Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part6 of series on Education)

 

In the first 5 parts (Part1Part2Part3Part4Part5) of this series on education, we have understood that an education model built on Questions (Curiosity), Stories (Interconnections) and Theories can drive a deeper appreciation of concepts from a fundamental clarity perspective. At this juncture I am sure a question that will cross minds of lots of us is that all this is fine but will this eventually lead to kids making sense in this real world. After all it doesn’t matter what we feel about marks/tests/etc. but the reality is that they are very much a part of life. So let’s continue to journey forward. Before saying anything else let me share an article that I recently came across.

‘I’m happy I failed my entrance test’

This is the story of Jacin who is a final year student at Forest Research Institute, Dehradun. He in his initial attempts at clearing the MBBS entrance exams failed and then later discovered his passion and ended up topping the entrance examination to central universities and securing 12th rank in the entrance exam for the Forest Research Institute.

Most of the time such examples are quoted to prove that appearing in popular engineering and medical entrance exams is a stupid thing to do. Even 3Idiots movie despite having a great message, in my view could not make the message stand out. What stood out was that Fungshuk Wangdoo became successful because he despised his engineering degree and professors and was thus not a part of rat race. I have heard so many times people arguing using this movie as an example and making statement like:

  • Parents unnecessarily create pressure for their kids to clear engg./medical entrance exams.
  • Schools create unhealthy competition by putting undue focus on marks/exams/etc.
  • Kids should be allowed to follow their passion.
  • Why should everyone become engineer/doctor?

etc. etc”.

The intensity and the intent with which these statements are made by the speakers most of the time means as if the most stupid thing to do is to be interested in Science/Engg/Medical for they cannot be passion – they are boring rat race subjects – the passion of most kids lie in becoming cricketer/actor/painter/dancer/musician/etc.

Let’s understand this – Fungshuk Wangdoo succeeded not despite his engineering degree – he succeeded because he studied the subjects in his engineering course with the intent to learn well and believing in the fact that if he learns well he will get marks/degrees also. It’s just a coincidence that engineering college and degree were the backdrop of this story. Engineering course is not the problem. This is the challenge with most of the parents – they want their kids to follow their passion but when the kids do so, they never ask:

  • How much are you enjoying?
  • What is the new thing you learnt today?
  • Are you happy with your choices?

Instead they ask,

  • How was your exam?
  • How many marks you got?
  • What’s the salary you are getting?

etc. etc.

We think that by just letting our kids choose a non-popular subject, we have become good parents for we are not like father of character Farhan Quereshi in 3Idiots movie. Let’s get this correct. The message of 3Idiots was simple:

 

“Success and Happiness lies in single minded pursuit of learning for the fun of it. It doesn’t matter which subject one chooses because the choice of subject does not decide whether you are in rat race or not. It’s the approach and respect for learning for its own sake that decides whether one is in the rat race or not.”

 

As long as we don’t understand that Education is in the process and not in the subject or end result, we will always be driving our children to rat race despite letting them choose their passions. So if they become painter we will be waiting as to when will their painting sell at a price more than of Hussain; if they become cricketer we will be waiting when they will break all records of Tendulkar and so on. This is as much a rat race as making them do engineering.

The intent of sharing this article is therefore not to highlight that it’s not worthwhile to pursue the popular entrance exams by being in rat race. They have their merit and each person has to make their choice. What I want to highlight is the following statement this guy makes in this article:

“This time, instead of mugging up for 12 hours a day — as I had done during my MBBS preparation — I started enjoying what I was reading. I studied about three hours every day and surfed the Web for matter.”

This statement of Jacin is a message for all of us. One can clear the so called difficult tests/exams with far lesser efforts if the attempt is made with a genuine interest in the subject. I have faced this question many times when I have tried to explain my science course Eklavya to parents – “Your course will help them understand concepts better but how do you think your course will help my kid in the real world where eventually marks/degrees/exams do matter?”. I would say it’s a very valid question but it also shows a deep malaise that inflicts each one of us. By asking this question we are implicitly asking, “Understanding a subject is fine but how will that lead to getting marks”. In essence we are saying that it was luck or was some superhuman intelligence because of which Fungshuk Wangdoo learnt well and got marks also – in normal life, those who learn well don’t get marks and those who get marks always never learn. In short, 3Idiots movie though quoted enough remains a movie of entertainment value only – it’s not reality. This is why I said that in my view the message of the movie didn’t stand out though it was a big commercial success.

 

“In reality, actually message of 3Idiots is not a reality, not because it’s not a reality in reality, but because most of us don’t believe it’s a reality and thus we don’t follow it thereby ensuring it never becomes a reality.”

 

But when people like Jacin imbibe the real message of movies like 3Idiots it clearly shows that it’s a reality. When he pursued what interests him, at one fourth the effort, not only he could crack the exams with stupendous success but also enjoyed the entire journey.

There are two models to crack the difficult entrance exams or in larger sense live a meaningful life:

  1. Tuition Class model: This model is typically followed by tuition classes that prepare our kids in mass scale for the popular entrance exams. In this model the approach is to solve a certain number of problems every day (like 30-50 everyday) over the 2 years period post 10th standard which is where most of the kids start their preparation. That way one solves a large number of problems (something like 20,000-30,000 problems) before appearing for any exam. Now it’s a probability game. If one has solved so many variety of problems then the chances of getting a variation outside this is pretty limited. So, it’s a game of long hours of mechanical working to win a battle on the sheer strength of unskilled but a larger army. This is what I have seen in corporate life only. Whenever a problem is faced, the best approach is to talk to few people (inside and outside the organization), and collect various tried and tested alternatives. Then use some operational constraints or so called logical filters to reduce the available solutions and then try out one by one. In short, like tuition classes, look at large number of comparable solutions available and assume that life will be somewhere between them and take a shot. It does work a number of times but like in tuition class model, there is no real learning, there is no fresh approach, there is no healthy discussion – all this because in the absence of an attempt to get deeper clarity, all that we can do is play the probability game.
  2. Fungshul Wangdoo model: This is the model of conceptual clarity. From an entrance exam perspective, when one follows this model one may solve just couple of problem every day but he or she will try solving the same few problems through different approaches and with different starting conditions. The entire intent is to put one’s arms and legs around the concept and not just focus on how many problems are solved. This is where one spends far lesser time and is having fun playing with the problem as new layers of conceptual clarity emerges and strengthens one’s ability to apply it in various situations. It’s an approach of winning a battle by having a smaller but highly skilled army. Similarly, in corporate life when one is faced with a problem, the first step should be to understand the problem from a fundamental perspective by asking questions and not picking one of the available comparable solutions. When one follows this approach, the comparable solutions are just another data point to drive clarity on the root cause of a problem and not to be used as it is believing in assumed similarity and law of averages.

Am I sounding as if “Fungshuk Wangadaoo model” is the best and “Tuition Class model” is the worst? If yes, then that’s not my intent. The intent is to bring out the following two facts:

  • First, “Tuition Class model” is a probability game and thus full of stress for it gives us no feeling of control over the outcome. We may believe that by trying various problems we are reducing the uncertainty but the mind knows that no matter how many we try, we don’t know what problem will come up tomorrow and then we may be defenseless. This is an important property of mind – a feeling of absence or presence of fear is far more important than actual absence or presence of fear. However, that doesn’t mean this model doesn’t give results. It gives results but it also ensure that we cannot enjoy the journey for we are always afraid.
  • Second, the same results can be obtained by ignoring the results and focusing on learning by following the “Fungshuk Wangdoo model”. It cuts uncertainty because the mind feels in control of facing an uncertain future based on better understanding of principles that drive.

Let’s understand this simple thing – focusing on joy of learning doesn’t mean marks are out of the window but getting marks doesn’t mean you have got the joy of learning. The only way to get joy of learning is by focusing on conceptual clarity, which in turn means that process has to be the focal point that will in turn drive the result.

 

“Arjun didn’t hit the fish eye because he focused on fish eye – he hit it because he learnt his archery very well which allowed him to focus on fish eye.”

 

If we continue to aspire for our kids to learn well and be happy while simultaneously believing in the fact that “joy of learning” is just a philosophical concept and not a part of reality, all our efforts will remain meaningless irrespective of the fact whether our kids follow their passion or not. The choice is ours after all the destiny is ours.

 

About DreamNobel

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part5 of series on Education)

 

In Part1 we concluded that there is something wrong with our education system because of which our kids are not able to learn meaningfully. In Part2 we endeavored to find out, what good education is all about and concluded that good education helps us grasp concepts in a manner that they stick to our memory so as to be recalled and applied when required. In Part3 we learnt as to why it’s critical to structure an education system around curiosity emanating from the kids and not from the teachers. We also learnt in this part that curiosity plays an important role in making a concept stick to memory and also the fact that curiosity is a learning in itself. In Part4 we grasped the importance of developing interconnections between subjects and concepts so that kids can “imagine” the answers. This allows them to put their arms and legs around concepts from a complete perspective thereby developing an independent thinking ability. We also understood that meaningful education is in the process and not in the end result. Let’s continue the journey forward.

