Monday, May 12, 2008

On bags and baggages

It is generally an undisputed fact that textbooks are indispensable to education, that one can’t learn successfully without them. For example, all through school, for every class I attended, there had to be a textbook opened at my desk. (Some classes could take place, without them—singing and painting—and those subjects felt different, somehow.) To learn, you had to use a textbook, that was the simple rule. In fact, I was once punished for forgetting a textbook at home. And that of course made sense: we could not study, or pass an exam without the textbook—an entire year’s worth of knowledge was in there!

While the importance of textbooks can hardly be disputed, some problems do come up as a result of this dependence. One problem is that both teachers and students in India often tend to believe that textbooks are “enough” and learning from other sources is unnecessary. The second problem is that the combined weight of all the books makes the schoolbag so heavy that forcing little children to carry such bags becomes a form of child abuse and child labor, and certainly an unpleasant way of implementing a human right.

But here is something interesting: the education department in Chandigarh, India set out to solve the “heavy schoolbags” problem, and in the process may also have addressed the first problem!

The department is doing away with bags/textbooks till the 2nd grade after the summer holidays, and plans to keep the higher classes also free of textbooks soon. It seems the education department has already initiated a training program where 50 teachers have been trained on how to teach without textbooks. For all I know, this may lead to a new kind of teaching and learning methodology, where teachers would start experimenting and challenge the creative streak in them.

The move to work without textbooks might just introduce a level of experimentation in teaching and learning, and hopefully make education less of a burden than it tends to be.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good news from UNESCO

Early last year, while researching on education, I read bundles of reports from UNESCO, UNICEF, EFA etc. The 2005 UNESCO report, while highlighting the phenomenon of the Out-of-School students, called upon us to understand better who they are and what background they are from, to help us design programs for them.
A vibrant organization here in Hyderabad, the MV Foundation takes care of over 2500 schools in A.P. They employ volunteer teachers in these schools and make sure that the dropout rate is controlled. They also rescue child labors, who are often dropouts, rehabilitate them, and prepare them to rejoin school with the help of their specially designed bridge course.
If the number of school dropouts has decreased in recent years, organizations like MVF have had a lot to do with it.. As I read this news from UNESCO, I rejoice with high sounding cymbals.
06-05-2008 - The number of primary-school-age children not in primary or secondary school fell by 2 million worldwide between 2005 and 2006, according to new estimates published by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).
The new figures confirm a downward trend: between 1999 and 2006, the number of these children fell from 103 million to 75 million. From a regional perspective, South and West Asia reported the greatest progress. This was mainly due to changes in India, where the number of children out of school fell by over 12 million as participation in primary education significantly improved for girls (accounting for more than 75% of the decrease).
Sub-Saharan Africa also made important strides, with a reduction of 10 million. This was largely the result of progress reported by the Governments of Ethiopia and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Globally, more than one-half of the 75 million out-of-school children are girls. The following countries had 2 million or more children out of school in 2006: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan.
These figures are part of the latest release of UIS education statistics for the pre-primary to tertiary levels for the school year ending in 2006. The new data are available in the UIS Data Centre.

Goverment of Madhya Pradesh plans for an extraaa step

The government of Madhya Pradesh plans to increase the working hours in schools from 10am-5pm from the next academic session which is July. This initiative is to improve the performance of the students in schools by increasing the time for each period and perhaps a study period as well. However, many are skeptical about this plan-- educators are concerned because children cannot be forced to learn by keeping them in the school premises. Other concerns are like having to catch up on co-curricular activities. Parents are worried that if students get home only after 5pm, that leaves no room for coaching classes. Or children might end up sleeping late.

Read the news here

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Purposeful Scribbles?

The Times of India ran a story this morning about how a student trapped corrupt examiners. While a majority of the readers are up and arms against the teachers, it makes me wonder if there are more skeletons to be uncovered.

Did the student Satish Barot’s actually scribble the phone number just to find out how the examiners would use it? Were there any ulterior motives? Going by the marks he has supposedly scored, just 18, looks like he didn’t do that great in his exams. Did he actually want the teachers to contact him? What’s even more intriguing is--is this is a racket that has been going on? Only time will tell.

An extract here:

Barot had taken his exams in March in GL Patel School in Unjha and the paper were assessed in April. "They told me that I had scored only 18 marks in the Philosophy paper. If I wanted 40 marks, I should pay them Rs 5,000,"Barot said, adding that he had recorded the mobile phone conversations with these teachers.

Read a book or two this vacation!

