May 2012 – The Language Debate

I was in Venice, Italy recently to present a research paper at the ICECP 2012 : International Conference on Educational and Child Psychology. Several interesting papers were presented and it was interesting to note the varied objectives and directions in education that countries across the world are working towards. It was heartening to note that most of the issues that we face in India are the ones that countries across the world are facing. Lack of quality teachers, Engaging the learner of today, Inculcating values and morals in society and so on. One particular paper that caught my attention related to the changing dynamics of education in future keeping in mind the ‘Migration’ that is taking place across the world. The paper went on to prove how important migration is for countries to sustain themselves and keeping their doors open to migration in an increasingly globalised world is beneficial for their economy.

 

Every time I travel and I mention that I am from India, the way the people react is very interesting. Apart from Gandhi, Yoga and Bollywood the one thing that the world sees in India is an economic super power of the future. The world looks up to India for its tremendous future, I really wonder if our schools understand this and if we are preparing our children to grow up to be leaders in the world.

 

Travelling through Italy I found it difficult to manage life as I do not speak Italian or even French not many people comprehend English there. If you are in France you have to know French, not many people speak ‘Anglias’ or English. Infact the UN recognizes 5 languages as official French, English, Mandarin (Chinese), Arabic & Spanish. If I look back at some of the language debates that happen in India I find it very short sighted. Yes we need to preserve our heritage and languages and encourage children to learn our state languages, but when are we going to mandatorily learn languages that will give us an edge in the world in future? Several researches across the world have proven that young children can learn 5 to 6 languages with ease. I respect Hindi and Kannada & I love English the 3 languages I learned in school, but I definitely regret the fact that I did not learn French or Spanish as it would have helped me immensely today as a global citizen!

 

I personally believe that most schools in India today are creating self-centered and individualistic kids who are being trained to focus on grades for themselves and seek a career that will give them the basics that they are aiming for. In this fierce focus to achieve individual success I rarely see a glimpse of future leaders in our school going populace. If India has to live up to its future potential, schools of today must equip children to be able to survive anywhere in the world.

 

The 3 most important skills that we need to teach our children to be global citizens of the future are to be sensitive to the world around us, take up challenges and to communicate effectively. Hope you keep this in mind while you are making your school calendar for the coming year.

April 2012 – No Recession in Education

It is a cool thing these days to enter the education domain as it is apparently the fastest growing industry in India. Ever other day you find all kinds of people entering this space to either set up educational institutions or enterprises that provide educational services. It is a very lucrative industry to be in as the common phrase one hears is ‘education industry has no recession’.

 

It is all well as long as the ‘edupreneurs’ as they are called come in with an open mind to add value to the education space, but what is very annoying is the fact that every one of them you meet tells you that ‘Schools/Educational Systems are very bad these days and they thought they had to do something to change the way children get educated in India, so they got into education’

 

I have heard this over an over again from innumerable people. What is strikingly common in almost all cases is that this opinion about Indian schools was build up either by their own experience of schools or their childrens schools and they extrapolate it to apply for schools across India. Meeting a couple of schools these so called ‘edupreneurs’ come to a conclusion that things need to change and even better they ‘know’ what changes need to be brought about.

 

We at EduMedia are of the firm belief that schools in India are not as bad as they are made out to be, infact we think traditionally we have had good schools. I came out of this educational system and I think I have been brought up well and as a reader of Mentor chances are that you have been educated in India. We have all turned out well, infact the strength of India today is its educated populace and all of us studied in the traditional or old schools. The biggest problem according to me is the word ‘Change’ that all educators and educationists are talking about these days. Almost all conferences and seminars on education are about ‘Change’.

 

All of us will agree that there were many things we did right in schools right upto the 1990’s, yes there were areas that needed to be improved which is what we needed to focus on. The first step should have been to understand the strengths, traditions, systems and processes that were the back bone of schools. Reinforcing these strengths should have been the top priority, instead what most schools have done over the past decade is to completely ignore or negate the good old things and adapted the new. The result is very visible in schools today, like the proverb – crow trying to be a crane!

 

A ‘smart kid’ is not what the world requires in future, the world requires ‘humans’ as that species will be a rarity. Change is important but not at the cost of the old values, culture and traditions. Are you teaching your children to be human or to be smart?

 

Feb 2012 – Bias or Stigma!

I was visiting a school in Ahmadabad to speak to schools that are implementing the School Cinema project about the impact of the program.  I was very touched to hear the comment of the school counselor who said that the program had helped solve a long-standing problem of a boy. The boy belonged to a community that was a rarity in that school; the school with a population of about 2000 students only had 2 or 3 students from that community. His peers were constantly taunting the boy calling him a terrorist, this had led to him becoming very aggressive in school. As part of the School Cinema program the children watched a movie titled The Little Terrorist, the film had such an impact on the class that there was a remarkable shift in their behavior and attitude towards the boy.

I have sometimes wondered how life would be like if I was a lone student of my community studying in a class of students who have been told by their parents that they should not eat with me, should not make friends with me or even sit next to me just because I do not belong to that community. I always found it difficult to imagine, especially growing up in a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore that accepts everyone and makes everybody feel at home.

