The more it changes, the more it stays the same

This article about the growing skills gaps provides some hard-hitting statistics.  What the data show is something we already knew.

First, we know that the students and employers are unhappy with what the education providers dish out, but the providers believe they do a swell job!  Now we know the %’s.

Second, we know that we learn the best while working under the pressure of a job and by doing things.  But, the education providers ignore both these avenues of learning in most curricula.

Third, a bitter truth – while we know that job-related training has more impact, the social as well as professional pecking orders place vocational training below academic training!

These three facts have traditionally led good companies to “invest” in training significantly.  However, under cost and time-to-market pressures, companies have started looking at this investment as “cost” and are now expecting a finished product (a productive worker) right out of college.

That’s where the trouble starts.

Companies do not want to invest and colleges believe they are doing fine.  As a result, today’s graduating student is more stressed – increasingly poor experience in colleges and increasingly higher productivity pressure at work!

Thankfully, rays of hope are appearing in the form of alternate education methods: massively online open courses a.k.a. MOOCs (like Stanford’s Coursera and MIT’s OCW), Do-it-yourself (DIY) content, and peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing.

Out of these, MOOCs are getting the most press and hype, but in reality DIY and P2P actually have a higher impact; they are actually making a difference in how the world learns.  The plethora of interactivity and communication mechanisms unleashed by the Internet are fueling all of them.

But guess what?  Even when the Internet was not around (i.e., when I was attending college), I learnt the most – not in my classrooms but – using DIY and P2P in the physical world.

That’s why I think the more things change, the more they remain the same!  Communication technologies used in education over the internet are finally starting to support the basic human behaviors.

Experts and good teachers will have their value that will never go away.  MOOCs meet that need.  For the interested student, DIY and P2P make the best kind of eco-system available.

I expect that the high-priced campuses will soon lose their sheen and the students will eventually benefit.  And therefore, the companies will benefit too.


“What You (Really) Need to Know” -Lawrence Summers

InnoVidya member Shrikant Patil, points us to this New York Times Article by Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, who wonders what would happen if the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society in the 21st century. Here is the set up:

And the world is changing very rapidly. Think social networking, gay marriage, stem cells or the rise of China. Most companies look nothing like they did 50 years ago. Think General Motors, AT&T or Goldman Sachs.

Yet undergraduate education changes remarkably little over time. My predecessor as Harvard president, Derek Bok, famously compared the difficulty of reforming a curriculum with the difficulty of moving a cemetery.

Given this, it won’t be easy to change the education system (and it is not clear whether you want the educational system to change very rapidly in keeping with the times), but if we were to change, then here are the possibilities that he finds interesting:

  1. Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it.
  2. An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration.
  3. Just as text books are written by a few professors, and used by everybody else in the world, even lectures and lecture materials will be created/recorded by a few top professors and others will simply re-use this material. Professors will have more time for direct discussion with students.
  4. We will see “Active learning classrooms” – which cluster students at tables, with furniture that can be rearranged and integrated technology
  5. Globalization of the curriculum
  6. Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the analysis of data.

Read the full article.

Higher Education in India: Changing Scenarios – Anil Sahasrabudhe, Director CoEP

At the first InnoVidya meeting, Prof. Anil Sahasrabudhe talked about the change that is sweeping through higher education in India.

Here are a few quick notes I took during the talk, followed by his presentation.

The current state of education in India is that we have made great progress in the years since independence, but major challenges remain.

For example, consider the gross enrollment ratio over the years:

  • 1951: 0.7%
  • 1961: 1.4%
  • 2001: 8%
  • 2011: 15%
  • 2020 Target: 30%.
  • World average: 30%.
  • Developing countries: 36.5%
  • Developed countries: 45%.
  • We had 20 Universities in 1945, 5000 in 2011. From 5000 colleges to 25000 colleges.

