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Archive for December, 2016

Very recently, the Indian government announced a demonetization measure by removing 500 and 1000 rupee notes as legal tender, ostensibly to combat cash hoarding (black money) and counterfeiting (which was helping fund terror). Of course, we have seen the impact of fiscal demonetization on the economy in the short term, though the long term prognosis is yet to emerge.

The immediate impacts that I see on the system of education in our country are as follows (not an exhaustive list):

  • Slowdown in the rate of growth of private schools. Slowdown in money chasing real estate, regulatory clearances, investments and siphoning of money in Education, at least in the short to medium term. This may be accompanied by a corresponding growth/investment in the public system.
  • The push to online payments at school. I believe more schools will now start accepting money in non-cash forms. This means a fillip to existing fee payment, school uniform and bookstore platforms.
  • The increased visibility of the coaching institution and the individual tutor. More and more tuition teachers and coaching schools (at one point claimed to be a USD 23 bn parallel system expected to be about 40 bn USD in 2015) will move to online payments.
  • Lowered spends on research. Research shall be impacted, with owners who are already handicapped by ‘marketing spends’ kind of vision on research, holding back on new projects. In fact, all facile investment will reduce.
  • Higher international collaboration. Cleaner international money will flow and it is time to leverage that for maximal impact.

On another note. What would be the equivalent of currency in education? Is there a parallel with the black money and counterfeiting that is happening with regular currency, but in the educational market? Is there a ‘currency’ of the educational market? And therefore, if a demonetization of that ‘currency’ has to happen for similar reasons, what would that look like?

If we look at ‘currency’ in the educational context, it would be most likely be constituted by marks or scores (more literally marksheets) and certificates (such as degree certificates and work certificates).

A quick look around clearly shows the menace of fake certificates. The screening firm, First Advantage, found that 51% of the prior experience certificates were fake globally, India being a notorious example. Then there are websites advertising fake education certificates, sometimes in connivance with officials in the system, it seems, all over the world. Many instances abound in India as well.

What would be the equivalent of educational black money? Little harder to trace an equivalent there if one is not probing the real currency angle. But let us look at it from the lens of employability, the argument being that the degrees or certificates that provide a social and economic return to the economy are ‘white’ educational currency, while the rest are ‘black’ educational currency.

Less than 20% of our graduates are employable. In that sense, the rest are unwittingly just hoarding ‘black’ degrees and certificates. Institutions are hoarding degree certificates, sitting on a stock of certificates for the foreseeable future depending upon their capacity and their authorization by the government.

There may be more interpretations, for example, extending to institutions who are building capacity they cannot fill or usefully utilize.

So what would happen if we made a move to demonetize this education currency?

For example, de-recognize all degrees for a year and make it mandatory for anyone holding a degree to prove its authenticity? Or for all institutions to be stripped of its ability to provide a degree certificate till they can prove that they have a structure in place and systems to ensure employable graduates and provide real data on their current state of being able to generate ’employability’? Or breakup degrees into smaller chunks that have to be individually certified? Or for government to stop mandating this educational currency, in all or part, for their own recruitment?

A move like that would be inconvenient for most, but may have similar (to fiscal demonetization) longer term effects. It may push a greater academia-industry interaction, move us to digital certificates and transparent scoring mechanisms, bring more professionals into the running of institutions and set up fences against black marketeers entering the education space – all of which sound like the right things to do, whatever the process.

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Lessons that Lessen

This jewel from Alice in Wonderland:

And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.

There are many ways the Lessons lessen in our educational system. The system essentially dilutes more with its structure than it promotes. Instructional design, school structures, curricular boundaries – all contribute to that dilution. Not making a ‘school makes you dumber‘ or ‘don’t let your schooling interfere with your education‘ or ‘how schools kill creativity‘ kind of an argument, but rather making the point that our systems tend to lessen our lessons due to their impact on our innate ability to learn.

What are some of these lessons (if I may so dare)?

The first lesson is to allow yourselves to be and remain curious – express your wonder at your first discoveries, making the first contact, learn from your first failures, connect the dots – basically, have those Aha! moments.

The second lesson is to remain open to discovery, events and opinions – give logic and reason a chance to get embedded in your style of thinking.

The third lesson is to express yourself – through the spoken word, through song, through music and expressions – they form the repertoire that you will use for your entire life.

The fourth lesson is to understand your limits and when you need help or support – give a chance for people to guide you, for others to show you the way, to never be afraid of asking and to never disguise your ignorance.

The fifth lesson is to actively engage in finding your passion – whatever that may be – and to be loyal to it as long as you feel the need, never to let it consume you altogether so much so that everything else fades to oblivion.

There are doubtless many more such lessons that lessen over time. Grit, perseverance, humility and many more. If you have learned these lessons well, you will perhaps be happily educated and build happiness and prosperity around yourself.

There a happy spirals and sad spirals in our learning journey. The happy ones are those which expand and grow our lessons, while the sad spirals lessen them. In our educational system, there is not much autonomy to decide which spiral to aspire towards, because of the tyranny by design and practice. A lucky few may break out of the sad spirals and some may find their environments contributing to more and more happy spirals. The large majority will be simply miserable in trying to meet goals they do not understand.

Perhaps this story of humanity has to underlie the story of education?

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