Politics is harming regional languages in our schools – Pratap Bhanu Mehta

A few weeks back, Pratap Bhanu Mehta had an interesting article in the Indian Express where he points out how the politicization of the debate about language of instruction in our schools is really hurting both, our education, as well as our languages.

Here are a few excerpts from his article:

Because of linguistic politics, the emphasis in teaching has been more on differentiation than on finding commonalities. Learning a language has, paradoxically, been seen more as creating a barrier than building a bridge. The divide is very palpable, for example, in the pedagogic evolution of Hindi and Urdu; modern Hindi teachers in Delhi’s most progressive schools take expunging “Urdu” words to absurd lengths.

and:

But a little more imagination could bridge other divides: a little teaching of one or two more scripts for example, could make a Hindi speaker more functional in at least a couple of other regional languages. Two different stalwarts of Hindi literature, Shivani and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, could find a home more easily in Shantiniketan than in Benares, in a way that now seems unimaginable. But the obstacles to a more polyglot linguistic imagination are not pedagogical, they are political.

and:

pedagogic choices in Hindi have been constricted by identity and purity concerns, not the growth of the language

and:

if you want to see what is wrong with Hindi, just see the typical CBSE or ICSE syllabus. It is not clear, first of all, whether this syllabus was designed to excite kids about the possibilities of the language or whether it was designed by a group of morose social reformers who thought the Hindi syllabus was occasion to be earnest, boring and identify all the ills of Indian society.

The full article covers a lot of other ground, and is worth reading if this is an area that interests you.

mLearning: Trends in Mobile-based learning (and how it’s different)

eLearn Magazine has an interesting event overview of the mLearnCon 2014, eLearning Guild’s annual conference on mobile learning.

The main takeaway of the author is that mobile learning is here to stay, and it is different, so educators and technologists need to start thinking about it seriously.

First the bad news – regarding the products being demonstrated there:

despite continual efforts for improvement, much of what’s available as tools and shown as demos are still mobile eLearning (or courses on a mobile device) not real mLearning.

That’s not surprising. Lots of people are under the impression that mLearning is simply making eLearning courses available on the mobile in a format more suited for the small screen.

But, here is the good news:

[In the first keynote, Larry Irving,] began by pointing out the growth of mobile, particularly in the developing world where it serves as the major internet channel as opposed to the desktop. He then moved on to how initiatives were underway to bring unprecedented learning opportunities to disadvantaged groups around the world using mobile devices.

and:

The second keynote of the conference was clearly the highlight for many. Karen McGrane presented a witty and compelling case for moving beyond blobs of content, and start talking about chunks of content. The distinction is important. Moving from content written for delivery to content written that is assembled differently depending on device, need, and more, is a much needed discussion. The separation of form from content has been well demonstrated, but hasn’t really been seen yet, particularly in eLearning. The argument here for structuring content, tagging with meta-data (a lovely quote from Twitter user @studip101 was “metadata is the new art direction”), and scaffolding the author experience was delivered with style and humor. Karen presented a message whose time has come.

Learning in small chunks, via mobile, is a fascinating idea that merits attention, as can be seen by the popularity of even simplistic tools like flashcard apps on mobile phones.

The products being demonstrated had more:

Some of the top examples included performance apps that not only augmented face-to-face learning with refreshers, but provided performance support as well. Another technically sophisticated system had physical cards for a learning game linked to a mobile app that leveraged them by extending the information via a scannable QR code on the back of the card.

But the broader themes emerging from the talks are of more interest:

Two themes that appeared several times, often linked together, were gamification and social learning. Apparently the casual gaming phenomena seen with mobile entertainment has opportunities for mLearning as well, though one would hope that intrinsic motivation opportunities would be exhausted before extrinsic motivation mechanisms are tried. Gamification of course is inherently social when competition is leveraged with leaderboards, or voting on good submissions. Social obviously holds more opportunities as well, connecting people for cooperation and collaboration, to the benefit of the organization.

And there is a third, futuristic theme that is also worth pondering:

One theme that recurred in several ways, including sessions and demos, was that of augmented reality. Layering information on the environment (typically visually) is an opportunity that now can be capitalized on. Sessions not only discussed the possibilities, but provided hands on experience using tools to make real solutions. While the processes are still somewhat effort intensive, real value is being seen.

With the rise of Google glass, smart watches, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, augmented reality and virtual reality as the ultimate disruptions in education cannot be far behind.

