Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What is the purpose of today's Indian schools ?

Despite Korean students ranking first in reading and maths, and third in science, in the 2009 PISA survey, South Korea’s ex-minister for education Byong Man Ahn made this comment on South Korea's system of education

“While Korea's students excel at learning, they believe its purpose lies not in self-development based on personal interest or motivation, but in entrance into a highly ranked university. Students have no time to ponder the fundamental question of “What do I need to learn, and why?” They simply need to prepare for the test by learning the most-effective methods for digesting tremendous quantities of material and committing more to memory than others do.”

When I read this, i thought that the South Korean Minister is speaking of Indian schools. Our schools are also, I think, preparing students to get into better Engineering or Medical colleges through digesting huge material in the coaching classes ( not schools) and then getting it out in the engineering or medical entrance tests. Although accounting stream and vocational courses like ITI are encouraged indirectly through the focus on basic skills of numeracy, other streams of arts, design, or literature ( literacy oriented) are not even encouraged indirectly. But even in the basic education skills of numeracy and literacy, India ranked below average in the PISA 2009 ranking of countries, so I am not sure if we are doing that well in the basic education of numeracy and literacy.

And if you look at our education system, the purpose of school system is very confusing. If you see the number of ITI insitutes in India , one wonders if the schools are meant to provide a set of skilled employees for the industrial labor market  to the growing industry? If you see the scampering of students in IIT's and engineering colleges, one wonders if the schools are meant to provide top level students in science so that national economic competitiveness is improved ? Or, if you see the growing number of alternate schools in India, one wonders if the schools are meant to develop the ‘whole’ child – emotionally, intellectually, creatively? Or if you see the Governments attempt to make education compulsory, are the schools meant to just help the students get the basic skills of numeracy ( numbers) and literacy ( language speaking, reading and writing)?

Because, if we get our objective right, we can at least find the best possible route. All the above objectives are not either/or. They can coexist. But the objectives should be clearly articulated. Because it then helps to focus on making the system more effective. For instance, if want to develop more ITI students for the industry, we can 'spruce up the ITI curriculum, get more industry participation, add curriculum of entrepreneurship for trades like plumbers and electricians . If you agree on a destination, you can at least find the best possible use of limited resources.

Instead, what we’re left with is a public discourse permanently afflicted by the curse of binary, oppositional arguments. The either/or positioning (selective vs. comprehensive school systems; instruction-led teaching vs inquiry-led; head vs hand; academic vs vocational; knowledge vs skills) is further aggravated by constant political interference, resulting in a series of pendulum swings with every change of administration. That diffuses the already limited resources and we are left with nothing in hand.  No real progress can be made in such a situation.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A universal school will soon vanish if ....

In my days of schooling, we had only one school. That school was meant to help me explore all my abilities - maths, sports, arts, verbal. Everything was offered in one package. This was the era of universal school. If i was not good in academic abilities of maths and verbal, i was labelled as poor student and had to find a way to get my self belief. If i was good in them, i was lucky. Sports and arts were considered as extra curricular activities. If i was good in them, i still had to prove myself.

Now the schools have become slowly and surely into specialised schools. They offer alternative paths of development. Parents can now take advantage of these schools depending on their child's development trajectory !

Sports based school:  Last week, i had gone to a school at a small town near Nashik, which calls itself a sport school. It offers students to explore different type of games starting from a field game like hockey to individual game like tennis. It has sports coaches. Some of the games have been handed over to experts in that field on BO - build and operate - basis such as volleyball.

Although these schools focus on deepening interest in sports, it also offers good academic atmosphere to ensure that the students also do well in academics. 

In this school, 'sports' acts as a motivation engine for students who yearn to display their physical mastery. Once they express well through sports, they are able to gain the 'kernel' of self belief which enables them to work on their academics. Sports enables them to develop their 'character trait' of self regulation ( like we saw in this example) which then helps them grow in academics. ( Remember the talent rule: Developing Talent = Developing Cognitive abilities(CA)+ Developing Character traits(CAT)+ Developing Conative traits(CAT). These schools smartly exploit development trajectory of those students who develop faster through 'sports route', and help these students find their 'self belief' quickly. 

Arts based school: This school helps a student to explore and deepen the growth of artistic interests in dramatics, dancing, music and other performing arts. Although i have not yet seen a school which specialises only in these artistic endeavours, i have seen numerous schools who have huge infrastructure and specialised teachers to help the students explore their 'artistic' interests. 

It is common knowledge that students upto VI and VIIIth class show extra interest in artistic endeavours. If this inherent motivation energy of arts can be tapped at this age, it helps the child to express herself/himself and find self belief. Some students, who have this development trajectory, benefit immensely from this route. By developing character traits through 'arts', they open the path of developing their cognitive abilities later. 

