Education for the 21st century

Scene 1: My mind wants to soar high in the air. It wants to leap and to bound and go on a flight of fantasy. But my body is shackled. Mind tries hard to pull away. But the body cannot move. I am a prisoner. I am glued firmly to my seat. I try to control my mind and focus on the professor’s sonorous voice. The mind rebels! To all external appearances I appear to be sitting calmly trying to concentrate on the professor’s words. But inside my head a battle is raging. It is a clash of the Titans. Finally both contestants are so dead tired that they decide to call a temporary truce to rest and recoup.

You there!” I am jolted awake as a piece of chalk hits me.

Can you please repeat to the class what I was just explaining?” I look around confused.

Er, Sir”, I mumble.

The whole class breaks into laughter. Am I the idiot of the class?

Scene 2: I am in my room, in front of my books. I read through the first paragraph. It is so dry and dull. I try hard to focus. But it is like climbing a smooth rock face. I cannot get a grip anywhere and I keep falling off. This is sheer torture, some kind of self immolation. I can’t take it anymore. I put the book down and switch on the television.

Scene 3: I am filled with remorse. I am reminded of the story of the ant and the grasshopper. I had been the lazy grasshopper round the term. Now the winter has arrived. The diligent ants have built a reserve of knowledge for the next day’s exam. Within one evening I have to frantically scamper around gathering whatever shreds of knowledge I can find to sail me through the dreaded exam.

Why do I have to go through this ordeal again and again, again and again, year after year, not for one year, not for two years, but for twenty whole years? Be it school or engineering or MBA, the story remains the same. Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri di?

Is the problem with me or with the educational system? From what I have heard from people, I am not the only one who has been through such an experience. Further we have evidence on paper: the grade cards! If one were to go purely by my description, it would be a foregone conclusion that I was bottom at school, college and post graduation. On the contrary I was in the top 10% in school, in the top half at college and top one third of the class in post graduation. So I am guessing more than half the folks were in the same boat as me. So if I had the opportunity to change one thing: it would be the education methodology.

To solve a problem one has to get to the root of a problem. So I tried to understand why it was that I could not maintain my attention in the classroom or apply myself to my text books. The two key reasons that came to my mind were an inability to relate to the subject matter and insufficient participation in the learning process. Let us consider each of these separately.

Let us consider two scenarios for a basic need like hunger. One scenario is you eat what you feel like eating when you are hungry. The second scenario is irrespective of need, somebody else decides what food you have to eat, how much you have to eat and when you have to eat irrespective of your need. Which one would anyone prefer? Isn’t it the same case with knowledge? Wouldn’t it would work much better if the onus is on the student to extract the knowledge he needs rather than the instructor pushing knowledge to the student.

Moving on to the other reason let us again consider two options. Say you want to learn how to swim. In the first option, you have the best books on swimming and lectures from the world’s best swimmers. In second option, you have an average coach. But you are thrown into the pool and guided through the swimming process, practicing as you learn. Which one would be more effective?

Now that the requirements are established conceptually, we have to see how this can be achieved in practice. In the earliest times, this was achieved by apprenticeship of a student to a master craftsman. But in the age of mass production and industrialization this model became impractical. However the answer to the problem created by progress in technology can be solved by technology itself. Whereas it might not be possible to expose students to real life situations, computers provide an opportunity to create virtual situations through simulations.

What I am saying might seem like stuff of science fiction. But what I am saying is very much real. I have actually experienced this kind of learning. I learned more about geography and business from playing the game rail road tycoon than any text book. I learned history from the games civilization, Caesar and Pharaoh. So I think computer game like simulations are the way to go for education systems of the future.

My dream is to develop such a system that would understand the needs of different professions and guide students through the learning process through a series of simulations. I want to be the change that I badly wanted during my student days.

Picture Credits (In the order of appearance)
1. Professor
2. Student
3. Force feeding
4. Swimming Book
5. Railroad Tycoon


Stan Szczesny said...

As an educator, I use online environments, live simulations, and colloquial discussions in my college classrooms.
I love your dream. One issue is the belief that education is about experts who transfer information through power-point presentations and lectures into student heads. Even art/literature/music classes are taught in this way. I highly recommend a book by John Dewey called Experience and Education. It is short and contains seeds of thought that you might find interesting.

The Fool said...

Thanks, Stan.

I agree with you. Sadly even online education is mostly trying to replicate the old model.

I will look for the book. I think I have a book by one Dewey on ethics. Not sure if it is the same Dewey.

Anunoy Samanta said...

Well hit Bro!
Someday our grand grand kids will hoot for Fool's Methodology :)
Good luck for the contest too...

The Fool said...

Lol. Thanks, Anunoy Da.

Sinduja said...


Brilliant post. Really meaningful. I relate to what you have said. I have just one question though. How is it you ended up doing really well despite having this syndrome. Was it that you grasp well to what you listen in class or you were good at last minute rotting?

"Wouldn’t it would work much better if the onus is on the student to extract the knowledge he needs rather than the instructor pushing knowledge to the student. " - This is another question I have had. On one hand, I ask myself aren't we all inherently lazy and if left to ourselves, maybe we will just end up watching movies all day. On the other hand, I am tempted to think that perhaps after indulging for a while, we will all feel empty and go voluntarily to the knowledge apt for us.

