Feb 2009 – When panic strikes…

Time again for psychiatrists, medical practitioners and counsellors to be inundated with  panic calls from nervous parents and educators unable to handle the anxieties of children.  But then the big question that lies before us do we have to corner it to such an extreme, can we not try or at least make an attempt to ensure that stress levels are balanced with children facing the exam monster?

“They deserve this reassurance from you for they walked into your school gates many years ago with stars in their eyes. Let them walk out of your gates with dreams in their eyes.”

In other words these board exams literally seem to me are not just a test of the students who appear for it, but is also a test of the teachers and a parameter to rate the school’s performance. Undeniably a school is today evaluated by the society on the performance chart either displayed through well embellished boards in the lobby of the school or a congratulatory message in the media or simple marketing strategies. This in turn is dovetailed by unnecessary pressures on the schooling system which is then reflected in the stress levels of children. More often than not it is noted that the issue lies with the elders who are far more anxious than the children.  This complicates matters further.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine who heads a school called me to take a suggestion on what she could do to calm the nerves of students attending board exams. I told her that the best thing to do was to make use of her position and act like a pressure valve, talk to the students and parents. It is very important to have a session with parents and speak to them
and calm them. Reassure them that you and your school have given in everything to bring up the children. Tell them to have faith on the upbringing meted out by the school and your experience.  Children will do well not just in the boards but also in their lives. Leave them with a message that there are a series of exams one challenging than the other ahead for children in life and parents should be their strength and not an additional pressure.

Every year schools hold valedictory functions that are very ceremonial by nature.  As a ritual you have the school head who in the valedictory message talks to the graduating students.  All this is invariably done from a pedestal. What I am talking about is an intimate conversation between the principal and the students. Get the students together and talk your heart out to them. Show the love and concern you have for them openly.  It is your last chance to do it. Put across your expectations to them not from the perspective of the board exams, but what you would like to see of them many years after they have left your school. Let them know the fact that board exams are not the biggest test of their life; that it is but one more step in life. The last thing you should do is tell them that the name and reputation of your schools depends on their performance in exams.

Make the occasion very personal, narrate inspiring stories of your past students, how they achieved success in life inspite of all odds. Let your emotions flow, if a tear rolls down your eye don’t stop it, free yourself and talk to them. They deserve this reassurance from you for they walked into your school gates many years ago with stars in their eyes. Let them
walk out of your gates with dreams in their eyes.

Aug 2008 – Don’t Dream – Focus on work…

Don’t Dream – Focus on work…

I saw this note on the notice board in a school in Nepal a few days ago while I was there visiting schools and educational institutions to understand how their system works. It prompted me to ask a question – What is the purpose of education? According to me, the purpose of education should be to create future citizens who have the necessary skills to live life and the confidence to transform their dreams into reality. Academic subjects alone do not equip our children to handle demands and situations that they will face ahead in life.

“We need to create future citizens who have the necessary skills to live life and the confidence to transform their dreams into reality.”

Realizing the importance of learning beyond academics; most educational boards in India today have prescribed Extra Curricular Activities (ECA) and Co Curricular Activities (CCA) as part of the curriculum. Inspite of ECA and CCA being part of the curriculum for a long time; schools do not give it due importance. Most often it is treated as a ritual that needs to be fulfilled.

Whenever I visit a school, I make it a point to enquire about the activities conducted beyond the curriculum and the importance given to them by the Institution. I must admit that principals love talking about the achievements of their schools and children in sports and other activities, but the amount of importance given to them compared to academics is very little. In our country we generally have only one scale of measuring the success or quality of a school and that is their ‘academic performance’.

For over 12 years now that I have been organising inter school events apart from facilitating thousands of workshops for students to help them grow as better individuals; I must admit that I have not come across a better way of teaching a child self confidence or self esteem than by giving him an opportunity to speak or perform in front of an audience. Art and creative activities improve their creativity and empathy. Children participating in ECA learn to handle pressure, perform at their peak when required, cope with failure and many such vital skills that shape their lives in future. I would definitely endorse ECA as a wonderful way of learning life skills.

While hosting the Horlicks Wizkids event last week in Mumbai, one of the judges for the singing competition was Ishmeet Singh the winner of Star Voice of India. When I met him he greeted me and said ‘Hello Sir, How you doing?’ I was taken aback and asked him if he knew me. He nodded saying that he was also a participant of Horlicks Wizkids two years back in Ludhiana. Likewise, I come across several successful young people who come up to me and thank me for creating opportunities and platforms that nurture talents. Years ago I thought that ECA were good fun and students love them as they do not have to study. Today I can say with authority that schooling is incomplete if children are not given an opportunity to experience education beyond the curriculum.

Feb 2010 – Core scholastics

It was almost 13 years ago, I remember having an argument with a school principal in Bangalore who was against sending her children to inter school competitions.

She believed that taking part in such competitions was bad for her children and that they lost interest in their academics because of such activities.  She was proud of the fact that her children did not digress from studies and focused exclusively on academics. As a young college student I lost the battle that day, but I knew deep within my heart that things will change some day and my efforts of propagating inter school competitions of all kinds not just quizzes and debates would pay off some day. Over the years I have had several debates and arguments with school principals who refused to participate in some amazing events we organized, I have felt defeated and sad and angry at times, but I always believed that things would change some day.

