Monday, April 25, 2016

Why Kejriwal is the silver lining in this atmosphere of gloom and doom

Delhi CM has, at least, recognised the importance of education for improving prosperity of the population 


The following tweet by IBM Global Entrepreneur (@ibmGE) aptly captures the essence of the technological upheavals of the fourth Industrial Revolution (IR) that is currently sweeping through the global economy:

World's largest taxi company owns no taxis (Uber)

Largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (Airb&b)

Largest phone companies own no telco infra (Skype, WeChat)

World's most valuable retailer has no inventory (Alibaba)

Most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook)

Fastest growing banks have no actual money (SocietyOne)

World's largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)

Largest software vendors don't write the apps (Apple & Google)

The fourth IR, also known as the Second Machine Age, is fundamentally changing each and every aspect of our life. Smart machines now can print a pizza for our dinner, prepare a company's financial reports and read it to the public, turn on our AC at residence as we start off from the office in a driverless car, fly our planes and kill our enemies, provide 24x7 nursing care to patients without demanding any salary hike, teach our children according to their natural learning styles and so on.

All over the world, governments, public institutions and businesses are finding it horrendously difficult to manage these disruptive innovations of the Second Machine Age, which have started hitting with increasing intensity particularly, since the middle of the last decade. Governments in many countries, often run by established parties with many years of experience, are disappearing in a flash.

The Arab Spring started by a vegetable vendor in Tunisia changed the whole political map of an entire region beyond recognition in a matter of months. Narendra Modi almost single-handedly wiped out India's very own GOP (Grand Old Party), only to be given a similar knockout punch in Delhi soon after his landslide victory by an infant party. Both the established parties in the US are now battling to save themselves from the severe blows coming from the "fringe elements". The list goes on.

As the fourth revolution continues to unfold, the parties that are coming to power in many countries riding the wave public discontent are often finding themselves in deep trouble. Participation in the protest movement by itself does not automatically develop the ability to appropriately respond to the challenges of the Second Machine Age. A different kind of thinking - and even a very different psyche - is needed to face these challenges head on. Only saaf niyat (good intention) is not enough.

Why is fourth IR very different from the previous IRs?

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of the recently published book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, describes in detail the nature of the various industrial revolutions. If the use of steam power that replaced muscle power was the beginning of the first IR in late 18th century, then the second IR was unleashed in the second half of 19th century by electrical power leading to the growth of mass production.

The 1950s is considered as the start of the third IR caused by the exponentially growing computing power, development of personal computing and internet (IT as a category appears for the first time in US government economic statistics in 1958).

It seems the Modi government credulously believes that by blaming the previous government's policies, it can make India shine. (AP)

Building on the third revolution the human civilisation has now entered the Fourth IR, where growth is characterised by fusion of different technologies. Schwab mentions that the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres are getting blurred in the fourth IR. The revolution is disrupting almost every industry in every country. The "breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance."

Henceforth, the global economy will continue to experience a permanent state of extremely high uncertainty caused by incessant waves of game-changing innovations in areas like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, nanotechnology, additive printing and so on. The combinatorial explosion of the fourth revolution makes the pace of innovation of the digital era look like a bullock cart in front of a hypersonic plane. What is most frightening is that globally, governments are caught totally unprepared to face this jaw-dropping pace of change. As a result, governments continue to crumble like house of cards.

Critical importance of education reforms

Though historically industrial revolutions always created disruptions in our societies, the linear nature of the growth process in the past allowed the societies and governments enough time to gradually adjust to the new situations and requirements. For example, the education system was slowly transformed in about 100 years to a centralised system capable of batch-production of large number of people with standardised skills, as required by the scale economy. But, the fourth IR with its extremely high pace of knowledge obsolescence does not provide the luxury of snail's pace for transformation.

Now, new business models are to be introduced and experimented all the time to cope with the challenges of knowledge explosion. This demands creation of new educational systems and models that are adept at making knowledge the actual input to the production process while it is being produced and transferred to students. Failure to do so will create a massive problem of educated unemployment. Economists Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University argue that machines are getting smarter, thanks to their microprocessor brains. They no longer need unskilled labour to operate. On one estimate, 47 per cent of US jobs are at risk from automation.

While recognising the harrowing possibilities of the fourth IR, we must not be blind to the immense promises of this revolution. Research reports are indicating that the human civilisation is heading towards a world of plenty, where energy, water, food and other necessities will be available for everyone in plenty.

Progress in healthcare will soon eliminate most of the dreaded diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's. People will soon have the opportunity to make themselves free from mundane and non-creative work and shall be able to maximise their creative output.

However, one should not be naïve to expect that such a transition will happen automatically without any fundamental shift in our governance and management systems. Most importantly, societies in general and governments, in particular, must realise that without a radical transformation in our education system - the most critical element for growth in this Second Machine Age - nothing can prevent a country's fast slide to unthinkable misery and destruction.

The clueless Modi government

Last two years' experience of the Modi government clearly shows that this government is hopelessly ignorant about the challenges of the current situation. The quality of its HRD Minister, the status and importance of the S&T ministry, run-of-the-mill initiatives like Make in India and Digital India and many other such examples provide some idea about the intellectual potential of this government, which is supposed to deftly navigate India's trajectory in a highly turbulent knowledge economy. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government has converted education to such a mafia-driven business, even Mario Puzo must be turning in his grave in excitement for getting a better plot than Godfather.