As I spent more time with kids, giving adequate respect to their curiosity and allowing them to explore their questions following an approach of interconnectedness between concepts, I realized one very important thing. Let me share an incidence with a kid, whom I used to teach, to bring out my learning. One of our discussions happened on what an electron is. We followed our standard model of conversation led education whereby kids work on their curiosity, with support from me, to reach answers. When mankind started exploring the whole phenomenon of electricity they first reached a conclusion that electricity is like an invisible fluid that flows between bodies. As new observations came in we were compelled to revise this one fluid theory of electricity into a two-fluid theory of electricity whereby electricity was imagined to be actually composed of two different kind of fluids that gets exchanged between bodies. Then came one of the founding father of America, Benjamin Franklin, who provided evidence that took us back to believing in one fluid theory of electricity. This continued for sometime till more evidences emerged which started making us believe that electricity is actually made up of constituent physical particles called electrons. JJ Thomson provided mankind with a confirmation of existence of these particles called as electrons in 1897 though he himself was not very sure of the same when he stated that. He got a Nobel Prize for the same. However, there were already evidences that made us believe that electrons are not particles but actually waves like sound or light. The best part is that JJ Thomson’s son Jean Paget Thomson proved that electrons are like waves and he also got a Nobel Prize in 1937 for this effort. Now this is a confusion – what is electricity – is it composed of electrons which are particles or is it composed of electrons which are waves. Well we don’t know the answer. For the time being we believe in what we call as dual nature of matter i.e. every piece of matter, including an electron, has a wave associated with it. Given that electron has a dual nature – sometimes it behaves like physical particle and sometimes like waves. Yes, what we are saying is precisely … well we are not quite sure. This entire series of sessions that I had with this kid on understanding electricity and electron, where we built on evidences one by one to reach a so-called answer, taught me a very important lesson and i.e. its only in schools and in our dealing with the kids on a day to day basis, we behave as if every question has a perfect answer. In life, as well as in Science, there are no perfect answers – rather, we at any point of time have approximate answers that evolve with time. This 1Question-1Answer (1Q-1A) model works only inside the four walls of a school and gets us marks there. Outside that everywhere one question has multiple answers and each answer is approximately correct at a given instant. In fact those who remain stuck to one answer fail in many exams of life.

This was an important learning for me. Whatever in life we call as an answer to a problem is not a perfect answer – it’s one of the many possible answers but just that at this point in time, given the set of evidence we have or the set of constraints we have, it makes most sense. At one point in time, this fight, whether electron is a particle or wave, literally became a war of nationality and patriotism. The English scientists believed that electron is a particle while German scientists were of the view that it is a wave. Both answers made sense at that time – it just depended on which view one wanted to pick for it depended on which evidence one gave more credibility. Later the particle view won the first round, then the wave view won the next round and finally both the views won. Nobel laureate Richard Feynman once said, “The electron is a theory. But the theory is so good we can almost consider them real”. This is what all our answers in life are all about – they are theories – they are not realities.

 

“Science is the art of the appropriate approximation. While the flat earth model is usually spoken of with derision it is still widely used. Flat maps, either in atlases or road maps, use the flat earth model as an approximation to the more complicated shape. “

– Byron K. Jennings

 

That’s the crux – sometimes the answers look so good that we almost forget that they are still approximations. Once this realization came in, it became important for me to teach in a way that kids not only understand the answers, but also understand the fact that they are approximations to reality. With this realization multiple things became clear to me.

  • When we teach kids with an absolute confidence in our answers or when we follow this 1Q-1A model, we are inherently teaching them to stick to their viewpoints as the only meaningful viewpoint. In life, empathy i.e. an ability to remain open to alternate viewpoints while simultaneously subscribing to one of them based on some logic or rational approach, is very essential. For empathetic individuals, answer that they likes today are not important for they never subscribes to any answer as one etched in stone. They know inherently that answers evolve with time and that’s why they gives due respect to all answers for they knows that at the end of the day, every answer is just an approximate answer or a theory. In the absence of empathy, we become fundamentalist. We only talk about religious fundamentalism – there are far more dangerous fundamentalisms that rule the world and all of them start from this unempathetic viewpoint of life which is in some way inculcated by our belief in so called perfect answers drilled into us, without realizing, by this 1Q-1A model of our faulty education system.
  • To innovate or create something new, one needs to know problems with the existing things or views. If we take every answer as perfect and every product as best, then how will we ever think of creating something better? If Apple has not seen something better in touch screen phones we would have continued to live with those clumsy keypads. If Edison has not seen problem with normal lamps, he would have never thought of inventing bulb. If we want India to invent we need to understand that inventions happen only when individuals are willing to question accepted realities and only those individuals will question accepted realities, who inherently believe that answers are not perfect, that all answers are nothing but theories. Another thing that struck me, when it comes to inventing a new product or service is that every new product or service is invented by utilizing concepts across subjects. No invention happens inside one subject or concept – it happens on the borders or meeting points of subjects or concepts. Given that a person who wants to invent, not only has to see mistake/s or possible improvements with an existing product or service but must have also learn through a process of interconnections so that knowledge has an applicability.

As I reflected more on my experiences with these wonderful kids, meaningful education just boiled down to doing three simple things:

  1. Start with the curiosity of kid
  2. Explore the curiosity through a series of interconnected concepts
  3. End the journey of curiosity in a way that kids not only understand the answer derived, but also understand the element of approximation in that.

In short education is nothing but a development of two qualities or skills viz. independent thinking and empathy. Independent thinking allows an individual to explore his curiosity in a manner that the curiosity by itself becomes the learning. Empathy allows him to understand that his learning is but one of the many alternate learnings that this life contains within itself. An ability to have confidence with humility is the simple hallmark of educated individual. This is all that a teacher is supposed to do. He is not there to teach in the way world understands teaching – he is there to undertake the journey of exploration with a curious mind by being a learner – the so-called education happens by itself.

 

“A class in not 1 teacher and ‘n’ students, a class is ‘n+1’ teachers and ‘n+1′ students.”

– DreamNobel

 

Now I understand what it means to say that Education is in the journey and not in the end result. An educated individual is not a storehouse of data points but an individual who has independent thinking and empathy to analyze data points thrown at him and derive meaningful inferences. An educated individual doesn’t look at Google as a place to get answers – he looks at Google just as a provider of data. It’s a tool, not God. To round off – it all boils down to three simple things – Questions (Curiosity) – Stories (Interconnections) – Theories (Approximations) or what I call as my QuEST model of education.

To be continued…

 

About DreamNobel

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part4 of series on education)

In Part3 we learnt as to why it’s critical to structure an education system around curiosity that emanates from the minds of kids. Let’s continue the journey forward.

In Part3 I also said that curiosity is learning in itself, without delving too much on this observation of mine. I am sure most of you will think that the presence of curiosity can only lead to germination of a question in a kid’s mind. It’s the answer to this question, and not the question perse, that constitutes the learning. Given that, how can the presence of question, by itself, complete the learning?

To answer this question let me share with you another experience of mine and the important lesson it taught me. There used to be a 9-year-old kid whom I used to teach Science. During one of the classes when I went, this kid asked me a question – How does a fan work? Now I was intrigued, for this is a question that can be answered by anyone and possibly everyone. You don’t require to be a science graduate to answer this question. Also, this kid’s father, I knew, was interested in Science and used to take efforts to nurture curiosity of his son w.r.t Science. Given that I asked the kid as to why he has not asked this question to others instead of waiting for me. The kid told me that he had already done so and has got the answer. So naturally I asked him as to what answer he got. The kid replied, “When we switch on, electricity goes through wires to fan. Electricity is a form of energy and thus it drives the fan to move”. Now I was confused. The kid already knew the answer and yet he is asking this question again to me. I was not sure as to what was expected out of me. So, I told the kid that the answer he got from others is correct and if he didn’t understand something specific w.r.t this answer he can ask me that or I can re-explain the entire answer once again. The kid simply told me, “Uncle can you show me electricity. I am not able to imagine it”.

I was stuck. I had no idea as to how to create the imagination of electricity. In fact, I could not understand as to what the actual challenge is, that this kid is facing when he says that he can’t imagine electricity. After all, in his other classes at school, where lots of other things are taught, there is nothing given to make him imagine those concepts. Imagination is not a part of our formal education system at all. So, what does this word “imagination” that this kid is using actually mean? Where is this kid coming from?

