Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where we are, where we're going and other places

I haven't written anything in a long time, but it's exam preparation time, so how can the creative juices not flow? After all, if you want to be very very very creative, make a man sit down, hand him a book (the boring kind, like "Company Law") and tell him he has to give an exam on the subject in 20 days. It'll be as if he has hurricane Sandy inside his skull! See what I did there? eh? eh? Ok fine, maybe I'm not as funny as I think I am. I'll chalk it up the sleep deprivation. So what's this post about? I have no clue. None whatsoever. Zero.

So I'll just write about whatever I please.

For starters, Malala. Though she isn't in the news as much as before, she's still dripping off the tongues of our newscasters now and then. I'll be honest, I heard about her only after she got shot. My only thoughts on the matter are, damn, the people that took down a superpower, are afraid of a little girl. I even tweeted about it. See? I am a concerned citizen. I tweeted about it. The girl from Swat was the only thing people talked about for quite a while, non-stop twenty four seven. Except for that time when she was reduced to being just text on a scrolling red band because OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!! SAIF AND KATRINA GOT MARRIED AAAAHHHHH!!!! Boy do we have our priorities straight.

The next thing to follow after that was, the American presidential election. My opinion on the matter, none. So let's move on.

Then of course, there is exams themselves. That's what on my mind. Among a few other things. The very nature of exams to be exact. Why do we even have them anymore? I'm not saying that we don't need exams, that we should abolish them, though that's what we've been hoping and praying for since we were little kids. What I'm wondering is the one question that always haunts us, the one that is never easy to answer, that is, why? Why do even have exams? What purpose do they serve?

In my opinion, and that's just what it is, simply opinion, exams are not what they used to be. From the perspective of the examiner, they're no longer a means of measuring the capability of the examinees, assuming exams were actually ever capable of accomplishing that. Exams are a means to filter out university applicants. And further on, they are a way of controlling supply of labor into the job market. A means of creating artificial shortage of supply to keep existing price of labor right. From the perspective of the  examinees, it's no longer about learning or gaining knowledge. It's all about reading the mind of the examiner,  and figuring out the "trick" of passing an exam.

It could be that I'm totally wrong about all this, like I said, It's all just opinion.

But the larger question that keeps me wondering is, because I'd rather wonder than actually study, what if the whole education system is outdated? The world has moved on. That much is clear. We're at a time and place where innovation and discovery is happening at a faster pace than ever before in human history. The way content has distributed has changed. Our understanding of how a person learns has greatly improved. Technology itself, though not available to all, has become much more accessible. But all around the world, the education systems are almost the same. Not only that, they're also similar to their past selves.

How can something like online video change how kids are taught in the classroom? How can connectivity allow students to coordinate or help accessibility to education to areas not so well off? How can our knowledge of a child's cognitive and social development allow us to rethink our curriculum? And in some way, change is creeping up on us. Just have a look at the Khan Academy. Sooner or later, the education system will catch up with the developments going on all around us. I'm curious to know how. I'd like to know what the classroom of tomorrow looks like. All the same, I've had enough of studies for a while, so just a peek will suffice.

The most interesting thing is, that thanks to all these different mediums of learning that are now available to us, people are able to satisfy their curiosity. You can go online via your laptop or smartphone and learn whatever the hell you want. And more interesting than that, people are actually going ahead and doing it. The same lessons that bored you to sleep in class, are now available in a completely new format and everyone loves it. Which means that in part, if not completely, the problem was not with the student or the teacher, but probably with the medium. I'm not placing blame on anyone, we didn't have youtube or wikipedia back then, but now we do and the sooner we leverage this and other technology the better. Because as I learned after watching videos of maths, history and physics, learning is fun.

But like I said, it's all opinion, nothing more. I could really go on about this topic, but I won't. It's an interesting time we live in. The availability of information means that if we want to learn something, the only barrier is us not getting up and learning it.

With that said I still feel that if you want to read a book, then nothing but actual paper bound in hard cover will do. I speak of non-study books of course. That reminds me, I haven't read a book in ages. Seriously. I think it's been three or four years, I can't recall. I read the Potter book and, I'm sure one or two other things. Weird. I used to be an avid reader. Anyway, If after my long (understatement) hiatus we still have people willing to comment, I'd like love a book recommendation.

Moving, while technology allows us to learn in new ways, it also allows us to express in new ways. Take this very blog as an example. It is the 90's equivalent of printing your own magazine. Except that would cost you. Yet now you are free to express. In many words, in just 140 characters, with pictures, good god the pictures (I'm looking at you amateur "photographers"), with video and with music. The barriers to entry are being lowered to a person wanting to express themselves. Which means now "I can't afford X or Y" is not as valid an excuse as it used to be. Want to write? Start a blog. Graphic designing? GIMP is free, so are online tutorials. Want to make music? Well, you'll have to spend some cash on that BUT you can get started for free with Audiotool. The disadvantage of lowered barriers of entry? The same as the advantage. Everyone who wants to do something will, even if they are very very very bad at it.

It is now more possible for people to learn and do what they want and the evidence of this is around you. Take music for example. How many albums or singles used to come out every year in the 90's? Compare that with today. There's a new song practically everyday. And why? Well, again, technology. Back then recording equipment, synthesizers and a mixing board would cost you your house. Now, for under five hundred dollars, you have a studio in you house. With the right laptop and software. And this allows me to shamelessly transition to pasting some tracks that I made in my own spare time. And before you comment, yes, I'm aware that they are a little repetitive. Cut me some slack, I am but a student, working my way up the ranks:
Stuff I made so far by TalhaAzim

And with that done, I'm signing out.

See you next post, which I'm hoping won't be too far off.
Talha A. B.