The need to re-imagine our Education System

This is a transcript of my talk at TedXBoconniUMumbai on how we need to design an education system that helps us deal with imminent disruption. You can view the video here

The Spirit of the Age is a term for the dominant school of thought that defines and influences the culture of a particular period in time. It usually is characterised by a unity in the way the entire world functions and thinks. In a way we’re one organism at that point. And this Spirit has defined and driven all of humanity’s up-ticks. In fact all of the major eras in human history like Renaissance or the golden age or the industrial revolution had a particular spirit of the age driving them.

Look at the Industrial Revolution for example. The Spirit of the Age then was rapid development in the field of machines, factories and mass production. People were figuring out ways to standardise things and create assembly lines for everything and automate manual physical work as much as possible. This is how an entire generation was thinking. Businesses were built around this philosophy. You get some input. You run it through multiple processes. You then have quality checks to ensure the products are up to the mark. The products are then produced packaged and shipped for consumption. Most of the companies and their process looked somewhat like this:

The Manufacturing Process prevalent during the Industrial Revolution

But the advent of the Industrial revolution also led to a major gap. The majority population around this time consisted of farmers and peasants who didn’t know how to read or write. This was a problem. The typical job at a factory required you to work with machinery, file papers, keep a trail of the processes where you need to know the basic working of almost every subject. A little bit of math, a little bit of science and a worldly view

So now there was a market demand for millions of literate workers who could work at factories and we had to rethink our education system.

Let’s take a step back here and think how would we solve this problem. You would obviously look around you and realise that assembly based processes were giving the best results and helping you produce products at scale. And why change what is working? So we made a system that took some input ran it through the processes of college and schools. Did quality control with regular tests and exams and produces Viable Factory Workers. And I would like to point this one thing out. This is a time where the only way you could get knowledge was at a library or at a school. Knowledge wasn’t as freely available as today.

The current Education System designed on the principles of Mass Production

This education system was perfect to produce factory workers by the millions. There was no need to teach creative thinking or self-learning because majority of jobs didn’t need it back then. You literally had only one job your entire life. Day in. Day out.

But is the same system relevant anymore?

We are in the age of rapid change. In fact such is the speed of change nowadays that if you don’t keep up with it you will be irrelevant pretty soon. We have probably seen the rise and fall of multiple technologies over our life and are still witnessing them. To give you a simple example, we started storing data with Floppy Disks that went extinct to CDs that gave in to DVDs that were replaced by USBs and now we have the cloud. You don’t even need something physical to store things anymore. Think about that.

Did you in 2005 imagine that you would have a self driving car in 10 years? Did you imagine that you would have computers which would learn things just like human do?

And this advent of internet and information has inherently changed our lives. Think of the way today’s businesses work. Most businesses today rely on what is called The Network Effect. The network effect is a phenomenon whereby a good or service becomes more valuable when more people use it. So Uber has more drivers which leads to more riders which attracts more drivers and this is how the business grows. It’s almost a self fuelling system.

The network effect that drives Uber

Also another thing is we’re substituting human labour at an astonishing rate. Ans this isn’t the same as the Revolution where we were substituting physical work. In fact we’ve started substituting cognitive work now. So tasks that require basic logic skills are being taken over by computers.

This here shows the number of employees GM, Tesla, General Electric and Facebook have. Look at the difference. Facebook & Tesla employ a tenth of the work force for a much higher Market Capitalisation.

Note: Tesla currently has a higher MarketCap than GM

So our jobs are not the same, our companies are not the same. They way we do our business is not the same. But our schools. Exactly the same.

And slowly but surely we’re going to run into the exact problem that we had run into during the Revolution.

The only thing limiting our development will be talent.

The gap won’t just be a talent gap. It is a mindset gap. It is about creating a mindset that helps us deal with the rapid speed of change of our times. And if you think about it, the speed of change is just increasing daily. The time for a technology to be adopted has reduced significantly. 50 years ago it would take news 24 hours to reach us. Today it doesn’t even take 24 seconds.

This abundance of information in our hyper connected world has fundamentally changed the kind of jobs we work. Whether it is Digital marketing and strategy or Data analysis or even Computer Programming. Our jobs today need us to be well informed, creative and at the same time analytical. We won’t be doing the same thing over and over for the rest of our lives.

The Internet Age has made it easier for people to share information than ever before

So we need a system that helps us bridge this gap. But It’s not as easy as teaching as the Revolution where you just had to teach everybody how to read and write. It’s not about building the basic skill sets which will lead to doing the same job day in day out for the rest of your lives.

Literacy in 2016 does not mean that you can read and write. It is the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn things. And do it as rapidly as possible.

What we need is a new model of learning, which helps us deal with this rapid pace of change. Which prepares us for what’s to come. Also another important difference in the Digital Revolution from the industrial age is that learning is no longer a one time activity. What you learn while you are growing will not be enough for your entire life. As they say in today’s world, The more you know the less you know and the less you learn as you go.

Rate of Change vs Rate of Learning

So we realised the issue and did what you would’ve done during the industrial revolution. We looked around and saw what was working and what was happening and we realised a couple of things

One, slowly but surely, a lot of us are going to start loosing jobs to automation. This is not a far-fetched idea. It is quite possible that majority of the jobs that we have worked might be extinct before we die..

Secondly our jobs are going to get multi disciplinary. One of which will have to be computer programming. And we are in no way trying to say that we will need more people who code. No. We need more people who understand this complex world of computers. We need a lot more people getting interested in machine learning, in robotics, in the web. We need artists who understand code. We need musicians who understand how the computer processes their sound. We need a populous which is computationally literate.

We began working on SOAL — School of Accelerated Learning with this exact thought

And SOAL is our attempt to make this transition a little easier. SOAL is a physical school that teaches you new age technical skills via the learning model of accelerated learning. What we have done is we have designed a form of learning which is in line with the Spirit of Our Age. A self fueling system that starts the network effect for learning.x

Literacy in the new age is more about being adaptable

There are no lectures as we traditionally had. There is no theory. There is no rote learning and there are definitely no exams. What there is, is a simple idea of learning, unlearning and relearning things rapidly.

SOAL is a space where we can nurture and promote a culture of curiosity. A place where you learn how to learn fast and forever. A place where we sow the seeds of the Spirit of this Age of our Age The seeds of the Spirit of the Age of Curiosity.