Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Acquire SKILLS to successfully transition from Academics to the Corporate world


Over the last week, I came across a couple of related news articles, which prompted me to think and write this blog.

This photo was published in The Hindu newspaper on 26th March -24: Students engaged in last-minute revision on their way to the Government school at Kengeri to take the SSLC examination. 

This photo immediately took me back to my school days, this is how I used to be, my head buried in books till the last minute, before entering the examination hall. I am talking about 1994-'96, three decades ago. Seeing this pic, makes me wonder, hasn't there been any change in the approach towards learning, and preparing for exams in the last 30 years? These children are engrossed in the last-minute rote learning and concerned about marks, just like me and my batchmates were, three decades ago. Quite concerning and regretful as a society!

On 21st March-'24, The Hindu newspaper carried another news: 'Only 7% of college attain 100% campus placement'. The statistics are quite a disaster and concern me as someone who is involved in education, youth development, and career counseling. 

According to the news article, 66% of recruiters and 42% of university partners feel the skill gap and lack of preparation, respectively, are major challenges in campus recruitment. On the contrary, 91% of students believe their college curricula offer an adequate level of preparation for a job. 

Again going back to my graduation and post-graduation days, I can relate to this. I did my graduation from a non-descript college in Tumkur (a town near Bangalore) which had no campus placement and quite limited exposure to the industry. Doing my post-graduation at Manipal University, was the exact opposite experience for me, because of its wide exposure to industry and campus placement opportunities it offered to us. 
In my graduation days, I too didn't realize the skill gap and industry ignorance I was carrying myself. This was partially overcome through 1 year of internship in industry, during my post-graduation days, which helped me to secure my first job.

The 3rd news article 'Sloganeering does not change the world' was featured in The Hindu on the 23rd of March 2024. Bajaj Auto MD Rajiv Bajaj speaking at a function announced Bajaj Group companies, has decided to commit Rs 5,000 crore investment under the 'Bajaj Beyond' initiative over five years to help more than 2 crore young Indians benefit through skilling. This skilling program includes mechanical engineering training by Bajaj Auto and financial services training by Bajaj Finserv. "You do not change the world by sloganeering. Words will not change the world unless you have the skills to put those words into action. With Bajaj Beyond, we will design future-proof curriculums, provide real-world, hands-on experiences, and equip our youth with the adaptability and innovation required to thrive in the ever-evolving mobility landscape". - Rajiv Bajaj. 

This news makes so much sense as we are living in the 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution). The gap between academia and industry is growing, and the skill requirements of the future world of AI, ML, and Robotics are still unfolding, which is making traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms and conventional syllabus outdated by industrial transformation by leaps and bounds. 

This news article succinctly, links up directly with the final news article 'Employment scenario in India grim, says ILO report' published on 27th March 2024, in The Hindu newspaper. 

The report says that youngsters account for almost 83% of the country's unemployed workforce. While India's large young workforce is a demographic dividend, the report noted that they don't appear to have the skills to deliver - with 75% of youth unable to copy and paste files, and 90% unable to put a mathematical formula into a spreadsheet. The report also mentions the deteriorating trend of the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), Worker Population Ratio (WPR), and Underemployment Rate (UR), over the years. 

The common thread across all the above-mentioned news articles is the structural inadequacy in the preparedness of our youth, to make a seamless transition from academia to the corporate world. 

It's high time our approach to education needs to change, rather than focusing on marks, grades, and acquiring degrees after degrees, our focus should shift to imparting our youth with skills, practical knowledge, and life skills to enable them to thrive in the 4IR. This need for change is recognized by many, but this cannot be achieved unless there is a collective effort by all stakeholders - educational institutes, students, parents, and industry. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

A School, I Wish I had gone to

Remember the iconic scenes from Rancho School in Ladakh, from 3 Idiots movie's climax? 

The school Rancho (scientist and educator) had established in Ladakh, on the principles of innovation, free thinking, creativity and pursuit for knowledge rather than pursuing marks/grades/numbers and ranks.

3 Idiots movie is one of my favourite for many reasons. I am a fan of Aamir Khan, Raju Hirani and I have always been passionate about education. So a movie made by them and on the topic of Indian education system, makes it a movie to feature in my list of all time favourites.

The 3 Idiots Wall, in the school campus

So when we are in Leh Ladakh on a family trip, we made sure to fit the Rancho School in our itinerary. Thanks to our taxi/tour guide Tashi bhai for mentioning about this school's location.

This blog is my travel memoir, to make your visit to the school easier. Also to introduce you to this real school outside of the filmy image. The school is doing lots of good work and this awareness may motivate some of you to volunteer and contribute to their community causes.  

At the school entrance

Real name of Rancho School?

Druk Padma Karpo

How to reach?

The school is located in Shey, the old capital city of Ladakh. It is 15 kilometers to the south of Leh city, a 25 minutes drive by cab or local bus. 

SHEY (image from Thrillophilia)

Founded in the year?