As can be seen, we have made great strides, but we’re still significantly behind the world average. And there are major challenges


  • To reach our goals, We will need 800 million qualified faculty
  • The progress needs to be progressive – How to reach out to the rural sector?
  • We cannot compromise quality
    • Employability (Or Lack Of it) is already a big problem
    • Recently 44 deemed Universities were found to not be up to the mark

How to tackle these challenges? Innovation is necessary. For example, consider the historical teaching-learning process: talk/lecture by teacher using chalk/blackboard; Q&A in class; discussion; assignments; reading material; and exams with subjective and objective tests. This needs to change. What needs to happen is the effective use of computers, interactive boards, e-books, mobile phone, tablet devices.

Remember though, that with adoption of technology, quality of teaching is getting compromised. Teaching style has changed, speed has increased, but that makes absorption difficult. This separates the students in two categories – those who are well prepared by using e-resources, and the remaining who don’t follow anything and get lost and left behind.

Other challenges: PC/mobile/internet games, unwanted material, social networks on the net and their misuse by students, resulting in top educational institutions (e.g. some IITs) banning the use of internet. Similar is the problem of students being sleepy in class due to over-use of computers late at night, and poor communication skills due to the new abbreviated language being used by students on the internet.

On the other hand, there are great resources available on the internet for free:

  • MIT USA’s Open Courseware
  • NPTEL by IITs and IISc of India
  • Virtual Lab project of MHRD – online lab experiments
  • Khan Academy Videos
  • Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, TED

So there needs to be balance in the use of internet.

There is also a paradigm shift in education. From instructor-centered methods, we need to move to student centric methods. And the learning should be life-long, not just in college. In 20th century, a electronics/computer technology person had to relearn 3 times in ones career (vacuum tubes, transistors, and IC/VLSI). However in the 21st century, one’s knowledge becomes obsolete every 5 years.

What needs to be done?

  • Computer and Internet Literacy is very important and must be an area of focus
  • Availability of PCs and internet to everyone (no digital divide)
  • Colleges should focus on teaching fundamentals. This trend towards “industry ready” (at the expense of all else) is not the right approach.
  • Students should be given notes/e-content to be read before coming to every class, and the actual classroom should focus on discussion about difficulties and solving problems.
  • All colleges should be given autonomy: academic, managerial, administrative, financial. CoEP has gotten autonomy and hence has managed to change the curriculum 3 times in the last 7 years. Which is great progress
  • Have credit based systems and allow students to learn at their own pace; education and courses should be on demand
  • Use technology – open courseware, blogs, tweets, discussion forum, webinars

Dr. Sahasrabudhe went on to talk about more specifics, and the various programmes CoEP has instituted in these directions. See the full presentation below:

If you’re unable to see a slideshow above, go here

The importance of community in learning and education

Meeta Sengupta has an interesting blog post on Peer Learning Networks where she points out that:

What I miss as a teacher is a staff room where I can share my concerns, my ideas and my trials in the classroom. The joys of a good class are shared by all. I would not want the journey to stop there. I want to be able to learn from another teacher’ experiment with a class, to learn to repeat that success consistently. And to be able to share it with others. All without being judged.

She goes on to wonder what is the modern equivalent of the staff room in our brave new world of technology where the way we learn has totally been transformed by blogs, and Twitter and Facebook. There are a number of interesting points made in the article which I would recommend that you read.

However, I would like to specifically bring your attention to her concluding paragraph:

The simplest networks start with curated conversations. Starting one is easy, connecting these conversations is easier still. The gains are clearly visible. The tools are almost free and accessible to all. With apologies to the great Marx, I paraphrase – learners of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your learning gaps… and a community of support to gain.

I totally agree. And in fact, InnoVidya is intended to be exactly this. And InnoVidya is also starting with a curated conversation – over at the InnoVidya mailing list. Please join the conversation.

Steve Jobs’ advice to Obama on Fixing American Education System

(Cross posted from Shrikant’s Blog)

Just finished Steve Jobs Biography by Walter Isaacson. On page 544, last para, he advises Obama in his typical no hold back mode.

Jobs attacked America’s education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was utmost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should  be open until at least 6pm and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.

Please note, all of the above, relevant to India and India’s education system. The question is do we have some like Jobs to get the government to listen and execute.