Sep 2009 – How many good teachers do we have?

If I asked you a question “Who is a good teacher” the answers I get will vary from idealistic expressions like “someone who makes a difference in the lives of children” to to “ones who teach the world”.

To get clarity for myself I did a small exercise during my travel to 17 Indian cities of in the past 2 months as part of the Horlicks Wizkids event. I made it a point to visit schools, to every principal I met I asked them a question – “How many good teachers do you have in your school?” I got varied responses – very few, not many, difficult to say, infact in one school a principal believed that he did not have a single good teacher apart from himself!

I followed up this question with my next one “Who according to you is a good teacher?” Most of the responses were now real, not like the idealistic one I thought that I would get. A good teacher according to most principals is one who

– is meticulous, dedicated and completes academic portions on time

– ensure that the children get good marks

– punctual, regular and is willing to take up responsibilities beyond teaching

I tried looking at a teachers job closely and found it very boring. Here is one real example to clarify my point. A teacher in Kolkata who teaches physics to about 300 high school students told me that her school has weekly tests, monthly tests, 2 terminal exams and 1 final exam. Considering that she evaluates 30 test and exams every year spending 10 minutes per paper. She spends approximately 1500 hours each year on evaluation, 2 months of her life every year!

“Who is a good teacher?” I asked my friend and mentor Dilip Patel, he has his own way of giving answers and came up with an ancient Indian understanding that describes the various levels of teachers.

Adhyapak – one who gives information

Upadhyay – one who uses information and converts it to knowledge

Acharya – one who teaches skills

Pandit – one who gives insight, a deeper meaning understating

Drishta – one who has foresight and enables us to see things from a future perspective

Guru – one who gives wisdom

Well it may sound idealistic on my part but I guess if we have to elevate the level of our teachers we need to elevate the levels of our expectations from them. I am referring to the few dedicated souls who teach in your school, give them a bigger role to play in the lives of children rather than just decimate information to get grades. The issues which children face in today’s world are very difficult, information is not enough to handle them. What is required is wisdom, and what your school requires is Guru’s not Adhyapak’s.

September 5th is Teachers Day and September 21st is World Gratitude Day, what better month to identify and elevate the moral of your teachers. Remember you do not need all but just one Guru in each school!

August 2009 – Time to put on the innovation caps!

The last two centuries witnessed the peak of mankind’s ability to invent; this century is going mans prowess to innovate. Education is no exception to this rule, to arrive at the present educational system in the past decades and centuries a lot of work has gone in. We are now in an era of innovation in education. The problem tough is that the world around us is changing so rapidly that a few minor innovations will not suffice. We need to look at radical changes that need to be made, yet we should be cautious not to change the basic fabric of education and that is to “Prepare Children for Life”.

Principals today need to put on their innovation caps and come up with ways to tackle the new emerging issues that seem to crop up every now and then. Let me elaborate my point keeping in mind a few of the key issues faced by the schools – teachers quality and school infrastructure.

I live in Bangalore and its Business Outsourcing Process (BPO) industry has shown the country a phenomenal method of creating an army of employees who are nurtured to service client from different parts of the globe with different cultures and accents. If schools can take a leaf out of the BPO industry it would do wonders to the perennial problem of identifying, training and retaining staff. It is a great idea to study this model and see if its essence can be extrapolated to the schooling environment. Schools should start looking at recruiting people from all kinds of backgrounds. Schools should come up with their own internal training and auditing processes that will enable them to create quality and excellence in teaching. Let’s face it we are not getting good teachers anymore, so start creating good teachers. An annual bridging program or orientation will not do, I am talking about a system where teachers learn every single day. If a teacher performs teaching duty for 6 hours they should be learning for 2 hours. Think about it!

School infrastructure costs a lot and its useage is limited. Recycle and reuse is the mantra these days, can your infrastructure follow that? Several schools in Mumbai follow a two shifts a day system, two batches of students get educated using the same infrastructure. This method is financially beneficial and socially relevant. Schools from other cities can adopt this policy instead of cramming the classrooms with more than manageable numbers. Many schools rent out their playgrounds and other facilities occasionally, I am talking about a step further. Can you look at creating adult learning centers or an evening school for the poor neighborhood children or dance / art / music institutes? These innovations do not have to necessarily be financially rewarding, they can be socially meaningful.

Innovation has never been so relevant in education as it is today. Get your team together relook at all areas of concern and the ones that are going on well, encourage new innovative thoughts to address them, everything you do can be done better and more effectively. Be bold to try new things, this is the way forward. Make innovation a way of life in your school.

