Isha Vidhya – Three Unique Models of Education

My wife Girija and I recently visited Isha Vidhya outside Coimbatore, on the recommendation of a friend, Deepak Satwalekar. His description was intriguing: the foundation is using three very different models of education to cater to different sections of society. What we saw turned out to be even more extraordinary than Deepak had described.

Isha Rural Schools:

There are 6 Isha Rural Schools in operation today, with plans for setting up at least 20 more across Tamil Nadu. These schools are set up with the intention of equipping rural children with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make it in life.

Given that speaking English and computer literacy are basic to life in the 21st century, the school uses English as the medium of education and supplements class work with video-based as well computer-based learning. Since English medium schools are not entitled to state funding, Isha depends primarily on donations in addition to modest fees from parents.

We have visited many government-run as well as private schools, but what struck us at the Isha schools was the atmosphere of fun, curiosity, energy and enthusiasm. The teachers were committed and well trained, supporting children to help them learn at their own pace. Undoubtedly, these schools will produce capable students with basic life skills as well as a love of life-long learning.

Isha Home School:

The Home School, at the Isha Yoga Centre, is comparable to a top-notch international school, with children paying full fees. Students are assigned to “houses” where house parents (typically a husband-wife couple) take care of them in all ways. Each house is a complete floor with dorms for boys and girls and a common area where children assemble for learning.

Up to 5th standard, the class follows the Montessori method – combining children of different ages and providing tools to kindle each child’s innate urge to learn rather than imposing information or knowledge in traditional lecture-dominated instruction.

Afternoon sessions are focused on arts, crafts and sports. Beyond class 5, the students go to classes by subjects, with exposure to examinations only in time for the Board exams.

According to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the visionary behind Isha Vidhya, “We will make sure the child is exposed to every little thing in life. He should know how to fix a bicycle. He should know how to milk a cow – he should know everything”.

Interestingly, the Home School does not allow computers in classes, relying instead on traditional methods of library research. The house parent we met said that these kids all have access to their own computers and already know how to Google any subject; it’s more valuable to teach them alternative, more creative paths of research.

There is no doubt that Isha Home School will give its students the solid foundation they require to be the best they can in life – being productive, responsible and contributing members of the world.

Sanskriti

Based on the traditional Indian model of ‘Gurukulas’, Sanskriti is a completely different model of intensive and extensive education aimed at promoting excellence in different fields. We couldn’t visit this school ourselves but were briefed by one of the Isha Home School house parents whose daughter is a Sanskriti student.

The kids here are subject to a rigorous schedule of early morning yoga and meditation, combined with traditional subjects like language, math, science and social studies. Hands-on experience in agriculture, dairy farming, along with intensive training in music, dance and arts, make this a unique and exclusive educational experience. All in all, Isha Vidhya is truly innovative in its choice of models and is making a mark in the field of education in India.

The Purpose of Education – Creating Responsible, Productive Citizens

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards”. – Anatole France

The purpose of education is to create responsible, productive and socially contributing citizens – people who can provide for their own families as well as contribute to their communities. As Toffler says, education in the 21st century should allow people to learn, unlearn and relearn. But I am not sure our schools and colleges are committed to this.

Education is one of the most unscientific human endeavors. You do well in school to get into a good college and earn a good degree. A good degree is supposed to be a passport to a good job. Based on your educational qualifications, you can climb to a reasonably high position without having to demonstrate any exceptional ability.

Beyond that, however, you may have problems. There is no established link between your performance in school and your performance in a job. Even more importantly, there is no link between your performance on the job and your performance in life.

To be true to purpose, education should support a child develop three fundamental capabilities:

1. Discover, develop and continually evolve a vision to become a useful member of society:

Many of us have an advantage – our parents envision our future for us, driving us to work towards achieving this vision. However, this is not as common among the poor. The education system has to step in to help everyone create this vision, and to build even the poor child’s confidence to pursue the vision.

Balaji Sampath, who runs Eureka Child – an NGO committed to improving literacy and math ability in government schools, told us a touching story in this context. Coming back from the US to do something meaningful in education, he immersed himself in local issues by spending a few months in a village. He was in a village classroom when a child asked the teacher whether it was possible to travel to the moon. “You and I cannot fly to the moon,” the teacher answered. “But scientists in the U.S. can…” We must stop robbing our children of goals and dreams.

2. Understand that questions are more important than answers:

Our education system places undue emphasis on providing answers – often to questions that children do not have. In other words, too often we teach children concepts without context; we need to show them why learning is important. We need to focus on awakening kids’ natural curiosity and teaching them to love learning. A good way to do this is to place children in natural experiences or in games where they can ask questions. In these settings, learning is immediate and strong. Learning can be a structured discovery process, offering students varied learning outcomes – just as our situations and decisions later in life offering different outcomes.

