They Just Need an Opportunity

I was standing there admiring the vote of thanks being given by a dear friend Rajiv Ranjan as the Advantage Conclave Bihar came to an end in Patna. Rajiv is a very well spoken gentleman and he is what we call a ‘grammar nazi’ but his biggest asset is not his public speaking, but his it is his creativity. He has a great eye for design and runs a very successful design agency based in Delhi called Imagica Graphics.

The prestigious conclave that I moderated saw the who’s who of India’s industry and media in attendance; Rajiv did all the design and creative’s for the event. After handing over the moderator’s baton to him to do the closing honours, I stood there admiring this man’s confidence and eloquence in a wheelchair who I have known for over a decade.

Rajiv in his late forties now has been in a wheel chair from the time he was 11, he can barely move his hands a few inches, he cannot put on his earphones without support. The lower part of his body is immobile and he moves around in an automated wheelchair. A full-time help is always around to do the smallest of things for him including feeding him. Yet he is constantly on his smart phone handling business calls and running his company remotely. It is a joy to see him work on his computer; very few of us can match up to the focus and meticulousness with which he works.

That night during a chat after dinner, I made it a point to speak to Rajiv and tell him how inspirational he was for me for living his life with so much zest and energy. When you talk to him or spend time with him, he never gives you a feeling that he is physically challenged. His confidence, conversational topics and outlook towards life is so extremely positive. During my conversation, Rajiv highlighted the role his school played in making him what he was today.

Rajiv recalled that when he was studying at St. Michaels, Patna his Principal was the late Fr. Harland. He has a distinct memory of how Fr. Harland had assured his parents that he was the schools responsibility. When he was in grade 9 and 10, his class was shifted to the ground floor instead of the usual top floor just to make it easier for him. His teachers treated him like any other student, they punished and reprimanded him when he went off the line and praised him when it was due. He took part in all activities. He never had to look for anyone to help him get into school or climb stairs, his schoolmates were always around to carry him.
Rajiv was part of a normal school and treated like any normal student. This made him ‘normal’. Today he is a successful entrepreneur who runs an organisation, that employs many people and adds values to many companies that are his clients.

Basis the report submitted by the Census of India(2011),It is estimated that 2.21% of our total Indian population, suffers with some or the other kind of disability has some physical challenge or the other. I have always wondered where these children are! Schools come up with silly reasons for not bringing these children on board. Most children do not need any special treatment, they just need an opportunity.! Infact the biggest gainers are their classmates who grow up learning empathy with their mere presence.

We have laws, we have mandates and yet we have very few Rajiv’s studying in our schools. How many Rajiv’s do you have in your school?

Time to Relook

“I don’t want to be a teacher anymore, I have quit and I need a job,” this is what a friend told me almost 10 years ago when I met her in Mumbai. She was a teacher in a high school, I always knew her as a passionate teacher who loved her job and the time she spent with her students.

Something went wrong. The school she worked in, was one of the reputed schools and had a very distinguished educator as their Principal. The Principal was a disciplinarian and she expected the best from all her teachers.
The school decided to introduce technology and the first thing that was brought on, were the CC cameras. The management was so fascinated by the new gadget that they decided to introduce it everywhere including the staff room. The Principal now had a view of what was going on in the staff room and she could not appreciate the fact that the teachers were having fun and fooling around in the staff room as it was their domain. Every now and then, teachers were called to the Principal’s office to be reprimanded for their behaviour in the staff room. Within a month or so, the Principal sent out a circular that outlined the desired behaviour of teachers in the staff room. My friend decided to quit the day she read this circular.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have heard some horror stories of companies that sold digital learning content and interactive smart boards to schools. These companies with all their entrepreneurial ambitions, wanted to change the way the children were educated and how technology was introduced in classrooms. The management was convinced, the parents were excited and the children loved the concept. The end result though, is that technology in classrooms across most parts of India is a relative failure and has not brought about the change that it was supposed to, initially. What is the reason? The biggest reason is, “The Teacher killed the smart class,” this is what a friend of mine had exclaimed. The teachers did not want to change, did not want to learn or keep learning and they themselves, were the biggest reason why most schools resorted to watching videos and films on their smartboards!

