Where’s the Cupid in our Education System

I was reading this incredible story yday and Dandu bhai’s one line stuck a chord with me – I realized for the first time what it meant to understand concepts and solve problems using first principles (and not by memorizing)

CupidI was immediately back in 1993 when I was getting introduced to the concepts of mechanics during my summer breaks. I was so fascinated with the whole “Laws of Motion” that I – a simple school going kid, using a few equations could predict , how a ball would fly, how far would it go etc. I felt really powerful and special. Thus began my love for Physics. I loved the fact that here was a simple set of tools, which can help make sense of the real world around me. I never felt the same way about Chemistry or Mathematics – they never had the real world appeal that Physics had.  Whether it was this love, which prompted me to be an engineer (or in those days a scientist) , I don’t know. Actually it doesn’t even matter. What matters, is that I found something I could connect with, something I loved and something which loved me back.

Do we all have such a love story?

Have we all had the good fortune to discover a course/topic/subject we really love(d). Many might have had a favourite subject at some point of their academic career, but do they really passionately love that subject. Most people I met don’t. And we cant really blame them for it. Coz most of the times, we have been busy being good enough in all the other subjects.

Many players solving (or creating) many problems

Our Education eco-system  is a very interesting one.Its got a lot of players working in pockets and addressing their own set of challenges . We have our sarkari schools, where attendance is an issue (not just the students, most times its the teachers who are missing). When the quorum does exist, the quality is questionable and hence its so inspiring to read the stories like Dandu’s.

As opposed to them are the private schools- with their rising fees and air conditioned class rooms, they promise to give our kids the tools and knowledge to make a great career.  They seem to be launching pad for admissions into top tier colleges. There is also the whole tuition and coaching industry which has popped up because the long hours spent at school didnt give us enough ammo to ace those competitive exams.

As with schools, colleges also have their own normal distribution – from the really elite tough-to-crack- IITs to those who ask you to dare beyond their better reputed competitors :-).

There are also a whole set of players who ensure that our graduates and post-graduates are more employable. The McKinsey report that identified the employability gap, seems to have encouraged a whole new industry and rightly so. We really need a work-force which is more productive and efficient from day one, given that we depend to heavily on services (contribution towards GDP).

But who’s kindling the love

While there are genuine tangible problems that are being solved by various players I feel whats missing is a platform or a service that can

  • identify in an interesting and intuitive manner, what subjects/streams does an individual align well to. You might love history or geography and I am confident the earlier you find your love, the better it is. Its not just what Phunsuck Wangdu said, but its what Malcolm Gladwell also says indirectly when he talks about his 10,000 hrs principle. If you need to enjoy the fruits of your 10,000 hrs practice, might as well start early and commit to something you love.
  • Allow the love to blossom. I can’t seem to recall which VC had said this but I absolutely agree that our education systems are “fixed time and differential learning” whereas they should be “differential pace and fixed learning” – more so if we want to issue standard certificates to our graduates. We need to allow a student who loves Algebra to do more than whats prescribed for her standard and maybe take it easy on the History lessons. Let that love for Algebra blossom and not let it die because she can’t remember who fought against whom in the Battle of Plassey. Its not about assessment, but about finding the spark.
  • Internet makes this possible. Self learning sites are currently an animated version of the school’s text books, again aimed at better grades. Why not a suite of concepts each with theory, problems, examples, details of varying levels of complexity. If a kid really wants to know, how the earth’s rotation and revolution impact day/night and seasons, lets her decide to what depth her inquisitiveness goes. Lets not say this is enough knowledge for your age, coz we might be killing someone’s first academic love.

The Khan Academy does work towards this, but an ideal platform would have these features:

  • Huge library of concepts, each tagged at the base level to the specific chapters and classes/grades it belongs to
  • Against each concept, would be a structured or tiered “Know More” series. Wherein a student (or even a parent) can choose to either focus on more depth or breadth.  Each such text/test will also have a grading of complexity where a reader can pace herself depending on her comfort levels
  • Let this love show – tell parents what your kid seems to enjoy.  Connect with others who share the same passion. I just heard about 6 awesome kids from Bangalore who made a robot and have finished in top 3 in an international contest. Winning aside, how cool is it for these kids to know and have 5 others in their lives who share his interests and passion for robotics.

Lets build something like this and help more youngsters find something they love.

Your comments/feedback is welcome. Pls do share.

Update:

1.  I wonder if this is why there are so few of us who dream or aspire to do fundamental or original research?