Education

Mid-Year Update

Field Trip

It has been nearly six months since I moved to India for the IDEX Fellowship in Social Enterprise. Since then, I’ve been serving in a consulting role to an affordable private school (APS). My foremost goals have been to design and implement sustainable programs for the school, and to gain a better overall understanding of the challenges in low-income communities and the social enterprise market in India. So, what have I been working on here?

India's Independence Day

I’ve spent significant time just settling in to India and observing how my school works. I wrote this post on my first impressions of APS. I sat in on classes, spoke with teachers, students, parents, and administration. And I read a lot about innovations in education, low-income education, and social enterprise in India. My fellowship provided us with speaker sessions about social enterprise and trainings from organizations like J-PAL on impact assessment and theory of change.

One major challenge I’ve faced is that I’ve jumped a bit from project idea to project idea. Some of my initial concepts for projects–such as a school expansion for a playground and an assessment of APS through surveying alumni–weren’t feasible given financial, time, and resource constraints. Other ideas either didn’t make sense for the school or for my goals here, or partnerships fell through. The initial observation phase was vital in coming up with project ideas, but I continue to learn new things about how my school and the local community functions all the time which changes the feasibility of projects or what projects I want to focus on. And many hurdles weren’t realized until plans for implementation were put in place.

Career TrainingI did implement a number of small-scale projects, such as Design for Change and coordinating a health camp and a career training. As a secondary assignment for my Fellowship, I’ve also become a contributing writer for the great team at YourStory.in.

Right now, I’m focusing on several priority projects for the remainder of my fellowship.

One project is a very exciting mobile phones pilot with two major education and education technology companies in India. The pilot will test students on a subject weekly and provide performance feedback to parents and teachers. But the novel component is that the program will be used on mobile phones that the families already own for a very minimal cost (no hand-outs of expensive new technology), and it’s a brand new pilot. We’ve held initial meetings with the two pilot schools, parents, and students, and plan to launch at the end of January.

Previously, I wrote about my interest in learning more about India’s unbanked, and how that might improve school fees payment. I’m still very interested in this concept, but have found it difficult to identify and secure partner organizations for a savings and/or financial education program, with school resource constraints and lack of local partners being major impediments. With my fellowship working group, we’re still in the process of trying to build a partnership between a financial education program and APS in Hyderabad.

Another major focus is my work for a forthcoming report on educational tablets and technology in low-income schools in India. This report is based on a tablets pilot at APS in Hyderabad and field research we conducted. The report will provide a lot of new insights into the market of low-income educational technology users in India.

I’m also hoping to help my school purchase and install internet access for their computer lab, after which I will train teachers and students on how to use and take advantage of the endless resources for education on the internet. I’ve also worked on a test-taking and study skills lesson plan for teachers and students, since such skills as multiple choice strategy aren’t taught at these schools, yet passing 10th class state exams is vital for every student.

IDEX Fellowship

This doesn’t nearly encompass the many things I’ve learned, tried, implemented, or thought about during my first six months here, but it’s an overview of my work thus far. I have three more months to implement and wrap up my key projects before the end of my fellowship. Overall, this experience has been invaluable in allowing me to have an entrepreneurial experience in a developing economy, to spend significant time researching and learning, and to better understand the roadblocks in designing and implementing social enterprise projects in India.

My thoughts on the affordable private schools model are being reserved for a future post.

Teachers and technology in the classroom

This article covers a lot of issues I’ve been thinking about lately. I thought I’d highlight my favorite points from the article here until I find time to write down some of my own thoughts and observations from exploring education technology opportunities for low-income schools in India

Pure technology based learning has been proven to be a disappointment, to be used exclusively only in places where teachers are not available at all. Human intervention has proven essential for learning, especially when it comes to higher order skills. The internet or offline units of knowledge are useful for sharing information, preparing the student for the lesson and of course for testing. True learning needs the teacher to engage, curate and facilitate the conversation. 

The training and support of teachers as they adopt current ICT systems into their classrooms is critical to the success. If rolled out before proper training and traction, it is very likely that the technology will lie unused and will not thus impact learning outcomes.

 

Technology is supposed to be the great leveller, but in India there is quite a journey that must be completed before we reach that stage. Technology based support systems are currently available to the well to do, both at school and at home. The have nots, who suffer a lack of mentors and teachers at home are pushed further back as the tech resources are  expensive – both to buy and run. Having said that, where the system or the government has provided computers and internet to children at schools, various innovative learning tools such as class blogs have become successful tools for embedding learning via sharing. 

