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EP SPECIALS

We ought to think of ourselves as beta products

Why do so many of us never achieve our true potential? Why are some of us left behind?

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Learning is a fundamental human attribute. Learning is arguably what humans do best. Charles Darwin showed us how our evolving brains enabled us to advance in leaps and bounds, exploring, innovating and reflecting. Using tools and inventing abstractions, the human race has pressed forward at an extraordinary rate. Yet, why do so many of us never achieve our true potential? Why are some of us left behind?

‘LearningUnlearning’ focuses on how you can design and develop a life you want. We will take a holistic view of your life, taking into account your work and career, your relationship with others and also your relationship with yourself – the professional, the social and the personal aspects of your life. This column is about YOU and how you can THRIVE. I will aim to bring you cutting edge knowledge and information that you need to architect and build a meaningful life. You will learn about the most important developments in the world of work.

Learning is a complex and sometimes paradoxical phenomenon

You will learn about new and emerging industries and about the new opportunities that they present. You will learn about how rapid technological change will affect your career and job prospects and about how emerging new cultural practices and habits of mind influence how you experience and shape your career and your life.

In this first episode, I want to introduce you to the concept and idea of lifelong learning and what it means to be IN BETA. We will keep returning to these concepts again and again in this show, but this lays the foundation for everything that follows, so listen in carefully.

Learning is a complex and sometimes paradoxical phenomenon. Some of it takes place in institutional settings like schools, colleges and universities, places of worship, in clubs and societies. A lot of it does not; for example, the workplace is a significant site for learning. Sometimes learning has to be collective; sometimes it is profoundly individual. ‘Personalisation’ (framing the educational experience so that it is just right and just in time for the individual learner) can work well, but there is a danger of suppressing the shared understanding that comes from learning together.

Learning isn’t just about subject knowledge; nor is it just about practical skills. It is also about developing the judgement needed to put these two together

Some learning requires formal recognition (as in accreditation) before it is of value; other learning will remain not only personal but also private. Often learning is joyful; sometimes it requires pain, and especially endurance. You sometimes have to frighten yourself into learning what it is you have to learn. Above all, learning is about an attitude of mind, a propensity, or a curiosity.

Learning isn’t just about subject knowledge; nor is it just about practical skills. It is also about developing the judgement needed to put these two together. Many people refer to this as ‘learning how to learn’. Some learning is instrumental or routine and some kind of learning can be liberating or transformative. We learn to earn, but we also learn to live. My vision is of a society in which learning plays its full role in personal growth and emancipation, prosperity, solidarity and global responsibility.

I believe learning is intimately connected with the achievement of freedom of choice, health and well-being, dignity, cultural identity and democratic tolerance. I strongly feel that the right to learn throughout life is a fundamental human right. This why I have created Storiyoh and our tagline is Raising Capabilities and Expanding Freedoms.

We know that learning alone cannot bring about these personal and social goods. They depend also on social justice, the absence of poverty, societal norms and your personal values.

Lifelong learning has a range of meanings. As a term it generates a surprising amount of confusion and blank looks – which is surprising, since ‘learning’ is a common word and ‘lifelong’ is fairly self-explanatory. Any definition of lifelong learning is challenging. A contributor to Wikipedia captures the spirit rather well: ‘Lifelong learning is the concept that “it’s never too soon or too late for learning”’. By ‘lifelong’ I mean from cradle to grave. The learning can occur in educational or training institutions, the workplace (on or off the job), the family, or cultural and community settings. I use ‘learning’ to refer to all forms of organised education and training (whether or not they carry certification); but I also include informal modes of learning to some extent, provided these have a degree of organisation and intention. Therefore, let me give you a broad definition of lifelong learning:

Lifelong learning includes people of all ages learning in a variety of contexts – in educational institutions, at work, at home and through leisure activities. It focuses mainly on adults returning to organised learning rather than on the initial period of education or on incidental learning.

