Lessons From The Corporate World

Blueberry’s Iceream and education processes… An unlikely combination, you would say. But this story narrated by James Vollmer, author of the book Schools Cannot Do It Alone, and creator of the viral video series “The Great Conversation’ mentions how one encounter turned him from a hard- headed businessman to a fervent proponent of public education. Vollmer believed that schools could be run efficiently with zero error and TQM just like his blueberry Iceream manufactured with the finest ” premium” ingredients. He believed proudly in his arrogance that schools and educators were inefficient and resistant to change.

While addressing a group of resistant teachers, he was dumbfounded when one of them challenged him: What would he do, this razor sharp teacher asked, with a batch of inferior or non- standardized blueberries? Caught in a trap of his own making, he very honestly said that he would reject them. The teacher than sharply reproached him saying that to apply the same yardstick to children, as to raw materials in production is a huge injustice. Schools take in all kinds of children – education is hardly a standardized sterilized process – it involves embracing the differences- the very cornerstone of differentiated learning.

This story throws up multiple perspectives. Are educators absolved of all accountability? Are students’ ingredients or consumers on their own right? Shouldn’t education move with the times? Is profitability incompatible with quality and empathic education?

Fatima Agarkar, co- founder and visionary extraordinaire, explores unusual and refreshing perspectives thrown up by this topic with her usual panache. Take a look!

The Blueberry Story
A trending TedTalk video shared on our internal KA EduAssociates work chat got Usha Vasudevan and I into a discussion about what the lady pointed out to the corporate leader. While the narrative beautifully highlighted how embracing we are as a teacher community to children in our classrooms with all their unique abilities, at times it does get challenging to implement the corporate strategies like Total Quality Management (TQM) or Zero Defects as suggested by the corporate leader at BlueBerry ice-creams. As teachers, catering to different needs – high ability learners, learners with needs and the usual ‘happy-go-lucky’ ones for a common learning outcome may not be as easy as a product line.

But here’s where we are losing the battle and giving up in my opinion.

There is a lesson in this for all of us to reflect and incorporate -why can’t we seek inspiration and find sustainable solutions to address our needs? Why can’t we understand that when the concept of Zero Defects came into the manufacturing sector, it was not easy, there were acceptance challenges and look what it did to the whole customer service focus? There was a disruption that forced the industry to re-think and emerge using strategies that have shaped the reality we enjoy happily enjoy today.

What can we do as educators for the future of education? For starters, let’s embrace the differences as a wonderful mix of personalities that we can all learn from. We need to celebrate these differences as in these differences lies the future of our world. That child who was labelled ADHD may be leading a large conglomerate in the future and providing empowerment to many, so make that child’s journey a happy one by catering to those needs. The child who’s always off the mark first up with zillion ideas, needs supporters in the future to implement those ideas and perhaps serves as an inspiration for those who prefer to remain silent in the classrooms and like to follow.

By harnessing the energy of the classroom variance allows the education industry to be more creative, and more innovative! So while it is easier to point out our ‘working’ challenges, it is time we learn from other industries and remain motivated with some ideas.

I am not for a moment suggesting that we create a McDonald like of effect in our classrooms with ‘Zero Defects’, I am suggesting that we differentiate our learning programs to enhance each child’s learning and for that we simply need to understand that sustained professional development and training will enable teachers to constantly ideate and step away from their classrooms to work on those strategies.

Many schools claim that they follow this – I do not mean learning stations or grouping children basis of their ability and assigning specific goals, I do mean setting goals for every child. I also mean being inspired by the thought that every child can imbibe other qualities provided there is a platform.

I also feel using this wonderful mix of abilities in our classroom to combine their strengths into one common project and allow children from time to time, focus on their core strengths. This leads to healthier socio emotional learning and a happier outcome for all around.

Perhaps therein lies the spark we are all looking for …..

Let’s be inspired!

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Math, friendly curriculum subject?

