A Kids Film Festival that opens gates to learning beyond boundaries

September brought a lot of cheer at LXL Ideas as 6 of our films made it to 5 different International Children’s Film Festivals in Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Lahore and New Delhi. However, this is not something new for us as more than often we receive accolades for our School Cinema Films. In fact, till date, over 300 of our films have been selected for various International Children’s Film Festivals.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of travelling across the globe to witness several film festivals that I thoroughly enjoy as the films screened here are normally not available anywhere else. Such Film Festivals screen films with the diversity of languages and cultures, cover issues that can make you pause and think and their innovation in the art of filmmaking leaves you with questions that rarely ever get raised. They also give us a chance to interact with the filmmakers’ fraternity.

I have noticed that Children’s Film Festivals around the world screen amazing content and as an educator, I feel our Indian children should get exposed to such meaningful and thought-provoking content. The challenge, however, is the lesser number of such Film Festivals organised and their limited accessibility. I always wanted to create a Film Festival that is democratic and is accessible to children across India, even the remotest parts.

This November, my dream will become a reality when we will launch the 1st International Kids Film Festival of India (IKFFI) celebrating ‘Children’s Week’. We have partnered with the French Embassy, Culture House of Iran and Children’s Film Festival Seattle to bring some of the world’s best children’s films exclusively to your students. The festival will feature films from over 25+ countries. In this era of screens and visual medium, it is imperative for schools to educate students about the fine art of cinema and IKFFI is a great way to introduce our children to the magic of meaningful cinema.

This is the opportunity for Schools to independently host a Film Festival in their premises by organising a special screening for their students, invite neighbouring schools, having family screenings and after-school screenings. IKFFI is the best way to celebrate Children’s week in schools as it aims to bring inspiring, meaningful and globally diverse cinema to school students. To encourage young talent IKFFI will also have a Students Film Making Contest.

I invite you to partner with us and organise IKFFI in your school. You can register online at www.lxl.in or call +919019111110.  

As a partner school, my team will provide you online/telephonic to support to organise the festival. You will get an exclusive access key to screen the films in your school and a step-by-step Film Festival Guide.

This Children’s Day host a Film Festival in your school. Register now and bring the best of world cinema to your school!

Student Well-Being Policy

Over the past couple of years, Bangalore has become infamous for several incidents of child abuse in schools. February 2017 witnessed the most recent incident of child sexual abuse that got the local media into a frenzy debating and crucifying the school management with what clearly seemed like very little clarity or authenticity of the information. After a couple of days of mudslinging and noise, it settled down like it did in all the previous occasions. In all fairness, we must admit that there is no smoke without fire and the school management has for long sidelined this very critical issue.

Considering the fact that student well-being is an important and urgent issue on the agenda for school leaders, what is startling is that very little action has been taken on ground to address the issue. It seems obvious that most school leaders and managements don’t seem to learn lessons from mistakes of other schools, else these incidents would not have been recurring so often. During several of my interactions with school leaders over the years I have learned that schools have had innumerable discussions and debates on policy making when it comes to sensitive issues like student well-being. Almost every school seems to have a policy in place. However, communicating the policy is where very little action has happened. There is an urgent need for school to set this right.

A two-way strategy should be a good beginning in this direction:

    • Policy Making

The key here is not to create a verbose policy to satisfy the regulatory authorities, but to create a usable practical guide. Immense care must be taken to create different versions of the policy for various stakeholders like leaders, educators, support staff, students, parents etc. The content should not be a heavy long document. This in fact, should be replaced with crisp content in the form of info graphs, images, films, videos, voice notes, etc.  The content should be adaptable to print, digital and social media for it to be impactful.

     

  • Sensitize the Team

Once the content is in place, the next step is to have an effective Learning Program and not the run of the mill training program. Existing teams must have a different version of the learning program compared the new recruits. The versions of the learning program must be different for all the stakeholders to ensure effectiveness. The learning program cannot be a one-time affair, regular touch points to reinforce the learning must be enforced.

While it is imperative to have the policy, and sensitize the community, it is equally important to have an action plan or reference of occurrences with the steps in place. This would be an organized and effective way to develop and further implement the policy. As most schools across India come to the end of another academic year, I hope this is one action that we will be taken up on priority for the upcoming year.

