Nov 14, 2013

The Unfortunate Demise of School

“I think there won’t be any school by 2028”.
I was at a startup conference in August, and we were all separated into groups as per our industry of interest. I was in the education group, and we were attempting to see the future.

Since you probably laughed at that last line, let me rephrase. We were attempting to do some scenario planning, which is basically an attempt to predict the future. We mapped out significant events that had occurred in the field of education for the past 15 years. Then looking at all these events, we started looking 15 years into the future to try to predict what it held for us. We talked about focal concerns-the education bubble, mismatch between skills provided by schools and skills required at the work place, equal access to education.

According to many of my group mates, the demise of school as we know it wasn’t too far away in the future. All our focal concerns for the future of education, all the problems being faced today about skill development, seemed to point to how dysfunctional our current concept of ‘school’ is.It certainly seemed like an idea not very sustainable for the future.

There are so many online sources of learning that the value of school as a source of knowledge will definitely reduce. So in some ways, the computer has already replaced the teacher.

More than that, we have a lot more knowledge than we did a 100 years ago. The speed at which we create knowledge increases every decade.There is so much to learn, that soon, it will be hard to pin down what exactly is the necessary knowledge required to be taught in school. After kids know how to read, write and add numbers, which way do you go? You could teach them science, math, the arts, business, or you could just try teaching them everything. The problem with teaching them everything is that there just isn’t an end to it.

An interesting perspective that someone brought up was “Fuel will run out and therefore getting to school will become impossible. Kids will have to be homeschooled”. Although it may seem too presumptuous, it’s not impossible.

Between expensive transport costs and reducing faith in the existing education systems, parents may just decide that school isn’t worth the 14 years of time and money. Given the kind of resources widely available through technology, parents may not need to give as much attention to their kids being homeschooled as they do now. And if the concept of homeschooling becomes more and more widespread, we may see communities beginning to get together and teach each other’s children according to each of theirs skills and expertise. It would be a mini and informal structure of school, governed highly by choice.

Eventually, I think school might come down to the basic elementary skills that are absolutely essential. After learning math, reading and writing, kids should be able to more openly explore, through games and online courses, subjects of their interest, and discover what their passion really is. Soft skills that are slowly getting recognized now, such as the ability to be a good communicator and leader, being a quick learner will be a part of the schooling experience. Extra curricular activities will be considered as important as academics, and parents won’t tell their kids to stop playing basketball and go do their homework.

I imagine that what we know as higher education today i.e. college, where we develop as human beings and try to achieve overall development and employable skills will come down to the level of school. Although we will be able to finish our formal education faster, learning will be a lifelong journey, since there will be more ways to learn than to just go to school or college, and all these ways will be affordable and less time consuming than our existing ones.

And considering how fast our world is changing, lifelong learning that continues after school and college will become a need. Knowledge will become obsolete so quickly that our jobs and livelihood will depend on a continuous learning process.

Although school as we know it may not exist in 2028, I envision our learning to be a lot more accelerated and effective than it is today. 

Oct 30, 2013

A Week of Experiential Learning at Yale-NUS

When you get a week without classes, and instead spend time researching with professors in your freshman year of college, you know you’ve been given a unique opportunity.
In case it wasn’t clear already, I was one of the lucky ones who got this wonderful chance!

All 150 freshman at Yale-NUS were given 12 research projects to choose from, spanning over diverse fields. I chose a project called ‘alternatives to fossil fuels’ and spent last week probing deeper into green energy with Professor Clarke and Professor Maniates, experts in the field of environmental science.
With the profs and 14 of my classmates, I got to visit a solar institute, a palm oil farm in Malaysia and an electric vehicle startup among other things. We learnt about the challenges in the technicalities of scaling solar energy, the possibility of palm oil as in alternate source of energy and the commercialization of the electric vehicle. All the field trips and discussions we had with the professors gave us new insights and different perspectives into the world of alternative energy.

At a palm oil refinery in Malaysia

An Electric Car at EV World, an electric vehicles company in Singapore

It was a bit incomprehensible at first, but I think that was part of the purpose-making us struggle and pushing us outside our comfort zone. Looking back, the challenge in trying to comprehend some of the technical aspects of my project was exciting. This week challenged my assumptions, and made me so much more aware of the complexities that I previously deemed simple.

