Celebrating the Teacher

September 5–Teacher’s Day in India is marked by awards, articles, and essays  remembering and honouring those who instruct and inspire.  Across the world, and across generations, there have been many who have left behind their legacy on the young minds and lives. Films and books have tried to capture some of this in their own small way.

A film that I saw recently was a new addition to this list of ‘must watch and must read’. Freedom Writers  tells the story of an idealistic young teacher confronted with the challenge of teaching ‘unteachable, at-risk’ students, and her non-conformist attempts at making meaningful connections.

The movie is based on the real experiences of Erin Gruwell that she documented in a book titled The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The book was published in 1999.

Erin was a 23-year-old white American when she stepped into her classroom of a motley group of African American and Latino teenagers coming from a world of broken homes, violence, and every form of social, cultural and economic discrimination. Instead of giving up, and simply labelling her charges as ‘unteachable’, Erin realised that these young people were deprived of exposure, attention and respect. One way to open up their vision and world was to introduce them to writings that shared similar histories of discrimination, beginning with The Diary of Anne Frank, and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, and including a visit to the Holocaust Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Despite initial resistance, the students began to see the parallels between these books and events in history, and their own lives; they realised that they were not alone in their struggles. Erin then moved on to encouraging every student to keep a journal in which they recorded their thoughts and feelings about their past, present and future.

The students were so inspired by Anne Frank’s story that they organised a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance” and collected funds to invite Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank’s family, to visit them in California during the 1994/1995 school year. Miep declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes”. As a testament to Erin’s dauntless efforts, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and many went on to attend college—a hitherto unachieved triumph.

The book The Freedom Writers Diary is a compilation of the journals kept by these students. Its title The Freedom Writers is a tribute to the name of the 1960s US civil rights group called Freedom Riders. Erin’s book was a huge success. She went on to set up The Freedom Writers Foundation, which functions to promote Erin’s successful teaching methods.

The film brought to mind another path-breaking movie To Sir, With Love. Released in 1967, this is also based on an autobiographical novel by E.R. Braithwaite which recounts his experiences as a teacher in London. In this case, it was the challenge of a teacher of colour teaching a class of white, economically and socially-deprived teenagers in a working-class area of London. Facing similar challenges of teaching a set curriculum to semi-literate and disinterested, hostile students, Braithwaite took on the challenge by switching to unconventional teaching methods including visits to museums, and allowing students to discuss what was meaningful to them, in the class. Like Erin, he broke through the barriers, and succeeded where others had thrown up their hands in despair.

Inspiring films both. Also a reminder that, in any time and place, a single individual can make a big difference. A tribute to every teacher, who in his or her own way, touches countless minds and hearts, and changes lives.

–Mamata

 

Bless Us, Ganesha!

C9965879-3514-46E5-950C-07964DC42871Who can have a problem with someone whose mission is to remove obstacles from your path? No wonder then, that Ganesha is a God whom all love. Wise, witty, with a sense of fun, he is quite the favourite.

No wonder then that his birthday celebrations have caught the imagination of people across the country, and they grow larger and larger every year. I love it too, though I have a question. Is his birthday the day he was made by Parvati and given life by her, or the day that Shiva beheaded him and then brought him back to life again, though with an elephant’s head in place of his original human head. Hmm…maybe someone will explain it to me some day.

Elephants have fascinated humans for ever. The Pali Jataka stories, which go back to the period 600 to 321 BC have references to elephants. According to Buddhist stories, the night before Lord Buddha was born, his mother Maya is supposed to have dreamt of a six-tusked white elephant which came to her from heaven, with a white lotus in his trunk. This is why Buddhists consider the rare white elephant the holiest of all animals, and the embodiment of the Buddha.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata have many references to elephants in war and peace. Flourishing cities for example, are those with elephants. The descriptions of elephants in Ramayana are supposed to be detailed and fairly accurate.

