. There are a few problems here. As every academic writer knows, journals are often accessible to a certain clique who are the guardians of tradition (another proxy for quality, possibly). Each journal has its own style of analysis or writing. So a young bright academic finds that even good work has to conform in many ways, and if rejected, they must then recast it for another journal – and that means rewrite completely. If the academic – and in our example a bright young academic – is to be judged on the quantity of papers accepted, then it would be quite unfair to that person. On the other hand, those with access to the journals would be able to churn out many more articles than their research warranted. To create three papers out of one significant piece of research is not unknown.

Then if mere quantity is not enough, one should look for research impact – that is objectively measured in citations. Well, that is the best objectivity can do, little more. One could – and I do not know any league tables that do that – include citations included in papers that supported patent applications. If a paper has been in the citation chain for an actual innovation patented, then it has impact, else the research was merely theoretical.

Before the historians and philosophers start baying for my blood, let me step up and say – I agree! Research is meant to be theoretical. It is meant to add to the body of knowledge regardless of its current usability. There are enough examples in the sciences too that point to innovations that were used decades later. When they were created, they would not have added to the count of any league table, especially if they languished merely as working papers.

Similarly for teaching and learning. How can we measure for teaching quality? Discussed here. We can measure for teacher qualifications, for student achievement in standardised tests, but who can really say objectively that excellent or quality learning happens in the classrooms of this institution and not at another. How can they be graded and ranked? There is only so much league tables can do. There is no way the impact of learning can be measured across the lifetime of the learner. Nor can any league table ever measure the value of peer networks – though this is where it gets interesting. While there is no clear metric to peer networks, the universities that top the league tables are the ones with the most useful networks.

What the league tables cannot cover is the culture and ethos of an organisation.
No league tables can capture what the HBR case study on gender and class just discussed here

Does this mean we reject league tables straight out?

Of course not.

But when we use and quote league tables, especially in education we must do so with caution and cognition.

Firstly, do not take them too seriously. They are a snapshot and serve a particular purpose. They cannot serve all institutions and countries, but can merely indicate what is important to most. For example, India may not be ready to climb up the league tables yet – it may not be the priority for the nation as discussed here.  If India wants to make a place for itself on the league tables a priority, then it should focus on that, as described here

Newspaper and magazine league tables have to be a simple composite in order to be able to have a global span. But there are other ways of constructing comparative benchmarks that may be more productive depending upon the need and the purpose of that benchmarking exercise. All benchmarking exercises do not create rankings as league tables must. Quality can be tracked through simple yet sophisticated exercises that can easily be designed according to the need of the group or individual institutions. Till we invest in creating more customised benchmarks and trackers, we will have to make do with league tables.

India Continues to surprise in Global University Rankings

17 Oct

India continues to surprise in global university rankings

Meeta Sengupta
03 October 2013, 09:19 AM IST

India does manage to have some interesting things happening in the education manthan – the churning that traditionally threw up the treasures of the world.

And this time the crown goes to Panjab University that has managed to rise above all other Indian higher education establishments and is ranked between 226 and 250 in the world. Still low, for a country as educated and populous as India, but a significant achievement nonetheless. Panjab University has been known for its commitment to its faculty and academic standards, and it is good to see acknowledgement of that effort in global rankings.

Of the three or four major global higher education rankings, the Times Higher Education rankings are the most comprehensive and the most popular. With heavyweight analytics by Thomson Reuters and the might of the Times group in publication, the reach and rigour of the rankings is unparalleled. The strength is in the methodology that is revised and updated and here is a link to the criteria the university managed to score more than any other Indian university http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking/region/asia/methodology The rankings have noted the global shift from the West to the East in the higher ranks. This is a steady progression seen over the past few years and the younger universities of the east have worked hard to make themselves known in the upper echelons of the rankings.

Can this be managed? Can one climb up the rankings at will? Of course this is not an easy process that can be accomplished overnight. But like any assessment system one can work towards what is being assessed, work harder at those aspects and move up league tables. This is not to say a system is rigged – it is not. It is merely recognising and adopting a set of criteria seen as essential to defining a good university. Can Indian universities do this? I had written about this before in another publication and it is linked here ( http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/1876684/standpoint-what-will-it-take-to-get-indian-universities-into-the-league-tables) This is of course a pragmatic and narrow view of progress at any university. All good universities will do this and more, depending upon their context, needs and goals.

