Oct 2013 – A far cry!

At a panel discussion in the Asian Summit on Education and Skills organized by World DIDAC, I was speaking on the theme – Developing to Developed, Quality Education for All. Let me  share with you my thoughts on the topic:

Education in any country should focus on 3 key elements to ensure that it is impactful: Accessibility-Affordable-Quality. In India we are still struggling with accessibility and affordability.  If we look closely at all government schemes and policies on education they are  focused on making education accessible and affordableI believe that we need to focus on the following issues to ensure quality in future:

  • Policy making has to be Child Centric – All policy, curricula that impacts the life of a child are made by people who have very little understanding of children. They rely on their experiences which may not necessarily be relevant to children today.
  • Corruption –  I am not just talking about corruption in the government space which is kind of a given, I am more worried about corruption in the private space. Private schools have some very corrupt practices. It is a factor of legislation that does not allow us to run schools for profit and the low levels of values or absolute lack of experience that people who run/manage schools possess.
  • Changing Times – the world around us has changed dramatically over the past 10-15 years, clearly the curricula and education system is not playing a good job of catching up.
  • Leadership – If I have to point out one key area that we need to address first to fix the quality in education, it is clearly that of  leadership in education. In a country that boasts of over a million schools and thousands of teacher training institutes there is not a single good regular institute/university/college that focuses on creating educational leadership.
  • Curriculum – Our boards and policy makers get a lot of satisfaction by preparing the curriculum. Finally what pecolates down to the child is the textbook/content that is provided by the publishers. There is no regulation on this front and it is not too wrong to say that the publishers decide the quality of pedagogy in Indian classrooms!
  • Pre school education to date has had no regulations; there are still talks that we might have a legislation soon on this. Anyone and everyone can run any kind of a play school.
  • Relevance to Life – Most of what is taught in schools has no relevance to life and what is required in life is not taught in school. Even organisations like NSDC that aim at creating a skilled nation do not recognize Life Skills as an essential skill for a skilled youth!
  • Assessment and Data Analytics – Indian schools do not document data, apart from academic grades. Research, data analytics and prediction has not even occurred to schools in India.

Till such a time when all schools still think they are ‘Good’ and get enamoured by some  random school rating at times even without an affiliation to a Board given by mediocre agencies who have very little understanding of education and children, Quality Education will still be a far cry in India!

Sep 2013 – All about Analytics

Take a moment to imagine the amount of data each one of us produce, use or create every single day. Photos, videos, music, voice, text, images, graphics and the list can go on and on. Every single day of our lives these days, everyone who has access to technology is creating information. Ever wondered what would happen to all this information in future? Anyone who understands the IT space knows well that information once uploaded on cyberspace will remain there for eternity.

The overwhelming information that we generate today and store data implies that  we will be lost in the maze of information if we do not know how to segregate or sort the information collected. In fact this is already happening in our lives. We seem to be so lost in emails, phone calls, Internet, apps and games that we find the 24-hour day insufficient to do the tasks we believe we need to do.

On the negative side this kind of information overload does lead to some very pertinent psychological and social ramifications, I choose not to delve into that domain today and try and look at the positive aspect of the information explosion in our lives. Analytics is the next big thing that will invade our lives. People, organizations, softwares, apps; that help us analyze the abundant information that we have around us will invade our lives in a big way. For educational institutions Analytics can do wonders to improve quality of the schooling process. If the present information available with schools is analyzed, I am sure a lot of very interesting facts will emerge that will answer a lot of questions that linger around. Let us look at a few:

  • Does homework improve academic performance?
  • Do constant tests improve understanding?
  • What is the best time to start school?
  • Should the first period always be for Math or Science? Which is  better?
  • Children born on which month do better in Math?
  • Do shorter children perform better in Academics?
  • Do girls study better in the evening?
  • Does music help in concentration?
  • Do children perform better in an exam after prayers?
  • Children of which religion/caste/language perform better in which subject/sport?

The questions are innumerable; they have always remained questions in the minds of those who chose to ask these questions. Some of us used experience, some wisdom and some worldly knowledge to get an understanding and make inferences to these questions, thereby arriving at some probable answers.

But in future with analytics if a school has the information they can analyze the information to arrive at conclusions that are very specific to their school. What works in one school, one region,  society may not apply for all. This could lead to an amazing evolution in the way schools are run in future. Analytics can lead to ‘predictive analytics’ – allowing us to read data in a manner that you get an insight in how things can be in future or where will all this lead to. This can be a very powerful tool in enabling schools to plan their future and evolve systems and processes to overcome the challenges that children face and improve learning outcomes. Till the time Analytics invades our lives it is important that we collect and retain the information that is available, who knows what insights it will throw up in future when it is analyzed.

How information analytics will change our world?

Aug 2013 – Dance the way!

I am in the midst of my annual ‘Bharat Yatra’ as I call it. Every year around July and August of the year, I travel to about 15-20 cities across India organizing and hosting South Asia’s largest literary and cultural festival for students- Horlicks Wizkids. I have been doing this for 13 years now and over the years have seen over 2 million children participate in this mega event.

One of the most keenly contested competitions at Horlicks Wizkids is the group dance. It is difficult to describe the energy and excitement it generates from the participating schools. Every school wants to participate so we restrict the entries to 15 teams in every city, but we have principals and at times even ministers calling us up to put in a word to accommodate their school. The frenzy is unbelievable. Schools hire choreographers, costumes and set designers and other professionals to come and help the school put up a good performance. Infact I have been told that some schools have even spent upwards of a 6-digit amount just to prepare their team for this dance competition.

This kind of gives an idea of how competitive this event has become. As long as the focus is on the competition I am very happy, but the problem is that every school wants to win. As organizers it puts tremendous pressure on us to ensure that the fierce competition does not lead to friction. We have to be doubly assured of the quality and competency of our judges to ensure right results.

But I have noticed a strange phenomenon growing every year and I find that amazing. Every school that performs truly believes that their performance was the best. They are oblivious of their flaws and fail to notice the mistakes in their performance. At times the children are not very sure of how they performed but their teachers insist that they were the best. This builds up the expectation and every school expects to win.

Year after year I have noticed that the school teams that perform better are the ones that have dancing as a regular feature in their time-table or practice dance on a regular basis. Dancing is an art form that gets better with dedicated practice and perseverance. Schools that pump in a lot of money do not necessarily perform well as at the heart of the entire performance is a dancer whose skill does not develop overnight.

In a world with quick fix solutions to all I am glad that there are still many things that cannot be fixed overnight. Over the years our ‘mechanized schools’ have managed to create short cuts, guides, fast track solutions for doing well in exams. But when it comes to the good old skills of dancing, singing, arts sports, short cuts don’t work. After having done more students events than anyone in this country I am convinced that when we organize events we are educating children and helping build in them – self confidence, team spirit, perseverance, dedication, creativity, quality, finesse and many other such skills. No academic book or subject can teach all this in an enjoyable manner as Intra and Inter school events do.

How I wish that schools pay heed to this message and inculcate dance, singing, art as part of the curriculum not just to fill up their brochures or satisfy the demands of the board or the parents but because they genuinely believe that need to prepare children for a life in future and a dedicated programme of arts helps in creating sensitive citizens of the future.