Founded by?

His holiness Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, a Buddhist Spiritual Leader of Ladakh. The design was created in association with Arup, Architectural firm. 


The students study Bothi (the local language), English and Hindi languages, Science, Social Studies, Creative Arts and Sports. The school provides education in the age group of 6 to 16 years. 

The school is a not for profit institution, which provides education to children from this remote Leh valley region. Many students in this school are first generation learners. Through education the school aims to empower the local community, with new knowledge and skills for betterment of their life. 


The school has won several prestigious awards. To name a few:

  • It won the BBC Award for World's most Beautiful School in 2016. 
  • WB Honours for Innovation in Public Washroom Design in India in 2015. 
  • World Architecture Award for Best Green Building in 2002. 

Ongoing project?

  • In 2010, the school campus was severely damaged by a mudslide, because of the fragile ecosystem in the Himalayan region. A project called Dragon Garden was conceptualised in collaboration with Architecture students from University of Greenwich. The Dragon Garden is aimed to transform the barren desert school campus into a lush green sustainable garden which will be used for learning, playing and growing vegetables and fruits for self-consumption. 
  • Sesmic upgrade and mudslide repair of the student's residences.
  • Construction of the senior secondary school complex.

Getting involved?

Image credits: TOI, Solaripedia, Business Khabar

The school welcomes volunteers who would like to teach, raise funds or contribute fund for supporting any of the above mentioned ongoing projects.

There is also a visitor zone, shop and cafe in the school premise. The purchases made there is also a way of making contributions for the school fund.

Do find the link for volunteering and for making contributing funds for a good cause:

For so many of us, Leh Ladakh is in our bucket list :) So when you plan your visit, do take out time to drop in at Druk Padma Karpo - The Rancho School at Shey, to see their positive, impactful work of imparting education, knowledge and skills, to the children of local communities, who have very little access to the things which you and I from big cities take for granted. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Perils of Outsourcing Academic Research

Image credit: I'm a Lazy Student on Facebook

Screenshot from my Whatsapp Chat

Recently I received a Whatsapp message from a friend of mine, enquiring for a freelancer, who can help a student to write the research synopsis. This message was the trigger for writing this blog, as I hold strong opinionated view,  on such academic learning/practice.

I reached out to a freelance writer in my network who holds a Masters Degree in Psychology (relatable background as the student) to get her perspective. Thanks to this interaction, I was able to assimilate newer perspectives and garner a holistic view. Though I still hold an opinionated view on such learning practice.

Technology (internet, digital, affordable computers) has increased the outreach and access to education, exponentially, ever seen before in the brick and mortar era. The same technology has also ushered opportunities for Freelancers, often referred as Gig workers (Gig economy). 

The critical question in this confluence is: How should one approach education in today's context? 

The emphasis on just earning Certificates and Degrees, is a passe, without any demonstrable skills. 

In today's 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) the new emphasis is on hands-on skills and knowledge which can be put into practice!

In this changed paradigm, if a student's endeavour is just get a certificate, without acquiring skills and knowledge, they will be left holding just a piece of worthless paper in their hands.

Not to discount the fact, that outsourcing the academic assignment is unethical as it amounts to plagiarism.

Well, I don't want to take a morale high ground here and pass my judgement and sermons. I do understand a freelancer is within their rights to look at this, just as a professional task to be executed on payment basis. They are present in the marketplace to offer their knowledge and skills for a service fee. Hence the primary onus to outsource or not to outsource, lies with the students.

A student should ask two questions: 

The practice in which I am indulging, is it Ethical? 
Those who are morally upright, might refrain from outsourcing their academic writing. 

Am I Being Stupid by indulging in this practice? 
Let's assume there are students who give a damn to morality! They should ask this 2nd question, Am I being stupid?
At the face-value, you are is just outsourcing your academic work. However, at a deeper level you are outsourcing your learning opportunity, the rigour of research, opportunity to think critically, opportunity to gain deeper insights and in-depth expertise in your vocation. So in a true sense, the opportunity cost here is - Not To Learn and Grow!
So Am I Being Stupid? 
I am sure, by now almost all students would see the futility of indulging in this outsourcing practice. 

Playing devil's advocate here, a student may say - I don't care of ethics and I don't mind not learning. I am doing outsourcing my academic work, because I need a degree attached to my name. 

To them, I would humbly present my 1st argument. In today's changed context (4IR), the certificate/degree is just a piece of paper, unless one can exhibit skill and knowledge. So to those students, I would say, What's the point in spending your valuable time and money for a course of your disinterest. Your time and money, can be invested in a better avenue, which can make your flourish to your fullest potential.    

Enough of my lecturing and gyaan isn't it! 