I had no idea what to do about this problem. So, for the time being I kept it aside and continued with my journey with this kid with respect to his question by doing the simplest thing that I could do at that point i.e. start explaining the same answer again to the kid using hopefully better and simpler words. As I started explaining the functioning of a fan to this kid, questions started pouring out and since, as a rule, I never stop any question in my class, the questions literally launched a tornado so as to say. By the time I finished I had spent six sessions, each of approximately two hours duration, with this kid and all this just to explain to him how does a fan work. At the end of these sessions the kid clearly said, “Now, uncle I can understand what electricity is and how does a fan work”. As much as I was thrilled with my achievement, I was equally confused. I could not understand as to what happened in those six sessions that made the kid accept the answer which I gave, for the answer I gave was nothing but the same answer that this kid already had before the six sessions happened. We just had some more freewheeling conversations. What happened in those sessions that suddenly he could “imagine” what he was not able to do earlier? After all I didn’t do any painting to create an imagination that he so desired. In those initial days I used to audio record my classes and I used to come back and listen and re-listen to these recordings multiple times just to make sense of what’s happening. As I did that something started taking shape in my mind.

Around the same time coincidentally I came across an interview in Harvard Business Review of Robert McKee, one of the respected screenwriting lecturers. Robert says in the interview,

 

“Human beings naturally want to work through stories. Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind, in its attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story, beginning with a personal desire, a life objective, and then portraying the struggle against the forces that block that desire. Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points.”

 

Now this comment of Robert struck a chord with me. Recall your own schooling days – when we wanted to remember something, what did we do? We simply created acronyms – so when we wanted to remember the 7 colors of spectrum or rainbow for our physics test we learnt VIBGYOR – when we wanted to remember all the kings of Mughal dynasty in order, for our history exams, we created another acronym. I am sure each one of you will have your own acronyms made to remember something or other. In the light of what Robert says now this acronym making makes sense – our brain remembers connections – it can’t easily remember list of names or items with no connections.

As I reflected more, I recalled the fact that I saw the movie Sholay first time in 1992 and I still vividly remember almost all its iconic scenes – but I don’t remember in 1992 which all chapters were covered in my Science classes. Why is it so? It’s not that I was very curious about Sholay when I first saw it, so curiosity for sure didn’t create the memory. A simple answer can be that I enjoyed Sholay more and I didn’t enjoy my Science subjects – maybe that’s correct but then the question is what has enjoyment got to do with memory? There are many things which I would have enjoyed in my life but I have forgotten them now. So why is that I remember some things and forget others? For sure there is something happening in our brains that help us to remember somethings and forget others.

Now as I reflected on these thoughts in the light of what McKee said, clarity started emerging. Stories are a list of connected events – this is probably why my mind can still remember Sholay but I don’t remember my Science chapters. Sholay had a connected set of events that create the story, the chapters in my Science classes were individual chapters with no connections. Yes interest, fascination, curiosity etc. all are starting points, but if knowledge or data is delivered as disconnected blocks it makes no sense to our minds and thus doesn’t get into memory.

In the light of this understanding when I reflected on my experience of six sessions with that kid, to explain him the functioning of fan, everything suddenly started making sense. In those six sessions, the questions pouring out from that kid, made me cover some of the scientific concepts like energy, law of conservation of energy, functioning of human heart, concept of chemical reaction, and geological processes, besides lots of other small topics that were touched upon. However, these concepts were not thrown around like they are in different classes/different standards as in a schooling environment. They took birth through questions that the kid had, and all these questions were not randomly asked by him, but they had a connection to the base question that the kid was trying to understand. This was the most interesting part for me. When I look at all of these scientific concepts, without them being a part of the kind of conversation I had that time, it’s difficult to imagine a connection between them whereby they can be taught as one continuous block. It is this sequence of interconnected concepts that helped the kid to put his hands and legs around the question completely. The initial answer that he got w.r.t. working of fan was what I call as a “hanging” answer – not only it had no connection to various other concepts, but it also included terms and concepts to which kid had no proper understanding about. In other words, it was like giving one hand to a kid and then asking him to see life in it. Obviously, he could not see it no matter how well and accurately the answer was presented to him. But the moment the same answer coming with a lot of interconnected concepts that helped him understand the answer completely, he suddenly felt that not only a hand, but he has also been provided with all other parts that completed the body. It is this sense of completeness or totality that created the imagination which that kid was missing when he first got the answer to his question. In simple words, when the kid said “I can’t imagine” – what he was simple saying is “I am not able to make sense meaningfully”.

This is probably my biggest learning in life till date w.r.t education.

 

“When education is imparted through a sequence of interconnected concepts, it becomes like a story and thus goes directly into the memory of kids. Not only it goes to memory, it also enables them to get a sense of complete understanding thereby making it something that can be used.”

 

In Part2 we stated: Learning is all about conceptual clarity and not data remembrance. This is the challenge with our education system – it thinks learning is equivalent to knowing the definition of a concept, related formulas and some examples to explain that particular concept. It doesn’t understand that learning is manifested in being able to put our hands and legs around a concept in reasonable totality because only when we can do so we make learning useful and valuable.” Now it all makes sense – the only way to ensure that kids understand the concepts completely is by teaching through a sequence of interconnected concepts. We cannot teach “hanging” subjects/chapters/concepts.

Now I now know how to make kids learn and remember – start from a curiosity that emanates from the kids and then tell them a story. Story doesn’t mean you have to have characters and drama – the word story simply refers a chain of interconnected events or data points. When concepts are interconnected, a story takes birth, an imagination takes birth and thus a learning and memory takes birth.

 

“Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.”

– Henry Adams

That’s the second and probably the biggest problem with our education system. We tell our kids unconnected facts or inert facts. This is exactly what happened in those sessions – when multiple concepts, spread across subjects, came together, they gave birth to an imagination/a story/an answer that made sense to that kid. In the absence of these interconnections the answer, despite being correct, became an inert fact. This is the challenge with our education system. A kid learns Physics in one class and History in another class and Geology in another class – even in these subjects he learns different different concepts spread across the years – who will tell them the connection between them? No wonder then our kids don’t remember or learn anything for they see no use of retaining this knowledge.

 

” With the kind of education system we have, it’s no surprise that our kids leave the portals of their schools/colleges like a mason who has bricks and cement and other equipments with them but has no idea that all that they have can be used to make a wall.”

 

Not let me come back to the question that I started with – how is curiosity a learning in itself? To understand this let’s relook at the experience I had with that kid. As I tried answering the base question i.e. how does a fan work, the kid asked question/s related to what I said and this way the entire journey of six sessions went through a series of interconnected questions each trying to take us a step closer to the answer. This is the crux of independent thinking. When we are posed with a question, if we keep asking the second, and third and fourth and fifth and so on level of more and more probing questions we will ultimately come to a list of most fundamental questions which will within themselves contain the answer. In other words, the starting question/curiosity just starts the journey. However, if pursued further it leads through a series of questions which will make us stand right at the portals of the answer. This is why curiosity is learning in itself, provided it has been developed in a way that we not only ask one question and come to the start of path of learning but also keep asking more questions such that we can walk on that path of learning without any external help (almost).

We need to get this fact absolutely correct. “Curiosity is not the ability to ask a question. Just asking a question is meaningless. Curiosity is the ability to not only ask a question but also ask follow on questions that lead to an answer”. It is this kind of curiosity that creates an independent thinking which must be the goal of any education system. Teaching kids through an interconnected sequence of concepts, as opposed to hanging concepts, nurtures this kind of curiosity thereby making them independent thinkers. It’s only this kind of independent thinkers who can possibly pass the test of being educated by teaching someone else (test of being educated that we discussed in Part2).

 

“It’s pleasing to watch stars in a night sky. But it’s far more pleasing to see constellations in them. Connecting those points of light in sky creates beautiful imaginations. Mankind has been doing since ages. But somehow they didn’t keep this interconnectedness in mind while creating an education system”

– DreamNobel

This is the challenge with our education system – it equates curiosity to asking a question and promotes that only. Not only that, it also forces a kid to restrict his or her curiosity to the subject/topic under discussion. Given that, neither the kid is interested, nor learns the art of converting his initial curiosity into a tool that leads to independent thinking. This lead me to another realization – A teacher is not supposed to provide answers, a teacher is supposed to make a kid walk the path of creating answers by being a fellow traveller. This is one more reason why education has to be conversation and not a monologue the way it is today (In Part3 we stated this fact with a reason).

An interesting thing that I came to know around the same time cemented this learning of mine. Maybe you know about it but nonetheless let me share it. The story of Mahabharata was written by Ved Vyasa because he wanted to explain the abstract concepts enshrined in Vedas to common man through a story. His idea was liked by Gods and so they sent Ganesha to do the writing work. So, you see the power of a good story, in explaining concepts (of life in this case) was even appreciated by Gods. Clearly, storytelling or interconnection has to be an integral part of education – without it education is dead – or as Henry Adams said, it’s nothing but a collection of inert facts.