Read the full article

Getting Lean in Education – By Getting Out of the Classroom

Steve Blank has an interesting article on how methods from the Lean Startups mode can be used in Education

The I-Corps program started when the U.S. National Science Foundation adopted my Lean LaunchPad class. Their goal was to train University scientists and researchers to use Lean Startup methods (business model design, customer development and agile engineering) to commercialize their science. Earlier this month the National Institutes of Health announced I-Corps @ NIH, to help scientists doing medical research take their innovations from the lab-bench to the bedside and accelerate translational medicine.

This week, the NSF is announcing the next step in the I-Corps program– I-Corps for Learning  (I-Corps L).  This version of I-Corps is for STEM educators – anyone  who teaches Science, Technology, Engineering and Math from kindergarten to graduate school, and wants to learn how to bring an innovative teaching strategy, technology, or set of curriculum materials to a wider audience. Following a successful pilot program, the NSF is backing the class with $1.2 million to fund the next 24 teams.

The main problem, according to the article, is that although there is a lot of innovation in education in the US, it is happening in localized pockets, and that innovation does not spread and catch on as it should. The program described above is specifically designed to help with this problem:

A year ago Don Millard of the National Science Foundation (who in a previous life had been a STEM Educator) approached me with a hypothesis that possibly could solve this problem. Don observed that educators with innovative ideas who actively got out of their classrooms and tested their innovations with other educators/institutions/students had a much better adoption rate.

Up until now there was no formal way to replicate the skills of the educators who successfully evangelized their new concepts. Don’s insight was that the I-Corps model being rolled out for scientists might work equally well for educators/teachers. He pointed out that there was a close analogy between scientists trying to bring product discoveries to market and educators getting learning innovations into broad practice. Don thought that a formal Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps methodology might be exactly what educators needed to understand how their classroom innovations could be used, how to get other educators and institutions to adopt them, and how to articulate their value to potential investors .

The rest of the article goes on to describe details of the program and is worth checking out.

Video and Slides of InnoVidya Talk: Groundwater Governance in India

Here is a kapsule of the talk.

If you do not see the video/slides of the talk above, please click here. We suggest you click on the “fullscreen” button in the video above and then use the “Layout” button to change the layout so you can see the slides at the same time as the video. Also, click on the slides below the video to skip forward or backward in the talk.

Here is the abstract of the talk (if you need to decide whether it’s worth your time to see the whole video):

Groundwater governance in India must combine science, participation and regulation. India’s current groundwater scenario is a consequence of the scale and diversity of aquifers, the varying degrees of groundwater use and the significant degree of our groundwater dependence cutting across demands by agriculture, industry and household need. Developing a framework for groundwater requires an interdisciplinary perspective, although ‘hydrogeology’ remains the platform on which such a framework is built. Given India’s diverse hydrological and hydrogeological settings, the proposed approach considers fundamental principles of groundwater governance from other parts of the world, at the same time giving due importance to India’s social, economic and environmental peculiarities. This talk provides emergent contours of groundwater governance as well as a preliminary framework that is in synchronization with the fresh paradigm of water resource management enunciated in India’s 12th Five Year Plan. The approach proposed here is based on establishing that sustainable national development is only possible through groundwater governance taking an ecosystem perspective that is inclusive of both ‘aquifers’ and ‘people’s participation’.

Here is the background of the speaker:

Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni creates space for implementing the science of groundwater in the practice and policy on groundwater management. His system of aquifer-based participatory groundwater management is slowly bearing fruit on many fronts in India. He has been actively involved in the advocacy for stronger programs on groundwater management in India, through his inputs, more recently as Chairman, Working Group on Sustainable Groundwater Management for India’s 12th Five Year Plan. ACWADAM, which he co-founded with some of his teachers & peers, is working actively with various groups, networks and committees dealing with water resources across the country. Groundwater resources have held Dr. Kulkarni’s interest for nearly 30 years now. His work, both on the science of groundwater as well as on its application to socio-economic and ecological sectors is known and acknowledged in academic and development circles. He is currently working on groundwater management across India’s diverse hydrogeological typology. His work blends experience from his stints with academia, the corporate sector and, in his current position, with ACWADAM. He has travelled extensively, including to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship and to Austria as a UNESCO scholar. He has conducted hydrogeological fieldwork in all types of geological terrains in India and overseas. Dr. Kulkarni continues to publish his work extensively while providing various levels of mentorship in the field of groundwater management.

Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller talks about MOOCs

The MySlideRule Blog has an interesting interview with last year’s Economics Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller, where part of the time, they talked about MOOCs and the future of education

Considering that he loves to teach, and teaches a 300-person freshman class at Yale, and his Financial Markets online course had over 165,000 students registered, he should have a good understanding of the potential of MOOCs.

Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview:

How does teaching on Coursera compare with teaching on campus at Yale? Are online courses the future?