So do I have a solution and positive inputs to provide to the students who maybe genuinely struggling to grasp the academic concepts and hence out of desperation are in look out for such freelancers (ghost writers) for their academic projects. These are few of the solutions I can think off:
  1. Time management: Usually a student can get pushed to hire/outsource their work, to meet a pressing timeline (this is a practical challenge especially for part-time students who also have to manage their work along with their studies). My advice would be, devout daily time, even if it's for shorter duration. Time management (daily time commitment, discipline) will go a long way, from preventing a student to get pushed by timeline crunch.
  2. Clarity on the Learning Objectives: Do always have the clarity of 'End in Mind'. Students should remind themselves they have taken the course for Employability (skill and knowledge) and not just to get a paper (certificate).
  3. Utilise Online Learning Resources: YouTube would be a great place to look up for tutorials on writing research proposals, synopsis etc. If one genuinely watches them with desire for learning, students would be able to supplement these learnings along with their existing class notes/lectures etc.
  4. Fun of Peer-learning (Group study): Engage in learning with your peers. Not to forget group study can be a fun way of learning too. 
  5. Find a mentor: You can always find a helpful mentor who is willing to guide you, challenge you to think independently and execute your work being self-reliant under their guidance. 
  6. If you are still unable to make in-roads and need to fall upon a freelancer, I would advice engage with someone who would refrain from ghost writing. Of course they would charge you for their knowledge and skill, but let them charge you for offering you guidance/mentoring and reviewing your drafts, rather than making you dumb by writing your project
With ChatGPT breaking into the scene, it's now so evident that outsourcing academic research/assignments is going into a whole new dimension. So it finally boils down to a matter of choice the student's have to make for themselves. 

Think short-term - indulge in academic outsourcing, enjoy the pleasures of free-time and just get the paper (certificate) in hand but fail to be future ready. 

Think long-term - DIY (Do It Yourself), enjoy the process of learning, gain skills/knowledge and grow into future ready citizen.

Bon Jovi famously sang "It's My Life". 

So who am I as a blogger to advice and pass judgements. "It's Your Life", so make your own choices and live the consequences. 

Signing off from this opinionated blog for now.......

Monday, January 22, 2018

Education Series (7/7): Self Organised Classroom

Couple of days back, Kanishk (my 8 year old son) and I were traveling within Bangalore city when we saw a traffic cop riding his bike without wearing a helmet. On this incident, father-son duo were having a light-hearted conversation among ourselves. In my improvising Kannada I told if this traffic-cop caught me for riding without a helmet, I would tell him you are not following your own rules, but advocating others. On hearing my improvised version, Kanishk corrected me by saying "Nivu helmet wear marela, mattu numge helide". (You are not wearing helmet, but telling me to wear). I was pleasantly surprised and felt very happy to see his developing proficiency in spoken Kannada, the native language of the state of Karnataka, where he is growing up.

The credit for Kanishk's improving fluency in Kannada, surely has to go to Mayur, his Kannada language teacher. Mayur creates a teaching experience for his student which is play like, joyful and simple conversation weaved into daily informal dialogue.

Wow! Mayur possesses quite a teaching prowess isn't it?

By the way, Mayur is himself a school going child, studying in grade VI.

A school kid, donning the role of a teacher, in his classroom!

I call this classroom as Self Organised Classroom.

In my mind, Self Organised Classroom is a space for community learning, which is lead and governed by children themselves, with minimal adult supervision.

So where is Mayur's Self Organised Classroom?

These classes takes place while playing football, between board games, watching TV and chatting among friends.

What are the rules of his classroom?

While setting up the framework, I put across few mutually agreed upon rules:
  1. Mayur was designated as Kannada teacher.
  2. Responsibilities of the teacher and of the students, were defined and mutually agreed upon.
  3. All the non-Kannadiga children were requested to try conversing in Kannada (for minimizing communication in English & Hindi).
  4. Whenever, someone speaks in English, Hindi, other's should remind them to follow the rule 'Kannada mataru' (speak in Kannada).
  5. On occasion, I would offer some coaching on right conduct of a teacher & of a student, on the best practices like praising efforts, celebrating each other's progress.
With this broad framework, Mayur started facilitating conversations in Kannada, by translating his friend's English and Hindi sentences into Kannada and help them to repeat it. Over a period, the children started showing good process in their spoken Kannada abilities.

Few simple rules and occasional guidance were the only ingredients for setting up a Self Organised Classroom.

Hmm....interesting, but this be replicated?

It definitely seems so!

With the similar set of rules we host another Self Organised Classroom at our home: an After-School English Support Program. This Self Organised Classroom is run by Kanishk who himself is a grade III student along with Mayur (in grade VI).

They partner in teaching English, while Kanishk brings in subject knowledge, Mayur facilitates conceptual understanding. The students in this classroom are three of their less privileged friends Malu (grade IV), Jaswant (grade V) and Yogesh (grade VI), who are studying in a nearby Kannada medium Government school.

The teacher duo, use Youtube contents like Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and other animated English learning videos, for running this Self Organised Classroom.