Some of the other interesting week 7 projects were migrant nations, a project involving interaction with migrant workers in Singapore which made some fascinating discoveries about the plight of migrant workers, such as their disintegration with the local community and their socio-economic conditions. There was a trip to Banda Aceh in Indonesia to study the impacts of the 2004 Tsunami, which discovered that villagers whose homes were impacted by the tsunami thought of it as largely religious and spiritual and are averse to technology which might help them predict future tsunamis. A project on beauty researched beauty across cultures, and went about interviewing people on their dating and marriage preferences.

We had a symposium on the last day wherein all groups came together and exchanged their experiences and learnt a little bit about each other’s projects and epiphanies. It was amazing seeing everyone back together bubbling with new insights and exchanging stories about their weeks. It comes to show how being out there makes learning so much more exciting and conducive. 

Oct 5, 2013

College in all its Glory

On June 29th, 2013 I flew into Singapore, not knowing what to expect of college. I was going to Yale-NUS, a new liberal arts college in Asia, a collaboration between Yale and NUS.  All I knew was that it would be like something I had never experienced before. And that is exactly how it turned out to be. 

By July 9th 2013, I knew that Yale-NUS was a good place to be. It had an extremely diverse and talented peer group, the faculty was extremely approachable and involved in the student community, and the administration seemed to be much too efficient for their own good. And the best part was that this was their first class.  

The previous year, I had started college in my hometown, New Delhi. It had turned out to be following a system which I didn't find myself getting much out of, which is when I had taken a leap of faith and dropped out. I wasn't sure how much I’d get out of a liberal arts education either, but considering the attractive opportunities Yale-NUS was offering, I took a leap of faith again and clicked the accept button.

So here we were, 155 of us, the first students of one of the few liberal arts colleges in Asia. And everybody  fit. Two qualities that stood out among the student body were the ability to take risks and strong leadership skills. Most had a love for travelling and exploration. Everybody was very open minded and loved being challenged. The level of comfort and the similarity in wavelength which I would normally look for in friends increased exponentially, simply because every one of my classmates seemed like people who I could find that comfort level with. We all started finding people who we shared a profound level of connection with.

Our campus isn’t complete yet, which is why we moved into our temporary residence in NUS university town. Although at first I was a bit apprehensive about temporary housing, it turned out to be amazing. We all got single rooms, lots of common spaces and access to all of NUS facilities. Some of us thought of it as a lot more luxurious than our own homes! 

Our first week was called ‘Singaporientation’. It was basically an orientation week in which we got to know our classmates better and had an amazing race that involved going all over Singapore and discovering more about the little red dot. The residential colleges competed against each other in the amazing race.
My group during the Amazing Race! 'Volare'  is the name of one of the three residential colleges at Yale-NUS 

At the end of the first week, all of us headed towards New Haven together for a 3 week long summer immersion program at Yale in US. The idea was to get acquainted to the culture of residential colleges and learning as a community. We lived at Berkeley College, one of the 11 residential colleges of Yale. We spent one week each learning about sustainable environment, immigration and leadership. Our lectures were by several highly accomplished Yale professors, some of whom had received awards for their work and almost all of whom had written books on their research. Our weekends were usually packed with field trips which included a beach, shopping outlet, New York, Boston and a camping trip. The last day of the summer immersion was the cherry on the cake. We got to meet UN general secretary Ban Ki Moon, who addressed us at the UN headquarters in New York.
The first class of Yale-NUS in Yale's Berkeley College during summer immersion at Yale

Apart from the amazing learning experience we had, we also got a chance to discover more about each other. By the time we returned to Singapore in August for our official first semester, we already knew each other reasonably well. We also had 12 dean’s fellows, who are recent college graduates from US and Singapore, who act as our upperclassmen and seniors, since we don’t have any. Having that comfort level with each other and guidance of the dean’s fellows played a massive role in a smooth sailing first semester, especially when it came to forming interest groups and seminar discussions.

