In this episode, Sharath Jeevan OBE, Founder and CEO of STiR Education and Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs, speaks to Yue-Yi Hwa, RISE Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. They discuss why we need to go upside-down to focus on the people in education systems; how to change ministers’ mindsets; how to create space for teachers to innovate at the classroom level; and why education systems are “wicked hard”—that is, full of problems that are ill-defined and hard to solve.
Sharath is one of the world's leading experts on re-igniting our inner drive (intrinsic motivation). His groundbreaking book "Intrinsic" has received glowing endorsements ranging from leading smart-thinking writers like Dan Heath and Nir Eyal, to business and education leaders to the former Prime Minister of Greece. Sharath was awarded an OBE in the 2022 Queen's New Year's Honours for founding and leading STiR Education, arguably the world's largest intrinsic motivation initiative. STIR re-ignited the motivation of 200,000 teachers, 35,000 schools and 7 million children in emerging countries. Sharath is the Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs, which supports organisations and leaders all around the world to solve deep motivational challenges, from governments to leading universities and high-profile corporations, from L'Oreal to the London School of Economics. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Economist, The Telegraph. Financial Times. NPR, CNN, CNBC, The Hindustan Times and The Times of India. An accomplished speaker, Sharath has delivered talks and workshops to share the ideas from "Intrinsic" with influential audiences including the World Health Organisation (WHO), Cambridge University, Daimler, Amazon and the World Economic Forum. Sharath holds degrees from Cambridge University, Oxford University and INSEAD. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for his contributions to the field and was invited to serve on the high-level steering group of the Education Commission, the pre-eminent global think tank founded by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Visit intrinsic-labs.com to find out more about Sharath and his work.
Yue-Yi Hwa is a Research Fellow for the RISE Programme at the Blavatnik School of Government, focusing on teachers and management.
She received her PhD in education from the University of Cambridge. Her PhD thesis looked at the relationship between teacher accountability policy and socio-cultural context across countries, using secondary survey data on education and culture alongside interviews with teachers in Finland and Singapore. Previously, Yue-Yi taught secondary school English for two years through Teach For Malaysia, and was a Research Fellow for the Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. She has also conducted research for the World Bank’s MENA education team. She holds a master’s degree in comparative government from the University of Oxford.
RISE is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Programme is implemented through a partnership between Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford supports the production of the RISE Podcast.
StiR Education and Intrinsic Labs are both part of RISE’s Community of Practice, a group of practitioners and implementers who work on the frontlines of education in countries around the world, and come together to share lessons to improve learning outcomes for all children.
Producers: Joseph Bullough and Katie Cooper
Audio Editing: James Morris
Hello and welcome to the RISE podcast series, where we aim to explore the stories behind education, research and practice. As part of the multicountry Research on Improving Systems of Education endeavour, funded by UK Aid, Australian Aid, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.Yue-Yi:
Hello and welcome to the RISE podcast. My name is Yue-Yi Hwa and I'm a research fellow at the RISE Directorate. And today on the podcast I'm joined by Sharath Jeevan who was the founder and CEO of StiR Education and currently is Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs, which supports organisations and leaders around the world to solve deep motivational challenges. Our conversation is wide ranging covering everything from how to change ministers' mindsets, how to create space for teachers to innovate at the classroom level, to why systems thinking sometimes means you don't need to look just at the love of the system, but also go upside down and focus on the people, to why education systems have a lot of wickedness in them. And as a side note, by wickedness I don't mean that education systems are full of evil but that they're full of complex problems that are ill defined and hard to solve. Welcome to the RISE podcast Sharath.Sharath:
Thanks for a real pleasure to be on.Yue-Yi:
Wonderful to have you or actually should I say welcome to the RISE podcast, Sharath Jeevan Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to education?Sharath:
Thank you. Yeah, that was just a nice start to the year to have that lovely news and Pauline Rose as well as one other very close friend in international education sector. I think Asyia as well from the Gates Foundation. So just just nice to see that. I think one thing I was reflecting on was that the contribution was for education overall, that was also really nice to see in that broader, holistic, holistic way as well.Yue-Yi:
For sure, and for people who aren't familiar with you, could you just give us sort of a potted history of your journey, because you've been through a lot, you've done corporate work, you founded StiR Education and now you're at Intrinsic Labs.Sharath:
Thanks very much, I think of it very much as a journey. And as a career adventure, I think is a good phrase. As you mentioned, when I started off, a son of immigrant parents, Indian parents in the UK, a lot of pressure, I think, to do sort of conventional things. And so after doing my undergrad at Cambridge and so on, ended up working in consulting. Did an MBA from INSEAD, etc. But really always had a yearning to do more purpose driven work, really, and I spent many summers in India. The chance of something there was very strong. And so last 10 years, I founded and led an organisation called STiR Education, which is all about reigniting the motivation of teachers and public schools, across countries like India, Uganda, Indonesia, etc. It eventually reached about 35,000 schools and about 7 million children, about 20,000 teachers. And through that experience, got really interested in these questions of intrinsic motivation, and was very influenced by RISE's work in this area at the system level, and then inspired up a book called Intrinsic, which came out last year. And what I do now, as you alluded to, I run an opposition called Intrinsic Labs, and consult to a range of organisations around motivation challenges. So one example of it would be the Government of Kenya, where I'm working with the Chandler Institute of Governance to develop programme for new entrants in the civil service there. How do you start the right motivational habits and mindsets to sustain career success, all the way up to working with L'Oreal around their employee motivation, for example. So love that chance to work across sectors and see some of the parallels there as well.Yue-Yi:
Yeah, that sounds tremendously exciting. And we, we enjoy interdisciplinary work at RISE a lot, although, of course, we're just talking academic disciplines. We're not talking everything from makeup to civil service, so thank you, trounces there. But that's, that's so exciting to hear about. I want to drill down into intrinsic motivation a little bit because it's both, I think, a well established concept in education and motivation. It's also quite a trendy topic at the moment, and I think very deservedly so. But both intrinsic motivation and the three underlying drivers of it are conceptualised in a range of different ways. So I'd like to hear how you personally define intrinsic motivation and these three drivers and to up the challenge just a little bit for fun. Could you illustrate these with a story?Sharath:
Thanks Yue-Yi. So I think a lot about my time in India and time spent in a car there I'd spent hours on some of the roads I'm sure I'm sure you have as well. And I often think about motivation in our lives a bit like the fuel that drives that car. Those cars are mostly on diesel. You got from A to B most of the time, but it wasn't a very pleasant ride. And that's a bit like extrinsic motivation, you're doing something because something else is promised, at the end. Intrinsic motivation is much more about doing something, I think of it like driving an electric car, you're gliding on the road, you're doing something because it's pleasurable, rewarding, enjoyable in its own right. And we have a lot of evidence, about 30 years really, a pretty strong evidence from psychology and other sectors that we need it, we need both, first of all, but in general, our diet has been set far too much towards the extrinsic. And if we can move it more towards intrinsic, that's different for all of us. But if we can make that move, we're likely to be happier, more fulfilled, and certainly more successful in the long term as well. And so under that contract, we take that car analogy, the sense of purpose is a bit like that the destination we put into our GPS, you know, how well we do helps and serves others. And my view of purpose, it sounds very lofty, we can often get into lots of obstruction, I think, any role, any job, any form of education is intrinsically purposeful. But what has happened is we've set up education systems, or companies or whatever, in a way that we forget the ultimate purpose of what we do. And maybe if I can take up your challenge of the story, on purpose, you know, I was writing a book in a bar where a bartender was serving a couple of couple of people, a middle-aged man and his teenage daughter, it looked like, and spending a lot of time and getting a taste different things. And I went to him afterwards, I said, What were you doing there? He said, Sharath, look...Sharath:
I could see in front of me, a divorced dad and his teenage daughter, their daughter was on visitation rights, or sorry, the dad was on visitation rights. And my job in that moment was not just to serve drinks, it was to forge a human connection. I had to make the dad look cool in front of his daughter, and we talked about that, before the episode. And, and really so she would want to spend more time with him, right. So I think the idea of purpose that it's that sense of how and what we do helps us as others, I think you can put into any job, any aspect of life, but we've got to do it consciously. That's sort of the first pillar. Autonomy is the second one, which is about our sense of ownership. And the sense of being at the wheel, being at the wheel of the car. You know, in India, there's always a backseat driver telling you how they think you should be driving. It's being able to say, look, I'm listening to you, but this is how I want to try and take the wheel. And just another story point. So many principals, let me just let's take the UK for a second, are really feeling that sense of of loss of autonomy. I talked to many principals when writing my book and they would say, Sharath, "I no longer ask what's right for my community that I'm serving you or the kids. I asked what would Ofsted think." And so we've seen that worry about micromanagment in every country from Kenya to the US. In the US alone, there have been 1.6 million teacher resignations over the last 18 months alone, really largely because of that, that sense of lost autonomy. So I think it's really important to bring it back. And the last aspect is around mastery. And that sense of us becoming a better version of ourselves and the best version we can be professionally and personally. And what is I think the the big challenge we're having around mastery is that there are a lot of rules now. And so teaching is a classic example. The core mastery elements are no longer technical. They're moving beyond subject and pedagogy. For example, though, there clearly our gap still in many countries, of course, towards the human aspects, that aspect of building relationships and to tell a story to illustrate that I was talking to Camilla Pereira from the Lemann Foundation a while ago. And then she was telling me about Brazil's attempts to introduce TV teaching during the pandemic. They got the best teachers in the country. It's a big country, as we know, to teach key lessons on TV. And the lessons that objectively were very good lessons, certainly probably better than most most most essence in a local favela community. But the kids didn't respond well, because they didn't feel it was that teachers. And so that idea that in the relationship aspect of teaching, it's so so important and that that human connection, that idea role modelling of I'm talking about nurturing, those are so important as well. And yet often we only focus on the pedagogy and the subject sides also. So how do we think about mastery, in a broader sense is a little bit of a big theme, I work in as well. So hopefully that gives a little bit of a sense of the mental model I use around around motivation. Last thing I'd say is that there are things that matter in terms of hygiene factors. So you know, let's take the world of work. Pay matters. We need to be able to put bread on the table compared fairly. We need to make sure working conditions are strong as well. But what we know is these things have ceiling effects so beyond the point, they have a lower and lower effect. And you can look at country states in India where there have been dramatic increase in teacher pay, some states in India have the highest teacher salaries relative to per capita GDP in the world. But that does not seem to correspond with much of an increase in underlying motivation. However you measure that, whether it's through attendance or time on task or psychological metrics there. So we know that that those are important to get right. But they're not deemed motivators, we've got to go to purpose, autonomy and mastery for that, that deeper effect.Yue-Yi:
Yeah, thanks for that. That was such a good overview. Um, and I think one thing that strikes me in how you define these three factors, so purpose, autonomy, and mastery, whether in what you've just said, or also in your book, is that you're much more willing to take sort of a moral or normative or altruistic stance. In defining this, I'm thinking especially in contrast to the psychologists, Ryan and Deci, who are sometimes seen as the initial operators of intrinsic motivation, right? For example, if you talk about autonomy, being moving towards making things better, and having agency in that and use the term purpose, they use relatedness. Uses the term mastery, they use competence. So yeah, it's it's interesting to me that you choose to incorporate that specifically normative element.Sharath:
What you've commented on Yue-Yi is a really interesting observation and quite thought about in that way. But, you know, I think what the challenge that we're facing right now, if you look at the world around us, whether it's our biggest development challenges around vaccine equity around the world to educational disadvantage too, of course, what's happening in Ukraine right now. You know, we are in a wicked world, right? Not a kind world. And I talk in the book about how you know, define wickedness as there's no easy technical solution to these problems, right, Black Lives Matter, pandemic, you know, we've had to get better and make a better dent in these problems, we're never going to solve them fully. It takes a very different kind of leadership. It's much more adaptive, much more emerging, I think, in Wicked domains, which I think most of our problems are now. We need a stronger moral compass and a stronger set of beliefs and shared purpose and what we're trying to do. We can't technocratic the manager, we have this and I would argue, and this may be set up to my discussion, but I think education looking back at my time, the 10 years I spent in international education, five years in UK education before that. I think there was a real risk of us trying to technocritize too much and treat the problem as a kind problem, when really, it's as wicked as it can possibly get. Yeah,Yue-Yi:
Yeah. And I do want to pick up on this, because as you and many listeners would know, at RISE, we talk a whole lot about how education systems are complex. So that means that you have feedback loops, you have interactions, you have context, specificity, and this aspect of wicked problems actually heard you talk about recently at a workshop that Better Purpose and Gates organised about teacher behaviour change and foundational skills. And the point I remember you making, and feel free to correct me if I'm paraphrasing wildly, wrongly, is that you said that one of the biggest challenges you've seen in educational change is really getting ministers and decision makers to accept really the mindset that these problems really are wicked rather than, kind of i guess use the language you just use, to not technicratize the solution. So do you have any sort of hot takes or strategies or tips for how you can actually make that mindset shift happen?Sharath:
So I'm just thinking about making a tangible example, there is a really important point I think you're raising here. I think about an Indian state, I won't mention the State as I'm sure it's a small, small world out there and rescue, working very closely with the very, very senior director in a large Indian state. And it would go into his office, it was a great leader really dynamic, very, very keen to make a dent in this problem. But when I looked at the mental models around it, and I really kicked myself for not questioning these things more when I was in this sector, full time. But, you know, it was a very, almost kind of machinery mindset, right? It was the ultimate kind of problem thinking. There was a set of inputs and apparatus to put in, that would produce outputs that would produce outcomes. And it was almost like seeing the teaching workforce, like a piece of machinery almost like Taylorist, or Ford. Henry Ford is going back to that kind of view of the world. It's so interesting, I work with some of the world's leading employers. Now I work around motivation, and we've moved so far away from that, right. And yet, I think in development we've taken and you've been controversial here, perhaps deliberately, but I think we've taken second-hand thinking from the business world and failed to update it. And we've also, I think, and I very much take, I'm complicit in this for sure, I think we've allowed technocrats and leaders of countries to be seduced by the illusion of kindness, right? That I think we have, you know, through our logframes, you know, the fact that that the donor world really wants these very clearly identified metrics, they want to know A causes B, this, I would argue over-obsession towards attribution and RCTs. And that's all contributed to this sort of paradigm. But I think as a result, we've, we've really taken the, I think, the wrong approach to some of these problems. And we tend to look at the surface level and touch and scratch the surface, rather than really trying to go deeper into the, the root causes. But I think alongside that we've destroyed the sense of purpose, autonomy and mastery of key people in the system. We've instrumentalized them, we've made them into that machinery. And it's impossible then to co-create the solution with them. And the classic, I think the only way out of a wicked problem, is to help the agents who are already in the system, the actors, sorry, who are really suffering these problems and experience them, helping give them the motivation, energy and purpose to solve it and creating safe spaces for them to do that. Instead, I think we're trying to create this band aid that has become this, you know, that was put on this huge gushing wound if I use the medical analogy there.Yue-Yi:
Yeah, yeah, this makes me think of, well, two different things. One is work that I think you're familiar with from Dan Honig and Lant Pritchett about how we often focus on accounting based accountability rather than accounts based accountability. So the latter being less bean counting and standardisation and more sort of thicker relational narrative accounts of why you do something. And then the other thing this makes me think of as like you mentioned, sort of business oriented or Taylorist models as an older model. And I think that's very true. And we see that in, sort of in the global south and education systems and EMS systems and dashboards. But actually a recent conversation I had with a researcher, she's an American education researcher based in Australia, she said, what worries her now she's seen data science come in. So that's, again, logic from a quote unquote, higher status field, but a very new one, but also, again, tries to sort of standardise and take out the human aspects.Sharath:
So I was in a fascinating discussion with Gates Foundation, which I think you were on as well. Yeah. And it was fantastic. And really great examples there. But let's take, for example, the trend towards behavioural economics or take the nudging kind of that principle, which is going around the world. Again, lots of good things in this, but what has happened is we're using the the tricks of nudging, if you like, right, the sort of the, again, the sort of symptoms, not the causes, we're not asking what deeply motivates people in the first place around these issues, right? And what can happen I think, is you can create this kind of, you can use the sort of motivation, psychology, etc. Again, with a very Taylorist approach, and I would argue, look at the pandemic, right, look in the UK, where we're sitting, all that stuff, you know, stay home, save lives, it was very reductionist, right? That is okay, in an emergency in a very short time horizon, but it couldn't sustain. Because we didn't think more deeply about how do you get the actors in the system to really see the need for this more deeply, and figure out a way together. And what happened is we then took shortcuts and it became very draconian, very fast and very top down very fast. And, again, in a real emergency, fine. That makes sense. But we can't keep living like that day to day. So yeah, I think there's my worry is right now that we're, we are using some of these techniques, but we're using the surface level versions of them, and not going more deeply to what really motivates the people who really want to change and in the systems who really supportYue-Yi:
Yeah, yeah, well, let's try to reflect that shift in attention from the highest level, towards the actual people in our own conversation. And that shifts a bit from sort of top down policies and what can be done at the centre to what actors on the frontline themselves do. So specifically, I wanted to hear from you a bit about whether you had any reflections about the link between the intrinsic motivation and innovation among teachers. And I mean, one reason why I wanted to ask you this is that I know that when you started STiR, my understanding is that the initial impetus for this was looking for and trying to spread what you call micro innovations among teachers, but then, eventually you pivoted to prioritising intrinsic motivation so I would just be curious to hear more about this. Also, maybe you want to bring in some reflections from your corporate past life and what innovation means there. That would be great to hear.Sharath:
I was seduced by the...look like there's a lot of good things have happened development radio, including the focus and measurement. Clearly, we had, you know, 10-15 years ago a lot of, a lack of accountability around some of these things. So there's been many good things with these trends. But I had been really seduced by this idea that you, if you found these great practices, these micro innovations, as we termed it, then that would be the answer. Right? The teachers needed these new technical fixes. Again, going back to the technocratic way of thinking I was trying to democratise it a little bit more, make it more grassroots. But there was still an underlying technocratic view behind that. I was completely wrong. So just being really honest. And I was I was proved to be wrong, not by some great insight on my part, but by ordinary teachers in the slums of Delhi at that point, just calling up our office saying, look, you've touched something, you've ignited something that we haven't felt for a long time. And we've done it almost entirely by accident. And so that really made me think quite deeply about how we have we confused the baby with the bathwater here and absolutely had to be honest. And it was quite scary, because the previous model we had was very measurable, very tight, very easy to put into a log frame, very much easier to raise money for, bluntly, but what we were getting to is a very messy, wicked world, again, around motivation. It was a really tough 10 years trying to figure out how to link this to what a system needs to go, what are the links? How do you try and bring this together into a coherent narrative and, and theory of change, we've got a great new CEO of Girish Menon who's driving things forward, and instead is going from strength to strength. But I certainly found that a really tricky part and a difficult one to think about. So I think that idea of really trying to sometimes take on the most wicked challenges in our sector, it can pay big dividends, ultimately, I think,Yue-Yi:
Yeah, and STiR and Intrinsic Labs are definitely a success story that can hopefully be an inspiration to others down the line. So I, I would personally be in complete agreement with and very much biassed toward the value of intrinsic motivation of the sense of purpose in decision making, not only at the individual level, but also organisational level. We've been talking a lot about wicked problems, and how we live in a complex world. And I think one corollary of that is that no single perspective, no single analytical lens can really explain or account for or incorporate all the factors we need to think about. But then at the same time, we mentioned behavioural science just now, given the limits of our excellent but flawed human brains, it often makes sense to choose a good enough lens as a default framework. And I'm asking this question, in self awareness of my own inclinations here, because you are you're familiar, I think, with the RISE education systems framework where we talk a lot about whether different elements and relationships in a system, are they aligned? Or are they coherent for desired goals. And some of us at the RISE Directorate, we kind of laugh at ourselves a little bit, because we've gotten to the point where we see coherence, or incoherence, and things like, oh, that webinar, you know, needed better alignment between delegation and information, or, Oh, that's such an incoherent way to run a coffee shop. So in that spirit of self reflection, I just be curious to hear from you about why you think intrinsic motivation is such a powerful lens for thinking about the complex and wicked problems in our world besides what we've discussed already, and also whether what some of the limitations of intrinsic motivation as a lens might be.Sharath:
Yeah, so I think first of all, I really agree that we need multiple lenses to look on things, I was huge and and we can either be a huge fan of RISE, because it's trying to take that intrinsic lens, I have been involved in some pretty hardcore economics workshops with with RISE in the past where that economics lens has stayed very strong. But I think there's been obviously a lot of attempts to return the huge fan of Lant's work. And others, of course, in many, though, in the, in the book, for example, as well. But I guess my first thing, I guess, on this is that, I think it's already a great step to think about system coherence. So to paraphrase, and I've always admired that approach within RISE. I think my if I had to would be a bit of the devil's advocate, or how could we go even further coherence also is what matters a lot when it comes to people. And I think a lot about this, these these ideas of purpose, alignment, direction, there's a human sort of equivalence of coherence, when it comes to individual people here. And so what I do see now and I think it's great, we are thinking about system issues, you go to any of these big aid programmes, and there's always some system component built in, which is great as well. But nowhere near enough time thought about in terms of what will that help, what will need to happen to help the leaders of that system who are ultimately human beings to really buy in and be fully driven by that same set sense of coherence. So, you know, again, I think the easier it's not saying it's hard the system, it's very complex, and it's very wicked. But even more wicked is the human component of these changes. So if you're trying to shift system coherence, or look at blockers and try to create more alignment, these are all very laudable goals, especially in education. But if the key people who are leading this and not going on, not changing the mental models, really, ultimately, you cannot, again, solve that technocratically. That's what I've just found again and again, in different sectors. So I think it's a great first step, a second step would be so let's take that principle of coherence into the human domain. And what we do a lot with organisations is this question of motivational alignment motivational coherence to use your word. So how do you make sure that everyone in the organisation from the principal Secretary of Education Department or the minister all the way through to the teacher on the front line, they have a shared purpose of what that system is for. They know what how this contributes to the education and national development plan of that country, they can see how all the the spokes in the wheel fit together coherently. And also, they can really be excited about how their individual role, their purpose, autonomy, mastery fits into that bigger picture. And they feel supported and nurtured as well in that journey. So yeah, so I think I think we need to must take the value of coherence one step, I wouldn't say dial it down, but actually got it up one level, let's actually look at it as a lens of thinking about human motivation as well.Yue-Yi:
Yeah, I think so. And I think I especially appreciate the idea of motivational coherence, because that's also something that I've been coming across a lot in my work on synthesising research on teachers for RISE. For example, like in the synthesis on teacher career structures that I did with Lant, we tried to talk about different aspects of teacher motivation. And one thing that Lant will say related to instances, like you alluded to, in Indian states that raise teacher salaries really high, but don't see any change. He said, You know, these people are just trying to solve a non money problem with money. So, I liked that idea of extending the concept of coherence beyond our systems framework to other aspects or other other levels of focus. So I will be mulling over that in the coming months, for sure.Sharath:
Thanks, Yue-Yi. And just to build on I think one of the other thoughts around this is that, you know, we have these we, in terms of leadership, for example, and really how much we invest in the leaders in a system. It's not much if you look at a typical, you know, programme, many of our large, you know, bilateral donors, a tiny amount is on the people component of it, right? It's almost all technocratic, and so on? How do we try and really take the equal seriousness with that leadership part? Because I think if we can really help the senior leaders of a system, think differently and genuinely shift those, those mental models into this kind of wicked world that they're really dealing with. It would have such a profound benefit, it wouldn't be big in the overall scheme of things financially, to be honest. But it would have such a much deeper alignment and so much greater ownership and likelihood to succeed, right. Overall, in terms of these, these really important reforms we're doing.Yue-Yi:
Yeah, yeah, I completely agree with that. And just to build on that, and circle back to one thing, Sharath, did you have any thoughts about the limitations of the concept of intrinsic motivation?Sharath:
So I think we've got to accept the world as it is here. So the idea that we do need a level of accountability, we do need some level of incentives. What has happened, I think is we've overdosed on both, unfortunately. And what that creates in our school systems is a fear and compliance culture. So I think, again, we no question we need to, we need data, we need feedback loops, we need all these things. But if we if we end up, you know, overdosing on those things, we end up with the kind of isomorphic mimicry that Lant and others write about that, you know, you can make any system look great on PowerPoint, you can game the data. And I've seen plenty of examples around that, as we all have. So how do we try and balance these things together? So we need of course, these things in and we have a lot of system efforts now focus on these things. What are the incentive structures? What are the county building, because again, these are good things to look at. But I would just encourage us to again, just soften that a little bit and say, what's the base level we need? Above that, let's try to really use the lever of motivation and and harness intrinsic motivation for that, I think will get much more genuine outcomes, or many more genuine outcomes and also more sustainable outcomes. Because you won't get this thing where to meet a certain target or a plan. We suddenly have a spike in whatever metric it is, and then it falls afterwards. It's much more likely to be carried by the people who really careYue-Yi:
Yeah, yeah. And actually, I think another important aspect of sustainability related to that, and also related to think this bigger idea of guided autonomy that you talked about in your book. So not only giving people space, but supporting them within that space, right is the fact that because intrinsic motivation is such a powerful concept, sometimes people almost want to put too much weight on it in the sense that they're like, oh, teaching is such a noble profession, teachers are such heroes, they can do everything. And that's true, but they're also humans who have needs and limitations. And if we don't support them adequately, there are limits to intrinsic motivation, and also human energy levels.Sharath:
Yeah, it's really interesting tension, right? Actually, it's one in the corporate world. Let's take an example. So for example, let's take, if you look at the what's happened in professional development, for corporates, right, they spend 10s of billions of dollars a year on this, there was a big fad or a big trend towards coaching, pure coaching, which assume that basically, you know, the client that in the purest form, and should should sort of caveat there. But the pure model of coaching says, look, the client has all the answers, and the job of the coach is to help them uncover them right. It's to be that kind of guide to help them uncover what they already know. The other extreme has been mentoring, where, you know, an experienced executive comes in and got all the answers from their experience. And basically, the mental model is a copy paste of that experience, right, and what we know increasingly, from lots of evidence in the corporate in the business world is that both models don't really work, right, that you need something in between. And I pretty use that analogy for thinking about how we've thought about that. So you've got the, perhaps, you know, a more union driven model, which has, you know, teachers, again, there's a lot of truth and, and ability of each, I believe in that very strongly. But there needs to be something more than just, let's just give them the wind and the wind by the sails type approach. At the same time, these highly draconian lets us go and, you know, basically try to paint by numbers and make teaching a kind of robotic profession is also going to be doomed to failure, right. And if you think about an individual teacher, they've got millions of permutations or combinations of what they could do in front of them at any second, because they've got to make split second decisions on the child, the context is subject what's going on more broadly, and they can't go to Google and they can't