An interesting question that has not been asked is whether this technology would make the teacher lazy using the same materials year on year? Entirely possible – as it is possible with content created by others. But this is a fear that has not been realised yet. Most teachers are more comfortable with their own materials. Even if they are guided by another person’s test or presentation, they prefer to create their own. It is this that troubles vendors who find that their research and design efforts may or may not actually be used on the floor of the class. 

This is probably because, so far, the technology inputs have come from the suppliers. Unless the lead is taken by the teachers who demand what they need, the impact is going to be sub-optimal. Suppliers too would be happy to be guided to meet the right demand. It is up to the teachers to not settle for what the salesman supplies and to demand the tech that works for them, this building a partnership with the suppliers to invest in building the future of education. 

Teachers and technology in the classroom

“Our education system is a key reason for our lack of skills in collaborating effectively. This is now out of sync with today’s world of work. We do not emphasize collaborative skills and teamwork much in education, from K-12 to high school to college. It is an afterthought, it seems. Learning how to work well with others should be as important as learning math or accounting.”

Morten Hansen in this great article on cheating at Harvard

Atma: Strengthening the Education Sector in India

My article for SocialStory on YourStory.in. 

NGOs are coming up with some of the best low-cost, high-quality solutions to improve the quality of education in India. While these NGOs are experts in the education space, many lack the organizational management support they require to have maximum impact. Some NGOs may need to design a long-term strategic plan, while others may require new human resources processes. They also need a venue to collaborate with other organizations working in education.

Atma, a Mumbai-based NGO, fills this niche by providing capacity building consulting and volunteer staff support to education organizations in India. In addition, Atma facilitates collaboration between organizations in India’s education sector. Hayley (Lee) Bolding and Adrienne van Dok— two young women from Australia and the Netherlands who initially came to India as AISEC interns—founded Atma in 2007. They saw a need for professional assistance for NGOs, and built the organization around a vision for quality education for all children in India. Executive Director Mary Ellen Matsui joined Atma in 2008, originally as a volunteer working with an education NGO in Mumbai.

Atma works with partner organizations—high-potential NGOs open to change and already delivering high-quality service. Atma’s goal in identifying partners is to understand each organization as a whole—its history, successes, challenges, and team members. The chemistry between the organization and Atma’s staff is essential to a successful partnership. “Fit is really critical,” says Matsui. Partners work in the education space whether they are a school or providing additional services in the field of education. Atma’s current partners include MimaansaMuskan Foundation, New Resolution India,Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC)Avanti FellowsMasoom,  and Foundation for Mother and Child Health (FMCH).

After selecting a partner organization, Atma identifies areas for improvement in the organization, and then teams the partner with Atma volunteers to help implement agreed-upon solutions. “We have their best interest in mind and understand what they are looking for. We help them and hold them to the agenda that they set” explains Matsui. To assess impact, Atma uses a life-stage survey on organizational and behavioral change, starting at the beginning of the partnership. They evaluate their partners throughout the consulting process.

Atma gives 1200 hours a year to each partner says Matsui. In 2011-2012, Atma provided 7929 total service hours to Atma Partners. Atma’s model is unique among similar capacity building organizations due to their high-touch model through their volunteers.

Their volunteer program is the centerpiece of their work. Atma volunteers are full-time, unpaid professionals, and often individuals looking to shift to development work from the corporate sector. Atma looks for professionals who can provide one-on-one expert support to the partner organization for a period of three months on a specific aspect of a long-term project. Volunteers typically stay in India or the sector after their volunteer experience. Atma partners hired 10 volunteers for permanent positions, one volunteer started their own social enterprise, and four volunteers joined Atma’s permanent staff. Atma has hosted 120 volunteers from 29 countries, while it maintains a staff of 10.

To facilitate connections between their partners and create more dialogue about education problems and solutions, Atma brings their partners and others in the education space together to collaborate on issues affecting the sector. They recently held a mobile technology discussion and workshop for their partners, featuring a panel of organizations using mobile technology in education. Atma hopes these sessions will result in collaboration and inspiration among Atma partners and outside organizations. “I want more than anything to see that we’ve been able to establish a network and meaningful conversation among education professionals. People are really exchanging, learning, growing, and doing innovative things because they see others doing it,” says Matsui.

Capacity building support is an increasingly popular service for NGOs and social enterprises globally, but Atma stands out for its commitment to education organizations in India. “Atma is unique in that though our services could be provided to other organizations in the social sector, we’re really focused on education and bringing together more of our partners to create a movement for higher quality education in India” says Matsui.