If we analyze these incidents closely, several important lessons emerge. Many new-age startups are coming up with fancy products and services that seem relevant and exciting. Managements and Principals with all good intentions introduce them, however, their effectiveness lies in how well we bring all stake holders into confidence, especially teachers and parents. Children adapt to changes very easily as they are constantly changing themselves.
Systems and processes that are set up in schools should have one focus: To make the lives of stakeholders better/simpler. Rules must be introduced as a pilot to test them before making them mandatory. As we approach another academic year end it may be a good time to relook and evolve the systems and processes in schools and the effectiveness of technology.

Learning from Life

Years ago when I stared my career as a student of engineering, I was aware very conscious of the fact that I did not have the domain knowledge of the education space and that made me very conscious. I have over the years made a very conscious effort to learn and grow as an individual.

What I have always believed that I need to have is a lot of depth and understanding of the issues that I am working on. My vision of my work was very clear, to create experiences for children that will help them Learn for Life. I have always strived to bring an element of excitement and joy in the learning process,. I truly believe that if there is no Joy there is no learning.

This clarity of vision posed a very important question to me – What do I learn and& Where? In the effort of finding an answer to this question Life has taken me on the most amazing journey of learning. Since I was not very clear of where the right learning comes from, I chose and still choose to expose myself to as many facets of life as I can.
In the initial phase of this journey I chose to travel down the known path of doing programs and courses. I equipped myself with skills that seemed obvious to me in my journey of being an educator. I learnt skills like counseling, hypnosis, NLP and then went on to expose myself to different philosophies of education ranging from Montessori to Waldorf to Progressive. When I look back now, theseis learning exposures helped me grow immensely as a person and as an educator; but my biggest learning’s came from some very unassuming quarters.

My biggest teacher of Life has been my Travels. It is difficult to describe how much my travels have impacted me as a person and how much I have learnt from them. For starters this world is so big and so varied that one lifetime is not enough to even get a glimpse of its vastness,’. This vastness humbles you and no matter what you have achieved you realize it is so insignificant in the overall context. History teaches survival, culture teaches humanity, food teaches innovation, clothing teaches art and the list goes on. I resolved that I will spend atleast 1 month outside India ten years ago and I am more than excited every year to go back to the School of Travel.

In addition to my travels, my other teachers have been my bike rides, my drives, my theatre, my film making, my events, my research and the varied stuff that I keep dabbling in. The people in my life have been amazing teachers too, not only the obvious college professors or the literate ones that I spent time with at work. Bigger lessons of my life have come in from simple unassuming people who never intended to teach or influence, but their simple acts and deeds leave an impact for a lifetime.

I learn from life, as Life is the mother of Learning!

Defining Culture

“What is your school’s culture?” I asked this question to the leadership team of a group school recently while I was leading a workshop for them. The audience seemed perplexed with this question. No one had asked them this question in such a direct manner before. They believed, like most other schools and educators that the culture of a school is felt and defined. They were certain that their schools had a culture but it was never documented or spelt out in a manner that you could answer a direct question.

What they could answer immediately was – What was their school’s mission? What were the school values?
I have over the years visited innumerable schools and their mission statement is very boldly displayed right at the entrance to the school building or in the lobby or the school office. More often than naught these mission statements are so generic that there is no way of differentiating them from one another. Almost schools have a mission statement that talk about Global Citizens, Honesty, Integrity, Hard Work, Perseverance and similar terminology. The mission statements are so idealistic that most students and teachers only know it by verse but very seldom is it reflected in deed.