Its summer vacation for schools here in India. A time to visit grandparents in villages, relish mangoes straight from the farm or the market. For some, it’s a time for more classes to hone their talents—singing, painting, dancing, acting, sports and the likes. For some other people it's sightseeing trips to foreign lands. Most of the kids in my colony are into playing cricket these days…I suppose it’s the IPL (Indian Premier League) influence. For the book lovers, I have some recommendations here...I know I know! nothing like beating the heat with a nice book and a cup of butter milk ;)

Journey to the river sea by Eva Ibbotson

I finished reading just last week and totally loved it! Packed with adventure, some romance here and there, nice lil suspense, harmless humor and some wicked characters to complete the plot. This book gives you a beautiful sight of the life in Amazon that you almost want to go and live there. Enjoy the adventure with Countess Maia, the boy from the Xante tribe, Clovis, Miss Minton, the twins and others. Read more reviews here

The witch of the blackbird pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Set in the 19th century, this is a book about a girl who goes to live with her relatives in Connecticut. The tone of the book is serious, and conveys the difficult choices one must make on the way to maturity. Read the preview of the book here

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

It’s about a little boy who lives with his divorced mother. All through his childhood, he writes letters to his favorite author about his loneliness frustration and his everyday life. The entire book consists of these letters, which start with Leigh as a 2nd grader , and progresses to being in 6th grade by page 10. A lovely book that lets you see the heart of a little boy. You’ll like it even more if you have younger brothers, and young boys will definitely appreciate it! …most times you will find yourself in the letters.. Read More

The secret garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A spoilt 10 year old Mary Lennox goes to live with her uncle in Yorkshire. she has lost her parents to Cholera while living in India. There she meets her crippled cousin and encounters a life that she had never experienced. Set during the 1900's-1920's, the book teaches you about acceptance and never giving up.
Read more reviews here.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Kofi A. Annan on education

Education is the single most vital element in combating poverty, empowering women, protecting children from hazardous and exploitative labor and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment and influencing population growth. Education is a path towards international peace and security.

Kofi A. Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nation

(from I. Preface. Human Rights Publication, Reports 2001--read the article here)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

11 ways to keep teachers motivated...

While I was teaching at Red Cross Girls' High School, on some days I was overwhelmed with frustration over a whole lot of things…the lifeless atmosphere, lack of important facilities, most of all, the persistence of a monotonous routine for the teachers. I was there only as a volunteer teacher but my heart goes out for the other teachers who have been teaching for years in spite of so much inconveniences! I came up with lil ideas as I walked to the school and back but couldn’t implement them as I had to take a break for some other work. However, apart from friends, students, teachers I have school administrators as readers of this blog and therefore I’m putting the ideas here. I hope it's useful :)

*These ideas have come out of sheer passion to instill enthusiasm among teachers and are not the result of experience as an administrator.

Some of the ideas are borrowed from my Mom, herself a teacher who shares with me some of the reasons why she wants to continue teaching despite the resistance from my Dad (he has retired wants her to retire too!) of course apart from the money and the passion.

So here goes the list...

  1. Organize a lunch party—pot luck way is the easiest and most convenient way. Make sure there is music going on in the background and fresh flowers on the table!

  2. Go for a teachers’ tour once a year to nearby resorts or any holiday spot. Plan at the beginning of the year so that you get to raise some funds too. Have a meeting and ask the teachers to come up with ideas. Get everyone involved in the fund raising activity.

  3. Organize a ‘Talent Show’ exclusively for teachers…you will be amazed as they unwrap their hidden talents. During one such program, my Mom didn’t know what to do (she doesn’t sing, cannot act, doesn’t play any instruments or paint or draw-- so she decided to walk the ramp in our traditional attire! So you see there is something everyone can do.

  4. Present them with little awards on teachers’ day—ensure that all teachers get an award each. For this, leave out the “best teacher award” but have something like “teacher with the best smile” “best dressed teacher” “innovative teacher” “most cheerful” etc.

  5. Recognize their efforts by announcing their achievements during the morning assembly however small they might be. For instance, “100% attendance in teacher Michael's class for the past one month! *applause” etc

  6. Most schools have sports week every year, dedicate one day for teachers. The best way is to divide them into houses so that the competition gets stronger and merrier.

  7. Every Once in a while, have a “costume day”. Nothing fancy and over the top (to make it convenient for everyone) ask them to wear something pink, blue or red and mention in bold “wearing smile is mandatory” (This is my Mom’s favorite) and see for yourself how colorful and lively the whole atmosphere looks.

  8. Plan for a movie outing on a weekday! Send the students home an hour earlier than usual…makes both the parties happy :)

  9. Have a “breakfast in office” morning and order in something special. Be casual and make sure there is enough room for interaction.

  10. Celebrate birthdays together or send a ‘welcome back” card when a teacher gets back after an illness or after a paternity/maternity leave.

  11. In your weekly school bulletin, have short interviews of teachers…again be sure to include everyone. This is a good way to make them feel important. Also run a column, something like "we are watching you” and fill it in with funny incidents and snippets about teachers. It’s after all a human right to be funny in life :)

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