Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The future of education

Putting thought to it

Education, in its broadest meaning, refers to the process of training, refining and growing someone’s mind and intellect. It assumes that the mind still has empty space ready to be filled, and that someone (the trainer or the educationist) has something of worth to be imparted.

Claude M. Bristol said prophetically – “Thought is the original source of all wealth, all success, all material gain, all great discoveries and inventions, and of all achievement”.

This sums up what the purpose of education should ideally be. It points towards the components that educators should build into their processes and curriculum. And above all, it contains the promise of prosperity for the learner – a quintessential need if one is to really move beyond rote learning and its associated depredation. But it poses a challenge too – the difficult task of freeing minds to have the courage to think free thoughts.

Of course, the mind is the spiritual or metaphysical manifestation of the more mundane physical brain, which leads our modern society to easily categorise people using their IQ levels. And this dichotomy between the mind and the brain is neatly visible in the chaos of modern education, where the most educated can be seen indulging in acts most well-reserved for the uncouth and uncivilized.

Well, as far as the future of education is concerned, I feel it is here already. It will be obvious and apparent only to those willing to shed their cobwebs of legacy which blind, and chains of stale knowledge that corrode.

Shockers galore

Some months ago, while watching an episode of the Amitabh Bachchan led KBC, I was shocked to see a participant with a proper Bachelors in Computer Application (BCA) degree unable to answer the question “What does (dot)com in a website’s name refer to?” This person must have spent 3 full years attending a government approved degree college, replete with a Ph.D. professor as the Principal, and several other highly qualified individuals as faculty. And at the end of it, she cannot even begin to contemplate what (dot)com refers to. Her excuse “I never used the internet in my BCA course” makes the situation worse, and points to the core of our education system’s redundancy – outdated mindsets miraculously pretending to cope with challenges of today’s world. I further shuddered at the prospect, suggested by someone, that maybe the Principal himself may not have known the answer! Perhaps we educators really need to appreciate, in a changing world, what Mark Twain said - “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” 

The golden rules

In my view, here are the three rules of good education, in all domains :
  • It should transform people into positive enablers, motivators, and thinkers : Professionalism
  • It should help people be happy with what they have : Spirituality
  • It should enable people to change course of action when required, and retool for success : Practicality
So if we have to achieve this, educators need to focus on :
  • Developing a sense of hope in learners’ minds, through repetitive learning examples that they really enjoy, and relate to, and feel they can carry forward in their lives
  • Creating a balance between the needs of being a part of the materialistic culture of today, and the happiness that comes from a certain detachment from it (or at least from a realization of the detachment that is possible)
  • Training them in specific techniques and tools that are very relevant as life skills – reading skills, data compilation ability, basic computer usage (using www), presentation and communication skills, and above all – a desire to learn continuously etc.
This world will surely be a better place if what Aristotle said was put into practice - “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

Here' a lecture session I took that covered the idea of becoming a good learner. There are several tips that provide an answer to the questions I raised above.

Caste hierarchy, ahoy!

The Indian society faces challenges as intense as other global communities do. However, there is a big twist in our story. The caste system forces us to think in a hierarchical manner. And it profoundly affects the manner in which career choices are made in our country.

The global debate on the present disconnect between education (as imparted in higher level institutions) and jobs has brought an acute focus on various aspects of education process itself. Let me elaborate. Over the past decade, with the mindless proliferation of institutions of higher education of all shades across the land, the value of the education delivered has drastically deteriorated. Coupled with a global slowdown, things have turned nasty for many graduates who assumed that a mere paper called degree will stand them in good stead, and consequently, who did not invest in their own skill building. This had led to a lot of confusion, with students and parents not able to understand why things went wrong.

Well, in many cases, they went wrong because a lot of these kids should not have taken the education they took. A child with a rather lacklustre academic performance at higher secondary level, and practically no aptitude for higher/technical degree education should have taken vocational education. But he/she chose not to. Thus, a child who should have ideally become a carpenter / painter chose to become a Civil engineer, and became totally worthless in the process.

