Last month, a contingent from our academic team attended the LEAD 2014 conference in Mumbai. Education Development Managers (EDMs) Shanti Davedu, Nishant Lodha, Surbhi Nagpal, Saman Siddiqui and Pem ZAS made their way to SNDT University for the two-day event organized by Leadership Boulevard (LB). This is the first year of this conference by the LB team. Here’s a look at some of the events of impact that left our EDMs recharged and raring to go!
LEAD-Leadership in Education and Development is a forum for all stakeholders in education to meet at a common platform to posit important questions and discuss pressing matters within the field of education. Attendees included school leaders, educationalists, education service providers, teachers, and most importantly students! The overarching goal was to bring motivated minds together to come up with action items and solutions to these problems.
LB Founder Sumeet Yashpal Mehta kickstarted the first keynote with these three rousing questions, which according to Mehta affect the very purpose of education:
1) What is worth learning for the future?
2) Who are the future learners?
3) How can we enable this learning?
“The first and overarching question got me thinking. Why not remove unnecessary things that the students have to just cram up for namesake? Why not just keep what actually matters to the students? The earmarks for deciding what is worth learning are insight, action, ethics and opportunity. For example, instead of learning that the first war of Independence was started with the Revolt of 1957 and then memorise all related names and dates, the teaching can focus more upon creating and expanding the perspectives in students. What are the various reasons that that lead to wars in general? Why are wars fought? Are there no alternatives to resolve issues? And once the students come to form a perspective on a topic, they could be asked to ponder the nature of insight as a guide in our every day actions.”
The plenary was then sorted into Work Groups based on the part they played in education: school leadership; faculty; students; parents; education professionals. InOpeners fell into the latter category, and were so joined by representatives from a range of organizations: White Collar Hippie, India School Leadership Institute, Teach For India, Skilldom, Zee learning, Writer’s Barn, Save the Children Program, Zaya, Education City, Shirsha.
“The workshops were meant to generate solutions to problems stated in the keynote addresses. We were also joined by an amazing network of experts in a variety of domains, including sex education, clinical psychology, image consultancy, and arts therapy!” – Nishant
“It was amazing to see how people from a varied range of interests all want to achieve a common goal!” – Shanti
The second day’s keynote address by Melvin Freestone underscored the need for a transformation on multiple levels. Learning has to be transformed from being instructional to creation of knowledge, from learners being merely consumers to learners embracing the role of the producer, from curriculum being fixed by a teacher to personalisation by choice!
One of the highlights of the conference was the participation of young adults from the Akansha Foundation Service learning program. They shared how despite coming from poor community, they overcame all obstacles and are pursuing their Bachelors’ degree, and are giving back to the society by volunteering to teach students like themselves during their free time
“It was an altogether different experience! This was a reflective journey where thoughts, ideas and actions were all derived from the participants themselves. The encouragement and support from the faculty members inspired us to put our ideas into action at our own individual level.” – Surbhi
Q-for-U: Two words/phrases that describe your last thoughts as you walked away from the experience?
“Refreshed and Renewed!” – Pem
“Celebrate the failure. Relearning.” – Saman
“Reflective. Energetic.” – Surbhi
“Relearning. Collaborating.” – Nishant
*Thanks to our fantastic EDMs for sharing their experience with the rest of the team!*
The education sector has witnessed a sudden drastic growth in the E-learning space over the last few years. Technology is playing a crucial role in leveraging the education standards of the students and adapting rapidly to their ever altering requirements. This age of innovation is all about making studies interesting and this can only be done if an interactive mode of learning is adopted by the schools and the students alike. The next generation white board solutions seem to be easily penetrating into the education system, thereby allowing students to enjoy the benefits of technology. It also helps the students in understanding the curriculum in a more effective and playful manner.
Parents and Students are now accepting this new digital change and many schools from different regions also understand the need to dwell into the e-learning space. Also, the teachers need to be abreast with latest developments and carry out research to be able to answer the questions that the kids ask in the classroom. It is only through E-learning that the teachers can do their homework in timely fashion.
Despite these developments, at a more fundamental level, it is ultimately the quality of the content and not the technological tools that enable a child to develop right kind of skills which are required to help him progress in life. Whereas technology defines and refines the way curriculum is taught in the classrooms, the role of content and content providers is to distill the “what” and “when” of knowledge, a none too crucial aspect of ensuring the relevance of “education”. At this time, only a handful of players are truly succeeding in envisaging field requirements, and catering to it effectively.
