InnoVidya Event: The Idea of Growth by Anupam Saraph

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Anupam Saraph on “An Agenda for a Resurgent India” on Saturday, Aug 17, 2013, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Anupam Saraph

Anupam Saraph holds a PhD in sustainable systems design from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands. He has made important contributions in domains such as systems, governance, environment and civil society and has done pioneering work in economic carrying capacity modeling & use of systems as a pedagogy in education. He teaches systems – information systems, environmental systems – and sustainable development at universities in Europe, Asia and the Americas. He also advises the World Economic Forum through its Global Agenda Council for Complex Systems and the Club of Rome Indian National Association as a founder life member.

Abstract of the talk:

Growth is all about getting Bigger. Individuals, corporations, governments – all of us wish to grow. What is their IDEA of GROWTH? Is there a limit to how much one can grow? What are the practical constraints behind such growth? Is there a conflict between <earning> & <learning>? Does the economics of growth drive all life forms and the dynamics of growth itself? Do the complex systems we create and are a part of decide the pace of growth and its impact on the system itself? What are the fallouts arising from Growth? How does Growth impact our Quality of Life? Some scenarios of our Growth and the Key elements contributing to Growth shall be defined & the ideas behind them shall be examined.

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, August 17, 2013, at 11am, at the Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, at University of Pune campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here. There is ample parking at the venue.

Are MOOCs just glorified textbooks?

Sometimes, when talking to educators, one gets the feeling that all the hopes of overhauling our education system seem to be pinned on technology and MOOCs (massive online open courses). Yet, while their popularity is growing, so is the criticism.

Here are a couple of examples from recent times.

Jonathan Rees has a scathing piece in Slate magazine against online-only higher education saying it will be a disaster for students (and most professors).

Here are some interesting excerpts:

But the most common way to assess learning in the MOOCs offered by the largest providers is a single multiple-choice question after approximately five-minute chunks of pre-taped lectures. If I had told my tenure committee that I taught history this way, I’d be in another line of work right now. Anyone who has the slightest interest or expertise in education would never teach this way, even if they were paid to do so.


The average drop-out rates for existing MOOCs is about 90 percent, so while Coursera may offer access to higher education anywhere in the world where potential students can get the Internet, it offers no guarantee that anybody will actually learn anything.


While MOOCs may serve a purpose as nerdy edu-tainment for people who are so inclined, a workforce trained without close contact with professors of any kind might as well not attend college at all. Going to the library and reading a bunch of books would be equally effective, and probably a whole lot cheaper.

Another indictment of MOOCs comes from professors in the Philosophy Department at San Jose State University (SJSU) in California, USA. The SJSU administration have just bought a package of online courses from edX, the online education company formed by MIT, Harvard etc., the professors were being “encouraged” to teach a “blended course” that would use the lectures from the online courses.

The professors refused, and wrote this open letter to Michael Sandel, the Harvard professor whose MOOC they were being asked to use.

It is telling to discover that the core of edX’s JusticeX is a series of video-taped lectures that include excerpts of Harvard students making comments and taking notes. […] we believe that having a scholar teach or engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of in-person lecture/discussion

Purchasing a series of lectures does not provide anything over and above assigning a book to read. […] having our students read a variety of texts, perhaps including your own, is far superior to having them listen to your lectures. This is especially important for a digital generation that reads far too little. If we can do something as educators we would like to increase literacy, not decrease it.

Read the full open letter. It is quite interesting.

I understand, of course, that the above criticisms are oversimplified, and there are many arguments in favor of MOOCs. And obviously, in a country like India, where the quality of professors in tier 2 and tier 3 colleges leaves a lot to be desired, some of the above criticisms against MOOCs don’t even hold.

But still, these are arguments worth keeping in mind. For example, if you’re going to bet the future of education on MOOCs, you need to make sure that the MOOCs you’re building are not just glorified textbooks.

Are coaching classes such a bad thing?

Meeta Sengupta has a great article on her Times of India Blog: EduCable where she analyzes the issue of whether external coaching classes are good or bad.

