Tech in School Education

Ajay Kolhatkar is a COEP Electrical batch of 1990. He joined Tata Electric, immediately after campus. There he was looking after testing of power plant equipment. Later on he was deputed on a project that Siemens was doing for NTPC in Dadri, where he represented Tata Electric. He continued to be in charge of testing of plant equipment. The next major project was the design and commissioning of a combined cycle power plant at Trombay. The primary driver is a gas turbine. Since there is a lot of heat energy still left in the exhaust gas, it is used to operate a thermal power plant.

In 1994 he shifted back to Pune. Joining Tata Motors in plant engineering. He was involved in the commissioning of the Mercedes-Benz plant and K block. He left after a year later to join the 2 year MBA program at SIBM. There he met with and started working Ranjan Banerjee, who had just joined SIBM as visiting faculty. Ranjan also ran a training and consulting company called Renaissance. Post SIBM, Ajay joined Renaissance, where he worked for almost 7 years, till 2003. They did forward looking projects like Bank computerization, Internet usage surveys etc.. The training part was mostly related to sales and customer service.

In 2003, with the encouragement of Ranjan, Ajay enrolled at the PhD program of IIT Bombay School of Management. He was a part timer in the PhD program till 2003. Because of pressure from his guide, he became a full timer. He stayed at IIT Bombay till 2005 and completed his PhD. His PhD was in the field of consumer behaviour; about consumer preference in delivery of services. When do they choose humans and when do they choose technology.

After his Ph.D, he received an offer from Infosys Bangalore for their R & D division. They were looking for a business person who also understood technology. He had to convey to the research team, what the business people wanted. One of the interesting projects at Infosys was to do an audit of websites, to find out how disabled friendly they were. This had just become a legal requirement for US websites. He helped create a tool, which would assess and give a report on disability compliance.

He moved internally from Infosys, Bangalore to Infosys, Pune, where his area of work was the newly emerging area of mobile commerce. In 2011, because of leadership changes at infosys the project that he was working on was put on the back burner. Time to shift. He joined Tata Management Training Centre, as faculty looking after technology and innovation. He worked there for 3 years, till 2014 . In between he was awarded the Chevyenne scholarship and spent 3 months at Oxford. By the time he returned back. Cyrus Mistry had taken over as chairman of the TATA Group. He had an idea of having CXOs at the TATA Group level. In that an office of the Chief Technology Officer was created. Staying in Pune, Ajay joined that group. Under Chandra, this office has transformed to Chief Digital Officer, and the focus has shifted mostly to data, rather than technology.

3 months ago Ajay decided to branch off on his own. He still continues to work for 3 days a month with TMTC. But he now takes assignments independently in the area of Technology and innovation.

We had a teacher meet, where Ajay talked about the role of technology in teaching. He started by discussing the changed role of a teacher. Earlier the teacher was the sole source of knowledge. But now she has competition. From Television and the internet. He took the example of an old world teaching aid, the encyclopedia to drive home the point that technology can be a real game changer. Wikipedia ended up killing Encyclopaedia Britannica, a 70 year old Institution. The Britannica could not compete with the 10X size and real-time updation that Wikipedia offered.

Taking on the role of a soothsayer, Ajay predicted that in the next three years, children will be carrying mobiles to their classrooms. Classroom educational content will move from text to audios and videos, as the emphasis on reading reduces. He gave an example of his son, who is in 10th standard, and prefers to read on his mobile phone. He also talked about animations, which aid understanding better than pictures or books. Take the case of a solar eclipse. Most of us in our childhood read about it in our books. A fortunate few actually saw it. But today we understand it better, when we see animation of a solar eclipse on YouTube. The human mind does not like static things. Movement leads to focus. Adding a dimension, taking things from 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional, leads to an even increased focus. What took three days to understand yesterday, can be understood in 3 hours today.

Our soothsayer’s next forecast was a reduced talktime for teachers in class rooms. Today’s teachers are exercising their vocal cord almost 80% of the time in a classroom. Ajay forecasts a fall to 50%, as we get more audio, video and animation content entering our classrooms. He goes on to push this percentage even down to 0; teacher-less classrooms can be reality in a decade’s time.

