Education is too important to stay the way it is.

Students writing exams in a stressed environment
This blog is to set the context for a discussion to build a team of passionate people who are committed to fix the education system in India. We have a lot of work to do. Email me at krishnakumar@greenpepper.in if you resonate with the ideas.

Hey, this is an open invitation for people who think that the current education system is not helping anyone. Students, teachers or employers. It is not even helping the owners or the government. The 200 year old system is fading — in a gradually depressing way.

While I’m writing this, I finished one module of OxfordX — Professor Sir Paul Collier’s — From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development by Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. It is a free program with a paid verified certificate . A well structured, insightful online learning program. This is revolutionary. I find students from India, Africa, South East Asia and even Eastern European countries in those discussion forums. Times are changing.

Startups solving problems around us

Many startups are coming up solving problems we find in daily lives. Helping to make our lives more efficient, convenient and even to do routine things cost effectively. Like Uber, AirBnB, PayTM or even Khan Academy. These are trying to make our lives better — do something to bring down costs, increase efficiency 10x or even making the process transparent or smoother.

We have changed the way we transport ourselves, book tickets, pay our friend, book hotels or even listen to a conference we missed to attend — live on Facebook!

But we haven’t changed the way we send our children to schools and colleges. 80% learning happens outside campuses. Through live projects, internships, online learning, watching videos, peer to peer debates, rejections and unique experiences. But we still believe that organised learning environments — highly disciplined and structured can create an impact on what our children can learn and most importantly earn! But the system of education hasn’t changed a bit — technology is helping a bit. But structurally it has problems.

Over the last 5 years, the world has changed so much that we cannot pretend that current education would serve our purpose. We are teaching things for jobs which do not exist in future. Middle class jobs would not be there. The pace of accelerated change is wildly dramatic — exponential would be the right word.

I wouldn’t be surprised if intelligent parents start realising this and start un-schooling / homeshooling children and letting them go free on learning — at the speed they can gather things. My friends in United States, Israel and UK is doing it. It is coming soon. Faster than we realise.

There are 677 universities, 37,204 colleges and 11,443 stand-alone institutions and 20 million students, in India! Leaving the top 10%, the rest of institutions are not producing high quality learning experiences. The system is cluttered with unnecessary processes, outdated curriculum, longer time to finish a program, rising costs and traditional assessment models. Moreover, we observe, the faculty members are research focussed — and not equipped to upgrade student skills on in-demand areas.

We did a survey amongst engineering colleges in Kerala and found out that faculty members are not in a position to teach students robust programming languages like Python or RubyOnRails — which are a must to stay relevant and get work —especially for a computer science student. By the way Harvard University is offering a free course. Introduction to Computer Science — this is an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming . — CS50. Nowadays, spending time in an engineering college turns out to be a costly affair, not because of the course fee. But because of the 4 years of slow paced learning which has no relevance for the student. It literally exhausts them. Many realise it much later. Smarter ones drop out. Smart but consistent ones — they supplement their graduation with online learning, live projects and rigorous networking! — I find such guys at IITs and some premier institutions. They are the ones with killer instinct. That kind of people are less than 1%.

The most depressing scene is at conventional colleges. Arts, commerce, philosophy, science and languages. The mediocre ones join there. And they become below average when they come out of campuses. What current education offers is a ‘guarantee of consistently diminishing the spirit of learning in them with a punishing routine which they always try to escape.’ It has devastating effect on students. I have seen many such people taking years to recover from the campus trauma — they might recollect fun moments — but at the cost of serious damage to their original potential. After graduation, they join some technical courses which help them do a hands on job. By the time, they have lost the game! A clueless set of people coming out such traditional campuses is a burden to the society, taxing the businesses — through time taken to train them to make them productive — and the damage they can create with their ignorance and lack of understanding of how the world works! For businesses to flourish, we need high impact education at low cost, creating less student loan burden on our future employees. Small and medium businesses suffer the most as they lack the system to train these ‘half cooked debt ridden people’ into useful ones.

But millennials are different. Many say. Yes, they are. Their ability to learn things faster — especially on technology. At the same time, their ability to focus on one thing is questionable. Their distraction is causing destruction in many workplaces. How can campuses make them better human beings? Or are they not convinced of the system? Millennials are coming from middle class background and can afford to stay idle until they get some job. They usually go for an MBA in tier 2 or 3 colleges and try for placements. Their focus is on job, not learning. This is seriously damaging the culture of learning — it is driven by uninspiring curriculum and faculty members ‘below the expectation level of students’. A strong sense of mission is not there. Many fade away during such mediocre MBA programs. There are such 3000 B-schools (who offer B grade education) in India and half a million approved seats.

During my workout at gym, I meet lot of young college guys and I ask them — do you take college seriously? They instantly say NO. Given a chance they want to travel and work on interesting projects. They go to college for credentials. Graduation from a decent college seems like an insurance against career failure. It is like taking health insurance at the same time praying of not having any health crisis. 3 or 4 years of graduation, to me, after working for 14 years seem like an absolute waste of time. I do not remember anything learnt during my college or MBA days — except some fun moments — that seem to be costly — at a time when you can focus your youthful energies on building something new — or learning a core skill — or taking part in some serious team work or a collaborative project!

Fundamentally, the college education has lost its magic. As learning happens with more entertainment all over internet. TED Talks, YouTube, Khan Academy, School of Life, FutureLearn and hundreds of amazing platforms. An entirely new model of open-access, free university education is now within reach. But there are more sceptics for online learning than believers.

An new system of education is happening now. With less noise. But more impact. Across the world. Online learning platforms like Coursera or Edx now making a revolution in learning. People go to colleges for credentials, not for learning. Credentials help them to get jobs. Learning happens at the cost of the employer. If you are entrepreneur — at the cost of the angel investor or your own family money!

Like healthcare, education is also very complex and fragmented and a big world player can’t come in this space. Really? The Economist says so.

  • The Khan Academy has 14m-15m users who conduct at least one learning activity with it each month.
  • Coursera has 22m registered learners. Those numbers are only going to grow. Out of 1.3 million is from India.

If you wish to read more on what is happening in online learning, I recommend you to read this well researched article in The Economist.

Employment is like a treadmill. Like a mortgage, it never ends. It puts you on an economic slavery mode. It takes your attention away from learning to surviving. Many people realise this in their mid thirties. The thing of mid career crisis. What do I do. What am I made for. Many such existential questions. You can blame 50% yourself and 50% the debris of education left in you.

Lifelong learning is a must to stay relevant

A friend of mine, a chartered accountant and an investment banker who lives in Mumbai told me that he needs to learn 5 hours to work for 5 hours — a day. His job demands high level of new thinking and creativity to solve the complex problems which his clients throw at him. He enrolled for IIMBx Micromasters in Business Management program which I recommended a month back. He emailed me gratefully saying it is better than what he learned in his chartered accountancy program. That was amazing to hear.

What should we aim at ?

— Reduce the cost of education by 80% — Promote online learning — Create meaningful indicators of educational outcomes and success — Help organise meaningful curricula — Restructure the physical learning environment — Enable a measured and meaningful system for lifelong learning.

What is Tribr?

A team of people who believe that education can be fixed. If we can do 1% — that can change the lives of thousands of people — for better.

Tribr aims to create a revolution combining power of communities, great online learning content, network of universities and workplaces to help students and professionals get world class learning in flexible and affordable formats and acquire in-demand skills much needed for internet economy.

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