End education’s licence raj -Rahul Bajaj & Sanjay Bhargava

Rahul Bajaj and Sanjay Bhargava (of Shiksha Mandal, Wardha, an educational trust run by the Bajajs) have a hard-hitting and well-written article in the Economic Times on how we need to End Education’s Licence Raj

You should read the full article – the only reason we have not copy-pasted the entire thing here is that it would be a copyright violation.

Instead, here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

The education system in our country is largely dysfunctional, from schools to universities. And this dysfunctionality is because of the system, not despite it. Our system is now designed to produce bad quality. Unless we face up to this fact we will continue to produce unemployables.

and:

In most government aided institutions teacher jobs are sold. The going rate in Maharashtra for a college teacher exceeds Rs 20 lakh. What quality can be expected from such institutions and teachers?

and:

In aided institutions, though teacher salaries are good, funds for running the institution are scarce. In Maharashtra this is 5% of the salary grant, barely covering even the electricity bills.

and:

In Nagpur University, 250 colleges were functioning without teachers and yet students enrolled in them are being allowed to sit for exams. Even the much vaunted Pune University had over 70 such colleges.

But, here is the most important part:

All parts of the system are culpable. Governments running a licence raj and making rules that are supposed to improve quality but only increase costs and cause delays, managements who are not education but money minded, teachers who do not want to work or upgrade themselves, and students who are seeking degrees, not learning.

So, how do we fix this?

Essentially, the solutions in our view lie in, first, lifting the heavy hand of government from education. Decisions on starting and expanding an institution should be left to institutions, especially for institutions with a good track record.

Second, disband ‘electoral’ institutions in universities and empower ‘academic’ vice chancellors.

Third, give government aid to A grade institutions and stop giving it to non A grade institutions.

Fourth, move to a tenure track mode of selecting teachers, as in the US and Europe. At present, they are simply confirmed after a year. Given the bad quality of governance, this has the potential of turning away good teachers from teaching altogether.

Fifth, get the corporate sector involved in starting or supporting institutions from schools to universities. It is in their enlightened self-interest and they should use their CSR funds for this purpose. The important thing is to face reality and make real progress.

Read the full article

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.

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

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.

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

Skilling will power the India growth story (but there are challenges) – by @MeetaSengupta

@MeetaSengupta has an interesting article in the Hindustan Times talking about the challenges facing skills development in India

The first thing she does is point out that skills enhancement is extremely important for India, and our Demographic Dividend is useless unless we can educate all those people:

Skills development for employment and growth is on the front burner with a million new people to be trained and employed each month in India. The rise of this trained workforce is critical to India’s growth story — else who will power the engine? Without this soft infrastructure all investments in hard infrastructure are futile

Clearly, no one will disagree that across India people are interested in improving their skills, and that there are lots of companies interested in charging for training. In other words:

There is demand and supply, and yet the conversion to higher value addition  is lagging. What stands in the way?

Here are some of the problems as she sees them:

First: Accreditation

Who certifies that the skills that trainers provide are adequate and transferable across the industry? Certification must (i) be mobile, and (ii) provide an income boost.
[…]
Till the accreditation network is in place, operational and credible, few skills certificates have a market.

Second, Prior Learning Certification.

Experienced workers will not hop on to the skills bandwagon if you equate them with young starters. Give them credit for what they know, help them upgrade.

Third, Assessments.

Excerpt:

For example, the skills certification for driving licences in India has suffered because few believe it to be a credible test of skill.

There is more. Read the full article

A college education is worth half a million dollars, says new study

The New York Times has an interesting article pointing out that according to the latest data, going to college is clearly worth the time and money.

For a while now, a lot of discussions on the web and other media have centered around the rising costs of higher education, and the fact that many graduates find it tough to find a job after college, and are stuck with educational loans. However, according to the latest data (in the US), college definitely improves your earnings significantly:

The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year, according to the new data, which is based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s.

Why did this have to be said? When calls for students to drop out of college get a lot of press coverage, this can send the wrong message.

Specifically:

When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.

But what about the fact that the cost of a college education has increased rapidly, and has far outstripped inflation?

It is still a no-contest between the cost of education and the benefits:

The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.

Read the full article

Of course, all the above data is for the USA. I wonder how different the story would be if similar data existed for India. What do you think?