Academics based school: Some students tend to learn a subject, say mathematics, faster than their colleagues. The more they learn mathematics, the more challenges they desire. Please remember that a student is motivated only when 'the challenge is high enough than his current ability'. If the challenge is too high, he gives up. If the challenge is too low, he feels bored.  So, if a student is following a development trajectory, of learning mathematics, it is important for the school to offer increasing challenges in mathematics so that the student's motivation engine and learning engine are synchronised. For some 'academically brilliant' students, this is the right development trajectory. They either learn  mathematics, science, software or other technical domains. These students, who can follow the Ability route to develop, are lucky, because these schools are numerous. A typical universal school however is not useful to them, because this typical school is unable to offer them constantly increasing challenge. It needs an academic focused school to help the student to use his development trajectory. 

Other kind of schools: There are many other kind of schools which focus on different trajectory of development. Some tend to use the 'nature' route by enabling the student to explore nature actively through gardening, trekking and farming. Some are open schools that focus on development of conative traits like 'purpose' through meditation, yoga, dealing with philosophical abstractions. These are Krishnmurthy or Ashram schools. 


Arts, sports and academic schools are not meant to develop the talent of students in arts, sports or academic respectively. That happens later in life. At the school age, these domains are merely the 'zones' that allow a student to come out of his shell and express himself. They act as motivation engines, rather as cognition engines. And while engaging in them, they help the students to develop their important character traits of self regulation, emotional stability and creativity.

Once these character traits start getting formed and crystallized, these specialised schools then enable them to align with the learning of cognitive abilities later. It is a matter of sequencing. While academic schools help the student to learn cognitive abilities first and character traits later, these specialised schools help the student to learn character traits first and cognitive abilities later. Parents can smartly use these schools by choosing a school which aligns with the development trajectory of their child. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is home schooling viable for Indian Parents?

More than 20 lakhs children in the United States get educated at home, rather than at school. In the town I am living, in Nashik, there is a growing population of parents who are also engaged in home schooling. John Holt is considered as the father of Self-Directed, Home-Based Learning. See his website for more information  on the benefits and other resources of home schooling.India also has an association called Indian Association of Homeschoolers called Swashikshan. They also have online presence here.

Why so many parents favour home-school learning? 

Researchers have discovered three main reasons for avoiding the normal schooling. One, most students - bright, average, or failing ones - lose their zest for learning by the time they reach middle school or high school.  In school, children often are seen to be bored, anxious or both. Other researchers have shown that, with each successive grade, students develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught, especially math and science. Two, school students are disconnected with the actual life and the community around them. These students not only lose the opportunity of learning, but they also do not learn the 'skills' to navigate real life problems. And three, the unwanted homework creates a huge problem in the families that further decreases the opportunity of learning for the child.

Parents are not surprised to know that learning is unpleasant in schools. However, most of the parents think of it as bad-tasting medicine, tough to swallow but good for children in the long run. Many of the parents therefore tend to shrug off such findings and tend to put their children in the school as an inevitable hardship of life. But some parents wish to do something to counter these disadvantages. One of the alternative is home schooling.

These parents provide a home environment that facilitates learning, and they help connect their children to community activities from which they learn. Some of these families began this approach long ago and have adult children who are now thriving in higher education and careers.

There are various research reports on the benefits of homeschooling. See these reports here. One of the report is on Indian Village in Kerala. According to these reports, the main benefit of this approach lies in the children’s continued curiosity, creativity and zest  for learning. The above mentioned authors are completing a study of approximately 80 adults who themselves were home schooled in this self-directed way when they were of “school age. Their results are awaited.

However, home schooling parents have to overcome two big handicaps of home schooling, if they want their child to benefit: 

Knowledge of development and education for parents: One is the availability of one competent parent at home. Lot of Content of teaching is available on the internet. With MOOC sites like Khan Academy, EDx ( managed by top universities like Harvard and Berkeley), and Courseera ( another site managed by top universities in the world) , finding content on any subject has become very easy. Here are some books on homeschooling, and videos on home schooling. Indian association also have lot of resources.

But the gap is elsewhere. The parents must understand the fundamental difference between learning versus teaching, appreciate the developmental bottlenecks of growth of child that impact learning, and help the child to negotiate typical learning bottlenecks in, say subjects like Algebra. In other words, a home schooling parent needs to find a person -  good 'educator' and 'developer' - who can help her understand this, and guide her whenever she is stuck. 

Fill the gap of social learning: One of the big gaps in homeschooling is the unavailability of 'social medium' to enhance a child's learning. Researchers know that the learning happens best when it is driven by curiosity and 'social interactions'. Social interactions play a major role in the learning of a child, because a child learns by seeing the difficulties of other child, understand the fine nuances by sometimes helping someone else solve a difficulty, or sometimes getting help from others. Social context is also critical in building interest in non-academic domains such as play, arts and other areas.We have seen, how playing of tabla can help a child develop qualities that are complementary to his talent. Parents have to find active 'social groups' in different areas to help her child. This group need not be just active in non academic domain like arts, but they can also be passionate about some subject like Astronomy or Robotics. 


In other words, if a parent can manage to fill these two gaps, home schooling is definitely a viable option. I know of some parents, who prefer home schooling for a different reason. For instance, one of the parent has a child who has 'queer' mannerisms and therefore finds it difficult to deal socially with friends. I also know a parent who prefers home-schooling because her child is extremely good in 'Arts', something that is not encouraged in a school. Another parent uses homeschooling because she is herself a good teacher. 

