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Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Place of Learning

Well, yes. I know that's difficult right now. Too many pressures. Not enough alternatives available. And the Governments in the Majority World don't really want their children educated: Why would an educated person vote for the ones that are now in Power.

Learning is something we all do. Every day. From the time we are born to the time we die … though schools do lessen the habit and sometimes completely take it out. The Forces, of course, ask you to leave that habit outside when you join them and make you do whatever the Command says you must. Remember: Enemies become friends and change back into enemies as the Governments feel.

Education may, at one point, have meant the same. In some Universities it still does — though it seems to be changing about who you can invite as guest lecturers. Anyway, that was before Governments altered Histories and ever-changing goals, with no allowances to discuss alternatives or different views. Soon Corporations got on and even started adding books with heavy corporate ideas into the books. What? Well, look at the Math book with 'a little help' from McDonald's.

At my schools (I started mine at 7 years and changed into 4 of them … but for goodish reasons), I was regarded as an average student. I passed my Senior Cambridge in 1956 in the Second Division with one A, five Bs, and an F in one subject.

Most teachers (though I must admit that Messers D'Souza, Nazareth, and Chohan, didn't agree with them) thought I was not a good student at all … while I thought I was being forced to learn subjects that were of no interest to me. I adored Maths, Physics, Literature, Urdu (as a First Language. No, not the Second Language that was really crazy). If the subject was of my interest, I really could do well. If not, it was nearly a Zero …

Part of my loves of these subjects came from my father, Azhar Kidvai, who was a Medical Doctor and an Urdu poet … and even sang reasonably well (something I couldn't do, how hard I may have tried). The love of Maths came from his engineering father, Safdar Ali Kidvai, who changed my near-zeros in that area to an ardent love in the 4 months that he was here for his operation.

My memory was good: I could go to a Mushaérah and come back remembering most of it and recite my favourite shayrs to my mother. But I could not use my memory to learn and regurgitate things that I had no interest in. And that has become the most important thing these days in schools.

My tastes were varied. I loved Music: Western Classical, Eastern Classical, Jazz, and great Pop. I adored films, from the Silent ones to the latest - if they were really good. I worshipped Comics and felt that some of them were like pieces of Art. But I guess they were not — until Joe Sacco appeared!!! I adored books. Read a lot of them. You'll be able to see most of these in a Library that wants to use the books, music, films and more for the public. It should happen in a year, I hope.

In 1957-58 I went to two colleges. Thrown out by the first one in Lahore for reasons that they knew, I joined another one in Karachi … and walked out of an exam, running away (despite being an only child and much loved) to join the Merchant Navy. (More on the walk-out and going ships in another blogpost.) 

Once I became a Junior Officer on the ships, I started to teach Cadets who came from colleges, some even with a degree in Maths. They knew very little … and, invariably told me they'd forgotten most stuff after exams (which had happened less than 6 months before they joined us). I had to teach them Maths and a lot more. Most of them were joining the Merchant Navy to see the world but couldn't pick out countries in a world map. 

I felt that these students, too, had been taught 'wrongly' (like I was) … but how could one say this with any assurance? So I started to try and understand Education and Teaching.

Having read several books from the greats: Russell, Dewey, Piaget, Freire, Kohl, Kohn, Postman, and many many more (see the lists of some of these at the end of this post) … I soon also met the BBC B Computer in January 1982. Wow! Later I also added an Apple IIe. Both went away after I got a Macintosh in 1984.

BBC B Micro

All of these taught me how much Education could be supported by these technologies. So I started a computer company (the first Educational Computing company in Pakistan: Solutions Unlimited, now run as a consultancy by my wife, Nuzhat Kidvai). The computer companies went further ahead. First I opened Enabling Technologies - a multi-medea company (which was later run, independently, by my once-partner Jehan Ara, now heading P@SHA and Nest I/O). Finally, BITS - a venture that began as a collaboration with BSS in Lahore and me in Karachi. Later on the Lahore BITS stopped, because they wanted to continue to serve their Education base.
(Sabeen Mahmud was part of this from the time she was almost 15 years old until a few years later she became my full-time Partner at BITS. I was with her when she formed T2F … and BITS became a net-based consultancy. The day she was assassinated, after a session at T2F where I was also present, our car was only 10 seconds away from her when her mother phoned and said they'd been shot.)
For those who believe having no real Education is terrible,
believe me, it's not!
As long as you get into something you really love.


Having no academic experience, I was called to seminars to speak about Education and my sickness of it having turned into what it now was. I spoke at IBA (Karachi) several times, spoke at several schools, taught at Karachi's Teacher's Resource Centre, went to Apple Conferences, taught teachers from Kuwait at the Melbourne University, attended schools to see what Windows did in Education (almost nothing!) versus Apple that did a lot of what students and I loved. But, of course, Windows machines were cheaper and forced Teachers to teach nothing of Education, except Computer Science, initially. Visited MIT and worked in a Conference that was run by Nicholas Negroponte

I met and worked with Seymour Papert and spent a lot of time with Roger Schank (whom I have had come over to Pakistan many times). At Hakim Saeed Sahab's insistence — he changed the requirement of being a PhD to head a Department and said 'PhD or equivalent' — I headed the first New Media Department in Pakistan at Hamdard U and taught there for three years. The course that I taught, because I insisted that it be vetted, was accepted by a Canadian University as being a good course.