Technology changes society, but not always in the way people expect. The need for community and social connection is stronger than most technologists believe. In 1876, when the telephone was invented, people thought cities would disappear, but it didn’t happen.

The human mind requires a sense of relationship, and social connection. MOOCs do these things better than textbooks, but still have a long way to go. My Yale classes are big (the latest had over 300 students), so I don’t get to know most of the students. Yet, there is a sense of community. And that’s important.

Are you saying that the online course was less effective?

I’m saying that it’s not as easy to build deep connections in an online course. On Coursera, I held office hours and responded to questions. Yet, I found myself spending more time thinking about my 300 Yale students than my 165,000 Coursera students, because I saw my Yale students every week.

I felt guilty for paying less attention to the larger number of students, but I couldn’t help the deeper feelings I felt for my on-campus students.

So, does this mean that Schiller does not think that the “massively” part of “massively online open courses” is really going to work?

So what does this mean for the future of education?

Online classes are here to stay, but perhaps the right answer is ordinary-sized classes rather than the “massive” classes currently in prevalence. I suspect the future will involve smaller online class sizes, more interaction with faculty.

There is a large opportunity in making online classes resemble traditional education more closely. For instance, tools to create better relationships even at a distance, record of professors’ communication with each student so they can refresh their memories.

Read the full article

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play

The Atlantic has an interesting article on by Tim Walker on How Schools in Finland Keep Kids Focused Through Free Play.

Having come from the US, Walker was surprised by the Finnish school timetables:

Normally, students and teachers in Finland take a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. During a typical break, students head outside to play and socialize with friends while teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee.

It appears that To Walker, this seemed like typical European laziness. So he decided to fix it:

As a teacher in the United States, I’d spent several consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. And I was trying to replicate this model in Finland. The Finnish way seemed soft and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time.

The results were not what he expected. Students started rebelling and their performance went down. So he decided to embrace the Finnish way, and was surprised by the results:

Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.

At first, I was convinced that I had made a groundbreaking discovery: frequent breaks kept students fresh throughout the day. But then I remembered that Finns have known this for years; they’ve been providing breaks to their students since the 1960s.

But is anecdotal evidence like this conclusive? Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on just Walker’s story. There is actually research by Anthony Pelligrini—author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development and emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota—who has praised this approach for more than a decade.

Not satisfied with anecdotal evidence alone, Pellegrini and his colleagues ran a series of experiments at a public elementary school to explore the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in the classroom. In every one of the experiments, students were more attentive after a break than before a break. They also found that the children were less attentive when the timing of the break was delayed—or in other words, when the lesson dragged on.

Sending children out for recess and then having to collect them again in a 15 minutes might not be practical for all schools. But, the interesting point is that the break does not have to be outside.

Although I favor the Finnish model, I realize that unleashing fifth graders on the playground every hour would be a huge shift for most schools. According to Pellegrini, breaks don’t have to be held outdoors to be beneficial. In one of his experiments at the public elementary school, students had their recess times inside the school and the results matched those of other experiments where students took their breaks outside

And the most important fact, that some people need to realize is that the converse is also true: Just because you give kids breaks, they are not going to be useful, if the activity during the breaks is directed by the teachers:

What’s most important is not where kids take breaks but how much freedom we give them from their structured work. When break times are teacher-directed, Pelligrini found, the recess loses its value. It’s free-play that gives students the opportunity to develop social competence. During these times, they not only rest and recharge—they also learn to cooperate, communicate, and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.

Read the full article

Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t. -NYTimes

The New York Times has an interesting article which argues that Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

However, looking at data carefully gives a different picture.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities.

Specifically, just because the best universities in the US are the best universities in the world, does not mean that the average universities in the US are better than the average universities in the rest of the world, or even as good.

Because:

International university rankings, moreover, have little to do with education. Instead, they focus on universities as research institutions, using metrics such as the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff and journal articles published. A university could stop enrolling undergraduates with no effect on its score.

Looking at the impact of average universities on the average population is a different way to evaluate a country’s higher education program.

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the O.E.C.D. published exactly such a study.

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia. Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

And, the situation is getting worse:

In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.

