Monday, October 31, 2011

Changing learning

There are many things that India needs to do. On top of my to-do list for India, though, is a complete overhaul of our approach to education. We simply have to move to a system that hinges on learning rather than on passing exams.
So it was wonderful to discover the work that the Agastya International Foundation has been doing to transform learning, especially science education, across India. While the foundation’s emphasis seems to be on taking hands-on science education to government-run schools in rural India, its appeal is universal. In fact, I know of teachers from urban schools who have been blown away by the foundation’s work, especially the experiences at its centre in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh. Equally important, I know of young urban Indians who’ve been through the foundation’s programmes and find them cool. Which is really cool, because it’s not often that you find teachers and students agreeing on something.
Of course what I have is second-hand information since I’ve not actually been to any of the Agastya International Foundation’s programmes or visited its centre. I plan to do some time soon, though.
However, from what I’ve been able to gather, its model is both scalable and replicable and, of course, transformational. Just the sort of thing we need to change education in India.
Staying with scalable, replicable and transformative learning models, it’s been almost a year since I first wrote about Salman Khan. Since then, the hedge fund manager turned online tutor has done a fair bit to change, at least partially, the way we learn.
Khan Academy, his free online library of short video lectures on all sorts of topics has evolved in various ways. Over the past 12 months the number of videos it hosts has grown from 1,800 to around 2,800. The lectures now cover more subjects, including sections devoted to specific examinations such as GMAT and India’s IIT-JEE. The team running the repository has also grown from one to about 18, including a couple of art history professors. This piece in the FT has pretty much the full story on the evolution of the Khan Academy, including the substantial funding it has drummed-up.
The Khan Academy’s value lies in its potential to transform learning in several ways. For one, you pay nothing to access the videos in the repository and, according to the FT piece, Khan intends to keep it that way. The videos themselves are easy to understand. And the concept can be replicated and improved by anyone who’s interested. Again, the sort of thing that should find a place in the Indian approach to education.

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