Tamil Sangam literature (1st to 3rd century AD), provides a wealth of information about them. An old poetical dictionary from this body of work has 44 names for elephants, four names for female elephants, and five for baby elephants. Each part of the elephant is named.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra treats the study of elephants as a branch of study and prescribes the duties of mahouts, and approaches to management of elephant populations.

Elephants abound in folktales, proverbs, similes etc. As per a popular Indian folk tale, in the days of yore, elephants could fly. Apparently they were pretty playful. One day, a herd of elephants was gambolling in the branches of a banyan tree. A branch broke and fell (why am I not surprised?). And as to be expected, there was a rishi sitting beneath the tree. His worship was disturbed by the falling tree branch, and as was the wont of rishis, he cursed the elephants that never would they ever be able to fly again. And so it was.

Well, flying elephants would be quite a management issue! But will we at least let our elephants walk the earth? With depleting forests, their habitats are ever-shrinking and ever-fragmenting. The lure of crops as an easy source of food near their habitats is another factor that brings them out of the jungles.  And as a result, human-elephant conflicts keep increasing. Train lines, electric lines and roads across their homes have led to several accidents and deaths in recent times. The threat of poaching for ivory (and sometimes meat), never goes away.

Ganesha, the God of Good Luck! We pray to Thee. Bring peace and goodwill on earth—among humans, and between humans and elephants.

–Meena

The Sun Cooks for Me

Or at least it used to, for many years when I lived in Ahmedabad, where the sun blazed for 10 months of the year.

solar cooker

It was especially useful for boiling potatoes, dals, chana and rajma. Also for making nice kheer—the milk would thicken and thicken and turn a lovely creamy pink. And never ever burn and stick. Also some halwas like carrot halwa, doodhi halwa etc. For sure, food cooked in the solar cooker tasted amazing!

But….

The ‘buts’ were and are:

  • The cooker needs to be rotated once in a while to get the maximum sun. Difficult to do that when one is away at work all day.
  • Unexpected weather changes lead to disasters: Just the day when you have guests, You may come home to find that the chana is not cooked!
  • And if left too long, the food may dry out. So if you are going to be away for nine hours, don’t leave rice in the cooker.
  • Then the cooker has to be cleaned, closed and put away somewhere out of the dew each evening. And it was pretty large and clunky.
  • There can be no shade around the cooker, which means you need a large clear space, and is a bit of a problem when trees grew tall and branch out.
  • Service may be a problem. At one stage the metallic rod which kept up the mirror broke, and I could not find anyone to fix it. I tried propping it up with this and that, but not always with success.
  • Dogs may come and sniff at it.

Even with my enthusiasm, my use tapered off.

Now I live in Bangalore. It has many more no-sun days. But when I see how much cooking gas we use, I am tempted to again buy a solar cooker. I surfed and surfed. Many fewer suppliers than 25 years ago. And sadly, the design hasn’t changed one bit. It is still the same metal dabba, with four black-lidded dabbas to put the food in.

I think I still will buy one. Even if I can use only it for 100 days out of 365. Even if it means a bit of uncertainty and inconvenience. But that does make me wonder—in our country where there is so much sun, why are our bright-brains not working to develop innovative cookers at reasonable prices? Maybe something that rotates with the sun. Maybe something with a back-up for low-light days. Maybe something which would ‘turn off’ after a set amount of time (or light). Maybe something with a ‘cook’ mode and a ‘keep warm’ mode. Maybe sleeker designs. Maybe service centres.

I don’t know…But I think with good design and a little more convenience, many more people would use these.

And that, I think is the tragedy of Indian science and technology. We don’t seem to set out to solve our own problems with our own resources. Who should be more interested in developing solar cookers than a country which has abundant sunlight, and for whom fossil fuel use is a concern? And which boasts some of the brightest tech brains!

Well no one. So let me see how to go about buying a twin of the solar cooker I bought a quarter century ago.