What do you think?

N.S.Kirti said...

interesting TF.
and i think you have a point there. in mass, the actual doubts are given a backseat. how many students should the teacher focus on at the same time? so i think we need better teachers for once. but then judging who teaches well and who doesnt is also a matter of perspective.
i liked you analogy for hunger. that is what we are being forced truly. i would rather spend my times doing calculus the way i want. nut i have to do 3-d geometry as well which i simply CANT get the hang of.
and dont you think we are ALWAYS pushed around in our lives? and i simply CANt understand what crap the current education system is turning into.
and yeah... it is something i have experienced as well... especially in physics. if only it wasnt pushed on me and taught the way i wanted to learn, i might be better in it than i am now. because honestly, right from the first day in 11, the first thing that we were given in physics class was- a list of books we were meant to read. would you blame me if i got scared? :P

The Fool said...

@Sindhuja - Thanks for the detailed comment. Now I did not do very well. But I was above average. If I had been below average possibly it would mean I was not good enough for this system rather than the system not being good enough. I knew how to manipulate the system and achieve satisfactory results. But still the whole thing was not a pleasent experience. So I assume it would have been the same for others as well.

You are possibly lazy because you are trying to avoid an activity you find too tough or not able to relate to. Laziness will fly the minute true passion comes.

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot for sharing your views, Kirti. I am just loving the comments for this posts. Show me for once I have struck a right chord with the readers.

D said...

Brilliant idea sir !
i must say that i had a similar idea, but i wouldn't have expressed as bright and effectively like this one.
wonderful write up :)
good luck for the contest and also for the change that you are hoping for.
we are losing so many talents and much of them are diverted.

The Fool said...

Thanks, Deepak. We all have our own style of expression. Mine is the analysis style. Yours is the angry young man style.

Princess Poo said...

Brilliant post TF JHI :D.
very well said :).
Hope the method changes.
Still waiting for it :(

The Fool said...

Thanks, Princess and welcome to my blog. I want to make it change.

Enchanta said...

Well well well! Hello there. I completely am in full agreement of what you just said because funnily enough, I wrote something VERY similar. Hahaha! :D

Here, check it out!
Compulsory Attendance and all that CRAP!

The Fool said...

Interesting, Enchanta. This is the second time we are writing similar themes for a contest. However like last time, the approach has been different.

subhorup dasgupta said...

Great post, TF. I think the understanding of education has to change first. Education has to be about creating well-grounded, broad-minded, value-driven individuals who know the worth of knowledge and the ways to seek it. We end up teaching kids to score high on tests without bothering about why they need to study what they study. I too learned more from Asterix, Tintin, Mad magazine, and Ghanada and Feluda stories than I did in the classrooms. Classrooms taught me to memorize and spit it out, whereas literature taught me to explore, question and understand. All the best for the contest too.

The Fool said...

Thanks for your comment, subhorup. Fully agree with you. Good to see so many people agreeing with my views. Hopefully we all make a serious change in the system 10-15 years from now.

Harish said...

A technological solution to the otherwise abating educational effectiveness. Simulations and other form of input have long been part of western learning, lets hope Indian system picks on it soon to add value to its industry and not just serve bookkeepers to the service sector.

The Fool said...

@Harish - I have heard. But haven't seen first hand. My idea is that simulations should drive the education where student learns at his pace and convenience. As far as my knowledge goes, even in West it is a teacher lead education with simulation just serving as an accessory.

Vishal Kataria said...

Great post Lucifer! And a palatable dream. Saturation will set in over the current system soon. In the interim, all those interested in genuinely educating themselves with more than what's in books can keep using simulations & online games...

The Fool said...

Thanks, Vishal. Somebody needs to develop the good simulations and games. I hope I can get into that field some time

Rohit Singh Jain said...

Hit on the nail! What my view is that education is not being taken by the society in its broadest sense. The system, a a whole, requires a major revamp.

The Fool said...

Thanks, Rohit. A revamp is definitely needed.

pramod said...

very concerned thoughtful post. Really drastic changes are needed. very well put.

DS said...

Our education system is one of the things that is rotting.
It is in a bad state, just mindless rush for marks. No knowledge.
That first scene with the teacher hitting the student with a chalk made me remember my school days, happened so often!!
Your suggested Changes are novel and interesting.

The Fool said...

Thanks, DS. I really hope I myself bring the changes I have mentioned when I have worked for some years and have enough money.

Rickie said...

That does make a lot of sense. Education should be participative rather than a dull one-way street.
But I am a bit unsure of the connection between this post and why you ended participating in blogger contests. Can you explain please?

The Fool said...

This was one of the contests for which I put my heart and soul, take it real earnestly. And I did not even get a consolation prize. And looking at what had won instead totally riled me. After that I began to put in entries that just ragged the topic. And funnily I won 5 prizes doing that. Now I stopped doing even that because only participants get the joke when you rag these topics. Did not want such restrictive readership.

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