Learn more about Atma and how to become a partner or volunteer here, or visit their page on YourStory.in pages

Atma: Strengthening the Education Sector in India

Understanding India’s Unbanked Parents

The Problem

Through my placement at an affordable private school (APS) in Hyderabad, I’ve learned that timely and full payment of school fees is one of the universal challenges in virtually every APS. These schools rely solely on monthly and term fees—typically between $5 and $20 per month—to pay their bills. Many schools struggle to maintain financial sustainability because fees aren’t paid in full or on time. School owners use a number of mechanisms to attempt better fee collection including discounts or other leniencies, incentives, and regular journal and SMS reminders. Because school owners and administrative staff are so entrenched with the community, they have a difficult time not providing fee payment extensions and discounts to their neighbors. If school fees aren’t paid by exam time, students are forced to sit out of class or exams, which affects student learning and progress. One mother, a maid, recently mentioned to me that her two children missed a whole week of school because she couldn’t pay fees. While some parents have the money and simply don’t pay on time, most parents are truly struggling to meet school fees payments.

Parents are unable to pay school fees on time for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons is that many parents are daily laborers that live with unpredictable and irregular low wages, which makes paying school fees in a bulk amount at the same time every month difficult. There may be other less known reasons for late fee payment as well, including lack of parent accountability. [1] Stories about fathers having money to pay fees but instead spending it on alcohol are not unheard of. School owners also tell of the phenomenon of parents not paying fees at one school until the school kicks them out, then going to another school in the area, not paying fees there, and continuing the cycle.

Background Research

In trying to determine the root causes of the school fee payment problem, and how to develop potential solutions, I’ve developed an interest in better understanding low-income finances including spending and savings practices. I’ve since learned that India has the largest unbanked population in the world—145 million households. [2] Despite this fact and the common notion of “but how can the poor save if they don’t have money,” research from 2007 shows that 81 percent of Indian households do save in some form. [3

I’m currently reading the book Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day, which helpfully describes the spending and saving mechanisms of the world’s poorest populations, including households in India. The book explains that low-income households use a complicated mix of a variety of financial mechanisms, from microfinance and loans to “shoebox savings” to bank accounts. Looking at cash flow alone is insufficient when examining the finances of low-income households because many households use non-financial assets as a form of money and savings. One problem for low-income populations is that incomes are not just low, but irregular and unpredictable, and there are not enough financial instruments to effectively manage the uneven flow. This issue causes a cyclical problem of unpredictable finances in low-income communities. For example, it directly affects school fee payments, resulting in the same problem for the schools, which in turn are unable to predict cash flow or pay salaries on time for teachers and staff, whom live in the same community and whose children attend the same school.

I also recently met with someone who has worked in financial inclusion in India for years. She explained that contrary to common perception that low-income populations are financially illiterate, finances and financial decisions play an important role in their daily lives, making them very financial literate and aware. However, low-income populations do lack awareness of the financial products available to them and perceive saving accounts as not applicable to them at their income level.  She argued that for these reasons, instead of calling trainings and awareness efforts “financial literacy,” we should call them “financial education” or “product awareness.”

In addition, she explained that research with low-income populations has determined that the term “savings account” turns off low-income individuals because they perceive these accounts to be for more wealthy individuals. But low-income households will use “commitment accounts” because the concept and name resonates with them more. Commitment savings accounts are essentially the same as any other low-income savings account option (usually a No Frills Account with a zero or low balance minimum), where customers are encouraged to save for a particular goal.

First-Hand Accounts

To further understand the major stakeholders in this issue—the parents that pay school fees—I held a meeting with a dozen parents who were at my school for parent-teacher meetings. With the help of a friend who translated in Telugu and Hindi, I asked the parents a series of questions in informal conversation on their saving habits.

Of the dozen parents, only a couple had formal saving practices with a bank or otherwise. The most impressive parent, a Muslim mother of two who had passed Class 10, spoke of the multiple savings plans they have for their children including land ownership and a life insurance plan, which they learned to set up through a government employee relative. They aren’t wealthier than others in the community—she is a housewife and her husband works on a dairy farm—but they make decisions on a daily basis to prioritize their child’s education over their lifestyle, such as foregoing meat for dinner in order to save for monthly school fees. Another father mentioned putting savings away in order to pay fees on time. While there is not enough data or examination of other factors to determine a correlation, the parents who saved regularly expressed no problem in paying fees in full or on time, and also had children with higher grades at school.

