Monday, June 30, 2008

Lite talk

I do have a lot of fun teaching English to my students. Sometimes I really wish I knew Telugu, Urdu and Hindi to aid me in my teaching. I can manage colloquial Hindi but not enough to explain meanings or translate English words into Hindi. However, I do my times, out of sheer desperation I call up my Telugu and Hindi speaking friends too in the middle of a class!

Last week, I was teaching them the names of the parts of the body--I showed them my fingers and asked them what they were called--"fingers" they chimed. But when I showed them the a loud angelic voice they answered "leg fingers"! and calf they thought was called "back sheen" Sweet aren't they? I forget my walking woes when I'm with them :)

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan...

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) reaches out to the children of commercial sex workers in a corner of the city in Kolkata as a part of their “Education for All” program.

The social stigma and the fear of ostracism kept mothers from enrolling their children - till the SSA intervened with regular counselling, interaction and awareness drives.

“Children are never made to feel that their mothers are from this disreputable place where I live. Ten years ago, school not have even looked at us, let alone admitted our children to study. So much has changed over the last few years,” said Banita, a sex worker, whose daughter Sona studies at the Swamiji Vidyapeeth Primary School.

Read the complete story here.

12 years of distance learning invalid

Today, online distance learning, virtual classrooms have found an enthusiastic audience in many parts of the world. The advantages that this system gives are tremendous. The ability to earn a degree and also pursue a job at the same time has improved the career prospects for many people, who would not otherwise be able to afford an education. And since one isn’t limited by one’s location, it’s possible for people to “go the distance” looking for a good course administered by an excellent faculty.
Many people need to work and support themselves for an education and the best deal they have is to go for a distance course.
While lunching with a friend in the university campus a couple of weeks ago, I met her brother and got around to talking about his work and his education. He’d finished his graduation through the distance mode and was working in a private bank. But it seems next week he is shifting base to Delhi because he plans to join a coaching institute and write the central banking exams.
Why am I telling you about him? I remembered him when I read this story in Times of India this morning:
Several lakh degree certificates awarded by the University of Madras and a few other state universities through the distance education programme for over 12 years are not valid for getting employment in Central government departments.
I hope he didn’t go to one of these universities. But there are thousands of people who did—in a long span of 12 long years. I find it shocking that universities could be irresponsible enough to offer courses they were not authorized to offer (weren’t they supposed to be the very foundation of our educational system?) and I am amazed that for 12 years, this fraud was allowed to continue: universities collected their fees, printed out stacks of certificates, and the only ones who lost anything (precious hours of study at night, many years of effort and hope) are the students. It just goes to show how devious and negligent some people can be.
Two solutions come to mind:
All the degrees issued in this manner should be recognized and the people who were systematically deceived should now be allowed to write central Government exams (as long as they meet other conditions, of course).
The people who were involved in committing this fraud as well as the people who were supposed to put an end to it but did not should be required to give up their own citations or increments—effective from 12 years ago.

East or west, government schools are the same!

In India, Government schools are synonymous to lack of everything a normal school should have: Teachers, classrooms, drinking water, toilet, desk and benches, books, the works!
I’ve been writing about the government schools in Andhra Pradesh ever since we started the EFF project. For a quick recap, it’s here, here, here and here.
As I read this story in Express India, it’s a déjà vu moment for me.
Due to lack of infrastructure, students are made to either sit in the verandah or outside the classrooms, irrespective of the weather — rain, heat or cold.

The pictures below are students of Rasoolpura Government School Hyderabad diligently taking a test in the veranda of their school.

Despite the absolute negligence by the government towards the school, the students are blessed with an organization called Bhumi--a group of young individuals who have revived the school and have given it a fresh lease of life. In two years, apart from other necessities, they have even managed to built enough classrooms for all the students-- Thanks to organizations like Panterra Networks (formerly Pandora Networks--where I worked last) who in their own way contribute to make this change easier.

Next time around when I visit the school, i'll see a different picture. Literally.

Red Cross School girls...

This afternoon I took the engineers to the school to examine the room where the Virtual Classroom technology will be deployed. As they got busy discussing the logistics and stuff I went out and took some pictures of the girls. Not just the uniform but they are bright in every way!

The 7 graders--the girl in glasses (front) stood first in the previous year...this morning she read out a poem in Hindi and translated bits and pieces of it in English for the non Hindi speaking audience :)
The lower graders waiting for their parents to pick them up.

I lifted the red schoolbag just to get a feel of how heavy they were and goodness me!They were as heavy as a ten kilo rice bag!

Buying guava from a fruit seller through the grill of the school gate.

It's 2pm and they are dying to go home but the gate is locked and will be opened only after the long bell is rung :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

NCERT textbooks now just a click away!

The NCERT (National Council of Educational Training and Research) textbooks are finally available online. I’ve been looking forward to this launch ever since the department made the announcement last year.
I did have my own share of running around last academic session searching for textbooks which turned sour at times out of sheer desperation and displeasure. I cannot understand how, year after year, textbooks are available very late—well after the start of the academic year—and never after the first month of sale. That’s never enough for students. Shortage of textbooks continues to be a major problem for schools in India.