But this conclusion posed a second challenge – telling stories of kings, queens, demons, gods, etc. to teach some values to kids is fine – but how do you teach large number of seemingly unconnected topics like atoms, friction, mountains, electricity, magnetism, nervous system, etc. etc. using interconnected sequence of concepts? I had no answer initially. As they say, “The one who brought you this far will also take you further down the road if you just have faith”. Thankfully I retained by faith and very soon my Mahabharata took shape right in front of my own eyes with the help of the kids I taught. Today I have a course called “Eklavya” where kids are taught Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geology through an interconnected sequence of concepts. There are no hanging concepts, there is no inert data. The classes in this course belong to kind of curiosity we talk about – the kids don’t say that today we learnt biology or today we learnt chemistry – they only explore concepts and try to “imagine” them through a sequence of interconnected concepts. And I yes, I don’t give answers – I work with them to reach answers. To my utmost satisfaction they get it brilliantly like I never imagined.

To summarize, if kids have to learn meaningfully we have to tap into their curiosity. An acceptance of this allows a teacher to access a mind willing to learn. Post that the journey has to be a journey that goes through a series of interconnected topics that allows kids to “imagine” the answer. If you have to sum up all this in one simple line then it will be – Education is in the journey, not in the end answer. This is the singular biggest fundamental flaw in our education system – they believe education is reflected in end results i.e. exams/grades/marks/ranks/etc. It is because of this we see the kid of system we see around today – a system designed with an end objective in mind. To top it we have chosen an end objective that has no relation to learning. Till we don’t understand the importance of the journey, education will remain a collection of inert facts.

 

“Journey create stories. Destinations only have milestones.”

– DreamNobel

By the end of Part3 we had the question – How should the journey of a curiosity be so that conceptual clarity emerges properly by the time the journey is completed? The answer in one single word is “interconnections”. But is this sufficient to get educated? We will come back with one more missing element in the next article in this series.

To be continued…

 

About DreamNobel

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part3 of series on education)

 

In Part 1 we concluded that there is something wrong with our education system because of which our kids are not able to learn meaningfully. In Part 2 we defined what good education is and then asked ourselves as to how to impart good education to kids. Let continue the journey.

As we discussed in Part 2, the first quality of good education is that it makes a concept stick to memory without getting lost. This brings us to the next question – what makes a concept or a learning stick in our minds?

Now there are various theories on memory and we have lots of terms like short term memory, long term memory etc. etc. I will not try to support or reject them. However, I will completely delve into my own experience to reach an answer to the question i.e. how to make a concept or learning stick as opposed to trying to explain how memory works?

To explain this let me take an example out of my own experience. I used to teach a 7-year-old kid via Skype. This kid was completely into dinosaurs. Even at this young age he literally knew hundreds of dinosaurs by their names, the geological periods in which they lived, their eating behavior and what not. He was so much fascinated by dinosaurs that even when he looked at a stone in a playground he could pick some of them and classify them as looking like tooth of some specie of dinosaurs. His interest was clearly quite unlike fascination that lots of kids have for dinosaurs. Now, two things happened when I was trying to teach science to this kid:

  • Firstly, my son, who was 3-year-old then, used to come and sit next to me for the entire 1.5-2.0 hours of the sessions and with rapt attention kept of watching all the dinosaurs this kid on the other side was showing to me or talking about.
  • Secondly, I was struggling to teach this 7-year-old kid scientific concepts that I wanted to teach, but every now and then he will divert the discussion and ask a question related to some dinosaur. Now till that point in time, I knew only couple of dinosaurs thanks to the Jurassic Park movies and here this kid was not only rattling off names of dinosaurs that I didn’t know about, but was also asking me questions about them – and almost all these questions were doing nothing but derailing the teaching process, to my utter dislike at that point in time.

To say that I was completely lost and frustrated will be a very simple description of my state of mind at that point in time. I just didn’t know how to teach Science to this kid for nothing I was saying was going into his ears no matter what I did. At the same time, I didn’t want to stop those sessions for it was almost a question of my ego – after all, I had made great claims to his parents about my abilities as a teacher. In any case my sessions continued and my desperation to get things into place kept increasing with every passing session.

Paul Coelho says in Alchemist, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. I was desperate to find a way to manage this kid in such a way that he willingly listens to me so that I can teach what I intended to teach. A large part of my waking and sleeping hours were continuously spent consciously or subconsciously in trying to get a fix to this problem. And then one day lady luck smiled – I was teaching a scientific concept to this kid and as usual the kid diverted the discussion by asking about some dinosaur. The good thing this time, from my perspective at least, was that the dinosaur related question asked by the kid was in some way related to the same scientific concept that I intended to teach. So, without realizing, I answered the query of the kid and in doing so I had to explain the scientific concept that I wanted. In other words, that was the first day in my life when I felt what it means to scores two birds with same stone. That was the first class which went of peacefully from my perspective and taught me an important lesson w.r.t engaging curious minds.

From them on I made a simple rule – every concept that I wanted to teach to this kid was tied directly or indirectly to a dinosaur. In every class then I did one simple thing, before the kid could rattle the name of some dinosaur, I rattled off the name of a dinosaur, that I chose for a reason, and asked this kid if he knows about them. Now since I have already done research about this dinosaur before the class I could peacefully listen to this kid’s response to my question without much unease of not knowing anything. Then during these conversations at the opportune point, I surreptitiously used to push through a question which was linked to that same dinosaur which the kid was talking about and this pre-decided question was designed in such a way that it can only be answered by learning the scientific concept that I wanted to teach. Life from then on became happy for me. No more derailments. Science continued in the Jurassic park so as to say for me from that day onwards as far as this kid was concerned.

This incident taught me one very important thing that all of us know but forget it every now and them. There is no way a teacher can get a willing student if the concept that the teacher wants to teach doesn’t start from what excites the imagination of the child or from the curiosity of the child. That day I could see an adult in that kid – all of us only do what we are excited about at that point in time until and unless we don’t have a choice. If we are excited about pubs, we can’t enjoy nature as much as we enjoy in a pub and vice versa. This is the big problem with our schooling system. A teacher comes to the class with a defined topic or a defined question irrespective of what the kid is excited about or what the kid is curious about. The end result is no matter how well the teacher teaches or what tools the teacher uses the kids don’t absorb anything.

This was the first big lesson I learnt with this 7-year-old kid – it’s not only that curiosity is important – most of us understand this but what most of us don’t understand is that curiosity is far far more important when it comes to learning. Curiosity is the start of learning. As I interacted with more kids I further realized, curiosity is not only the start of learning – curiosity is learning in itself. If education is structured in such a way that curiosity of kids is given it’s due, we will have willing learners. Otherwise, we can do whatever we want but learning will never occur – at best only marks will occur.

 

“A question that starts from a kid and goes to a teacher is far more important for learning than a question that starts from a teacher and goes to a kid, even if both the questions are exactly same.”

 

Now as my classes with this 7-year-old kid progressed with my 3-year-old son by my side, I realized an interesting thing happening. My son started asking us about dinosaurs and demanding dinosaur toys and we happily obliged like most parents will do. Let me tell you something about my son – he was always interested in animals but by most standards he is quite a slow learner. Even at almost 5-years of age today he can’t tell you properly the name of the building he lives, he can’t recite simple kid poems properly, he doesn’t know alphabets or numbers in any meaningful way and he can’t tell you more than 3-4 names of friends in his class. He just doesn’t remember anything no matter how hard we try to make him remember. But this kid for the last more than a year is hooked onto dinosaurs – he has collected tons of dinosaurs – and he can tell you complicated scientific names of a number of dinosaurs as if they are his everyday friends. Names like Patagotitan Mayoram, Micropachycephalosaurus, etc. are a common part of his dictionary nowadays. How do you explain that? I had no answer to this question till I came across this article:

Curiosity improves memory by tapping into the brain’s reward system

This article sounded very logical to me in the light of what I have seen with my kid earlier and now with many more kids. A good way to tap into the memory of a kid is by tapping into his or her curiosity. A lesson that is structured around the curiosity of a kid goes directly into his or her memory for long term.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

– Albert Einstein

Now I am not saying that curiosity is the only determinant of memory. Obviously, all of us have cleared academic exams in our life by memorising those lessons without any curiosity being involved. So, I don’t claim to have any detailed knowledge about memory or what determines in. But what I know for sure, after dealing with kids is that for sure curiosity creates relevant foundation for memory. There may be other ways of achieving the same results but I am not aware of them.

To summarize – The first big flaw with current education system is that it is not structured around curiosity in the way it should be. It is important to understand that letting kids ask questions is one thing but structuring an education system around questions or curiosity of kids is altogether a different thing. The only way we can structure a system around curiosity is only if we give due respect to curiosity in the first place. We need to internalize that it’s not just that curiosity is important for learning – curiosity is learning in itself. Curiosity is the holy grail. Till we don’t give complete respect to curiosity, education will remain meaningless.

