Saturday, 14 November 2015

A cuppa tea

As I relax in the warmth of a sunny winter morning, the chirpings of birds fill up my reverie.

It is a good idea to be a part of the BITS Pilani campus and also to be  a part of their winning team.Trees, birds apart, this a hub of Indian education and the processes of an IPSC school proves it. The Indian Public School's conference is a progressive group which encourages schooling for an overall development of the child. most IPSC schools offer a lot of activities which serve to initiate the learner into various activities thus enriching the teaching learning process.

After all, we all know that application or learning by doing is the best way to foster  a skill. Books have to be gone through but an IPSC school aims to hone the skills of both teacher and the pupil.They are encouraged to move away from the class room to explore the possibilities of learning in  an exotic environment. It has been my pleasure to have worked in two IPSC school. First, was Scindia school for Boys in Gwalior.

A school celebrating its 111 years in 2008, Scindia had  a lot to teach me.The first lesson learnt was that change is recognised as part of the schooling process and it does come to India.Which is a really positive thought. Sometimes, we despair at the traditional methods which linger on in spite of failure.
But Scindia embraces change.Even i immersed myself in various learning experiences.Most of my students grew closer to me as i took up clay modelling.I learnt it from the boys as some of them excelled at it.

This is something that i encourage in all teachers. Taking  a leaf from my book of experience, I strongly recommend learning something either from your students or learning something together.It forms a bond that most of you would be proud to share.And this bond grows into learning experiences which take you far beyond the curriculum. Touch the stars together , feel free to explore. So many of us wonder how to move beyond the shackles of  the curriculum or mere book reading and i feel this is a good way to do it.

I also remember the song,"I have a dream' taught by the scindians. They mentored me to stand on stage and sing this song.A first in my life and something I will always be proud of

Thursday, 12 November 2015

All my students

In class that day ,while looking at their fresh faces, it occurred to me that they made me a teacher. My journey began very early.Maybe when I was little. Maybe when my own fingers were just beginning to grasp a pencil, My mind began recording the ways to learn.Sometimes, even how to learn.The tendency to how to became strong enough for me to start researching ways. That's how i began to teach and that's how they came to me.

My students. As we inch towards children's day   2015, 22 years of  school teaching pursue me. What have i learnt all these years? In a nutshell I have learnt that it is they, my students who made me a teacher. For someone without a single goal in life,I sort of waltzed into teaching. Although ,while in college, I loved my subject,English Literature , i had no plans to teach it. On my very first day of work, I saw them.

Fresh faces eager to learn. I am yet to meet a child who doesn't want to learn. Maybe i have met some who may not be willing to learn by my methods. Sometime, I may not have been the best influence on their lives. After all, every child is unique. As adulthood creeps upon us, we tend to use the same gestures, notes.We are so practised, so geared for performance. Sometimes , it all falls through. A single question from any of the children sitting out there can upset everything.

Mostly,that's what I  look for.Someone to break the monotony for me. A question that implies that I am an intellectual and not just another adult on a routine job. Recently, I felt this. After a long time of attentive scholars I have got some challenges.  Thank you for upsetting my normal lessons with your curiosity.

Your questions on various topics and your queries on philosophy , has really enlivened my day. For it you who must make me. It is you who must demand excellence from me and pardon my mediocrity.Your relentless quest for knowledge , should make me run from pillar to post seeking out the answers. Hope all of you had a rocking Deepawali and I wish you a Happy Children's day. Celebrate the childhood in you , for it is a blessing. Till we meet again  to light the lamps together, remember I will be waiting for you.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

On being the Head Learner

While studying for my masters in education studies from the university of Bangor, Wales, i was fascinated by what Tony Elliot , had to teach us.Tony took our classes for education leadership.

And what he taught was so far removed from the scenario in Indian schools, that i wondered if i will ever be able to find someone like  minded. As for myself, this is the vision of the school leader i was always comfortable with. in Tony i found a teacher who taught me a leadership style , yet unknown .However, as Tony writes in his book, "The fourth way", this is the path to strive for.Especially if you want to make sense to the new generation.

So, who is the one who is termed principal, head, sometimes even manager? what exactly is he the head of? he is the principal what? Many would say that he is the principal teacher or, administrator or, both. The management then, rolls out a persona who is a kind of a Hercules faced with numerous tasks , much of which he is unable to do and most of it is done by others anyway.

