Aug 2011 – Where are the boys?

I am in the midst of my annual ‘South Asia Yatra’ as I call it, travelling almost 20 cities  in 4 countries. It is something that I look forward to very keenly as it gives me an opportunity to closely interact with over 100,000 students and get a firsthand understanding of the trends and patterns of the youth today. One common question that is asked by the press to me is ‘what are the changes you notice in children these days compared to when you started off?’ I take this opportunity to share my observations on this question.

–          The Rise & Rise of girl power: Yes this is not a trend it is a phenomenon according to me. 12 years ago when I visited Hyderabad I found a big difference in the standard of girls and boys. The girls were far more smarter, intelligent, well spoken and overall better than boys in Hyderabad. I found that strange as in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai etc. you found the standard to be quite equal, not a stark difference. Over the last 10 years many things have changed in our society, but if I have to pick up one that stands out for me it is the fact that girls are far more smarter than boys these days. This trend I notice not only in Hyderabad but in cities across India, Pakistan, Nepal & Sri Lanka. This phenomenon will have great implications as we move forward. So if I were to put on a soothsayers hat I would comment ‘brace yourself for a world led by and ruled by women in a couple of decades to come’


–          I need to necessarily follow this up with my assessment of boys these days. They are either becoming too feminine and soft or they are becoming too aggressive and violent. In the words of Naina my colleague ‘there are not normal boys these days, either they are sissies or they are mad-caps’


–          If I have to pick up one area where there has been a remarkable improvement in our children it has to be their overall confidence. Every kid seems to be supremely confident of everything they do, but do they have the necessary depth to back up their confidence? Now that is a completely different story all together and in my opinion ‘NO’


–          There are two kinds of kids who take part in competitions like Horlicks Wizkids; one kind who love to be there and the other kind who were told to go there by their parents. Infact I notice a very strong urge in parents to push children to do things which they never got an opportunity to do. This is irrespective of the fact that the child is interested in it or not. This phenomenon creates another challenge for event organisers like me – Every School Wants to Win in All Competitions!

Well these are some of the noticeable findings of mine as I am travelling across doing what I do best, providing the young talent in India to express themselves.

July 2011 – A Special offer!

I am on transit in Singapore on my way to Australia as I write this piece, I will be spending the next 8 days with 4 of the brightest young talent from across South Asia and winners of the Horlicks WizTeam South Asia 2011. This trip is a reward for them for the amazing overall personalities they have been; but to me it is yet another opportunity to empathize with the young minds and connect with them.   I find it rewarding and gratifying to connect with the students and share their space.

Over the past decade I have made a conscious effort to live the life of the students and see the world from their eyes. I must admit that their world is quite an exciting space and with loads of technology thrown in these days it is a very entertaining and connected world.

Horlicks Wizkids the very popular inter-school literary and cultural festival is back again and this year the event will take place in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and we  add Bangladesh too this year. The event will reach over 3 million children and will attract a participation of over 200,000 students. I urge you all to make sure that you encourage your students to participate in this amazing event that has impacted the lives of over a million children in the past decade.

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My facebook account has more than 2000 student friends from across South Asia. This space gives me an opportunity to follow their trends, their behaviour, likes, dislikes and a lot of sharing too.   I find this sort of an interaction with students to be far more insightful than conducting big surveys to understand them. I have always propagated the fact that if you have not jumped in the water you will never learn, similarly if we have to work with students we must figure out a way to live in their world.

September 5th will be celebrated as Teachers Day across the country and a distinct memory is that of a few teachers putting up an entertainment programme and the school giving out a samosa and laddoo to the students. I am told 2 decades later too things have not changed much and even today teachers are only getting ‘samosas and laddoos’. I think it is high time managements started looking at better incentives for their most valuable asset ‘Teachers’. Consider giving Life Insurance, Health Insurance, Family Insurance, PF, Gratuity, Holiday Packages, Money Incentives and other innovative perks. Go beyond the mundane gifts and surprise them, they deserve it. Make this Teachers Day special for the teachers; they are the only ones who can make your school special for your children.

Next month also has Independence Day heralding a new era for the country. This Independence day make it special for the children too. Do ensure that they go beyond just the hoisting of the flag and revive the sensitivity amongst children and get them to think of the future ahead.


June 2011 – Children of tomorrow!

I was in the Doon School recently to address educators as a part of the series of EduExcellence workshops that are being organized in different parts of the country. It was an interesting experience spending time in what is one of the most reputed educational institutions of the country….