 

“It’s not just that curiosity is important for learning – curiosity is learning in itself”

 

This bring us to another question – how we structure education around curiosity. I will share few tips from my own experience:

  • Structuring an education system around curiosity doesn’t mean that we can teach only those subjects that kids are excited about. It only means is that before a teacher starts teaching a topic that she intends to teach, she has to spend enough time to bring the kids to a point where they are intrigued enough and thus ready to absorb the intended lesson. This primarily needs two things – the teacher has to not only know a lot about the kids and what excites them, but she also has to either learn to develop the art of connecting the curiosity of the kids to topic that she wants to introduce or the build up to the topic has to be such that kids get excited. In other words, an education system structured around curiosity has to have teachers who develops close emotional bonds with the kids. Educations, unfortunately cannot be just treated as another profession.
  • An education system that is structured around curiosity has to be subject less education. Kids cannot enter a class which is pre-designated as Physics class or Geography class or History class, etc. etc. I am sure it sounds difficult to execute to most of you. The only thing I can tell you at this point is that it’s far far easier than what you can even dream. Moreover, this is not my experience only. If you do some more search on education system of countries like Finland you will very soon realize, it’s a far better alternative to the kind of education system we follow. And to top it – a subject less education works beautifully.
  • Another important thing that I have learnt over time is that if education is structured around curiosity, education will become conversations as opposed to being a monologue or at best a dialogue that it currently is. If curiosity of kids is the fulcrum around which education system is designed, then obviously they have to participate actively by voicing their excitements. This automatically means that teacher has no right to ignore questions of any kid. Again, I am sure a lot of you will feel that if kids are allowed to speak without any adult control the class will become a fish market. I can say this confidently now that a class becomes a fish market only because of inability of a teacher in handling that curiosity rather than the behavior of kids perse. Most of our inability to meaningfully engage with kids stems from the fact that we have lost the ability to get excited by so called small small things of life. This loss of curiosity gets magnified when our own superficial understanding of Sciences makes us react to the fundamental questions that kids throw at us from a point of ego than from a point of amazement as to how this small kid can think of such a probing question. We can never structure a system around curiosity till we don’t accept one simple fact that the most profound questions are always the simplest of the questions and it is because of this reality of life that kids are best positioned to ask the most profound questions. Albert Einstein once said, “I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about the problem of space and time. These are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up”. Einstein simply said through this quote the he remained a child even when he grew up.
  •  Finally, if a system has to be structured around curiosity then all the tools to assess the kids used in that system also has to be structured around curiosity or more precisely exploration. We have to move away from out habit to value answers – we have to learn to value questions. This can only happen when we realize that education is in the process and not in the end result. In other words, exams focused on checking the ability of kids to remember answers and then using that to rank kids relatively are faulty endeavors if we desire to have an education system designed to impart learning.

Now that we have accepted the important of curiosity in learning and memory, it automatically leads us to next level of fundamental question. Curiosity takes a kid to the starting point of a journey – what about the journey after that? What should be the qualities of this journey such that conceptual journey, which is what we are aspiring for, emerges in all its shining glory? Thus, our refined question now is:

 

How should the journey of a curiosity be so that conceptual clarity emerges properly by the time the journey is completed?

 

To be continued…

 

About DreamNobel

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part2 of series on education)

In Part1 of this series on education we concluded that there is something wrong with our education system because of which our kids are not able to learn meaningfully. Let’s continue the journey.

If we conclude that a particular system is wrong, then it naturally means that the system under consideration is delivering something which is not in line with our expectations. So, if we think that our current education system is faulty, then obviously it means that the education that is getting imparted to kids through this system is not in line with what it should be. Now, one way of understanding the ills of any system is to imagine a good system and ask ourselves, what kind of output a so called good system is supposed to deliver so that the classification of that system as a good system is a valid classification. This naturally brings us to the question, what is a good education system supposed to deliver and the simple answer is, a good education system is supposed to deliver good education. So, let’s ask ourselves – what is good education?

Thus, began my journey of understanding what is good education. Now this was not a formal journey in the sense that I didn’t immerse myself full time into doing this project to reach the answer. It was like a problem that remained at the back of my mind and my subconscious mind kept working on it as I ran around delivering on the responsibilities of my formal occupation. Life continued like this for quite some time. With passage of time my daughter was growing up and with that my interactions with my daughter w.r.t. to her education increased. With that my frustration also increased and thus slowly but surely, this question w.r.t good education, transitioned itself from the back of my mind to a question that came to front of my mind so as to say. I was getting really frustrated with the way things were shaping up w.r.t my daughter. This triggered in me a deep desire to actively work on finding the flaws in our current education system so that I can do something about it. So, I started interacting with lots of people including kids, started reading related literature, etc. to understand what good education should be. In this process I came across a quote by Albert Einstein that made its mark. He said:

 

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

– Albert Einstein

 

Now to me this thought by Einstein appeared meaningful. As I reflected on my interviewing experience (that I shared in Part1 of this series) it made a lot of sense. What was I doing in interviews? I was asking the candidates, questions related to what they have learnt in their schools and colleges and when they were not able to answer them, I classified them as uneducated. Looking from the perspective of what Einstein said – these candidates simply forgot what they learnt at their schools and colleges. But this realization brought me to another question – Does this mean that a good education system is supposed to ensure that the student who goes through it remembers all that is covered? Is the ability to recall the learning or concept a sign of a good education system?

All of us know from our own experience that just because someone recalls what they have learnt at schools and colleges is not a good requirement to succeed in life. Each one of us have come across lots of people who can vomit lots of data points and definitions from their memory but can’t use that information to solve problems in real life situations. So just remembering what you have been told is definitely not sufficient – one should be able to use what one has learnt to handle life and what it throws at you.

 

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”

– Anton Chekhov

 

To give you an example – if I ask a person what is electricity and she answers that electricity is a form of energy – this answer is correct as per our current scientific understanding – but if I ask her now to explain to me the nature and behavior of this form of energy called electricity and if she can’t do that, then knowing that electricity is a form of energy is meaningless because partial knowledge can’t be exploited for solving real-life problems. This is evident in the fact that mankind has seen lightening in the sky from the time we came on this planet but for thousands of years we could never use electricity for anything beneficial, for we never knew what lightening and/or electricity is all about. It’s only when we understood the nature and behavior of electricity. thanks to works of people like William Gilbert, Stephen Gray, Benjamin Franklin, Luigi Galvani, Allesandro Volta, Michael Faraday, and many others, that we could exploit the enormous potential of electricity. So good education is not only about remembering something – it’s also knowing that thing in reasonable detail so that you can use that knowledge for some useful purpose. The moment I reached this conclusion, I realized the importance of the word “learned” in the quote from Einstein. Learning is all about conceptual clarity and not data remembrance. This is the challenge with our education system – it thinks learning is equivalent to knowing the definition of a concept, related formulas and some examples to explain that particular concept. It doesn’t understand that learning is manifested in being able to put our hands and legs around a concept in reasonable totality because only when we can do so we make learning useful and valuable.

Now that we have understood the importance of word “learn” or conceptual clarity, the next question is how to test it properly in someone. As we have already discussed, that the best test of a quality of an acquired knowledge is that the holder of that knowledge is able to use that knowledge for a meaningful purpose; and the only way acquired knowledge can be used for meaningful or useful purpose is if the holder of that knowledge understands it completely or in other words, he or she has learnt it from a conceptual clarity perspective. Now typically, in an interview setting, given various constraints, it is not always possible to make a person do an actual real-life assignment to test if he or she has acquired the knowledge in a manner such that it can be used. So how to do we hire a person such that we can reasonably be sure of the quality of his or her education?

Roman philosopher Seneca said, “While we teach we learn”. In other words, the best way to learn something is to explain it to someone. Conversely this also means that one of the best test of a learned person is the effectiveness of him or her as a teacher in explaining a concept. If you can explain a concept properly then there is definitely a case that you will be able to use it, if required, for at least that knowledge in a meaningful way is available with you for the purpose of some end use. This was precisely the problem with the candidates who I was interviewing – since they have not learnt from a conceptual clarity perspective, they were not able to explain, no matter what the interviewing environment was.

If any further proof is needed then let me also share that researchers have found out that student teachers score higher on tests than students who learn only for themselves. Scientists call this the “protege effect”. In articles published in 2007 in journal Science and Intelligence some studies were shared. These studies concluded that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and suggested that their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings the ropes. In other words, if you can explain a concept to someone else then you have learnt well and if you have learnt well than marks will also follow – however, given the way most of the exams are designed marks may not mean that you have learnt well for our education system has equated learning to memory and not conceptual clarity.

