Saturday, April 26, 2008

Technology and Education - Prof. Yashpal's Perspective

[Although a bit dated (6 years old), these views of renowned Indian Scientist and Educationist, Prof Yashpal, may well be a reflection of the dominant perspective of several contemporary thinkers at the helm of the Indian Education System. As I prepare to leave for Delhi to be part of a consultation to draft a National Policy on ICT in School Education, I feel that the biggest challenge in drafting such a policy will be to strike that balance between doing what will continue to propel India into the Global New Economy of the 21st century, while not undermining India's rich cultural and regional diversity and languages (my previous post being a case in point); and keeping in mind the vast economic spectrum that India represents, as well as social issues such as gender discrimination, caste and communal bias.]

Technology and Education

Prof. Yash Pal
Schoolnet Lecture Series, India Habitat Centre. June 2000

I am a bit at a loss as to how I should constrain the scope of my remarks. You can say so much on science as also on education. Should one speak of ‘science in education’ or ‘education in science’ or about science and education quite independently? Since the constraints have not been explicitly stated I will go by the antecedents of the people who have organized this affair. As I understand they seem to believe that education, including that in science and technology could be tremendously improved if the infrastructure for delivery could be more technological. Besides improving the pedagogy of transaction, information from the world would become accessible to our students and teachers. And then we will be on our way to becoming a world superpower. Let me try to lend some perspective. I hope this is not seen as too censorious in respect of our present enthusiasm about information technology.

I am an enthusiast about information technology – have been for more than a quarter century. My enthusiasm has not been only passive. I have worked centrally on all the three aspects – technology, systems and the pedagogy of education and communication. In the last two of these engagements I have vested a great deal of effort and passion. There have been many successes but there have also been heart breaking failures, because the social forces and forces of vested interests have been much too strong. I do not want to oppose the use of modern technology but I do maintain that if we proceed on the basis of importing, not just technology but also the environment in which the curriculum is formulated and anchored, we will do great damage to our society. I wonder how much of this due to the fact that, like the flashy adds on our television, it is glossy and sexy looking. Also it is all in English, the rootless tongue of our rootless middle class (sorry about this bit of exaggeration). It is also not surprising that many affluent private schools (it is strange that we still call them public schools in our country) resonate with this enterprise because the parents also see excellence in terms of affinity with the external, the Western, the global.

Fertility of information increases if it can be seen to operate on intimate perceptions and observations, in dealings of people, in the state of the land, the price of vegetables, the manner in which the fruit vendor or kabariwala bargains, the arguments in the street, the problem of playing cricket on the road, the non-availability of drinking water, the smell of the earth after the first rain, the sudden buoyancy of spirit after the first rain of the monsoon , the scents of the mango season, the quality of chikoo, the grape, watermelon, banana, apricot, lichi, pomegrenate and so many things that make the summer not only bearable but also awaited with expectation. Instead of this we keep talking of April as spring when the temperature is 42 degrees, we talk of the fall when in many places most of the trees do not shed any leaves while in others this happens in the beginning of May followed by a flush of colourful flowers on the trees. It may seem that all this is only peripheral to the process of education. It definitely is not.

Severing the mind of children from life as it is can have two consequences. One that there is no need to observe, interpret and understand the world around and two that our life is somehow inferior and no worth while problems of great science or technology can possibly emerge from there. Both these are disastrous. De-coupled education and de-coupled science both tend to be sterile. The major problem of our formal system is that such de-coupling has been built in as a virtue. This hope can be belied in two ways, both of which seem attractive to many who are currently active in media education:

First is that great temptation to use packages considered excellent merely because they come from distant industrialized countries. We have some fantastic efforts in our own country. Why should we not learn from what grassroot organizations like Eklavya have done?

The second danger is partly in what I have mentioned above but needs re-emphasis. The dotcom education enterprises also have to make money ultimately. The venture funding implies that they will be nudged in this direction. This might be done through a version of e-commerce in which toys, equipment, software and other material will be pedaled or by concentrating on quiz mania and coaching activity demanded by our examination system. My friend Raju has heard me say, half in fun, that any good that IITs might have done to the country has been more than taken away by their impact on school education. Good schools concentrate on training athletes of information storage not on understanding or education. Some of them start this training right from the primary school.

