Douglas Crets


Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

Thomas Vaidhyan: CEO, Aten Inc.

Thomas Vaidhyan, CEO, Aten, sat with me for a few minutes and talked about his company and the role he wishes to play in improving public education. Thomas is spurred on by his son’s experience in education and his experiences growing up in India.

Douglas: Can you start by telling us about some of your ambitions for making a more “intelligent” education system,” or could you explain what is an intelligent education system? How does it incorporate digital learning and interactive gaming?

Thomas Vaidhyan: One of the challenges that teachers face constantly in their classes is to understand at what level each student learns and to try to ensure as much of an individualized approach as possible to challenge the brighter students and bring up the weaker students, while catering to the average student relying largely on instincts and experience.

Our ambition is to assist the teacher in tackling these challenges by providing “Aten’s Intelligent Education System, “ which brings research, and proven pedagogy/methodologies/best practices & technologies to create more meaningful learning experiences. The point is to do this in a highly individualized manner by tracking, assessing and catering to each student’s skills and abilities.

Douglas: How does Aten take advantage of the need for these more meaningful learning experiences?

Thomas: Aten Intelligent provides highly engaging and collaborative Immersive Virtual Learning Environments where students contextually and experientially learn and apply complex learning objectives and skills.

These highly scaleable environments mimic everyday applications and practical uses of what they learn and they also expose students to a variety of career options with interactions with virtual and real world mentors and possible collaboration on a global scale.

These environments are designed around curricular competencies or learning objectives and structured with in built artificial intelligence and advanced computer modeling to make the learning process adaptive to each individual’s level and provide formative feedback as they progress, giving them an environment where they can make multiple attempts to attain mastery over the competencies.

Douglas: What do you think teachers can do with the overall community to bring about adoption of productive practices that blend technology with best teaching practices?

Thomas: More than the teachers ( who I think are really overloaded currently and underpaid largely) it is for the business community and for the leadership to set up avenues and platforms that expose them to 21st century work place skill requirements, technologies, tools and best practices. An enlightened leadership such as the one we have in North Carolina for instance, are already in the process of setting up such an online framework which will ensure teacher driven, business-mentor interactions with students for project based learning. Some of the Virtual Learning Environments we are creating has these features built in as well.

Douglas: What kinds of development would you encourage to help the school systems evolve towards more intuitive, interactive or digital learning?

Thomas: Leadership exposure to industry best practices and more long term focused and scaleable technology spending is key. Again, Educational Leadership interaction with businesses and their needs can help them understand what businesses are looking for in the students, as well latest Leadership training and best practices in the corporate world.

I was in a conversation yesterday morning with a lady who is starting a charter school in New Hampshire. One of the comments she made really resonated. She said, “If only we would let the children learn by themselves instead of trying to push down a test oriented curricula…” Indeed, today’s student ( even at my son’s level at 2nd grade ) know what resources ( like wikipedia, google  or specific books) can be tapped for information or know-how. What we need to do be able to do as good teachers, parents or as schools is to be able to ignite that passion or interest in children to learn and the process of gleaning and acquiring knowledge be what it really should be – an exciting process of discovery and achievement. ( Just like a 3 pointer or the first goal or a great drive !) School systems can create such an environment where teachers are facilitators in that discovery process and students are enabled with access to digital tools like the iPad they should be able to tap into the host of resources available. Further if the leadership and teachers can also encourage an environment where students can imagine and think outside the box and are allowed to make mistakes and learn themselves we will be creating a generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders that is required to keep our country at the top.

Douglas: Tell us about your experience being educated in India compared to your experience of sending your son to school here.

Thomas: My son goes to a Public Montessori Magnet in which system he has been since he was 2.5 years old. I love it. Think about it, right from his youngest days, their system lets them set up their daily work plan and structure it in different chunks of learning objectives as they like. They can work alone or in groups. They can move around in an orderly fashion and as they are grouped in classes (like 1-3 age; 3-6 etc ) they are able to advance at their individual levels and abilities while yet maintaining essential curricular learning. This enables the brighter ones to advance and at the same time mentor the upcoming ones reinforcing what they have learnt while inculcating critical soft skills for work together at a very young age. In fact everything they do and the way the do it seems to be oriented towards exactly what we need as 21st Century Corporate skills. Amazingly though I find that even such existing best practices are not  scaled up across the larger school system. Unfortunately even his school and teachers currently seem to be moving more towards training the students to score well in EOG and other tests.

That is precisely what I fear might be happening across school systems here which is what I experienced in schools in India where I was an ace at acing tests and thus a topper through out. Yet I feel we have learnt and retained very little in acquiring knowledge per se or being able to apply what we have learnt!  In fact most of us feel that we benefitted more from the soft skills that were inculcated in us by the various extra curricular activities that we were encouraged to participate in and had avenues to.

Douglas: What makes right now an inflection point for entrepreneurs in education, who want to create the great disruptive companies of the 21st Century?

Thomas: As has been mentioned many times recently it seems that we have the perfect storm for a transformation in education currently. The specter of rising global competition, combined with changing demographics and of course the urgency of the recession, has  I think caused our leadership, administration and educational reformers from Duncan and Gates to Rhee to rightly review and realize that the current educational systems are sorely in need for a revamp or reboot. Further this has been given the necessary impetus with the very timely and craftily designed Race to the Top funding which rewards states for utilizing the best technological advances and tools to root out wasteful and repetitive tech spending and instead have a cloud centralized sharing of next generation resources, tools and services for students and educators’ professional development. This provides probably the best opportunity for entrepreneurs like us to bring some of the best technological advances and learning best practices from the corporate world into the educational system.

Devices like the iPad and smart phones and other technology advances have created a transformative disruption in the very manner in which we consume media. It is moving in leaps and bounds from a textual one towards more seamless experiences including video, animations and interactive and immersive environments.

So in more ways than one, it is high time we changed the way we learn.


Filed under: Tech, Work, , , ,

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