–Meena

Green Amber Red

Imagine that you are cruising along a highway; enjoying the smooth flow and passage of time and miles. On the other hand, imagine you are in a city, driving at the required speed, eagerly crossing the green lights, slowing at the amber, and every now and then, stopping at the red light. There is a sense in both the experiences; in both cases, a different kind of pace is set.

The act of writing could perhaps be compared to this. Every writer sets their own pace and rhythm of how the words flow. For some the long uninterrupted cruise is the mode of choice; others prefer the ordered structure of breaking the flow, sometimes with a pause and sometimes with a longer halt—from green to amber to red. It is the punctuation marks that represent these traffic lights.

Many writers have expressed their thoughts on these—essential parts of tImage result for image punctuation marks cartoonhe tools of their trade. Some have celebrated punctuation as the friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language”,  while another believes that each writer has a lifetime quota of them, to be used judiciously. I myself have always enjoyed the mental exercise of fixing the appropriate place for the appropriate mark, and am always attracted by how authors perceive and practice the use of punctuation marks.

I recently read a delightful articulation of this in an article which had excerpts from an essay titled Notes on Punctuation by Lewis Thomas. Thomas was an American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, researcher and teacher. Amidst his serious research and writing, Thomas applied equal affectionate attention to the traffic signals, giving each one a distinct character and identity.

Sharing some in his own words.

, The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

; I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

: Colons are a lot less attractive, for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered.

!!! Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

As for me, I do so love the comma, and simply cannot resist the !!!

–Mamata

 

 

World Honey Bee Day Greetings!

beeA day for honey bees? Does that seem to be taking things too far? Not really, when we pause to think how important they are. Bees pollinate around one-third of food crops and 90 per cent of wild plants (wild plants = food for livestock + all animals in the world, directly or indirectly!). Food for all life on earth will wind down to zero without plants propagating. And that is not possible without bees.

The economic value of bees’ worldwide pollination work is estimated at Euro 265 billion. But what intrigues me is, even if we could pay the price, how on earth would pollination happen? Surely we are not going to be able to do it manually or mechanically!

Bees–and by extension, we–are in trouble. It is estimated that one-third of UK’s bee population has disappeared in the last decade. 24 per cent of Europe’s bumblebees are threatened with extinction. In India, farmers in Odisha reported in a recent study that population of some bees had declined by about 80 per cent.

But why are bees declining? Habitat loss, climate change (research shows that pollinating insects are particularly sensitive to this), intensive farming methods and colony collapse disorder (CCD) are some of the major reasons. Some pesticides are the most direct risk to bee populations.

So what can we do? ‘Go green’ is the obvious answer. No pesticides, ecological farming, planting local flowering trees and plants are the mantras.

Interestingly Karnataka, where I live, is the first State to moot a State Insect. As per news reports, this will be the honey bee! The exact species it seems, is yet to be decided. But a good step forward.

And another interesting bit of information that I came across: India has something called a National Bee Board under the Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India. ‘The main objective of the National Bee Board (NBB) is overall development of Beekeeping by promoting Scientific Beekeeping in India to increase the productivity of crops through pollination and increase the Honey production for increasing the income of the Beekeepers/ Farmers.’

World Honey Bee Day (which began as National Honey Bee Day in the US), is celebrated on the 3rd Sunday of August.

The UN however celebrates May 20 as World Bee Day. It marks the birthday of Anton Jansa, 18th century pioneer of modern bee-keeping techniques.

I don’t have a problem with celebrating both. The more the buzzier!

–Meena

Verse and ‘Worsifier’

Every time I come across a crossword clue which calls for filling the name of a South American mammal, the first lines that come to mind are:

The one-l lama, he’s a priest.

The two-l llama he’s a beast.

And I will bet

A silk pajama

There isn’t any three-l llama.

