In what is to follow, I will focus on what is a core concern of this blog: education and related matters. One thing is certain in a world of uncertainty: the system will change. So I would like to ponder the direction and magnitude of the change. It is also certain that the change will be technology based and in a sense will be technology driven. I will take some lessons from books and the web. One book that I have spent some time with recently is “The Race between Education and Technology” by Goldin and Katz. I would also like to touch upon the the future of universities. My point of departure is that technology will have a disruptive influence on them.
But first, here is an anecdote which I believe is indicative of the present malaise of the Indian education system. The system has never been very good but even compared to its own non-illustrious past, it fails disastrously in the present. I stress that this is an anecdote only but I do believe that it has wider implications.
Last evening, I was talking to a sibling’s son. Here’s how the conversation went.
Me: So which grade do you go to?
Sibling’s son: I will be going to class 12 after this summer vacation.
M: Which school?
SS: I go to college.
M: What’s it called?
M: What does that stand for?
SS: Don’t know.
(One of the parental units added that the “K” probably stands for Kirloskar or something.)
M: So you don’t even know what the expansion of “RYK” is? Did it ever cross you mind to find out?
M: So what are the fees?
SS: Six thousand rupees.
M: Is that per day, per week, per month, per year, or what?
SS: Per year. And two thousand for IT.
M: So you pay about eight thousand a year as tuition?
SS: No, I go for tuition as well. I don’t go to college at all. Nobody goes to classes. We all go to tuition and only during exam time do we go and appear for the exams at the college.
(Parental unit: They don’t even take attendance at the college. We just pay the fees and that is that.)
M: How much do your “tuitions” cost?
SS: About 12 thousand for maths, for physics and chemistry about 30 thousand.
M: Is that per month or per year or what?
SS: Per year.
M: So what is it that you learn at “tuitions” that you cannot get in the college you pay tuition fees to?
SS: I don’t know.
M: I suppose you have heard of these things called “books.” Did you know that you can actually learn stuff by reading the books?
SS: < silence >
M: I hope you realize that no amount of paying money for “tuitions” is going to magically make you understand the subject. What you need to do is to put in effort. If money were the essential ingredient in the process of learning something — and not effort — clearly the rich would all be learned without having to lift a finger.
SS: < more silence >
Thus ended the short conversation. I told the parental units that the problem is that they are basically making their son stupid by giving him the false impression that learning has something to do with paying a lot of money to “tuition.” What is being missed in the whole exercise is the main lesson: that you have to read stuff to understand stuff. No one else can read it on your behalf.
They complained about their son to me. This is most bizarre that they are complaining about their son to me. He’s not my responsibility. They are responsible for creating the problem in the first place. They said that he refuses to sit with his books until his demands are met. His demands? Yes, he demands this particular cell phone and that particular sneakers. Cell phone? He demands cell phones? Yes, because all his friends have the latest models and their parents buy them stuff and so he must have them as well. Otherwise he refuses to study. And so the Rs 15K phone and the Rs 3.5K sneakers. And then does he study? No. He listens to music on this cell phone — which he is forced to do because the parents refused to get him an iPod. And he plays the guitar.
And what if you don’t give in to his demands, I asked. Then the boy threatens to leave home. Which he has done a few times already.
So basically, I told the parents, you have rewarded his unreasonable behavior with goodies and thus reinforced the behavior. The kid now knows that all he has to do is threaten to leave home and he will get his way.
This case is not the only case I know of lately. The details are somewhat different but the script is essentially the same. Another of my siblings had a similar story. And a friend in Mumbai told me the same story about their son. They send the kid to Dhirubhai Ambani school at an eye-popping cost of Rs 6,00,000 a year. Then they have to engage tutors for the kid’s “tuition.” And then the parents have to beg, plead and cajole the boy to study for a bit instead of being on his cell phone or on the web surfing for god alone knows what.
It may appear as if the kids are screwing up. I don’t think the kids are the problem. It’s the adults who are primarily to blame. And the retarded system of “education.” It needs change. Too bad that the change will happen too late to help the present kids.
It’s all karma, neh?
[Continue on to part 2 of "The future of Education and Technology."]