Kara Newhouse’s August article in the e-magazine, Mindshift brings to focus an important aspect of what’s not working in our classrooms – Numeracy defined as ‘Math’ that almost borders on being “apolitical and cold.” She speaks of ‘humanising’ Math so that our standards improve from a ‘learning’ perspective and not simply from a ‘grade’ perspective. Gone are days she emphasises when math supremacy is about speed and accuracy – what about the process??

The article resonated in many ways and pitted against the Indian education landscape be it National or International schools, it is easy to admit that as educators, we do little to make it more ‘real life’ for students.

I have previously also echoed this simple idea – while we teach our children to ‘solve’ using a technique or formula, why can’t we start from the problem (word) itself and enable them to decode first and then show them different ways to ‘solve’. Why can’t these problems relate to day to day occurrences and everyday life developments as opposed to some random questions asked? The only way to inspire these students to remain interested, is if it makes sense for them to learn – then they will remember the techniques of ‘solving’, having understood the bigger picture. And we will not have those faces looking up at us to say, ‘what do i do next cuz i have forgotten the technique and I dont know what formula to use?’

In her article, Kara cited a public school teacher in the US using History and English paper checking as an example, where the students are given feedback on how they concluded their answers (descriptive) and asked to re-write instead of grading them. Students were allowed re-takes before the final grade was assigned but the teacher hoped every child would ‘understand’ and ‘master’ the assignment in way to identify where they were making mistakes, write an explanation for it and re-solve it so that the process was crystal clear.

I can safely say, save a handful of schools in our country, the rest follow the routine ‘check-in’ process of ‘correct’ answer and move on.

The process we are referring to in this article, takes longer, requires patience and the teacher to share detailed comments and also spend time with each learner to empower them with the right steps.

Perhaps, taking it a step further, once this process is over, a teacher can ask the child to frame a few questions along similar lines and circulate it with different groups in the classrooms as ‘home-work’, involving students in the process and making them accountable for their learning!

Can work? Will work? Most definitely, if the school leadership believes in it.

More importantly, the real life examples need to come in and demonstrated through some projects at the end of a few concepts for example linking fractions, decimals and percentages in the form of a real life situation like planning a xmas party and bringing out how Math would be applicable with the concepts mentioned. Let them see how these concepts come alive, and allow them to use it outside of their question papers or homework assignments as a everyday tool to make their life easier to organise.

Worth a try?

I strongly believe so because the staggering statistics we have currently with students ‘dropping’ Math as an elective at the board examinations isnt healthy and clearly indicates a ‘fear’ and ‘phobia’ about the subject which is actually so logical. Math in the human form will make the learning story more enjoyable for students and it is about time educators and teachers evaluate how to make it more relevant, fun and easier to ‘remember’.

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The Goal of True Education

For the past 18 years that I have been in the education space, these words by Martin Luther King Jr. have been a source of inspiration and direction for me:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the true goal of true education.”
If you think about it, the proposition is pretty simple – education is meant to enable, to empower and get individuals to think, because when they do, questions will need to be answered, facts will be discovered and new skills uncovered. That leads to creation which eventually keeps the wheel churning and we call this progress and evolution.

So how did this simple proposition get so complicated with our schooling system? Is it a case of structure that bottled all the creativity and subjected it to standardised “tests” to create benchmarks against which strategies were developed because it was easier to standardise and nurture “knowledge” than allow various perspectives and truly educate? This is certainly one idea for panellists to discuss in upcoming conferences, perhaps?

So while educators discuss and debate, here’s something that got me excited like a breath of fresh air – an international programme now in India that is built on the pillars of the renowned Finnish curriculum and enhanced by drawing on the global best pedagogical practices, the “common-sense” education by the New Nordic Schools, the official member of the Education Finland initiative.