There are a number of different ways of looking at coaching classes, and each change in perspective gives us new food for thought. Here are some examples from the article:

One difference between coaching classes and schools is that coaching classes do no need affiliations:

[M]any schools do operate merely as classes that teach to a test and no more. On the other hand, coaching classes often grow into schools as they expand their scope and scale..this is when they need to officially affiliate with an examination board. Till they seek such affiliation, they can continue to ‘coach. Very insightful comment -laying bare the fact that education, it seems is untrammeled by the need to report to an authority, while assessments need to be linked to a standardising authority. (Of course the RTE act is seeking to redress this in ways it deems fit, despite the many gaps and flaws)

Another perspective is that coaching classes are ad hoc, and neither systematic nor sustainable:

Another interesting perspective.. Krupakar rightly points out that these are boosters – they do improve the achievement grades of the students, but they are ad hoc..not a systemic or sustainable improvement in education levels. Coaching classes are like a vitamin booster shot that do not address the real problems in diet but cover up for deficiencies.

Another perspective is that (bad) coaching classes exist because our examination system is flawed and encourages rote learning:

Now this was good..the only reason coaching classes exist is that students seek to improve achievement via grades in examinations. These exams are designed in such a manner that it is possible to coach a student to reach that single goal. If examinations were designed better, coaching classes for rote learning would find themselves made redundant (at worst) or, would have to transform themselves from memorisation shops to centres of enhanced or excellence in learning (at best) . This can only be good for education. If examinations are designed to test for originality, creativity, analytical ability rather than only test for information, then clearly the role of coaching classes will have to change. Those that remain rote learning shops will have to shut down – there would be no demand for them as the premium for information as education would go down. Once examinations start rewarding thinking rather than knowing, the incentives will change and the role of coaching colleges will have to change.

Are coaching classes more like performance enhancing drugs, or practice sessions?

Yes, coaching classes do improve performance, but are they really drugs or practice sessions? Would one want a cricketer to go to cricket school and not have a customised coach? Would you grudge Sachin Tendulkar sessions with his personal coach and physio team? Could Dravid have become who he was just by going to cricket school with a regimented timetable, set practice sessions where he may or may not get a turn and class sizes of forty or more? Was coaching wrong for them, even as it enhanced their performance.

There much more interesting discussion in the article. You should read the full article

Event Report: Transforming and Scaling Education – D.B. Phatak

(This is a live-blog of a talk Prof. D.B. Phatak of IIT-Bombay gave a few weeks back in Pune, titled “Rethinking Education – Transforming and Scaling the Learning Model”. Note, this is a live blog, so please excuse the fact that it is unstructured, incomplete, and might contain errors. Note: this talk is being live-cast to 30+ colleges and other institutions all over India.)

Introduction of D.B. Phatak, by Anand Deshpande (CEO of Persistent Systems)

  • Prof. Phatak is my Guru. I have not been his student, formally, but I know him since early 90s and I always go to him for advice before anything important.
  • He did his engineering from Indore and PhD from IIT Bombay.
  • He got the Padmashree last year
  • He is a great speaker and anytime he is going a talk, you should always attend it.

Transforming and Scaling Education – by D.B. Phatak

  • This talk will touch upon these topics: 1) Learning, 2) Education, 3) Scaling, 4) Open Sourcing of Knowledge and 5) Technology Crystal Gazing


  • We are all familiar with learning in groups. Classroom learning. Fixed time slots. Typical: 1 teacher, 50 students, 1 hour. Teacher has (hopefully) pre-prepared the lecture. The students are supposed to listen with attention, throughout the hour, but this never happens.
  • So does learning happen in a classroom? Partially. Maximal learning happens when you try to apply knowledge that you’ve acquired.
  • All the advocates of e-learning and e-everything claim that if there is access to good quality knowledge, that is enough for anyone to learn. This is false. If just access to knowledge was good enough for learning, then librarians would be the smartest people on earth.
  • Learning needs applying knowledge, failing to apply that knowledge, correcting the failures. Without these steps, learning cannot happen.
  • Can an individual learn entirely on his/her own? Eklavya. Yes, there are cases of this. But don’t forget that here is only one Eklavya, but 7 billion non-Eklavya humans who also need to learn.
  • Why do we learn? Primarily for survival. Then betterment of ones life. Two other reasons which not everybody follows: learning for the sake of learning, and learning to advance human knowledge (research).
  • Unfortunately, we seem to have separated “research” and “education”). But research shouldn’t be just the domain of PhDs writing papers. The most important things needed in research should really be included in the mindset of everyone – Meticulousness. Curiosity. Precise Articulation. Diligence. Discipline. Rigor.
  • The most important learning happens from the age of 0 to 5 (-9months to 5 if you consider Abhimanyu), before the child goes to school. Social behavior. Basic Articulation. A second language. Ethics. Humility.