. I was a witness to a very thought provoking session titled ‘Principals as Career Visionaries’ led by a dear friend Sandeep Srivastava who raised some very pertinent issues. I take this opportunity to share what I gathered from his session.

The meaning of the word ‘professional’ has changed dramatically over the past decade. An individual who got a degree in engineering or medicine or science or commerce was termed a ‘professional’. But today ‘professional’ means an individual, who has the right attitude towards work, is reliable and their value system is in place. The question we need to ask is what kind of professionals are schools of today aspiring to create, professionals who existed a decade ago or the professionals who are required by the industry in future?

A recent survey on professions indicates that the most aspired jobs of today did not exist 10 years ago or were not heard of – Social Media Marketing, Nano technology, Retail Marketing, Online Travel Industry,  Digital Secretaries, IT consulting are just a few that come to my mind. Industries of the future will worry about a triple bottom line unlike the traditional ones who looked at only one bottom line ‘Revenues’. The industries of the future will also look at ‘Social Impact’ and ‘Environmental Impact’.

The future will be predominantly multidisciplinary – nano-manufacturing, bio-math, neuro-physics, bio-maths and God knows what all.

We will increasingly live in a connected world and information will be available for everyone to see. It is common practice for companies to see the social profiles of future employees on facebook or linkedin before hiring them. Imagine a student 10 years down the line who has been on facebook, the employers or college management can actually track their entire history from school days before hiring them or giving them admissions. So your facebook profile is not just to have fun and connect with people it can actually be a source of information to the world in future.

We are increasingly seeing the impact of globalization in our world. Take Bangalore for instance, on the city streets you will find people speaking English, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, in addition to which we now hear Oriya, Bengali, Khasi and many other Indian languages. If that is not surprising it is very common to find French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, spoken on its streets.  Very often we have debates over which language should children study; I believe that we should bring up children who know upwards to 6 or 7 languages if they have to excel in the world tomorrow.

Children who join and go through the schools systems are the ones who will shoulder the responsibility of the industry 2 decades from now. The education and skills that we are giving them now will enable them to live a life tomorrow?


April 2011 – Old School of thought

Long ago there lived a king who was very fascinated with the idea of growth and development of children. He instructed his subjects to carry out various experiments with young children to learn more about them. In his quest to understand the impact of human touch on children he brought two newly born babies to the palace.

He instructed the care takers to ensure that one of the babies is treated as normally as any mother would treat whereas no one was to touch the other baby.  That baby would get everything but not the touch of a human. Even if they had to feed the baby or clean the baby it had to be done with gloves on. Over the next 2 months inspite of giving all the care and attention the baby who did not receive the human touch fell very ill within days and died in a couple of months.

This may be just a story but it very effectively communicates a very basic need of all humans to survive – the human touch.

I was in Birmingham attending The Education Show and realized that things are just the same and there is not a lot of innovation or excitement that is coming into the educational space in the UK. But a couple of things did catch my attention:

–          The return to the basics: yes a majority of the show was dedicated to very simple tools and props that teachers could use to make the classroom more exciting. It was a revelation to me as most of the schools in the UK boast of an IT based curriculum with interactive classrooms. The focus was now on bringing the small little things into the classroom and a personal touch to education being given by the teachers. Loads of stickers, charts, display boards, colourful props, toys all creating the real feel in the classrooms.

–          The amount of time, energy and efforts the teachers were taking to make their sessions more exciting. Teachers were buying loads of teaching aids with their own money. Now that was very heartening for me as in India I am told that even if a teacher sends an official sms they seek a refund.

We have always looked at the west and believed that they have an excellent educational system.  It is true on many counts, but they have their own share of problems that they are facing. Amidst all this it was heartening to note that The Education Show this year focused more on real and simple tools and ideas that teachers could use to make learning more fun. If we look into the way schools are going ballistic about infrastructure and technology these days the thing that is missing the most is the ‘Human Touch’. Let us look at the coming academic year as a step in the direction to create schools that are more real and ‘old school’

March 2011 – A Draconian menace

A recent EduMedia survey that collated facts from across the country indicates that 16 students commit suicide in India every day.  Alarming isn’t that?