All schools have a culture and there is no doubt about that, but rarely does the essence of culture get documented. In simple terms the culture of any institution can be seen in the actions of its people (students, staff, et al) in 3 situations – how they act on a daily basis, during celebrations and during crisis.

It is important that schools give a thought to these actions. For example: how does a teacher treat a student when he makes a mistake? How does the Principal handle a teacher/support staff’s mistake? How is a student’s achievement celebrated? How is the teacher’s excellence recognised? Once they identify the desired scenarios these need to be then documented and shared as simple actionable points with its students and the school fraternity.

Similarly it is time schools relooked at their Mission Statements and made it simpler so that it’s people can relate to it and live upto it. I do not mean that the core essence of the values or mission needs to be changed, it needs to be reworded and made simpler to follow. I am suggesting that it is better to have a simple mission statement that is seen in action rather than a lofty one that remains on display boards.

Schools thrive on structures and a defined action and mission statements goes a long way in laying the foundation of a strong culture. Get the people that matter together to relook at the mission, values and culture of your school. We keep talking about change its time your culture got a make over. While doing this be cautious of the fact that all that is old is not redundant neither is it all relevant.

Be the Change!

For over a decade now almost every educational event had a discussion on the topic ‘Change in Education’. Everytime I have heard anyone speak on this subject the arguments were always limited to Why Change is required? I have rarely if ever come across anyone suggesting How Change will happen. For years now I have been pondering over how this change will happen, will someone come in like the messiahs of the millenniums gone by and prophesize what the future of education should be or will the boards wake up one day to dictate what the future of education will be like or will someone have a magic wand to bring about the change. Clearly these fantasies won’t come true.

I have an idea; I think I know how the education system will change!

First let us look at the changes that have happened in the education system or methods over the past decade. Most of the changes that have happened have come in from outside the school through Edupreneurs, corporates and individuals who have come up with technologies, services, products and innovations. Very little change has come from within schools, most of it came in from outside.

If schools start mindful experiments with an intent to change and challenge their existing practices it will lead to amazing innovations and evolution of the Schooling Process. If schools can identify areas that they find difficulty in like teacher quality, enabling creativity in or innovative assessment systems etc. and then start controlled experiments that are monitored, data analyzed, changes made and learning and outcomes documented it will lead to real change within their schools.

If hundreds of schools start believing in this idea, hundreds of thousands of experiments that cover different challenges in education will be initiated; and if the schools start sharing the learning’s of these experiments with one another it will lead to a movement. Once this movement starts and more experiments happen and more data points are generated; the more information would be available on what is working and what is not. These learnings will then form the basic building blocks of the new education system that we are all hoping will happen some day.

Be the change, this is how I believe our education system will change!

It is a new year and a great occasion for us to be that change that we hope will come about. I truly believe that each one of us as educators have the power in our hands to make that small difference in what we are doing, these small changes will eventually add up to the big Change we want to see!

Happy New Year
May the change be with you!

Bringing people on board

A very dear friend and advisor to EduMedia, Mr. Rajiv Soni once narrated a very interesting incident about JRD Tata. Mr. Soni now retired after over 3 decades of service at Tata Steel was fortunate enough to work very closely with the visionary Tata on several assignments in his career. One of the several experiences he remembers about JRD was how he was very particular about hiring the right people for the organisation. Here is one for sharing….

JRD Tata was once taking a final interview of a very seasoned marketing executive for a very senior role in the organisation. It was customary to have a meal with JRD as part of the interview process. During the course of the lunch it seemed that all was well and the conversation looked very interesting. Once the lunch was over JRD informed the HR Department “not’’ to hire the gentleman. When the HR prodded JRD revealed that while having lunch the gentleman ordered soup, when the soup arrived, he promptly picked up the saltshaker and added it to his soup. This action of his was enough for JRD to decide that he was not the right person for the job. He could not hire someone who assumed that there was no salt in the soup without even tasting it. His reading was that if he has had lived his life with preconceived notions and beliefs then he will not be able to learn, unlearn and adapt to the changing environments especially if he had to come in for a leadership position. Legendary leaders had legendary ways of solving simple problems.

