Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reflections and Interests: What Comes Next

I am preparing for the next phase of my life: This, as far as my plans go, involves travel.

The immediate trigger for this thought is the degree certificate, from UCL, which arrived by post last week. This is significant for me: I wanted to top up my experience in Adult Education with a formal qualification and spent the last three years pursuing this. Now that it is over, I must look out to what comes after.

My life, right now, is both incredibly exciting and boring. The business I started is slowly taking shape, through a series of conversations, projects, interactions, developments. Each of these developments are full of potential, incredibly exciting: But at the same time, it fills me with despair that I am so far from where the action is. The business we built is about delivering education in different countries of the world, and while we are engaged in designing the programmes and managing the technology etc. on the ground activities are driven by partner organisations. While the potential excites me, we can only participate in these activities in different countries in a limited way, given that we are bootstrapping. Right now, therefore, all my thoughts are focused on unshackling my life and getting to do things hands on.

Which is easier said than done! As we are bootstrapping, I have kept myself going by taking on part time teaching commitments in London, which has expanded from half a day commitments to a few days every week now, as I ran through my savings over the course of last year. This is the sort of time one should live once in life: This makes even the simple middle class living feel heroic. However, this expanding teaching commitment limits my movements, and though I would spend every waking hour with the grandest aspiration, I am getting farther from the ground. This is indeed a cause of despair.

So, my turnaround plan now is to give up my life in London, at least for a period of time, and go back on the ground to do things myself. There are various components of this plan: One crucial bit is to raise enough money to start a Joint Venture in Asia, based possibly in India but supported by other ventures in different neighbouring countries, to deliver a new kind of vocational education. The idea is to create a smart, global, vocational education, for the 'Professional Artisan' (or 'Artisan Professional') and change the conception of vocational education as the poor man's education (It may still be directed at poor men, but its objective should not be to keep them in poverty).

Rather, this is my latest attempt to shake up the insularity of Higher Ed types, who, ensconced in their own privileged perches, want to hide away from the worldwide change in jobs and professions solely by handing out degrees, through grade inflation. By this, they end up doing two things: One, they promote a false elite who have little morality or responsibility, who in turn promote wrong values and undermine efforts to build community, protect environment or enable committed citizenship; and two, they make countless others feel bad, disconnect, and live in a life of helplessness. While the destruction of our economic lives, corruption of our institutions, waning of our ideals and desperation of our generations all point to the emptiness of this credentials game, no one, absolutely no one, want to challenge the status quo: Everyone has so much to lose here.

Successful subversion, however, use the system against the system, and I see vocational education, or the unthinking version that goes with the name, is the weakness embedded in the system. The current neo-liberal love of the creed, primarily as a modern day workhouse, opens up a space for disruption of education as a whole. There is an enabling structure for a different kind of education, which can remain under the radar and yet become very powerful; which can create successful lives of different varieties; which may help restore the dignity of work; and which can enable a different kind of values and moralities, that enable societies and make us human.

This, however, can not be done from a distance. This model has to be built, ground up, hands on, one person at a time. This, I see, is the next thing that I do. This is, in a way, my life's work, something I always wanted to do. This is something I dreamt about in my long train journeys across India, during my IT training days many many years back (truth be told, I would look out to the paddy fields at night and thank the divine for having the opportunity to travel and touch so many lives). This is admittedly idealistic and romantic, but appropriate at a time when being realistic means conforming to Wall Street's designs (and bankers' manipulations such as the game they played with LIBOR) for our lives.

Whether or not I am successful in raising the money and getting started on this, I am not abandoning the dream: I shall claim to have proved my commitment to it by sticking to it over so many years. My commercial work, which I have done successfully over a long period of time, was all a preparation for this sort of life. If it does not happen now, I shall continue to work towards it, as long as it takes. But, after so many years of travel, work, talking, writing for so many years, I have come to realise that this is the only thing I ever wanted to do.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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