The growing demand for quality content generators is the need of the hour, and indeed only a few companies are taking lead initiatives in this field. Content generating companies ought to aim at providing effective learning solutions after recognizing the need to transform the quality of curriculum and the way it was taught in schools across India. The quality of content must be enriched at the hands of meaningful research and findings, and also ought to emerge flexible enough to cater to the myriad combinations of needs presented in the education sector.
At InOpen Technologies, we believe that e-learning or any technological advancement is just an extension of the content, rather than the other way around. We often say: The ability to write a good letter will very likely be proportional to the ability to write a decent email. On the other hand, if one only knows how to use email service, that does not guarantee that the quality of communication and etiquette skills will be at par. It is the content which matters not the technological tool.
E-Learning has certainly made strides in making learning more interactive. However, this obsession with technological advancements has shifted our focus from the content that is being taught to the student. We have been focusing more on how a subject is being taught rather than what content is being covered. Curriculum content should necessarily focus on processes like observing, listening, thinking critically, questioning and figuring, searching and organizing information, solving problems and evaluating the concepts. We need to pause a bit and reflect if we are imparting these abilities through the content that we are teaching to the students.
Mangalyaan snuck into a comfortable orbit around Mars, and a nation came alive. This was a feat of fantastic precision, generating great pride in the hearts of millions. So precise were the underlying calculations, so daring in expectation, so sublime in execution that a senior scientist associated with the mission likened it to “hitting a golf ball from Bangalore to London, and getting it into the hole in one go.” The array of reactions to this achievement has spanned across jingoistic pride, lively optimism for a new future, a sense of vindication for the space agency and its efforts, and yet, through it all, an unmistakable timbre of surprise! It is this last piece that warrants special attention. Closer inspection suggests either a lack of public knowledge of current projects and advances, or reveals a decidedly low opinion of aggregate national ability that may have translated to a general disinterest in tracking such stories outside of a newsflash. It may not be wholly inaccurate to claim that the average citizen does not expect the nation to engineer scientific or academic achievements, let alone be at the frontier. In a significant way, this perception has its roots in a culture of creativity that relies on rote and reproduction; a culture wherein ‘creations’ are but shallow facsimiles, unable to reflect the rigor or audacity that is characteristic of pioneering efforts. If creativity is the source of solutions and progress, it becomes imperative to begin cultivating an atmosphere that stymies the urge to churn half-hearted work out out of sheer obligation, and instead develop one that proactively incentivizes integrity.
The seeds of a culture of creativity are sown at the earliest known moments of learning. Humans, whether in formal, informal or non-formal educational settings, are constantly learning. Exposed to an unending array of new and old stimuli, we learn through an assimilation of pattern and logic. We internalize portions of the extant world bank of knowledge, then springboard from there, adding new insights and dimensions, ultimately leading to the addition of new knowledge to the kitty. It makes sense that at the very early stages, we are rather more involved in the passive receipt of information, as we amass a wealth of building blocks in language, computation and heretofore established truths. Even at that stage, a seed can be as simple as conveying to a young child that her artwork does not conform to coloring within the lines. Now, albeit attention to the lines does hold value in that it represents the tuning of motor-skills, what is problematic is the likelihood of a teacher insisting that the child is “wrong” for not following suit. Such messaging of singular correctness sets the tone for a constricted educational journey.
Given that education is more a process than a phase, the academic habits imbibed at the formative stages of learning can vastly affect the manner in which a learner engages with new ideas and material in all the years to follow. When student ‘creations’ are assessed purely on, say, punctuality, completion and an unchecked adherence to given texts and sources, this sets a precedent that can have adverse ramifications for two important matters- 1) healthy pride in one’s own ability and work, and 2) the lack of appreciation for the history and efforts underlying the source material.
Extracting source content for reference is fairly routine in the creative process. Academic and artistic need along with personal interest continue to remain motivators for research and exploration, only now the avenues available to a seeker are more sophisticated and user-friendly. The current paradigm bears that education is shifting in favor of digitizing components of the teaching-learning process. Wherever possible, source materials are undergoing a translocation from analog libraries to an unassumingly vast “online” database, access to which lies but a click away. Whether it is a teenager attempting to collect materials for her class project, or a PhD candidate cross-referencing cited works, the Internet has come to represent quick and easy access to (largely) free to low-cost content. Further enhanced by said ease and speed of access, the playing field is thus rife with opportunity to parade another’s work as a personal original, or fail to give credit when and where it is due. At a more fundamental and individual level, there appears to be an inexplicable trend to borrow even simple items, despite not being in one’s best interest to do so.