I have been accused of not being comfortable in this role and i plead guilty. For, Tony gave me the answer sometime ago. The way forward is the "head learner". This person is the head learner .Thus he learns and keeps the wheels of the knowledge machine truly well oiled and moving. What are the connotations of  this term?

It doesn't merely mean updating your knowledge ,of course. It means that the decision making in an educational institution should be with someone who is full of curiosity, is able to come up with different methodologies, can build up a team of enthusiastic teachers and learners. The main point in this argument is that the learner should get utmost importance in the learning situation. So, the institution should be headed by the "head learner" who can engage the students, understand their aspirations and lead them into creative learning situations.

Honing yourself to be the head learner is a difficult task. As Matt Ridley writes in his book,"the autobiography of the human genome", chromosome 19 is a mischievous genome. maybe, we could be making a genetic profile of the head learner keeping this genome in mind.But , are you surprised at the fact that genomes may have a personality?

Well, if it feeds your curiosity and you find this incredible itch to share this with your students, instead of scolding them or shutting up their questions, welcome to the club .... of head learners.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

In Her Shoes

Yesterday , I was watching an old movie starring Cameron Diaz.  The role is that of a young rather wild girl, who goes slightly berserk because of her disability to conform. I am calling this a disability because that is what it is. Disabilities such as  alcoholism, not taking responsibility are behavior problems which some people suffer from.And they come in a spectrum. I am aware that all of us are familiar with terms such as these.

For the uninitiated I would like to clear things up a bit. Disability is the term we use when we know that the person who is so is not lazy, not irresponsible but simply cannot do it. Of course, there are obvious examples of disability. Physical handicap is one of them. we accept and sympathise with people with obvious handicaps readily. But those with behavioral problems or a learning disability may not have so much of sympathy.

The most obvious nightmare situations for such people is the school, the classroom and at home. The school teachers may be yelling at a bright middle-schooler calling her "sassy" or referring to his attempts at writing as "heroic". Apparently, nothing is obviously wrong with them.Intelligence tests,if taken, might even record an average or above average intelligence. So, why does this intelligent child who probably speaks well hesitate to read? or write? or have problems with numbers and directions?

As we keep conveying our frustrations with them, such people start showing behavioral problems.I always term such students as suffering from "behavioral distress". Yes, their behavior is distressed because of our inability to understand  their problem as pathogenic.They have an illness which is recognised as developmental delay and yes, it can show up in a variety of ways.Very similar to conditions which show a spectrum of disorders.

The movie shows Cameron Diaz as seeing herself from her sister's point of view. Her sister ,unable to understand her screams at her to get out of her life. The sister is a successful lawyer and sees her disability as an inability to conform to norms.especially when a drunk Cameron goes to bed with her boyfriend. Most of us would react with horror and so did hr sister.How do we cope with such relatives?

Another problem are the behavioral problems. Why are they so persistent? Well as a person learns his alphabets he also learns behavior.There is a definite link between the two as they are learning situations. The curriculum while addressing this needs to fully look in to the other.

 Cameron Diaz tells the blind professor who wanted her to read to him,"I am a slow reader" and he gently explains,"Well, I am a slow listener." That cinches the deal between them and he helps her to learn to read ,battling her dyslexia.To be in her shoes........... that's the best way to cope.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

That's what friends are for

I quite like cafes. They seem to be the ideal place for someone like me , who needs to be isolated, yet, be allowed to be near human kindness. I like to do my observations in this environment where people just seem to relax and munch on their favorite snacks.I truly feel that i am catching mankind at it's best. For  hunger is the ultimate trigger. It triggers alacrity. Watch how we tend to hop over our closest competitor for the best table and then tackle the queue for payment.The adrenaline is pumping till we have  settled ourselves.

Triggers are so varied. But normally, especially in India , we are somewhat aggressive in cafes. On account of the heat, traffic, large families, we tend to be a little more possessive about our seats while  in  a cafe. So it was a pleasant surprise when yesterday, i did not elicit a nasty response when i unceremoniously, without asking for permission, grabbed  a seat opposite another woman, who just looked away.To be fair, i did this as i was a tad wet from the rains. I desperately needed a cuppa and didn't think the woman would give me the time of the day if i  put in a request.

So ,i didn't. Put in a request  for the seat i mean.Just plonked myself on the seat that was  vacant.But conscience struck and  i smiled in apology. She peeped from beneath her Burqa and smiled back. Soon enough , her companion came with a full tray and she stood up .Both went with their tray to a small standing table where they would have to stand to eat. I remember she looked pretty tired. So, they had left their seats for me.For my comfort, my privacy. Well, did they want privacy? the table was there's to begin with so they should've staked their claim.But they preferred to stand.a moral dilemma swept my mind. Shouldn't i be calling them back?

