Parents send kids to school to make them ready for college. They then send kids to college for a bright career. In the world of lean startup and lean manufacturing, kids are the ultimate work in progress (WIP). Kids remain work in progress for at least 16 years (13 years of school + 3 years of graduation) around the world.
The world is changing faster than ever before. Lean startup, agile project management, lean manufacturing are answers to managing the challenges of a fast changing world. These techniques believe that work in progress should be reduced to eliminate wastage.
Lean startup talks about focusing on value provided to the customer. It also talks about Build -> Measure -> Learn cycle. A startup should not build everything in anticipation of the demand. A startup should build a little, test the market with the minimum viable product (MVP) and then learn from the feedback. The startup should iterate based on the learning and update it’s product for providing better value to the customer.
Education should be like that. Instead of student just learning and learning for 16 years, he or she should be able to Build -> Measure -> Learn at school. From early on students should be building things and then measuring the feedback. The feedback can come from surroundings or from parents, teachers and friends. The learning should only be the last stage. A person is responsive to learning only when he or she has a need for learning. Most students do not learn in school because school does not create any need for learning.
I have done an unscientific poll of my relatives who were good in school studies. Nearly all of them studied hard to get good marks and come first. None of them had primary motive as learning! Good students are generally more disciplined when it comes to studying but the purpose of school is not just to teach discipline. The purpose of school is to make students ready for a fast changing world.
When I was growing up my competition was from my classmates who were all natives of Delhi and were mainly from upper middle class or rich backgrounds. When I grew up I faced competition not from people with these backgrounds. I faced competition from people around the world. School did not prepare me for global competition. It was not the fault of the school. In 1980s and first half of 1990s we in India were living in a closed world.
Unfortunately for me the world had changed by the time I started my career. As a technology entrepreneur I started facing global competition. 18+ years of studies had not prepared me for that.
The way out is not changing the curriculum to suit globalisation. By the time my children will begin their careers the world would have changed again. I do not know how the world will be in 2035 when my children will join the workforce.
The way out is not to form a government committee to create a new age curriculum. The way out is to give students freedom to build, measure and learn. I am a chartered accountant (equivalent to CPA in India) who wrote India’s first book on mobile application development in 2003. I am researching on design and UX for last few years. I have to use all 3 streams of education in one go – science, art and commerce. I cannot use them in silos like our education system likes to put them in.
The iPhone is the most successful product in history because it combines the output of the best designers, engineers, managers and accountants. Similarly is the case with all successful products around us. Just see Amazon, Google or Facebook. They are a combination of art, science and commerce.
You do not need hundred million dollars for learning using build -> measure -> learn cycle. Child can learn the same through small electronics, programming and robotics projects. Building a small robotic car can be a good lesson in physics, chemistry, maths and design.
A fixed curriculum can never catch up with an ever changing world. It’s like a public service TV broadcaster competing with YouTube. School curriculum should be in form of a Kanban board. The board should have 4 columns – Do, Doing, Done and Learn. In the ‘Do’ section school should have projects. Projects should involve art & craft, electronics, programming, robotics etc. Kids should be free to choose projects. The teacher should only gently nudge the kid towards a direction. The kid should have the final say.
The kid should be responsible for completing the project. Kids should be allowed to form teams to complete projects. Team building should not be enforced. Teams should form spontaneously. The role of the teacher should be to mentor the kids. The teacher should help the kids only when they ask. The teacher should try to tell the kids about various items and processes used in project building. Nearly all of school maths and science can be taught using projects. Once the project is completed the teacher should ask the student about his or her learning from the project. The teacher should explain all science, maths and other topics related to the project after the project is completed. I have seen that kids are very receptive to learning at this stage in my makerspace.
A robotic car uses metals such as steel, aluminium and copper. It also uses electricity which is based on electrons which motivate a student to learn about atoms, molecules and physics. The code the car uses is similar to algebra. Interestingly it also teaches the kid cost accounting, designing and marketing.
Tomorrow if something new crops up the project can organically change to cover that. For example if self driving cars become a common place in 2020 then the same project can be extended by the kid to create a self driving toy vehicle. The kid can use a computer like Raspberry Pi and some sensors to make the vehicle more intelligent.
If self flying cars become the norm in 2030 then the kid will need to merge concepts from drones, aerodynamics and machine learning to build a flying toy car. Since the kid will be free to do stuff the kid will be able to adapt. We need to give the kid the freedom to create his or her own curriculum within some defined parameters.
Currently even if schools were using robotic cars to teach educational concepts the curriculum of the project would not be updated on time. The students will be taught self driving car in 2030 instead of 2020. I have seen a university in India teaching students Windows 95 in 2014!
Thus lean education is the need of the hour. Kids in the 21st century need lean education so that they can adapt the curriculum themselves according to the changes in the actual world. Kids need freedom from the rigid structure of a fixed curriculum if we want them to be adaptable to an ever changing world.