Shaping Policies

The idea of a ‘Private School’ in India is very misleading as the government has a lot of control and interference in the manner in which schools function. School managements over the years, have figured out ways of working around the system rather than doing their bit to change the system. It is fair to comment that in India the manner in which the government makes laws is quite ambiguous, especially when it comes to educational policy. A lot of policies that are made, lack basic common sense and logic and in most cases don’t even remotely consider researched methodology as a foundation for policy making. In a scenario like this the private education fraternity in India is at the receiving end and they believe they have very little option but to toe the line.

Private Schools in India have always been reactive to the situation rather than being proactive. They come together and form associations with very narrowed short-term goals like safe guarding their interest after the Right to Education Act, or putting their weight behind fee regulations. This approach has not yielded any significant results and I do not see any major changes in their impact in future too, since these associations are not proactive and lack vision.

I believe that one of the reasons why these associations are not effective is because whenever they meet governmental representatives or policy makers they normally tend to put across views, suggestions, opinions, experiences and thoughts about how things should be. It is very difficult for the government and bureaucracy to be swayed by views of an association. It then becomes a debate of ideologies since there is no factual data or researched findings that are available.

Since the government does very little research before making policy, it presents a big opportunity for private school associations to initiate research on issues that matter. This research can be approached from 2 different perspectives – one from the grass root level in-school research and the other macro perspective of independent research by private bodies.

Every school can set up a research team comprising of a few teachers who can explore and analyse issues that matters to them like – ways to engage parents, understanding discipline issues among children, impact of excess information on children etc. In addition to these topics they could play an integral part in supporting research for policy making by delving into topics like – Impact of RTE, CCE etc.

This could lead to the creation of white papers and research data which when shared with the public and media at large will help shape public opinion. Public opinion backed by research findings is a great way of shaping the minds of policymakers. This approach would be more impactful as you can argue with opinions and perceptions but not with data.

Energize Education – Infuse Youth!

Two decades ago, I started my career in Bangalore, as an engineering student who was keen on working with schools. My first work stint was that of a Debate Teacher in Sri Kumarans Children’s Home. It was an amazing experience for me and I learned a lot for I loved working with schools and students. The more I enjoyed the role, the more I realized that I managed to influence students and to infuse in them a love for public speaking and communication. The experience of working in a school completely transformed me as a person, I grew by leaps and bounds picking up innumerable life lessons! Today when I look back at my eventful life, I can very safely point to my work experience in college as life changing. I have spent my life thereafter, working with schools, adding value to the education system and doing my bit to make things better for students.

One is at the prime of health, energy, confidence and excitement between the age of 18-25. The so called ‘youth’ this time, has the potential to change the world. History is proof that the youth have been responsible for some of the biggest changes that have occurred over millennia. Even the experienced ones that bring about change had the seeds of change sown in their minds and hearts while they were young. Somehow in India, we as a society do not recognize this potential in the youth and expect very little from college students. We are happy ‘relegating’ them to be ‘just students’. I use the word ‘relegating’ very responsibly as we have such low expectations from our students, we just expect them to study and do well in academics. However, youth in most parts of the world work while studying. Somehow in India as a society, we do not encourage our college students to work.

I started my career as a college student and over the years I have had the privilege of working with thousands of college students in innumerable cities across South Asia. I have always been inspired by their energy and enthusiasm. The college students who have worked as part of my Krayon team over the years have helped us create some of the biggest children’s events like Horlicks Wizkids, Dell Champs, NSE Funancial Quest, Spellbee and many more.

Working with college students has taught me that they can be very responsible if we trust them and give them the freedom to express. I have never been let down by any college student that has worked for me throughout my career.  College students can relate to school students a lot better and can be effective change makers if we create a proper system to engage them with school students.

Schools across India find it difficult to source specialist teachers/faculty for skill-based programs like art, music, dance, drama, sports and so on. Some schools use their alumnae effectively to support their programs but most schools do not look beyond experience. Youth can and have played a great role in making a difference in the learning of students!

Do you have a plan to engage with college students to improve your school?

Guide on the Side

Everyone today has an opinion and they also have innumerable avenues to share it with the world. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, personal blogs, Snapchat and many other social media tools have made it simpler for everyone to voice their opinions and share their perspectives with the world. There are so many opinions, views, reviews floating around that we are literally surrounded by ‘noise’ of information and content. There is too much happening out there and describing it as chaotic would be an understatement.