Today years later Krayon our events company has organized more events for school students than all other companies put together.  Millions of children have participated in hundreds of events all over South Asia. As the most experienced event manager in the country in the children’s events space I have learned one thing, whatever children need to learn to face life ahead is best taught by intra and inter school sports, literary and cultural activities.

When the HRD minister announced recently that sports, cultural and literary activities will be an integral part of assessment, I had a smile on my face I felt like going back to those principals who thought I was a fool trying to distract children and give it back to them.  Looking back, I guess I have grown to accept all kinds of people. The CBSE board calls it co-scholastics I personally believe that it should be called core-scholastics, as it teaches children the core of living and surviving.  All other subjects effectively only form the periphery of actual learning.

It is exam time now and all schools are gearing up for the mega event and a large part of society will experience near paralysis. Temples and other places of worship get very busy, memory enhancing medicines, psychologists and counsellors will do abnormal business as the anxiety levels of children and parents reach a fever pitch.

Most of February I will be travelling across the country as part of the Horlicks Mission Exams to do my bit to calm the nerves of students, principals/educators and parents by leading a series of workshops that aim to highlight the importance of a healthy mind and a healthy body. It is proven, if you want children to do their best in their exams make sure you tell them – to eat well, sleep well, play well, exercise a bit and stay calm by relaxing or meditating. These may sound simple but are far more effective than any other remedy which people prescribe to do well in exams!

Jan 2010 – Excellence in School Education!

“Creating schools of the future is not just about new technology it is about simple home grown innovation and ideas that improve quality.

It is a new year and I am sure you would like to start the year with something exciting and so here I go sharing a thought with you…..

My attendance at a conference in IIT Delhi on ‘Excellence in School Education’ had me pen down this thought for my page in between presentations.  Each presentation left me wondering at the low standard of work in education and the lack of research. This point was even highlighted by Prof. Choudhary who had convened the workshop. If you compare education with any other sector in India the biggest area of difference is the lack of research and development to improve the overall quality of education. True there are government organizations like NCERT and the likes that are doing this, but like all government organizations they have their limitations. Research at the private level hardly exists. In fact most schools are experimenting! But the question is at what cost? If we take a leaf from other industries even small sized units boast of an R&D division that strives to create products or services for the future. Normally schools are so lost in ensuring quality for the present that this thought has not occurred to most institutions in India to create a R&D division that looks at various aspects of education and institutional management. Creating schools of the future is not just about new technology it is about simple home grown innovation and ideas that improve quality. This will only happen if you can set aside time, money and resources to encourage research in the file of education.

Make a beginning somewhere this NewYear, share your best practices with other institutions and educators. Why should someone else reinvent the wheel which you have already done? You call yourself a learning institution what is your use if the school next door does not learn from you. Go out reach out to other educators in your locality or city or country and share your learning. Get back to the good old days of education when people wrote to fellow educators and updated or taught them new things that they had learned. With technology enabling us this is very easy and economical. Start your blogs and write you mind, share it with others, let them learn, don’t limit your teaching to just your students the society and other institutions need you as much.

At Mentor we are flooded with requests to cover schools and highlight their achievements, what is sadly missing is the fact that very few educators come forward to share best practices and experiences that can benefit other schools. Please take some time out to write to us, maybe your inputs could improve some schools functioning and help hundreds of children grow to being more useful to society. We at Mentor have made a resolution that we will go beyond this magazine and provide you with an exclusive online platform where you can interact and learn from fellow principals and institutional heads.

Have a great year 2010!!

Dec 2009 – School meant Leisure…. Originally

I was browsing through the internet to understand more about schooling the other day when I happened to get to the depths of two words – school & education.

‘School’ comes from a Greek term ‘schol?’ which originally meant ‘Leisure’. Now it is such an irony, schools today constitute the biggest reason for stress among children and when the term school is mentioned you would think of everything else but leisure.

The meaning of education is ‘to lead forth’ in Latin, when I look at teenagers today I wonder where have we led them. I firmly believe that when children are born they are angels in the truest sense, we – parents, teachers, society, media etc. are responsible for ‘leading them’ to becoming the ‘devils’. On a serious note let’s accept it that they way we are bringing up our children is not the most desirable. ‘To lead forth’ also brings to my mind an important aspect of children’s upbringing which has to be a combined effort of the home and school.

In the past issue Mentor has been delving deep into some of the oldest institutions of our country and trying to bring their wisdom to the forefront. In our quest of finding old institutions we interacted with several legendary schools and realised the amazing depth and width of Indian education, but one thing that struck us was that very few schools documented their traditions and cultures. It’s a pity that schools don’t spend quality time on documenting their efforts and learning’s and putting them down on paper. Great institutions are build on strong values and foundations that do not change with every new principal or chairman that leads them, documentation makes the foundation firm.

If I take a cue from my own experience, I run 3 companies and each of my companies has a Company Policy which very clearly enlists

–          values & vision of the company

–          scope of work

–          general standards of conduct

–          corporate identity

–          company structure

–          confidential information

–          HR policies – recruitment, staffing, training etc.

–          Disciplinary actions

& much more

If schools can apply this and come up with their own School Policy Books – for teachers, students, parents and management. This would go a long way in bringing about consistency in the way schools function inspite of changes in the teams.

December 10th happens to be Human Rights Day and I thought I will enlighten you about Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays”. Now if you have to ‘lead by example’ I suggest you take a break in December. Take a holiday as it is your right, moreover will bring you face to face with a lot more realities you need to be ready for it.

Wishing you all the luck as you wind up 2009 and get ready to welcome 2010