July 2009 – The biggest lessons of my life

The biggest lessons of my life have come from the people and places I get to know during my travels. Last year after completing the Horlicks Wizkids event in Patna I decided to visit Gaya, the place where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. It was an amazing experience visiting the Maha Bodhi temple and meditating under the peepal tree. It was almost dark while as I was returning, I noticed a lot of people on the roadside, sitting dangerously close to the speeding vehicles. I wondered why anyone would sit like that on the road, with no sense or fear. One of my colleagues had his own version, he thought it was their way of making money, if by chance our vehicle touches anyone they can demand a huge ransom. These discussions were in full flow when we had to stop abruptly because of a punctured tyre.

While waiting for the car to get fixed, my curiosity got the better out of me, I walked towards a group of people and asked them why they were all sitting on the road. One of them replied in typical Bihari “Our houses are out there, below, filled with flood waters, the only place that is dry is the road so we have no choice but to sit here”. The reply shook me up, I realised that for almost 100 kms all the people that I saw on the road were displaced by the floods and that was the reason they were on the road. This is the kind of world we live in, oblivious of how the less fortunate ones are living..

When we talk about India Shining we are actually referring to only a very small percentage of Indian society that is fortunate to have reaped the benefit of progress. A larger section of our society is a victim of the unequal wealth distribution. The ones who have seem to care less about the ones who don’t.

Years ago the curriculum makers saw sense in introducing Socially Useful Productive Work – SUPW as part of schooling. I wonder if schools ever understood the true meaning behind this decision. In most schools that I know of SUPW period is almost a joke, what is being done in the name of social work is lamentable. As heads of schools you take a moral high ground and believe you are God’s gift to society, if ever this was true it would have been if you nurtured socially conscious students.

Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR is a buzz word these days, I think its time that SSR – School Social Responsibility is talked about seriously by our educators. Your schools vision should have SSR as an integral part of it and your mission must be to create socially aware, empathetic students. Its time you took SSR seriously?

June 2009 – The challanges of the new year

Welcome back to school, I would like to believe that the summer holidays gave you that well deserved break and you are back refreshed and recharged. You need that this year as the number of new challenges that you are going to face requires a whole new way to think and react.

The summer holidays saw the country shaken by several incidents of school children succumbing to various illnesses and / or atrocities by schools as projected by the media. But the manner in which the schools and their authorities are put on a scanner forces to think of the age old saying “prevention is better than cure”. It is high time that managements and principals re-looked at the systems they follow to address emergencies in schools.

Issues such as fire safety, medical emergencies, environmental concerns, statutory requirements in building construction need to be given due importance. We live in an era where anything can make news and get onto national headlines, so schools need to be very cautious about how they impact the lives of children and society. Food served in canteens, furniture used by children, sports facilities, school picnics and other similar areas need to be re-looked from a health and safety perspective and proper systems put in place to ensure that accidents do not occur.

The new academic year brings in a lot of new things; among them are a new coat of paint to the buildings, new uniforms for the children and some new equipment for the school. One aspect of the school that does not get a face lift and renovation every year is the school principal. Reinventing the person within is something beautiful and heads of schools need to reinvent themselves as often as they can, what better time of the year to do it than the beginning of the academic year.

Our country has just elected its new government, but the sad part of this year’s election was the low turn out of educated urban voters. It seems that gradually the educated Indian is loosing his interest in participating actively in the democratic process, there are several reason for this and one of them is that schools do not encourage children to grow up to vote. I think this it is almost your duty to make it a part of your school system and to instill in children the idea to be an integral part of the democratic system and process. Hopefully the next generation that gets out of your school will be more participatory and involved in country affairs.

There is a very old say in India – “ the home is a reflection of the home maker”, similarly the school is a reflection of the Principal. They have to ensure that every aspect of their personality is properly groomed and presented, after all the schools image is reflected through that.

This academic year get yourself a whole new wardrobe, start an exercise regime, a regular diet plan, ensure that you rest well and also pamper yourself once in a while with things that you love. The external personality improvement will seem very superficial if the Inner You is not addressed. Stimulate yourself intellectually, emotionally, spiritually – pick up some good books to read, watch some interesting films, take time out to meditate and relax, spend time with your family, your students, teachers and parents, keep yourself updated on the world around you. Most importantly keep your smile intact the world around you especially in your school needs it desperately.

Good luck for the new academic year!!