In a scenario like this, an important question that needs our attention is what will happen to the truth in the digital era? Information is literally available at our fingertips today and in quest to gain more information quickly, we seem to have sacrificed on its quality. In the digital world, if something is repeated a million times most people perceive it to be the truth, while things could be very different! Opinions are construed as facts, while facts are skewed through interpretations and perspectives.

The world we live in, has nothing in black or white, there are perspectives to everything! Clearly, we cannot fall back on the age-old methods of teaching facts and passing information. How do we teach children, attributes like fairness, honesty and truth in today’s world?

Educators today have a challenging task of not only supporting children from being overwhelmed with information overload but also to guide them and help them understand that somewhere in the noise there is the reality of truth. The age-old description of an ideal educator – ‘guide on the side’, sums up the roles of educators effectively in today’s scenario. The educator needs to be an active participant while students learn and engage and eventually inspire them to become curiosity-driven learners who can filter information effectively. It is the beginning of a new year and a good time to reflect on the evolution of our role as an educator.

While we look forward to a fresh teaching-learning nexus let us welcome 2017 with positive energy and happiness! A new experience or learning, both boost confidence and self-belief. This in turn, leads to more happiness and happy people make better educators. Let’s pledge to make ourselves happy as we will make our children happier.

 

Happy New Year!

 

A Collaborative Workspace

In recent times the work places have changed and evolved dramatically. The dominant professions today did not even exist a couple of decades ago. Our office infrastructure has changed dramatically, gone are the days of reams of papers and printing, the advent of IT has made most of our work paperless and instant. Keeping up with the times the workspaces have evolved too. Offices today are designed to be more of a collaborative environment that allows free interaction and openness among colleagues. The boring whites, blues and greys have been replaced by vibrant colors, fixed cubicles and workstations have evolved into collaborative worktables and interaction hubs. One of the biggest challenges faced by most sectors is a high level of attrition, to curb this trend many organisations are going out of their way to create spaces that employees love to work in. Gyms, hobby classes, food courts, etc are a norm in most medium and large organizations. The youth brigade that is joining the corporate world is no longer happy with just the pay package and the job profile, the work environment is a key driver to joining an organisation and lasting in the workspace. While the world around us seems to take the work environment very seriously it is strange that most schools have been oblivious to this need for change. The staff rooms are normally the most boring spaces in schools and the principal’s cabin can more often pass off as an interrogation chamber. Teachers these days work under very high stress levels due to the expectations from parents and managements. They need time and space to unwind and relax. Collaborative learning is a fancy word used by most schools, if teachers are not used to working in a collaborative work environment they will not able to facilitate a collaborative learning environment in their class rooms. There are a few basics that go into making a work space collaborative:

  • Free Space: Environments that allow spaces for movement give a sense of freedom and encourage creativity. Staff rooms should have minimal furniture and lots of spaces to meet, to work together, to discuss, to plan.
  • Ventilation: Work spaces should ideally have a lot of fresh air, in our cramped and noisy cities this is almost a luxury these days. Air conditioning is the next best option.
  • Ample Lighting: Workspaces need to be well lit, here again sunlight would be the ideal option and if that seems a luxury a lot of new LED lighting does give warm white lighting that creates a very nice ambience
  • Colors: They can make all the difference to space. The right colors can make spaces look happy, cheerful, energetic and comfortable. The usage of basics like white and grey blended with very bright new age colors make spaces look inviting and encouraging.
  • Furniture: Individual desks and workstations are not the best for teachers. The concept of work/meeting tables and discussion pockets encourage them to collaborate. Moveable chairs, varying heights, multipurpose furniture, etc. add to the environment.
  • Quite spaces: In the new collaborative work environments spaces along with creating collaboration it is always a good idea to have some space for ‘Quite’.

According to ancient Indian traditions, spaces have a tremendous impact on the behaviour and energies of people. The basics have not changed despite all the evolution we have had as a society. People still long for spaces that make them feel comfortable, at home, reflects their personality and gives them a sense of pride. Happy teachers make happy children & Happy spaces make happy teachers!

New Thinking means a New Question!