Therefore, if you are interested in avoiding school for your child, it is practical, doable and also beneficial for your child. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gap between teaching and learning can be bridged with these three enablers

Teaching and learning are different. Teachers teach and students learn. Teaching necessarily does not lead to learning. To ensure that teaching does get converted into learning, Teachers can only 'enable the conditions that foster learning'. As Loris Malaguzzi, writes

The aim of teaching is not to produce learning but to produce the conditions for learning, this is the focal point, the quality of learning.

Teachers therefore have to find the best conditions that encourage learning. One of the simplest ways to find these conditions is to track research and use that enablers in your class.The research on learning shows that three biggest enablers of learning are Choice, Contextualisation, and Personalisation.

1.Choice : Student's choice to learn is important, because it converts 'external motivation' to 'internal motivation' making it easier for the student to 'want to learn'. In a Montessori method of schooling, this choice is inbuilt in the school philosophy and goes a long way in ensuring learning.

In a conventional school, however, teachers can still manage to do a lot. For instance, instead of using language like 'you must' or 'you have to' with students, learning is more likely to happen when the teacher uses language like 'you can' or 'if you choose'. Even the choice of 'giving wrong answer' helps. Instead of asking questions to bright students, the teacher can make learning happen if the teacher asks questions to lagging students and uses the wrong answers to 'dig out' the mental processes of a student.

2. Contextualisation: Out of three causes, this is the biggest cause of students for not being able to learn in their classes. Students learn chapters and subject without knowing 'what it is being used for', or what is the purpose of learning the subject, or what is the background of learning this new material. For instance, they learn Trigonometry without knowing trigonometry is used to calculate heights, for instance, such as height of tall building. Or the student is taught periodic table, without knowing the basic purpose of periodic table was to categorise elements in a 'logical group'. Or the students learn multiplication, without knowing that it is 'same operation as addition, but with the same number'. Or when the student does not know what is the purpose of learning history, he fails to learn anything from history.

 Stephan Ceci is one of the researcher who has studied students at different levels of formal educations and spanning different countries. After testing students in complex rules of triangles,squares and circles, in the context of a 'video game' the children learnt the concepts so well that Stephan Ceci claims that young children can learn complex concepts if appropriate context ( instead of disembodied laboratory level context) is given to the content.

3. Personalisation: Diana Cordova and Mark Lepper  studied with fourth and fifth grade children to find their speed of learning arithmetical operations ( addition, substraction, division and multiplication) and how they work in parantheses. They personalised the tasks by using the student's name, age and background. The learning outcomes changed drastically for better.

Personalisation, it seems, also affect internal motivation by making the task look like a 'choice that has been exercises by the student. If the teacher therefore uses personal variables in teaching 'abstract' subjects like mathematics, it is helpful for the student. For instance, teacher can teach ' algebraic patterns' by using the ' relationship' of student's height and weight. Or teach history, by relating a student with his 'family tree' of father, grandfather and great grandfather.


Of course, all the researchers unanimously agree that the biggest learning happens when the conditions of teaching are enabled by three enablers - contextualisation, personalisation and choice - together. Individually, the effect of each variable is not very high, but together they cause a drastic increase in learning. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Can we use development coach with test expert to customise education?

I found an interesting approach to address three of the seven bottlenecks of learning in schools when I read about the father of Intelligence testing, Alan Kaufman. Let me explain how.

Alan S. Kaufman, who introduced the notion of Intelligent testing and told us how IQ tests should be used. Most of the time IQ tests are used to spot students with learning disability. Or to find how gifted is the student. Global IQ tests (which takes the average performance across different subtests) are of no use, according to him.

What is the intelligent testing approach, as coined by Alan S. Kaufman ? 

Instead of this approach,  let us use IQ tests intelligently, Alan Kaufman suggests.  If a student is finding grave difficulty, say in learning mathematics, he may be referred to a Test expert. The clinician may decide to administer an IQ test - not a global IQ test, but a specific test - to determine the student’s pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses in mathematics and then design a custom-tailored intervention. Or, if the student is scoring poorly in faring fast-paced tests, the test expert can test the students 'Working memory' bottleneck. Or, a student may want to increase creativity. Creative thinking is an important skill, but which is often missed when someone just looks at an individual’s global IQ score. For this you require an astute test administrator.

But test administrator is not enough.  A tester can focus on the person being tested, and how that student responds, or why that student responds in a certain manner, in addition to how well they respond. But he also needs a support of a smart student development coach.

What is the work of development coach ?

The smart coach will also observe the behaviour of the child such as anxiety, or his problem-solving strategies. As IQ tests do not capture emotional reactions like stress, distraction, or the student's method of employing willpower strategies, the coach will observe these traits and share with the Test administrator. Neither do the tests capture the conative abilities like passion and desire to study in a domain, which a coach is trained to observe. A development coach is also trained to observe the complete profile of a student, ask the teachers and parents about his behaviors that are unfolding. Test results are meaningless until the individual’s scores are put into context by the test administrator with the coach.

