Notes from Industry-Academia Panel Discussion at UX India 2015

A few weeks ago (last month to be precise) I was a part of a panel discussion at the UX India 2015 conference called Industry-Academia Fusion. The panelists were people from the Industry and Academia. There were a lot of discussions, deliberations and talking about the situation as it stands. It was a very interesting discussion, that brought upon many points that were critical to Design Education in India.  As someone who has spent quite a few years in the industry and then moved to the academia, I have been able to understand both perspectives and am often voicing my opinions from different sides.

A common concern amongst many people who hire designers, is that the quality of students graduating is not adept, or the industry has to train them on certain skills before they could get onto a project. Why is this so?  Is it even a justified demand from the industry? 

If we look at the early days of UX in India, there was always a certain amount of time given to fresh graduates to adapt the needs of the industry. A lot of the managerial people in the UX would not come from formal studies in UX, for the field did not exist then. It is only over the past 10 years that the discipline has seen more graduate programs being offered. The demand side has risen considerably too. 

Industry lead academia or academia led industry

A question that I am often found discussing with my peers is whether industry has become impatient or has the academia started to just fulfil the ‘demand’ of the industry? So the classic question then follows : Should the Industry lead the academics or should the academics lead the industry? You could be a proponent of either of the thought, but it is something that is currently at the helm of how design is taught at the institutes today.  

If you look at business schools they follow the former, whereas traditionally design schools have followed the later. 

But with the rise in “live projects”, internships, industry projects, placements driven curriculum, it is almost as if the notion of Design education is getting limited to precisely what the industry wants. 

A good example given by panelist was that of the US where a lot of the Academic research was used by industry to progress. Which meant that it was the academia leading the industry. It was here that the industry would set up research centres in colleges to new technology, research, innovation etc and then use that research to come up with industry ready products. 

In India, however the notion of research itself is not very prominent. Design schools are hardly encouraged to work on research. The culture of research is non-existent. Very few research papers get written. One way of changing that should be to encourage all faculty to write papers, articles and get involved in research. That is the true value quotient of any school. 

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It is well known and should be clear that design education cannot adopt the same ways of working as an engineering or management education.  So it can therefore never be the about the numbers and having too many students at a point of time. Design education is different because one has to pay special attention to the individual learning capacities. Someone could be a fast learner, someone could learn slowly. Courses need to be ‘designed’ in a manner that it encourages the learning. 

Speaking of learning, schools and colleges today need to rebuild themselves as centres of learning and not as training centres. While training is a short term thing, learning is a life-long process.

Academia and Industry should be different but work together
Even though there exists some difference in both, it is important that the academia and industry work together on certain aspects. Design education has multiple aspects to it. 

It is important to understand on what parameters are the graduates evaluated when they are interviewing for jobs or pitching for projects. As a good design school, it should be imperative that there is ample focus on these to prepare someone better for the industry.  One is the skill building (which is often evaluated by the portfolios of designers), second is the creativity quotient (which is evaluated by how innovative the designs are) and third is the critical thinking (which is hardly given importance during recruitment). 

How does the Industry engage with academia

A common misconception with the people from industry is that the only way someone can get associated with the academia is to teach by giving up your job. Well, if they were doing that, then the role of the academics would be lost. There are other ways in which one can engage with the academia. I am mentioning a few of them. 

  1. Intensive workshops on topics that are contemporary and relevant (Demand full attention of students by not having classes parallely)
  2. Float Long projects that the students can work on with the faculty at the Design School. (Make sure you pay the school for their efforts on this. Make your intentions clear when it comes to what you are going to do with the final results? Will the student and school also have any role to play in the IP that is created through the project ? Who owns the IP?
  3. Take guest lectures highlighting the work at the companies and its success by design
  4. Float short term projects (always engage in short-term projects first before a long project
  5. Hire students as interns (make it a compulsory part of your company)
  6. Find time to give back to Design colleges by mentoring students and making them aware about Design professionalism.

I would love to hear more from you on how you can encourage the industry and academia to create better learning experiences for the students.