For instance, consider the especially comical case of organizations opting to use existing web images to populate their web pages in the hope of displaying their team at work. The only catch is that the images depict a swathe of people who look nothing at all like the organization’s diverse partners or beneficiaries! This particular scenario fairly begs this question: Was it really that difficult to take a picture of real employees in action, say, for the “what we do” section?
These may appear to be negligible “oversights” in the grand scheme, but they are symptomatic of a larger trend, of complacence and resignation within a creative culture. This is characterized by a growing tendency to take content for granted, underscoring a disconnect between the creators and the consumers. Surely, an appreciation for the struggles and satisfaction of creative process as experienced personally would translate to the ability to grant another the courtesy of similar acknowledgment? On the one hand, the ethics of intellectual property use and plagiarism are often deliberated to simply be a relatively innocuous matter of failure at digital etiquette, requiring but a reprimand perhaps, whereas on the other hand, consequences emerge from the harsh and legal aspects of the transgressions.
Here is a new proposition: Rather than being seen only as matter to be resolved by punitive action, plagiarism should be taken seriously as an indicator of underlying sociological and pedagogical issues. Is it an honest lack of interest or joy in the pursuit of creation in a particular field? Could it be the result of ignorance? How did this cast come to be? The origins are not fully clear. It behooves us to wonder at the root cause of the urge to pilfer, or otherwise we must reconcile with the reality that rallying for punitive action does nothing to change status quo, addressing merely the superficial symptoms.
Mangalyaan’s success has underscored in a massively heartening way that academic independence yet thrives on the subcontinent. The question is how then do we take a page out of this success, and propagate the basic principles of creativity against the backdrop of increasingly digital nations? The onus falls squarely on today’s education providers. They are set to play an integral role in the process of laying a foundation highlighting the nature of the Internet within the context of the origin (of content), the various types and voluntary degrees of ownership, plagiarism and its consequences, and best practices in research etiquette. Demystifying these elements as early in the learning curve as possible can very easily make all the difference in the attempt to foster a can-do attitude, pride in indigenous creativity, and an ability to use existing materials critically. Educational programs need to take the initiative to create curricula that weave these important topics into its core. (Computer Masti is an example of one such holistic program that has achieved success across India.)
Aside: At a time when the digital globe is currently grappling with new finagled issues of the paradigm, a strong foundational grasp of the underlying concepts at work also affords digital natives a nuanced take on the dilemmas du jour, e.g. on open source versus financial sustainability of the creative process, on piracy, on net neutrality, on user privilege based on IP address, gender, socio-economic ‘categories’, and so forth. An authentic creative culture is as much dependent on the way individuals value their work, as it is dependent on the trappings of the playing field itself. As we engage in the critique of solutions and policies, it is imperative that we encourage young learners to use the foundation as a springboard to formulate and articulate opinions. If not, we may well unwittingly sentence the best ideas to oblivion.
“I have recently developed a nagging pain in my right fore arm. My eyes also hurt often,” complained Bhavya, who studied in Grade V to her mom. Worried, her mother consulted friends and colleagues at the office about Bhavya’s niggling problem. One of her friends immediately asked her about the how long Bhavya spent at the computer. She suggested, “The pain you describe is quite possibly related to her continual exposure to the computer and likely to be due to repeated pressure on the wrist and/or elbow.”
Bhavya’s mom instantly related to what her friend had said. Her daughter’s summer vacation had just begun, and she had recently started spending a significant amount of time at the computer, scouting for information for school projects and chatting with friends. She knew she could not simply put an end to computer use, but she wanted Bhavya to observe healthy habits henceforth so as not to face health problems in the future.
Like Bhavya, aren’t we all facing similar issues in this technology savvy world? Consider these numbers: youngsters spend an average of 1h 50m on the Internet, and 2h 40m in front of the television every day. A report released suggests that screens are increasingly turning into electronic babysitters and young people are spending more time plugged in than out. Children spend more time in front of a screen in one day than they undertaking any form of physical activity in the entire week. The latter is expected to see further decrease with the onset of advances in technologically based home entertainment. The result: Physical activities have completely gone for a toss.
Body pains resulting from usage over extended periods of time are not just confined to the limbs, but can affect the back and neck, and cause eye strain as well. With the present generation of students exposed to long hours of technology usage, their susceptibility to computer related injuries has also increased. In light of this and as a proactive measure, we need to sensitize students to be aware of these injuries and adopt the necessary measures to prevent themselves from becoming a victim of health disorders from an early age.
