Thursday, January 30, 2014

Education: Effective yet Elusive.

Education goes beyond just learning how to read and write. It is more than mastering the fictions or finding the mysterious X in algebra. Education should be about the community we live, the ecological system that surrounds us and how we and our actions influence it. 

We have learnt a lot since mankind evolved and we have also created a planet where the ecological system is now so delicately balanced that even the slightest tilt could result in a catastrophe. Interesting how the uneducated and naked man was sensitized to the slightest change in climate and here we are still trying to understand the mysterious planet Earth. 

What do you think? Has education desensitized us? 

Remember, when Steve Jobs said that he took a calligraphy course in college, just because he wanted to.  The movie Jobs shows him screaming at his staff, because they could not see the vision and the need for multiple type-faces known as fonts today. Today we know that if he had not taken that course, MS Office would never have had the multitude of font options. 

What does this have to do with education?  It’s the “Why Learn” that is being redefined.

Till now, schools and colleges were the sure set way to a career and one did not need to think out of the box. A standard job required good grades and a few canned answers in the interview. Today a good job can happen without grades provided the applicant has a skill set of value.  See the reversal in roles?  Gone are the days when colleges and education institutions defined what students should learn. Today it’s the businesses defining them.  There are very few jobs left that require a defined skill set, most require multiple skills that allow their employees to float between departments.

Interestingly the change in education is not stemming from schools and colleges but from businesses.  Silicon Valley sweethearts introduced the Hour of Code in December 2013. Their vision; coding needs to be taught in schools starting at the elementary level.   Many would argue otherwise, but the argument is that the world is now techno centric and will get more, so the need to know coding is imperative.  We can argue and agree to disagree on this, but the point is, it is the businesses now demanding and dictating the skill sets needed.

Tangential to this is the changed focus on how the basics are taught.  For the longest time, teachers had the freedom to teach. They could choose their medium and then as the law decided to not leave any child behind came in rigorous testing, scripted manuals and defined curriculum for teaching. Today, the buzz in all schools is Common Core State Standards (CCSS); the new standard for teaching. The CCSS takes us back to the basics. The philosophy “It’s not about what the answer is but how you got to the answer” is at the heart of CCSS. The educators are raising the bar and challenging the students to achieve those higher goals.  

Education has been in an endless state of hibernation, but now spring is here. Once again, the philosophy, life is a circle comes true. 

Google the topic CCSS and you will find a wealth of information. What the articles don’t tell us is How?  They say students are going to be challenged. Students are the most resilient party involved, the teachers and parents are the ones who are going to be challenged the most. 

Yes teachers! Why? Simply because every manuscript they had will have to be chucked out of the window and they have to start from scratch. They have to find a way and connect the evolution of man in science to the migration of man from Africa to USA in social studies.  You would think that should be easy, it’s not. Cross-referencing subjects is not the norm for students in the USA. The weekly testing helps release the stress of semi-annual  testing, but the flip side is chapters are taught in isolation.

This is not bad news for the teachers though. It is very good news, because CCSS gives them flexibility and more elbow room to teach. They don't have to follow a manuscript. To understand how the earth revolves around the sun, they no longer have to use charts, they can go outside, create a sun-dial and see their students come to life with excitement. 

You wonder why would parents be challenged?  Tuitions will soon be obsolete, because they don’t provide the why and how of learning. They just teach the student how to calculate and read fast.

The wealth of online resources and the new paradigm, quality education should be free is making tuitions obsolete. 2008, with the launch of Khan Academy this paradigm became a reality. This shift will require parents to spend more time with their child. These are challenging times for kids, increased pressure to succeed, an overload of knowledge and the constant need to stay connected adds to their mental stress and takes away from the fun stuff; shooting hoops and just hanging out. Kids need individualized attention that tuitions don’t provide.   More importantly, there is no one as vested in your child as yourself. So why not re-prioritize and spend time with kids and give them experiences. Give them the experience of going to a playground and being a kid and some where in between talk about the kinds of clouds in the sky or ask them how heavy does your sibling have to be for the see-saw to be balanced.  They need to see the connection between what they learn and the real world. 

When the dots connect for those little innocent minds, we as parents will see magic happen.

Have I achieved this at my home? Absolutely not. I am struggling just like many other parents but I am confident persistence will pay off. It’s a rough road that requires every ounce of patience and I am not giving up.

This week, we looked at the subjective and in some ways the philosophical perspective of education. I am going to leave you today with the question: Has education desensitized us? 

As always, thank you for visiting and taking the time to read. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject. Next week, we take a closer look at education as an Industry. 

..... To be continued. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tweeting Tweens!