How did Panjab University do it? We will have to ask them of course, but they seem to have done exceedingly well in the citation indices. They clearly focused on the criteria and were able to rank higher than the prestigious IITs too.  (May I please take a self indulgent I-told-you-so moment here?) Here is what Panjab University’s scores look like on the Times Higher Education page – http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking/institution/panjab-university While the University scores under 30 points for each of the criteria for teaching, international outlook and industry income, the scores are very interesting for their research and citations. Panjab University scores a mere 14 points for their research, but a colossal 84.7 for their citations ( 30% weightage) pushing them neatly into the middle leagues – to bring their overall rank to between 226 and 250. This is a leap forward for India that struggled to get mentions even in the two hundreds. Punjab University did receive a grant of almost Rs. 35 crores for investment in research infrastructure in acknowledgement of its good work in quality research and research papers. It was among the top three universities along with Delhi University and Hyderabad University, and amongst 14 to receive such appreciation.

Does that make Punjab University the best University in India? Today, it does. They deserve congratulations for their achievements. As with everyone who achieves leadership, we now wait for them to reveal their secrets to their peers, in the spirit of collegiality that will take Indian higher education forward – for this has to be the real goal. It is not enough for one institution to do well. Each institution will do different things well, and it is only when we share and embed best practices across higher education institutions that the students and academia will gain.

 

This was published in Times of India blogs on October 3, 2013 and is linked here http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/india-continues-to-surprise-in-global-university-rankings

Education is Key to changing Mindset

13 Jan

 

When there is no place for women to be safe in a society, the destruction of that society is assured. The very fabric that binds people together is trust. If one cannot trust one’s neighbour, colleague or relative to be decent and not attack and brutalise, then whom can one trust? Women and children are attacked, groped and humiliated regardless of time, dress, occasion, age or even provocation. What provocation can there be to stop being a human being and attack like a hungry animal?

While clearly a law and order issue, since most assaults are unreported, or unaddressed even if reported, the malaise is deeper. We are a sick society that needs to take a good long hard look at our values and question them deeply. Misogyny is rampant — why else would more women be attacked than men? Why else would women be expected to work harder and be more skilled than men? Earn and cook, pick and clean, study and serve and of course be restricted in her property rights. Be the victim of circumstances for to speak up would be to shame. The question is shame whom? Shame the people who are creating such inequity? Certainly yes. They deserve to be named and shamed.

The long-term solution to this is not easy, and it lies in public education. Shifting values takes generations and often is accompanied by great upheavals and protest. Of course men are going to protest if they have to wash their own clothes or cook their own food — heaven forbid, they might even become self sufficient. The debate in education often comes round to skills and employability. As a country we have statistics that show that employers are unable to work with the people they receive from our education system, whether at the graduate or post graduate level. Employers, of course, seek core competencies, but they also seek responsible, self disciplined and self sufficient staff who will be able to take the right decisions in their domain. This starts early in life, not on the first day of employment.

Our excessively competitive culture is damaging our kids in more ways than one. Firstly, the focus on marks makes the children ignore anything other than rote learning. The journey of discovery, the disappointments of ignorance and then the process of researching with rigor are completely missing from the implementation of our education system. We learn to reproduce, not learn to learn. No wonder, few know how to learn social skills, boundaries and even their legal limits as they grow up. Current classroom practice also does not allow our children to spend time discussing and learning about shared values, caring team work or even about managing differences whether they be gendered or regional. Often, even in co-educational schools many boys do not talk to girls and vice versa — learning strange versions of sexism even as they should be exploring and enhancing their social skills. Differences are stated in textbooks, platitudes that must be written up in end of term examinations. Parents encourage their children to excel via thievery — what else is it if one commissions a ‘project’ and claims it to be one’s own. Such competition is detrimental to values, and to the experiences that should enrich. If these norms can be broken with no fear of punishment, then so can many others. Children are taught to push the boundaries of right and wrong in ways that damage society.

Teachers and parents lament the lack of respect in the younger generation. This is a generation that grows up with a variety of sources of information, many of which abase themselves in the quest for commercial or political success. To have abused women in Parliament, to have misinformed on the news, to have lewd songs on cinemas and to have illogical nonsense spouted on television serials is the stuff of public education.

Good education is about learning how to be self-disciplined without any restraint, watching or policing. If a child has to be told to switch off the television, has to be supervised in its homework or needs to be punished for non-performance — then it is a failure of the educators. These children grow up to be people who cannot do the right thing without being policed or punished. A society can work when its schools build respect and reason into every action, so that we can hold our heads high and declare true freedom.

 

This was published in the daily Pioneer newspaper on January 8, 2013 and is linked here: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/53165-education-is-key-to-changing-mindset.html