The other parents lacked a general knowledge of the savings options available to them, thought that their income was too low to save, or only saved by putting some money aside in the equivalent of a shoebox. Some of the parents less aware of savings options were mothers who were housewives or maids who didn’t finish school past Class 8.

All the parents I spoke with were interested in learning about saving options for their children, especially in regard to long-term savings for college and the future. Just the fact that I was asking them questions related to their savings practices was enough to spark their interest.

Finding Solutions

As part of a working group of fellows, we are currently examining several potential solutions to address the unbanked parents and school fees issues. I believe that these issues are intertwined, and if we can encourage savings awareness and practice among parents, regular school fee payment can increase and schools will become more financially sustainable.

We’ve explored a few options, including financial education courses held at the school, and the potential of offering child savings accounts linked to APS. I created this graphic below for an assignment for my fellowship, which outlines my theory of change thought process (based on several major and unconfirmed assumptions) for how child savings accounts for low-income households could lead to better quality education in India and eventually help break the cycle of poverty.

If you have experience or expertise on this issue, I would love to hear from you and exchange ideas. 

[1] If this is an accurate assessment, it is an important counter-argument to James Tooley’s notion that APS “are the solution.” Tooley’s main argument for why APS work is because schools and teachers are accountable to parents. But this line of reasoning ignores the accountability factor for the parents and that accountability does in fact need to work both ways for APS to provide quality education. My thoughts on this are for a different post.

[2] “From Social Banking to Financial Inclusion: Understanding the Potential for                             Financial Services Innovation in India,” Eric Tyler, Anjana Ravi, Sunil Bhat, Minakshi Ramji, and Anjaneyulu Ballem, October 2012

[3] “From Social Banking to Financial Inclusion: Understanding the Potential for                             Financial Services Innovation in India”

Can Money Solve India’s Education Woes?

In this essay, the author asks “Can an increase in allocation in the education budget, guarantee better quality of education?”

Her view on unemployability is something I’m also concerned with when it comes to education in India and around the world. Addressing this problem doesn’t necessarily mean that schools need have career development and training for children, but they certainly need to teach soft skills that make individuals more employable. 

From the piece:

“However, there is a limit to the impact that fiscal favours from the government can have on quality education.

While for many, education is about learning, knowledge sharing, and a guide to building dreams, the majority of the Indian population cannot afford this luxury. For some, education, however little it may be, means employment. For the rest, education and employment are two distinct entities, where employment trumps education.  This is not a problem that a bigger education budget can solve. Unemployment is an issue that needs to be tackled independently.

Ironically, the issue here is not unemployment, but unemployability. In 2011, a daily national reported, “India has the largest, youngest population in the world. But it is also the most unemployable population as it lacks the work skills that can make it employable.”6 This is an issue that is not explained by polarised school fees.  Rather, it questions the very quality of the education system. Many students desire to, and need to learn skills that would provide them with the aptitude for a profession. The Indian education system in its endeavour to imprint facts and jargon upon young learners, under the impression that the gift of memory is akin to the gift of breathing, and out of rote learning rises the educated mind, has forgotten the significance of skills in the real world.  There are thousands who consider vocational practices more worthwhile than history, chemistry and geography. Once again, this issue cannot be fixed by higher funds. Development of skills includes imparting technical and vocational education, which includes structured apprenticeships, and other enterprise-based trainings.7 The government-funded National Skill Corporation has not yet implemented its mission in schools, where the educative system must be reformed to include and give equal, if not more importance, to skills development.

Quality education is more than just a building with desks, tables and teachers. A quality education means ensuring that children are capable and learned, not just literate. A quality education means having quality teachers who not only utilise available tools creatively and are interested in teaching, but who also encourage the children to remain interested in being taught.  For the poorest of the poor, a quality education would mean learning a skill that would teach them enough to start something on their own or use that skill to find a job. A quality education for special children would mean learning enough to help them manage as much as possible without constant dependence. A quality education for children with learning disabilities would be something that would guide them patiently till they feel confident enough to be productive by themselves. A quality education for many others would be an unbreakable moulding to build their dreams on. And what underlies a quality education for all these children from different socio-economic and emotional backgrounds is the ability to sustain the interest in being taught, the curiosity to know more, the belief that education is helpful,  and the determination to come to school to learn every day.”

Can Money Solve India’s Education Woes?

