General Thinking

Thoughtless Education

When I joined engineering, I thought that I would learn how to make things. I would learn how to engineer! Create that which never existed. My first year in engineering was spent relearning what I had already learnt over the past two years. More equations, formulae and ZERO application. As the years progressed, a depressing feeling started setting in. I was learning things that had been done, in certain cases 150 years ago. Also, I was nowhere close to creating anything new. Let alone the fact that I was not creating anything new, I could not even fix something broken.

A mechanical engineer is supposed to be able to make a car, I could not even fix a car.

Engineering had not turned out to be all that I had hoped it would be. 

Sick of engineering, I decided to take up an MBA. This time it was an American University. So I thought things would be different. That there would be something new to learn and creation will follow. Instead, I spent most of my time learning what someone else had thought or done. The arena was different – management thought, operations research, marketing, etc. The outcome was the same.

Even the case studies were empty exercises in guessing. It is the closest we came to facing the real world.

Our education the world over is about how someone else thought through a problem. Nobody ever bothers to teach us how we should approach a problem. Something new and unseen.

Just writing a blog and getting 500 people to subscribe can be an act of incredible problem solving and real creation! Can no MBA focus on something this simple over 2 years? But none of them does.

No matter how many times I explain to you how someone got on the saddle of a bike and rode it unless you yourself get on the saddle and figure out how to balance you will not learn it. You have to learn to solve that problem by solving it.

We just do not have enough thought about thought. No school or university teaches us how to think about a problem. They spend years and almost infinite capital trying to explain how others thought through a problem.

It serves them well. It creates nations of gross consumers rather than gross creators. 

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

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General Thinking

Disruption of Education

Education has always had a problem

At the outset of the Industrial Revolution, there was a terrible labour shortage. To meet the labour needs, factory owners started recruiting kids and putting them to work. Kids being subjected to such hard work, foul language, violent accidents and sexual abuse were considered a social problem. 

As the chorus against this rose in 19th Century England, the politicians and industrialists reached a compromise. The politicians agreed to ensure that the industrialists are provided with trained labour and in return, the industrialists would not hire children.

The invention that made this happen was called the School. Every child irrespective of their tendency, strengths or capability was put through a standard curriculum to prepare them for industrial needs. Everything was standardised. Education turned a shameful corner and continued down that path for the last 2 centuries. 

Even worse, because most of the world was under British subjugation at some point of time or the other, they systematically destroyed the education system in all of those countries to be able to successfully run their industries.

Mozart and Da Vinci were lucky to have been born before the Industrial Revolution. They may have considered pedestrian students in the current scheme of things. Just as Einstein was branded later.

Most people who achieve greatness, do so in a narrow area of study. They should be allowed to pursue that through genuine love and curiosity. The current education system prevents this from even being a possibility. Further, it is a curse to the introvert who cannot come forward, express themselves and stand up for what they want. Introverts end up getting crushed! 

There is an abysmal lack of collaborative effort in the way the system functions today. Everywhere from the worst school on the planet to the Ivy Leagues students are only slogging to get marks/grades. Nobody is studying to LEARN.

There is a brilliant talk by Seth Godin (which I am embedding) on how to make education right, it is worth a watch. There is also a 120-page essay (a book actually) that he wrote called “Stop Stealing Dream”.

I could spew some more hate but let us get to the point.

COVID-19 has brought Education to a turning point

Introverts are suddenly finding this much more comfortable and find it easier to interact when they can do so without 50 other staring at them. 

In the first week of March Harvard asked all of its students, many of them international, to vacate the campus within 5 days! Since then, they have been subjected to classes that are not very different from what you would get, had you joined Coursera. The only difference being that the Harvard student spent USD 60,000 per annum and then some more while the kid on Coursera probably spent 1/100th that amount.

The questions – Why do we pay so much for education? What purpose does it serve? Have become much more central. 

In the current context, I see the following happening.

Primary Education – I do not expect primary education to change in a revolutionary way. It will be gradual. 

Children who have found online tools such as Byju’s to study will want to remain with them. Does this mode of instruction serve the child better than what schools are doing? Do they find the classes more or less fulfilling?

The dependence on online tools is set to accelerate as positive reviews increase adoption. Over the next decade, the schooling system as it exists might get questioned. 

I expect nothing like the current schooling system would exist by the time these kids who are in school today become adults. 

University Education – This is probably far more susceptible to hurt. Many students are already realising that the money that they pay is just too much. 

This is especially true when it comes to international education. To make matters worse, the immigration and VISA situation in countries abroad which are going to grappling with record job loss would make them even more unattractive destinations.

If the forthcoming batch from IIM and IIT cannot be placed, I am sure even they would ask the question – What did I pay so much for? Remember, all of them paid to buy a job, not to get educated. 

MOOC could not have asked for a better opportunity. Many of the online course providers are going to benefit a great deal and will be able to bring courses from “Top Universities” at a fraction of the price. Also, with a lot of the top tech companies now willing to recruit based on skill and knowledge rather than a university certificate, the stranglehold that many of these archaic institutions have had will be put to test. I anticipate a big change will arrive in this segment of education. 

Universities can play a role from the perspective of providing infrastructure for experimental learning and support from the perspective of the mingling of students which gives rise to new ideas but the traditional form of education is going to evaporate sooner than later.

This will be much faster than the changes that Schooling will see also because of Industry. There is going be a pressing need to bring costs down in the coming years and capability will trump certificates for many companies. How quickly this plays out remains to be seen, but it will happen. For sure. 

General Thinking

Evolution of Education – In the world of mobile apps

I was using  Duolingo yesterday and attempting to learn French, which I know fairly well. At the same time, my partner, Salma’s son, Zaid, was using the same app to learn French. As I was going through the various exercises that are a part of the app, I was noticing how quickly Zaid was able to pick up the language using the app. I thought it was absolutely brilliant!

This got me thinking, the MOOC revolution began because it is not possible for some of the best professors in the world to teach a class 1 Million, but given that technology exists, why should the opportunity to learn be taken away from so many individuals who wish to learn.

Now, if technology could replace the professors in total and do an amazing job at instructing students, what happens to these large universities? It got me wondering; that from a business perspective, should the universities not be running helter-skelter to try and acquire these companies. What if Codecademy is able to teach coding better than any course in any university?

Just like the tablets have slowly but steadily been pulling the rug from under the feet of PC makers; would these apps be able to do the same?

In my opinion, for most students, the certificate that they completed education from a certain university makes them employable. The educational apps currently lack that ability to certify. But what if these companies were able to tie-up with employers and employment agencies, to accept their certifications; it would change education forever.

I think universities should watch out! I do not know if what I am discussing will ever happen or if at all it is possible but it is nevertheless worth a thought.