For example, an NGO in Mumbai went to schools with an experiment to teach students about water conservation. The pupils measured the amount of water consumed while brushing their teeth with the tap open, and then again with the tap off. Imagine, if we all learn this type of lesson in school, how we can apply the principles to so many other aspects of our home and work later in life.

3. Learning to Learn:

The world is evolving too fast for schools and colleges to keep up. What is being taught is inadequate and outdated, or will be soon. It is important that children are encouraged to discover answers on their own – through the Internet, through experimenting and by having access to experts on the cutting edge of every field.

It is important that students learn the scientific method –

(a) creating a hypothesis based on observations,

(b) designing and conducting experiments to prove or disprove these hypotheses and

(c) arriving at conclusions while recognizing that the conclusions could change with additional information.

With the level of knowledge available in the world today, it is also important to exercise judgment what to learn, and how and when you need to learn it. We need to teach kids when to rely on their own judgments,, and when to rely on the expertise of others. Our children must learn that even when you outsource the effort, you retain responsibility over the result.

What do you think? Do you agree with these ideas about the critical capabilities that our children need? Is our educational system addressing this? Do share your thoughts and experiences with all of us.

Role Of Robotics In The Progressive Education System For The 21st Century

With a specific end goal to instruct in the 21st century, educational institutes and instructors need to develop and keep up a student’s enthusiasm for the curriculum by demonstrating and inculcating skills to transfer bookish knowledge to the real-life applications.

Robotics – An Applied Science

Before we even begin to understand the need for inculcating Robotics in the Education System of today, we need to be thorough with what exactly a robot is.

A robot is a machine that can perform complex actions based on the programs fed to the computer. It can perform a series of tasks, replicate many human movements and functions, but is essentially unemotional.

About Robotics

Robotics is that branch of technology that encompasses the start to the end of a robot. It not only deals with the designing aspect of a Robot, but applies technology for the construction of the same, considers the aspects of its operation, and further application of the robots.

Robotics is not a fad; it is far from that. It is a gradual progression from the old-school contemporary education and is more of a phenomenon that allows an integrated approach to the knowledge of mathematics, science and other technological content.

In the fast-paced world today, Robotics allows emphasis on problem-based learning, encourages learning in groups and outlays perfect integration and application of knowledge.

Robotics And Student Connect

Realizing True Potential: Since Robotics is essentially an application-based study, it allows students across levels to learn on the go. They may also get to realize their potentials and seek assistance where they see an opportunity to build their career in the long run.

Taking New Roles: In an interactive classroom environment, while working on a robot, student teams interact with each other. Some come across to be great speakers, while others as great thinkers – virtually breathing life into thoughts. They can rather code, perform specialized tasks and additionally ensure the group remains focused.

Going Beyond the Books: Today, the Education system is focusing beyond the bookish knowledge and while students get interested in a new domain like Robotics, they will also get an opportunity to get involved and learn other interactive platforms like social media to spread a word about their word.

Theory to Application: As the students begin to see, the theoretical knowledge coming to life in the manner, they would want it to, where they have a role in the actual control. They begin to enjoy the power of control and subconsciously start excelling in the respective domains as well.

Stretching the Boundaries: It allows an opportunity for critical thinking in a steady and self-inspired way. The learners encounter fulfilling accomplishments immediately and can rapidly proceed to establish complicated programs and challenges in a robot.

Quality of Education and the Recruiters

I studied engineering in Shivaji University which is a reputed university now but at the time when I was growing up the engineering students from this university were ridiculed for their lack of knowledge and ability. Generally, the recruiting process of headhunters places an overwhelming emphasis on the final interview deciding the fortune of a fresh candidate. This was unfair to the candidates from smaller cities as their English was not up to the mark and despite being fluent engineers and qualifying through rigorous tests they were getting rejected in the interview. This thinking by the recruiters of selecting the best among equals was clearly defective. I do agree that when the candidates are almost equal in their qualifications and knowledge and ability some criteria have to be there for selecting a candidate right? Adequate speaking abilities are needed even for engineering jobs, but my English speaking abilities deciding my chances of getting an engineering job is really ridiculous. Now that I have become a writer my chances will be really good right? Just kidding!

Similar such defective procedures which are in place in various fields need to be corrected for various appointments. There are many kinds of jobs in general such as, government jobs, private jobs and the jobs in charity organizations etc. All these jobs will have different requirements, facilities offered and remuneration. But nobody tells this in any syllabus I know of. Why are students not intimated officially that they will face this environment and they should know about it. The reality is that they find out, but this inclusion in my syllabus makes it quality education for me especially when you are opting for professional courses.

Education cannot be just practical or theoretical when a student joins the school at a tender age. It has to such that all students need to be given equal opportunity to understand, interpret and most importantly execute what they have learned. It has to be fun as well as disciplined in its approach. The person imparting this education needs to be a personality that children would like to be with. We already have a lot of stress in our lives and it must be reduced. So, start with the new generation. Teach them the importance of breathing in the fresh air first. Then, if needed they will learn about technology. It is all here, no need to become desperate about learning and using it.