I have been struck by another trend which might prove disastrous. Information technology is just a technology – not even like technologies of yesteryears. By itself it does not create new science, learning, insights or wisdom. It can enhance those who learn other things. It is becoming a replacement for learning every thing else. That way we might end up training only technical babus. The fact that such babus are in demand, in our country and abroad, does not mean that we should push our best brains in that direction only.

I would finally draw attention to a major factor that many of us in education tend to over look. Education is not an independent variable. I had stated this while forwarding our report Learning Without Burden (baste ka bojh). Most educationists still agree with the analysis in that report. But not much happens. Many State Governments have been more progressive than the Public Schools in which children below 4 years are admitted and made to struggle with reading and writing in a language which no one in their home speaks and in which they find impossible to express the concepts discovered over the most productive years of their learning life. This as anti education as you can be. This is also anti science, anti math and anti development. Learn all the English you want, but start it four years later. The Danes start it after the age of 10 or 11, without undue damage to the science and technology they do. The dominance of English will further stratify our society.

My Brush with Indic Language Support in Blogger

नमस्ते! (Namaste! in Hindi script)

Blogger (and some other Google products) have had Indic language support for a while now, but only today did I, for the very first time, really read a Hindi blog post on the very interesting Hindi blog of Mr. Gyan Dutt Pandey titled GyanDutt Pandey Ki Mansik Halchal.

It all started with an email I received from Mr. Pandey, who blogged about his (blog-worthy) meetings with my father, Dinesh Chandra Grover (of Lokbharti fame), a doyen in the Hindi (print) publishing world in India. (See this and this post of Mr. Pandey's as well).

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that (given my background) this was the first blog post in Hindi that I read, comments and all (and there were many comments - this blog clearly has huge readership!). That said, going through the blog was a huge eye-opener for me...

Like getting a sense for the number of bloggers in India blogging in Indian languages (I'm sure Google has the figures); phrases used for the Search, RSS feed buttons, "Posts by categories" - "इस ब्लॉग पर सर्च का जुगाड़", "कृपया ब्लॉग-फीड सदस्यता लें", "लेखों का वर्गीकरण" respectively; options to read the blog in your favored script- choices were English, Gujarati, Bangla, Oriya, Gurmukhi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam & Hindi (Indic to Indic online transliterations done courtesy, embedded slideshows in hindi (hosted on Zoho) and much much more....

A subsequent gmail exchange with Mr. Pandey (in Hindi script!) revealed that for composing his posts, he is in fact not using Google's online transliteration tool, but Baraha and Microsoft's Indic IME offline tools instead.

I cannot remember the last time a single blog post led to so many 'a-ha's!

Friday, April 25, 2008

iGoogle. Do You?

Add an Education Musings or gadget to your iGoogle homepage

(Playing around with iGoogle gadgets :))

I've added an 'Add to Google' button on the top right of this blog. Feel free to click it to add an Education Musings gadget to your iGoogle home page or Google Reader.

Click this button to add an feed gadget ... Add to Google

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Truth is Free...

( are so many things on the web these days (or at least seemingly so :))

Thus readeth the tag line of this amazing site for free documentaries that a friend shared last night. has about 125 documentaries that are also categorized by themes and regions of the world.

I spotted some well-known ones like those by Michael Moore and the Century of Self series from BBC, but there are several others that I know I will be watching over the coming days (and nights). WE: Arundhati Roy seems promising, as also this one titled The Slow Poisoning of India (it's all about one's context, isn't it?) -
"a 26-minute documentary film depicting the effects of modern pesticide use on local farmers. India is one of the largest users of pesticide in Asia and also one of the largest manufactures. Farmers often use the wrong chemicals, while others overuse."
Most of the documentaries load from Google Video or youtube (the shorter teasers/trailers) so I guess all this site does is point to all the freely available documentaries already up on Google Video. (Just an educated guess that it was not the other way around - it wasn't these guys that put up the stuff on Google Video and then pointed to it from here...)

Which made me curious about the rationale behind (on their 'About Us' page) -

"a site where anyone with an internet connection can watch a movie to educate themselves or simply explore another perspective whenever they please. These movies aren't just for education but are also for entertainment.

As a secondary objective allows independent filmmakers to have their message heard by viewers that they may not normally reach.

