From serving as the head of the commerce department of Christ University, Bangalore, and the director of FISAT, Cochin to being an edupreneur, the journey of Dr. P.A Mathew is an inspiration for every educator out there. Dr. Mathew has taught more than 10,000 students in premier institutions like Christ University, Bangalore, Symbiosis, Pune, and Federal Institute of Science and Technology, Cochin, in his career spanning more than 15 years.
Dr. Mathew who is the founding chairman of Grace International Academy, Punalur is the first guest of Discuss Education Interview powered by Linways.
Dr. Mathew talks about the challenges faced by educators during the lockdown, relevance of technology in education, the changes that need to be made and more.
1.Global education scenario is undergoing a drastic change. From your experiences as a teacher and an education entrepreneur, what do you think has changed in the education sector in the last few months?
The greatest learning has been to realise that change is endemic to human life. And people will adapt to change well. It was almost impossible to think of online classes before this pandemic. We would have thought about if technology was available or if it would be affordable.
But everything changed from March. A friend told me about zoom and we jumped into it fast and tried it. It was exciting to get the students also into it. As a teacher, facing the mobile phone or computer to teach was new. Also how to get the students engaged. But it went off well.
So I think the greatest learning was to adapt to change. So the pandemic has taught one important lesson: that is to move forward and don’t look back in anger.
That, I think is the most important aspect any education should teach the learners. Regardless whatever the obstacle, move and take steps to the front.
2. What are the challenges that you faced as an academician during the Covid19 crisis?
The main challenge was, how do we get the below average students to pay attention to what is being taught? As a new college, the proportion of average and below average has been more when compared to the established colleges. Some of them have the habit of coming late, and disappearing in the middle etc. So we constantly asked questions to these students to get them involved. We made sure that we were paying attention to them, so that they don’t disappear or come late. We used a platform to have weekly tests and it was fun for them to compete. At the end of the day from my experience as a teacher, the more attention we pay to students, the better they will respond. Students are our children. Do we ignore our own children if they are inattentive? No. I think the policy is to get them involved by making them engaged and that is how we faced this challenges.
3. A teacher is someone who shows the path to students and an entrepreneur is someone who creates his own path. Being both, how did you navigate through these unexpected challenges?
Regardless of both the roles I have now, first and foremost I am a teacher. My energy comes from being a teacher and interaction with students. I developed as a person by being in a classroom. I became an entrepreneur to reach unchartered territories as a teacher. It was about facing new challenges. I was in big cities teaching students who were from privileged backgrounds and my entrepreneurial journey took me to small towns to be a change agent in the way I can. Fundamentally the challenge here is to show the path to students who never had any role models in their life unlike the students in cities who grow up seeing role models. So the challenge is to make them see dreams and show them the path to achieve them. So the task is more difficult
4. Will education be back to the way it was after we recover from this COVID19?
There are some impersonals forces in history which no one can escape from, For example today people ask you for the mobile phone number for identity. Anyone who doesn’t have a mobile phone is considered an outsider. I would consider Covid as another impersonal force in the education sector. Online teaching and learning which was considered as one for elite schools and colleges have become part of every school or college. Space and distance has been compressed and the post covid world will continue to have the presence of online in a significant way. In a major departure from the past technology will enable us to teach better and learn better also. Covid also made digital literacy reach the heights it never aspired to reach in a short period. Major contributions from the government and private individuals have made the digital gap to be reduced. All this will have a major impact on education in the post covid world.
5. Would there be any change in the way education institutions run in the post-COVID phase?
Educational Institutions will be more focussed on the possibility of online learning now. The better ones will follow the pattern of the premier institutions by offering online courses to people across the world. Even for evaluation purposes, there will be a significant change to online methods like Google classroom which will make the institutions more competitive.Digital literacy from primary schools to higher education institutions will be mandatory and anyone who doesn’t want to join the league will be left behind. For institutions that do not want to join the bandwagon of online methods will be left behind.
6. What is the relevance of technology in the current education system?
Role of technology can hardly be overemphasized. In India there is a major misconception regarding technology in education. People often fail to realise that a lot of monotonous work can be made easier by technology. This can range from attendance marking, conducting of tests etc. Technology as in all spheres is about reducing the time needed for routine work and using the time productively for more intelligent work. This is more in the case of higher education because creation of knowledge is the main purpose of that.
7. What should we do to impart curiosity and creativity in students? Is the current mode of delivering education enough for that or should educators develop a new mode of learning.
Education is what remains when everything that we have learned is forgotten. Fundamentally, learning should be always about curiosity. As children we learn better because of the curious element in it. But as we grow older we lose curiosity. Our educational system has not changed much from the Raj times. Majority of our institutions practice rot learning which sucks away the element of creativity. 21st century skills are creativity, collaboration, critical thinking needs to be fostered urgently if we have to remain as a country which is the youngest nation in the world. What is the way out of this mess? I think the challenge lies in making our educational system more practical oriented. It should have elements of learning by doing. It should have more field trips, more internships and more research elements in it.
Research should be about understanding the problems of a country with more than a billion population. It should be about solving the problems of a 400 million people who are still below the basic minimum to lead a decent life. We need to take advantage of the world of the internet and combine it with ground realities to make the teaching-learning process interesting.
8. We can either widely adopt the technology or use it to support the existing model in education. From your experience as an education entrepreneur which is better?
To dismantle anything is easy. Our system may have a lot of defects but as an entrepreneur I would still prefer to reform and rejuvenate the system. We can definitely use technology as an enabler of the existing model of education. As a social scientist I am eye witness to various changes in society in the last three decades. From analog to digital, from state control to free enterprise, from waiting in lines for getting a telephone connection and scooters to having anything at the click of a button. Although there are million mutinies in India, there is a beauty in the slow change we experienced. The base is strong and technology just needs to be slowly integrated into it.
9. “Everything else can be compromised, but not learning.” This is something we strongly believe in Linways. What do you think can ensure uninterrupted learning even during hard times like lockdown?
Unfortunately unlike the west we did interrupt learning during Covid. That is because of our structural difficulties. We are the second largest country in terms of population but 400 million still don’t have Rs.100 per day. We are the youngest nation but we have the largest number of tuberculosis patients, lepers, blind people and in a country which produces maximum milk, 50 percent of the lactating mothers are anemic because of the lack of milk.
So we do have structural difficulties. But look at how a state like Kerala overcame the problem of digital divide during the lockdown. Since most students of Kerala didn’t have access to the internet and were unable to get proper education, the State Education Department started online sessions named ‘First Bell’. Sessions were available online and were telecasted through a school TV channel – VICTERS.
So there is a solution to every problem.
10. If given a chance, what changes would you implement in the current education system?
I would adopt some of the best practices of the school systems in countries like Japan and Finland. There are so many good things they do. For example the primary school children learn to clean toilets in school in Japan. Schools teach the values of citizenship in Finland. I would give the best salary to nursery and primary school teachers to attract the best talent in India. For higher education I would look to the US model. I would stop this interview with a controversial statement.
My understanding of a country like the US is that 95% of that country is made of below average people in terms of intelligence. Their sense of history, geography, Science, Mathematics etc. are that of people whom we called duds or idiots. But their top 5 % are the best in the world. You take any sector, they are on top. This was possible only because of their higher education. People from across the world flock towards it. So if we can adopt their systems in India in higher education ( Like what China did) we will reach where they are right now in 40 years. Otherwise it will take a minimum of 100 years
Team Linways wholeheartedly thank you for making out time from your busy schedule for us sir. We will come up with more interviews from various educators of India in the coming weeks.
Also published on Medium.