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Monday, April 9, 2007

Creativity in Education

State of the Nation: by Azim Premji
Commentary by Mike Ghouse, April 9, 2007

The following piece by Azim Premji is a profound document on the idea of learning. The whole concept of education can be seen from a different point of view if we can follow some of his ideas. India has done exceedingly well in expanding existing ideas and servicing the needs of software industry. However, very few original concepts have originated and there is need for the nation to get itself on the path of innovation and original thinking.

India 's path to progress can be traced to Manmohan Singh, an economist who directed the Financing operations of the Government of India. Then Chidambaram gave impetus to that process. When people from business backgrounds run the government, the government becomes a catalyst for growth as opposed to hinging the growth on government's initiatives. The traditional politicians who come with strings attached are pulled in many directions rather than pushed forward. I do hope Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sees this vision and considers Azim Premji to head a commission on education to encourage original thinking.

Some of you may relate with my experience. When I took the Systems Analysis class in 1981 at the University of Dallas (mine was perhaps the first batch that took the MIS - MBA program) the Professor and I butted heads with each other. He demanded that we take notes, and I did not want to do that, he down scored my responses in the tests because I did not quote his lectures word for word. I had argued that the purpose for me do the MBA was to learn and not to memorize. I did my MBA and am pleased that the knowledge I gained has been instrumental in giving the comprehension to assess any business, gauge any situation in business or community and take the most appropriate action. However, I have never used that MBA per se for seeking a job.

It is one of the most thought provoking articles I have read and hope you'd find it a refreshing reading.

Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer. His articles can be found at , , and and he can be reached at

The Weight Of Wings
We need a revamp
to create free thinkers, not compulsive learners
Azim H. Premji

Special Issue: State Of The Nation

Often we adults talk about the incessant questioning children subject us to. We either react in jest to the impossibility of some of the questions or in mock frustration at the insatiable curiosity of the child. But either way, it is in some form of indulgent pride. During one of my journeys, I remember a 6-year-old looked around and asked her father, "How many seats are there in the plane?" The father indulgently told her the total number of rows and asked her to calculate, and she promptly did. Not satisfied with this, she started calculating the number of seats in 2 planes and then 5 and then 10 and 20.

We shouldn't let guilt grip children who want to do things other than studying—and stifle their minds.

She went on until she reached 100 planes. This led to a discussion on how she was doing the arithmetic and she kept discovering easier methods to play with numbers, techniques making multiplication easy, that multiplication was in fact successive addition. The sparkle in her eyes was moving. She had stumbled upon a new world. Mathematics for her would never be the same as before.

We shouldn't let guilt grip children who want to do things other than studying—and stifle their minds.

But the child doesn't see all this as 'mathematics' or 'arithmetic'. It is just an interesting exercise for her driven by curiosity. Contrast this with conversations we hear 12-13-year-olds having. It typically revolves around 'subjects'. Which subject is easy, which one is tough. What questions are most likely to be asked in examinations? Learning eventually becomes an activity that has to be dealt with; it becomes focused on negotiating the prescribed curriculum and the purpose of learning becomes restricted to doing well in exams. It's likely the child we met on the plane will grow up to become like this too. Why does this happen?

During childhood and schooling, children become victims of constraints, regulation, discipline and regimen. Times during which children don't study but just talk, interact with each other, play, draw, dismantle toys or just have fun is considered a waste of study time. We seem to have designed a schooling system which in trying to encourage learning seems to do the opposite. Children start feeling guilty about wanting to do anything other than "studying". Learning restricts itself to the textbooks and curriculum-prescribed subjects. Marks in exams are the only means for a child to demonstrate her learning capabilities. The few extra-curricular activities encouraged by schools are not assessed as rigorously as the main subjects so in a way we discourage children from spending too much time in those activities.

I think we miss out numerous opportunities for children to correlate, link and understand concepts. We encourage distinction between various learning experiences and over time children learn to dislike certain experiences and like some other. This gradually erodes the quality of learning itself. I think children learn at different times and in different ways. It is the responsibility of a school, teachers and parents to understand this, and we should not stifle any effort made by children to make this leap into the enchanting world of learning. The focus of the schooling systems needs to be not only on content and information but on the learning process.

Our curriculum framework advocates the need for integration of subjects, link topics to real life, encourage observation and experimentation. Connections of these subjects to daily events make learning so much deeper and interesting. We should use textbooks, computers and other tools for information dissemination and as triggers for thought. We need to allow the child to be an independent thinker. And see the larger aim of education: influencing the child to become a motivated learner.

In India now, there is the growing realisation of the need for change. We have begun to realise that our children don't seem to learn how to learn; numerous studies have proven this.We have made the transition from concern for just basic literacy to quality education. We need to progress from a compulsion to mass-produce stereotypes to creating independent thinkers and active learners.

We need to revamp the system that compels children to become mechanical learners. Let us not ourselves stifle the child's mind with archaic definitions of rigidity, rigour and discipline. Let us create an environment that allows the child's mind to blossom. Let us open our schools to the world of learning. We need to take this step and launch ourselves into this new paradigm—of autonomous learning. Only then will we progress towards becoming a learning nation!

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