One of the most significant factors that leads to the creation of “work space culture” at a start-up is that mix of individuals brought together by the same goal. At InOpen, we love to bring together self-starters and those who have a personal mandate to “give back” – in whatever shape or form that may take. We are absolutely inspired by the initiatives taken by InOpeners!
This is to acknowledge and applaud some of the wonderful work being done outside of our impact at partner schools. Read on to see a short feature of a few of those lives and moments cherished by InOpeners.
More power to you all!
Harish Bhuvan: Clown Extraordinaire
We are a bunch of people who love clowning around in hospitals, to spread joy in the lives of others who may need a little sunshine. Clowning could involve just making merry, being silly, singing goofy songs, dancing around, shaping animals with balloons, and so on. It also brings about connections and a sense of kinship, and this is what keeps us going!
We have grown so much after we began Compassionate Clowning. The stories that you get to be a part of touches your life in a way that transforms you from underneath to upside down. We come out of those clowning sessions each time slightly more grown-up than we were going in. Hope we do touch everyone’s lives like this in future, and we aim at improvement each time we visit.
Pemsochon ZAS: Community of Service
Transformers Club, Mumbai exists to serve the underprivileged of our society. We work with children living in the slums of Mumbai, children from violent or broken homes, and children born within brothels. From time to time, we conduct special camps, teaching programs, get-togethers and other personal enrichment and empowerment programs to help transform the lives of these amazing kids at different locations of the city.
Being part of this program has touched me and inspired me to live my life beyond myself. Everyone who has been part of this initiative has been blessed beyond measure and enriched by the different stories each child brings. It is a joy and privilege to be serving them, and to be a small part of their growth.
Another program I am engaged in is the ENvision Foundation, a scholarship initiative which provides financial aid and scholarships to deserving students to enable them to pursue higher education without the burden of finance concerns, to encourage excellence in their academics. We provide scholarships based on two categories: Need-based and Merit-based. In addition to this, we also conduct monthly mentoring and counselling session for the scholarship recipients to help them achieve their greatest potential that each of them has.
Personally, this initiative has been one of the most exciting and amazing parts of my life because education is so close to my heart. To be able to reach out to the student community through this initiative is indeed a great opportunity.
(Pem, second from the left, conferring a scholarship to an awardee.)
Amitava Pal: Birth of a Teacher
I remember it was during my days at XLRI that I started teaching. At that time, I encountered a student from the Bengali community who was struggling with his 10th standard studies. Given our family connection, his parents felt comfortable to request me to assist him in his studies. After the first few days, I was frustrated; whatever I taught him was forgotten within a few hours! It was then that I discovered that this would be his third attempt at taking the 10th board exams. I was surprised to hear that there had been another old tuition teacher who had simply given up on him. I felt as though I would not be able to do anything either. His mother and I had a conversation about the situation, after which I had an idea that I thought I would try out.
I began making efforts in understanding him first, to get a sense for how he understood things. It turned out that this young fellow was fond of stories and loved them very much! The inability to retain information (“memory problem”) was not as result of not studying, but instead related in some way to a complication that had occurred during birth. His capacity to focus and remember was very low, and he could only engage if his interest was stimulated in a specific way. This triggered another idea in me: if he held such an interest in stories and was able remember those, then surely teaching could be conducted in a similar format, and it might work out. And thus, our journey began. I tried to convert subject concepts into a story format – it worked! This young boy started taking interest in his studies, and, best of all, passed the 10th boards with an average of 75% marks in his subjects. His parents were thrilled. One moment that was especially poignant and overwhelming was when he came and hugged me, saying, “Bhaiya, aapne mera jindegi badal di” – Big brother, you changed my life. Today, this young learner has crossed the next few academic milestones: he is a qualified engineer, and an earning member of his family!
This experience had a profound impact on me. I realized that teaching can indeed be customized, such that all type of students have a real opportunity to learn – if we can reach out to them in the way they want to be.
My journey has continued since. The smile that I saw on the faces of the people my actions had touched became a great motivational factor, and I decided to give my time and efforts to teaching whenever I possibly could. I simply love the smile they give! Wherever I am and however stressed I become, I feel recharged when I teach them. I am happy and proud to be a teacher to the kids from neighbouring communities, who hail from both, well-resourced and under privileged backgrounds. I am recharged by their positive energy!
Is the current computer education approach in schools relevant and contemporary? Do computer science textbooks take a practical step-by-step approach to equip students with the skills required for creating computer programs and applications? Perhaps not. What is required is to orient students to think analytically and approach technology with an open and creative mind. With this goal in mind, InOpen Technologies, an education start-up and Tata ClassEdge a leading provider of technology-enabled educational solution for schools, have partnered together to impart thinking skills through computer science education.