Upon self-reflection, I didn't create the Self Organised Classroom by design. Rather it started as a social experiment, which evolved over a period of time and took it's current shape and form. This experience has given me the following insights:
  1. A group of children can self-learn with minimal supervision, if a learning ecosystem is created.
  2. Children do take their role-play of teacher and student seriously and execute it with all sincerity.
  3. It is possible to create Mentor-Mentee relationship among children.
  4. In a group setting, children collaborate among themselves and explore learning materials (e.g. internet, books) to co-learn.
There appears to be several benefits of a Self Organised Classroom:
  1. Children develop self-responsibility, to self-learn. In other words, they are not spoon-fed, rather they feed themselves.
  2. Through this process, children develop empathy, leadership, communication, planning and organisational and social skills.
  3. Children understand the concept of rules and how to work creatively within this framework.
  4. Children enjoy the learning experience, as it is not top-down, rather a community learning.
We all can create these Self Organised Classrooms, in our own community spaces. Ideas are unlimited!....just to list a few: Public Speaking Clubs, Debate Clubs, Newspaper reading sessions, Subject specific classes, Hobby Club, Sports coaching, Computers creative as one can get.

So what are we waiting for? Let's empower our children with little bit of guidance, to form their own Self Organised Classroom and let's put back learning in their own hands.

Self Organised Classroom: Learning English from Youtube (Sesame Street)

Self Organised Classroom: Learning basics of Coding (Scratch)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Education Series (6/7): Bridge the GAP between Classroom & Real-World

Bridge the GAP between Classroom & Real World

A school starts at 8:30 AM & closes at 1:10 PM. How long does the school work?

A bus starts from Mumbai at 7:20 AM & reaches Pune at 11:45 AM. How long does the bus take to reach Pune? 

These are typical questions in Chapter Time from Maths syllabus, taught in grade III. (My son studies in grade III, in urban Bengaluru).

In my observation, I find my son having difficulty grasping the conceptual understanding of time (clock). Problem statements like Quarter past..., Quarter to..., 12 hours-24 hours format, are typically confusing for him.

I do assist him with his studies & I have seen with regular practice he has made significant improvement in other chapters (numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). However, with Time chapter the conceptual understanding still remains shaky.

Few weeks ago, he wore his watch (digital watch, gifted by his Didi) to school. After 2-3 days of he wearing the watch to school, his class teacher told him, "Watches are permitted only from grade V onward" & he was advised not to wear watch in school. For us, this was a passing incident & I forgot about it with passage of time....

One fine day, while assisting my son on solving Time problems, a moment of insight struck me!

He is learning about Time in classroom but not practicing the learning in his day to day life (real world). On our part as parents, we have given him a digital watch instead of an analog watch. By using digital watch, he is unable to comprehend time concepts like 'quarter to 3 o'clock', 'quarter past 3 o'clock', 'half past 3 o'clock', but he has to face these questions in school.

On part of schooling, students are not allowed to wear watches till they reach secondary school. In other words, concept of time is being taught in primary school but they are restrained from putting their learning into practice, by not allowing them to wear a watch (analog).

This GAP between classroom & real-world, seems to be the root cause for his lack of conceptual understanding of Time (calculation related to watch).

Over the weekend, I got him a simple, economical Analog watch for regular use. The idea is to make him familiar using an analog watch in day to day life, so that conceptual understanding of time becomes a natural outcome of his daily life, rather than it remaining just a theoretical construct.

For few, this narrative may appear quite trivial, if one look's at it as one specific example (Chapter Time). In my mind, the larger question is "Do we consciously try to Bridge the GAP between classroom & real-world?" This is a profound question, worth introspecting for every parents & educators.

From my son's Maths syllabus, taking another example - Chapter Money. In this chapter, grade-III children are taught calculations related to Money (Rupees & Paisa). Typically in our culture, most of us (parents) seldom expose our children to real money, during their childhood. In other words, children are learning to calculate money (Rupees & Paisa), only as a theoretical construct without any real-world application. But imagine if we give our children nominal pocket money & offer them guidance & supervision on spending money (e.g. buying something in a departmental store), their learning of calculating money will transcend from classroom to real-world.

Personally, this incident (chapter Time) has given me some food for thought, to ponder upon. Different subjects & so many topics, gives us opportunities to innovate in our teaching methods to Bridge the GAP, between classroom & real-world.

As a matter of fact, schools following international curriculum have Bridge the GAP between classroom & real-world, as an integral part of their pedagogy. Technically, it is known as Experiential Learning (Hands on Learning). From my personal experience, I can say other parents like me (untrained educators) can incorporate the concept of Bridge the GAP between classroom & real-world, in their teaching methods by being conscious & creative, in their approach.

Tell me & I forget. Teach me & I remember. Involve me & I learn. - Benjamin Franklin

Image source: HubSpot 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Education series (5/7): Learn to Code, Code to Learn

Image from

In today's hi-tech, wired world 'Digital Native', is a very commonly used contemporary term.