Design for Change Lessons Learned

As part of my job working with an affordable private school, I helped run Design for Change, an international competition that provides youth the opportunity to use design thinking to create a better world, using the concept of “I can.” Working with a group of 8th and 9th class students, we visited an old age home and held a rally in the school and community raising awareness about taking care of the elderly. 

The entire process reminded me of a few important principals of collaboration and management. 

Work in Small Groups: I’m a big fan of wide-scale collaboration, but for certain situations, in-depth brainstorming and collaboration is better in a small group. At first I tried to facilitate a brainstorming session with the entire 8th class of 40 students, only to be met with disinterest and chaos. Once we brought the number down to a group of 6 for initial brainstorming, and 15 for implementation, it was easier to manage and more productive, for the students and for me. We missed the valuable perspectives and participation of the other students, but I had the core group of students regularly present their findings and activities to the whole class to keep them involved in the process. 

People do listen to the naysayer: After a long conversation of brainstorming and coming up with a great solution for child labor awareness, one student argued that our idea wouldn’t work and that we should choose a different one. I tried to explain the concepts of “I can” and trying something that could fail, but the message was already lost and the other students quickly also decided that their idea would be impossible. We went back to the drawing board and came up with another great issue, but I was disappointed that one naysayer would easily change the hopes and perspective of the group. 

Let there be awkward silence: As the students worked to come up with slogans for their rally, they were having trouble generating ideas. There was a lot of awkward silence. Breaking the silence, one student jokingly sang a slogan to the tune of a famous Telugu song. The students laughed, but I encouraged them to try adding lyrics. There was a lot more awkward silence, the students being too shy and hesitant to go down this path. But less than ten minutes later, they had one full song and wanted to write two more. There is a tendency to fear the awkward silence moments in collaboration, but letting them happen allowed for creativity and forward-movement. 

Facilitate, don’t micromanage: I’m not the best at being hands-off when managing projects and people (though it’s something I recognize and constantly try to work on). Since this was a project for students to take action, not adults, I tried to be as hands-off as possible. When the students would ask me what to do next, I would turn the question back to them, and they almost always had an answer. Constantly asking for help with what to draw or write, I wouldn’t give them much of an answer even though I had my own ideas. They created great posters and slogans all on their own. They didn’t need my help in ideation or implementation (even though they thought they did), only to facilitate meeting times and liaise with school management. There are times when it’s important to be more hands-on as a manager, but I rightly identified this as an opportunity to be more hands-off, and the project and participants were better off for it. 

A little support goes a long way: The students I worked with aren’t often encouraged to think critically or creatively, and never work on projects where they are in the driver seat from idea to implementation. Throughout the process I made sure to emphasize that they could do whatever they wanted because it was their project, and I trusted them. They soon became so excited about the project that they eagerly stayed after school multiple days,  asked me to come in on my days off, and worked on days that I didn’t even come to the school. All it took was an introduction to the opportunity and a show of support, encouragement, and trust in their abilities, and the students really ran with the project and made it their own. 

Here is a Prezi overview of Design for Change at my school, with photos and videos.

“Everybody wants to be in the education space but almost all of them are trying to replicate an existing model rather than understanding the fundamentals of learning in a new setting. We want to make a difference and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. The biggest opportunity is in India. If you can make it work here then it definitely becomes competitive and the model can be definitely used anywhere else. I encourage people go out there and have fun.”

Vaidyanatha, CEO & Founder, Classle in YourStory.in

EduStars

On August 25, I attended the YourStory.in and Accel Partners EduStars event in Bangalore, highlighting the top nine education technology startups in India.

The main speakers, experienced in venture capital and large education technology companies, offered a number of insights about how to succeed as an education start-up and entrepreneur. 

  • Entrepreneurs try to do too much and make things too complicated. They do not spend enough time looking at the pain point they are trying to fix. 
  • One speaker told of visiting a school that had just been donated boxes of computers, but the school didn’t even know how to set them up or what to do with them. The point of the story is that it takes more than throwing technology at education. Furthermore, the schools and staff need to understand the value of technology in education. 
  • Many times we are trying to fit our solutions to problems instead of identifying and understanding the problem first. We should also try to identify larger problems to work with—think big.  
  • The majority of the panelists recommended a business (education company) to business (school), and business to business to consumer (parents/children), distribution channel for education technology as opposed to business to consumer. One of the reasons is that if the school recommends or requires a product, then the parents are more likely to buy it than on their own.
  • If not going the business to business route, creativity in distribution is essential. Partnerships and bundling are great options. One panelists was very successful at selling his education product, a CDROM, by bundling it to be sold with Rin laundry soap. The majority of the time, the mother is the one that oversees her child’s education. She is also the one going to the store to buy laundry soap. Bundling the product with the something every mother uses regularly provides more visibility and chances of purchase. 
  • Technology entrepreneurs need to remember that PC penetration in Indian homes is still only at around 5%.