‘Google Uncle’, as I like to refer to the most popular search engine, has all the answers. Any question posed to him and he instantly churns out innumerable answers. Search engines work on the logic that the answers are all there, the information is all there, what is required is asking the right questions! I have noticed several times that many of my colleagues fail to find the relevant or desired information while at work. This can be frustrating, especially when research is an integral part of the work we do at LXL Ideas. Over the years, I have realised that not everyone knows ‘how’ to ask the ‘right’ questions to Google!

If we dig a little deeper, we realise that this has to do with the way we were brought up and the manner in which our schools educated us. A normal upbringing for most of us at home has primarily focused on instructions and questions have been rarely encouraged. In school too, our ability to question is questioned. The focus of our educational system has always been and continues to be ‘answers’. We are supposed to learn the answers and the more we can answer, the better grades we get. Schooling teaches us to search for the right answers, give the right answers and derive the right solutions. Eventually, it all boils down to being about the answers. Our educational system has diminished our ability to ask questions in a very conscious and systematic manner!

It is already apparent in our world today that all the information is out there and learning information is definitely not the key to a good life in future. Seeking the right information from the abundance of information out there is a necessary skill. This simply means that we need to teach our children to ‘ask questions’ and this for me seems so contrary to what we are doing in schools today. We have no choice but to gear our pedagogical processes and ourselves to focus more on the child’s ability to raise questions. This is easier said than done. Our entire pedagogy, teaching style, curriculum, examination and grading system needs a relook. While we are all aware that this will take time. In the meantime, what must be done to teach the skill of questioning, critical thinking and problem solving to our children?

Another pressing reason why we should be teaching this skill to our children is to solve the new problems we are facing as a planet and the undiscovered problems we will face in future. The world will throw up to our children, very intriguing and unexpected social, economical, political, environmental, religious and spiritual challenges that need to be addressed. Past knowledge, problem solving skills and information will be of little help in solving the future problems. New thinking and innovation will be key and the basic founding block of any new thinking is a new question!

 

Will creators of content consume content?

Traditional education through the years has had one meaning- passing on knowledge. While there were people with knowledge and experiences on one hand, there were people, invariably children who were keen to learn. A very simplistic modern explanation to education would be that there is content and there are consumers of content. This format of education has always existed and has consistently evolved over time. Before languages were developed man used sign language and sounds to communicate and teach. However, when languages got developed learning was passed on through stories, incidents and epics. Traditionally, learning was passed on through generations with day to day activities and unorganized skill learning processes. As societies evolved there were organised learning spaces like the gurukuls and the madrasas with organised learning processes, organised curriculum and specialist teachers who taught children. As time progressed, we moved from basic to secondary and then to university education. With the recent advent of technology there has been a lot of innovation that has come into classrooms from films to digital content to games to robotics and so on… Sending children to school is a basic human right and is one of our societies biggest concerns. Getting educated means that our children need to learn what we are teaching them. In fact, our benchmark for good quality education has always been measured with the child’s ability to reproduce the content that is being taught. I have been living with a very interesting thought, through the last few months – we live in an era where almost everyone creates content. Every message we type, every photo we take, every video we shoot, every comment we make and every presentation we create is content creation. What is even more interesting is the fact that children love to create content since they are not happy to simply consume content. This reality around us is asking a very pertinent question to our education system – How will creators of content consume content? This has never been asked before. Our processes, our focus and our planning has always revolved around ensuring how children learn what we believe they should learn. The new generation of content creators are not going to sit back and learn no matter how engaging we make our classes or curriculum, they want to participate in creating content. I am very excited about what this question will lead to.  Finding an answer to this question will lead us to a completely different era of education where the focus will not remain on teaching and learning, it will evolve into Creating and Consuming Content.