Being the first class, we were in a situation where we had to create the extra-curricular life of the college. There were no student clubs/organizations before we began. Although we weren’t allowed to officially start forming clubs until the second semester, it’s hard to keep such talented people away from collaborating and forming clubs. So we started forming interest groups which didn’t have an official structure or outline, but involved people with similar interests coming together.

As for our academics, Yale-NUS has a very unique curriculum and class structure. Unlike most colleges, we have a common curriculum for the first two years with the same classes spanning a broad spectrum of arts and sciences for the entire student body.  After 2 years of common curriculum and some electives, we choose a major to pursue. We’re also required to work on a capstone project depending on the major we choose, which is uncommon for an undergraduate course.

In the first semester, we have four courses and one hour of lecture for each of them every week. All 150 of us attend the lecture, but afterwards break into groups of 16 people for 3 hour seminar discussions. These seminar discussions are facilitated by a faculty member, and are usually based on the lecture and readings that have been assigned to us for a week. So a typical Yale-NUS student’s day involves a one hour lecture in the morning and 2 seminar discussions later in the day, which last 90 minutes each. But here’s the best part. We have a 4 day work week. We get Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays off! The idea behind giving us so many days off and lesser lectures than seminar discussions is for us to be able to absorb and process the information that we are getting.

Initially, this system was new to a lot of us, especially those of us who had studied in an Asian education system (like me)! The seminar discussions were a radically different concept from anything we had done before. These seminars involved us talking more than the professor and challenging established views. There was a lot more freedom than before. Assignments and homework weren’t the same either. But we are now beginning to figure the system out and find ourselves more at ease with it.

As the semester progressed, I started spending more time outside college on weekends. Being new to Singapore makes it all the more exciting since there are so many places to explore. There’s always more food to try and another place to see. Being exposed to new things one after the other is amazing. Moreover, the diversity in the Yale-NUS student body always ensures that the people you are going out with are from more than one continent. Going out becomes a whole new learning experience by itself, and is suddenly more than just socializing or leisure. 
Spandana's birthday at Little India

Liz turns 19! Dinner at Holland Village.
Late night coffee at Arab Street
We finished half a semester two weeks ago and had a mid-semester break, in which I went to visit my aunt in Jakarta with 3 friends from college. It was great spending time with my aunt and uncle and introducing them to my new friends. We spent 5 days exploring Jakarta, shopping, eating, getting massages, reading and just chilling at home! This was my first time travelling with a small group of friends, and it was so much fun doing everything by ourselves and having the freedom to make our own plans. 

Visiting my aunt in Jakarta with friends during the mid semester break

After the mid-semester break, we had a week of experiential learning. Instead of regular classes, we were asked to pick from among 12 research topics and spent a week delving deeper into our topics along with a few of our classmates and professors. The week was full of mind boggling field trips and insights from professors, who were experts in the field and had been researching the topic for years. There were some international trips, and some which stayed in Singapore. 
The alternatives to fossil fuels research group at a palm oil plantation in Malaysia

We are now through more than half a semester, and it is unbelievable how quickly these past few months have gone by. I've learnt so much already that it feels like a lot longer. What I especially love about being at Yale-NUS is that there is always something more to do as part of the first class. We’re the guinea pigs. Although that can seem quite risky, it is equally exciting. We get to define our culture, and establish a functional structure. If things don’t work, it’s our job to fix them. There is never a moment here when we can sit back, stop bothering about the rest of the college community and mind our own business. It’s always about looking at the bigger picture, and pushing for a vision to become reality.

So in a way, it’s more than just college. Its college in all its glory and a lot, lot more. 

May 5, 2013

Slow down people!

Most countries fine people for speeding. Sweden likes to do things differently. 
In 2010, Kevin Richardson entered into the Fun Theory Competition with a concept that rewards people when they adhere to the speed limit. It identifies cars driving within the speed limit at certain checkpoints and automatically enters them into a lottery. So every now and then, people get money for following the rules. 

This concept was implemented for testing in Sweden, and it turned out to be pretty effective. Check it out: 

Apr 20, 2013

The Dark Ages: Revisited?

The last week has been a bad week for the human race. With all the blasts, the earthquake, and yet another atrocious rape case in my city, we are once again reminded that although we have come a long way in terms of science and technology and human development in general, there are still parts of the world which remain far behind the 21st century. 