Creating the Learning Revolution

As a part of my work, I have got more involved with education than never before. I truly feel connected with it. It seems to be the calling. I also have got a more closer chance to be working with education across the system at different levels. Right from the primary schools to the high schools to college education and the after college training to create skilled professionals. The stakes on education are high. As we pride on a nation that has the highest youth population in the world, we also hold the dubious distinction of having a huge number of unemployable graduates.

You may wonder, where does the problem lie? Is it in the colleges that often end up teaching only theory and not have their students work on projects; or is the problem elsewhere.? Why do companies have to spend a fortune in training their newly joined employees? Can this be taken care of at the college level itself.

Once you start analysing in a bit more detail, you realise that the problem is not just at the college level, but in the whole system, and problem can trickle down all the way up to Primary school education. There is a requirements for a complete overhaul in the way Primary Education is delivered in India. Through different channels, I have been exploring how this can be done. From getting associated with schools as an Advisor, to also conducting workshops and seminars;  I am trying it all.

Image from Happy Horizons Trust
Image from Happy Horizons Trust

But there is a need for more people to get into education. From the creation of the content to the delivery. When you get into the system you also realise that the problems are aplenty with a lot of the stakeholders. The notion of good teachers is reduced considerably. What was once considered a profession to be proud of, is today often looked down upon. In my opinion, if there is one profession that truly deserves the respect its due, it is education.

Watch this insightful talk by one of my favourite Sir Ken Robinson, on why we need to create a Learning Revolution.

The Goa Project 2015 talk

Over the past few years, nothing has driven me more than to be working in the field of Design Education. Whenever I get an opportunity, I try to talk about it and share my viewpoints and love to hear thoughts both from educationists and industry practitioners on how it can improve/change.

Here are the slides from my talk today at The Goa Project 2015.

I spoke on Design Education in India and shared my viewpoints on what are the things that design education needs to do. It was an interesting experiences sharing the views and engaging in discussions with people over the talk and the break thereafter.

A quick summary of the presentation are with these points :

  1. Design education in India is going through a transition
  2. There’s a huge supply -demand gap number of graduates and industry requirements
  3. There are more people ‘designing’ stuff than ever before
  4. The role of designer in organisation and society is changing
  5. We need to equip the designer with skills relevant to succeed in the 21st century
  6. We live in a more connected and complex world

You can view the entire presentation below..

Would love to hear your viewpoints and engage in more discussions on the same.

Design in the School Classrooms : ICoRD 2015 paper presentation

This is the paper that I presented at the International Conference on Research in Design 2015, held at IISc, Bangalore, January 7-9th. The paper deals with my experiences with Design Thinking and how we are using that in the work at the Happy Horizons Trust, to improve the quality of education through various activities and projects.

The paper was co-authored by one of my student Jean Haag, a final year Transcultural Design student at L’école de design Nantes Atlantique, India Studio. 

Paper Abstract :
For Design to change from its elitist image, there is a need to implant the value of design from a young age, because design is not just elite. The impression of Design to be a tool for Problem Solving (in its analytical, rational and intuitive thinking) is of most importance.  There can be no better place to inculcate the values of Design than in the schools. Fundamentals of Design, when integrated with the pedagogy, can result in better forms of learning and a shift from the traditional forms of rote learning. Tools like Visual minutes, understanding typography, design thinking patterns, critical analysis, gamification, etc can result in a better way of problem solving and hence learning. We applied these through different activities held in schools across India and across different demography and take inspiration from the findings of these to present in this paper. In the end the paper proposes tools from the world of design that can and should be adapted to the activities done in the schools, in order to present a better learning environment and quality.

Drop me a note, if you would like to read the complete paper, and I shall mail it across.

Notes from InspirED 2014

Over the last weekend, on chilly Winter mornings at the St Stephen’s College in Delhi, I had the chance to attend the inspirED 2014, the education conference organised by  Teach for India . This was my first time attending this conference was very curious to find about the happenings in the field of education. There were individual presentations, educators talking about their initiatives, talks about the work at TFI, the performances by students, the panel discussions etc.

The opening keynote was given by Arvind Kejriwal, who spoke on the need to improve the quality of government schools and that the government has the money, but needs individuals who can take up this challenge.