One of my favourite verses from one of my favourite poets—Ogden Nash! Frederic Ogden Nash was born on August 19, 1902, in the city of Nashville in America. Nash was a college drop-out who tried his hand at different jobs before joining the marketing department at the publishing house Doubleday. At the age of 29, he received international acclaim with Hard Lines, his first collection of humorous poems published in 1930. Following this, he left his job to concentrate fully on writing. He was a keen observer of American social life, and his writing anti-establishment. His tongue-in-cheek humour, and often irreverent poems caricatured the pretentious middle-class mentality of America in the thirties and forties. He wrote prolifically, over 500 poems including long winding verses, pithy two-liners, and take-offs on sonnets , ballads and limericks with his own inimitable play with, and, on words.

Nash considered himself a “worsifier.” He had a wicked sense of humour, and a clever way with words that always make me chuckle, no matter how many time I read his poems.

To celebrate Ogden Nash, sharing some of my old favourites, on creatures big and small.

The Cow 

The cow is of the bovine ilkIMG_20190820_151218.jpg

One end is moo, the other milk.

 The Germ

A mighty creature is the germ.

Though smaller than the pachyderm.

His customary dwelling place

Is deep within the human race.

His childish pride he often pleases

By giving people strange diseases

Do you my poppet, feel infirm?

You probably contain a germ.

The Ant

The ant has made himself illustrious

Through constant industry industrious.

So what?

Would you be calm and placid

If you were full of formic acid?

 The Fly

God in His wisdom made the fly

And then forgot to tell us why.

The Mules

In the world of mules

There are no rules.

 The Kitten

The trouble with a kitten is

THAT

Eventually it becomes a

CAT.

 The Octopus

Tell me. O Octopus. I begs.

Is those things arms, or is they legs?

I marvel at thee. Octopus;

If I were thou, I’d call me Us.

While his observations on the human race are somewhat lengthier, here are some short and snappy classics!

The Baby 

A bit of talcum

Is always walcum.

 The Parent

Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore

And that’s what parents were created for.

 Birthday on the Beach 

At another year

I would not boggle

Except when I jog

I joggle.

 Crossing the Border

Senescence begins

And middle age ends

The day your descendants

Outnumber your friends.

 Introspective Reflection

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance

Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

Luckily for him, and for us, Ogden Nash could make a living from his insouciance, and his verse delights us even today!

–Mamata

 

 

 

 

Ode to the Saree

It is the day of tributes and nationalistic fervour. The news is replete IMG_20190815_101428069.jpgwith people sharing thoughts and feelings about what India means to them. This is my small paean to what, for me, represents the essence of India. It is an ode to the saree!

I wore my first formal saree when I was 16 years old. I still remember it—a magenta-pink Venkatagiri brought by my friend’s mother from Chennai. And I fell in love with sarees. Not just the finished draped version but simply this seemingly endless flow of fabric, with its mind-blowing variety of textures, weaves, designs, and colours. It was the start of an enchanting journey of discovery—learning, over the years, about the unique features of sarees from every part of India. Luckily for me it was the period of rediscovery of the rich heritage of our textiles which manifested in national handloom exhibitions where weavers displayed their wondrous skills. Oh the excitement of adding, one by one, traditional sarees of different states—the stunning kanjeevarams; the intricate ikats; the rustling golden tussars; the vibrant bandhanis and patolas; the summery kotas, and the sturdy handlooms. With every piece was the attempt to know more about the place and people who wove the masterpieces, the dyes and the motifs, the warp and the weft. It was an exploration of my country—its geography and history, culture and tradition, and craft and craftsmanship.

I was already part of a committed saree-wearing cadre when I started my career as an environmental educator. To my delight, one of the early statements by my Director Kartikeya Sarabhai, beautifully summed up the very special features of the saree. “The saree is a designed piece of clothing worn all over India. Over the years very beautiful designs, patterns and textures have been printed and woven into the Indian saree and yet, several thousand years of Indian history has not tried to stitch the saree. It is worn in many ways and fits all sizes. It is equally good for working, dressing up or sleeping in. The final effect is the combined effort of the person who designs the cloth and the person who wears it—of the designer and the user. This is a very different concept from that of designing, say, a well-stitched dress. The garment either fits or doesn’t fit, and where it fits, leaves very little room for the wearer to be innovative in its use.”