Nurturing Global and Digital Citizenships

In the month of July, I was in Boston to attend the Future of Learning 2016 held as part of Project Zero organised by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Over the years I have attended and spoken at innumerable conferences and summits, but this one stood because of the quality of researched topics that were deliberated. The conference design did not look at solutions to the future of education instead it focused on understanding the dynamics of the future that will in turn impact the process of learning. The theme of the conference revolved around nurturing global and digital citizenships. The topic seems urgent against the backdrop of rapid spread of digital technologies, growing calls for sustainable development as well as a rising xenophobia and a most troubling refugee crisis.  The questions that guided the discussions at the conference were:

  1. Purpose of Learning? What are the reasons that guide our educational efforts; how are they being articulated by others and in my own work?
  2. How might we rethink learning? How do we need to rethink the what, who, and how of learning in our dynamic global and digital times?
  3. What should we do differently? What should I, and others, do differently in our teaching, learning and leadership to meet the new digital and global demands in practice?
  4. How might we prepare ourselves? What is our role as responsible professionals in Education in an increasingly digital and globally interdependent world?

Some of the interesting topics that were deliberated include:

  • Millennials do not want to absorb content, they want to produce and participate in creation of content. This is the reality of our times, everyone has the ability to and feel the need to create content. Our social media activity, fascination for taking photos and videos, eagerness to reply and respond to messages and posts is all proof that we love to create content. Education originally was designed in a manner where students had to absorb content already created. How will we engage a generation which wants to create content not absorb content?
  • Children need to learn to be curators of information and to remove the noise. There is so much content available that knowing or remembering content will not be necessary. The new skill required would be to analyze and sort relevant information from the abundance of information available.
  • What will happen to truth in the era of Digital Truth? Everyone has an opinion and everyone is creating content. In this era of content and abundance of content what happens to the truth?
  • We have to live with diversity. The pace at which migration is happening around the world has never been witnessed. In this fast changing demographics how do we teach boundaries, cultures and traditions to our children?
  • Education should not be for something it should be a wonderful experience by itself. If we fail to create good experiences for children we will fail to engage them in the process of learning.

The future of learning is going to be very exciting yet very different from what it is today. Finding answers to these questions and many more that will come up over the years will take us on a journey of exploration that will lead us to how learning will happen in future!

BE THE VOICE

I am writing this article from the beautiful skiing town of Shymbulak situated close to Almaty in Kazakhstan. This mountain town boasts of some of the best ice-sporting facilities in the world and its athletes are among the best in the winter games disciplines. The infrastructure support and encouragement that is given to athletes is quite remarkable, no wonder Kazakhstan has some world class athletes even in regular sports like tennis, cycling, weightlifting etc. It was not just the sporting infrastructure that is praiseworthy, what caught my attention was the fact that the city of Almaty boasted of some of the best music schools of the world, several theatres dedicated to children, activity centers made exclusively for children to pursue hobbies like dancing and arts, museums to encourage curiosity in science and history in addition to the innumerable parks that were spread across the city. Growing up in a city like that would be an amazing experience for children while they have spaces to do a lot of things after school and to pursue hobbies which are normally expensive but are being funded by the state. What’s commendable, is the fact that Kazakhstan got its independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991 and is just a 25-year-old nation. Yet the manner in which the government has gone about focusing on the future of the nation is quite remarkable. This got me thinking about what we do in India. We have given up on the state for any support to bring up our children, hence the mushrooming of private schools and educational institutions. The state is still in a state of slumber and overall development of children is not even remotely a priority. This has resulted in parents believing that the entire onus of overall development of children lies with the school and they expect all facilities to be provided by the school. Facilities come with a price and more the facilities provided, higher the expenses. This has resulted in majority of our children not having access to sporting activities, art or cultural facilities as their parents cannot afford it! Schools are compensating for the failure of our government by providing facilities to children. Parents who can afford high fees are happy to find selfish solutions only for their children. What happens to the hundreds of other children is not even remotely on their minds! We have created a culture where we do not engage with the government and raise our concerns. Schools and parents are happy finding band-aid solutions by building private infrastructure. Holistic development of a child happens in three places- at home, in school and in the society. No matter what facilities a school provides, they will never be able to compensate for the lack of infrastructure in our societies. Schools need to come together and raise their voices against this. Token gestures like prayers, assembly speeches etc. are not enough. What we need is teaching activism to children, encouraging them to debate and participate in mock conferences of the local democracy for it is all of this, that will go a long way in building the nation. Most revolutions across the world germinate from educational institutions with the seeds sown in schools. How long are we going to keep the real world out of our schools and keep teaching our children vague concepts? By filling the gaps of sub-standard facilities, schools are encouraging corruption and government apathy. Will schools ever be the voice and encourage activism among children?