Read the full article

Education: We need a national strategy – by @MeetaSengupta

@Meeta Sengupta in LiveMint talks about the need for a national strategy for education. There are various problems at various levels with our education system. Here are her suggestions on what the government needs to do to improve things:

  • Unbox Learning: [...] Build on existing programmes to push content via multiple channels, create open libraries, let village school buildings become community learning centres after school time with open access to solar-powered connected computers. Commission science and reading vans, convert bus stops into educational game corners. Invest in creativity and research attitudes from the very beginning. Let learning be open to all, not just those who wear uniforms.
  • Unbind the education sector from these regulatory constraints, allow the private sector to participate and compete, and take on the role of good governance via agencies to ensure relentless focus on improving quality.
  • Build synergies between ministries. Let the digital literacy mission be integrated with the teachers’ mission. Vocational training and employability are inextricably linked with the labour ministry. Untangle the threads that do not allow student finance to flow freely, whether as loans, scholarships or vouchers.
  • The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto and speeches spoke of maximum governance, minimum government. This is what education needs. Let the government provide oversight, not necessarily run operations

Read the full article where she goes into much more detail.

InnoVidya Event: Ground Water Governance in India

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni, on Groundwater governance in India: an ecosystem perspective to participatory aquifer management, on Saturday, 19 July, 2014, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni

Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni creates space for implementing the science of groundwater in the practice and policy on groundwater management. His system of aquifer-based participatory groundwater management is slowly bearing fruit on many fronts in India. He has been actively involved in the advocacy for stronger programs on groundwater management in India, through his inputs, more recently as Chairman, Working Group on Sustainable Groundwater Management for India’s 12th Five Year Plan. ACWADAM, which he co-founded with some of his teachers & peers, is working actively with various groups, networks and committees dealing with water resources across the country. Groundwater resources have held Dr. Kulkarni’s interest for nearly 30 years now. His work, both on the science of groundwater as well as on its application to socio-economic and ecological sectors is known and acknowledged in academic and development circles. He is currently working on groundwater management across India’s diverse hydrogeological typology. His work blends experience from his stints with academia, the corporate sector and, in his current position, with ACWADAM. He has travelled extensively, including to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship and to Austria as a UNESCO scholar. He has conducted hydrogeological fieldwork in all types of geological terrains in India and overseas. Dr. Kulkarni continues to publish his work extensively while providing various levels of mentorship in the field of groundwater management.

Abstract of the talk:

Groundwater governance in India must combine science, participation and regulation. India’s current groundwater scenario is a consequence of the scale and diversity of aquifers, the varying degrees of groundwater use and the significant degree of our groundwater dependence cutting across demands by agriculture, industry and household need. Developing a framework for groundwater requires an interdisciplinary perspective, although ‘hydrogeology’ remains the platform on which such a framework is built. Given India’s diverse hydrological and hydrogeological settings, the proposed approach considers fundamental principles of groundwater governance from other parts of the world, at the same time giving due importance to India’s social, economic and environmental peculiarities. This talk provides emergent contours of groundwater governance as well as a preliminary framework that is in synchronization with the fresh paradigm of water resource management enunciated in India’s 12th Five Year Plan. The approach proposed here is based on establishing that sustainable national development is only possible through groundwater governance taking an ecosystem perspective that is inclusive of both ‘aquifers’ and ‘people’s participation’.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, University of Pune Campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here.

India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?

Business Standard has an Opinion Column by Devesh Kapur arguing that India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?. He basically compares India with China and points out that China has very quickly become a major contributor to Science and Technology in the past few years, and India is falling behind.

This rise of China is not just about quantity: they are also improving their quality and capabilities:

Make no mistake: if a foreign institution wants to establish itself in China, it has to have a meaningful collaboration with a Chinese institution that can learn, copy and improve over time, just as Chinese businesses have done. But this self-confidence is lacking in India. If India’s political elites have been apprehensive of globalisation, the country’s intellectuals have been, for the most part, hostile; they have viewed themselves as valiant defenders of the nation against marauding foreigners. Patriotism is the best cover for self-interest.

How does India fare in comparison?

Not only is meritocracy a much more contested terrain in India, but the idea that there should be clear links between academic productivity, salaries and tenure, as in China, would meet fierce resistance from a vocal interest group, namely faculty. The University Grants Commission (UGC) rules, that faculty members in public institutions should automatically get promotions based on the length of service and have a common salary structure linked to civil service salaries set by an anachronistic authority called the Pay Commission, have reduced faculty to the status of babus. It is not surprising that so much of higher education in India – both overall regulation and the internal governance of universities – is what Pankaj Chandra, former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, termed “babudom” – a regime of, for and by babus.

He goes on to lament that a very few babus in our government control the leadership positions in all our top institutions, and this can only lead to bad things:

Why should the HRD ministry have a role in the selection of an IIT or IIM director, or in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of a central university? The key stakeholders are the campus community (faculty, students and staff), alumni, and, yes, the national government. At the same time, an alumnus of an IIT has a far greater emotional stake in the success and future of his alma mater than a dozen bureaucrats in the HRD ministry or the selection panels they appoint.

Read the full article