(The actual speech was a quite different though it stayed with this theme. These are notes that I am sharing, upon request.
Actual speech will be uploaded once the recording is made available. I think it was better than the draft :D)
What brings us back to the classroom everyday? What is the purpose of education…. goals and range of goals…
Education vs education systems
If I want to go from x to y, from here to there…. I can walk, I can crawl, take a car, a bullock cart, a flight.
Each has a range, a speed – some possibiities and some impossibiities. The fastest plane will not take me to the moon, I’ll need some rockets for that.
Each has its comforts and discomforts…. In a bullock cart I may experience much more of reality, learn a lot along the way, but may not go too far.
Each has it’s efficiencies…A car may have a good engine – a small engine will take me there cheaply, but a bigger engine will take me there in comfort. I can tinker with it and make my journey smarter – achieving the same goals in fewer resources…
We are also part of a journey, to go from A to B. But here’s the thing – we can choose our vehicle. The vehicle we have chosen currently is the school system.
Purpose and goal of education, vs edu systems…..
And the person who is standing at the very fulcrum, the pivot point is you – you are a leader in a school and it falls upon you to balance both – and create value for both.
Why is there a difference? What is it that you are balancing?
Education is about realsing the potential of the individual, an education system is about realising the potential of a group, a population.
So they ask us to do different things
Education asks us to pay attention to the individual, to craft a path that helps them grow; the system says, do that, but do it for all, and equally.
Edu says, be kind, take your time, build empathy. The system says, be efficient, help everybody – and be smart about it
Edu says, help everybody learn. Edu system says, teach them.
There is a big difference between the two ——-
Each learner is different. And each time we step up to educate, we need to remember, that we may be teaching a class, but each learner is learning something different.
they say that you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
We teachers often say, you can teach a class, but you cannot make them learn.
But, if that is so, then why are we here?
What good do we do? How do we help them reach their potential? (And how do we meet our own professional systemic targets of passing each class with good grades?)
What are we teaching them really?
Are we here to teach them the syllabus? The content? Or are we here to teach our next generation how to behave, organise and work with each other? Maybe our job is just to babysit them till they move on to the next year? Or maybe, it is to build lives, characters and good citizens.
Today I want to ask all of you this question: What is the purpose of all our effort, our life’s work as teachers and Educators?
And as I step up to ask that question, I hold back and wonder – Who should answer this question? Should it be the teachers? The parents? The education gurus to design our system? Or the students?
And just like the story of the the five blindfolded men who felt different parts of the elephant, and found different truths, so too shall we find different truths when we ask the same question of different people.
So I did?
And for once, I have very good news to share with you.
I had expected answers such as ‘making money’, ‘getting a good job’, ‘becoming a celebrity’.
What I found was heartening.
Teachers told me, and I quote one teacher, “We have to ‘make’ the lives of students. We have to prepare them for it”
Parents told me- and here it becomes interesting – parents told me many different things. Parents from the ‘best’ schools said things like, “We have to make our children competitive”. “We have to make them the best”. “We send our children to school so that they can do well in life…”, their subtext being – earn a lot of money. But then I spoke to other parents, more ordinary, and as I learnt, much greater people. They said things like, “We want our children to lead lives of good.” I asked them again, “Did you mean good lives? Like being rich, famous…?”. They said, “Who minds being rich, but that is not what we need. We want our children to go to school to learn how to live lives where they can do good, where they learn to work, to share, to live well amongst others and bring happiness to their neighbourhood”. I was more than impressed, I could have touched their feet that day! To bring a sense of meaning to our students, for them to know how to give and take in life, how to create a place for themselves in the affections of those who surround them – what more can we want?
But then, we turn into the gates of the school, and stand in front of a classroom, knowing all this – and we transform. We transform into delivery machines. We want them to march through, in a staright and hopefully simple line, doing well on only one way. We want to teach them right from wrong, and we get trapped in marking their answers right or wrong.
We want to teach them to learn how to fail and rise again, but we end up praising the winners and forgetting to raise those who fell behind in failure.
We want to help them take their time to grow and blossom into good people, but we are also held responsible for rushing them through to the next level.
And then level after level we climb.
Some of us don’t know why we are climbing that mountain. Some of us are climbing so fast that we do not even know what we are missing out on the way. Our students often do not even realise that they are not climbing a mountain, they are merely climbing a ladder that the teachers and educators have built for them.
