Education is the key to a better world for me & all my peers - the world. This is my first deep-dive to figure out what I can do in education.
I have begun an introspection journey, and I am sharing it with you.
A bit about me
I have always felt that I need to do something in the field of education. Right from my time at college, I wanted to be a teacher. That did not happen. I started working in the Chemical Engineering field, but left it 1 year. Rest of my working life, I have been a software engineer.
So what have I done in teaching?
- I have conducted few sessions to teach something on software development or some business domain concepts to my fellow engineers. Always liked those sessions, but I have not done it for quite some time.
- I did a course on programming on Youtube as well. It was a lot of work, but it was satisfying. I learned a thing or two when doing it.
- I have taught my daughter some subjects when she was young.
Teaching always felt good!
Education is more than teaching
In later years, I felt that education is a much bigger idea than just teaching. Teaching is an aspect, but work on education needs to happen in multiple areas.
People say "Being literate is not equal to education". I agree, but recently, I realize that being literate is probably the first step to education.
I also used to think that being educated means being good. You might say, "That is foolish & naive" and you are right. For someone to be good, they need not be literate or educated. Goodness can come from good practices, good conduct at home, etc. More than once, I have gotten clear proof that education and goodness have little connection.
So what is the purpose of education? What is the meaning of being educated?
I think, it is ability to think for yourselves and know that there are choices in life at every moment. And also know that there are ways to find those choices and then exercise those choices. The true goal of education is to enable this for the educated.
To put it another way, education is necessary (but not sufficient) prerequisite for making good decisions in life. Every aspect of life needs decision-making.
Ok. I have got a working definition of what education is.
Next, if I have to get educated or to get someone educated, what do I need to do?
How to get educated?
I thought a lot about this and got one 'clear'(🤔) answer. Life is probably the best way to educate us. Life experiences mold us and change us in many ways. Having said that, Life is not a great way because it leaves too much to chance. The results are unpredictable. Also, life happens to us anyway, so there is no real work required. So let me just drop that useless philosophical thought (🤯) into the trashcan and move to the next thing.
What about acquisition of knowledge?
If I know
- more about things that happen in the world
- about ways to think and analyze the world
then I become more educated. The key word is "know more". How can I know more?
Literacy is a key step here. Basic literacy can enable anyone to read and know about anything of interest. When combined with the knowledge of using internet - a huge enabler - I can know more. And knowledge is power.
Before I dive deeper into knowledge, I want to be clear. I don't think having a lot of knowledge is a guarantee to become educated. There are other aspects, but I am not clear on what they are. But having knowledge is a necessary condition.
As of now, my way forward is to focus on knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer as a way to push all towards being educated.
Knowledge acquisition levels
I am thinking in terms of levels here. This is a categorization that I came up with. It is probably too rudimentary or naive. I am sure there is more refined ways (maybe you can help me with ideas and references in the comments), but I have to go with what I have:
- Enable basic literacy among people: I am talking about language learning and basic math capabilities. Both are required as a foundation to build anything.
- Enable basic internet literacy: Internet is the key resource of our information age. If I can help people to get on to it and navigate its waters then, it is a great step forward for them.
- Fine-tuning on providing basic skills: Once the basic access is created, fine-tuning both these areas is very challenging. I need to work on the quality of these interventions as it applies to recipient needs.
- Building higher order capabilities: The next big leap would be to cater to folks who have already got the basics right, but now need help to get to higher order abilities. There are different aspects to this one:
- Getting access to information & books to increase knowledge.
- Finding ways to help people use these resources to get some economic benefit.
- Training people to acquire higher order skills and into full-fledged professions
- Building a leader: The final step is where we can start changing a person to inspire others to follow their path.
Some ideas to contribute
Before I get to ideas, there are things to consider in the above-mentioned levels.
Which level is the most important one? Which is the level that will have maximum impact? At what level do I want to contribute and can contribute?
What is the kind of impact I want to make. Do I want to impact more people broadly and in a shallow manner? Or do I go for a deeper & focused impact on a smaller set of people.
With these questions & considerations still buzzing in me, I came up with some ideas. I am using these ideas as a way to figure out what I want to do, and what I can do. These are going to be top of the head ideas - nothing researched or detailed.
I will start off with ideas that have deeper impact on a smaller set of people. Again, this is just brainstorming and asking myself on how this could work for me. How I could do some good work? So please expect lack of clarity. This is pretty much a brain dump, so expect some ugly lumps.
Focus on basic literacy and create deep impact on a small set of people
How can I do this?
I could join a primary school in a small town or village. I have never taught small kids (discounting teaching my daughter). So if I need to do this then I have to pick up the skills. I assume teaching at that level needs a lot of patience. That could be an advantage since I am generally considered patient, but I know that certain activities have tried my patience before. So the jury is out.
