December 29, 2012
I was only able to appreciate the scale of the 'problem' when I was driving through the streets of Detroit, from Gross Pointe to the Hiedelberg street, and seeing the transition, and the farmland like open spaces right in the middle of the city amidst broken, burnt, nearly-empty neighborhoods.
I know this is not specific to early-education, but I am trying to think in terms or how my work should fit into the larger scheme of things. I used to very strongly believe in the "program or be programmed" mantra, that to survive in the fast-changing modern world one must learn to be creative (I had a discussion about this with you in your room once too), but I now feel that I need to revisit that belief, that creativity alone might not solve the problem.
Early education is only the beginning of a thread, which must be continued through high school (or something similar), college and future careers and integration into society. For example, in Paraguay, a financially self-sufficient school teaches kids not only math, science or computers, but also (organic) farming techniques, because they live in a highly agricultural society.  . While students are exposed to new ideas and tools (they learn computers and English) the school tries hard to keep it relevant. I think I need to find the locus of that relevance for Detroit. I also need to learn how I can navigate the complex web of organizations, interest groups functioning in the space.
I think the next course of action for me is:
* Do more on the ground research (spend more time in Detroit). I have been invited to observe and work with his group in a School in Detroit in early Jan (where kids are learning to become entrepreneurial and also teach kids in lower grades).
* Identify and evaluate the problem I want to address.
* Brainstorm and explore the viability of ideas, which address the problem and can be scalable and sustainable.
December 17, 2012
The Detroit challenge!
When I came to Michigan to study my degree course, I have very little idea about the history of the region.
First through a few conversations, then through the discovery of organizations and groups, and then more talking, I came to know of the gravity of the problem confronting Detroit. I still remember sitting down open-mouthed trying to imagine how a US city could go so wrong. The city has shrunk down to 700,000 in population from over a million a decade ago, entire buildings and neighborhoods are empty and the city could go bankrupt. Wow!
How does a city go bankrupt?
For my part, the educational challenges confronting the city are equally complex and dire. Only 3 out of 10 students make it out of high-school and a sizable number of those that don't end up in prison.
The number of students going to public schools has fallen significantly. There are 40-50 kids per classroom, and the budget to teach them constrained.
These symptoms point to a much deeper problem, and I am trying to understand the background context, so that any idea I come up with is rooted in real life and not idealism or theories.
December 04, 2012
I recently heard a moving story which I thought would be worth sharing. This story was told to me by Nancie Severs at the recently held OLPC San Francisco community summit (olpcsf.org). She has been closely associated with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project initiatives in SE Asia.
Cambodia is a beautiful place. Lush with tropical forests and a coastline, it is a peaceful natural retreat with great people. It's most significant historical site, the Angkor Wat is so prominent, that it is a part of national flag. There is however, one problem; snakes. (okay, there are other problems too).
In the village where there is a small OLPC deployment of a 100 laptops, people routinely get bitten by a variety of poisonous snakes. Normally when a person is bitten, he is not given medical attention, but is instead taken to a witch-doctor. After receiving 'cure' from the witchdoctor, if the person ends up dying, the explanation given is that he was an evil spirit, and the witch-doctors medicine could not have any effect on him because of that.
Seeing this take place, the people running the OLPC project created an exercise for the students in the local school. Armed with little green laptops and internet, they cataloged the different varieties of snakes present in the region, and were given funding to stock the necessary set of antivenoms. The next time a person was bitten, he was administered the medication, so he/she could be taken to the hospital in time. Just last month, they were able to save two lives because of this exercise!
At a macro level, the challenge before us is this. Do we want to see better trained witchdoctors in our future or people who will look past barriers to come up with path-breaking solutions leveraging the power of technology and creative thinking?
December 03, 2012
The power of ideas!
Since ancient times, mankind has progressed on the foundation of great ideas. From the Buddha in the 5th century BC, to the renaissance in Europe, to the information age we are in today, change happens when people challenge assumptions, break barriers, and are not afraid to fail.
I believe we are at the threshold of another such revolution in education. Modern technology has afforded us with tools which we can "think with" rather than stare at a blackboard, or constructionism as opposed to instructionism.
In my work, I want to take cutting edge technology, join them to the "learning by doing" constructionist principles, and put that synthesis at the heart of educational reform.
There are sure to be exciting times ahead in my journey. Stay tuned!
I am a graduate student studying for my Master of Entrepreneurship degree at the University of Michigan. My mission is to revolutionize and democratize education through technology in less advantaged areas of the world. Before joining the program, I have worked in educational projects in Latin America and Australia as a part of the One Laptop Per Child project (which uses a low cost, rugged laptops as an aid to early education).
As part of my degree, I am working in the Detroit region to understand (and hopefully solve) some of the challenges with early education. I am at the stage of figuring out the challenges kids face while learning, and brainstorming solutions based on the principles of "learning by doing". Also, while I am dedicated to my overall mission ,I have yet to focus in on which aspect of education I want to address, and the role (or not) of IT and/or low cost rugged laptops and electronic devices in it.
I find that the most fulfilling aspect of my work is the sense of pride kids feel when they have had the wonderful experience of learning something, or better yet, learning about learning itself!