One of the biggest challenges we face today is on bringing the right people on board our organisations especially in schools. It is said that with the best of processes available on the planet and with the best methodologies to hire people the success rate of hiring the right person for the right role is apparently 50%. This means that anyone who is hiring anybody for any role is picking up one wrong person in every two that are hired.

HOW do you bring people on board your organisation? An organisation is like a bus journey as leaders of organisations; our single biggest role is to ensure that the right people are on the bus, and the wrong people are off the bus and most importantly the right people are on the right seat.

As leaders it is very essential that we constantly relook at the way we run our organisations and question the systems and processes that we put in place. If the systems and processes don’t evolve with the dynamics of the world outside the very same systems will become a hindrance to the organisation.

Another year has come to an end. It’s a great idea to relook at the systems and processes that run your organisation, change the redundant, retain the effective and bring in innovation with the way work happens. This would be a way to end this year and welcome the coming New Year.

Collaborative spaces

Early October 2015 I was back to Boston to attend a very interesting conference SOLVE that was initiated by the world’s premiere research based educational institute MIT. The mission of SOLVE was to inspire extraordinary people to work together to solve the world’s toughest problems. Technologists, philanthropists, business leaders, policy makers and change agents all came together to examine and address the problems where technology, business innovation and smart policy can be leveraged to bring about real and lasting change. The four pillars of focus at SOLVE were Learn, Cure, Fuel, Make.
The objective of the LEARN CHALLENGE: Provide access to quality education by 2050 to anyone, anywhere, with the will to learn.

I had the most amazing experience deliberating with some of the best minds on this planet about issues that matter most to our future and more so about the future of Education. A few points on education that were echoed by most participants were that learning in future will not happen in the manner it does today in organised schools with classrooms, curriculum and teachers. Personalised, customised, glocal (blend of Global and Local) education will be the norm. Education will focus more on life and living rather than learning facts and information. Most people might learn job skills on the job as the nature and requirements of jobs will change constantly. People skills will be most priced and several Ivy League institutions will emerge across the globe to research, understand and propagate people skills that would have otherwise become a rarity. Making sense of the abundant information, analytical skills and decision making skills will also be highly priced.

The biggest challenge that education will need to address is the issue related to environment and energy. No longer can we continue teaching children examples of the past, we will need to put across to them real live issues as the grown ups will have very little clue on how to solve them, the hope being that the future young minds will Solve issues that the minds who got educated in the past would have created. Educational institutions will function more like spaces of collaboration for youngsters who will work on common issues and challenges.

While all these changes will happen in future, schools will continue to churn out millions of students by the year. The task then for existing schools with existing systems is to ensure that they do as less damage as they can on our children’s ability to create, innovate and solve problems. It is now pertinent for educators to keep the unknown in mind and create changes in their pedagogy and the manner in which we nurture our children.

On the 1 and 2nd of December we are hosting the Mentor Conclave at IISc Bengaluru. I look forward to taking this discussion on the future of education forward through one of our themes on Innovation.

Education is an experiment!

It is not a secret anymore that education is a great industry to be in. In fact, in the entrepreneurship, start-up and investment space it is the coolest sector to be in. Every other day there is a new idea that leads to the launch of a new company that aims to make education better. What’s annoying for us at EduMedia is that every new start up claims to be very innovative, yet most of them come up with names that start with ‘Edu’, so much for their creativity!

If we look closely at the educational ecosystem there are 2 types of players that operate here – One the brick and & mortar kind that build schools and institutions,; the other are service providers who aim to support schools. Words like change, new format, new pedagogy, innovative methodology, modern approach, interactive learning, experiential learning and progressive curriculum are randomly used by all and sundry. Strangely the biggest action happening in education is to teach academics and focus on grades. So whether it is the new age school next door or the new kid on the block startup, helping our children crack exams is the mantra.

