At TEDxSPSU – Part Four

TEDxSPSU was held on March 12, 2011 at Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur, India, with the theme Order from Chaos. This series of posts are what my TEDx presentation was based on. There are six parts that shall be published sequentially over the next few days. This is Part Four.


What doesn’t help is that we live in one of the most diverse nations in the world. We have 200 million school going children, over 16 mn higher education students (expected to touch 40 mn in 2020), 35 geographical and ethnic units, 22 official languages, 1.25 mn schools, about 500 universities, over 26,000 colleges and over 6 million teachers in an area spanning over 3 million square kilometres.

We have a huge scale with no one unique approach or one size fits all solution possible.

But what we are really saying is that we want ORDER.

Order implies design and organization of systems and structures with predictable outputs.

We have created boards of education, district, state & national level hierarchies, and many other superstructures that include accreditation and degree granting bodies. On top of that we have unifying national policies and curricular frameworks. All working on the principle of centralized direction.

And when this order fails, we add even more Order. And at any cost.

It’s a pity that the largest education companies are built on standardizing content and assessments not enriching experience. It’s a pity that education technology today means Learning or Assessment Management Systems and page turning multimedia content in classrooms. It’s a pity that we are increasing the power and quantity of superstructures to govern education.

Not surprisingly, our conception of educational systems as being orderly embraces some vast over-simplifications.

We conceive of stereotypes of students, teachers, educational environments, learning processes and hammer out a unifying certification and assessment system that actually drives all learning and teaching.

These oversimplifications, on a lighter note, result in some fantastic vision statements. Here is one that envisions the Engineer of 2020 crafted by the National Academy of Engineering in the US.

“What attributes will the engineer of 2020 have? He or she will aspire to have the ingenuity of Lillian Gilbreth [The first Lady of Engineering], the problem-solving capabilities of Gordon Moore [the co-founder of Intel], the scientific insight of Albert Einstein, the creativity of Pablo Picasso, the determination of the Wright brothers, the leadership abilities of Bill Gates, the conscience of Eleanor Roosevelt, the vision of Martin Luther King, and the curiosity and wonder of our grandchildren.”

If you are thinking, yeah right, what could they be influenced by when they wrote this, consider what the National Council on Teacher Education has assessed what our system wants its teachers to be:

“The teacher must be equipped not only to teach but also to understand the students and the community of parents so that children are regular in schools and learn. The Act [Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act] mandates that the teacher should refrain from inflicting corporal punishment, complete the entire curriculum within the given time, assess students, hold parent’s meetings and apprise them and as part of the school management committee, organise the overall running of the schools. In addition, the NCF requires a teacher to be a facilitator of children’s learning in a manner that helps children to construct knowledge and meaning. The teacher in this process is a co-constructor of knowledge.”

Why do we make such assumptions and over-simplifications? Perhaps the most important reason is scale. We feel we can hammer predictability in the face of scale by making orderly processes and structures. And order is our typical solution.

<< Part Three >> Part Five

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