Digital Native - A person born or brought up during the age of digital technology & so familiar with computers and the internet from an early age. (Definition from English Oxford Dictionary)

As today's children (digital natives) are exposed to technology from their early years, we intuitively believe, it gives them greater familiarity & understanding of technology, in comparison to previous generations.

Mitch Resnick (Director - Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab), convincingly expresses his skepticism about this general belief, in his TED Talk (Nov 2012, Brookline Massachusetts).

He asks us a pertinent question - "How do young people spend most of their time using new technologies?

From our personal experiences, we know children's (digital natives) interaction with technology is primarily browsing, watching videos, listening to music, chatting, texting & gaming.

Hence Mitch argues, digital natives are familiar interacting with new technologies, but they don't know how to create something original, by using technology.

"It's like they can read, but cannot write with new technologies." - Mitch.

In other words, children know how to use the codes (program), but they don't know how to code (create a program).

In today's digital world, coding has become a fundamental skill, irrespective of schools including coding in their curriculum or not.

With IoT, Robotics, AI, Machine Learning becoming the order of the world, learning the fundamentals of coding during their student life, empowers our children with awareness & understanding of coding (ability to write technology).

To help children learn to code, Mitch Resnick & his team, at Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab have developed SCRATCH.

Image from

SCRATCH is a programming language, which is Lego-like, drag & drop, visual & interactive. Children can learn fundamentals of coding (programming), using SCRATCH, in a playful manner.

It is designed as an educational tool designed especially for children between 8 to 16 years of age.
It is available online, free of cost.

Parents & Educators, can make use of SCRATCH, to help their children to Learn to Code. The children will eventually Code to Learn.

Learn to Code, Code to Learn!

Link for accessing SCRATCH:

Link for Mitch Resnick's TED Talk:

Requesting you, to spread the word around by sharing this blogpost. Through your thoughtful gesture of spreading awareness on SCRATCH, many students can get benefited from this free of cost, global educational tool. Thank You!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Education Series (4/7): Big History Project

This blogpost, is written for spreading awareness of free educational resources, which facilitates conceptual & experiential learning.

Can a Historian & a Technology Wizard collaborate on a project?

Generally, history & technology sounds like North pole & South pole, as history mirrors the past, while technology mirrors the future.

However when the technocrat is Bill Gates & the historian is David Christian, path breaking exceptions are bound to happen! Their collaboration has resulted into BIG HISTORY PROJECT.

Watch David Christian & Bill Gates, talk about Big History Project in a 2 minutes video:

Big History is an unified, inter-disciplinary approach of studying the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life & Humanity. BIG HISTORY PROJECT has been conceptualized to teach Big History (not for profit - free of cost) to middle & high school students across the globe.   

Big History syllabus covers the length & breath of almost everything, under the sun....ah! I mean, under the universe.

Big History syllabus
The Big History was introduced to the world community by David Christian at TED Conference - March, 2011. (Big Bang to Internet age, in a riveting 18 minutes talk) 

Big History Project can be accessed at: 
Teachers/Schools can register themselves & share the classroom code with the students, for accessing the course. 
If one does not have the classroom code, they can access the 'Lifelong Learners' module (shorter version).
Big History Project is also available on KhanAcademy.
Big History (taught by David Christian & David Baker, Macquarie University).
Available in both offerings: free version (no certificate) & charged (with certificate).

Benefits of Big History Project:

  • Thinking across scale
  • Integrating multiple disciplines
  • Offers different perspectives
  • Offers holistic understanding
  • Inspires love for learning

Requesting you, to spread the word around by sharing this blogpost. Through your thoughtful gesture of spreading awareness on Big History Project, many students would benefit from this free of cost, global classroom offering. Thank You!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Education Series (3/7): ChronoZoom - Big History made Visual

This blogpost, is written for spreading awareness of free educational resources, which facilitates conceptual & experiential learning.

Memories - Collage & Timelines....

One of the feature of Facebook, Google Photos, I like the most is auto-generated collage & timeline of our photos (good old memories & time gone by). Watching the timeline unfolding in front of our eyes, is like walking down the memory lanes & reliving those beautiful moments all over again.

This feel good factor, underlines the basis of human perception & information processing. We perceive & process far better, when information is presented in the form of visuals/images, rather than text/data.

Just imagine, how enriching a student's experience would be if they could visually perceive Big History Timeline, rather than reading it as text & dates!

Big History is a unified, multi-disciplinary approach of trying to understand the History of Cosmos, Earth, Life & Humanity. The timescale of Big History is an unfathomable 14 billion years (Big Bang to today's modern times). It's next to impossible, to gain a holistic understanding, unless a student is able to perceive the big history timescale, in the form of interactive visuals/images.


Is it possible to view big history in an interactive visual form?



By using ChronoZoom!

What is ChronoZoom?

ChronoZoom is a zoomable timeline of Big History. With ChronoZoom, a student can browse knowledge & interact with the time scale (zoom in zoom out). It makes the relation between time & events clear, vivid & easy to comprehend.