Since we are here discussing about lifelong learning, the natural question that arises is: why bother? Some of you have already been through various stages of education, from schools to university degrees and professional qualifications. Some may have very little exposure, having had limited access to formal education. The question, however, remains – why should I keep learning new stuff?

In the software space there is this idea of a beta version. A beta version of a product is that which is rolled out but is still pretty much under development, still unfinished and far from what the final product will look like. Typically, a beta version is rolled out to test the product and to collect feedback so that it can be improved. Gmail was in beta for a long time, remember? I am not talking about software here, but I like the idea of the beta version, the-unfinished-constantly-under-development product. We ought to think of ourselves as beta products. Unfinished, under development, with more room for improvement and growth. Lifelong learning then means lifelong beta. We should be in a state of permanent beta. Still, why bother?

Before I go further, I think it’s useful to highlight that when we are talking of lifelong learning, we are pretty much talking about adult learning. This is because much of it has to take place well after our third decade, and will need to continue into our fifth, sixth and possibly even into our seventh decade.

However, I must also highlight that the seeds of lifelong learning ought to be sown much earlier (ideally) during primary and secondary schooling, as this has long lasting impact on our mental models of learning. This also does not mean that lifelong learning is inaccessible to those who have not had access to basic education. In fact, much of the adult learning sector caters to adults returning back to education, especially those with limited literacy and numeracy skills.

(LearningUnlearning is a series about YOU and how you can THRIVE)

Rahul Nair is the Founder & CEO of Storiyoh, a podcast discovery and marketplace platform and premium podcast production company

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EP SPECIALS

How can Indian language assessment tests overcome existing issues to meet international standards 

Tests in India need to benchmark themselves against internationally accepted tests so that individuals can find better career opportunities

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Language assessment tests in India suffer from ineffective infrastructure, high costs and many other issues. To judge test takers accurately, it is important to have accurate, unbiased tests. A comprehensive assessment of language skills makes the hiring process smoother. Assessment tests in India can overcome existing issues in the following ways:

Automated testing – ִּIntegrating technology in language testing offers convenience to test takers, and accurate results to the employers. Artificial intelligence offers less bias and quicker results. In addition, technology allows verified results even for remote users, and can provide high levels of test security. Without adequate technological advancements, the assessment process will continue to be tedious and inaccurate.

Holistic approach – Language proficiency includes multiple language modalities – speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Each of these four skills comprises several sub-skills which contribute to language proficiency. The tests must evaluate all these with some depth to accurately provide full picture of an individual’s language proficiency level. Many tests fail to meet the needs of employers because they focus on a limited subset of language skills. To combat this, tests in India must take a holistic approach towards language proficiency.  

Internationally recognized standards – Tests in India need to benchmark themselves against internationally accepted tests so that individuals can find better career opportunities across the globe and companies can identify workers who can communicate with speakers of other languages. The use of tests with different rating scales leads to confusion and lack of testing transparency. Use of an internationally accepted standard will make sure that the test-takers can take advantage of opportunities abroad with test results that are accepted internationally, and companies can understand more clearly whether their potential hires will be able to do the job. 

One of the major pitfalls of language assessment tests currently available in India is their inherent bias to accents

Widespread accessibility – During the pandemic, many workplace and academic institutions pivoted to an online or a hybrid model. While many sectors adapted to this change, the assessment sector in India is still operating in the old way. Test takers are required to travel to designated centres on specified dates. To tackle this issue, the existing tests must allow test-takers to take the tests online and at a time of their choosing. This increases job access to those in rural areas as well. Proper proctoring needs to be in place to ensure no one cheats during these online tests.  Technology based anti-cheating solutions enable remote testing while ensuring authentic results.

Accent agnostic – One of the major pitfalls of language assessment tests currently available in India is their inherent bias to accents. India is a nation with varied dialects and accents. To assess language proficiency comprehensively and objectively, tests need to be accent agnostic. This ensures that the test takers are assessed on their actual language skills and not their accents.  