Why did he/she do so? And in fact, why do tens of thousands each year do so? Simply because marriage and social status in India are inextricably linked with the degrees one holds. This mindset requires an urgent fix. There should be no shame in putting one’s children into vocational careers.  That is where the future of education would lie for many of our teeming youth.

And this may be just the perfect moment to remind ourselves of the danger that G.K.Chesterton pointed out when he said - “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

Technology and social media

There is a strange and difficult problem facing school teachers. Youngsters, as raw as seventh graders, are losing interest in the regular classroom teaching system. The teachers report that young boys and girls have lesser concentration now, as compared to some years ago. And each year, it seems to be getting worse. Why is this happening? A major contributing factor is indeed the proliferation of technology that has made access to all types of information totally, well, a child’s play.

So these kids surf the net at home comfortably, and generally without any restriction, and keep jumping from source to source seeking answers for their queries. They are exposed to a world of kaleidoscopic brilliance – full of images and videos – and their minds are shaped it. For most of their needs, answers are readily available. And then they reach the school classroom, to discover, much to their dismay a long range of shades of grey.

The teachers are surprised, because they are employing proven techniques of teaching since many years. The audience unfortunately has changed. And there is a huge mismatch. Very few teachers can upgrade themselves to be able to speak the language of the digital generation, let alone be well-versed with the technologies too.

Here lies the tension – and the solution. As a society, we will need to invest heavily into teachers’ training that makes both parties in the process of education compatible with each other. And this training will have to be evolutionary – changing shape as per time, taste, and requirements.

As a society we will have to learn to respect spontaneity and the challenges that come with it. 

One of the great science fiction writers of all times, Isaac Asimov, once said - “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” 

Try watching this lecture I took, to see how multiple dimensions can be combined to give the students a holistic view of the learning process. It makes things tremendously enjoyable for them!

Of human dignity

The most painful part of our education system’s lacunae was brought into limelight when the Delhi brutality of December 2012 exposed many of our society’s pillars. These men and women of high standing, who are supposedly the lighthouses of intelligence and wisdom, made statements that were describable only by one term – Misogynistic. And all these people are highly educated, with all imaginable degrees and diplomas, and years of working experience with the best of institutions (academic, social or political).

It became obvious – again – that our present system of formal education fails completely in developing basic human values. And I include parents and home in it too. Neither are families seriously educating their male children into accepting the females as equals, nor are the schools and colleges doing so.

With such a huge gap in our approach, there is little wonder that the dream of creating an equal society is as distant as colonizing Mars. A wholesale radical change in mindsets, catalysed now, will bring the change in another 20 to 30 years. But let us make a start. That will be a great contribution to fundamental education.

Rising to the challenge

So how does one really go about bringing the change? We educators realize that there is a huge undercurrent of evolution happening, and somehow we are either hoping it will bypass us without significantly damaging our reputations, or it will slow down enough to cope with us! None of these seems to be a drastically possible outcome. What indeed seems certain is that people may become terribly distraught at putting their hearts and money into an outdated, antiquated and silly system of rote learning, only to be rewarded with a piece of paper at the end of the exercise.

Educators need to change. They (we) need to change our mindsets, our attitude, and our approach. We need to realize that learners have options to opt out of the formal system, to grow their own techniques and methods, to let Mark Zuckerberg assume the form of their role model, and to dive into the unknown territory we call future possibilities.
Educators need to question each part of the existing formal system of education and training. Retrofitting may not work, a wholesale reinvention may be required.

But with this will go to shreds many careers painstakingly built over decades by bootlicking, kowtowing and sharpening nothing but bureaucratic finesse. So we have to expect friction and resistance. But we owe it to the coming generations. For if we fail, they will forever miss the golden touch that a human instructor can bring to the process of learning and education, and society will forever miss the amazing heights it could have attained with the enlightenment of its members that only genuinely good education could have brought about.



Unknown said...

meaning of education can be best explained by sports, no matter how much one invest his time watching sports video he has to beat his metal again and again in field only to achieve the greatness.
according to me education is learning from experience , connecting dots, and curiosity. that is what newton did. he wrote calculus in as many as time as now one spend time to learn that in college

beyond thinking said...

i really likes you topics but i would like to request you to please write about farmers suicide in orrisa and some controversial topics like reservation in education system