 

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”

– Plutarch

 

All of this now makes a lot of sense to me given my own experience in various organizations. There is no point in knowing something if you can’t explain it to someone, after all eventually in organizations we have to work in teams most of the times, if not all the times. If each member of a team can explain their work to other members properly, imagine the ease with which the work will get done. In fact, given my own work experience, I am tempted to believe that besides other challenges, team work is so difficult to teach because the ineffective learning imparted to us during our growing up years, becomes a fundamental bottleneck to creating good teams in organizations.

So, all this long journey finally brought me to a formal definition of good education that I could identify with – Education is what remains with you after you have left your school and that what has been left with you is meaningfully learnt only if it can be used to solve real-life problems. An alternate test of the fact whether or not a concept has been meaningfully learnt or not lies in your ability to teach it to someone or explain it to someone such that it completes the education of that someone. In other words, an ability to remember and an ability to use or explain properly are the two fundamental properties of a meaningful or good education. This definition fits into my interviewing experience also very well, for the candidates either didn’t remember what they learnt and/or they could not explain what they remembered and in both the cases, they were uneducated for the presence of absence of their knowledge makes no difference.

Now that we have crossed the first hurdle of defining what education is the next obvious question is to figure out two things:

  • How to ensure that kids remember what they are taught? and
  • How to ensure that kids have derived the deeper conceptual clarity associated with what all they are taught?

So now the new problem definition that confronts us is as follows:

 

Problem:

How to teach kids in a manner that they not only remember what they are taught but are also able to explain what they remember to someone else?

 

Before I conclude, let me share two more things from my experience:

  • Probably one of the biggest mistake most of the interviewers make in selecting candidates is that the questions that they select during interviews are in some way or other designed to check data remembrance and not conceptual clarity. A simple rule is that conceptual clarity requires an extended conversation and from my experience it can be tested by at least 5 follow on open ended questions to the base question asked and/or at least spending 30 minutes conversing on a particular topic without a defined agenda.
  • Another important thing that I have learnt is that no matter what topic you pick for discussion with an interviewee, even if that topic has no apparent connection to the job under consideration, it is far far better to hire a guy with a conceptual clarity on what he or she has learnt or done than hiring a guy who has good quality data remembrance on the topics related to the job. That’s why I guess one of the best hires I made in my professional life was of a guy who was hired to do private equity style investments but the tick in my mind happened the moment the guy recited his own written poem properly and also could have a meaningful conversation on it.

To be continued…

 

References

 

About DreamNobel

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part1 of Series on Education)

I have heard this many time and I am sure each one of you would have also heard this many time – parents complaining about the fact that they are not happy with the way their kids are taught at schools. Honestly, I hate it for I have a deep attachment to Education. I believe that a society can let anything go wrong but not Education quality because good or bad Education is the root cause of everything – our happiness, our sadness, a good society, a bad society, etc. Education is the only tool with which humanity writes its future.

So, this complain of parents always troubled me – and I had always thought about it. As they say there is a reason for everything and there is a season for everything, so I guess I also have to wait for the right time for life to uncloak the answer that will make sense to me. I have worked in corporate sector for around 15 years. As one grows in his or her organization its very normal for one to start interviewing potential candidates for the organization’s requirements. It is these interviewing sessions that gave me the answer to the question as to where the fault lies.

As I interviewed more and more candidates, I used to be quite puzzled by the fact that candidates with decent marks, coming from decent schools and colleges, coming from decent families – basically nothing wrong with their background to suspect that their education would have been compromised in any fashion – such candidates were not able to explain some very basic simple concepts that they learnt in their school or in their colleges. This used to puzzle me.

How is it possible that someone having decent educational exposure is so hollow in his or her understanding of some very basic fundamental concepts?
How is it possible that one can’t explain the concepts for which one can recall the definition so well?
Just to ensure that I am not unnecessarily asking candidates something that they didn’t know or didn’t enjoy, I used to even let the candidates choose the topic they wanted to be interviewed on. In fact, I had interviewed people for software jobs by letting then choose topic of interview as geography. In one case I even let the person recite the poem he has written and we discussed that also somewhat. Since I don’t believe in stress interviews I did everything possible to have a peaceful atmosphere in the interviewing room. I would have probably interviewed over 200 candidates in my career in a very relaxed setting and I was thoroughly convinced that clearly there is something seriously wrong with the way our kids are taught at schools. To give an e.g., if one finds fault with a product then the problem either lies with the manufacturing system and processes that produced the product or the people using those systems and executing the process. But if problem continues to persist despite using best of the teams and after multiple manufacturing runs then the problem clearly lies with the system. Same with educational system – how is it possible that people coming from diverse backgrounds, diverse educational boards, diverse schools and colleges, diverse geographical regions, diverse academic accomplishments – how is it possible that a significantly meaningful proportion of them display similar levels of ignorance and incompetence irrespective of the person interviewing them on the interviewing environment?

Problem surely lies in the way these kids are getting educated – the problem is clearly with the education system. This conclusion of mine got finally got confirmed after I became a father myself. When one runs around and interacts with various other parents and kids, interacts closely with various schools to get your kids admitted, see the subjects your kids are learning and the way they are being taught by the teachers – basically when you see the system in action very closely you get a very relevant firsthand information, then this firsthand information leaves you with no element of doubt. Today I have no doubt that the fault lies with our education system or more specifically our schools.

 

“I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.”
– Agatha Christie

 

This conclusion made me very sad. How can we allow our educational system to become so ineffective? It is this system that will decide the future of our specie and if it’s faulted so horribly we are running a grave risk. Something needs to be done – something definitely needs to be done. It is this sadness that germinated the initiative called DreamNobel. Obviously initially it was just an idea – there is something wrong with our educational system and something needs to be done – but what needs to be done, how it needs to be done – I had not the faintest of idea. So, I was back to the philosophy – there is reason for everything and there is a season for everything. I had to wait once again for life to uncloak the answer, but the good part was that now the problem was defined clearly.

 

Problem: Why is our education system so ineffective in making our kids learn meaningfully?

 

To be continued…

 

About DreamNobel
DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

Why do I need to learn “Science”

I have heard some of the following statements from people many times whenever I had tried to impress upon them the importance of learning Science for everyone:

  • “I am a finance person and my work involves giving loan to people for their work. How does it make a difference for me if I understand whether Sun goes around the Earth or Earth goes around the Sun?”
  • “I am a heart doctor. It’s important for me to know how heart works. How does it matter whether I know the Law of Conservation of Energy or not?”
  • “I am a sports person. I need to keep my body fit and eat right kind of food and do exercise. How does it matter whether I know or not the fact that proteins are made up of amino acids?”
    Etc. etc.

I can give hundreds of such statements, if I had been recording all of them. I also appreciate the logical way in which these questions are asked. I will come back to this point again, but before that let me ask you a question.

Let say you have 50 apples – at what price should you sell them?

So, I am sure the first thing you will want to know after hearing this question is, the cost price of apples and other costs incurred. Right?
So, let me tell you that sum of all costs incurred in procuring the apples is Rs. 500.
Now at what price you will sell the apples?
I am sure the next question will be – how much profit am I allowed to make?
And if tell you 20% – your answer straightaway will be that apples should be sold for Rs. 600.

I am sure some of you are thinking – what’s the big deal?

Is it that simple?

Let me ask you some more questions.

When you bought the apple and were putting it up for display – you realized that one apple is spoilt – what do you do then?
Throw it away – right?
Why?
Because it can spoil other apples.
How do you know this fact that a bad apple will spoil other apples?
Either by experience or by learning from someone else or from your biology class which taught you about microorganisms.

Now let’s say that you realize by the end of day all the apples didn’t sell – so what do you do?
You will try selling them the next day – right?
So, what do you do?
Put the apples in the fridge or keep them cool in some way so that they don’t spoil. Right?
How do you know this fact that when apples are not kept cold they spoil?
Again, the same answer – either by experience or from someone else or from your chemistry classes that tell you about reduced chemical activity at lower temperatures.

Now let me ask you one more thing – when you are selling apples you keep them in a basket – maybe as a layer of 2/3/4 one above another – why don’t you keep them in a layer of 10/20?
Or let me ask you the same question in another way – you have some water melons also to be sold – and if you have limited space will you keep apples below water melon or water melon below apples?
Obviously, you will keep water melons below apples? Right. Why?
Because you know weight of water melon is more and it will squash the apples – or in case of apples only, if there are too many apples stacked one above another, the lowest stack may get damaged because of the weight of the apples above. Right?
How do you know that?
Once again, the same answer – either by experience or from someone else or from your physics classes that taught you all the concepts about gravity, pressure and strength of a material.

