The miles to go before I sleep...

  • Start teaching science at school and incorporate demo
  • Research, design, implement comprehensive teaching module on science, civic sense
  • Interview social change agents working @ ground level
  • Pilot peer-to-peer teaching programme

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A "win-win-win" idea for education

This idea about improving education at the bottom of the pyramid (every one uses the phrase these days!) came to me in a flash when I was in the middle of a class when I wasn't even thinking about it consciously. But the more I thought about it ,the more I realized its win-win-win potential not only in education, but also in social integration. Doesn't it sound awesome?

Ok, no more beating around the bush, here is the idea. Its simple. Private schools strive to improve their students' performance. Government schools just can't get their kids to cross the pass mark since they don't have good teachers and labs. Private school students don't get out enough to have a good community-activity-based learning at school. To strike all these with a single effort, I say, get get all these students from private schools, to a government school to teach there.

- Government school kids get "access" to private school teaching (lets say the kids teach under the supervision of the private school teacher). Further, kids approach their friends first when in doubt. So, better learning prospects for government school kids. If teaching is in the form of a demo, even better!

- A student learns better when he/she teaches. So, potentially the academic performance of private school kids is likely to improve too!

- Kids get exposed to other kids of different economic background, hence get a feel on one anothers' lifestyle early on. I feel this would help moulding them into socially aware and sensitive adults who understand the "other side" better.

If the private schools involve all their kids and count this activity as a replacement of, say a couple of class tests, they can count it against their internal (or call it externals!) while giving a breather to their students from those mundane class tests. I think this idea lends itself to easy validation. All one has to do is observe the medium-level performers in private schools (say students who score 75%-90%) to see if tihis exercise helps them close in on the rank-holders.

Since private schools constantly strive to improve academic performance, if the school prinicpal is an "experimenting kind" this idea should attract her. I guess from here on a lot of implementational problems may arise. How does this strike you as an idea?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Profile - Amy Smith, MIT D-labs

Ms. Amy Smith is an instructor MIT's D-Lab which offers courses in Mechanical Engineering. But unlike the conventional engineering course or lab, Ms. Smith along with Ms. Bishwapriya Sanyal offer a course in which engineering students don't just learn the concepts of mechanical engineering, but go all the way to complete a product that addresses need of the under served communities of different parts of the world.

In a four-part course, the students start out ( in the "Design" part)learning about specific sectors of development that need to be addressed and the appropriate technology that can be applied. The second ("Development") part, is a combination of
  • lecture, which talks about various aspects of design like affordability, sustainability, design for manufacture and assembly,
  • Labs that offer experience on fundamentals like welding, circuit-boad design, CAD etc
  • Case studies and field trips to understand the needs of the people to who this product will eventually be useful
  • design review discussions to present and refine ideas of the product
The third ("Dissemination") part of the course focuses on brain-storming ideas to make the product that conceived by part-two to be "ready to roll", which includes making the product scalable, affordable and marketable. The fourth part executes what was conceived in part three.

In the process, her team has been successful in providing local solutions for local yet, problems local to a specific region as against trying to find a generic "one-size-fits-all" solution. The best example for this is offered by the following video of her presentation outlining a method of using sugarcane waste and biomass to produce a clean and efficient fuel thus providing a solution to the worst killer of children under five - household cooking smoke, but also to make the fuel at home using the abundant agricultural waste (this avoids cutting trees and cuts down on expenses in buying fuel) Truely amazing...and this is just one of the projects in MIT D-labs.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Laptop for school kids

A recent post in ThinkChange India made me squander much of my work time into this post. But what the hell!

When the news comes out, it sure does come out in bulk! :) This is not the only laptop for education story I came across within the last week. Here is Classmate from Intel and ICT's research initiative on a computer for Rs. 400. This sure seems to be another emerging trend that will change the future forever. But is it for good or for the worse? Here is my take.

1. The three laptop initiatives put together, laptop should reach the bottom of the pyramid faster. I have my doubts about XO and classmate, but if ICT's initiative is a success, Rs.400 laptop should be affordable to anyone who is rich enough to afford school books.

2. "meant for education", probably means that it allows parents worried about the darker side of the internet such as adult content to breathe easy.

3. About "expensive laptops vs. reading, writing", I think reading and writing wouldn't suffer a loss that can't be compensated by improved creativity, skill and understanding that current book-oriented education suffers from.

The idea of bringing technology right into classroom sounds amazing, but I wonder if this initiative is taken because of a clearly identified necessity in the academia that such laptops can address (looking at it from the govt's perspective rather than OLPC or ADAG). It is one thing to use a laptop for an academic purpose and it is another to modify the academia for using a laptop! Currently, I don't see any resource that talks about this. So, while I don't see this as a definite negative, I doubt if the state cares enough to architect an educational model that includes the laptop to serve its purpose rather than model itself for using the laptop.

Another concern is, cheaper laptops is likely to translate into more laptops, quicker obsolescence and more wastes...and that with already bad waste management system and a proven slow and reactive (as against proactive) government, the future of waste management doesn't look too good. But, this may be the catalyst that pushes the govt. to do something about wastes.

On the whole, I find that the negatives such a improving the curriculum, waste management are a few things that have to be done regardless of the"laptop for education", but a computer with the purpose of making education entertaining, creative and productive would be a big leap forward at best and a small leap forward at its worst. So, Go laptop!