Posts Tagged 'innovation'

How emotions affect learning?

Schools are generally meant to be a place where children learn the content taught to them, take the exams, be civil with each other, respect elders, obey the rules and go home. There is no place for emotions there, is it?

The BIG problem here is that emotions are an integral part of who we are and no matter how much we ignore it, emotions lurk in nooks and crannies of children’s minds and affects how they learn.

Let me show you a few examples to clarify:

  1. A child experiences a fight or discord at home, doesn’t know what to do with his anger or sadness, brings it to class and is mood off that day. He doesn’t pay attention to what is happening around him and his ability to comprehend information has been compromised. He loses out on learning (note taking) that day and comes home and gets further scoldings for his notes being incomplete. He is at a loss to explain what or why?
  2. Another child misses her best friend who is either sick/has moved out of town and the uncertainty of the friend’s condition/the loss of friendship taunts the child and she is unable to calmly do her work in school. She has no way of knowing why she is upset and even if she knows, no place to express it and learn to work with the emotion knowing that it is only normal to feel this way. She tells her mom, who tells her that she will make more friends and it’s okay to move on. It confuses her further, she doesn’t know what to do. It goes on for weeks.
  3. A teacher scolds one of the children and another child is frightened for life to ask any more questions or to speak up in class. Parents are wondering what happened to my bright and chirpy child from a year ago?
  4. A child who scores very well in the exams and tops her class suddenly finds new subjects boring. She keeps telling herself that she needs to focus otherwise she will not get good marks but a small voice inside her says, “Boring, boring, boring”and she is not able to make peace with it. She doesn’t know how to negotiate or give it any more reasons/answers because she doesn’t know any except that, “it is important for exams and I need to score good marks so I’ll get a good job”

I could go on and on but I think we can agree that emotions are important and can affect children’s learning. It can affect it positively and negatively but when a part of you is not managed it is generally more trouble than good.

As a parent you could start the journey of developing emotional skills in children

  1. Use emotions in conversations on a daily basis to express not only how you feel about what your child did but also about how you felt at work or home when they were not around. Your child gets an opportunity to understand you better as parents and as professionals.
  2. Share your struggles and not just your happy moments and achievements. When children see a range of emotions they realize that they can also have a range of emotions and how to build the capability to express it.
  3. Acknowledge their emotions not the tantrums. Many a times when children throw a tantrum they are actually feeling an emotion and instead of expressing it, they are acting it out. Acknowledging the emotion empowers the child to express the emotion and even develop a sense of how you handle those emotions rather than throw a tantrum.

When children truly learn to manage their emotions you begin to see their learning improve by leaps and bounds. It’s an amazing experience to have as a parent, as a teacher and as a student – welcome to a world where learning is re-imagined the way it should be!

We, at Sparkling Mindz, as part of the school, preschool and our afterschool program work with children on their emotions. It begins with awareness, moves on to managing and generating choices, expressing & sharing with others, taking perspective, learning to respond to situations and developing empathy.

Are we raising a generation of literate fools?

Every day I meet students I come face to face with the sinister power of today’s education system.

Children who are taught to weigh their worth in the marks/grades they get in exams.

Children who learn very quickly they have to obey so as to not get into trouble with the system.

Children who learn that there is a single right answer to questions.

Children who feel that they learning means mugging up content.

Children who learn to keep math, science, language, art, music, sports as separate silos in their head.

Children who don’t understand what it means to master language, music, art or math.

This is the reality of the literate India that we are raising with a lot of hard work.

This is how all the schools are right? How does this make them fools?

It makes them fools because it does not push them hard enough. It does not respect or work on developing their potential, it does not set high expectations of him.

Imagine working with a sports coach who teaches you tips and tricks to complete your practice session but does not really make you a better athlete or work on your strengths or pushes you to dream big? You wouldn’t send your child to such a sports coach right? Then why choose a school for your child that treats education and learning as a short-term game?

This increases my resolve to work towards reimagining how learning should be for our children every day.

Too small an order…

…a refrain I’ve heard so often that I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m thinking too small or it is just a sales gimmick in India? It seems to be everywhere if you are the one trying to manufacture or make something- electronic toys, wooden toys, cardboard boxes, plastic games or toys. No one seems to be interested in creating a proof with you to move you to the next level, everyone wants the straight cut 10k piece order. The ones who are willing to do cut lots of corners on quality!