Is this a long term direction? Clearly NO! From my perspective what is obvious is that almost everyone out there is experimenting. I see this happening across all types of schools and across everything that schools are doing. Almost everyone out there is experimenting with education!

So is it good or bad? The good is that education is no longer stagnant. People are trying. The bad is that we are experimenting with our kids!

All these experiments seem to focus on children understanding concepts better and for them to get better grades. So the more innovation that comes into schools the more the expectations of parents seems to go up, they want all children to get great grades. This is a vicious cycle we have gotten ourselves into.

According to me, the biggest influencers on education in India are our publishers and book sellers. It is not too far from reality to state that our publishers dictate what our children study. Here too there is evolution, things are moving from text books to eBooks and digital content, but the one thing that has not changed is that publishers still decide what our children study.

Having travelled and seen education closely in several countries I must admit that Indian schools are not the only ones struggling with change and evolution. Almost every country out there has its own share of problems and it is fair to say that the globe is struggling to educate its future generations.

The world around us teaches us that the secret to success is to change quickly, fail quickly and change again. For all those out there who are experimenting with education there is a serious responsibility of ensuring that they are mindful of the impact experiments have on our children.

One of the best ways to learn is to learn from experiences of educators. Mentor Conclave 2015 that is being held on 1 and& 2nd of December at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore is a great opportunity to learn from educators who are leading some phenomenal experiments in education.

An invite to all!

For over 8 years now Mentor has been consistently trying to add value to the educational leadership by its thought provoking articles and concepts. We have made a conscious effort to share best practices from across the world that could provide valuable learning to our readers. Today Mentor is respected tremendously in school circles and hailed as a benchmark for publications. The feedback we get from our readers and the fact that almost all principals ensure that the magazine is passed on to the teachers after they have read it is a testimony by itself. In fact most schools have a section in their libraries that house Mentor. We today have a tremendous responsibility as we set a benchmark for magazines in India.

Going forward we will be making two big changes in the manner in which we present Mentor Magazine to our readers. Firstly we will be launching an all-new online version of Mentor that will enable us to reach out to audiences globally. Secondly we have categories and classified both our online and print magazine into 4 segments – School Leadership, School Governance, Pedagogy and Innovation.

School Leadership: This is the most critical area that needs improvement in the Indian context. We will be making a genuine attempt to share best practices relevant to education from leaders of all industries. In addition to featuring thoughts and practices we will also be sharing new age challenges and experiments that various leaders are carrying out to address them.

School Governance: The challenges posed by regulatory authorities to parents to media to society are immense in schools today. Leaders take a brunt of that stress and handle issues on a daily basis. With this segment of Mentor we strive to unravel the various facets of governance and help our readers handle real life governance challenges better.

Pedagogy: The dramatically changing world is altering the expectations our society has on what children need to learn, the dynamics of this is reflected in the tremendous changes both psychologically and socially that our children are undergoing. Today the way children learn, the way we need to teach and what we need to teach is a big mystery the world is trying to solve. This question will become a bigger challenge tomorrow. We at Mentor will attempt to understand these changes and bring forth learning, experiences and experiments from schools and teachers.
Innovation: There is a lot that is changing around us; we need to make a conscious and constant effort to keep pace with these changes. Technology, infrastructure, industry et al are all in a constant state of change. Education needs to keep pace with these changes by learning and understanding the innovations that are taking place globally. This segment of Mentor will try to keep pace with these changes and share cutting edge ideas.
We have carefully chosen these four segments based on our experience and in future all articles will reflect these themes.

This year the Mentor Conclave is scheduled to take place on the 1st & 2nd of December in Bengaluru. The Conclave will feature School Leadership, School Governance, Pedagogy and Innovation as its theme. All the sessions, topics and speakers will revolve around this theme. It is time for you to book your seat in what promises to be a very exciting event that will bring together passionate people who want to make a difference to education in India.