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  • Shreyas Prakash

The University of Unknown Unknowns

You have three kinds of problems.


You have the known knowns. This comes under things that have been understood and can be replicated verbatim. The education system which I was a part of, fell neatly into this category. The textbook definitions.


Old school quizzes such as - Who was the X of Y? What did Z do? types. Once the problem was completely defined, the boundaries were set, it could later be replicated at scale by the bots. Say, pick and place tasks by robotic arms, cashiers by service kiosks and even receptionists by speech-enabled bots.


Then you had the known unknowns. In this category, you accommodated the complex, circuitous nature of the reality around us, which is quite dynamic. You had the category of problems that were fuzzy in nature. As compared to the known knowns, the boundaries were not set in stone. They always evolved over time.


So far, our schooling system saw a steady progression in the way problems were articulated.


In the start, we had rote memorisation as a skill. Now it has been rendered obsolete by Google. It is not a skill anymore. Now, we have already started using different modes of intelligence, such as lateral thinking, critical thinking and so on. Our grey matter is being exercised by the category of known unknowns.


We have already made some improvements in this direction already. From classrooms to flipped classrooms. From Multiple Choice Questions to Open Book Tests. From essay examinations to problem-solving dialogues.


We are experimenting with a wide variety of formats. And with what we are already seeing so far, it would soon become a Wild West of different formats defining the boundaries of teaching important skills.


Especially when it comes to answering this question - How do you equip a child with skills to solve a problem which has not been solved so far?


Enter the unknown unknowns.


Along this direction, I recently came across the Synthesis school, an experimental school started by SpaceX employees in discreete mode under the supervision of Elon Musk. The vision statement goes along the lines of - How can children be enthralled by complexity and solve for the unknown?




In the end, everything we do becomes a game. We are playing games. Either the finite simpler games or the complex infinite multi-player games. Kids are just having more fun playing games and learning in the process. The Synthesis school imbibes this philosophy to the core. They play through multiple simulations in playing team games that require collaborative problem solving and strategic thinking.


Solving for the unknown unknowns

Synthesis is just one example. There would be many.


We would have more such universities of unknown unknowns.


I'm quite excited about the future of such universities without really knowing what it would be about or what it would do (pun intended).


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