It seems the Modi government credulously believes that by blaming the previous government's policies for everything and concentrating on winning state elections, it can make India shine. By spending its precious time on nonsensical and irrelevant issues like "Bharat Mata ki jai" and flying national flag in the campuses, or, by giving banal radio talk on how to prepare for Board examinations and asking medical students to learn from head-transplant techniques of the Vedic age, this government, in fact, is fast becoming a butt of the joke.

Is Kejriwal the silver lining?

Considering the irrelevance of the Congress and the Congress plus cow (borrowing Arun Shourie's expression) value of the BJP, Arvind Kejriwal appears to be the only silver lining in this atmosphere of gloom and doom.

Kejriwal has, at least, recognised the importance of education for improving prosperity of the population and shown boldness to increase sharply his government's investment in this sector. His sincere attempt to improve public healthcare - a necessary condition for growth during the fourth IR - also reflects his ability to prioritise issues.

In comparison to Modi, Kejriwal also gives more encouragement to public participation in governance (though, much less than what is actually required). This is vital for developing a fourth IR-ready culture.

The nature of the current revolution demands a system where every individual, without any fear of victimisation, is able to contribute to finding creative solution to our socioeconomic problems and governance, even when an individual's idea goes against the declared vision of the leader. This requires tolerance and very high level of respect for dissent.

Looking at Kejriwal's performance so far, it seems he is still falling far short of democratisation of power. Either he doesn't fully understand the challenges of in the fourth IR or, not interested in confronting it head on.

What he is doing so far is mainly picking up the low-hanging fruits, such as stepping up investments to provide larger and better access to school education, healthcare, etc. Many countries, who were at a similar stage of development like India only about a few decades ago, are today much ahead of us because of their ability to pick up those low hanging fruits much earlier than us.

But, the fourth IR doesn't provide us the luxury of time to repeat the same process what others have accomplished in the past. Fortunately, rapid development of educational technology allows us to skip a whole era of traditional growth trajectory in the education sector, similar to what was possible to do in the telecommunication sector some years ago.

Our survival and prosperity in the fourth IR will depend upon how soon we are able to not only educate our population, but also create a new culture of problem solving and governance. The culture must allow individuals to ask questions without any fear of victimisation, provide creative or out-of-the-box solutions and develop the ability to critically evaluate and synthesise diverse thoughts. The education sector, from nursery to university, has to play the key role in creating such a culture and creative mindset.

Kejriwal has to go much beyond than simply extending the reach of the schooling system. With saaf niyat he can reach the last kid on the street even now. But, that cannot take him far. Limitations of linear thinking are visible even for all other critical problems that he is currently trying to grapple with. Take for example, the Odd-Even formula to tackle pollution in Delhi.

Besides focusing on this temporary solution, the government also needs to experiment with many other creative solutions to make travel itself irrelevant for a vast majority of people, including office-goers, school-goers and a host of other categories. This will lead to innovation of newer business models for many organisations, including the government (this will be a topic for another discussion).

Investing resources in the education system without any attempt to fundamentally reform it and make it fourth IR-compatible can also substantially reduce the scope of any return from all those investments. Our rigid and highly centralised industrial-era education sector - meant for mass production of students using standardised tools - is totally counterproductive in the Second Machine Age. Some research reports suggests that about 50 per cent of the US colleges and universities will be forced to close down by 2030! When Harvard University's Clayton Christensen asks his audience to pray for his university, we need to take note.

The bold experiment in Finland

There is a broader level of consensus emerging that to survive the extremely high level of technological uncertainties, every educational institution - from primary to tertiary levels - must now continuously experiment with newer models. Finland provides an interesting example of one such bold experimentation. They are radically overhauling their secondary education system and have plans to phase out teaching individual subjects such as mathematics, chemistry and physics. Instead, students will be now taught by "topics" or broad phenomena.

Considering the fact that performance of Finland's secondary school education is rated as one of the best in the world, it certainly needs courage to initiate reforms in their already well-functioning system. Who knows, the process may ultimately implant readiness for experimentation with innovative ideas into the DNA of the Finnish population's psyche and governance system.

Judging from the deplorable treatment meted out to some of Kejriwal's former - intellectually capable - colleagues, his overall dislike for dissent and propensity for high-handedness (which is diametrically opposite to the requirement of a creativity and knowledge driven economy), it appears that there is a real danger of the AAP degenerating into a BJP-kind of hero-worshipping party.

In the currently Modi-fied model of the BJP, critical thinking has no place and abuse is considered the only option for sustaining high adrenalin flow of its members and troll-army. Kejriwal has to decide which roads he prefers to opt. On one road he will meet fanatics driven by taboos, obscurantism and jingoism and on the other, there will be people with genuine desire to discover the unknowns, who may question everything and who also want to find creative solutions of our problems.

On an idea level the choice seems to be obvious for every leader, but when it comes to practise, unfortunately, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Source- Daily O

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