Is ChronoZoom, free?


Where can I access ChronoZoom?

What are the benefits of ChronoZoom?
  • Helps in visualising big history
  • Interactive timescale (zoom in, zoom out)
  • This technology, makes comprehension of 14 billion years possible
  • Facilitates conceptual & experiential learning
  • Makes learning fun

Requesting you, to spread the word around by sharing this blogpost. Through your thoughtful gesture of spreading awareness on ChronoZoom, many students would benefit in their conceptual & experiential learning. Thank You!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Education Series (2/7): Break Free from Categorical Thinking in Education

Categorical Thinking - organising information into Categories
The world we live in is very complex & to process all the information would require much cognitive work. To facilitate this task, we humans make use of Categorical Thinking, i.e. we automatically organise & categorise information in our mind.

For example, our Geo-political world is categorised into continents & countries; People are categorised based on socio-economic parameters, Industries are categorised based on products & service offerings. The list is endless......just think about anything under the sun & you will notice they are organised into specific categories, in our schema (our perceptual system categorises & organises every aspect of our world into a mental category).

In a nutshell, Categorical Thinking is an essential psychological adaptation, to effectively perceive & comprehend the world around us.

Over the years, Research in Psychology has made us aware of the perils of Categorical Thinking: Rigid/Fixate thinking & Bias.Hence, we need to consciously remind ourselves of these downsides, to safeguard ourselves from it's threats.

Categories are made for the ease of organising information. Unfortunately we lose touch with this fundamental concept & our quality of thinking gets restricted within the boundaries of specific category. Thereby resulting in rigid & fixate thinking.
We also tend to develop bias (positive & negative), towards categories based on our affective (liking, dislikes) & cognitive (thinking) attributes.

My son's class -III time table

The phenomenon of Conceptual Thinking, struck me while looking at my son's school time-table. He is class III & his time-table is categorised into Languages (Hindi & English), Art, Science, Maths, Computers, Sports & Music. 

The categorisation of his weekly school routine is needed for planning & execution of the academic session. However, as conscious parent (educator) it is on us, to safeguard our child's mind from falling prey to the perils of Categorical Thinking, due to an administrative arrangement. 

A class is for a particular subject, the next class is for another subject & this cycle repeats through the entire academic session, year on year. This routine & rigor, poses threat to student's thinking ability to connect the dots across subjects (categories), thus restraining them into Only Categorical Thinking. Since the students thinks about subjects in terms of this rigid category, they start adapting 'All or None' approach (Black & White thinking). Eventually, the affective aspects (liking or disliking) becomes a major determinant for a student's outlook & approach, towards a particular subject(s). 

In a nutshell, students are faced with the threats of rigid/fixate thinking within a subject (category) & tend to develop bias (negative & positive) towards subjects (category). 

The preventive measures for safeguarding students from threats of Categorical Thinking is by training them 'how to think'. Over a period of conscious, systematic grooming, the students will eventually grow into independent critical thinkers. They would be able to escape the rigid boundaries of categories & will be able to connect the dots, across the big picture. 

Since I started with a specific timetable, let me elaborate on 'how to think', with another specific example. From the class time table, let us pick up one subject - English Literature. The English Reader is introduced with a has a beautifully written foreword page by Ruskin Bond.

Foreword page - English Literature Reader

At a quick glance, we notice the key words in the foreword page are different genres of literature & names of famous writers. 
If I approach the foreword page, with Categorical Thinking, I will restrict myself only in the realm of English literature. 
However, if I approach the foreword page, without thinking categorically, I would guide my son to Google search Mussorie :- A hill station, in the state of Uttarakhand.........he unknowingly would enter into the realm of Geography from English Literature.
By telling my son about Tagore, Sarojini Naidu,.......he unknowingly would descent into the realm of History, from English Literature. 
By introducing my son to Ruskin Bond's Wikipedia page :- Anglo Indian origin, British India, Movies adaptation of his books (Blue Umbrella, Junoon, 7 Khoon Maaf),........... he would unknowingly wander into the realm of History, Social Studies & Cinema from English Literature. 

Such training on 'how to think' in education can be adopted for all subjects (lessons/books), thus encouraging an integrated outlook in students, instead of remaining in silos. By making this approach a norm, a regular habit, students over a period of time will break free from Categorical Thinking in their approach towards education. This practice will increase their critical thinking, problem solving skills & creativity. In essence they will be better prepared to take on the real world, where things happens in a flux & not in category.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Education series (1/7): Looking at Learning, from Learner's Perspective

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on it's ability to climb a tree, it will live it's whole life believing that it is stupid. - Albert Einstein
"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever". - Mahatma Gandhi

As very aptly M.K.Gandhi had put across, Learning is a life skill & one must remain a learner (student) all through his or her life. We all agree with the importance of learning, as this helps us in gaining knowledge, adapting to the changing environment by acquiring new skills, we grow as a person, we are able to transform & improve our life by applying the knowledge we acquire through the learning process.

