Reclaiming Learning: thoughts on Teachers Day
India has been celebrating Teacher’s Day on 5th September, since 1962, and over half a century, it has has become a kind of ritual, ‘ a dead habit’ ( Tagore) and we have forgotten about the importance of ‘learning’ which the teacher imparted.
On this important day, this year we organised an event to re-focus on learning and the new ways in which it could happen. Striving towards Tagore’s goal of ” where the mind is clear and the head is held high’, we think it is time to ‘reclaim learning’ from the prevailing unsatisfactory state of education.
It was famously said that it takes a whole village to educate a child. We now have the global village ( with MOOCs and OERs) to do so.
We of course believe ( Rgveda) in allowing noble thoughts to come to us from all directions and in the 24 gurus of Dattatreya.
While the journey of reclaiming learning from its usurpers will be a long and arduous one, we are trying to take a small step in fostering a life-long learning community ( Forum of Innovative Researchers and Educators) and sharing possibilities in new ways of learning.
We focussed on two big ideas: one of using mobiles and handhelds for learning and the other of innovations in education, especially on potentially disruptive ideas.
The potential of mobile and handheld learning in education is now accepted by the UNESCO which is organising annual Mobile Learning weeks. And for the 2015 Mobile Learning week the focus was on ‘educating the girl child’. With the accessibility of Mobile phones and the MHRD initiatives through the CIET, NCERT of all their books in English, Hindi and Urdu being available for free on mobile devices, a new era in education is upon us.
The pedagogy of mobile education and adoption of Heutagogy, managing the learning of self-directed life long learners will become one of the important competencies of the new age teacher.
Educational Innovation is now needed to be able to use these to provide a high quality education with deeper learning to all, using Flipped learning, mastery learning and personalisation.
One important innovation is to move away from seeking certificates from ‘authorities’ to creating evidence and data for knowledge and competencies demonstrated by holding badges. The other is to extend classroom teaching to allow some learning before class, active engagement during class and follow up activities after the class is over. We propose to call it ‘the augmented classroom lecture’. Virtual reality experiences such as Oculus Rift, Google cardboard box or Samsung gear are eminently suitable for pre-class and post-class activities. Using tools such as the Microsoft Hololens can fundamentally transform the degree of engagement during the class.
The third would be to change the goal of learning as preparation for fitting into existing jobs to create persons who lead change and create new industries and professions. Persons who are willing to learn to learn and have good thinking and problem solving skills, are needed in increasing numbers in the future.
All over the world, in ancient times, the seeker/learner went to seek learning from the knowers.
At some point in history, the State took over education as a matter of public policy, and since then bureaucracies and politicians have been articulating policies and passing laws on matters related to education, but the critical element of ‘learning’ is often overlooked.
We are in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, and the criticality of ‘learning’ , and especially higher order thinking skills and creativity is a sine qua non for flourishing and thriving in the emerging knowledge, innovation and sharing economy.
The Nobel Laureate in Economics (2009) Elinor Ostrom, established that resources held by a community can be better managed by the community itself,contrary to the well accepted ‘ tragedy of the commons’ proposed by Garrett Hardin.
And learning and knowledge reside in the community of teachers and learners. They must reclaim learning and devise methods and models for its universal accessibility.
An important step towards this is to give recognition to independent educators, like lawyers, doctors and other professionals.
When Archimedes grasped the principle of the lever, he remarked that ‘ give me a place to stand on, and I can move the world’.
Today’s educator can teach anyone anywhere in the world with access to the Internet from a Smartphone, tablet or other handheld device.
During our Teachers Day 2015 event, while the onsite event happened in Gurgaon, remote participants from London could see live streaming on their mobile phones. Truly the possibility of ‘learning bring in your hands’ is doable. And technology will only get better over the years.
A set of tools comprising e-mail, instant messaging, blog, YouTube etc. provide the full suite to connect teachers and learners.
The other important element of reclaiming learning is to emulate the Montesquieu model of separation of State powers into executive, legislature and judiciary. So teaching, examinations and a qualification framework can operate as separate entities, within the education eco-system.
The fatal flaw in our present model of education and learning is that it is driven by the authority of the State. As Henry Maine had stated in Ancient Law societies progress when they move from status to contract.
Today, we believe that authority (status) is being replaced by ‘data’ and evidence. This is reflected in the ‘Big Data’ and Learning Analytics that give insights for decision making.
Reclaiming learning therefore involves the interactions between the teachers, learners and content to create an eco-system that facilitates data driven inclusive learning, in a diverse cohort of learners.
The new approach called ‘Heutagogy’ involves managing the learning of self-directed learners and relies upon nano-learning, flipped learning, social learning and mastery learning.
The reason educators must reclaim learning is that ‘education’ is perhaps in the state when ‘alchemy’ transformed to ‘Chemistry’, and it is they who are in a better position to transform ‘learning’.
One important innovation was an awareness module on ‘ Learning to Live a Quality Life with Diabetes’ which is ready for delivery on mobile devices and whatsApp and blogs. With India hurtling towards being the diabetic capital of the world, this may be a good instance of reverse innovation to reach the rest of the world after starting from India.
If we feel overwhelmed with the challenge, I want to draw support and inspiration from a quote from Margaret Mead who said ” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
I am sure that the readers of this magazine are the group that Margaret was talking of.