Students, thanks to the internet, have a hunger for understanding now.  Ajay talked about his daughter, who is in 4th standard. She is interested in cooking. Not just any cooking, but baking. She has already watched more than 200 hours of videos on cake making and decorating. If her future hotel management teachers do not realise the kind of pre-existing knowledge she has come in with, they are going to lose her attention in class very soon.

The other reason for the decline of teachers would be the customised pace of earning that technology can provide to individual students. Our time tables with their rigid structures just cannot do that.

So is there hope for teaching as a profession in future? Only if schools focus on roles that technology cannot take on. Like the development of social skills. He gave teachers tips to prevent their obsolescence. The first is to accept that there are other media, where knowledge is being gathered. Like TED Talks. The second tip, become familiar with all of these. ASAP.

We had our usual Question and Answer session with teachers after his talk got over. Nilam wanted to know what she can do about her son, who is playing too many games. He answered the question in two parts. As a parent, he is equally worried, as his son also behaves the same way. As a teacher, he thinks games are a mechanism of learning. And not just in young children. Pubgee seem to be a hit even with some of our teachers. Ajay recollects one of the senior faculty members at TMTC who would play games at work. The games change with time. As boredom can set in once skills have been mastered. Ajay’s advice was to get the son’s group of games addicted friends together, and ask them to brainstorm new features that would enhance the game play. This is the first baby step towards game development.

Anjali asked about the role that a mobile should play in her 6 year old’s education. Ajay’s view: Whether we like it or not, entertainment will contribute 90 percent of mobile usage time, and learning a maximum of 10%. The hunt should be for good educational apps, which are designed to look like games. And we need to share these apps, so that other teachers can adopt it asap. Hello English is a case in point.

Kalplata wanted to know how much of mobile usage is Ok. Most parents use the mobile as a device that keeps kids out of their hair. If you are a parent who wants its use to be educational, then it needs supervision. Getting into the hair – if you please. If you’re planning to give your kid your phone for 30 minutes, stay around for that time.

Nishi’s question was related to the attention span of a child. Ajay thought that in today’s world, the attention span is down to only 40 seconds. So it so nice to have breaks every 40 seconds. Talk to the kids after that time. Ask them to predict what will happen next. Get attention centered on yourself. Kids should get used to this pattern. It is easier to work i such an interactive mode, rather than just rely on a video to do the teaching.

Rohini’s question was related to tabs, the advantages and disadvantages. Ajay’s thinking was that future classrooms will only have display devices – maybe video walls – that connect to a teacher’s pocket computer – aka mobile phone. Every teacher has a phone. The only missing bit is a connected screen in every classroom. Technology takes time to diffuse, especially In the education space. He drove home this point through traffic based value education. He took the example of driverless cars, which are expected to be common in 10 years time. What skills would be required to navigate a road full of driverless cars?

And then there are other technologies which will impact us as we move on. What would be the opportunities and challenges in space tourism? Will our grandchildren be taking their honeymoons on the moon? How do we become good drone flyers?

We had an interesting discussion on devices in future classrooms. We came to the conclusion that the mobile phone is already there with the teacher – and will play an intrinsic role even in future. We discussed the phone moving to the hands of classroom students. 2 options were discussed. One was when students get their own phones from home. BYOD – Buy your own device – model. Another was to get society to donate old phones to schools. Almost every family has two or three old phones which are in working condition but a bit outdated.

Ajay visit ended with a session for students. Students were given two options: He could have talked on electrical power generation or on software. More students preferred that he talk on software. So he went on to explain the basics of programming. First started by asking what are the parts of a computer. Then we discussed the basic process of addition, which is nothing but counting. A computer is a stupid device. It has to be told every step. In a language that it understands. But the advantage of a computer, over humans is that you need to teach it only once. After that it’s perfectly stored in the memory.

In order to demonstrate memory he gave one of the students his car keys. Now he asked her to return the keys. He told her to tell the class the steps that are required for returning the key. What she said is actually a program. He used an interesting display of hands in order to count fingers. We went from 5 X 2 = 10 all the way up to 16 X 5 = 80. What happens when you press 2 + 3 on a calculator. Does it give you the answer? No. Unless you press the equal to sign, the answer does not come. So the computer has to be told that I want an answer. And the way to do that is by pressing the equal to sign.