By this example I want to highlight two facts:

  • If you see carefully selling apples is not only about maximizing profit by knowing cost price and other incidental costs – it also involves some more knowledge, in the absence of which you will not be able to make money. Thus, a simple task like selling apples involves application of concepts from various subjects like economics, physics, biology, and chemistry.
  • Yes, you may be applying these concepts from various sciences without even knowing them or without being even aware – maybe you just heard or learnt from someone and thus don’t need to find for yourself – but that there is that first person who had to discover all this by himself. In any case it’s not important whether you find it yourself or someone else finds out and tells you – what’s more important is that this piece of knowledge must be available with mankind for apples to be sold profitably.

I am sure you must be thinking now that all these concepts like microorganisms, gravity, pressure etc. were only discovered in the last 300-400 years, whereas apples have been sold for thousands of years. So why should one know these concepts?
Excellent question. This is the point I want to highlight – the difference or let me say the connect between logical thinking and Science.

Let’s come back to one of our previous examples – let’s take the case of putting apples and watermelons in one basket whereby the apples are kept below and watermelons are kept above. The seller will realize after some time that apples are damaged – what will he do? Well it depends on him – some will just throw the apples and continue with their lives – but there will be some who will go on a thinking trip after seeing this and will naturally ask themselves – what if I keep the apples above and watermelon below? The moment they try this alternate approach, the problem is solved – Right?
This is logical thinking – when you are faced with a problem, you attempt various approaches to solve the problem, hoping that one of the approaches you are trying solves your problem.

Most of the people who applied their mind to solve the problem will stop at the stage when the problem is solved – but there will a some who will continue on their thinking train by asking the next question – why watermelons damage the apple when they are kept on top but apples don’t damage watermelon when kept on top? And within this someone – there will be those who will be adamant souls – they will not stop till they find an answer. This answer that they got is called a theory in Science and it’s widely accepted provided it explains the observation properly and can be tested by others in various other circumstances.

 

“It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
– Albert Einstein

 

So, what is Science. Science is not about physics/chemistry/biology/etc. – it is the journey of an observation from its childhood, where its experimented with by a curious mind – to its death, where it’s laid to rest by an enlightened mind. As much as you are free to start this journey, you are also free to drop out at any stage of the journey. Whenever we undertake this journey, we are a scientist walking on the path of enlightenment.

When a finance person gives debt – he needs to logically figure out the right person who can be given a debt with a reasonable chance of not losing money. This is the reasons we keep on creating better and better models to prevent defaults. When a heart doctor is treating his patient – he needs to logically see the connect between various reasons of heart illness – and to explain some of them law of conservation of energy may be required. In short, every professional who works – if they intend to work like a human being and not a robot they need to have a thinking mind that can evaluate a situation they are faced with and create a workable alternative – if they find a solution they are half scientist – if they find a fundamental rationale for the situation such that their solution works across various scenarios – they have become a full scientist.

This is why Science is essential. Doing Science is an approach to a meaningful life. When you look at a problem don’t look at them as problems of economics or problems of physics or biology and so on – problems don’t belong to any subject. Just look at them as problems of life and think logically and then apply whatever tools are required. The problems don’t belong to any subject – it’s the tools that belong to different subjects.

The problem with our schooling system is that they say they teach Science – but what they teach is actually subjects – and the problem with teaching subjects is that life knows nothing about man made division of knowledge into subjects – so the problems life throws at us invariably belongs to multiple subjects. To get our kids ready for the real life that they will face when they grow up, schools must understand and appreciate the soul of Science – it does not lie in subjects – it lies in logical, unbiased, number based thinking – that’s it – nothing more, nothing less.

Science is a way of life. To be a scientist is to have a unbiased thinking mind.

What is intelligence?

 

A tiger only kills when it’s hungry and it kills and eats that much which satisfies its hunger – a deer never cuts grass and stores it – an elephant never makes a dam to store water – why?

Well you can say that they are not intelligent to do such things. Let’s then ask a question:

What is “Intelligence”?

  • Is it the ability to make lots of money?
  • Is it the ability to score more marks?
  • Is it the ability to make fool of someone?
  • Is it the ability to hoard more than what you need?

Dr. Howard Gardener, Professor of Education at Harvard University developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligence in 1983. He suggested eight different forms of intelligences to account for broader range of human capabilities.

But if you look through all these carefully I believe “Intelligence” is an ability to respond to life situations in a way that good for one (and hopefully all). We can categorize the situations as much as we want but at the end of the day they are nothing but situations. So when we sit in a math exam, quantitative intelligence is called into play; when we try learning sitar, our musical intelligence is called into play etc. etc. What we are doing is nothing but responding to a particular situation in life. Some people can respond to multiple situations and some to few. I don’t think the ability to respond to multiple situations is important but what’s more important is to be able to respond when called for. So I may have ability to play guitar very well but in an organization that may be never called for hence I am not “Intelligent” by organizational standards – but that does not mean I am not “Intelligent” in the first place.

If we look through this prism all animals are “Intelligent”. It’s not important for a deer to solve math problems – what’s important for the animal is to be able to “sense” the presence of tiger before its killed – and a deer has ample “Intelligence” – its seeing abilities, olfactory abilities, auditory abilities and above all running abilities are all tuned to respond to any danger. So in a jungle environment it’s more intelligent than a human being but if you transfer the same deer in a bank it will be a dumb animal.

Thus, Intelligence is nothing but an ability to respond to life situations in a way that’s good for you – intelligence is context specific. In that respect animals are as intelligent as human beings.

Stretching this further – does this not apply to children? Different children have different interests and inclinations and thus will develop different kinds of Intelligences if allowed to explore. Then why does humanity have this tendency to make every kid go through same standard classes/exams/subjects and then slot them into intelligent and stupid categories or as they say A and D grade. Our traditional notions of intelligence based on standardized IQ tests are very harmful for our kids.

 “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

It’s time to look at Education differently. We must redefine Education by structuring it around its customers – the KIDS. Different kids have different intelligence – let’s give each one of them a chance to discover themselves.

About Us

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that “original & independent” thinking becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) that she will learn during her entire schooling life, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

www.dreamnobel.com

Amitabh Bachchan and Parenting…

Read a slightly dated article by Shweta Bachchan on her father Amitabh Bachchan…

(For the full article please click here)

Towards the end of this article Shweta lists reasons as to what makes Amitabh Bachchan “COOL”. The last reason in that list is “Because he is full of child-like wonderment even though he’s seen it and done it all”. Amitabh Bachchan turned 74 on this 11th Oct 2016 and he is still idolized across generations. None of the actors or actresses of his generation or actors and actresses from later generations have been able to do so. Obviously this has nothing got to do with acting because had it been so then there were lots of them who were much better actors then him. There is something more. I believe that something more is what Shweta Bachchan succinctly summed up in her last statement – ‘child-like wonderment’.

This article made me start thinking about this thing called as ‘curiosity’ or ‘child-like wonderment’ – What is curiosity? What determines it? Why some people have more curiosity and some have less? Why children are more curious generally? Why does curiosity exist? Is curiosity good always? etc. etc. etc. Armed with the power of Google I started exploring and came across with some very interesting research done over time. In this article I will share one such research – “The Pandora Effect – The Power and Peril of Curiosity” by Bowen Ruan, Christopher K. Hsee.

In an experiment performed by the researchers, three types of pens were used – red pens gave electric shock when clicked, green pens gave no electric shock when clicked and yellow pens may or may not give electric shock when clicked. The findings were quite interesting –  on an average, those who didn’t know what the outcome would be clicked about five pens, while those who knew the outcome clicked about one green pen and two red pens. In another experiment the participants were given a choice to click three kinds on button on a computer display – buttons of type1 that will produce good sound, buttons of type2 that will produce painful sound and buttons of type3 which can produce either good or bad sound with equal probability. The results were again similar – people clicked more when outcomes were uncertain. Not only this the researchers also found that those who clicked more felt worse or less happy afterwards. Now this is interesting – what the research shows is that when the outcome is uncertain people tend to act more or ‘click’ more. This is probably to reduce the uncertainty but in the process of acting more we end up feeling more miserable.

These finding made me think and apply it to parents around me – honestly, as a parent, all this applies to me also. All parents love their kids and this applies across generations, across countries, across religions. Now because parents love their kids so much, they are continuously thinking about ways to better equip their kids for the future. Unfortunately, no one can predict future – it’s uncertain – and because it is uncertain parents (like the research participants) try ‘clicking’ more and more. In other words, parents act more and more – google more, talk to more people, send kids to multiple classes, meet more so called specialists, make kids read lots of books, take kids to various new places to see and learn new things, etc. etc. – in short they push kids more and more and more. What’s the end result – just like the research participants they are worse off – that’s why probably you see so many over worked parents, tired parents, exhausted parents.

 

overparenting

Parenting is no longer a process of reliving one’s own childhood with one’s kids…it’s become a task to be performed with defined targets.