I have worn a saree every day of my working life. I have looked forward to choosing the one for the day, and it has become the symbol of my identity. I have worn my saree at home and at work; while travelling and sleeping; rain and shine. I have experienced the joys of putting together my own collection of the multitude of woven flavours of this wonderful country, and revelling in the rich bequest that is ours to savour and share

I am saddened at the ebbing of the saree today. Appalled that it has been reduced to a hashtag; that sarees have become exclusive “designer outfits” with tips on outre ways of draping a saree or, even worse, the stitched saree! I am amused when people think I am an ‘amma from the days of yore’ when I am the only one in a large gathering wearing a saree.  I am disturbed that in our race for globalisation and international Brands, we seem to be losing a crucial common thread of identity.

For me the saree represents the essential spirit of my country—the heritage and the history; the multiplicity and the uniqueness; the weaving of warp and weft to create a strong resilient fabric. It represents a unique common identity which subsumes the incredible diversity of textures and motifs. It represents the magic of being a seamless length of fabric that takes on the individual character of its wearer.

I may not wear my patriotism on my sleeve, but every time I wear my saree I celebrate the wonder that is India!

–Mamata

Vikram Sarabhai Centenary

header_leftA remarkable man was born a hundred years ago in our country. He dared to dream impossible things and proceeded to make them possible. I would have thought the country would have been abuzz this year, with multitudes of events to remind the younger generation of his achievements in myriad fields from space science, to management, to atomic energy, to textile research, to education. That the institutions he had set up would not just celebrate the moment but also introspect and re-dedicate themselves to his principles.

ISRO is the only one which seems to be doing it at any scale. Chandrayaan went up, and all those associated with ISRO did remember and thank him. The mission’s lander is appropriately called Vikram. They are also launching a year-long calendar of programs for schools; awards for journalists in space science, technology and research; releasing a commemorative coin, a coffee table book, a space education van, etc.

But what is really disappointing for me is that his contribution to management and institution building is not being celebrated. Everyone acknowledges that his greatest achievements were probably in institution building. ISRO, IIM, PRL are just some of the prominent institutions which stand testimony to this in the public eye, but ‘Sarabhai was a prolific institution builder. He set up an institution every year beginning from 1947 till his death in 1971. He left his imprint in fields as diverse as space technology and performing arts.’

That makes it about 2 dozen institutions!!

There are a few old papers on his approach to institution-building. But I would have thought it should be seriously taught in management schools; there should be training programs for all levels of managers based on his thinking; that academics would delve into it and write papers by the dozens; that seminars and workshops would be held. In this year at least! But I haven’t heard of any such.

Indian organizations wither and die (if not physically, in spirit and achievements), within decades of their birth. Is it not important for managers in both the public and private sectors to understand how institutions that Dr.Sarabhai built have been able to retain the spirit and reaching the heights—literally the moon—close to five decades after his passing away? Dr.Sarabhai straddled the worlds of industry, government, academia and research, and used the same approach to all. So his approach to institution building should have messages for every manager.

Well, I owe a lot to his approach to institution building. So I thought to put together something as my tiny tribute. (The following are quotes majorly from two sources, one whose authorship it has not been possible to find. Since this is not an academic paper, I have taken liberty to quote from it.).

On Institutional Culture:

‘Trust was an important element of both personal and organizational relationship’.

‘The operating culture of (his) institutions were such that administration played a supportive role and helped the institutional growth through implementation of research programmes. This is unlike many organizations, especially educational, research, governmental, and public sector organizations, where the tail wags the dog.

He believed that an institution based on caring for people gave assurance to individuals to innovate and to respond to situations creatively.

Sarabhai was opposed to rigid controls and often wrote and spoke against controls which, he believed, “damaged innovative behaviour and consequently the growth of new institutions.”

