Sunday, December 04, 2011

Getting Ready for 2012

I have an one point agenda for 2012: To do things that I love.

I used to say I shall retire at 42. That was when I was young and naive. I realised two things as years passed. First, one can actually retire anytime. Second, doing what I love is actually retiring, because that never feels like work. In any case, that's what people mean by retiring: They want to escape the drudgery of daily work and do something they love.

You may say I am justifying the fact that I am not a millionaire yet in a very roundabout way, but truth be told, my dreams don't involve swimming pools or private helicopters, but being able to live a life full of activities that I love doing. I am no party animal, so this does not include parties or drinking. Except for an odd walk in the mountains, there is not a thing which the usual millionaires do in my list.

Instead, it has always been about writing and reading and doing something which has an impact. My belief that we live in an unjust world did not end with the collapse of soviet dictatorship or with various communist parties going native. Instead, it was always about being able to use the time I am given - my life, in short - to make lives better for a few other people. It was never about the class or the race, or being in the fashionable business of philanthropy, but creating something, be it a business, which makes lives better. In that sense, I am a huge fan of Google or Microsoft - yes, I know this is blasphemy - because these companies, however imperfect, have made lives better for those on the margins. I am very much from the margins, being a suburban boy who went to local school and never spoke a word in English till late in life, and I know how businesses like Microsoft can open up opportunities, however inadvertently. 

I shall surely be denounced by every purist, including the Hindu nationalists in my own country, Islamic Jihadis internationally and Occupy Wall Street protesters in the Capitalist world, as my version of Socialist Social Media will not fit into any description of way to God. But I am not looking for one: I am just preparing for retirement, doing something that I love to do. 

I know I have been lucky in life. I have had a great family to support me. Though I would miss my brother dearly - it has been a year now he passed away - I have many great memories which I shall keep playing back in my mind. I have had great friends who always stood by me, helped me and taught me many things in life. I have been lucky with mentors, as a student and in my work life, who have been supportive. In short, I could do whatever I wanted to do, more or less, and I can't complaint. But I am still trying to make 2012 a different sort of an year.

My life is supposed to change if I do nothing. I have graduated into a senior role in the college that I work for, and in many ways, I can now shape the way we do business. I have more or less completed the taught portion of the MA I was pursuing and this will open up a huge amount of time for me next year. In many ways, I can look forward to a stable year in 2012, where I have some visibility of what I shall be next 12 months. It may sound strange, but this is somewhat unique in my life. 

 But I am also aware that I am going to do something, and that is to launch U-Aspire, the online college I wanted to do for last few years. I have never been better prepared: All the elements, the idea, the people and even the funding seem to be coming together now. This may mean I can spend time doing some work in Educational Technology yet again, something I love but I shall get paid for doing this now. 

I see this as a life-changing opportunity because this is what I believed in, using technology to expand opportunity and change the way things are done, and I can put some of the ideas I had in action now. Last few months, dealing with the mundane, financial aspects of the plan, I had to renew my faith every day that this can actually happen: For me, this is not so much about the money one can make but the great possibilities this can open up. In my mind, this plan is pinned on turning the learner as a designer of his own experience - whatever we end up doing, this will be the primary motivation - and link it to the purpose that s/he decides for herself.

In my mind, I see this - learner in charge - as the primary purpose of education. We can have endless debates about social value versus private gains coming out of education, but as the student debts reach unsustainable levels and most governments totter on the edge of bankruptcy, we have to think about a new model, which aspires to achieve some sort of balance between both ends, keep the costs down and go beyond the credo of 'employability' and allow individual learners to define and design what 'success' means to them personally. 

There are lots of things come with this project. This is not just about technology and business, but about the blank canvass on which to put the whole thing together. By definition, the education businesses are unimaginative - they are full of people who are cautious and conservative - and barring a few notable exceptions, they are about continuing the same old thing in a new format, if possible. I expect U-Aspire to be different: I am reading up as much about the path breaking software businesses than the usual tomes about new universities, as I think it is time to do some new thinking how a college should be formed and run. In short, this is an inflection point of sorts, time to acknowledge the fact that business as usual has failed, and it is time to re-imagine the sector.
Finally, this will change my blog, hopefully. As my life changes, I shall withdraw from all the things that do not fit into my primary goal, making U-Aspire successful, and cut down on all my other commitments. However, this blog isn't one of them: This is central to who I am and what I do. As I learn new things and explore new ideas, I shall keep the conversation alive here.





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