Here, in beautiful Sikkim, you have many real mountains. Many of you will be climbers, literally speaking. You can tell me better than I can, that climbing a ladder is very different from climbing a mountain, or even steps cut into the mountain.
One of my greatest teachers often said, “The Map is not the Territory”. I would add to that, and say, “The ladder is not the mountain”. We, as educators are not just teaching our students to climb ladders, we have to teach them how to deal with the mountains that they must climb in life.
It is not enough for us to teach them the content prescribed by the syllabus, we have to help them learn how to learn any content and situation that comes their way in life. We have to teach them how to learn, how to teach themselves. Each time we begin our teaching journey, I’d like us to pause and ask ourselves: How can I help them be prepared for any mountain they face? Even better, How can I help them be excited and driven to climb every new mountain they encounter? And as they grow older, a deeper question too: How can I teach them how to judge which mountains to climb?
These are the three goals of educators. To remember that as we build scaffolds and ladders, and help them through their first mountains, we are preparing them for unpredictable ones ahead. What we do in the classroom is threefold:
Experience. Engage. Evolve.
First, we take them through a learning experience. Whether it is as simple as making a cardboard clock to read the time, or a football match where they must managed physics, mathematics and teams. Experience. Each experience is a learnable moment. We build learnability.
Engage. There is nothing more sad for a teacher than a classroom full of disinterested students. It breaks my heart and it breaks the will of a teacher. A teacher needs to be helped to become a true leader in the classroom and school to engage the hearts and minds of the students so that they pursue their learning with a will. I often say, that the job of the teacher is to create a transfer of Energy in the classroom. This is what builds the connection, the Engagement with all that they can, and now will Learn.
Use the content and curriculum as a springboard. It must not be the limit of your classes, but a starting point.
We have eminent people from the NCERT and the SCERTs here… and pardon me if you don’t agree with me but I do believe and keep telling teachers to use the NCERT books as a launching pad. It is not meant to be the entirety of the subject, it is meant to represent a reduction, a minimum of what you are expected to know for competence. But competence is not the only expectation, it is the first expectation. As a student, and as a teacher, the ask is that we evolve. Students cannot do this on their own. They need us, they need our leadership to begin to evolve into – first, curious souls, then experimenters, then readers, then researchers, then inventors and so much more. IF we think our job is done by merely making students competent, then we have stopped in the middle of the road…This is a road we need to cross and we need to help our students cross.
And in this, only in doing this, we grow as educators and as leaders too.
All of this is essential, these 3 Es (Experience. Engage. Evolve.), become important because of another E.
Expectation: What are the expectations of our students? We have heard much in the past years of the VUCA world ahead (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigious). We don’t talk much of it now, maybe because we are already in it! Even the heads of states of the greatest countries in the world tweet in the most volatile manner! We now live in the world where we do not know whether our news is fake or true. We live in a world of Whatsapp forwards that come from friends, but they have been planted by others. We live in a world where the black and white have merged into the shadows. We are sending our students into this world of half truths where they have to fight for their futures.
We have to prepare them for it…for this next crazy century.
To create a 21st Century ready citizen is the expectation. It is no mean challenge.
(I like to think ahead, and I’m already thinking 25th century!) With AI, will we survive? Will we be the masters or like pets to the machines? Will we be the entertainment? Or the survivors of the apocalypse, starting out all over again?
It is totally uncertain.
Much has been said about 21st century skills and about teaching for a future we do not know. Indeed, in this conference we will meet again in another such session. Both for the future, and for now, it is Learnability that rises above others – how to deal with the unknowns. We already spoke of the most important one: Learnability.
But there are many others.
Above All – problem solving.
From Chaos to Order…..
All of this works for the individual. Now, how about a system? What is the purpose of an education system?
Edu seeks to improve potential, an edu system seeks to give opportunity.
A system is designed for the many, for the group. It is expected to work like a machine, you put some inputs into it, you turn the machine on, and it should give you some output.
We used to call it Industrial age education. Students were processed like an assembly line. They come into your class at the beginning of the year, you apply your magic machine process on them, and then you deliver the output. The most visible output being marks. Scores. Grades. For many, that is what the school was supposed to deliver.
But that is not the whole of the story. The system stands on these pillars-
And in exchange…
Above all, a system wants accountability.