Knowing the importance of learning, there is no wonder that we come across numerous quotes on learning by great men & women, all over the internet. But if one looks more deeply, one can find almost all these quotes are from the perspective of learning, as a skill/attribute/necessity. For a change, through this blog-post let us take the PERSPECTIVE of a LEARNER. The objectives of this blog-post are [1]. to provide valuable insights of a Learner [2]. application of these key insights for enhancing the learning process (effectiveness & outcomes).

Looking at Learning, from Learner's Perspective:

Note: Educators refers to - parents, teachers (virtually anyone who is involved in imparting knowledge & skills). Learner refers to - students (children, teenagers & adults), virtually anyone who is involved in the process of learning & acquiring new knowledge & skills.
  • Interest: Paul Silva of the University of North Carolina refers Interest as "Knowledge Emotion". A learner with interest is characterised by a emotional state of high engagement, sense of being energised & captivated. At a cognitive level, an interested learner pays closer attention, processes information efficiently, engages in critical thinking. At a behavioral level, an interested learner works harder, persist longer & displays self-regulation.
In summary, Interest has the power to transform struggling performers, & to lift achievers to a new plane.

     Application areas for educators: 
  1. Make an Interest Inventory of the learner. (a). Provide an environment for exploration for the learner to experience & engage in various activities. Through this exploration, the learner will discover his area of interest & will get engaged into deeper learning. (b). Through standardised Psychometric test or DMIT test, the predisposition interests of the learner can be understood. Armed with this valuable insights the educator can groom the learner into their area of interest, taking them to higher planes of learning.  
  2. Make learning interesting. (a). To capture the learner's interest & to maintain it, the learning materials should be presented in an interesting manner. The material appeals to the interest if it is novel, has calibrated complexity (not to hard not to easy) & is comprehensible. (b). Learning can be made interesting, by connecting the dots between academic world & the real world. The educator can make use of mentor-mentee interaction, experiential learning, exploratory trips, DIY (Do It Yourself) concepts in their teaching methodology. 
  3. Help in developing interest. Young learner's are oblivious to the wide gamut of subjects/activities, due to their limited understanding & exposure. At this early stage of growing up, educators can play a crucial role in developing the learner's interest by exposing them to new experiences, grooming them in these domains etc. However, the educators should be mindful of walking the fine balance of exposure vs imposing their own interest (wish/dream) on the young learner's mind. An educator should always remind himself, their primary duty is to nurture & allow the learner to blossom to their full potential. 
  4. Help in maintaining interest. (a). The learner while encountering challenging & complex learning materials, can feel low in self-confidence. In such instances the educator should support learner's feelings of competence & self-efficacy. (b). The short term outcomes of marks/grades should be overlooked by the educator & the sole focus should stay on the process of excellence. The larger goal is to cultivate life-time interest that provide us with lasting intellectual stimulation & fulfillment.     
  • Motivation: In simple terms, motivation is defined as an internal process that makes a person move towards a goal. There are two types of Motivation - Extrinsic & Intrinsic
In extrinsic motivation learner's motive is driven by elements like fear of failure (grades, outcome of exam), need for social recognition (good grades), rewards (prize, award). Essentially, they are motivated to perform a task as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. In intrinsic motivation learner's motive is driven by internal factors & inherent to the task he is performing. They find pleasure in performing the task & they get into a flow (lose track of time & their surroundings).The Learner's intrinsic motivation & interest, closely corresponds with each other.

In summary, intrinsic motivation drives the learner's learning process in an effortless & sustained manner.