All of these features will help the Indian language testing sector to meet international standards. The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) lists assessments such as Speaknow, Learning Matters, and Progos along with others on their website as those meeting these standards.

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EP SPECIALS

A Mother Goddess

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Am a Blessed Soul, my Ammaa !
Am not lonely, Mother Dear
Never lonely from the beginning
Mummy ever with me always
From my first breath onwards
Ever since stepping In here
First cries to beaming smiles
Birth to birth and rebirths
Life to live and living Alive
Feeding strength always as own
Feeling lively from umbilical cord
Musical ways Of Mother Nature 
Chords Of contentment and pride
Notes Of love forever required
Am a blessed soul my Ammaa
Am not lonely Mother Dear ..!

Ammaa, you inculcated my character
That all women are God’s Own
Mothers be God’s own particles
Mums,the sufferers Of man’s identity
Every woman, a Mother-Goddess!
So God be present everywhere
A forever ally Oh Mom
Praying forever you are Omniscient –
So, none preys upon righteous me ..
No stronger bond there is ;
No emotion simply as divine;
No more natural a bondage ;
Source of sustenance in adversities ;
All pain swallowed in love;
Am a blessed soul my Ammaa;
Am not lonely Mother Dear …!

My silent protector par excellence
Shield of Nature forever motherly
Shelter from all woeful aches
All shocks cushioned ever happily
Heaven on Earth – your Noble Heart
God in person – It’s You  Ammaa..!
Godliness in action – your care
Religion in display – all motherliness
Beginning of growth – you Alone
Drinker of all my tears , Mother Dear
Epitome of nobility  – only motherhood
Joyous creation of almighty God
Sacred bond cast upon us
Bound In love of a Mother
Am a blessed soul, my Ammaa
Am Not Lonely Mother Dear..!

Mother dearest  : light of love
Mother sweetest : beacon of hopes
Mother mightiest : strength of lives
Mother noblest : source of confidence
Mother ablest : supreme God’s Presence
Mother, Goddess incarnate , Amma Dear
My Mother dearest – devoted , dedicated
committed, exalted, exemplary – constant, forever Love alone
Mother always endearing – nonstop,endlessly
Alpha to omega – infinitely adorable
Are you alike in all generarions?
Aren’t you awake in whole humanity?
Oh Mother Divine, bless all world
Aren’t all creatures blessed alike?
Oh Mother Supreme , Bless Mothers
Am a blessed soul, my  Ammaa Dear..!

[ From ‘Chasing a Shadow’ by Pamarty VenkataRamana ]

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EP SPECIALS

Teachers and Parents as Role Models for Students – Why Actions must replace just theory

School wasn’t just a platform for learning (nor it is even today) but was a place that students looked forward to going every day, with cheer

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The moment a question during a lecture or discussion on Role Models is asked, especially to school students, answers of different types crop up, possibly based on their thought process and the traits they hold close to their heart.

We have been promoting the idea of Role Models in life, to make sure, at least for practical purposes, that students think of or emulate someone for whom they have a high level of regard or respect in life and also those that align with their own frame of mind.

He or she could be anyone-from sportsperson to businessman, from scientist to movie star.

One of the striking aspects these days is that the number which quotes the names of teachers or parents is diminishing. This is in contrast to the earlier times when both teachers and parents were among the favourites to be considered as Role Models.

So, a Ronaldo, a Mohanlal, Dr.APJ or a Bill Gates are more common answers.

What then, has been the reason for a change?

Predominantly and predictably, technology has played a major role in this change and so have social media. EASY access to information and the glorification of many characters including celebrities from various fields through umpteen channels and other platforms has possibly been one of the reasons. Added to this are the marketing campaigns, brand endorsements, stage shows, writeups and so on and so forth, available just by sliding a finger on hand held devices.