Following the panel of experts, the top nine startups pitched their product and the top three were chosen by the panel of judges. You can find an overview of the startups featured here

I enjoyed the event overall given my interests in education, startups, and venture capital. My main concern, worth another post entirely, is that many edtech products are not accessible or realistic for low-income schools and communities. While the companies featured were primarily targeting a US market or higher education in India, there is a huge market for impactful edtech in low-income communities, if some clever entrepreneurs and politicians can figure out how to make their products accessible to that market in addition to making access to internet and technology-accomodating infrastructure possible.  

I also noticed the lack of compelling stories and pitches by the founders, most of whom are engineers. Anyone experienced in pitch and public speaking training should immediately begin offering their services.

First Impressions: Affordable Private Schools in India

India, Kenya, and several other countries have a unique type of school that serves low-income communities – affordable private schools (APSs). Due to poor quality public education, APSs serve a community that would otherwise attend a government school but cannot afford a higher quality private school. These schools charge a fee in the range of $5-$15 per month per student—the school’s only income—and are therefore more accountable to their customers (the parents and students). Technically registered as NGOs, because they are run like businesses that serve a social purpose, they are considered part of the social enterprise space. In Hyderabad, India, there is a robust network of 2,500 affordable private schools. There are approximately 73,000 APSs across India. 

As a fellow, I will be working with an APS in a more rural, slum area of Secunderabad. The school serves 531 students with 20 teachers in a small building with 10 classrooms, 3 donated computers (no internet), a small library, 3 toilets, and no playground or common area. I will be working on a variety of projects including improving fee collection and accounting, implementing student extracurricular programs, and other school management issues. I’ve been able to visit two other APSs so far, and will certainly visit more throughout the year. The two other schools I’ve seen varied widely from each other and my school – ranging from 800 students, a variety of after-school activities, play areas, and smart technology classrooms, to classrooms with no doors or walls and no teacher to oversee sports despite access to a field. Parents of students at all three schools, and APSs in general, are primarily daily wage laborers such as rickshaw drivers, fruit stand owners, and maids. 

Issues facing APSs in India include lack of: funding, qualified teachers, oversight, and transparency. They also face major competition from other APSs and government schools. In one case so far, there were two APSs across the street from each other, with similar fees, but one school had much nicer facilities and significantly more marketing. Other issues are similar to those that face all schools including lack of creative outlets and critical thinking in the classroom. 

My fellowship is funded and managed by Gray Matters Capital (GMC), which works with the APS community in a number of ways including rating the schools and programs, providing greater transparency. GMC is also associated with the Indian School Finance Company (ISFC), which provides loans (at a high interest rate) to APS school owners. Both organizations have a growing and powerful influence in the APS space throughout India. 

I’m interested in visiting both a private school and a government school for further comparison. I’m also eager to begin working on improving my school’s ability to serve its community. 

This is a funny and interesting TED Talk by Indian education scientist Sugata Mitra. He explores self-teaching and why teachers and schools don’t necessarily need to exist. One of the most important take-aways is that self-teaching only works when the kids work and collaborate with each other as opposed to individually learning. The process of talking through and exploring issues together is how the students retain information and problem-solve. 

How to Educate More Creative Problem-Solvers

Merck on science education in HBR

We must inspire students to find value in pursuing a career in science. K-12 science education has traditionally focused on memorizing discrete facts rather than understanding larger concepts and how they are connected to one another to create the exciting “big ideas.” Likewise, laboratory experiences have focused on following stepwise procedures (like scientific methods) rather than emphasizing on how to organize mass amounts of information in a clear construct to solve complex science problems. The process-driven approach currently relied on in schools can lead to excessive focus on one aspect of science. Integrative thinking, on the other hand, reveals how various questions intersect, helps students understand the broader picture, and prepares them to address larger challenges.

Strong science teaching supports learning in all subjects, since science provides a foundation for the development of language, logic, and problem-solving skills. Science instruction that mirrors the way scientists do their work also motivates students to pursue science as a career.

How to Educate More Creative Problem-Solvers