March 16, 2010

Education Delivery Model : Encouraging Creation, not Consumption of Knowledge

"You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink"

In the context of enhancing the delivery capabilities of the education system, we should perhaps rephrase the statement as "You should lead a horse to the water, but desist from spoon feeding it"

As it is, those who manage to get into IIT -- either at the UG or the PG level -- have their originality and creativity ironed out of them, or at least significantly degraded, by the coaching classes that tutor them for the entrance examination. To compensate for this, teachers in IIT must go the extra mile to erase the effect of cramming and learning by rote -- the hall mark of a successful coaching class -- and awaken in their students a sense of wonder about the world of knowledge and instill in them the confidence of stepping out of their zone of comfort and address intellectual challenges of the highest degree.

What this could mean in practice is a reduction in the importance of the text book and examinations as tools and the progressive usage of the world wide web, as well as the library, as a way to not just gather facts but also publish analyses and interpretations into the public domain.

The Indian education system is perpetually dominated by the grim dark clouds of an examination -- right from kindergarten, all the way through X, XII, JEE, CAT, mid terms, end terms and comprehensives -- and a person's "success" is measured by marks obtained at every step of the way. Here the definition of success is debatable but instead of splitting hairs on this let us explore what all we can do.

Obviously, this lethal cocktail of text books and examinations cannot be done away with completely -- the system would collapse into an unstructured academic anarchy -- but four specific ideas could be introduced.

  1. Students should be encouraged to locate multiple sources of information, preferably newer sources of information, well beyond what is written in a text book, if at all there is one that is prescribed. Ideally this would be websites, blogs, discussion forums and scholarly archives. Library books and journals are also equal candidates
  2. Students should be encouraged to "publish" not just in peer-reviewed journals -- which may call for effort not normally expected in a normal UG or PG course -- but on their own blogs and in case studies, term papers and working papers that are uploaded in web2.0 communities. The ability to collect ones thoughts --and the facts that have been picked up through the process described in point 1, synthesize them into a unique point of view and articulate that in a cogent and understandable manner is an essential foundation for future research leading to traditional publications in refereed journals.
  3. Collaborative learning should be the key because the image of the "mad" scientist working alone in his den-like-laboratory has either become dated or was never quite correct. Modern science and technology calls for significant collaboration within and across communities -- department, institutes and even countries and this collaborative approach should be woven into the fabric of our delivery process in the form of cross-functional teams. These should be tasked to not only identify problems and evolve solutions and but should also participate in the evaluation and if possible implementation of the idea.
  4. Failures should be tolerated as these are the pillars of success. The person who has never made a mistake is perhaps the same person who has never done anything new in this life and the society for which we wish to prepare our students does not need such people! Experimentation should be encouraged, recklessness should be cautioned against but failures should be seen, not as objects of ridicule but as a learning opportunity. Practically this means rewarding not just results but also activity.

Consumption of knowledge should be replaced by creation of knowledge


Subhayan Mukerjee said...

hmm ... have talked about this at home haven't we?

suresh ranade said...

Delighted to learn the importance erasing formal learning and start exploring the world with child curiosity. Definitely, this change in education system will eliminate the wastage of time and efforts in memorising and repeating the work which has been done before number of times. Our and sites are focusing on similar objective of self learning.

Katha said...

The problem with our education system is that it doesn't allow enough room to ask "why" -- any "why" takes more time and effort, it's a two way communication and very engaging and effective but for that the first thing needed to change is our mindset.

Thanks for writing the article, it's so true!