Saturday, August 30, 2008

Education For Free in Eenadu

Eenadu, a Telugu newspaper, one of the most popular in Andhra Pradesh wrote about Education For Free this morning. For those of you who cannot read Telugu, I'll have a translated version soon. While the lucky ones can read the story here.

Picture Courtesy: Eenadu

Friday, August 29, 2008

an Education For Free update...

As I write this, I got a report from our database guy that we have received the 1800th member sign up! Thanks to The Hindu, that’s a staggering number in just 23 days. The power of press indeed is mighty! :)

It took us quite a while to read and sort all the emails we received from almost all over the world. Majority of the writers were from India, USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Dubai and Germany. We also had lone representatives from Korea, Rome, Maldives and Saudi Arabia.

Out of the 1800 emails, there were about 20 individuals and organizations willing to adopt schools. There were others who came to meet us directly. These organizations will need teachers and we’ll have the Education For Free volunteer teachers helping them out.

To help us with our plans, implementation, coordination, we have formed an Education For Free group comprising people from all professions, students, homemakers, and retired folks.

A quick update of what we are up to so far:

We are working on our Teacher For Free portal which will be launched soon. This will be a place where volunteer teachers and schools will register. A place for schools and volunteer teachers to find each other.

We are also looking for sponsors to fund about 20 schools. For each school we need about Rs. 60 thousand for the equipment (projector, computer, webcam).

We are working on putting up a process in place to train new volunteer teachers, training and deployment technical support, coordination between teachers and EFF etc. This will eventually be automated from the TFF (Teacher For Free) portal.

And btw, we have a full time Education For Free Virtual Classroom teacher, Ambica Ayla, who after reading the article in The Hindu came to our office soaked in rain asking if she could volunteer for a day in a week—her only day off from work. Her enthusiasm and passion for children and education touched us so! We interviewed her the next day and if I had a math teacher even half as good as her, I would have been flying saucers today. :)

She teaches math, physics and chemistry to 9 and 10th graders.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Terry Pratchett on education

Over the weekend, I found myself re-reading parts of Hogfather, a novel by one of my favorite writers, Terry Pratchett. It is an excellent book, if you enjoy comic yet meaningful fantasy fiction. This post isn’t about Terry Pratchett, but about a striking, intelligent comment on education in the book.
Now working as a governess and teaching and looking after children, Susan, an important character in the book, recalls her childhood and upbringing and realizes:

It had been a good education, too. But it had only been later that she’d realized that it had been an education in, well, education. It meant that if ever anyone needed to calculate the volume of a cone, then they could confidently call on Susan Sto-Helit. Anyone at a loss to recall the campaigns of General Tacticus or the square root of 27.4 would not find her wanting. If you needed someone who could talk about household items and things to buy in the shops in five languages, then Susan was at the head of the queue. Education had been easy.

Learning things had been harder.
Susan’s education is of the affluent kind. But, as Terry Pratchett observes, even with plenty of resources, education can suffer from basic, nearly intangible mistakes.

In India, schools would be lucky to have problems at this level though. In the government schools that EFF is targeting, there is at present too much dependence on textbooks of average quality, too much focus on studying for the annual examinations, and there is practically no focus on the actual learning.

You could say that most school-level education in India is focused on just helping students survive the system of education itself, and not on learning things.

With its potential for effectively combining learning with exposure (to the world, to people, to means of communication, to just about everything), we hope that the Education For Free program will help a number of schools eventually rise to a level where they tackle higher level problems regarding the concept of education, its purpose, and the like.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Let India be Free...

Today we celebrate 61 years of freedom from the British Empire. I hope we'll also be free of hunger, child labor, illiteracy, and social deprivation soon enough.

I hope some day, soon enough, we 'll be proud of India, a free India in soul and spirit.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Indian schools and holidays

When I was in school, years ago, every holiday announcement was greeted with loud cheers and desk thumping, and we would all rush out of the class even almost forgetting our schoolbags.
But after I started working, any sort of holiday (apart from weekend that is), just feels like an annoying inconvenience. Most people would take this as a weirdo syndrome but hear me out here. A holiday means:
  1. More work load the day after
  2. Unfinished task to worry about
  3. Break in the flow
  4. Add more
For me, it also means getting my routine messed up with my students. Holidays are in fact a big problem here. Sometimes it feels like they have a holiday every other day! There are the three national holidays: the Independence Day, the Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday). Then there are the religious and regional festivals. Also the births and deaths days of important personalities must be observed with a holiday. So far they’ve had: Goru Gobin Singh Jyanthi, Pongal (which goes on for a week here in Andhra Pradesh), Good Friday, Id-e-Milad-un-Nabi, Holi, Ambedkar Jayanti, May Day, Buddha Purnima, and tomorrow is Independence Day. And of course there’s more coming up! The schools even had a “precaution from rain” kinda holiday on Monday!
Out of 365 days, there are 52 Sundays and most Saturdays are holidays too, and over 20-30 days are other holidays, so schools are usually left with only about 240 working days. And with major teacher leaves and absentees, the working days come down even more. Add to that the usual summer end of academic year breaks (about two months long) and the winter break (usually a month), and you begin to wonder if the compulsory school education policy is all a myth.
The authorities should realize that too many holidays are counterproductive. An occasional holiday makes for a refreshing break, but too many of them serve no real purpose and in fact get in the way of the important project of educating our children. It’s time something was done to minimize the number of holidays.
Important occasions still need to be observed, and they should be—that’s part of the education we give to the children. But not working or learning on these days sends out the wrong message. In fact, maybe we could have, instead of a holiday, some other ways of marking the occasion: extra-curricular activities like a ‘literary day,’ or an environment preservation activity, a drive to clean up your locality, or the like. Such activities will practically benefit the students, and not lose precious school time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Amartya Sen in the Central Hall Of Parliament House

