Monday, November 26, 2007

Our Manifesto

It is generally accepted that the amount of education and the quality of education one has directly affect the quality of life one can have. Educated people are in a better position to influence the course of their own lives as well as of their communities; the educated are healthier and less vulnerable, and have a better chance of improving the quality of their lives, not just from one generation to the next, but even within their own lifetime.

We today live in a complex world that has been forged out of the efforts of countless men and women, out of conflict, convergence and synthesis between millions of varied forces in all parts of the world and in all periods of our history. This is a world that contains innumerable political and economic systems, numerous languages and cultures, and an infinite number of opinions, perspectives, and value systems.

And the world continues to get more complex, and changes more and more every day. An important implication of this fact is that every year, millions of children go out into this increasingly complex world to live as well as they can, even when they have no training for this world.

The serious deprivation causes not just millions of unhappy lives, but also has economic and political costs for the society as a whole.

Also, education today needs to be not just a simple curriculum, but an opportunity to gain exposure to the world and its complexities. That, after all, is the essential minimum goal of education: to equip children with the skills of reading, writing, and understanding the basics of all sciences and disciplines, and, most importantly, with the ability to learn, so that they can cope with the demands life makes on them and also have a life that can cope with their demands.

The education system in place in most parts of the world is unable to meet these requirements even partially, and we are faced with the prospect of millions of unsatisfactory lives. We believe this deprivation has serious consequences and must be ended as soon as possible.
The problems we address

  • Not enough schools or teachers

  • Schools are ill-equipped

  • Teachers refuse to teach in rural areas

  • Even teachers tend to lag behind without new training

  • Textbooks are not updated often enough, and are boring

  • Students have very little to learn from: no more than ten books in an entire year

  • Students typically have only books to learn from in school, and no other learning resources elsewhere.

What we have observed

  • At present, beyond 6-10 dull, small textbooks in a year, children have nothing to learn from.
  • Children’s capacity for learning is unlimited, but they can only learn from the materials we make available.
  • In a typical Indian school textbook, the ratio of concept to illustration probably stands at less than one illustration for 20 concepts “taught”. The efficacy and relevance of the illustrations is rarely of a standard that will appeal to children.
  • Children have wide individual differences in terms of how they learn, what type of examples work, and so on. The limited number of examples and illustrations means that a certain example will work for some children--for the others there is no second chance (an extra example, an additional illustration.) to learn the same concept. Instead of simply deciding what children should learn and in what order, we also end up controlling what they should learn with, leading to total failure in imparting education.
  • Many educated people wish to contribute to the places they come from, the schools or villages they grew up in.
  • Considerable charitable effort by such people is already in place. However, in each individual instance, the wheel is reinvented, and considerable effort is wasted in each village, each donor learning what is needed and how it can be accomplished.
  • Many people who would like to help but would find it easier to spend time rather than money are unable to contribute, as there is no convenient way of sharing one’s expertise and experience with students who are far away, and schools that are isolated.

Our proposal

In order to meet this goal we propose that the following policies / measures be considered essential:

  • Not learning should no more be considered the fault of the child: all failures expose the weaknesses of our own education and teaching, and not the children’s ability or interest in learning.
  • In order to make up for the current lack of skilled teachers, esp. in rural areas where they are scarce, a paradigm shift in the way education is implemented should be effected: those who have education should be allowed to teach.
  • The educated must educate—a valuable resource must be utilized.
  • Education should be the result of a collaboration between local rural communities, non-profit organizations working at the grassroots levels, and educated people.

What we can do

  • Make quality education non-localized

  • Access to highly competent teachers from anywhere in the world

  • Quality study materials for students anywhere in the world

  • Make education enjoyable and relevant for students

  • Start a community where anyone can contribute their ideas and experiences in teaching, forming an intense and extensive knowledge base of teaching methods and policies. Since the majority of school teachers work in isolation today, this platform will revolutionize the way and the extent to which we think about education.