     Application areas for educators: 
  1. Understand the intrinsic motivation. The educator, should make an attempt to find out the interests & the intrinsic motivation of the learner. Knowing these fundamental drives, will allow grooming the learner in their field of interest & uplift them towards newer heights.
  2. Calibrate the extrinsic motivation. Overplaying the cards of extrinsic motivation will not be self-sustaining & can back-fire. If the element of fear/threat/punishment is over-played, it will take away the enjoyment of learning & in due course of time the learner will completely lose interest from this particular activity/subject. Similarly if the element of rewards/prize/gifts is over-played, the learner will perform the task as a means to an end & not as an end in itself. The educators need to have a balancing act & also can combine both extrinsic & intrinsic motivation. 
  3. Maintaining motivation. In the elementary school, students are eager & excited to learn new things. But in the high school, there is decline in their intrinsic motivation for learning & mastering the subjects. Several factors have shown to contribute to this phenomenon - (i). Constant reminders of extrinsic motivators (grades, cut off marks, college admission, job market) causes them to focus their efforts on good grades rather than mastering the subject matter. (ii). Keeping in mind their long term goal, the learner begins to evaluate the school subjects in terms of their relevance to their goals, rather than in terms of only intrinsic appeal. (iii). Learner may become impatient & lose interest with overly structured, repetitive & boring activities, which they encounter at school. The educator, should be mindful of this phenomenon & try to bring in positive intervention for maintaining the learner's motivation.   
  • Physiological, Psychological & Environmental state: Learning is an active process, involving cognitive, affective & behavioral aspects of the learner. For the learning process to be effective, the learner's physiological, psychological & environment should be optimal, to avoid negative interference to learning process. Let's list out some important positive factors under these respective states: (i) Physiological factors: adequate nutrition, proper sleep/rest, good health (ii). Psychological factors: absence of undue fear/stress/pressure for performance, healthy self-esteem, self-efficacy (self-believe), intrinsic drive (motivation), self-directed learning (self-assessment), self-regulation & above all the joy of learning (iii). Environmental factors: safe & hygienic space in home/school, unconditional love/support from family, opportunity for sports (outdoor activities - release of endorphin which uplifts mood), positive surroundings (material & people). 
     Application areas for educators: 
  1. Positive intervention, for ensuring well-being of the learner. The educator should be attentive to pick up signals of loss of well-being in the learner. They should bring in positive intervention through counseling the student or the parent, suggesting alternation in their lifestyle (diet, sleep timings etc), parenting approach, learning/teaching methodologies etc.
  • Appropriateness to Age & Skill: Learning is an active process involving cognitive abilities & skills of the learner. The learner acquires these abilities in an age appropriate manner (developmental milestones). Therefore introducing a lesson which is below the age of the learner will not be engage them (not enough challenging/interesting/complex) or introducing a lesson above the age of the learner will overwhelm them (too challenging/complex to comprehend). In both the scenario the learning process will be ineffective with undesirable outcome. 
     Application area for educators: 
  1. Plan lessons in accordance to learner's age & skill. Educator should factor in age & skill appropriateness of the learner, for ensuring learning effectiveness & for achieving the desired outcome.
  2. Be mindful of chronological age (biological) & maturity age of the learner. An educator, cannot apply the rule of thumb of only biological age. There will be variance in individuals, wherein few are more matured compared to their biological age & few are less matured compared to their biological age. Hence the educator has to plan the lessons, taking into consideration the learner's biological age & maturity age.   
  • Learning Style: The individual preferences & individual differences in their learning approach is called Learning style. There are many theories about learning style & one of the most popular one is Neil Fleming's VAK/VARK model. The acronym stands for, V - Visual learning, A - Auditory learning, R - Read/write learning & K - Kinesthetic learning. Everyone has a mix of learning styles. Some learner's may find that they have a dominant style of learning. (i). The Visual learners prefer using pictures, images & spatial understanding, (ii). The Auditory learners prefer using sound & music & (iii). Kinesthetic learners prefer using body, hands, sense of touch (experiential learning). The learning process would be most effective, when the learner is able to leverage upon his dominant learning style. 
    Application area for educators: 
  1. Understand Learner's dominant learning style. The educator can pick up clues about the learner's dominant learning style, through close observation. The Learning style can also be found out by standardised psychometric test or DMIT test. Based on this knowledge, when the teaching methodology is customised to suite an individual's dominant learning style, the learning effectiveness & outcome from the learner's point of view will significantly go up.   
  • Multiple Intelligence: Our understanding of intelligence has continuously evolved over the years. Traditionally, intelligence was considered as a unitary attribute. One of the most famous definition of Intelligence was proposed by Binet -Simon, as an ability to solve problems. They standardized measurement of intelligence commonly know as IQ (Intelligent Quotient).        [IQ = (MA/CA) x 100] {MA is maturity age & CA is chronological age}. But over the years, the understanding of intelligence has evolved from unitary attribute into multiple attributes. In contemporary time, Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences is most widely accepted. Multiple intelligence are as follows: (i). Verbal-linguistic (ii). Logical-mathematical, (iii). Spatial-visual (iv). Bodily-kinesthetic (v). Musical (vi). Interpersonal (vii). Intrapersonal (viii). Naturalist & (ix). Existential intelligence. Since each learner (individual) have their own dominant intelligence type(s), they bring in their own uniqueness, innate talents & predisposition towards area of learning. Multiple intelligences can be determined through standardised psychometric test, DMIT test.     
     Application area for educators: 
  1. Newer Pedagogic approaches. Howard Gardner's focus on human potential lies in the fact that people have a unique blend of capabilities & intelligence (skills). Progressive schools/educators, have inculcated the Multiple Intelligences theory in their curriculum development, planning instruction, selection of course activities & teaching strategies for better addressing the learner's need. 
To conclude, in many ways it may be redundant to discuss learning from learner's point of view, after all teaching should anyways be centered around the learners. But most educational research indicates the process of teaching/learning still predominately takes 'one size fits all approach'. As educator's we should approach learning, from learner's perspective. Imagine as educators if we consider our learners (students) as our customer & if we take a customer centric approach (looking from their perspective), we hold the potential to flip the class & make the learning process personalised & above all keeping alive the joy of learning