Thursday, November 12, 2009

Are we getting our children ready for the future?

1970: The Year I was born. My parents would have probably dreamt of me becoming a doctor or an engineer at best. And then they embarked on that long journey of providing me the best that they could afford. At the same time, I was offered the most respectable education anyone could have afforded then. Hats Off to those two individuals who helped shape my life.

1982: I went to Modern School, N. Delhi to study on a scholarship that would ensure any child a future that he could dream of, or at least he was capable of. Hats Off to my teachers who put in that effort in making me the way I am.

1993: I passed out of Indo-Swiss Training Center, Chandigarh with a job in my hand that would ensure that I could "enjoy" my bachelorhood with friends watching movies and just having a good time. Hats Off to my instructors at the college who made me learn everything the hard way!

1999: I passed out of Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, again with a job that was roughly five times my salary before the presumably prestigious MBA degree. Hats Off to my professors who made me worthy enough to earn more than I deserved!

2009: I wonder if for a teacher/ mentor that I am now for a lot of students and colleagues, am I truly equipped with all the skills needed to groom them. And as an after-thought, did my worthy teachers in my lifespan know if they were actually getting me ready for a life two decades hence. Or were they getting me ready for a life post school/ college!

One of my favourite videos (thanks to Tushar Tamhane for showing this to me) actually delves deeper into these questions:

I also wonder if the skills taught in our Management Schools should have been taught in school, or even pre-school. Skills like team-work, problem-solving, emotional intelligence etc. My history teacher who wanted us to remember all dates like Akbar-Shahjehan's birth and death years, couldn't have imagined in late 1980's that there could be a device sitting in my hand that would deliver these answers and many more with just a few finger movements. My nursery teacher who insisted (thankfully) on good hand-writting and spelling, couldn't have possibly imagined that I wouldn't be touching my pen on paper for more than 200 characters a day, and my spellings could be checked automatically. And who cares about spellings anyway in the age of twitters and smses!

The point is this: Are we, as mentors to the latest generation, doing justice to them by teaching them from the same (ok, with some changes) textbooks and subjects (ok, similar looking subjects) that we used to learn from 3 decades back?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Simplifying ELearning...

I am often amused by educators who wish to "upgrade" themselves by venturing into elearning and using tools that will take their offerings to the next level. With all their good intentions, they start thinking about various ways of achieving this:

1. Teaching Aids: Right from a projector to a sophisticated writing board that prints, saves and replays what the teacher wrote on it.

2. Animations and Interactive Tools: Intended to deliver better understanding of a concept by doing something that can't be otherwise easily achieved in a verbal and on-the-board version.

3. Recording and Replaying Content: To achieve scale and ensure consistency of quality across time and place.

4. Online synchronous training: The ultimate goal of delivering training to multiple locations with the closest to real-life classroom experience.

There are virtually thousands of products available in each of the above categories, ranging in price, quality and complexity. And the last variable worries teachers the most. The most frequent and impulsive response to any new technology intervention is "how will I find time to do this". Again assuming good intentions, I believe any decision-maker should strive to answer this critical question.

The teachers' response is due to their non-teaching activities- mostly clerical and administrative. I found the teachers in a well-known school bogged down by filling up student attendance sheets and evaluating answer attempts. If they could find any time out of these, they were busy in doing some more "useful" work for the school, such as, making arrangements for the next board meeting, or the next school event.

I completely understand the tight-fistedness of a school administration to ensure they squeeze the last available minute of a teachers' time. But it seems to be conflicting big-time with the good old intention of making "teaching" better.

In that sense, the teachers should be relieved of these activities by outsourcing them to a BPO. I am sure we will be able to get more efficient by this simple activity. And the teachers will be free to use their brains where they are supposed to.

Now that the 'where will I get time for this" is taken care of, the teachers (specially the non-tech-friendly ones) should be carefully initiated into the lowest of such tech initiatives. I believe teachers today should be encouraged to logon to the popular social networking sites like facebook, twitter and orkut. They need to be up-to-date with the technologies that their students use, even if it is only for a limited time. This will help them relate to their students much better.

The easiest technological intervention for the teachers could be to just record a few short teaching sessions on a mobile camera, and put it on youtube (or better still, teachertube). The sheer excitement in these adults on seeing their own activity on the web could remove that first critical hurdle.

More of the simplification in my next post...