On Building People to Build Institutions:

‘Sarabhai’s institution building philosophy was centered around development of individuals. For him people were more important than buildings. He created and nurtured various institutions through developing and nurturing young individuals. He gave trust, freedom of work and autonomy and showed care and concern to them in return he received creativity and commitment, which ultimately strengthened the institutional goals’.

On Institutional Leadership:

‘Vikram Sarabhai was very particular in selecting the head of an institution. The chief executive can make or mar the institutional fabric.’

In selecting a head of institution, it was very important to Dr. Sarabhai to see ‘how suitable he is as a human being’.

‘According to Sarabhai, a basic requirement of an institutional leader is the ability to provide the appropriate operating culture which would be created by the attitudes and assumptions of its people rather than by the formal organizational structure’.

On Staffing A New Institution:

‘In selecting researchers for ATIRA, Sarabhai insisted on recruiting fresh candidates with knowledge of scientific methodology and preferred those without previous experience. This was a deliberate move, for he believed that taking away experienced and trained people from universities and research institutions would create a vacuum which would weaken them.’

Respect for Individuals:

He showed tremendous respect to each individual he, met. Parikh (1972, p44) described this “Many times I have seen Dr, Sarabhai patiently listening to people who would go on with long incoherent monologues which seemed to convey nothing. Yet, In the end, Dr. Sarabhai would summarise the monologue, giving it a very constructive interpretation and meaning. I am told that when asked why he suffered fools so lightly, Dr. Sarabhai had replied that in a vast country like India where people come from diverse backgrounds not everyone has had a privileged upbringing. One should, therefore, allow for this in listening to people and try to see behind the words what they are trying to say.”

Summing up the Spirit:

And finally, in his own words: ‘There is no leader and there is no led. A leader, if one chooses to identify one, has to be a cultivator rather than a manufacturer. He has to provide the soil and the overall climate and the environment in which the seed can grow. One wants permissive individuals who do not have a compelling need to reassure themselves that they are leaders through issuing instructions to others; rather they set an example through their own creativity, Love of nature and dedication to what one may call the ‘scientific method.’ These are the leaders we need in the field of education and research’.

References:

Institution building: Ganesh S.R., Joshi P. (1985) Lessons from Dr. Vikram Sarabhai’s leadership. Vikalpa. Vol. 10, No 4.

https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/46629/9/09_chapter%204.pdf

–Meena

 

Two Sides of the Mirror

Time was, not so long ago, when photo albums were treasured family heirlooms.  Looking at old photos was one of the shared activities at a family get-together, with the elders pleasurably sinking into nostalgia, and youngsters playing guessing games at identifying the people in the pictures. There was a special excitement in flipping through the pages and sharing a laugh at “how much hair dear uncle had”, as compared with his bald pate today; or comparing the picture of the slim young girl with the comfortably chubby aunt today!

Photographs recorded the phases of life—the baby pictures taken by fond parents to record milestones; the awkward and self-conscious pictures of the gawky teenage years; the fancy wedding photo album; and the next cycle of young parents, their babies and doting grandparents.

There was a certain charm in seeing these transitions through the captured images. There was also a certain ceremony attached to the process of documenting. In the early years, this took the form of special posed pictures taken by professional photographers. With cameras becoming more user-friendly and available, it brought the process closer to home, but there was still the waiting period between the giving of the film for developing and getting back the prints and the negatives to discover what they revealed! Over time the technology and format of film, cameras and processing changed. The Polaroid camera was magic in a box—click, and voila the photo appears. …And then came the mobile phones with the ease of capturing images in an instant; along with all the many many Apps to do what you wish with the image. And everyone went crazy…every second of every day to be not only recorded, but immediately shared. Followed by the anxiety of how many views and how many likes. A deluge of images, sweeping across the screen of life, fleeting, momentary and, alas not as magical as turning the pages of an album to peruse history.

And now the new rage—FaceApp! The wand that reveals what you will look like when you are OLD! Celebrities across the world are posting pictures of what technology turns them into, projecting into the future. Of course every one of them looks suitably dignified and gracefully old, and feels reassured that “I am going to age well.”