An essay on, say, Prof. C.V Raman or Srinivasa Ramanujan was an arduous task then, that required flipping through books or pages of printed matter. We had to depend on teachers or parents to get more information about them. We looked up to them for inputs thus forming a different impression about their level of awareness. The same could be done with effortless ease today, thanks to anything and everything that is available online or in the Cloud.

While we had relatively fewer modes of entertainment then- the cinema, or a restaurant, park or an outing or social visits and of course much more of play- teachers and parents gave us frequent doses of knowledge by mixing them with classes or through bedtime stories and during the ‘family time’.

There was much for us to learn from them as the time spent together was qualitative in nature and openness was obvious.

We saw in many or most of our teachers, a value that could be hardly substituted by anything else and looked forward to their sessions as they taught from the heart and not from the books alone. They were assumed to be power houses of knowledge and looking back, I for sure, on a personal note, could say that without a second thought.

Value Education which is separated today, was an integral part of their lesson plan, be it Hindi or Mathematics. Their experience, passion, commitment and their roles as mentors played a significant part in this change among students, not to forget THE FREEDOM THAT PARENTS GAVE TEACHERS IN DECIDING AND EXECUTING WHATEVER WAS BEFITTING. Even the mention of parents being called to the school was enough to send chills down the spines of students.

School wasn’t just a platform for learning (nor it is even today) but was a place that students looked forward to going every day, with cheer. It was a like a get together to learn life skills along with lessons, most of which aren’t very different today either. Naturality was evident as technology or gadgets weren’t the topics of discussion, nor were Facebook or Instagram posts or likes. Friends laughed their heart out through the common things. There was much fun and play. Teachers had absolute control.

At home, both parents weren’t working. As children, we knew that money never came easily as it does today. Pocket money couldn’t be dreamt of, leave alone heard about. We saw the struggles of parents; we didn’t dare question them. We didn’t have the luxury of selection of many things, but were happy about what they chose or bought for us.  Somewhere, we had this feeling that there were pairs of eyes constantly watching and guiding us, wherever we went.

There was an invisible guideline on what we were supposed to do

Connection was real, not virtual. Lack of time was never discussed. There was better communication, more time for each other and together. An impact was created, gradually.

There was an invisible guideline on what we were supposed to do.

Times have changed, they have to. A new world driven by technology is already visible. Sadly, there is also cut throat competition that is mostly unhealthy and thus follows a mad rush to be on top, just academically, more than anything else. Money has lost value and spending for more than what is required has gone up. A majority of children has the impression that parents have enough with them. Parents too go beyond means to provide the perceptible best for their children.

On the contrary, what has to be more evident is the foundation that existed earlier, one that was strong morally and ethically, without more of monetary considerations. Learning the hard way was natural for most of the students themselves.

While a majority of the current generation of teachers and parents is definitely knowledgeable and is tech savvy, it would have this rather sensitive and difficult task of making an impact on a student community that is only just short of gadget addiction, in keeping with the times. Elders too seem to be as affected by this, as their children.

Also to be understood is that the pressure on parents and teachers today is more than what it used to be long back, in the wake of a massive shift- culturally, economically, technologically and emotionally.

Practicing what is preached, supporting and guiding children to explore themselves, nurturing their talents and leading by example could put parents back on track to be their ideal Role Models.

Teachers on the other hand need to empathize with children, lift the ordinary ones to the higher slots, create a level playing field and an equal opportunity environment for all of them to get exposed, without bias. Most importantly passion needs to be a key ingredient of their sessions than just the rush to cover the portions.

This, on paper, may not seem to be missing, though reality is in stark contrast to hearsay.

While I am not under rating the present-day teachers vis-à-vis those of yore, it would take more effort and commitment, to be followed as a Role Model because the impact has to be felt amidst challenges, most of which were absent then or were of a different manageable nature.

It is possible and would lead to a better society driven by values and positivity.

While at school and at home, we have all heard of the adage, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.

For those who put this across to children, making it a reality wouldn’t be a tough ask if backed by systematic action.

May we have more of them.

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