Our goal is to have everyone that watches a film at learn something; whether it be a new perspective on a topic, simply understanding a conflict, or being more accepting of a certain belief system. We are proud to say that the vast majority of people that watch our films are glad they did so. In fact many people become addicted to watching documentaries after seeing a movie on our site.
Whatever the rationale, I'm glad for this effort, and hope teachers and parents will use it to educate themselves, their students/kids, and use these to trigger discussions and debate....

One Planet Life: A One Minute Message This Earth Day

What would you do if you were given 45 seconds to send out an Earth Day message? Think about it, try it out...

See what the Global Footprint Network did with their 45 secs - here's One Planet Life...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Digital Storytelling using Microsoft Photo Story

I've talked a fair bit about getting kids to engage in creative storytelling using the myriad digital tools we have at our disposal today. For the Digital Storytelling workshops I conducted for middle school kids this past academic year, I decided to go with Microsoft Photo Story (freely downloadable) instead of Windows Movie Maker (also freely available). The school does not use Macs else iMovie would've been my hands-down choice.

Photo Story is a simple, easy-to-learn tool that puts together images, with transitions, and background sound which could be music or even voice-overs recorded in Photo Story itself.

Even though the kids spent some time picking up a little bit of Adobe Photoshop (which now has a free "express" web version...yay!) for basic cropping and image manipulation, and Audacity for sound recording and mixing (also an open source free Audio Editor :)), in the end all the students used Photo Story alone to put together their images, cool transitions, music and voice-overs to produce (with very little effort) some fantastic digital stories.

Powerpoint is passe, people, movies and digital stories are the new forms of show-n-tell!

Don't just take my word for it ... see for yourself one 11-year old 6th grader's sweet digital story....

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Animoto for Education

I've been going a little crazy sharing the animoto videos my son Sidhanth and I whipped up in a matter of minutes (that's what's so cool about animoto) a couple of days ago. I put them up here (see the last few posts), on, on classtroom 2.0, as well as my facebook profile!

When you stumble upon a good thing, SHARE IT, I say!

Receiving family videos made by my sister soon after I posted mine was such a thrill! Anyway, the best news at the end of all this came in an email from Rebecca Brooks of Animoto...they have just launched Animoto for Education whereby they're offering FULL-ACCESS to educators (the free version restricts videos to 30 secs)!

Which brings us to the use of Animoto videos in the classroom. How could teachers use this tool? It would be a neat way to introduce a new unit with a snapshot of all that a teacher intends to cover. Videos made by students could be part of culminating activities
at the end of a unit. It's a great way to capture a field trip or a workshop or an event or the highlights of an academic year to put up on a school website, teacher or student blog.

Since the videos are so fast paced, I guess they cannot really replace traditional slideshows for teaching even if the background music did have a voice-over by a teacher or student. The great thing is the no-entry-level-skill-barrier which means that kids as young as 7 or 8 could put these together, or teachers who are not too tech-savvy, and would otherwise never venture out to make videos or even slideshows.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Empowering Children - Where to draw the line?

Varni posted this thought-provoking parenting question on that applies to many of us who are parents, especially of kids in their tweens.

She also posted a link to a fantastic TED Talk by Gever Tully (of the Tinkering School) in which he talks about 5 dangerous things we should allow our kids to do. A must-see!

Would be great to hear what others feel about how protective we should be of our growing kids, and how far we should go to empower our children to experiment with (potentially dangerous) stuff and venture out on their own. Please feel free to post comments on

Sid n Sam's E-Waste Efforts

My sons Sidhanth & Samarth (who've just completed 7th grade and 4th grade resp.) have been pretty active this past year spreading awareness about e-waste (what is e-waste? why is it harmful? what can ordinary citizens do?) in their neighbourhood (Sadashivanagar) as well as their school here in Bangalore. (Read it in Sidhanth's own words on his blog).

Sid and Sam spoke to every class about it. Sid made posters and set up collection boxes in school - one in the Elementary and one in the Senior school, and Sam co-ordinated collections in the Elementary school.

They have connected with a local voluntary organization that co-ordinates e-waste collection in Bangalore called Saahas, for dropping off the collections from the neighbourhood and their school. Saahas even invited them on a field trip to e-Parisaraa - Bangalore's only e-waste re-cycling center.