It makes me realize that the old ways are so etched inside our being that it is often hard for people to let go and give way to the new. In my country, women are not respected as much as men. They are wives and daughters and sisters before they are human beings. And no matter how many women start entering the work world, or start living independent of men, they are still wives and daughters and sisters first. They are to serve  men and take care of them before they take care of themselves. 

Similarly, when it comes to violence and terrorism, it is mostly just a convenient way to get what you want and protest against governments. But at the end of the day, it doesn't make much sense to harm those who have nothing to do with it. Before the concept of 'nations' came around, this is pretty much how things worked. People's lives were irrelevant compared to rulers' egos and power. I am not suggesting to compare present day governments to kings who used their citizens as puppets, but I am saying that people's safety seems to matter less as compared to politics and establishing beliefs. 

People like to think that we've come far and are propagators of 'modern' thinking. But somewhere inside us, the past remains. While some of us still yearn for power and attention, some of us forget the new times we are now living in and have a tendency to think like we would have in the past. We forget that we still haven't developed the ability to win against nature. 
Some part of the past, the dark ages lives within us, and there is not much we can do about it. But what we can do is to fight that part of us, and start living in this amazing new world that the human race has built for itself. 

MBA=Assured jobs? Not so sure about that.

I was on vacation in Kerala last December, a state in the southern part of India, when I truly realized why thinkers and philosophers were cribbing and whining so much about this thing called "education inflation".

We were driving past the country side, on our way from the airport to our hotel, when my dad started making conversation with the taxi driver. 
As the taxi driver told my father about his family and home, I tried to catch a nap. But my attention was suddenly back to the conversation when I heard the word "MBA". 

Yup. This is what our world has come to. The once celebrated MBA degree, has officially become a piece of paper. 


We were driven to our hotel by a man who had an MBA.

A man with an MBA, puts on a white uniform every morning, to drive families like mine to and fro from the airport to the hotel. 

Since I was too confused and tired to think straight at the time, I ignored this mind boggling discovery, and indulged myself in a nice long nap as soon as we got to the hotel. 
But as we walked around our hotel grounds the next morning, talking to people, and interacting with some of the staff, we realized that the taxi driver wasn't alone. There were all kinds of people with college degrees doing blue collar jobs. People who had spent at least 16 years educating themselves, were now doing jobs that had nothing to do with what they studied. More than that, the jobs they were doing didn't even require them to read or write. 

This state of Kerala, which has a 99% literacy rate ,has a large population of MBAs who drive taxis and engineers who wait tables at local restaurants. 

So if this is what a college degree is worth in a state where everybody is "educated", what will happen to us in a world where everybody has a masters degree? What will happen when our scientists invent robots who can do that cooking and cleaning? What will happen when the self driven car gets commercialized? 

Its really easy to get a degree and then a job that pays you regularly and assures a roof over your head. Maybe its time to start thinking differently. Think of learning, and not getting grades. Think of exploring the world beyond what school or college teaches you.
In a world where everyone has fancy degrees, actual merit and ability are what will really count.

Mar 31, 2013

Ideas Ideas Everywhere

Coffee Houses, Metros and Buses, Malls, Bathrooms, Restaurants, Middle of the Road, Parties, Dinners, Dates, Facebook discussions and Blogs. 

In case you were wondering THAT was the list of places where people often come up with business ideas and opportunities that can be converted into organizations and startups. Yes, people get ideas in the weirdest places, at the weirdest times and in between the weirdest conversations. And if I were to go around counting the number of great ideas that are mentioned every day, I would soon run out of numbers. 

Everyone has ideas. Some have the aspirations to make it a reality SOME day. But few have the courage to actually go out and execute them. 

I'm not writing this to criticize the passiveness of people in executing. There is a lot of thinking that goes into a startup and a lot of courage to invest time and money into it. 
I write this for the people who are out there executing their ideas and living their dreams and also for those who dare to dream and think of executing their idea some day. 

Keep trying, and keep dreaming, because a 90 storey building was once just a pile of rubble. 

Mar 4, 2013

28 Days

February is the one month of the year which can teach you a lesson that no other month can. Any guesses? No? Alright, I'll tell you!