Remember there are several great career opportunities in place now such as professional sports, art, event management, farming even and what not. So the parents just gearing up for their child’s education need to calm down a bit. It’s the child who is taking the education and not you. People often talk about the bygone days and they wish that they will come back. Do you wonder why? The mechanization has slowly but surely slowed down the importance of the development of human qualities. Please remember various options have to be available to the child when he is about 15 years old. That’s when he will realize what he would like to do with his future. So, the education must have supported him in such a way that he knows all the options at that time. Well reasonably at least. A mindless emphasis on formal education induces stress and boredom in the minds of youngsters after a while.

I know we will probably have some businessman opening an event management business course and make even more money. Why doesn’t the government do it with the tax payer’s money? That is a good investment. A quest for world-class education is not possible for everyone. The Indian education system mostly has to develop syllabi that will eventually be useful for Indian environment. Find new employment opportunities especially in the agriculture sector and develop students with information at the college level. Homeschooling is also different and a sort of “old is gold” concept. Vocational trade schools, online education etc are some of the several different modes of education available which is great.

I was in Australia for a while. A job in a metro such as Adelaide probably paid me around AUD 15 per hour. If I went to a smaller town such as Naracoorte the same job would give me AUD 17. Why? They are trying to move the large influx of job hunters in cities to smaller towns where they could make more money and live a peaceful life. It is a win-win situation. More money, fewer expenses, all facilities and a peaceful long life. The city dwellers, you don’t want that? You got be kidding me!! Anyway, the point is that such clever government initiatives make alternate lifestyles more attractive by the time you finish school. So these updates have to be available during professional courses to the students officially. That is quality education. Not how many hours I spent at the desk. Why should a person be required to work 12 hours daily unless there is something seriously wrong with my work system? Now if a student is from such university/organization which takes all these pains I will give him/her preference as a recruiter. Opinions definitely solicited!!

New Conflicting Trends in Education

There was a time when the basic needs of human beings were only food, clothing and shelter. With the rise of the industrial age, education was added as one of their basic needs. And now education is one of the major industries of the world, producing graduates to manage and run the economy, politics, and the transmission of culture. But with the information age gaining more and more ground in our society, we are seeing conflicting trends in the educational system.

The first conflicting trend is in the area of cost. While the cost of formal education in colleges and universities is rising, the cost of education through the Internet is getting lower and lower. In many countries the observation of educational managers is that educational cost is rising higher than the inflation rate of a country. And yet getting information which is the raw data of education is becoming cheaper and cheaper through the Internet. Students can connect cheaply to the Internet through Internet cafes and access information that before would cost them much. They can now download ebooks, many of which are free.

In the Website Personal Money Store an article is written about Academic Earth. It says that while Academic Earth is not an organization that can provide a learner with college credit, it can give him or her nearly all the same material he or she could receive in a traditional college classroom, at a time when he or she wants it, without the hassle of transportation and dress expenses. There is an advertisement in this Website of “Great College Lectures, for FREE.”

The second conflicting trend I see is in the area of methodology. With more information to digest and more books to read students are getting more and more burdened with reading, memorizing and comprehending the content of the books and lectures of professors. And yet on the other hand there are so many individuals and groups trying to make learning fun and enjoyable, not a burdensome experience.

In the Website DNA Read the World there is an article entitled “New trends in teaching that make learning fun.” In this article we read, “To make students enjoy and understand at the same time is the key principle on which education institutions should work on.” There are also online experiments with mnemonics to make memorization fun.

The third conflicting trend is in the area of results. Almost everywhere in countries with Western kind of education the complaint has been that the educational system produces unemployed or underemployed graduates. There is no assurance that upon graduation employment is there. And yet jobs are being generated through the Internet. Some get jobs by writing reviews of books, of programs, by creating websites, by programming, etc., not to mention the many scams online.

The Website Engines for Education is trying “to raise consciousness about the changes needed in our educational system.” Hopefully these changes will also solve the problem of unemployment or underemployment of our college graduates.

What do these conflicting trends tell us? It seems that the following trends are possible.

As the cost of formal education goes higher and higher and the cost of non-formal education through the Web goes lower and lower, only the wealthy will be able to access formal education while the not so wealthy will be content with non-formal education through the Web.

As the process of education becomes more and more burdensome to students more and more educational games will be put on the web where the students will be spending more and more of their time. There are already indications that students cut their classes in order to spend their time playing games in Internet cafes.

As more and more unemployed and underemployed are produced by our formal system of education, more and more jobs will be created through the Web.

The changes in the educational area are not so clear at the present time but it seems clear that there are indications of substantial changes in the near future.