I am a Consultant to Beaconhouse School Systems for who knows how long. I have helped them open up TNS (The New School) and taught teachers there. I also worked with them to start the Beaconhouse National University — which is an NGO and gives them no money, unlike what many people think. The School of Learning has had me for many talking sessions and Cedar College has me on their Board of Advisers.

So it works.
Drop Out if you must.
But do Drop In and love what you do.

My talks at all of these, whether teaching teachers or students, had always included several things that I thought were essential - unlike the people who put their money into building schools (and, often, secretly accepting my views). Here are some of the things I talked about from 1989 to 2009 in my presentations, lectures, workshops …

* Grades are Degrading *

* Let's get back to the One-Classroom Schools *

* Life isn't about 45 minutes for each item —
so why do we have 45 minute periods? *

* Power tends to corrupt,
PowerPoint corrupts them completely. *

* A country's Geography decides its History:
Why two subjects? *

* There should be no Competition. *

* Let children learn by doing. *

* The Story-Based Curriculum is the best bet. *

* Children are different.
Schools want them to be the same. *

I must admit that many feel changing schools to useful places - to teach children how to learn forever and improve their lives - is too difficult to do. This is true because they are pressured by book-selling companies and some amazingly funny educators*, hardware companies that want boxes to be put out, parents who think they know education because they went to a school or college, teachers who think that because they have done this for years they truly understand today's kids (and write stupid reports that always seem to say 'could have done better'), and the ones that only do this for finances: The is why Dr Eqbal Ahmad called such schools "The McDonald's educational equivalent" at a conference in Karachi. (Do visit and learn more about the world.)

We need Parents/Teachers trained about Education/Learning and to understand that they are training children for a future that they know very little about. A child who enters a school today will not have many of the jobs that we work with now when s/he comes out of School or College. In their lives they may even have to change jobs several times and relearn things or understand several new ideas. Many children will drop out of Education to do things that parents couldn't have even thought of. Non-formally educated kids can now go into many major companies if they can do stuff that schools never teach.

Don't forget this: At the end of their school career the child scores an A (actually too many A's, now), having spent days at school and then paying more than the school fees to Tutors. The Schools take out glorious ads saying this is what we did to the students. Baaah … How about placing pictures of the failed kids who were with you for years and this is what you did to them!

The trend that I love most is Microschools. Read this and get to know more about them. It is absolutely essential if you are a parent. Or even a student. While the UK started this, take a look at Brooklyn, NY, where many such schools are happening. Go here.

Recently, thanks to a friend, Jawad Ali, I came across Portfolio-School.  It's a school in New York run by Babur Habib (from Karachi) and Doug Schachtel … and it made my day. I hope to go there and see the school and enjoy myself thoroughly. This would be a great gift to me just after my 78th birthday. You must visit their website. Go there now.

In November we have a great conference in Karachi. It's at the Beach Luxury Hotel, 3rd/4th November. SOT's Conference this time is called The World of the Future - Reimagined. Loads of people are coming in from worldwide as well as Pakistan (and India, too, if they get their Visas). They'll look at how the world is shaping up in all directions, discuss numerous subjects, and the impact that they'll have in the future of Education, as well.

And Babur Habib will be there, too.

Some SOT Conference details are here for you. The following five, broadly-overlapping dimensions will be explored:
* A Symbiotic Future (focal points: artificial intelligence in governance, fourth industrial revolution, effects of technology on concepts of gender, human sexuality & reproduction)

* A Balanced Future (focal points: sustainable economic development, environment and climate change, gender, minorities, the end of poverty and the future of humanity)

* An Expressive Future (focal points: art as a universal language, the role of visual and performing arts in effecting change, global vs. local languages, freedom of expression)

* An Inclusive Future (focal points: unity through diversity, inclusion of the economically disadvantaged, learning differences, gender bias in education, sports and other pursuits, non-binary gender issues, barriers for change)

* An Unknown Future (focal points: safe learning spaces, personal security and data security, navigating a world increasingly under surveillance, new directions in science)


Go to Amazon and look for these people.
There'll be tons of books by them that you'll love.

Finally, a couple of interesting notes for you.

* Book Publish Companies
An Educator

Just a couple of small thoughts. Roger Schank and I were discussing (after the first SOT Conference) the possible future of today's schools. Both were against what the schools taught. We thought they should end soon if we can get around the pressures. The Head of a major publishing company in Pakistan was with us and said this is a ridiculous idea. What would her company do? As if we had put up schools to ensure that her company succeeds over what children needed.

She also added that children would get to talk to each other in schools (not that they don't in their mohallās!) … and I though that if they ever did that in the class, the teacher would ask them to shut up, since it "is not a playing field. Break is the time …"

The same night we had a dinner at the host's house where I asked a really senior, fully qualified, educator (who was about to head a University shortly) if he ever needed Pythagora's Theorem in his everyday life — since he thought Roger's idea was stupid. He said "yes; I always do."

This was (not verbatim but almost accurately) his answer: Whenever I come to a triangular patch in a field where I could go straight and then turn right to get to my destination, I think of the Pythagora's Theorem and work out that it would be easier to cross the patch at an angle because it would be shorter. (Hmmm!)

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