February is the one month which familiarizes you with the price of procrastination. As I recover from the consequences of procrastinating all my February tasks, here is what I now know about not procrastinating:

1. Reply to your messages and emails right away
There is always a reason to not reply to your text messages and emails right away. There is always a reason to not open facebook messages for the fear that the sender will see the little 'seen' tick mark there and take offence at your ignorance. But believe me, there comes a time when you have 500 unread messages in your mailbox, and a group of friends on facebook who know you are consciously ignoring the message they sent, because lets face it, facebook's technical errors can be blamed only some times.

2. Never convince yourself to do a task later
Whenever I think of getting to work, I simultaneously think of a reason to not get to work. And these two thoughts are a split second apart. So before you can even think of a reason not to do the work, get your lazy ass of your over used bed and get to work. There will always be a millions reasons to not finish writing that blog article, or making a call to your clients, or doing your homework. And these reasons will always overpower your reasons to work. So the best solution? Don't even think of them.

3. Just because you aren't tired right now, doesn't mean you won't be after another hour.
You know how there are those nights when you're full of enthusiasm and energy? You sit down and make a list of things you have to do and you promise yourself that you will do each and everything before you sleep. Then, after making your list, you look at the time on your laptop screen, and are surprised to see that its only 9:30 p.m. There's a long night ahead, and you have enough time (and energy) to get to the things on your list. So you decide to watch Grey's Anatomy before you start doing your to-do. Grey's Anatomy's wonderful episode ends, and you look at your to do list. But now, the human craving to sleep dawns on you. You run your eye down the list again, and realize that there is nothing so important that it can't be done tomorrow. The world will certainly not end if you don't do those tasks right away. Its the story of my life, and I can totally relate to it. My point here, you may ask? Don't watch Grey's Anatomy.

If nothing else, make sure you know how many days there are in a month. Because when your boss or your teacher ask you to submit that piece of work by the end of the month of February, just try to remember, that February only has 28 days.

Jan 23, 2013

My NOT-TO-DO list for 2013

They call it a "New" Year. But despite that, every 1st of January gives me a deja vu, mainly because of the people talking about New Year Resolutions and how they never last.
Lets face it, not more than 1% of New Year Resolutions last beyond 3rd January (okay, i confess. I made that up).

So this year, I decided to make a list of things NOT to do in 2013. Here goes:

1. Do not stay in Delhi for more than 200 days. TRAVEL!

2. Do not let anything remain the same. I love change. Monotony disturbs me.

3. Do not say things you do not mean, "Lets meet soon", being a classic example.

4. Do not spend TOO much time in front of the computer or TV. Read more!

And one last thing,


Inspired by PeaBee's My 2013 To Do List

Jan 16, 2013

How NOT to get lost in Delhi

After having lived in New Delhi for 19 years, I surprised myself at my ability to get lost despite that.
Over the past few months, my friend and I have ventured out to look for manufacturers, delivery services and what not for our new business. And each time, we somehow manage to spend 90% of our time looking for the place.

So after having been lost a million times (no, really), I thought it's time to share my wisdom with the world. Although I am in no position to give advice, here is how NOT to get lost in New Delhi.

1. ALWAYS have GPS. Auto waalas are likely to take you on a joy ride if they realize how clueless you are. (for exceptions, refer to point 3). And that reminds me, act like you know it all when you're getting into an auto. As they say, confidence is key.

2. ASK the locals. Believe it or not, the fruit vendors know everything. Ask them anything. They'll know. Try it. Really. When it comes to directions, they own google maps.

3. DO NOT trust GPS when you find yourself in a place with more stray animals than people. It is very likely that google maps does not know where to go either. These are typically places where fitting a four wheeler on the road is a big achievement. With lanes that narrow, you do not want directions from a satellite.

 4. NEVER assume that the driver knows everything. There is a good chance that the driver won't know how to get to the place you want to go to. Cab drivers, especially, are notorious for "not knowing" where to go. So once again , refer to point 1.

5. When you walk past the same place more than three times, you're doing something wrong. Come back and read my post.

But in case you haven't been lost even once, be it in your own city or another's, get out there, and WANDER! Getting lost has a thrill of its own. Its like a mini-adventure.