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The goal should be that over the next 5 years, we should all come together to build quality in the government schools, so that even the officials are proud of sending their kids to these schools. Key points emphasised by him.

  • Teachers should only Teach and not be involved in other administrative and government and clerical duties.
  • Teachers should not be put on contract, and should be paid well.
  • The notion of Guru Samman needs to be emphasised upon.
  • The school infrastructures need to be improved.
  • There should be autonomy in the functioning of the school and not be at the disposal of the visiting education officers.
  • The principals should be the boss of the schools and the parents should have a say in the functioning of the school
  • Empowering the local community is important
  • Indians are born entrepreneurs, so one needs to make our youth to be Job givers rather than Job seekers. Promote entrepreneurship early in the education.
  • Education Systems should be designed to be built as Incubation Centres of ideas.

There was also a panel discussion that debated the initiatives being taken towards improving the quality of education. This was chaired by Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today, that had the leaders from three major parties in Delhi, Nalin Kohli (BJP), Manish Tewari (Congress), Yogendra Yadav (AAP). Here is the link to the panel discussion on The Education Vision 2030 (What will improve primary education in India?). Though the discourse here went political at times, it nevertheless made for an interesting session.

An important thing I have often spoken about in the past is that Teachers have to be trained as Leaders. Tiffany Chang from the Dignitas Project (Kenya) facilitated an excellent session on Transforming Schools through Leadership. The Dignitas Project in Kenya works with urban communities and schools in urban slums in the Mathare Valley in Kenya (60,000 kids). So far they have trained 475 teachers with their leadership program with an outreach to around 17000 students. Some projects are community projects (like working to clean schools, create better learning environments) and some projects that focus on the individual and their needs (like shoes, dress etc) Their motto is simple. Dignity through Education – one community at a time. Create Small change that can have a Huge Impact. The work is really commendable and can definitely be applied to the work around different contexts in India too. The work with existing schools for a few years, and then move out by handing it over to other NGOs who want to continue their work. They do not build the schools, but work with what is available. During their period of involvement with a school, they work towards improving the conditions and creating effective leadership. The schools thus become fertile ground for other organisations to work. She spoke at length on her 3 week long transformation module that takes the teachers from being teachers to leaders. Here are some key takeaways from her session:

  • The key components of the transformation program are recruiting, training and coaching.
  • School and Community mapping is an important factor to find out the community they want to work on and the teachers they want to work with.
  • Have proper assessments for students (English/ Maths) before deciding on working with them.
  • Reflect the data back to the community through town hall meetings and focus group discussions and through it introduce the programs and vision of the organisation.
  • Build upon the existing assets in the community based schools.
  • Respond to school leaders’ needs, priorities and their aspirations.
  • Shift and create a culture of high expectations for both the NGOs and schools.
  • At the Dignitas Project, the 3 weeks of training comprise of the following :
    • Week 1 –Leadership
      • Modules of leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Ethical Leadership, Power and Influence, Entrepreneurship, Team building for problem solving
    • Week 2 – Strengthening Schools
      • Improving Practice, Effective family engagement, Supporting students with special needs, Guidance/counselling, Developmental Psychology, ensuring Psychological safety in schools, understanding own education biography
    • Week 3 – Improving Teaching and Learning
      • Gender responsive pedagogy, purposeful planning, lesson plan execution, Aligning Assessment Activities, Effective Teaching practices, Building a Reflective Practice
    • Coaching is an essential part of the growth of the individual into a leader and will result in reflective practitioners.
    • Through Coaching one has to look to transformation through three different levels : Behaviours, Beliefs and the Being.
    • When it comes to coaching there is often 5 gaps that one needs to consider. They are the will gap, skill gap, capacity gap, knowledge gap, and above all the emotional intelligence gap.
    • Objectives of Coaching should include the following
      • Holding the space and listening well, shrink the change, recognise growth and success, develop autonomous leaders.
    • Have a robust mechanism to Measure your impact.
    • Plan successful exits from the schools

Tiffany is also working closely with the Indian School Leadership Institute (ISLI) and one hopes that their program becomes something that can truly transform teachers to be leaders.