They seemed such a serene couple.The courtesy they had shown  really touched my heart. Just the other day, i had faced a similar scenario. Clutching on to my shopping bags  i had tottered from table to table but had met only stony faced glares. Especially from the women. All of them seemed to be waiting for someone. I frantically gestured to them. You know i didn't like to get up for fear someone might pounce on our seat. Yes, i felt as though they were my good friends. Were we like minded? I am not so sure. I may not have had the courage to do what they did.

Well, my new friend smiled back at me and came back with her husband, for that's what he was, and her tray.I said," Hi, I am Anuradha from Delhi and you ?" She said" We are from Sudan" . Clearly she was enjoying the masala chai which is so Punjabi. He said," She is not well. We have come here for her treatment." Well, that is why she looked so tired , i thought. We smiled at each other for we had discovered that the world is full of smiles, after all. Her gesture taught me so much, which i can share later. But it was an educational experience. Mostly, i was so happy that they didn't mind sharing the table with me. That's what friends are for.

Monday, 27 July 2015

To dare to dream

Dr. kalam died ,leaving a blank in our midst. The children of this country looked towards him for inspiration. Of course, as he was one of our foremost nuclear scientists all of us looked upon him with deep reverence.He was the Scientist, President, foremost thinker and an Educationist to the core.
His words were full of emotional quotient.What he taught us was to think about the aims of education. I feel this is something worth discussing. Indian education seems to get lost in the dense forest of jargon.This is as much true of school education as it is true for higher studies.

The most important thing about kalam was his avoidance of religion and religious talk, a real novelty for India where religion still plays a major role in the country's dynamics. The founding fathers of this new country, which was fresh out of colonial rule, urged the country to inculcate the spirit of science . But it was a path full of difficulty. I feel Kalam made it easier. He made it easier for our children to relate to dreams.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere in schools rarely takes dreams into account.Those who feel that India is marching forward, should stop to look at the culture in schools.The questions to ask  are many. But notable among them  are those which  pertain to culture, I feel.This is not such a close ended argument after all.  It has more to do with inclusion, discovery learning, the encouragement of entrepreneurship, and a host of other things that we have forgotten. Most important of all being dreams. But Dr Kalam kept reminding us of this simple fact which actually, is the backbone of all sciences.

Dreams. Somehow we feel schools are too mundane to cater to these. However, most children will tell you that to them school is a place for dreams. They look for stardust when they enter the hallowed gates. It turns out to be the first most crushing defeat when they actually discover that the schools are full of dream merchants but there are no dreams.

The best tribute to him i feel is to keep thinking about how to rekindle our dreams. In my next post i will highlight some tributes by some friends in the media,And dr, kalam's inspirational quotes.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The unsafe corridors

"I am Vipul Parekh,
My daughter went missing at Shimla bridge during her school visit Please pass on the info to your friends and groups.....
Any info please inform at :9569601532
Missing date : 9th May 2015"
This post is from my  facebook page .someone sent it to me and i dutifully sent it to others. But this confirms one of the worst nightmares for parents as well as school authorities in the current scenario. Everything which ,we once felt was sacred to building up a good school life for children is getting defeated. One of these is the school trip.

A school trip is supposed to foster bonhomie , camraderie, bring  the children and the teachers closer, but are all these goals being met? Instead, there are horror stories of children getting lost , things getting stolen or, some children feeling dreary as they feel left out . In colleges too, this is happening. Just recently, we heard about a devastating freak flood that claimed the lives of a group of college students who went too close to a dam.The accident occurred because of lack of supervision.Mostly.
There are so many stories of children getting killed on the way to school or on their way back, that one would be truly shocked ,if one knew them.Just last year, a friend's son died right outside his school.He was hit by a motorcycle ,which thundered at him, in spite of the sign, " Drive Slow. School ahead."

Children studying in government schools are not privileged enough to get buses. i have often wondered why? In Delhi, some public buses run for some private schools.These are very privileged private schools. But no one accepts that the children from municipal schools also may need protection. I have seen them running in groups on the Chennai, without any shoes.In Delhi , they clamber on the roofs of public buses and in Mumbai's crowded trains many fall as they hang on to the doorway in passenger trains. 
No one thinks that safety training should be a part of education. No one accepts that discipline is something to be learnt in school and then made a part of our everyday existence.