Long time ago, when there were no ipods, cell phones or even calculators allowed in school, the definition of teenage was "when a boy starts noticing that a girl is noticing him."  Yes, its okay to laugh because it is a lame definition for the times we live in. Teenage has been replaced by Tween age and if the 40's is the new 30's then the 20's is the new 10.  I am gong to stop here, because if I go further, it would mean that babies are born with the smartness of a 10 year old... and that's a scary thought. 

Why is there such a rush to grow up? Recently I heard a tween conversation in the school and saying that I was apalled is an understatement. I was fuming. Where are they picking up this language form? I am sure their parents don't approve of it. But then I am told that every one talks like that and those who don't are either nerds or geeks. In other words, being polite is geekiness now.  Don't get me wrong these are good kids, in fact the high achievers in school and yet there is this incessant desire to be cooler. "Cool," another word that is lost in the oblivion of changing times. 

Amongst all the confidence and "I got this," I see indecisiveness, not because they don't want to or know how to, but more so because "what will my friends think?" The peer approval becomes the epitome of decision taking. Yet every once in a while comes along a tween who says "whatever" and takes his/her decision, it is this tween that succeeds and becomes the leader. 

Be a parent or be a friend; is the dilemma. 

When the world calls it a night and sleeps is when I put on my thinking cap and think. Just think, as to what happened, and how did the cute little kids who came running to their parents for every little achievement become so independent that even acknowledging their parents becomes optional.  I don't like it. 

They say its about growing up; growing taller, smarter and hopefully more mature.  How does one make them understand that growing up is a process, one has to learn to grow up. Aging and growing up are not synonyms.   

The experts say be connected to your family. "Connected" is another word going through a transformation. In the 80's.. if you asked a kid, what is that one thing which is free  the kid would probably say "air," today they say "wi-fi."  2014 will see Americans connected even more than before.  Every ad from any internet companies harps on how important it is for the family to be connected. But connected to what? There is a laptop, smart tablets and phones in every household.  Can communication be replaced by the swipe of a finger? 

Life is full of stresses, buckling under and following a crowd is not the answer. How we handle those stresses is what defines us.  It may be hard to be called a geek or a nerd, but mimicking others or disregarding rules to please friends cannot be the answer. 

I don't have answers to any of the questions raised above. These are unchartered waters for me.  

I wish the tweens of today recognize their strengths. They are smart, creative and out of the box thinkers. Their thinking is crystal clear,  all they need is to tune out the buzzing of the iphone and focus on their dreams and aspirations. 

I wonder if they remember Tweety Bird, the cute innocent bird who was smart, witty and unique, just like they are: The Tweeting Tween :)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year.  For a while, It's been quiet on this blog. The silence has been intentional. Every once in a while it's important to let silence speak for itself.  

2013 was blessed and yet a very solemn year. The year brought forward altered relationships, changed friendships and life.  Life, a four letter word, that encompasses everything from our friends to our being, and yet we almost always take it for granted.  We assume that as long as we follow the rules and do good deeds, all will be well, but the year showed me how in a minute life changes its course and suddenly every little prized possession becomes meaningless. 

As I moved along in 2013, amongst all the chaos, I then saw those tiny toes and fingers.  The innocent smile, the random twitch of a nose and the blink of an eye, all reassuring me of the fact that life thrives. 

I would be a robot if the contrast of experiences did not force me to think of what really matters.  As the year ended, and the world shared the year in review with celebrations across the globe, I made my new year resolution - More humility and more optimism.  Humility for all the blessings that have been showered on me and my dear ones, optimism so I can forget the bitterness and learn to forgive.  

On a more personal front, besides the usual eat healthy, be a good parent, primary goal will be to work with myself and the family to not waste. Be it electricity or food, the goal is to reduce squandering. There is way too much being wasted in this world.  We talk about reducing our carbon footprint and yet we keep buying. Tangential to this is the task of de-cluttering. De-clutter both my home and FB wall :) Yes, 250+ friends on FB and there are a handful who visit, so de-clutter. The gamut of ideas brewing in my head about blogging, painting, cookbooks and so much more need some direction and I know I can take them to their destination, just need to figure out how ;) 

New Year's eve: time to romance, time to indulge, time to make resolutions and underlying all these modern day celebration traditions lie ancient spiritual resolutions. In Haridwar, India you will find folks jumping into the Ganges so they can wash off a year's worth of sins and take permission to repeat those sins in the new year. Parts of Italy, the locals are busy cleaning their houses to welcome the new year, while the Vienna folks are running after the pig, because if they can touch it, the new year will bring good luck.  

However you may choose to celebrate the new year, the underlying sentiment is the same, welcome the new year with happiness and positivity.  
Only the first 8 pages of the Book 2014 have been written, write the others so when the world reads them, it smiles. 

I wish that all your wishes are fulfilled this year. Happy New Year.