In other words, we should look beyond global IQ scores. More importantly, the development coach has the knowledge of intelligence-creativity research, is aware of the latest theories of development of students including prodigies. He can bring in many aspects of development psychology to bear in the analysis and interpretation of a test scores.  He can understand and use the powerful peer effects to accelerate the student's learning, if required. And he can help the student to focus on domain so that he can use his 'limited IQ' to produce more than commensurate results !


In other words, test administrator and a development coach can help us address the three bottlenecks of learning: no assistance to slow learners, lack of encouragement for fast learners, and no importance of non-academic learning in schools. Test administrator and development coach can together help the student remove the-bottlenecks of their learning and keep them motivated by finding avenues for non-academic abilities.

Morever the development coach can also help teachers in using the diverse traits of a student, instead of overtly focussing on academic IQ. For instance, the coach can share the multiplier effect of development with the teachers. This will enable teachers, for instance, to appreciate how a student's small lag of ability at the age of 3 may have put him behind by miles at the age of 6. This will help teachers to understand the learning styles of their students and help them alter their teaching method to help some 'kinesthetic learning' students !

In the next blog, i will share with you a group which is doing good work on  giving quick feedback to the students on their learning effort ( the first bottleneck of learning). Because the student does not feedback on what they have learnt quickly enough, they cannot correct their learning progress quickly enough. This group helps the students fill this gap by giving this quick feedback.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Can our schools overcome seven major bottlenecks of learning in the future?

Students face seven major bottlenecks in learning ( please remember the distinction of teaching and learning that we talked in the earlier blog) in a normal learning-centric school in India. Let us list them so that we can appreciate and find how we can re-dress them in the later blogs.

1. Common standardised tests that test reproduction of content are used to evaluate students : Every student is grouped together by age and grade irrespective of the pace of his or her academic learning. They are given the same standardised tests which are meant to measure the ability of the student to reproduce the content ( and not apply the content!).  Standardised tests are meant to label students  as 'average' 'below par' or 'excellent.' Excellent students feel good although they are not aware that these tests do not measure subjects or skills that are useful. Below par students however feel demotivated, because others brand them as failures.

2. No feedback system is used to measure the 'quality of delivery' of teaching content: Because  feedback is not collected on the teaching content, the teacher never knows if his 'method' of teaching is appropriate or not. As this feedback system is not taken, teacher never modifies the 'teaching method' or even tries to improve his method. Teachers are not even aware that their teaching methods may need modification ! As such, teachers do not learn from each other. Neither do they learn from their experience. Therefore, when the student is not 'learning' the content, the teacher can easily assume that the student is either inattentive, lazy or dumb.

3. Slow learners are penalised: Every student is assumed to learn at the same rate. Students who are learning slowly relative to their same-aged peers , fall behind even more in the next class, because next class builds on the concept of the earlier class. These lagging students then are asked to attend 'special coaching classes' to raise their performance on these standardized tests. In the new system where no student is failed, they are promoted till 9th class. However, if their performance is not improved even till 9th, they are dropped from the school to ensure that school has a 'clean record' of successful results in SSC board exam. The loss of motivation is a common side effect observed in these students!

4. Fast learners are not encouraged: Because every student is assumed to learn at the same rate, students who are learning too fast are also stuck up. Schools refuse to even recognize that they can do something to benefit these fast learners of a subject from accelerated learning in their interested subjects. These students are supposed to wait for next year to get demanding curriculum. If they lose motivation in the mean while and get engaged in other activities ( which typically happens at the age of adolescence), the schools are not responsible for that eventuality. Boredom arising from the lack of challenges is the common feeling among these students.

5  Non academic domains are ignored in schools: Domains such as art, music, computing or language style are considered optional. Schools assume that development of these non-academic domains ( although important to develop a person)  is not their responsibility, and therefore there is no rigor or commitment in conducting these courses. On the other hand, other domains of excellence such as entrepreneurial domain, commerce, accounts, politics, civil governance or design fields are not even considered as optional and therefore are not even introduced in the schools. Students good in these non-academic domains find themselves branded as lazy and dumb.

6. Schools do very little to develop 21st century skills ( Life Skills) : Schools avoid developing  critical skills of the future life, such as problem solving, planning, decision making, creative thinking, communication and social skills, although they profess these skills ardently. Today's students need them more urgently than our fathers did, but schools cannot impart them through classroom teaching. Unable to find time and expertise to develop them ( we have seen the elaborate and methodical steps that Montessori system takes to develop social skills), they leave today's students unprepared for 21st century global competition.

7. Personal needs are not considered as valid requirement of learning: Social and emotional needs of the students are rarely accommodated in teaching, except by good teachers. Personal goals, dreams, and aspirations of a student are not even accepted as a valid input in teaching. Many personal characteristics of a student that are bursting to express are not even noticed. In short, all the personal and individual characteristics of student are ignored by the schools. Because a students needs are not acknowledged in the schools, students motivation of learning never becomes 'internal', it remains focused on 'external' characteristics like marks and rank.

Learning, if it happens under this situation, can only occur by chance. What can schools do to address these seven bottlenecks of learning? 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Are parents ready for a more demanding type of learning-centric school?

