In my forthcoming workshops in April, I plan to build on the theme of ‘Tinkering with Electronics’ that I had started last December and introduce robotics in rural schools in India I work with. For this, earlier in January, I had ordered robotic kits from two vendors in India and purchased one here in London for evaluation. The one I bought in London was nicely packaged, with clear instructions and worked like a charm. However, it was double the cost of the Indian kits. I wrote off the first Indian kit as I was opening it because it was shoddy. As it is most students find STEM subjects daunting and using unwelcoming hardware to introduce technology would make my job significantly more challenging!
The second kit was better. During assembly, I found one component faulty and to save time I ordered that part locally in London. However, even then I could not get the kit to work. So I got in touch with the company. They arranged a Skype chat with a member of their support team, who asked me to get a multimeter and start testing the capacitors on the micro-controller board! Worse, two capacitors were shorting and this person asked me if I had a soldering iron and could I remove the solder bridge that must be shorting the capacitors. Though I am no electronics engineer I have tinkered enough so I removed the solder bridges and got the capacitors working again. However, the micro-controller board still did not work. I was told that the issue requires further investigation. This was last week and I am yet to hear from them.
I am giving a very abridged account. In reality there were delays in shipment, many emails were exchanged, assurances were given but not followed through et al. Bottom line is that in an age when Amazon has spoilt us with prompt delivery and no-fuss exchange my experience was rather unpleasant. This company is founded by alumni of the most famous technology institute in India and while my case may be an exception it left me a bit anguished that how could such a company lack quality checks and not understand the importance of customer delight. Is fostering such a spirit and mindset out-of-syllabus even in a premier technology institute?
I was reminded of the cult book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and felt that ‘metaphysics of quality’ and ‘gumption’ are perhaps essential dispositions which should be a part of any education.
This raised a more fundamental question: Are there any ACGT life skills that we all need to learn and hone? ACGT are of course the primary nucleobases that make the DNA and DNA is the key ingredient for life within. My question is are there any primary life skills that make up the DNA of the life we lead out in the world?
In my opinion three strands of this ‘DNA of life without’ are:
1 Self-Awareness: a deep dive within where you investigate meaning, purpose and how you can make your life joyful. Understanding the construct of your emotions and ability to rewrite the script that plays inside your head are included here.
2 Ability to take ownership of your learning: here I include curiosity, intrinsic motivation or firing up a yearning to learn, figuring out what is worth learning and then finding out ways to learn it well.
3 Ability to think independently and deeply: this includes critical, creative and the new-kid-on-the-block, computational thinking and also ability to formulate insightful questions that help you get clarity such that you can abstract and make sense of patterns to solve complex problems.
There are many other contenders for ACGT life skills like information literacy, which includes an ability to find, validate and use information in an information abundant world, or financial literacy, or empathy, or initiative… However, our investigation is about simple, primary life skills that lead to all other permutations. For example, building character is coming back in fashion in education and this includes ethics and morality. However, I believe if a person is deeply self-aware ethics and morality are not something you need to teach. They are natural ingredients needed for a life well-lived.
What we are looking for are fundamental, building-block life skills so that focus can be on imparting these well to all hues of learners. We could then rely on the property of emergence for self-directed development of other skills, competencies and dispositions, including gumption and quality mindset!
I think a discussion on ACGT life skills is much needed and would be very useful. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome.