While browsing through pictures on my laptop, I stumbled across this. Not a great picture (taken with a tiny compact camera). But it reminded me of my time at Columbia University and specifically at Columbia Business School. This picture was taken at some post class shindig which were essentially an excuse to get drunk after 12 hours of classes.  Jokes apart, I thought it may be interesting to share some of the perspectives that I acquired during my time there; and how they be universal heuristics agnostic of traditional drivers of a good education.

Perhaps the most important takeaway that I had at Columbia was the realization of value of learning via association. What I learnt during my time was best summed up by a friend – we learnt how to learn by asking why. Most of my actual learning came from the intelligent “Whys” that I heard during class discussions from my classmates and even the professors. I learnt the art of critical thinking by watching critical thinking expand discussions much beyond the regimented boundaries that often afflict academic discussions. It helped that all of us were working at the same time – it helps to ask questions when you have real life experience.

What I learnt was that just listening to people who know much more than you in a particular area, just listening to them is a learning experience. Which is why I am such a big fan of Ted Talk now. Audio is a great teacher.

My Private Equity class professor summed it up very well – ” I am sure by the time you leave this class, you would have forgotten a vast majority of what you are learning in the class. What I hope stays with you are some heuristics and more importantly, intellectual curiosity, the willingness to learn”. I couldn’t agree more.

All these things have made me think about the challenge of education. This wonderfully powerful video on TED got me thinking on how the power of the internet can be leveraged to provide education to the underprivileged and poor, especially in developing countries like India.

Like I mentioned above, the biggest drivers to my learning while at Columbia were the associations with my classmates and professors. If I am a bright kid in a small village in India – the ability to listen to discussions and talks provides me the virtual equivalent of the same drivers. And it costs next to nothing. And it is replicable. One of the reasons why there are learning cohorts in Business School is to stimulate the same type of multi dimensional discussions that are held in the class room. And the same phenomenon can be replicated in villages and far flung areas of any developing countries. Inside the “circles – where good teachers dont want to go” that Sugata Mitra talks about in the talk.

The larger point I am trying to make is this – it might seem egregious to take the example of an Ivy League education in New York City and talk about replicating the experience in a rural area of a developing country. But as you hear Sugata speak, you will realize that the Arthur C Clarke comment that he quotes is really very true – “A teacher that can be replaced with a machine – should”. What I am suggesting is not replacing teachers with machines. Instead, what I am saying is using machines to enable “force projection” of world class teachers (to steal a law enforcement verbiage). Enable world class teachers whose influence was till very recently limited to elite institutions be dispersed by the web. And like Arthur C Clarke quote in the video – let the willingness of the child to learn do the rest of the trick.

Just some musings from what I learnt at Columbia. I was lucky, very lucky to be able to go there. But I hope new education methods enable children less fortunate to also be exposed to the very same influences.

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