The Podar Group, always scouting for the best-in-class practices spearheaded by the dynamic Raghav Podar, embraced the idea instantly, given its merit. They will operationalise this program for families in their Santacruz branch for the Exploration Stage (Early Years) in 2020! First kid on the block to bring a learning experience to families in India that is, in a nutshell, future-learning, which is focused on skills that not only apply to schools but also to life, in general.
It is quite easy to see why this chemistry works given that the New Nordic Baccalaureate is all about empowering children to be creative, innovative, adaptable, collaborative problem solvers with excellent communication skills. Analyse this closely and you will see how the development and mastery of these skills distinguish successful and happy professionals from those that struggle with the changes in the workplace. Most HR Heads or CEOs I have spoken to rate these skills as non-negotiable and critical when hiring, rather than those that “test-well”. The pace of change in the world, especially the future, will be so exponential that knowledge alone will not be enough. It is these skills that will hold the test of changing times, and yet these cannot simply be “planted”. These must be nurtured like a sapling that eventually goes to bear juicy fruit!

That’s New Nordic’s promise to families – providing solutions for the realities of work. With an eye on shaping the future, the program lends itself to any board for that matter, building on their foresight as a team with experienced and seasoned professionals shaping the curriculum framework. It is flexible, adaptable and allows the educators to focus on the 7 core competencies through interdisciplinary strategies (linking subjects together) and building a scaffolding effect that allows a child’s mind to develop from the exploration phase to the foundation stage, leading to formation and eventually direction. What’s most exciting is the Exploration Stage. I firmly believe that Early Years sets the tone for Primary and Middle School. Unless the base is strong and secure, and firmly resting on rationale and logic, everything that follows will simply be a patch up job – or playing catch up.

Our parallel education system – the dreaded tuition classes- exist and flourish simply because children in their early and elementary years were not exposed to or, did not understand or could not follow or were never given a rationale that made “sense”. Hence, when the nuances of subject rules set in, with their limited understanding, it was easier to outsource to a specialist who would guide them to “memorise” the model answers and then “ace” the examinations so that they “tested” well with zero or little interest to set the “wrong” right. Did they actually learn? Did anyone care?
Memories of our childhood are bound to flash before us – we have all been there in those classrooms and “learnt” and then quickly forgot because the test concluded.

With their “common-sense” approach to learning, New Nordic approach lays the foundation for critical thinking, cause and effect, asking questions, discovering, challenging and uncovering strategies for children who then enjoy the process of learning and facilitation. They, then, become “owners” of their learning, able to demonstrate interest or dislikes while understanding how the world around them operates through a lens that explains but doesn’t ask them to memorise. Significantly, they also probe deeper to uncover more. That’s when discoveries that have the potential to create more solutions happen!
The beauty of the New Nordic Schools is the careful science behind how they plan the content; how to teach this content based on years of experience and careful research, understanding child behaviour and the attitude to learning, as well as the changing environment. Therefore, it naturally builds a child’s curiosity especially in the Early Years. This makes the children more aware, confident and natural risk takers. This is what educators call “seamless” and “non-threatening” learning.

New ideas to help a child learn better backed with years of experience easily gets me excited since learning must have relevance and context and must lead to further discovery. If the system simply gets you to repeat what is already in existence, when will we be able to create solutions for existing problems? We simply would not evolve as a society and God knows how many problems we have at hand as we look ahead.

For parents, this refreshing approach to learning will mean that they can trust their school as the one with the expertise that will safely nurture their children and develop skills that develop independence and critical thinking. This means finally they can enjoy their children’s childhood years and not worry about what “more” they need to do to secure their children’s future.

I am visiting the Podar Santacruz branch for their ‘Sneak Peek Week ‘starting January 20th, 2020, to uncover how this all unfolds in a real-life context. I urge you to book your appointment as soon as possible since it is always important to know what’s new in the world of education. I am already excited by what I heard the Founder, Pia Jormalainen and Chief Education Officer, Stephen Cox shared in their presentation with several educators, almost a month ago!
Good times ahead for students to enjoy the process of learning ……

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