Another session that I attended was the panel discussion on Inclusive Education. This was a very important discussion in the context of the the rule in the Right to Education that requires all private schools to have some seats for children of the economically backward classes of the society. One major point discussed in this session was that Academic inclusion is a mean to Social Inclusion. The role of the teacher in a class where there are children from different strata of the society therefore becomes critical. Not just to overlook the academic advancements of the child, but also other psychological issues that the child goes through. Things like extra classes, private tuitions that form an integral part of the private school education are often not accessible to the children who come from the not to financially strong backgrounds. This creates the social disparity within the classrooms. School need to avoid being Academic Crazy and emphasise on marks as the only criteria for testing student intelligence. At the very basic, the students need to be happy. Schools should foster the environment that will ensure that tstudents are happy. Only then can proper learning happen. Schools that are doing Social Inclusion based education well need to be highlighted and stories be told. An interesting point that Sister Crysl made was that in her school, there is a norm that the Private Tuitions are for the Mentally challenged students and that a teacher giving private tuition is a slap on the school not being able to give proper education within the classrooms.

The community needs to be educated on what education is. Moreover the criteria for Social Inclusion will differ from State to state, as with the diversity, cultural backgrounds and the state’s GDP.

The session by Pankaj Jain of Gyanshala.org, that re-looks and rethinks the role and responsibility of the teachers was interesting. He also mentioned that the state of education (infrastructure, government programs) in India as compared to many other countries is actually better. A basic premise that the design of the curriculum to be delivered in the classrooms should not be left to the teachers, but a separate team does it. The teacher should teach and focus on the delivery, impart knowledge and hold interactions with the children . There is a need to differentiate the learning from the teaching. Knowing the context is important. What makes the model of work at Gyanshala really interesting is that takes people from the community who are high school pass to get trained to teach students upto grade 3. A lot of the things mentioned by Pankaj validated the work being by my team at the Happy Horizons Trust in Bihar too.

  • A good support system should have effective human interactions
  • Someone having the grade 10 pass certificate are good to teach grade 3 syllabus. Gyanshala uses this considerably.
  • Holding only the teacher accountable is not the right thing to do. The parents also need to get involved.
  • Teachers as a support system needs to be built and is a need of the hour.

The session by Sid Talwar of the Lightbox Venture Capital firm, was interesting to attend to. The key to their investments being that they invest in education companies that use technology for their work. A few points focused by him are:

  • Technology should not be a replacement for the teacher. It should encourage and assist them.
  • Free Ideas and tools that can be used in an interesting manner for improving education in schools include the usage if WiFi, Tablets (promoting the idea of Bring your Own Device), WhatsApp (though its group feature to make announcements and share information), Infographics (to represent content in a more pleasing manner, SMS, Twitter, Facebook.
  • Insist students and teachers to write up blogs and share information that are often expression of opinions.
  • Data should be more objective.
  • Constructive and Actionable feedback should be given to all stakeholders within the system (parents, teachers, students)
  • Teacher empowerment programs should be taken up at a larger scale.

Amongst the other interesting initiatives the I came across was the Ashoka Changemaker Schools Network. The idea is to connect schools that are empathy driven and show a dedicated effort towards bringing a change to the education system in the way it delivers the education and impacts the society.

The panel discussion on RTE amendments was nice too, but I missed out on most of it due to an urgent work that came up.  20141220_164423

My takeaways from the conference
At the end I was happy to have attended the conference, but I expected more. It was wonderful to meet up passionate people and some friends.  One of the things with many conferences these days is that there are many sessions running in parallel and you are bound to miss out on some great sessions and end up attending some not-so great ones. I do have some clear takeaways from it.

  • There is a lot of work to be done and we are barely getting started.
  • Teacher training is important and needs to be fixed.
  • Collaboration has to happen amongst different people and organisations working in the field.
  • The work in Bihar that the Happy Horizons Trust is doing, needs to have a better execution when it comes to the training of the champions.
  • Technology is a great tool to scale the outreach and impact of your work, but building a strong local ground is important.
  • Children and students require Support Systems. This can come on the form of well trained and passionate teachers.
  • Parents need to play an important role in the education of the child too.