  • We think of education as a formal system of knowledge being imparted through training and/or research. But education is happening all the time. Every interaction with someone else is an opportunity for self-education.
  • Our existing system is broken. Too much emphasis on rote learning. Children cannot apply what they learn. Industry says that less than 25% of our engineers are employable (and apparently the number in China is even lower).
  • We as a society have concluded that getting a degree with good marks implies that your career will be successful. And also, that the manner in which the degree and marks are gained is irrelevant – so optimizations (classes, cheating, leaked papers) are widespread.
  • The teaching is syllabus driven, and the learning by students is examination driven. The teacher must stick to the syllabus because the exam papers will be checked by a different teacher based on a paper set by a third teacher.
  • Is autonomy the answer?
  • The problem is not that our existing system is broken. The problem is that our system refuses to break! It is so well-entrenched. So any solution cannot emerge from complete disruption. The change has to be incremental and needs to work with the system.


  • A claimed advantage of India is the demographic dividend. 300 million people under the age of 19. Educating them well can lead to huge gains for us. But we spend a very small fraction of our GDP (compared to other developing countries).
  • Gross enrollment ratio – the ratio of students who actually enroll for higher education to those actually eligible for higher education – is 60-80% in developed countries. In India it was 8% about 6 years ago. It has been brought to 13-14% now. We are hoping to bring it up to 30% by 2020. Double! To achieve that, we need to double all our educational institutions in 7 years. This is a tall order.
  • Another problem: last year, our engineering colleges’ capacity was 1.45million, whereas enrollment was 1.25million. So, while capacity is growing, enrollment is not growing. Parents and students have begun to believe that getting an engineering degree might not be worth it in all cases.
  • This is the situation with engineering education. It is much worse as you go lower.
  • Think of the problems we face, and the scale of the problems. And we need to solve them at that scale. If we double all our higher educational infrastructure in 7 years, and we convince students/parents to join the new schools, we’ll just get the enrollment ratio to just 30%. And we need to get to 80%
  • Teachers need to be convinced that their main job is not to teach. The main job is enable students to learn. The student should be able to transcend the knowledge of the teacher if/where needed. Also, student should be able to learn in the best possible manner for that student. The manner will be different for different students.
  • Our current education system allows a fixed amount of time for learning, but given that different human beings learn at different rates, it results in variable amount of learning. How does our education system deal with this difference? We grade the students. And denigrate the students who get lower marks. Not just society, friends and family start looking down on the student, but the student himself loses confidence and motivation.
  • What is needed is fixed amounts of learning in variable time (as long as the time is not too long). Is it possible to do this? Maybe – the technology, for the first time in human history, might allow this. Conventional education does not admit this possibility.

Open Sourcing of Knowledge

  • One of the important reasons for creation of the copyright and patent laws was to ensure that after a fixed amount of time, the knowledge contained there is available for all of humanity. But industry is manipulating the system to increase the amount of time.
  • The open source movement, creative commons are ways to get around the problems now being caused by copyright and patent problems.
  • There is lots of knowledge available on the net for free downloads, but because they are not appropriately licensed, it is not possible to distribute this knowledge in a system like Aakash. It is quite likely that the original author would have happily consented to the knowledge being used in this way, but often it is not possible to contact the person, or other problems get in the way. So good knowledge gets lost because of lack of awareness of open sourcing of knowledge.
  • However, if there are companies who are spending money on innovation, and would like to benefit monetarily from those innovations, it is only fair to expect that they use copyrights and licenses to enforce their rights. But as far as knowledge dissemination is concerned, open sourcing the knowledge is what will benefit the most people. There needs to be a balance between these two forces.
  • To do anything sustainably – including bringing changes into education – there needs to be revenues and financial management. But, for some reason, India has conferred a moral high ground to the education sector, and there is a belief that education sector should not be making money. That is not a sustainable thought.
  • Premji Foundation has an initiative in rural Karnataka where they are using computers to enhance education. They’re not teaching computers to the students – they are using computers to improve teaching of Kannada, Maths, etc. The program is funded by the foundation, the government, and the students. (There was a proposal to make this free for the students by taking more money from the government, but they found works better if the students pay.) The foundation has used controlled studies to show that the technology results in significant improvements in education.
  • IIT-Bombay runs a course to train teachers. It reaches 10000 teachers in 250 institutions across India. They’re trained by faculty from IIT Bombay. 4 of these centers are in Pune. This initiative is extremely well received. It is a costly model because it costs Rs. 6400 per teacher for a 2-week program – but by introducing a fee for teachers (because the teachers and colleges do benefit from this program) they’re hoping to reduce the cost to run this program.
  • MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courseware) like Coursera and MIT OCW are a new entrant with a lot of promise. IIT-Bombay has just concluded an MOU with edx and should be the first Indian university to offer an MOOC in about 6 months. Some courses can easily scale up to 1 lakh students. This would ensure that quality education will reach the masses.
  • Sam Pitroda makes a point that students who earn credits via MOOCs should be permitted to transferred credits/marks in their educational instituation. i.e. a COEP student taking an IIT-Bombay MOOC should be able to get COEP credits for passing that course.
  • Currently MOOCs are free, but there needs to be a revenue model for MOOCs. IIT-Bombay believes that knowledge should be free – so all the course material should be available using an open source license, but actual interaction can be paid.
  • But, one problem of MOOC is that often students don’t complete the course, or don’t take it seriously. One big advantage of actual physical classrooms is that in spite of all the distractions, you still end up paying attention to a significant fraction of the lecture.
  • These problems with MOOCs will be solved, and MOOCs will play a very large role in scalable education in India. Via internet. On the cloud.

