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.


  1. Interesting and thought provoking. I can see a Systems Thinking Master at work here and it was a joy to read something so vast put together so precisely and simply. While i look forward to more from you on this ... wanted to leave a thought behind...

    I believe there is no teaching ever, but only helping the self learn... putting all the ingredients together so that self learning happens at its most prolific rate is the purpose of the education system. And therefore the control or success of this entire endeavor by so many is completely reliant upon a factor which they can only but help influence, motivate induce and coax perhaps... but not control.

    In my humble opinion, a strong spiritual education which runs concurrently with other syllabus could help the horse absorb the water or want to drink and absorb the water and therefore make all the stakeholders happy. By spiritual education i mean knowledge and ancient yoga systems which puts the young profoundly intelligent minds at ease, gives them a sense of calm and poise, an ability to concentrate and focus and an ability to be empathetic and sensitive to the world and others around them. Help them learn better and grow into wholesome happy successful kind hearted human beings. ...

    In fact such an education system existed in Ancient India and is re-taught now. I would invite you to discuss this in detail if you like sanjiv.

    I look forward to more on this... good luck and keep at it...cheers


  2. @Harish, thanks for making a very very important point lucidly. What you are bringing on the table is indeed deep and significant for education. I also think that 'spiritual education' is definitely one window that can open up a vast land of opportunities.

    However, as you yourself have said in your comment, the job of teacher is to enable the environment so that 'self learning' happens. We cannot control learning. I would therefore like to suggest that spiritual education is 'one of the several windows'. And we should open that window for those students who are ready. Therefore we will definitely explore spiritual education in the future discussions.

    Thanks for fueling this seedling with your energy.

  3. Dear Sanjiv,

    It is quite a comprehensive view of the Indian scenario.
    It may not be very different in other countries, off course there are exceptions like Finland where the teachers enjoy pride of place (salaries of teachers in other developed countries are far higher than Finland). In India people have a negative view about educational business. They feel the best business after politics is temples and education. No wonder the best talent is wary about civil service, it’s the same with people who want to contribute to education. Finland like all Scandinavians is a much evolved society.
    The point here is we cannot emulate other cultures.

    Technology as you defined it well; the Google effect with a dynamic search engine has given us a huge and varied knowledge base. However to make it meaningful we need to make use of responsible technology people, and not “the run of the mill” kind, we see in the net. One organization that comes to mind is “The Azim Premji Foundation”, if it takes up, will bridge the gap of the education system and the research work (mainly the development in neuro science).
    We need somebody who can bring this disparate groups to gather.

    Now coming straight to the point :
    Are we going to have a fresh look or use your “Use 21st century insights to educate students” . I feel these insights gives us awareness to what is, not what can be. My fear is working on from what is and trying to change that is a huge job. Possibilities emerge when we give up what is, or we end up following as shown by the example below, though well thought of. However it is a patchwork.

    (This is an extract of page no. 14 of the following link that talks about “HOW CURRENT BRAIN RESEARCH CAN IMPROVE EDUCATION”

    E.g., At a time when recess time is shrinking, childhood obesity is expanding, and everyone’s worried about the academic achievement gap, some experts believe that physical learning could pay serious dividends in the classroom. The concept is that short bursts of exercise during class can help students stay engaged, concentrate better, and do better on tests.
    As a result, the Connecticut Department of Education is trying to get the message out and
    encourage teachers to include these exercise bursts in their classrooms. The department has been sending a cadre of physical education trainers around the state to show teachers how to incorporate physical activity in their lessons.

    Is it only about shrinking recess time ? Physical activity definitely helps stress busting, however in this case it is not from the natural process of learning and not from free will. There will be no end to patchwork.

    What we need is a paradigm shift.
    Ravi Kunder

  4. Dear Ravi,
    Being in Education for so long, your thoughts and inputs will always be meaty, useful and forward looking. I also believe that bits and pieces of changes in education system will not help if they are not tied to something deep and fundamental. Looking forward to your quality inputs.