You must have heard of different kind of learning-centric schools. If you have seen this blog, you will appreciate the difference between learning-centric school and development-centric school.

Today we will try to focus on three different types of learning-centric schools and how they rate visavis each other.

1. Experimental school

This school advocates experiments to teach the concepts. The concept of science could be taught through  laboratory experiments, while concepts in biology could be taught through direct experiencing of vegetables and ecology and so on. Essentially, the concept is 'isolated' in the form of experiment so that the student 'gets' the meaning of concept. I have seen that one school uses 'the process of election through the election of class monitors' to teach the concept of democracy.

Advantages: This method is powerful in teaching the complex concepts of physics, chemistry and biology. 2> This method promotes development in student by forcing him to ask 'why'
Disadvantages: 1> This method is difficult to use in teaching the concepts of Geography, because of the large scale of the experiment required. For instance, how can you set the experiment of tectonic plates to show one of the causes of earthquake?  2> Schools surprisingly do not use this method in art-oriented subjects like English and  History ( perhaps due to absence of expertise) although one can easily set up the experiment of drama or story in these subjects. 3> If the experiment is designed improperly, this method degenerates into 'experiments' that have no correlation with the learned concept in the class. For instance, if you browse various websites that have beautiful experiments on the net, you will be surprised to find that most of them are unrelated with the concepts in the class.

2. Experience-based school ( Project-based school) 

This school advocates 'experience with real world' to teach the 'application of concepts'. As you will guess from above, there is lot of similarity between this method and the experimental-school method. In this method, the approach is to apply the concept to deal with 'real-life challenges'. This type of school is also called as 'Project based school' or Practical school. This kind of school came into the limelight after the school in '3 Idiots' was shown.

Be it the challenge of solar power, rain water harvesting, or setting of wind power, these real-life experiences help a student in understanding the concepts in depth.

Advantages: 1> This method is useful in teaching the application of concepts in real-life 2> This method is also useful for teaching problem solving skills and creativity - the two critical development traits- that are very useful. As students learn to respect the real constraints they become more creative.
Disadvantages: 1 > Unless real-life project is carefully structured and designed, this method degenerates into copy/pasting of already available projects in the internet with no learning. 2> This method also suffers from the handicap of the experimental method when the real life project does not have any correlation with learnt concept.

3. Outcome-based school 

This learning format advocates that 'visible outcomes' ( such as making a car or bridge or writing a story or enacting a drama) should generate the motivation for the student to take meaningful actions, which should however require the students to learn the underlying concepts.

In a way, this school is an amalgamation of experimental and experience based school. Instead of experiments, real life projects are picked to ensure that students apply the learned concepts. This method was always used 'partially' in schools, especially in subjects like physics and science. Engineering based school is a concept that has come into vogue because of this method.

Advantages : 1> Because of the focus on visible outcomes from real life, right kind of 'projects' are more likely to get selected. Even cooking is used to explain the concepts of chemistry in such school. 2> Both the principles of isolating the concept ( from experimental school) and using real-life experience ( from experience based school) are used to set up the outcomes. 3> This is more development friendly school because students learn 4 development traits: problem solving skill, constraints based creativity, social skills of getting help from others and helping others, and above all the ability to present one's thoughts cogently.
Disadvantages: 1> It also suffers from the disadvantages of the above school. But, because of the focus on visible real-life outcomes, the chances of picking wrong projects are less. 2>This method requires teachers who are either experts on those subjects or should be supported by experts. 3> This method is time-intensive and can often demand a lot of time from students. However, this disadvantage can be converted into a strength if the student chooses to spend less time on attending coaching classes which essential help students to get more marks.


As you will observe, all three schools have one common theme. The end purpose is to help the students understand the concepts deeply enough. Without understanding concepts the learning does not happen. And because uncooked concepts cannot be applied to real practical situations, development also is hampered. One should not forget this important objective of learning-centric school. Some schools tend to forget this important purpose and include 'experience' in the curriculum just for the sake of it, not for learning any concept.

Although outcome based school, the amalgamation of experimental and experience based school, seems to be the better choice, it demands a lot of teaching resources to make it work. Not just the right pedagogical principles of teaching are required, but subject experts ( in mathematics, history, and geography) are equally mandatory in making this method successful. And above all, it requires parents who are willing to understand the demands of school and take the decision to go against the mainstream thinking of mark-centric education system.

Do we have enough such parents who are willing to take the pain to support such schools? 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Do we want our schools to make students develop or learn?

Learning and development are two different objectives of school although both are inter-dependent. Learning is about learning a subject, say English, Science or History. It is understanding the subject in depth as well as  its breadth so that one can use the learning to 'deal with the real world'. On the other hand, development is about developing soft qualities such as Willpower ( should i study mathematics even when i do not like?), Emotional regulation ( should i take help on mathematics from my friend even though i do not want it?), Attention span ( what should i do to sit uninterruptedly for 30 minutes?) and so on.