Here's a short video Sidhanth made on Animoto that describes in 30 seconds their E-Waste Efforts. Way to go, boys!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Are We Ready to Leverage 1-1 Computing in Schools?

Looks like HP is the latest entrant in the "classroom laptop" market. With the "Mini-Note", HP joins Intel (Classmate PC), the OLPC (XO Laptop), and Asustek (Eee PC) to bring lightweight, functional computers in the hands (laps?) of children in classrooms around the world. At $500, the Mini-Note seems moderately more expensive than the ClassMate PC (which costs around $350), the Eee PC and the XO (both of which cost around $200).

It won't be long before these hit the Indian market too in a big way. [They are already being used in pockets where Intel and others are funding some initiatives.]

According to the article -
"HP also says it plans to provide free, online professional development courses designed to help teachers engage students' interest and improve their achievement through the use of technology."
Unlike the OLPC which was criticized for not paying enough attention, at least initially, to teacher preparation (see this link suggested in the comments in response to this blog post), HP clearly knows to say right thing with regard to teacher preparation! Fortunately, today there is wide-spread cognizance of the fact that none of these initiatives will fly unless teachers in the classrooms are on board, comfortable with the use of these machines, and aware of how to use them to meet their teaching-learning goals!

And what about curriculum? Most teachers around the world are used to delivering canned syllabi and curricula which essentially means following prescribed textbooks. Who is developing curricula that effectively integrate 1-1 computing in the teaching-learning process, and effectively replace textbooks and blackboards & chalk-n-talk with individual computers for students in the classroom?

Furthermore, how well are instructional designers doing to meet the learning needs of children in different parts of the world where contexts and cultures are so dissimilar to those of the US where the makers of these machines are headquartered?

Lastly, even if good curricula are being developed, are teacher PD programs like HP's preparing teachers to meet the demands and needs attendant to the use of these new curriculum? Or are they just familiarizing teachers with these machines, not unlike the mammoth Intel and Microsoft teacher training programs that have simply "trained" millions of teachers in the developing world on the functional aspects of PCs and the use of the Microsoft Office suite, without paying attention to how teachers will leverage these machines and software (all software, not just MS Office), for meaningful learning in the classroom.

Unless these issues are given the attention they deserve, the idea of Intel already selling "tens of thousands" of Classmate PCs since they went on sale last year and OLPC putting "hundreds of thousands of XO laptops" in the hands of children, even before a single Mini-Note has sold, does not give much reason to rejoice...

Monday, April 07, 2008

25 Most Significant Events in Post-Independence India

Someone alerted me to the Breaking News Online blog, and more specifically to their 1000th post titled Breaking News Online 1000: 25 Most Significant Events in India (After Independence) which lists out what are in their view the 25 most significant events in India post-1947. It reads much like one of those India Today issues around 15th August, but below is their list (in chronological order), with more details on each in the original blog post.

Would you agree with this list? Any additions/deletions?

In any case, this looks like an interesting exercise to try out in a History class - see if the students feel any different...
  1. Accession of Kashmir to India - 1947
    2. Mahatma Gandhi's Assassination - 1948
    3. Birth of Indian Constitution - 1950
    4. Liberation of Goa - 1961
    5. Indo-Pak War - 1971
    6. Pokhran Nuclear Test - 1974
    7. India launched its first Satellite - 1975
    8. General Emergency - 1975
    9. India's World Cup Cricket win - 1983
    10. Rakesh Sharma in Space - 1984
    11. Assassination of Indira Gandhi and Anti-Sikh riots - 1984
    12. Mandal Commission Report - (1990 - 1991)
    13. Economic Reforms in India - 1991
    14. The Securities Scam - 1992
    15. Babri Demolition - 1992
    16. Pokhran II Nuclear Explosion - 1998
    17. The Kargil Conflict - 1999
    18. Indian Women winning all three International Beauty Pageants - 2000
    19. Militant Attack on Indian Parliament - 2001
    20. Godhra Tragedy and Gujarat Riots - 2002
    21. Taj Mahal as Numero Uno among New 7 Wonders of the World - 2007
    22. Pratibha Patil became the fist Woman President of India - 2007
    23. India's Twenty20 World Cup Victory - 2007
    24. BSE Sensex hit 20,000 Mark for the first time - 2007
    25. India not qualifying for Olympics Hockey - 2008