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"Everything We Do in Class Will Need to Have a Real-World Implication"

Sandy Hooda, Co-Founder of Vega Schools, spoke to BrainGain magazine about education, evolving classrooms, and the future of jobs. Read more below.
BY Skendha Singh |   28-02-2017

Sandy Hooda, is a first-generation entrepreneur, and co-founder of Vega Schools. He spoke to BrainGain magazine about his views on education, and how it must serve the urgent needs of the present, and the emergent needs of the future.

Edited excerpts from the conversation are below.

  1. On what basis do you think students and parents should choose academic institutions?

    I think the start point should be the end, which is, thinking about the challenges that students are going to face when they graduate, in the dramatically different world of the future. As we speak to CEOs and HR heads of companies, and people across various sectors, they tell us that they’re struggling to find people who have the skills that they’re looking for.

    Now, we know that a large part of the brain is formed between the ages of 0-10. Therefore, what we do in school from a young age is critical to what will happen later in life. So, a great school, should focus on developing higher-order skills - on developing creativity in children from a young age, collaborative skills, problem-solving skills, the ability to influence, to listen, be resilient, and so on. Equally, a good school should be equipped to engage a student in learning.

    That’s what one should look for.
  2. Self-esteem is seen as crucial to experimentation & innovation. Education systems today have an uneasy equation with self-esteem – how one writes exams is a more acceptable measure than how one learns. How can progressive learning help improve self-esteem & the spirit of innovation?

    Self-esteem goes back to motivation. What schools do today is narrow intelligence. And when you narrow intelligence, you tend to narrow motivation as well. Of course, there is also the concept of fear. [In many schools] learning takes place under a model of fear – excessive testing, and a fairly authoritarian framework. Great schools make learning happen by reducing, or even eliminating, fear from the equation.

    Every individual has certain strengths. It is incumbent upon a great school, or a great educator, to help the student discover his or her strength. Because our passions reside in our limbic brain, unless we do something we don’t know if we like it or not. It’s when we do things, rather than intellectualizing them or reading from a book, that we feel things. And when we feel good about doing something, we know it can be a potential passion, a future career.

    So, discovering passion, expanding intelligence, and strengthening motivation are all critical to developing and preserving self-esteem.
  3. With tasks becoming increasingly automated, what skills do you think are key to the future? And how can they be inculcated in students and young professionals?

    They are all skills that today’s machines, or even tomorrow’s machines, might not have. Machines can, and will continue to be able to, do repetitive tasks. Our machines are great at storing content. And the traditional education model is about helping students store content. That is well and truly redundant. The world, thanks to technology, is changing rapidly. So how to adapt to change?

    Innovation, creativity, lateral thinking and socialized learning, leadership skills, consensus building, and change management - these are the skills that we really need to develop. And they can’t be developed by reading or talking. All these skills can be best developed by doing things which will involve these skills. This is why project based learning is critical to how we teach.

    For example, we recently did a project in which 4 or 5-year olds created a real restaurant within the school. While creating this restaurant, they learnt maths because they had to do calculation, they learnt English because they had to craft menus and recipes, they learnt how to write in a way that is presentable, and they learnt basic design skills. Other than that they also learnt to work collaboratively with the help of the facilitator, because they had to come up with the menu, with how they were going to invite people, and how they were going to divide responsibilities. They had to solve problems as well because creating a pop-up restaurant in a school is difficult. They had to craft an invite that would interest people to coming in to the restaurant. By doing so, they ticked several boxes of what they needed to do within the year, based on the curriculum, but they went far beyond that by strengthening their higher order thinking skills.
  4. 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030. How can education help prepare for this? And in a utilitarian world focused on employment outcomes, what will be its purpose?

    Everybody is changing. Employers are changing, business organizations are changing. It is projected that most people will have 2-4 jobs. Most of the jobs will be unusual, multidisciplinary jobs. The universities are also changing. As we speak, we have here a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. They tell us that their entire focus is on shifting to problem-based /budget-based learning. So really everybody is changing. And therefore, institutions need to dramatically adapt and change.

    The responsibility that schools have is to create a workforce that will go into the world 10 or 15 years from today. It’s schools that really need to be 10 or 15 years ahead of their time. And that is why there is a need to not only transform but to radically transform.
  5. You’ve talked about multi-disciplinary learning. What will be the future of academic specialisations and niche careers?

    There will always be specialisations. In fact the need for specialisations will rise. The only difference is that everything we do in class will need to have a real-world implication. So, for example, we need to really look at what’s the kind of world that will be out there in 10-15 years from today. And what are the skills that we will need to adapt to that world?

    So, for example, learning to learn is going to be a huge skill because no matter what we are presented with, our ability to adapt and learn, is going to be critical.

    While we can’t predict exactly precisely what is going to happen in the world of tomorrow, what we can predict is that it is going to be different. Therefore, our ability to modify, change, research, and relearn is critical. And specialization is going to remain a critical piece.
  6. Which are the three top employable skills for the future?

    One would be creativity, thinking out of the box, innovation. Put those in one bucket. The second bucket would be collaboration, our ability to work with others, motivate others, work with a high degree of self-esteem. The third bucket would be adaptability, resilience, and problem-solving skills, which are all co-related.
  7. On one hand, technology is speeding up, increasing & improving the dissemination of knowledge. One the other, with online learning, colleges & universities might become redundant. What are your thoughts on the relation between higher education & technology?

    That’s a great question. It’s already happening.

    The disruption in education, many argue, and I feel strongly, has already occurred. And the disruption has occurred because of the internet. Because of information being so easily available.  We have more information than the greatest library in the world in our cellphone. To add to that, many universities, including the leading ones like Harvard, MIT etc, are offering courses free of cost. So the disruption has already occurred.

    What would give an educational institution an edge is the ability to harness all this information into students doing something meaningful. Connecting students with challenges and real-world problems, where they can use all this. Schools, colleges and universities connect students with real world mentors.

    In fact, Gallup conducted a survey a couple of years ago, that real-world mentors and real-world experience contribute more to success than any other education. So that’s going to be the key in my opinion.
  8. Do you have any advice for students?

    Think differently. Go find people who you can really learn from, who can inspire you. Apply learning constantly; work with others; socialize. When I say socialize, I mean meaningful socialization that lends to learning. So, I would strongly encourage students to go out in the world and learn.

Related stories:
Former Stanford Dean on Important Skills Every Young Adult Needs
Roy Newey: Promoting Skills and Employment


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