To be accurate, Learning and development are inter-dependent. If you stop 'developing', sooner or later it starts affecting your learning. For instance, if your child has wrong understanding of 'marks', his learning stops like Mathews, because the child is unable to use feedback of 'marks' to re-direct his efforts . He is stuck. His learning also stops if he does not have the Willpower to focus his efforts on something, or does not meditate to increase his attention span, or understand the turbulence of adolescence to regulate his emotions.

On the other hand, insufficient learning also affects child's development. If i cannot understand that 'English' requires a different learning environment than Physics, i will not learn English well and not be able to communicate my thoughts to my parents. That will affect my development. If i do not understand the 'physical world' of science, i will assume that 'things happen due to wrong reasons' and become superstitious and biased. If i do not understand that 'rice does not cause fatness, but fatness is caused by eating of carbohydrates', i will have wrong knowledge about 'rice'.

Schools do not prefer to 'develop', because unlike learning, development requires setting of environment, until the development traits 'emerge'. Learning can be direct, development is always indirect. You can direct a child to learn 'xyz', but you cannot direct a child to have more willpower. To develop Willpower, Montessori method, for instance, sets up environment and 'guides' the child to make 'choices. Or if you want to develop 'social interaction' quality, you cannot direct a child to tell the child to be 'more communicative', or 'speak'. Instead, you have to set up the school environment in a way, so that child learns social development. The quality of 'social development' emerges from the environmental conditions. One cannot force the emergence of development qualities. One has to nurture it through different 'anchors', and hope the buds turn into fruits sooner or later. Of course, psychologists now know that even learning cannot be forced as we think. 

Schools have an option for setting development-centric schools or learning-centric schools. Development centric schools such as Montessori-philosophy schools have lost the race because parents want their children to learn yesterday and compete with others to get the best colleges and degrees. Although development centric schools also promote Learning in a different way, parents are impatient to wait for results. Development-centric schools like Montessori, Waldorf, or Gurukul are still relevant today, if parents understand the purpose of education, and can actively work with these schools to 'collaborate' for the betterment of their children.

On the other hand, Learning-centric schools , which are the dominant type of schools today, can also promote development indirectly to certain degree. They can, for instance, help students to learn and apply concepts in real life. They can follow these five characteristics to simultaneously promote development. Or they can adopt the three best practices of best schools in the world. More importantly, if they want to promote development, they can use technology to enable teachers to 'connect with the child' despite the class size of over 50 students. They can 'relearn' the use of imagination in the school so that students do not  get mixed with fantasy. Or they can learn to use the intrinsic motivations of children, instead of externally motivating them by rewards. Or help students practice internal discipline instead of external discipline. More importantly, they can actively partner with parents to ensure that 'development' is also actively promoted at homes, and not just take the responsibility of developing the child on themselves.


Parents, out of eight stakeholders, have the most active role to play if we want schools to really develop our children. More importantly, parents have to get actively engaged with the schools. To get engaged, they have to understand the 'different philosophies' of education, find what schools are doing to promote learning, supplement the efforts of schools actively, and give feedback to schools to fine tune the method. Instead of finger pointing at schools, parents must actively collaborate with schools. We must do this for the sake of betterment of our own children, not for the sake of schools.

Are parents ready to actively participate with schools for this change? 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Use computers to facilitate learning, not teaching

Learning cannot be 'forced', it can only be 'enabled'

I think everyone knows this rule of learning, but we simply ignore it. Teachers ignore it because they have to catch up with the syllabus, Parents ignore it because they are more worried if their children can  reproduce what they have been 'taught' and get more marks and degrees, Principals ignore it because they are concerned about the school's reputation, and Students ignore it because they do not 'know' how to learn better.So is there anyone in the education system who cares about whether the student learns or not?

However learning always gets self-organised by students. It cannot be 'forced' by any teacher, howsoever brilliant he or she is. A teacher can force students to 'remember something by rote and repetition' and help the student to 'upload' the 'subject data' in his/her 'memory'. But a student has to learn himself to use that 'data'. He/She has to learn to use the 'memorised data' in different situations, across different logical events. This is what develops intelligence. A student has to 'drive' this learning process of using 'data' by his own efforts. A teacher can only 'hasten/retard' this process by putting in enablers or diablers.

Sugata Mitra has found a brilliant way of using computers to hasten the learning of student. I am sure you have heard about Sugata Mitra's Self organised learning method. It is also called SOLE. He has developed a wonderful method of using computers+benign mentors to enable the student to learn themselves. Please read more about his method. You must also read about his experiments - some of which have produced shocking results - in his TED talks.

In this method, you will find that four enablers are used for making learning happen in children students in a school:
  1. Children must chose the topics of learning - the questions - on their own. This is because learning happens when cognitive efforts required for learning are personal and voluntary. This is therefore better done in a school class which is once/twice a week initially.
  2. Children should be guided by 'benign mentors' to discover the answers by using internet smartly, separating hearsay info from the evidence, and asking 'what then' questions. Teachers can get trained in using this method by downloading this SOLE KIT, or ask our assistance. 
  3. Children should work in teams so that they learn from each other's interpretations. More importantly, students learn to ask help from each other, instead of asking help from teachers. Trained teachers guide this process. 
  4. Children develop their 'emotional regulation' ability - which is perhaps the single biggest factor in making learning happen - while they are discovering the answers to their questions in a sustained manner. Trained teachers once again guide this process.
I have seen many schools using e-learning classes where teachers teach subjects through computers. This is 'teaching'. Although e-teaching is useful to 'facilitate fast and purposeful downloading of subject content', a lot more has to be done to ensure that it can also facilitate learning. (We will talk later how this e-teaching classes can also be altered to facilitate learning of students!) 