But my visit to Ahmadabad brought me face to face with a reality that exists as a strong undercurrent in our society. As much as we might want to negate it almost everyone knows it exists. For years now it’s an accepted fact that if you wanted a house on rental you needed to belong to a particular community or if you belonged to a particular community you cannot buy a house in a particular locality. This is a common phenomenon in many parts of our country. I have always wondered if schools had similar biases? In all fairness I must admit that schools do conform to such societal norms and live up to the expectations of the majority of the parents and at times tend to have strong biases. But isn’t the role of a school to change society, not conform to it? Schools provide an opportunity of a lifetime for children to learn to accept differences in people and go on to create harmonious societies. If schools themselves fall pray to such ideologies or if schools are established to create such differences by admitting only students from one community where will we all end up?

If you live in a world believing that religious, cultural, language, gender and many other such biases do not exist in your school then you are living in a fantasy world. Biases exist in our society, what are you doing to neutralize them or Can you do anything at all? I am sure you can make that difference, if you don’t who will?

 

Jan 2012 – Mass Mania for Corruption

Over the past several months we have all been watching the ‘Anna’ episode unfold in our living rooms via the TV channels. The mass mania he managed to create and the focus he brought on the issue of corruption was quite commendable, tough his methods were debatable. The manner in which our media covered the entire episode seemed more like a teenagers infatuation, we were literally subjected to the coverage day in and day out. I can bet that post the Lokpal agitations across the country the repercussions would be quite dramatic. All kinds of agitations will come up for all kinds of demands, some flimsy and some real, but the methods will last for a while.

Right through this entire period I was wondering what is the kind of impact this episode would have on schools managements across the country. Imagine students, children, parents and media sitting outside schools and protesting on all kinds of demands they have – better facilities, better teachers etc. Think about it, things are changing.

I have personal experience and heard several educators and industry observers call the ‘Education Industry’ amongst the most corrupt in this country. It is a very well known fact that a large segment of ‘Educationists’ generate huge amounts of black money through all kinds of donations and collections. It got me wondering if bringing the educational institutions under the ambit of the Lokpal is a good idea!

Things are changing around us and changing dramatically. Do you remember the STD/PCO booths that dotted this country all over. The telecom revolution and the advent of the mobile industry killed all of them. The pace at which things are changing these days is quite dramatic. The rate at which people are getting disillusioned with the present educational system is also alarming. I don’t know how many educators take this as a serious threat to their industry but I certainly see that the schools as we see and know them today will be extinct in future.

I asked students on my facebook recently to describe their school and the experience of schooling in one word. The most common answer I got was ‘Boring’, mind you some of these kids had computer based learning in their schools. I would like to agree with their assessment, our schools have become too mundane and boring, simple things are missing and they are replaced by elaborate infrastructure and systems. I think it is time for schools to seriously think of bringing ‘Entertainment’ in the classroom, not for the sake of it but to enable learning.

Its time to ring in the new and ring out the old as another new year begins. Welcome this new year with a resolution to bring back Joy in learning.

 

March 2012 – Student Suicides

I spent a large part of January and February travelling 20 cities in India with our annual program Horlicks Mission Exams. Through this annual event we are making an effort to sensitize schools about the importance of reducing stress levels in children by making small changes in the way the schools function.

I had a very bizarre experience in Jamshedpur recently. My local team went around inviting schools to participate in the Mission Exams workshop, the response from schools and educators alike was very enthusiastic, but one reputed school of Jamshedpur declined to participate. It was brought to my notice that the reason why they did not want to participate is that they felt that programs to reduce exam stress are for the smaller schools and not for reputed schools like theirs and they know how to handle issues in school. On hearing this I made a casual comment “with an attitude like this how can schools ever change, they will wake-up only when they are shaken-up”

The next day when the workshop was scheduled, I picked up the local newspaper in the morning I was shocked to read that a 17 year old girl of class 10 committed suicide by hanging in her house. She was very upset as she had got very low marks in her pre-board exams. As coincidental as it may sound that girl belonged to the same school that refused our invitation. I am not suggesting that only the school is to be blamed for the incident, but I am definitely suggesting that they are one of the factors that led to the suicide. The incident in Chennai where a young boy killed his teacher is another case in point. Can schools do something to prevent such incidents in future? Yes, definitely!

We have all heard the proverb “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude” As institutions some of them tend to believe that they have reached such an altitude that they know it all. I get a feeling that they have gone too far away from the realities of life. If any person or institution believes they know their students and their worlds, they are fooling themselves. The way our society and children are changing we have to constantly learn and relook at systems and processes that are working and those that need evolution. School need to change their attitude towards learning and set an agenda when the management and staff consciously and consistently learn, this will be the key to change not the fancy infrastructure that is being put in place these days in the name of change!

Healthy food, good sleep and exercise combined with a positive environment at home and school are the best remedies to combat stress in children. By removing Games and PT periods especially for senior school, by encouraging them to study for hours loosing sleep, by removing all the relaxed and fun periods like art, life-skills, hobbies etc. schools are consciously encouraging the rise in stress levels of children.  Giving spaces and time for children to be themselves is a great way to combat stress, include an odd free period in a week when the children do no organized activity and bringing in fun elements like School Cinema will act as stress values to keep the stress levels in check.

…. So for schools it’s their attitude towards learning not their perceived altitude that can make a difference to the world around them.