Monday, July 14, 2014

A New Kind of Education

The theme of my work is to explore the possibility of creating a new kind of educational institution. I have changed jobs and done many things in life, but among all those discreet projects, there has always been this continuous pursuit, an education for possibility.

Education is too often about privilege rather than possibility. In every country, though a suitable excuse of judging by merit is used, merit is often defined as all those things with social privilege; the rationale for education, therefore, has become providing social justification for continuation of inherited privileges. 

This flies in the face of the other claim - that education is all about social mobility. It used to be, because education is the engine which has created the modern middle classes, in every country, and helped create the current political and social consensus that we live by. Indeed, education used to be the bedrock of progress. And, that is precisely my point: That education as it is practised today, to rationalise privilege rather than create social mobility, is antithetical to the very concept of progress we stand on.

True, ours is an age of compulsory schooling and mass Higher Education. But then, one can see that claim as the great con of our time, because it is fails all too often. The mass Higher Education fails to educate. Education means debt and desire more than confidence and freedom. Most countries have this two-tier, even multi-tier systems, where students are relegated to mediocrity even before they had a decent shot at life. 

This is the frontier I have worked on. My work is not about great and the good, about crusty privileges and art of genteel conversation; if I have done anything, I have worked with pupils who were outside those elite institutions and yet wanted to get ahead in life. My work, therefore, was filled less with scholastic conversations and more with nuts-and-bolts of real work, playing out in the Small town India, Bangladesh or Philippines or within immigrant communities of Britain. My work was all about nurturing aspirations.

I know this space, and I do it well. Even after twenty years of doing this, I am still passionate about what I do: I find meaning in this work. However, lately, I am increasingly queasy that this whole business is changing - and my quest is to find the answers to the issues that bother me. It is this: That the future work looks different, and social mobility can not any longer be taken for granted.

This rather sour outlook may be a function of my age, but this looks real. I am not just afraid of the self-driving cars making taxi drivers redundant (or, tablet computers transforming restaurants), but also see the change coming to accounting, report writing, editing, cold calling and all that. I see the entire generations of people across the developing world getting ready for jobs which will disappear within 5 to 10 years. I see the confluence of IT and Globalisation creating a different kind of reality, which leaves out a lot of people who are aspiring for the middle. 

Even the self-touted education innovation today does not take care of this emerging reality. The talk of education innovation is mostly merely how to integrate technology into education, not the post-technology future of education. The few thinkers who are looking at the horizons, comparing this oncoming wave of change with the transformation wrought by industrial revolution and ensuing educational expansion, are still at a loss how the financial globalisation and inclusion of millions of people from India and China (and all the others) will play out. And, indeed, the labour replacing technologies of today are very different from those of the Industrial era; these replace work which we assumed to be essentially human, and they are destroying the middle classes. This is a whole new ball game.

The educational playbook may look simple but it is not. One may say that simply shifting to a more entrepreneurial educational model will prepare us for the future, but really? The institutions we have built, all their culture, protocols and norms, have not yet reached the industrial age: In fact, the factory age of university education is only just arriving and surely it looks outdated just as it started. The whole structure has to be reimagined, and the changes may happen outside the established institutional structures than outside: The manifesto for such a revolution is yet to be written. 

This is the issue that bugs me and this is the object of my current work: A new kind of education. I stop teaching - I was spending too much time within the bounds of a traditional institution - and will take on a peripatetic role, which will take me back to India and other Asian countries, in three weeks time. I am also working on the idea of a conference to discuss some of these issues, to be held in London in January: I have got two institutional endorsements already and believe that it will be the right platform to start talking about some of these ideas. I am also transforming my current business into an experiment to train on entrepreneurial thinking and activities, and unexpectedly, receiving some help from a Chinese city government making it a reality. And, indeed, all this should provide the context of the thing I love most - to connect with people worldwide who are working on the same issues and facing the same challenges, and those who have spent their lives democratising educational access. In that way, the theme of my work remains the same, even if I concern myself with a new kind of education at this time. 


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"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

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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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