Instead, just by using the computer lab in the school once a week ( the frequency of this class can be increased depending on the demand of students!), a school teacher can enable learning in students. Isn't that a brilliant way of using computers to facilitate 'learning', not teaching? 

If you do want to use computers to enable learning in your school, you can also contact us for help. We can help you if your school is in Nashik, Pune, or Mumbai.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lessons from education systems of other countries

In the journey to find the options to make a better education system, it is ideal to listen to such a good TED talk by Andreas Schliecher on the characteristics of 'good education systems' across countries. If we have to benefit from making such a comparison, we should be careful in concluding anything more than that is essential.

According to me ( and i could be biased!), here are five lessons that we could take ahead with us :

1. Be clear about the purpose of education system

Please see this PISA website to understand how this test is conducted every three years, and what do they measure in the 15 year old children. One  of the important aspect of the PISA questions is trying to measure 'not what is taught', but 'what should one learn'. Like the TED speaker says, 'the test of good school is not what we can remember what we learned in school, but whether we are prepared to use what we learnt in dealing with the changes that come upon us'. It is a beautiful distinction to remember when we are trying to evaluate an education system across different countries. By the way, in the last 2009 PISA test, India was at the bottom of the rank.

2. Money spend on education does not necessarily increase the quality of students

The TED speaker brings out an interesting observation that 'more funds in education does not necessarily lead to better quality of education'. The comparison of some countries is very good. South Korean example is very informative. South Korea has spend higher amounts, but has increased the class size to ensure that spend per pupil is low. In other words, larger class size does not reduce the quality of education.

You must also read this Mckinsey study which also reported that 'Class size is not inversely correlated to quality of education'. It reported that out of 113 studies, only 9 have found that small class size increases the quality of education. For India, this finding is important. Because our class sizes are more in line with South Korean class sizes than the European class size of 15 students in a class.

3. Proportion of students who complete high school is an important metric for a country

Another interesting finding was that the proportion of students who complete high school kept on increasing for South Korea since last two decades. And surprisingly, it has a positive correlation with the country's GDP. A very important correlation for us. I am not sure of the statistic of students in India which finish high school, but i believe it is in the range of 35% only. In other words, only 1/3rd of Students  in India finish High school.

4. Ensure Equity of education

This is surprising finding. This means that best school systems tend to ensure that the all the students in the education 'learn'. In some European and US systems, it was presumed that one can give quality education only for students who are 'good or gifted'. This finding that 'education in high performing school system is tailored to meet the differences in the status of children' is therefore important.

Finland example is often quoted in this context. It is reported that Finland has got lowest variability of 5% between its highest and lowest score of students in a class. Finland has set up some methods ( please read Mckinsey study to read more details ) to ensure that students who lag in a class are 'taught' quickly so that they are brought up with the rest of class. Measures include such as having feedback mechanisms to find lagging students, having additional teacher ( ratio of 1:7) to do additional teaching to the lagging students at the end of day and so on.

Once again, this observation is important for Indian schools. Given our Indian class sizes of 40+, it is perhaps necessary to use technology to get this feedback on the 'class students' to find out the lagging students quickly. The later we find them, the more difficult it is to bring them back with the class.

5. Spend money on improving instructional quality

TED speaker has mentioned lot of ideas in bits and pieces in his lecture on improving the instructional quality. According to Mckinsey study, improving instructional quality is the single most important measure that determines that quality of education system. Mckinsey study has reported many findings of good performing schools that make them high quality schools. Some of the ideas which Indian schools could use are

  • Having coaches - senior teachers - to help teachers to improve instructional quality 
  • Having subject teacher groups ( like maths across different class) meeting together regularly to share and improve each other's performance. For instance Finland spends one half day in a week, some other schools use week-round meetings and so on. 
  • Ensure that Principal of school plays the role of an Instructional Leader at least to the extent of 50% of the time ( so that he is not bogged down by the administrative work ) 
  • Spend lot of money and time ( it is reported that better performing schools spend 50 US $ per student per year on this) in improving the instructional quality through sharing research findings, attending conferences, meeting teachers of other schools, meeting experts in the subject and so on
Do any of you want to add any other characteristic that Indian schools could use? Have I missed anything which someone feels is more important?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Invitation to Educators

In my 7 year research of 'how professionals excel in their careers', I discovered that professionals face various challenges in excelling some of which require extensive 'unlearning'. I therefore decided to engage with students so that the extent of unlearning is reduced in later life.

While teaching students the foundations of excellence, i was compelled to understand how the system of education works in India. I understood how students learn different subjects, how each subject helps a student learn a different ability like logical ability, how students develop traits like concentration and patience, which educational philosophies are better for learning subjects and which are better for developing traits, how technology is both disabling and enabling education, how brain science is enabling new forms of education and so on. For me, education includes both - teaching students different abilities through different subjects and developing traits that enable students to become a human being.