I decided to share these statistics with a group of educators recently during the Horlicks Mission Exams workshop and the instant response to this from teachers was – ‘in over 2 decades of my experience not a single kid has committed suicide in my school.’ I was appalled to hear such comments from educators. It is a misnomer that if it does not happen to me it does not happen anywhere. Here is another scary statistic, ‘for every one kid that committed suicide there were at least 10 who contemplated it’.  This number shoots up dramatically post exams around results time.  Suicide is an extreme reaction.  In most children stress and peer pressure leads them into many undesirable habits. The survey also revealed that many children take to habits like smoking, drinking, aggression or slip into depression.

Educators across India completely refuse to believe these statistics as they believe such issues don’t occur in ‘their schools’. They live far away from the realities of the world.  It reminds me of my school days, almost 20 years ago when I was in class 7.    Few of my classmates got the greatest thrill of their lives by hiding away from the world and having a smoke or a drink. Even today two decades later when such issues are brought to light in the form of statistics schools choose to look the other way instead of addressing them effectively. Living in ignorance and denial of ground realities is something that a lot of schools have been guilty of from a long time.

All of us are responsible for the mess that we have created for the kids who go to school today.  The pressures to perform well are so high that most kids are wilting under this pressure. Schools and parents need to ensure that they support the children with necessary skills to cope with this draconian menace. Accepting and an understanding of the gravity of the situation is the key first step, schools can work towards creating systems and processes that make life simpler for children.

Over the past month I have come across some very simple yet remarkable solutions to make this happen

–          Eating well, sleeping well and drinking good amount of water

–          Play and more play

–          Increasing the number of co-curricular activities

–          Playing music in school

–          Ensuring Zero periods have zero academics

–          Encouraging children to talk about their issues by creating Circle Time opportunities

–          Having laughter clubs/sessions in schools

–          Having organized entertainment in schools like School Cinema

–          Having a team of student counsellors

–          Empowering teachers by giving them counselling, graphology skills ….

–          Including parents as part of organized learning


It is a Herculean task to reduce the stress that is being put on our children, it requires a combined effort from the society at large and the media can play a critical role in it. Let us all do our bit to see more Happy faces in our schools!





Feb 2011 – Guinea pigs, are they?

It has been for more than a year that schools across India have implemented CCE. I was very keen to know its impact on the student community and therefore spoke to many teachers and students whenever I got an opportunity to do so. CCE came into existence with the sole aim of bringing down the ‘exam stress’ among children.  Is it truly working?

During my various interactions with children across the country I had one of the students telling me about how when CCE was introduced in her school the first thing the teacher did when she walked in to class was to announce ‘from now on all of you will be evaluated on everything you do every day, you don’t have one final exam but every assignment and task given to you and your behaviour will all add up to your grades’. Imagine the state of those poor kids, I really wonder if they are breathing freely or they are more stressed out because of this new ‘Stress Reducing CCEE system’

The story from the teachers’ perspective is that CCE has increased their burden tremendously and unnecessarily. As teachers we have always corrected children if they made mistakes and helped them improve, but now every simple action of theirs needs to be recorded as ‘course correction’ and reported. Infact in some schools the authorities have set a minimum number of course corrections that a teacher must do for every child.

The ground reality of how CCE is being put to use in our schools is a grim reminder of how we are treating education. We have traditionally not given importance to research and pilot projects to understand the loop holes and ground reality problems. If only CCE was introduced in a few districts of the country and the learning collated and ‘course correction’ of the programme done before rolling it out things would have been much better and not a mess like that it is now.

I personally believe that CCE is a great direction forward, but the manner in which we have equipped our teachers and systems to implement this programme is quite appalling. Every school now has its own version of what CCE is and how it needs to be implemented. One principal commented that any change will take time to materialise and CCE will take at least 5 years to be effective. My question then is, “What happens to all the children who pass out of the system over the next 5 years? Guniea pigs are they???”

In January I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi a wonderful gentleman with an amazing lineage, grandson of the great Mahatma as well as the legendary Rajagopalchari. He had heard about the School Cinema project and was keen to see our film that was nominated as part of the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of Goa in Nov 2010. He thoroughly enjoyed the movie and said that I he had not come across a better way of teaching values to children in a long time.

As a parting note he sowed a seed in my mind with a question ‘Do you know who killed Gandhi?’ I pondered over it for a while and I realised that it was an ‘Indian’ who killed the greatest Indian. Wonder why? This is one question that is so uncomfortable that most Indians choose to look the other way. Jan 30 is always remembered as the death anniversary of the great Mahatma, I think we should as educators give a thought to his question as it is our children who grow up to kill the ‘Gandhi’ in our society.