Sunday, September 18, 2011

Back to School : Just Kidding - Part II

This has been prompted by an article in The Economist titled the “The Great School Revolution”. It cites examples of innovation (and disasters) including assessment reports on educational attainment (McKinsey also features, God Bless them, they have a report for everything in life, so their place in Heaven is assured as God’s Advisor).

It got one thinking about basics.

The Ball Game

The presumption of such featured articles is that the K-12 structure of school education is okay. The surveys cited only reinforce this view plus relative academic attainment. The reality of life is that you don't need all of K-12 or that level of prowess most of the time. Reading, riting and rithmetic (as a surrogate for logic) is deemed basic for comprehension, the end objective of basic education. Comprehension is first base, experimentation / experiece as second, understanding as third (“...oh..that’s what’s really going on).... and exercise of understanding (nirvana, The Way, peace blah bah) means your home. But we’ll leave that part out over here.

Comprehension is first base because it leaves you in a position to learn anything more, depending on choice and circumstance. Re-learning through life is something now being regarded as needed to survive economically as well, not just everything else in life. As a parent, you need to relearn what its like to be a child in a new environment altogether. Now all that stuff’s needed at work too. Ask engineers, doctors, accountants, drivers, house cleaners.

The Wall is too high as you can see

In such a context, the system needs to be broken from K-12 to many smaller modules with a basic (3R) tier as the "must-do" and the rest being options to pursue at any stage in life. Entrance tests for courses (any) will filter who makes the cut instead of a K-12 diploma. So lack of K-12 at high attainment levels, that discriminates against the less privileged (I couldn’t go to school, my grades weren’t good enough at that one-time exam etc.), is broken into an entrance test.

A live example is that of driving licences - that require ability to manipulate a vehicle, comprehend road signs (rules) and observe traffic etiquette (not rules, but good practices)-that bring to bear the 3Rs plus skills (driving) plus life skills (maturity to realise you're driving a one-ton weapon). There is no 50% driver or 80% driver just as there are no 50% surgeons or 90% surgeons.
Additional education modules can be tailored to life contexts. A farming community may prefer children to work on the science of farming as opposed to sub-terranean life and astronomy.

Such a modular, broken up, "do-the-other-stuff-depending...and at your convenience/need" makes it more people friendly plus links the additional doses to some reality - jobs, interests (arts, writing, sports), vocations etc.

The K-12 system in an industrial era legacy of outsourcing that an entrenched bureaucracy has upped into a considerable empire, often in the mistaken belief that everyone should leave school aspiring to be Einstein. Do we bother checking school grades of Usain Bolt or the millions of people around the world who make excellent homemakers and create family contexts that produce Einstein?

The K-12 system inherently works like a production line. If you can’t hack it in those 12 years (maybe 14/15 as variants thereof) you’re rejected forever....much like the defective chips on a silicon wafer line. Sure, many come back but for most, its too difficult and too complicated. The purpose of providing basic education to all is to equip them to fully realize their abilities (potential).

"There must be some mistake
I didn't mean to let them take 
away my soul,
Am I too old?
Is too late?" 

What rule of nature says that it must happen by age 18? Nature does provide some natural barriers but.... Boris Becker won Wimbledon at age 17 and Roger Federer at nearly 22. The world is a better place for having the opportunity to see these two gifted young people play great tennis. Or Judith Polgar or a Victor Korchnoi mount serious title bids at different ages in life.

K 12 has de facto become a system that pressures our young people to make the cut, instantly; not different from the 10 minutes of fame assured in media. It’s time to reconstruct the whole process. Instead of just looking for the patch that will make us feel good about "giving" education to all, how about looking at it as assisting a person deal with life with a sense of joy? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just Kidding

The travails of being young

Kids in the US don’t seem to have any sense of what constitutes morality or values. Seems they think everything’s cool and its up to the individual to choose. Plenty of upset adults with, “isn’t there something called a xxxxxxxx?”. Replace xxxxxxx with “values”, “social fabric”, “collective good” etc. This is from an article featuring a study in the New York Times this week.

In the UK, parents are spending money buying kids stuff, so they don’t feel “not cool” with their peers. The kids wants their parents to spend time with them instead. So by age 15, the kids have gotten drunk, tried drugs, have been in a relationship etc. Britain’s the worst place in the industrialised world for a kid to grow up. UNICEF report reviewed in The Telegraph, this week.

Three kids committed suicide in Benguluru yesterday. (the newspapers). One was a twelve year old upset that she couldn’t watch TV. Her parent apparently told her that she must study as her grades in the last tests weren’t up to it. I’m quite sure that the it wasn’t the show that was worth dying for. The Wall Street Journal avers that the new thing in Asia is not going to be excellent math but good meth. Young people in Bangalore tell me its pretty routine for kids to do acid trips.

The media is rife with remarks about the impersonalization of life. Facebook is the new hangout place (forget meeting in the flesh), serious communications is 140 characters long and its cool if you don’t have a family or friends......”i’ve got my tablet”.

What to make of all this? Let’s review the cheerful future that awaits if only the kids could get more disciplined:-

The global economy is in the dumps and the integrated world is going to be struggling together. Uncle Sam’s debts exceed GDP, and the EU will stay together “till debt do us apart”.
Competition is at an all time high. Cut-offs for admission to a good college are now at 100% - anything less than’re nothing.
Parents when they make money, encourage the kids to smell the roses......especially if they are a six hour flight away in another continent.
“Classic” now means something that happened last year.

Is anything very different really? Let’s take a snapshot of an urban affluent India that I grew up in :
1973 or sometime around then
The global economy is in the dumps. They raised the frigging oil prices overnight! The Indian economy has a budget surplus but you have to stand in queues for your rations of rice, wheat, bread, milk, sugar..........
Competition is at an all time high. Parents telling kids to study hard or.....! Try finding people to play soccer with on exam eve? Only the kids not in school are game.
Parents when they make money, encourage kids to smell the London or a six hour train / car journey away (ok I’m exaggerating this).
CLassic means something that happened five or seven years ago. “Gee, you listen to that old stuff? (ie Cliff Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Manna Dey) haven’t you heard of Led Zeppelin, Kishore Kumar, Hendrix”

Eavesdropping parents’ conversation:
“.......children are not responsible any more.......”
“ to get admission unless they get good marks....”
“ you know that the Chopras went to Paris for a holiday.....”

Nothing’s really changed. Somehow the adults manage to screw things up all the time and expect that
the kids should stop being kids but resemble Socrates at age 12
disregard curiousity about life, themselves, adolescence etc
adapt to a different world with better technology, better life (isn’t that what we all slave the kids can have more fun growing up)

So I’m not too worried. There’s one thing we tend forget about the children. They alway adapt and figure a way out. They somehow manage. We did too.

Batting 55 and counting...!

On their wedding anniversary, Appa and Amma hacking it.....the cake, I meant!!
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