It wants the assurance that the machine is working fine…
How many of you have said, I know I need to do this, but the system forces me to do that?
OR bemoaned, “I cannot help it, it is the system”
But —- we just spoke of it – and the system wanted good things for our students, did it not? Did we not say all the right words? Opportunity, Access….all those beautiful things. More than beautiful-right.
Then….I’m confused here, is this an enabler or a hurdle?
How can it be both?
This is a battle between effectiveness and efficiency.
Good Education takes time, takes patience, takes care. An education system says more, better, faster!
And it is us, who are standing in the middle, creating the balance. It is us, as school leaders, as educators who are torn between dealing with the today or investing in tomorrow.
The good news is that we are not alone. The bad news is that we are alone.
Let me explain.
I say that we are not alone, because this battle between the systems view and the unit happens in every sector, in every industry. Every time a Mukesh Ambani, or any other business owner makes a decision they have to walk the tightrope between quarterly shareholder value and long term value.
At the same time, I say that we are alone because Education is not like any other sector,. Firstly, it is not a business. Secondly, we are not talking about units of soap or shampoo but about real people and real lives. “Let us help ur children get good marks in this test, and not invest in their future” – is not an ideal approach.
And yet, when this is the choice that faces us in the everyday reality for many of us, not just here in India but all over the world. This is the battle at the frontline of education for most of us today.
And yet we know that the best teachers have managed to find the balance. We remember our own teachers who used content to teach us skills that have served us well through all the challenges in our own lives.
How do we figure out how it can be done?
Here I want to take a moment to complement the underlying principles and values of the EQUIP team. To reach all the goals of being a great educator we can be trained, learn new toolkits, learn from experience, re-orient our own teaching practice, follow research – and much more. But if we only learn alone and forget to share it, then we are failing to become force multipliers. Your EQUIP circles where we share our learning, our successes and our experiences is a way of multiplying the good. And this way we each become better educators balancing both the needs of the individual and the system.
To help us along, I’d like to present a roadmap to our journey of becoming better educators that can confidently stand at the frontline of education leadership and balance the needs of both the individual and the system. And since we are in an age where acronyms are popular, I dedicate this one to our hosts today and present the roadmap in 5 letters that spell EQUIP.
Understand the system, circumstances, goals, needs
Innovate – but design the innovation to fit needs and goals
Practice? or Pilot? or RCT? Or include in process/best practice?
Evidence Based Practice
Research Led Interventions
Experts from Content, not position
Influence from Inspiration
But most importantly, the circle – close the circle. Just as Equip calls itself a circle, I want to emphasise – something very everyday for all of you – the circle of the education year. It is a small thing, but possibly the most important thing that you do as leaders in education.
Many of us are guilty of this, and I was too in the early years of running a business school and access to college institution.
We see the education year as having a beginning and an end. But That is only how the paperwork is reported! That is not the truth of every teacher, every school head. Let us remind ourselves today of the most important step that comes after the results are declared – the moment of true learning for us as educators, and the moment when we actually teach the system something of value – the reflection.
Reflective practice, mindfulness and structured process of feedback is the engine to a true learner’s journey.
Feedback to the student is not just the report card. Remember the E – Empathy, of the EQUIP acronym
Finishing off the report cards is not the end of the teacher’s annual journey – remember the Q – Question Everything of the EQUIP acronym
Sending off the forms to the authorities is not the point of giving feedback to the system – there is more. Remember the U – Understand – and help to build it better!
Innovate, even, for this is how we will all evolve together.
But most of all, Practice – practice this act of self analysis, of reflection and learning, of true mindfulness in the journey of building Learnabilty.
PART IV – if there is extra time
Bring me the young, the fresh the new
Those who do not even know
What it is to brew
in the vast ocean of knowledge
To find a path, to swim the current
To build a boat
To ride the waves
Bring them to me, and see
Watch them grow in stature and strength
In Wit and wonder and in intent
Watch them grow with tools and hands
And minds that open up so many lands
Watch them grow and learn and earn
Respect, and wisdom and
most of all, a chance.
Watch them build for themselves and us
A future with weld and truss
We knew them when they were small and wild
Harnessed them, showed them the tide
We helped them grow every step of the way
As we watch, we swell with pride
These, our students, we now discuss,
Blossoms in bloom, they were taught by us.