Technology Crystal Gazing

  • MOOCs will be big – and will become the predominant technology platform for education. (IIT-Bombay picked edX instead of Coursera and others because edX is open source.)
  • Everything will be on the cloud
  • Bandwidth requirements will increase significantly
  • Every educational institution should plan for 1 gbps bandwidth.

Concluding remarks

  • Government must invest much more money in education. Government should not be a benevolent dictator. Education institutions, good or bad, need to get autonomy. Why do we have bad institutions who are simply degree factories? Because industry and society tremendously value degrees and marks. As soon as industry discovers that it can quickly and accurately evaluate students/job-seekers on the basis of their actual capabilities (as opposed to their marks and degrees), universities’ arrogance will disappear, and education will become much better.
  • The same technology which allows us to teach lakhs of students simultaneously and scalably, will also allow companies to assess and evaluate lakhs of students quickly and accurately.
  • Education does not end when you graduate from an educational institution. Education continues forever. Students and professionals need to understand this, and companies need to start focusing on this aspect.
  • Parents need to re-think their priorities. Forcing your child to prepare for JEE for 2 years is causing them to lose two years of their life that they could be using for actual education. And they’re learning to cheat – attending classes and skipping college, but getting “full attendance” at college anyway is being encouraged by parents.
  • It is well established that the best education of a child happens in his/her own mother tongue. Yet, most parents opt for English education. This is acceptable for parents who converse with the children in English on a regular basis. But this is a tiny fraction.
  • Students: enjoy education. Enjoy solving problems. Enjoy life. Dream big. But work hard.
  • There are 300 million Indians younger than 19, younger than the people in this room – and they’re waiting for us to do something for them. Independent of whatever else you are doing in your profession, you must think of making some contribution to making life more meaningful in terms of better learning and better education for those 300 million.

InnoVidya Event: Introduction to Inquiry-oriented Education by Prof. K.P. Mohanan

InnoVidya and IUCAA a talk by Prof. K.P. Mohanan on “An Introduction to Inquiry-Oriented Education” on Saturday, July 20, 2013, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Prof. K.P. Mohanan

K.P. Mohanan received his PhD from MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), under Noam Chomsky, and taught at the University of Texas in Austin, MIT, Stanford University and National University of Singapore. At NUS, he initiated the General Education Program for undergraduate students, and as part of this program, created a web course on Academic Knowledge and Inquiry (

In January 2011, he moved to IISER-Pune to set up and develop the Centre for Integrative Studies. At IISER, he has created a three-course package on rational inquiry, covering scientific, mathematical, and conceptual inquiries. He is currently engaged in developing courses and programs on different types of inquiry based learning for high school and college students.

Abstract of the talk:

Scientific inquiry is a form of rational inquiry that seeks knowledge by formulating our ignorance as questions and arriving at answers on the basis of data/observations. Most forms of science education focus on helping students to understand a body of knowledge — the conclusions resulting from scientific inquiry — and to apply that knowledge to solve problems. As an alternative, I have been pursuing an inquiry-oriented form of science education that goes beyond understanding and application, to help students acquire the capacity to engage in scientific inquiry, to function not only as consumers of knowledge, but also as producers of knowledge.

The youtube video clip on What Ruca Likes and Dislikes will give a brief taste of what an inquiry-oriented classroom is like.

In this talk, I will briefly outline what my colleagues and I have been doing to bring scientific inquiry into classrooms, textbooks, and examinations. It should be of interest to both students and educators.

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 20, 2013, at 11am, at the Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, at University of Pune campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here. There is ample parking at the venue.