However, with the textbooks being made available online, life will get a little easier. If this facility is utilized well and classes are planned systematically, it might even lessen the burden of carrying heavy school bags for students.

Most importantly, students and teachers can now turn to the Internet while the government and publishers take their own time getting the books to children. I still do worry about students who do not have access to the Internet or use the State syllabus. But for now at least I’m contented with the fact that my students will no longer suffer even if they study in a government school—they will now have the best learning resources available to them not just school textbooks.
You can read or download the books from NCERT and here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Me thinks...

While the A.P Government has decided that English is the way to go for all schools, we have people like Dr. J Abdul Kalam the former President of India, who seem to think just the other way round. On his recent trip to Aligarh Muslim University, he said that mother tongue languages should be used in schools for learning. In his words:

"Education should be imparted in mother tongue up to 10th standard as it promotes creativity and sharpens intellect immensely”.

He says English should instead be used for Higher and Technical education. While I’m tempted to agree when I see it coming from something like him—who started life like any other typical village boy, studied in a village School, in mother tongue and so on---but went on to become a great scientist and the President of India. But when I think of the larger picture, I’m not so sure. It is definitely a given that no matter where you study, in what medium, as long as you have the zest to excel, you can succeed. We have heard many stories about similar people achieving great heights in life out of scratch.
But leaving all that aside, if we consider the scenario today where there are over 3.1 million graduates stepping fresh out of college every year, there isn’t much choice but to be the very best. And I believe apart from being an expert in your subject matter, knowing English (the language used for communication around the world) and being able to carry yourself with confidence will take you a long way.
I wouldn’t say the A.P government made a great move, (they could have managed it far better) but at the same time I do think that it is crucial for students to learn to speak English in school. We’ve tried to achieve this for decades, unsuccessfully. Maybe English as the medium of instruction will help. It’s worth a try, anyway.

Monday, June 16, 2008

School bags on wheels

This morning as I stood on the balcony sipping my morning cuppa chai, I saw this young school girl dressed in her school uniform pulling a trolley bag down the road towards a car that was parked a minute away. On closer inspection, I noticed that the trolley was actually a regular school bag, with wheels and a pull-handle. This scene reminded me of an article featured just two days back on the 14th June in the Times of India “Now school carry books on trolleys

Much has been written about the heavy school bags already, so I don’t need to delve into the issue again. In fact, some time back I wrote about the Chandigarh Government’s plan of doing away with textbooks and thus with heavy school bags. I don’t know how far the plan is being implemented, but here, in Hyderabad, it looks as if the students will have resort to carts and trolleys to lighten the burden, since the authorities haven’t even recognized excessively heavy schoolbags as a problem to be addressed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

SSC to CBSE syllabus in A.P Government School

I had a meeting with the Red Cross officials this morning and as I waited for them to turn up, I noticed a group of unfamiliar students dressed in their own attire seated in a corner of the corridor. I was told that these were newly admitted students, all in grade VI, part of the recently announced plan of the Govt. of A.P. They are the ones who will be using the CBSE syllabus and will be taught in English medium.

The department on Tuesday issued an order introducing English as the medium of instruction with CBSE syllabus from class VI in 6,500 select schools, covering over 250,000 students.

The move is part of the World Bank-aided Strengthening and Universalisation of Quality and Access to Secondary Schools (SUCCESS) project.

Under the order, students of classes VI and VII of upper primary schools which are within two kilometre radius of high schools where English would be introduced as medium of teaching would be shifted to the nearby high schools along with teachers and other administrative staff.

While Red Cross Girls’ High School is an English medium school with their own class VI students why the Government ordered the school to have a bunch of girls from here and there, beats me! At the same time, the teachers are already hands full--the amount of attention the students will receive also worries me.

The students are from Telugu and Urdu medium schools, who am told do not even understand a word of English! Among other things, they do not have a classroom for these students and unless the Government fulfills their promise of providing ‘specially trained’ teachers for them, these students will be left even without teachers.

While there are concerns voiced out by academicians, teachers, parents and concerned citizens, this is a first hand experience of the fiasco that has been doing the rounds ever since the Government announced the plan.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

School reopens!

After a two months’ long break, students are in school. Every year with June comes a new academic year: one grade up for students, new lessons and perhaps students with newer insights and a stronger zest for a better and fulfilling year.

After last year’s experimental teaching, I will be the official English teacher for the 8th grade students for this academic year. In a week’s time, we will be deploying the Virtual Classroom technology at the Red Cross Government Girls' High School. I’ll be teaching 3 days remotely using our VC and 3 days physically present with them.

How do I feel? Excited, but at the same time, a little nervous. After all, it’s about making a difference to 50 odd girls. And that’s a big responsibility!

I’ve been gearing up for a month now, reading up on teaching techniques, working with our engineers to fix all minor bugs, and getting more features added in our Virtual Classroom application. Emotionally and mentally, I’ve determined not to be disappointed and even when I do, not to give up.

It’s going to be yet another exciting and challenging year. And I need all the good wishes and blessings that you could bestow upon me :)

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