I also understood that education system consists of various stakeholders who bring their unique resources on the table and therefore expect different returns. Education administrators bring the money and administrative resources, Educators discover the new pedagogical formulas, Technologists discover new technologies  which aggregates and disseminates the content in a new way, Teachers customise the delivery of the content to suit the unique needs of the children, Special teachers fill in the gaps of disadvantaged children, Subject Experts bring in new concepts in a subject to upgrade the content in a subject, students who are the receivers in the education system but who determine what they will learn and what they will not, and their parents who complement the development of students in a very very big way.

These stakeholders in the education system face six factors that have disrupted the existing education system and have therefore made it difficult to achieve its desired objectives. ( If you think that we have missed any, please inform us!)

First disrupter is technology. Because of 'google' effect, all the information in the world is at the fingertips, digitised and ready to use. But we now know that digitising content ( SSC or any other syllabus in the form of animations or nice presentations) does not necessarily facilitate learning. It is just good for archival purpose only.

Second disrupter has been the societal changes. It is said that 'To make a man it requires entire village'. But our village is breaking down due to different forces. One is Walmartisation of society, where all the relations between people have become transactional. This makes it difficult to find societal communities that are bound together by different causes. Second is proliferation of nuclear family due to migrations to cities. Unable to develop new relations, individuals develop fixed beliefs. Society today therefore is not playing its function of 'developing students'. It has abandoned its responsibility. So who is supposed to play this role?

Third disrupter is the changing roles of School Management which include Principals, administrators and owners. In the old days, the school was meant to educate. Earning money was secondary. Now schools are expected to do both. Both the roles are however clashing with each other, as schools are struggling to 'educate' ( teach and develop) within the constraints of their budgets. They are important stakeholders because they bring together the disparate elements of education system together at one place - called school - so that delivering education becomes practical.

Fourth disrupter are the discoveries in educational methodologies and brain sciences that are forcing everyone to make big changes in teaching. Now we know why TV is not beneficial to students in educating, or how the student's attention span is governed by the constant energy of mind. All these discoveries can be easily used in education. But it is difficult to keep track of these changes and therefore use them. The education system remains decades behind the research work. Currently, it is so far behind, that it is unable even to use the information technology to disseminate education.

Fifth disrupter is the changing role of parents. In the good olden days, parents handed over the responsibility of learning to schools, and developmental role to the society. As the developmental role of society has got eroded, the parents want schools to perform this role. Schools with new philosophies are therefore emerging to perform these two roles in a different way. This is further multiplying the choices of parents, as parents are now expected to take these decisions 'intelligently'.Parents now have to play more active role in 'educating' their children, which however means that they have to spend considerable time 'understanding the pros and cons of different systems'.

Sixth disrupter is the earlier maturity of the students. This is perhaps the most powerful force. It is being powered by the evolutionary DNA changes happening over generations, faster access to tools at earlier age, and above all the 'network' economy of any information at any time.  Hormonal changes are happening early making it imperative to deal with them, instead of suppressing them. Students learn to think on their own at an earlier age and therefore demand answers to their questions instead of listening  meekly to the instructions. They actively seek independence of thought asking lot of 'whys'. If this energy is not channelised appropriately, it can disrupt learning.

Challenges for  teachers

As teachers are the final actors in the education system who disseminate education, being downstream, they are being pushed by all the upstream stakeholders to include their individual and sometimes conflicting objectives and somehow meet the challenges of education.

On the one hand, classes have become larger in size (to make them more economical) making it difficult for the teacher to connect with every student and 'teach'. On the other hand, parents are expecting to address their child's unique developmental needs which has become a necessity in today's competitive scenario.Proliferation of technology has solved the problem of digitising the content, but teachers are expected to understand technology deeply to 'customise' the content for effective delivery. School management wants to measure the progress of student, but are expecting teachers to frequently assess students which is further consuming the already depleted time of teaching.. Students, due to faster growth, actively pursue teachers to find answers to their questions which are beyond the curriculum. And until their 'emotional regulation' is managed, they cannot be taught.

At a personal level, teachers are struggling with a difficult challenge. Unlike, Finland - which is supposed to be imparting the best education- the profession of teaching in India does not have high status. Unlike western countries, they are not paid highly. Despite this de-motivations, the teachers in India are expected to keep abreast of the new research in the educational methodologies and brain science, understand the use of technologies to teach students, and somehow educate the children in a cost effective manner.

In this blog space, we shall explore and find better ways to face these challenges of the education system. Every stakeholder has a different vantage point and will therefore have a different view of the same challenge. Coming from my vantage point as an objective observer and keen researcher, to start with, i shall bring together all the asymmetrical points at one place with the hope of resolving them at the end. However, as the challenges are about your stake in the education system, this forum will help you get clarity and direction if you share your doubts, ask your questions , and  bring your wisdom on the table.

I can make one promise. I can guarantee that the journey of creating an education system to teach your students will be exciting.