From Flat, to Fast, to Deep

Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman wrote “The World is Flat”, a book that had a massive impact when it came to people’s understanding of the world, economics, globalisation and the forces that were shaping the world and how that shaping was likely to emerge in the future. He also went on to write other books, such as “Hot, Flat and Crowded” looking at the environment, impact of population growth and global warming. These days he writes for the New York Times, especially on foreign affairs and issues of globalisation.

Recently, he sat down for a very interesting interview discussion with James Manyika, Chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to embed the interview video here, but the link here will take you directly to it.

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The work that Friedman does entails gazing in to the future and trying to predict where we’re headed. it’s far from an exact science, so inevitably he’s been, at times, subject to a fair share of criticism. Nevertheless, he’s also been very good at predicting certain trends.

As educators, our task principally is to prepare young people for the future. Also, there are many questions that students have about what’s currently happening in the world and it’s important that teachers are equipped to respond intelligently and in an informed manner.

If we look at the views of commentators like Stephen Pinker there’s never been a better time to be alive. The world is becoming a better and better place to live. Admittedly, he can point to enormous strides in recent years in the reduction of absolute poverty in the world, improvements in numbers and proportion of children getting education, reductions in child mortality, reduced levels of deaths through war and conflict.

However, especially for those living in the West it’s hard to believe in this positive message. There’s growing anger and disaffection, especially among the middle classes. For the first time in a long time, we see life expectancy creeping down in countries like the US, we see a young generation who almost certainly will not achieve the wealth levels of their parents and middle classes whose real wealth levels are in decline as wages stagnate and real costs of living rise (all exacerbated by beliefs about what represents minimal living standards).

This anguish is manifested through more extreme polarisation of political attitudes, rise of extremists and demands to roll back globalisation in favour of protectionism. Instead of embracing the benefits of open trade, the inclinations are now towards erecting real and virtual barriers, walls and restrictions.

In the interview Friedman talks of the anguish of people acting out their humiliation and questing for dignity. For a blue collar middle class worker in Britain or USA the fact that children aren’t dying as often in Africa, or the resurgence of Asian economies don’t matter a jot when they feel they’re robbed of the promised riches of ‘the American dream’ that they believe was theirs by birthright. Ironically, I suspect that economic progress in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is the very best possibility for those people in the longer term as it will slow down the natural flows of those who feel the need to migrate. Finding more than adequate opportunities at home, they’ll feel less need to head west.

Rightly, Friedman highlights the significance and need for leadership in these times.

Worth a watch.

Great School Leadership

Repeatedly, surveys and research have demonstrated that leadership is a more important defining factor between average and great schools than between average and great companies. I believe this is partly due to the fact that, unlike a company, there’s a far more significant element of ‘community’ about a school.

There isn’t a single template for what makes great school leaders. They come in all sizes, shapes and genders; introverts and extroverts and having taken all sorts of different paths to reach their roles.

Here’s a short post from Edutopia in which a blogger identifies what she believes are the key attributes:

Edutopia – What Makes a Great School Leader?

I can’t fault the three things she highlights; vision, community building and EQ. However, nobody should underestimate the point that comes through her personal experience in the last section so strongly – great school leaders care passionately about children.

Unique New SUPW Initiative

In our quest to seek to innovate, the management in the school agreed up to 2 years ago that we were not wholly satisfied with the benefits that were coming out of students’ involvement in SUPW (Socially useful Productive Work). This is a mandated part of all children’s learning in ICSE and ISC schools. It requires children to spend some time understand the challenges in life for those less fortunate and contributing in some meaningful way to improving the lot of others.
We were pretty clear that there were some faults in the old approach which saw our students goingon an out-station trip where they would engage in some ‘labour activity’ such as building a water tank for a few days, stay in very basic accommodation and then return to their cozy comfortable lives relatively untouched by the whole experience.
a)Firstly, we felt that SUPW is nothing if just treated on the basis that a student must ‘put in’ a set number of hours.
b)Secondly, we wanted, in the long term, for students to have access to a far bigger array of choices about how they help others according to what really interests them -not just a ‘one size fits all’ project.
c) We wanted an involvement that stretched over a longer period of time, so that the student would be more immersed in the experience and would feel more attached to the project.
d) To satisfy the other requirements and also to ensure that students are really aware that life challenges exist for many right in their own, home environment, we wanted to engage them in projects which are local.
Over a year ago the senior School Principals wrote to a variety of NGOs offering the services of our young, vibrant, enthusiastic students to make a contribution to their activities. The result – complete silence from the NGO’s. For a short while we scratched our heads as we tried to work out why they hadn’t responded with unbridled enthusiasm. Eventually, the penny dropped and we realised that the thought of receiving 30-40 school age youngsters, being responsible for putting them to work gainfully, supervising them, keeping discipline and ensuring their safety.
So, what to do next? Should we just give up on the goals and settle for status quo? Fortunately, a meeting with some senior executives from the company GE suddenly brought new possibilities. They have an in-house CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme under which employees of their company become GE volunteers. The idea that came to us was all too simple – why not put a group of students under the guidance and mentorship of a corporate volunteer? Now, the mentor volunteer gets a new and different experience as they can multiply up the value of their time contribution through the students. And, the NGO’s concerns are addressed because responsibility, student management and discipline are all looked after.
We decided to start with a pilot project working with an organisation with which both TSRS and GE already had ties – The Vidya Comfort School. Vidya Comfort have just made the daunting leap to their own purpose built campus coming up in DLF Phase III. Eventually, it will have the capacity to cater to 1,000 students. The school is in its first year.
With their typical enthusiasm and ‘can-do’ spirit Vidya jumped at the chance to work with us on this and so, two weeks ago the pilot started. A group of students under their corporate mentors are visiting the school twice a week, getting involved with teaching the children. In time, there will be opportunities for those who want to get involved with other aspects of helping the school to get itself in shape.
If the pilot works we will look to replicate the programme with other NGOs and other corporate. I would love to hear from parents who are with either NGOs or Corporates that they think might want to be a part of this in the future.
Over time, i’ll report further on how the programme is progressing.

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True Shri Ramites

Shri Ramites

These boys really represent what it means to be true Shri Ramites – well done boys!!

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