Is our manufacturing sector so bottom line stingy that it does not take ANY risks? How will we create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship on such an ecosystem and mindset?

IIT heads complain of plunge in quality

Today I read a news article in Times of India titled, “IIT heads echo NRN on plunge in quality”. The whole article goes on to talk about how the seats in IITs today are getting filled by students who are fatigued by years of coaching and in the larger scheme of things, don’t even want to be an engineer. It is sad state of affairs, indeed. But to hear the heads of the institutes complain, instead of do something about it, is sadder. This could have been easily seen coming and here are some thoughts of mine

1. If you set up an exam that is hard to achieve and pass through and prevent people with interest from joining unless they can showcase aptitude 2x the current level of education system. This kind of ‘fatigue’ is bound to happen. We, as Indians, are proud to pass through tests that are seemingly insurmountable and that give you a certain kind of ‘elitist’ status over others! Take the civil services, for example. Most people taking the exam don’t even know what they will be doing post the selection! It is the same with students who are getting coached to get into IITs (and to a large extent the CAT fever too! – they are being taught how to beat the system!!!) – while it will take you across the threshold, it will not get you inspired and motivated to become an excellent engineer or an excellent manager (or a good anything)

2. Next, what have the IITs themselves done to inspire the students joining to wake up out of fatigue and create interest? Is there an emphasis on innovation, creativity or even applying the skills being learnt beyond the basics? If so, where is it being showcased? It is a chicken and egg story and only if you focus on inspiring students will they get inspired and motivated – the other way round is an ideal dream, but can you make it a reality by just cribbing about it?

3. Now, lets look at the industry. These children who join the IITs are very smart and the smartness flows to where they money is. If money is in engineering, they will continue being engineers, if it is in pharma/FMCG/ITES companies, they will get trained to become sales people for Pharma/FMCG/consultants, as the requirement might be. Look at it from their point of view and the society’s point of view, if you are the best of brains and you are not earning the best of salaries, you are a loser! There is no premium on thinking, being different, being unique or standing up for what you are passionate about (let alone sometimes even figure out what is it that you are really passionate about!) and then what about the self-fulfilling prophecy of these large institutes that the most successful people come from there?

4. That brings us to the story of change. What should change to make this better? The mantra is – Innovation and Creativity to create a “thinking generation” of students! The institutes needs to innovate at a much faster rate and create a new form of entry criteria, a new way of working with the corporate world, a new wave of innovation from their labs and that will create enough inspiration and motivation even in the most fatigued or uninterested child to beat and excel the system (where the system is aligned and focused in the right direction)

The seeds of change lie in you, if you are unwilling to lay them in the ground, don’t fret over lousy results!!!

PS: On second thoughts, whatever has been written above is a law of averages and I’ve seen enough inspired, motivated and self-aware IITians over my work life to be impressed by their smartness, hard work, dedication and motivation. So, please don’t take this as a personal note on anyone. I’m just responding to the system’s response on its own intake quality!

Laptop with wings please

It’s been such a long time since the laptop got a game changing feature. Except for form factor and design (and to some extent the trackpad!), nothing seems to be changing in the laptop world.  >90% of laptops are manufactured in Taiwan and quite a large extent of the design and innovation (or the lack of it) also happens there.

I decided to ask for more.  How about if we had a laptop that could do the following?

1. Print – I’d love for my laptop to print out my flight/train tickets (yeah, I hate having to buy and maintain printers just for tickets. I’ve stopped printing much else now a days)

2. Scan – I’d love for my laptop to scan things I come across quickly and store, categorize them for later references (scanning is on the up move but all the same, I don’t want to buy a separate device to do this)

3. Project – I’d love to be able to project my presentations without having to connect it to any external device, just click and shoot!

And while we are at it, can it please also have wings? Talk about advanced mobility solutions! Acer, Lenovo, Dell, HP, Toshiba – are you listening?

Readers, what are your demands from your laptop?