Even more thought provoking is the news that this may also be used for not-as-legit facial recognition purposes. This makes me wonder. One the one hand, for millions of millennials, self-esteem and self- image hinge on being, at all times, visible on social media and “liked”. Then how can this be selective?

I am totally flummoxed by this. Here is a generation of self-obsessed young people living in an age where Image matters most. Here are the celebrities who spend millions on “looking young”. Here are the people who believe that life is in the here and now. Here is the technology which allows you to Photoshop away every trace of wrinkle or sagging skin, every blemish or hint of the passage of time. And yet these same people are clambering on the new high of “looking old.” Sadly, if only they stopped to think, life is more complex than an App, and who can tell what traces the ravages of time and experience will leave on our visage.

As for me, I would rather browse through the passage of time from my photo albums, than fast forward to the future!

–Mamata

ARE STUDENTS LEARNING?

The New Education Policy has gone through long debate and discussion. It is time to put it into action.  But the crucial issue is how will all the lofty ideas be translated into better learning?

It is essential to worry about this. Because what students seem to be learning in government schools today, or rather what they are not learning, is a matter of grave concern. This may seem to be a sweeping statement to make, but many of those concerned with school education would agree. A large number of studies, including the well-respected PROBE reports endorse this.

But sometimes, large numbers, averaged statistics, and thick, academic reports don’t really communicate effectively. So let us look at one small example. A test was administered to a group of 457 youth, of whom 7 were below SSC, 104 were SSC Pass, and the remaining were Inter Pass, Diploma, Graduates etc. Meaning, 346 of the candidates were at least Inter or Std 12 pass. The test consisted of a few basic math and science questions administered in the mother tongue, and a middle-school level comprehension passage also administered in the mother tongue. The test did not include anything beyond Std 8 competencies, and in fact, many of the questions should theoretically have been answered correctly by Std 4 students.

The questions and results are summarized below:

Observations for Math and Science Competencies

 

Question Level Question % of Students who have answered correctly
Math
1 What is the addition of the following numbers:    6578 + 9342 91.40
1 Multiply the following:  782 x 421 68.40
2 Solve 4 × 5 ÷ 2 + 7 =? 71.90
2 If you have got 763/800, what is your percentage? 63.00
2 What is the average of Average of 98 and 62? 63.20
2 You have Rs. 219. You give 2/3 to your brother. How much money are you left with? 52.90
3 Identify the ‘right angle’ triangle 84.00
3 What is the next number in the sequence 1 4 9 16? 51.60
3 What is the next number in this sequence 1 1 2 3 5? 55.10
Science
2 H2O is the chemical name of which common element? 68.90
2 What is the name of the satellite that revolves around Earth? 49.20
2 Approximately, how long does the Earth take to complete one orbit around the Sun? 64.70
3 If you have poor eye sight, you are likely to be suffering from the deficiency of which vitamin? 44.80
3 Name the process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy? 75.40
Question Level
1 Class III-IV level questions
2 Class V-VI level questions
3 Class VII-VIII level questions

 

Observations for Reading Comprehension

  • Overall 41% of the total youth were able to answer all the questions correctly in Reading Comprehension and get a score of 100%
  • 9% students were not able to answer any question correctly and thus scored ‘0’ in Reading Comprehension

 

Admittedly this was not very scientific test, maybe not on a representative sample. There could many questions about the methodology and process. But to my mind, that still does not excuse the results!

What is wrong with our schools? We are revising curricula and re-writing textbooks; we are training teachers ad infinitum; we are giving grants for everything from school toilets to teaching-learning material. But at the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And this pudding doesn’t taste at all right!

Increasing the financial allocation for Education is the first big step. But this is the time to take a serious and hard look at how this money should be spent. Doing more of the same is not going to get us anywhere, because what we are doing is obviously not good enough. There needs to be a National Mission to ensure that our children learn—our future depends on this.

–Meena