Most of the computer science content available today is focused on making students memorize procedural steps or definitions of different software and hardware components. Computer Masti, InOpen’s flagship computer science program, on the other hand, is directed towards enabling students to develop algorithmic thinking — the foundational skill to effective programming.
Talking about the partnership, Mr. Rupesh Shah says “We felt that the way computer science was taught in schools was fundamentally flawed. With Computer Masti, we are slowly changing the computer science landscape in schools across the country. The partnership with Tata ClassEdge, one of the most sought after digitally-enabled educational solution for schools, is a milestone for InOpen, and through this partnership we aim to impact 1200 schools in the next two to three years. I am glad to see a large conglomerate partnering with a start-up to bring positive changes in the field of computer science education.”
Mr Nirav Khamabhati, CEO of Tata ClassEdge said, “Both InOpen and Tata ClassEdge share the same educational philosophy—that teaching-learning ought to be active, participatory and skills-oriented. We believe in fostering partnerships that are built on synergy, aligned goals and a penchant for high quality solutions.”
The new academic year is well under way. Every day, students from across all differentiating lines get ready, neat partings and pressed shirts, and set off to receive a quantum of knowledge. Every day, guardians watch their wards, as they tote a bag of ruled books that will document their journey through the year, aspirations pinned firmly to their backs. Notwithstanding the myriad instances of sexist leanings, in general, this is a nation of dreamers who dream the upwardly mobile dream. Qualifications, certifications and degrees form the foundation for this hoped future, and the success stories that surround them constitute a proof of concept. Education is no end to itself, such extravagance being ill conceived, given the context. Rather, an education is a means to achieve the relatively lasting security of salaried employment. The greater the length of the alphabet soup after one’s name, the grander one’s grasp of the world as we know it. Right? Wrong! The way we “do” education has seen some dismal results in this particular employment-chasing endeavor, which tell a different story…
It is said that India is at the throes of an education boom. The business of education and education-adjacent services is thriving, an indication that there is a healthy market demand for the same. Anecdotal accounts of educational institutions “mushrooming” across boundaries are popular entry points to a conversation about the current state of affairs. It is in those exchanges that one begins to hear the rumblings of concern about the phenomenon of graduates being “churned out,” an image that is decidedly more unflattering than not. It is indeed a facsimile of positive development that more individuals are emerging with degree rolls in their hands than ever before. However, it would be well worth it to concern ourselves with the very quality of those qualifications. What does it mean to hold a degree in Engineering? What area of knowledge has one truly ‘mastered’ when one waves a Master’s degree about? What does one imagine a graduate to actually be able to do? After all, one only wins that sought-after salaried job if one can prove the ability to do things.
The 2014 National Employability Report, published by Aspiring Minds (AM), is revealing. In overall terms of employability, AM’s statistical model conveys that a minimum of 47% of the five million graduates were not fit to be employed in any sector! In specific terms, let’s zoom in to look at the numbers for the sector most closely related to computer science. The report refers to a parent set that includes sub-sectors such as Information Technology (IT) services, IT products, IT enabled services (ITeS), and knowledge/ business process outsourcing and support. The aptitude test administered by AM is designed to cover objective parameters of employability such as English communication, quantitative skills, general problem-solving skills, computer science and programming skills. The sub-sector that absolutely demands a command over computer science and computational thinking, and not just computer literacy, is “IT Products”. This is where solutions are created and released for actual application in the real world. Industry-ready employability in IT-Product graduates? 10%.
This is a severe serving of reality. The report published in 2010 states in no uncertain terms, “For India to maintain its competitive advantage, the education institutions needs to produce industry-ready candidates.” Indeed, immediate intervention is required in the way that graduates are being produced. As we chart a graduate’s learning trajectory, it becomes clear that immediate intervention is required in the way that students develop thinking-process skills, clarity of thought, and cross-disciplinary computational skills. It becomes clear that this is a matter of exposing a student to such development as early as possible in their ride along the education timeline.
This reality was precisely the impetus for creating the Computer Masti Program! The Program is committed to providing a learner with a holistic experience that combines knowledge of computer fundamentals, with an imperative to first grasp the foundational principles behind any concept or application skill. The development of the very same thinking skills that will ultimately deem an individual “industry ready” is gently begun at an age as young as 6 years old (Grade I). Given the undeniably dire state of affairs in the quality of our “degree holders,” we hope to represent that kind of change that targets the issue at the grassroots level.
Here’s to an India without the great education-employability divide!