Technology is not the panacea – Part 2

The next part of the puzzle has to do with the traditional “market ethos” of “why break something that ain’t broken?” If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, you can catch it here (you might want to take a quick look at it before reading this thread)

One might argue, “let’s make things better” or “this is for their good”. But, asking someone to put in any more effort than what requires to keep things going doesn’t ring a bell of happiness in most people’s heads, it rings a bell of despair/alarm. (Obviously, I’m not referring to the market of “techno-enthusiasts” here)

They either know that you right, but don’t want to be the first adopters and hence, a ring of despair or they are alarmed that you are out to get them.

Take the case of school teachers, they all agree that technology could potentially improve the learning capability in students, but why should they be the learning scapegoats? Why, for the peanuts they earn, should they put in any kind of extra effort without a social/economic benefit to show for it (no extra pay, no climbing the hierarchy, no awards – you know, the works)? The prevailing majority attitude then becomes, let it happen independently. That shows for the success of many online tutoring services and several other direct to student technologies. One might ask, what about the success of the likes of Educomp, Everonn etc. – that, for me, is a subject of another post. I’m referring to technology from the teacher’s point of view in this example.

Lets take another example, the nation’s favorite for technology advancement – farmers! All the incubation labs in the country are buzzing with activity around creating technology innovation for farmers. What is the story on the other side though? Alarm bells start ringing in their heads when you talk of any new technology introduction. They think that you might have a trick or so up your sleeve and hence want them to use the technology that you are talking about. Call it lack of knowledge, their hand-to-mouth existence that precludes trial-n-error or “been-there-been-tricked” experiences.

All this results in the best of the technology interventions not being met with the kind of excitement or implemented with the kind of enthusiasm that was intended. What with all the effort that was put into creating the “cool technology wonder”? Be it the lowest cost laptop, the simplest digitally controlled water pump – if the team doesn’t make an equally gallant effort (as for creating product) into delving and unifying the product experience with the market ethos – it is bound to just remain “a newsworthy cool technology”, nothing more.

Technology is not the panacea – Part 1

I know the title might seem clichéd to many, but for a technophile like me who has an eye (more say an affection) for products, a cool technology seems to open up a vista of opportunities (and more dreams) that can be tapped. I had to learn it the hard way to realize that technology is not the panacea, it is only a piece of the larger puzzle that needs to be solved to create innovative solutions that create an impact in the world.

Lets take a few examples, why is the penetration of information technology, internet and computer in substantial parts of India, say vis-a-vis mobile phones, TV, Radio etc. so low?

I’ve come to believe that it has less to do with technology and more to do with “perceived need” (and I mean a need and not a benefit – very difficult to convince people living on subsistence money on the “potential benefits” of your product when all they are worried about is their day-to-day life). This is the immediate, visible, “will-break-a-habit” – kind of need and not some random “wish”. So, if internet (or any other technology for that matter) has to penetrate further we need to establish and educate people of the “need” first.

This first step of establishing a need and educating people how to “elevate their problem” through the use of technology cannot be over emphasized. Skip the first step and the coolest of technology cannot win against “traditional ways”. Do the first step right and with/without technology innovation, adoption might skyrocket. Two real examples opened up my eyes to this:

1. I realized the importance of “educating” people on their problem when I came face to face with the “perceived notions” on technology in schools. At a deep rooted level most teachers believe that technology is an “attention grabbing” technique for today’s students (and hence, at best frivolous). Very few amongst them have the exposure/experience to use technology as an aid to help the students learn and explore the world around them in innovative ways. Without the right orientation and understanding of the need for change, the best of technology aids are largely underutilized in schools and any wonder the usage of technology remains so low despite the potential benefits?

2. Recently, I came across an entrepreneur at a Tie event who is selling “clean water” to the villagers in India. In order to accomplish this, he says the major challenge for him was to educate the villagers that the water they were using was “unclean/contaminated”. They didn’t know that many of the issues being faced by them and their children like bowed legs, deformed teeth etc had to do with something like fluoride contamination in the water.

Technology (no matter how simple or low-cost) cannot by itself make someone use it, there needs to be a larger momentum for that to happen – which can only be achieved through structured & mediated educational/training interventions to help the participants “be better”, “do better” and hence, “deliver better” through the right kind of technology aids.

In the next post, I’ll talk about understanding and working with the “ethos” of the market rather than pushing a technology-based solution that you consider innovative.


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