Lately, I’ve been reading Amartya Sen quite a bit. I’m rather fond of his take on “Social Exclusion and Inclusive policies”. I understand him better now when he talks about India’s “quiet acceptance of the consistent deprivation” in his inaugural of Hiren Mukherjee Memorial Parliamentary Lecture on “Demands of Social Justice” in the Central Hall of Parliament House.
He directly addressed members of our Parliament. So hopefully that made some difference.
Read the story here

Monday, August 11, 2008

Students from India do the 'disappearing act' in USA

Four school children from Doaba Public Senior Secondary School, Garhshankar Punjab, while on a trip to USA to attend the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) rocket project went “missing”. This would normally be a cause for grave worry for the families concerned, but the parents of the 'missing' students stated that:
I don't know how this happened. But from my relatives, I have come to know that my son is in California” and that “he had no idea about his son's plans to stay back in the US.”
So looks like the disappearance was well-planned and carried out carefully, with the participation of parents and relatives settled in US.
We have heard of similar “missing’ stories but even school children resorting to this illegal act makes me want to scream out loud! Certainly, there are plenty of great opportunities for people outside of India, but it makes no sense to jeopardize one’s life and also sacrifice dignity and self-respect in the process.
Come to think of it, students who were picked to participate in a high profile NASA project are probably the best students in the school. Isn’t it a matter of extreme concern when our best students resort to such extreme and desperate measures? Also, it can’t do a lot of good for students who’ve been “left behind”. They probably looked up to these four students, who have now sent a clear message that they have little regard for the school, or for the country.
Most of all, these youngsters will now remain illegal immigrants for a long time, if not for good. Getting a permanent residency will be practically impossible, and by the time they are caught and deported, they will have lost a precious academic year at the school they abandoned.
Read the story here

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Overwhelming response to the EFF initiative

We got featured in ‘The Hindu’ yesterday and since early morning hours we have been receiving tons of emails! There are college students wanting to teach during their free period, homemakers, retired professionals, professors, doctors, engineers…the works! We also have people willing to adopt schools. The response has been overwhelming and we are deeply touched.
Indeed, there are wonderful people out there with good loving heart who want to contribute for the betterment of the society. This is a not a clich├ęd 'vision statement' but words of individuals willing to contribute with time, knowledge, money --all for free. For a better, educated India.
P.S. We’ve received over a 1000 emails and more are still coming in. We are going through each email carefully to see how each individual can contribute the best way possible. We will get back to you soon.
In the mean time, thank you so much!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Shortage of textbooks in schools in India…

Well, that’s hardly news anymore. It is a regular phenomenon which happens every year as school reopens.
But this year, this academic session, the ‘news’ pinches me a little harder than usual. Because the policy makers of our country are into fancy stuff. They proclaim that they are going to give each child a laptop for free. A laptop which is going to cost only $10. Hang on, it’s actually $100. It seems our dear minister missed a ‘0’. But didn’t our minister think that it was “pedagogically suspect”? What happened to that ‘good’ sense? While I’m all for improving the quality of education through the use of technology I’m not much of a supporter of One Laptop Per Child schemes be it India’s or Nicholas Negroponte’s. Especially when children go without even basics like textbooks. We all want an educated India but I’m very sure this is not going to be achieved by throwing laptops in the laps of children!
Here’s a list of “textbooks shortage stories”:
K Chandrika (name changed), a student of class 10 in a Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus school will consider herself lucky if she can procure all her textbooks by September-October.
A survey of bookshops selling school books in many parts of the city revealed that textbooks for many classes are not available. Sources said this year, syllabi of class 3rd and 7th standards have changed and hence books of these classes are yet to be made available in the bookstores.
22nd June 2008-- Urdu schools go without textbooks, teachers
Like all school-going children, 13-year-old Atyaab Hussain of Quami School carries a bag to school. However, instead of books, this sixth grader carries a bottle of water in it.
Urdu schools in Delhi are battling a resource crunch. At the heart of the crisis is a pressing shortage of teachers and textbooks.
Parents of children studying in different schools here Monday expressed concern over the shortage of textbooks of various classes published by Punjab Textbook Board. A parent in Rawalpindi said that he went to buy books of Class 8th for his daughter and Science book of Class 6th for his son but was disappointed on their non-availability.
The problems dogging the field of education seem far from over. After the recent class XIth admission fiasco, now, primary and secondary students are confronted with the problem of shortage of text books. The text books approved by Maharashtra government, as prescribed by the state board for most of the classes are not easily available.
Contrary to the claims of Chairman Sindh Text Book Board, some forty three books for both English and Urdu medium are short in the market, as the academic session started Friday after two-month summer vacation in the province.
Plus-One and Plus-Two students of Government Higher Secondary School in Panakahalli in Thalavady Union face a peculiar problem: they study without text books.
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