take two minutes reflect, they've just got to do it in real time. If you look at the levels above a teacher, look it up, you know, all the way up to a minister, it becomes even more and more wicked. So you can't do it by paying by numbers either over the mentoring approach. So there's got to be a plan that I talked in the book about this idea of nurturing, that it's almost a middle ground, where you're still helping the the person in this case, for example, the teacher or the child, be the best versions of themselves, they can be, you're still giving them input, challenging them constructively. But you're doing it through really harnessing their motivation agency, you're having to see the world differently, you're helping them stay even more connected with their job or their studies. You're helping them make new connections and build new support systems. I think taking that nurturing approach I talk about in the book, to education could be a different way of thinking about this. It's not this binary, you know, teachers a perfect or teachers or other problem, we need a nice middle ground that really harnesses the wonder that teachers can be in and take that forward positively. We need to see teachers as incredibly important and noble professionals, but who also need support and positive challenge. And that idea of nurturing might be a nice way to think about that.Yue-Yi:
Sure, I feel like it's unusual to hear a vision that is both so balanced and so idealistic at the same time. So thank you for that. And in closing, I'm going to ask you the question that we ask every guest on the RISE podcast, which is what is one thing you wish that other people knew about education systems?Sharath:
I just think how hard they were. So I heard Lant once on a podium say he had, I was really like, moved by what he said. He said, look, I think all of us in a way had sort of failed the education system to the world, right? Because so many hundreds of millions of kids still aren't learning fully. I think to be the one I've learned earliest, looking back at that experiences to be a little bit more critical, but also kind of compassionate about myself as well. It's such an intractable problem and the amount of money we're playing with it still. It costs 50 cents a year per child, right. So how to tease an enormous system to change. I almost think my mental model is very much the ant and the elephant. Now that you're this tiny ant on this enormous elephant and you've got a bite exactly the place where it sort of makes the elephant notice and maybe turns direction somewhat. I guess, just given that, that how difficult that challenge is and how also how busy the system is with its own day to day business. You know, think about any take an Indian state or Uganda, there are hundreds of 1000s of teachers every day that have got to be managed, mobilise paid, materials put on, this is such a production function around this whole thing, the bandwidth to really step back and think about where to go next, how to develop, how to motivate people. There's so little of that out there. And I think what we would all do better, I think to think about is, how can we create more space actually for for key agents and actors that think differently? And really reimagine how things go and give them that time and resource to do that, and co-create the solution on their own terms. So I think what tends to happen is we tend to get sucked into the manicness of that production function and almost become equally captured by that, right. But I think actually what we can do from the outside, if we're an NGO, or academic partner, or, you know, official donor, or foundation or whatever, I think we have the ability to step back and ask these really basic question: What is education for in this country or state? What will really motivate everyone to get behind that vision? How will we make sure we have that motivational coherence alignment that we talked about? And how can we make sure that every agent or actor in the system is really feeling a very clear sense of purpose autonomy, master? if you just ask us very basic questions, I think we'll do a lot better or create much better change.Yue-Yi:
Yeah, well, here's hoping for more reflective answers with big dreams then. Sharath, thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure and such a thought provoking one.Sharath:
Thanks, Yue-Yi a real pleasure. And please, if anyone wants to stay in touch, please connect with on LinkedIn or Twitter. We'd love to have this conversation. I think then just this this wider importance of, of sort of stepping out of education and thinking about the broader parallels can help us think differently. So I hope that was useful. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.Yue-Yi:
Thanks, Sharath.RISE Programme:
Thank you for listening to our podcast today. And if you liked it, be sure to check out our research at riseprogramme.org or follow us on social media at RISE Programme. You can find links to the research mentioned and other workshops under the description for this podcast episode. The RISE podcast is brought to you by the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE Programme) through support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.