Do not read this for education substance, I will write again in a week for that. This is a personal note from an educator – to herself probably, but it is about the professional space.
“I have a dream”, said a great man once. And now roads are named after him. In most cities in that country, MLK is the road that divides the town. Everyone knows it, that one side is the traditional, the other side still aspires. Appropriate for education, where one aspires, knowing that traditional is not necessarily better, but it is the other side of that street that marks a line. I had a dream too, to see education true. A system where each student could prosper, indeed flower. And as I learnt more about it, I found myself being bounced from one perspective to another. I am so tempted to list the top ten problems with education here, but I will refrain. Enough time to do this elsewhere, and if we are to be honest, who does not know what the problem is – right? Everyone has a strong opinion, and everyone knows that the problem is not them, it is the other.
The student says the system is the problem, the system blames its parts. Teachers know they are special, which is why they cannot change, and changemakers debate whether the teacher or the principal/head of the school should be retrained. The public sector blames the private, the private, naturally blames tenure in the public. A thousand times these, again and the wheel keeps spinning. I spun with these, and found myself agreeing that private set ups find more innovative solutions, but it is also true that equity can only be because of the public set up. In all of these, I wondered why nobody was asking the right questions – then.
There were so many questions to ask, but no one wanted to ask them. Why do teachers not change their ways when each batch and each student is different? Why do school heads let themselves be run by administrative needs and not student needs? Why can students not hop in and out of school, all life long? Thousands of questions like that. I wanted to ask these questions, but few others wanted to – so I struck out on my own.
I set out some projects, and I shall not bore you with all of them. School Safety Project – because how can students learn unless they have safe spaces? I call this a win, because India now has a school safety policy, there is CCTV and there are guards and barbed wire. But it is not a win, because there is no real freedom or safety to think – being policed is not being safe, it is being watched. Safe spaces for learning are not run by bossy know it all teachers who are hustling you to the test. But I still call it a win, and take a breather, for the warrior too gets tired, and we must take what we get on the uphill journey.
There were many other projects, and they are in the about section right here. Some are done, some are paused, some are underway. I admit, I find it more rewarding to do the next thing rather than update my CV or profile. There will be errors there. And things past that I forgot to change. I am too busy running to keep up with myself. Not because I am achieving so much in education, no one does. Just as there never can be true expertise in education, there can be no one person who changes things. But we push, and push, and one day something shifts a bit. Look, they are already talking about social and emotional learning – what is that if not a safe space for learning. It all connects up in the end.
It gets tiring. I once met a bunch of educators socially. I admire all their work, and they admire mine, I hope. I have begun to get more confident of this after talking to many of you – thank you for telling me. I asked them, why do you keep going? We all had a hearty laugh, because it was hard, hard. You spend six or ten years of your life shifting the needle on one small shift that had been proven to work, then evaluate the impact, and it has changed by a fraction of a percentage point. It takes more than a generation for any improvement to show – and this is why I am lucky – I am surrounded by heroes who will not give up the fight. The rewards are not many either. Except for love and respect, and that too cannot be relied upon.
“Who will listen to you?” someone had taunted me once. That person invites me often now. But does not pay me. This is where we get stuck. Each of us can see that we need to dig deeper, ask more meaningful questions. But where do we find the funding to do so? We have to follow the project that gets funded. And Education does not have much money anyway. So we continue blundering in the dark, questions neither asked, not answered. The old continues to inform the new, while the next races ahead – it’s a mess. One needs a lot to be heard here, not just content. More than a good question, more than a good answer, one needs a traditional tilak and costume, a form. I found it in my next – and now maybe past – project. I called the project – the Centre for Education Strategy. I told you, I had a dream, like the great man did. The dream was to cross the line. Excellence for All in education.
The line between a good education and a mediocre one was not one of money. It was one of care and competence. And hidden curriculum that included confidence. Look at the young lady who is the daughter of a rikshaw driver who made Miss India – she has it. Others, placed as she was did not. I wanted to make it better, I wanted Excellence, that edge for all. And for that, I thought, we needed a strategic approach. No wars are won without strategy, and a policy is a guide, not a strategy. A strategy pierces through to the goal like an arrow, and I dreamt of teams of questions that would shoot for that goal. I will not judge the project, which is now a part of my brand name, but must go. It is one in the series of projects I run, and then write about. Education and CSR took up two years for me, as had the Impact of the RTE act on school systems. There have been many more, all under the umbrella idea of Education Strategy that delivers Excellence for All. As with my observations at the gathering, we can all claim progress, knowing it is slow. Yes, even with edutech, which is now reduced to exampreptech. Examtech is not an education, but one day I will find the right questions to ask them too, and then they shall pivot.
There are projects that are past, there are those that I am working on, writing on, speaking on and advising now even today. Some are slipping into the past, and I shall blame the pandemic, it is time for the Centre to end its life. It is time for the next quest to begin, and as ever, it shall be a multiple headed hydra. School managements, governance, financing, Responsibility – these are the big questions I want to ask. How do you get it right? Can you show others what right means? Is that the right way ahead? Is this how we build our tomorrow?
There is a lot to say and learn still, and many many more questions to seek answers to – I for one know that a good education for all will be achieved when I see good questions rise all around me. Till then, I shall keep asking questions to breed better questions.
For those who want a more pragmatic response:
I write, I speak, I advise. I prefer to be paid for these, for I find that the fee facilitates the engagement. Free advice will always be generic and inspiring. Paid advice will be harsh and useful. Those are my terms. Each will be a series of questions, one set more rigorous than the other.
I am on several advisory boards, and a prestigious school board. A few other things too, I forget easily. I am a Fellow of the RSA. (FRSA). I have shunned titles and job roles, and other such boxes, but at my age, I begin to see its uses. I follow my age, and my preaching to wind down my public voice and do more research writing. All my work has been based on solid research, I just did not have time to write it down. Just shared the results in my speaking and advisories. Now, I plan to write for the longer term, for keeps. Let us see, I may still speak with fire and brimstone when you invite me to that keynote.
I plan to work on Sustainable education. I am creating models and theories for Balanced Education. I seek to be a philosopher next, and that journey is about to begin. I am currently also working on a text – The Paradoxes inherent in our Education, things I have noticed, truths I have faced, reasons why we keep getting stuck. Of course, I am also working on ways to get us free, and so, on the 7 Phases of an Educated Life.
Wish me luck, and join in the journey.