 

I remember hearing a very interesting TED talk given by Julie Lythcott on How to raise successful kids without over-parenting. In it she uses an interesting term – ‘checklisted childhood’ – a childhood spent on meeting targets. Judie also says in the same talk the following:

 

“What I’m saying is, our kids need us to be a little less obsessed with grades and scores and a whole lot more interested in childhood providing a foundation for their success built on things like love and chores. Did I just say chores? Did I just say chores? I really did. But really, here’s why. The longest longitudinal study of humans ever conducted is called the Harvard Grant Study. It found that professional success in life, which is what we want for our kids, that professional success in life comes from having done chores as a kid, and the earlier you started, the better, that a roll-up-your-sleeves- and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there’s some unpleasant work, someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me, a mindset that says, I will contribute my effort to the betterment of the whole, that that’s what gets you ahead in the workplace. Now, we all know this. You know this. We all know this, and yet, in the checklisted childhood, we absolve our kids of doing the work of chores around the house, and then they end up as young adults in the workplace still waiting for a checklist, but it doesn’t exist, and more importantly, lacking the impulse, the instinct to roll up their sleeves and pitch in and look around and wonder, how can I be useful to my colleagues? How can I anticipate a few steps ahead to what my boss might need?”

 

This is what I want to ask to parents (including myself) – why are we so paranoid about our kids? Why can’t we just let our kids be kids? Why can’t kids just simply play, eat, sleep and play again? Why should they do so many classes? Why should every action of theirs be analysed so much? In short why should we click more when there is uncertainty?

Look around – look at people who are successful (after all that’s are we trying to do – make our kids successful) – and let’s see for ourselves if they did in their childhood what we are making our kids do? And yeah I have heard answer to this question many times before – there is more competition now. Really? Let me give you an example – 20 years back there were probably around 2,500 seats at IITs and around 200,000 students would have taken the IIT’s famed joint entrance exam – in 2016 CBSE got around 12 lakh applications and IITs today have around 10,000 seats. Has the strength of competition really changed? Nothing has changed as far as competition in any field is concerned (and even if it has changed it’s much lesser then what is perceived) – but what has definitely changed is parents’ paranoia because marketers are bombarding them with information and exploiting their vulnerabilities. There is something called as clickbait in marketing – do you see sensational headlines in media everyday – why do they do that – simply to exploit your curiosity and get media mileage out of it. All marketers know how to exploit our vulnerability by playing on our ‘click’/’act’ habit when there is uncertainty. If you still don’t believe me just look at the heading of this article :-).

3idiots-raju-interview-sceneRecall the 3Idiots movie – when Raju goes for an interview and he is asked as to why his grades are consistently poor – and what does he say?

“Due to fear…I was a bright student…since childhood parents thought that I will abolish their poverty! I started to fear…when I came here…I saw that there’s a race…if u don’t come first, no one will recognize you…I started to fear even more…fear is not good for grade, sir…I started wearing more rings, praying more…not only praying, I started begging to God to give me this, give me that…Sir, today I haven’t told God that get me this job…I just folded my hands and said thank you for this life…if u guys even reject me today then I don’t have any regrets because I believe I will somehow do something worthy with my life sir…”

We need to get out of this fear of failure and start trusting ourselves. Let’s understand one thing – more is not equal to good – just like clicking more is not equal to happiness. Let’s keep it simple – let kids have fun…let them play lots of games…let them ask more questions and remain curious…let them live their childhood and do lots of daily chores – and then see for yourself that your kids will have the confidence to face life when they grow up…like Raju they will also say “I believe I will do something worthy with my life mom and dad”. Let’s remember that our role as a parent is only of a mentor and not a selector – or as Judie says w.r.t. her own kids, “My job is not to make them become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves”.

Let’s vow to give our kids a “Happy Curious Childhood”. Cheers to a happy and fun filled parenting.

 

Before I sign off let me say one thing – though I have shared my view w.r.t. over-parenting, honestly I have not been able to define what is over-parenting precisely. So for e.g. is making kids go to 5 classes over-parenting or making them go to 2 classes is over-parenting? Is making kids study for 3 hrs everyday on topics we think are important over-parenting or making them study 1 hr everyday is over-parenting? To put it simply I don’t know where does no-parenting stop and normal-parenting starts and where does normal-parenting end and over-parenting starts?

I would be happy to hear views of all of you w.r.t. what is over-parenting according to you and how do you avoid it. Please share this article if you like and also share your views.

 

 

About Us

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that “original & independent” thinking becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) that she will learn during her entire schooling life, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

www.dreamnobel.com

 

References

  1. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/curiosity-leads-us-to-seek-out-unpleasant-even-painful-outcomes.html
  2. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/27/5/659https://
  3. www.ted.com/talks/julie_lythcott_haims_how_to_raise_successful_kids_without_over_parenting?language=en#t-531207

Dusshera and Education…Did we miss Ram’s message?

ram-ravan

It is said that when Ravan was lying on his death bed, Shri Ram went to him and sat near his legs just like a student would do with his teacher. Shri. Ram then asked Ravan, with utmost humility, to share his knowledge…his wisdom before taking the last breath, so that it’s not lost forever.

Probably a large part of humanity doesn’t understand the message in this action of Ram, just the way his brother Lakshman also didn’t understand and was amazed by the action of his elder brother. That’s probably why when we tell our kids Ramayan, we end the story with killing of Ravan. The intent is to impart an important lesson to kids that good always trounces evil…nothing wrong with this intention but what we forget is the complete message that Ram gave and to get the complete message we have to understand the action of Ram…that of sitting like an obedient student at the feet of his teacher Ravan.

So what is the message? For that let’s recollect what Mahatma Gandhi said:

“Hate the sin…not the sinner”

What this means is that we should learn to delink an action with the overall person and see it separately…just the way religion delinks the soul with the body and asks us to respect the soul because it’s always pure even if the body commits the most heinous crimes. This is the reason why the process of dealing with the dead body in all religions is same irrespective of the person and the past he or she lived. A wrong action of a person only makes that action wrong…it doesn’t take away his entire personality…his knowledge…his skills…the purity of his soul…etc. etc. Look at it this way – when we find an ant in sugar, what do we do? Do we remove the ant or throw the entire sugar? That’s what Mahatma Gandhi said – throw the sin out, not the entire sinner. Ram gave the same message by his action on the death bed of Ravan.

Ravan was the most learned person…he was a Brahm who knew all the vedas by heart…he a class apart musician…he was a brave warrior…in fact he had so many qualities that he was worthy of idolizing. But he did one sin…in his ego he abducted someone wife. Does that one mistake of his can make us forget all his good qualities? Does that one wrong decision make us forget the vast ocean of knowledge and wisdom he was? For that one action of his Ram had already punished him. So the judgement was done and now there was no need to count it again and again. This is what Ram did – the work at hand was over – the sin had been accounted for – now the person in front of him was a great knowledge store house. It was worth learning from him.

This is the big message of Ram…the big message of Dusshera – Knowledge/Wisdom should be acquired from anyone and everyone…should be acquired all your life…should be acquired not because it has some monetary value but because it has an inherent value. This is what our kids need to learn – that to learn something you just need to LEARN it without any reason…if you can do so you will learn and learn really well. Once you learn well the so called material things will also come to you.

Our society has missed this big message w.r.t education. I remember attending a small session on fine arts being given by a passionate teacher. She spent a long time explaining the important of fine arts in our life and in our society. At the end there was a Q&A session and in that one of the initial question that came was – Does she give a certificate after the completion of training? I was amused…I should say I was irritated. This scene remained in my mind for a long time and when I thought more and more I realized the entire education system around us is designed like that. We teach kids standard subjects in the standard way and make them take standard exam to collect standard degrees which can be used by standard organizations who make money through same standard means. All of a sudden I could just see robots around me…no fun of learning…just repeat the same activity again and again without even understanding it. And to top it we have suddenly moved to a society where all this is also held in high regards. So CEO’s and business leaders are the new poster boys…ISRO sent a path breaking mission to Mars and that too in its first attempt but our schools still look for chief guest among business leaders and models and film stars. We have killed education – I think it should no longer be called education – it should be called robotication.

You don’t learn for marks or degree…you learn for learning…you learn for an inner joy…you learn for your own spiritual development…in the process of having fun with learning, marks/degree/money come through. That’s what Ram did. He went to Ravan to learn from him…not to get a degree but to become a more learned…a better person. This is the most important message of Dusshera according to me. Let’s understand Ram…let’s understand his actions…let’s continue killing/burning Ravan but like Ram let’s imbibe the humility to learn from Ravan. Let’s learn for the sake of learning and believe that if we learn well then the other things for which we run also won’t be far behind.

Happy Dusshera to everyone.

 

About Us

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that “original & independent” thinking becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) that she will learn during her entire schooling life, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

www.dreamnobel.com