If I set aside the skill & effort needed, and focus on the outcome, then the idea has merit. If I am able to make 10-20 kids better at basic math and language, which allows them to step up to higher capabilities, it can be extremely rewarding. One key aspect I need to inculcate, is building some kind of regular discipline and cadence for the kids to learn. It is a key ingredient to be taught to all people if they want to do anything with life including learning. My wife has a knack of doing this. I could probably learn from her. I could probably involve her directly in this.
This idea has some legs and I need to think deeper on it.
Focus on basic internet literacy & create a deep impact on a small set of people
This one plays a bit more to my strength as a heavy internet user. That said, I see that lot of the younger generation are catching on to the internet faster than petrol catching fire.
This can be a fire hazard (pun intended) and lead to catastrophe for these young people. But I don't think I am equipped to stop that from happening. It is difficult to control & monitor the activities of your own kid (a very bad idea, but I am just talking about feasibility). Here I am talking about controlling the activities of kids who are just students coming to a class - no authority, no accountability, potentially crossing all sorts of lines. That is a lot of mess!
This idea has some legs and I need to think deeper on it. Let us move forward.
This idea might work with a set of older people (middle-aged & above) who also need to get basic internet literacy. Once literate, they can better handle & guide the next generation (their kids) who they deal with on a regular basis. To do this, I would need to set up an adult education center and also need a bunch of used computers to be used by the attendees. Again it makes sense to do this in a village or small town setting (or even a slum like setting in a big city). This variation of the idea may work for me.
Working on alternative pedagogical techniques for basic literacy
I could work to improve the quality of basic literacy efforts using different/innovative techniques & solutions. I have heard of some players in this social space like Pratham, Kanavu etc. They are trying to get plugged into existing schools to try & improve their output.
The ideas could be newer ways of learning, better tools (hardware or software), better processes etc. I need to explore this area a lot more. I feel, I could make meaningful contributions here based on my knowledge and experience. Having said that, I might be whistling in the dark. Need to dig in, to figure this one out.
Working on higher order skill development for a small set of people
I could focus on slightly older kids already going to schools in small cities & towns and give them exposure to extracurricular learning & knowledge.
These could be areas like interpersonal communication, leadership, self-discipline, personal finance management, risk taking, career guidance etc. As a kid, I feel that I did not focus on these aspects and had to build (and still building) a lot of it over the years. Many students and their parents are not even aware that these areas are important.
There could be various ways to do this:
- Create a small used books library containing a good collection of relevant books that these kids can borrow and read. I could augment it with discussion sessions or presentations which could encourage, inspire and help them understand the topics covered in these books.
- Create summary content on these topics from great books (like KukuFM). This can be difficult for me to pull off alone though. But do I need to do it alone?
- Work on career & higher education guidance programs which can help youth to figure out the avenues where they can add value to themselves and the society. LMES is a good example, but I think they are big and broad based. Instead, I could choose my work to be more focused by conducting & managing seminars to a smaller group of people.
Speaking of LMES; that kind of setup can allow me to do such work which is of higher breadth and lower depth.
Maybe it is time to explore those type of broad based ideas.
Working on improving basic literacy but in a large scale
Solving basic literacy at a large scale but with lower depth is truly a scale and resource problem.
One naive idea could be to create a free mobile app which helps people to learn alphabets of specific languages and may even provide math lessons. This app has the potential to reach a lot of people. But expecting the app to create a deep impact (or any impact) in even a small set of people is not something I can count on. That said, this is an idea I could work with since I have some basic skills in this area (or at least I can build them relatively quickly). I still need to gain some pedagogical knowledge to make the intervention useful. The key thing is that it is very difficult to figure out the depth of impact with this idea and that can be a deal-breaker.
Working on improving internet access & literacy but in a large scale
Building something which will provide basic internet access at a large scale needs a lot of money. Companies like Google and Facebook tried this (and failed or slightly succeeded). I need a lot of resources to do this. Or I need to come up with a revolutionary idea/tech, which is fantastic to be funded by somebody huge, and benevolent (or has the business acumen) to make this accessible to all. While they say nothing is impossible, this one is pretty close from my perspective.
Create high quality content for a lot of people
Creating high quality content to build knowledge & skills for people to receive benefit like jobs or higher learning is a good idea. I can't do it for all areas, but I could do it for some areas. Potential ideas are to build apps or make courses (attempted one without much success - not high quality I suppose!), which can reach a lot of folks - there are lots of platforms for that. Again, will they truly be useful and cause any meaningful change is difficult to figure out.
For large scale stuff, I am not able to think anything beyond creating apps or courses (online access based). Really seem to have dearth of ideas.
Ok. At this point I have run out of ideas. Also, I have run out of steam to figure out more on this. Need a recharge. Besides some of these ideas need me to dig and research more. Without doing that, a decision is difficult to make.
One note for myself - I don't have to pick one idea. I could pick more than one from above. Will I be able to do multiple things? - is different question. As of now, I will leave it here. Once I have some more clarity, I will be back to share my mind - on education and where I need to go.
Please do share you thoughts and ideas with me.
Aum sarvam SriKrishnarpanam astu