Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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Umrao Jaan ya Umar Bhar Jahannum?

November 6, 2006

I saw Umrao Jaan today. Though the movie is slow and can be quite boring for people not so fond of Urdu poetry or dialogues, its an absolute must for Aishwarya Rai fans who was “omnipresent” throughout the film. Both Miss Rai and Abhishek Bachchan(who does not have much to do in the film) have put in good performances at par with Shabana Azmi who is in her element as usual. No point in comparing Aishwarya to Rekha in the old movie because with the kind of Rekhas(beauty)she has, performance can be on the backburner for some. Speaking for myself, I am a hardcore Rekha fan for both style(beuaty) and substance(talent).

More than the performers and the performances, some chaste urdu poetry and dialogues were quite spellbinding. One such dialogue in the film which Shabana Azmi says to Aishwarya Rai goes something like this

“Heere ko apni chamak nahin dikhti par jauhri uski Kadar karna jaanta hai”.(Maynot be exact) . This implies that a person may not know his own worth but a discerning coach/master may know enough to be kingmaker.

It reminded me of what I had read a couple of years ago- Current Chairman of Indian cricket Selectors Dilip Vengsarkar was then on a “talent-scout” mission among the small villages and towns of India to hunt for natural cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev. Much before that, former Test cricketer and member of world cup winning team Madan lal while talking in the context of coaching my son told me “ My years in International cricket has taught me one thing. Cricket is a god given gift. If I see a gifted child, I take interest in him. Otherwise I tell the parents not to waste my and their time and take their child wherever his potential lies” . Even for Tennis, the best player in the local club also told me that the coaches often know who has the potential but many times hide facts from the parents of the less gifted child to earn more. One wonders how far a proactive talent scout system can work in education as well.

(A week after writing this post, it came in an article on India today(featuring Vengsarkar) that cricketers spotted by the Talent Reasearch Development officers(TRDO) were groomed by the National cricket academy. Vengsarkar states in the article that there is no exceptional talent that can straightaway be inducted into the Indian cricket team. It reminded me of how Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-haq had been catapulted to International cricket by the then Pakistan captian Imran khan after watching them on Television. Akram as captain followed the same policy with Abdul Razzaq.More or less the same thing happened to Tendulkar. It may not work in all cases(Parthiv Patel) but at least the TRDOs can be there in all occupations)

I recently read somewhere that some recruiting firm was not satisfied with the quality of software engineers that were coming out of institutes. It reminded me of this post in which it is stated that only 20% of the total talent pool is good enough for India Inc.

Who educates the educationists?

The direct definition of Education is that it is derived from the latin word educere which implies to take out what is already in(and not blindly stuff in). Another interesting definition of Education is that “Education is whatever you are left with after you have forgotten whatever you have learnt”.

The above definitions imply that you are born with a certain innate potential. What does that imply? Well known motivation speaker, Mr Shiv Khera often says “ Winners do not do different things. They do things differently”. Though he says this in the context of attitude, I believe it is more true for aptitude for the simple reason that everybody cannot do everything differently. Another well known American consultant said that “You have to figure out what is uniquely you”. According to them, grand success depends on being able to identify if not pin-point what is it that you can do uniquely and exceptionally well. Each of the Pandavas being unique in their own way, one of the teachings of the Mahabharat is to develop your unique quality.

Natural talent often manifests well without any formal coaching. I played lawn Tennis for several years but was not satisfied with the backhand(bane of many racquet games). My younger brother got it right in the first week itself without any coaching in such a brilliant manner that many players complimented him. My wife is qualified in English hons but it is me, an MBA who has written articles and poems for magazines and newspapers. Similarly, she does certain business work much better than I do. My father does much better trading in shares than me despite not having any formal training in Technical analysis(graphs) which I have. I once worked in a company where the rise of one person was much faster than four others though all of them were from the same batch from the same institute.

John Adair, in his book, effective innovation while giving the example of a trained artist who excelled as an inventor concluded that “Engineering is just a state of mind. You do not need a vaste amount of knowledge”

All this clearly shows that talent(application) is more important than the tool(knowledge). Even the scriptures talk about it. Vedanta says that Sukshma( subtle, subjective) is more powerful than sthula(gross, objective). Vedanta also talks about each one to progress according to his natural inclination-Raja yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga and further discriminate according to their states of mind –Rajsik, Tamsik and Satvik.. Many intellectual and spiritual stalwarts- Vivekanand, Osho, Krishnamurthy, Aurobindo etc have spoken of it. However one wonders how much the so called educational institutes follow it- imparting knowledge is not very tough but being able to spot innate talent is a different ballgame altogether. Following humotech is as if not more important than following biotech or infotech.

It would not be out of place to mention here what I read about the board exam suicides(which have gone up in the last five years) a few months ago in an article which suggested that the subject of emotional intelligence should start early in schools. One cannot disagree with that but maybe if true educationists were there, the children would know where their unique strenghts were and there would be no reason to commit suicide because of fear of blind competition. Competition ironically means “seeking together”. In any case, blind pursuit of knowledge instead of talent or application in the era of internet is plain stupidity.

Today itself, in the Sunday Times of India, dress designer Abu Jani ( Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla ) says “In 1886 we were treading uncharted waters. Neither of us possessed any design qualifications and we had precious little in terms of finances or infrastructure to invest into the grand vision we had conjured up for ourselves. What we did have in abundance was the dream and determination to turn it into a reality.”

Well, for every Abu-Sandeep who have the guts to follow their convictions, there are countless who do not know their hidden talents, their unique talents or their so called “dreams” and unless the education systems reforms, they are destined to live the life of Thomas Carlyle’s “ The person who has found his vocation in life is a blessed human being. Let him ask for no other blessedness.” Since a majority of time is spent on work it can be a lifetime of misery- “Umar bhar Jehanoom”(lifelong hell) which is the life of Aishwarya Rai in the movie.

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Vindication of Sex-Education

October 17, 2006


(picture from http://www.askmen.com)

This post was prompted by an interesting incident in my 11 year old son’s schoolfriend’s life. Though only in the sixth standard, with lots of girls showing interest in him, his parents were dumbfounded when their son actually received three letters(in addition to earlier emails) at their residential address from some girl. Amusing though it was, they actually didn’t know how to deal with the situation. His mother remarked, “ My daughter is almost double my son’s age but I have never had any problems with her. Since when have girls started chasing boys like this and that too at such a young age”.

Incidentally, my son studies in one of those schools which is very particular about preserving Indian culture. It reminded me of an incident at the parent teacher’s meeting a few months ago when a mother complained that she didn’t know what to say when her daughter told her about a senior boy and girl smooching in class.

The funniest incident occurred with my wife, a nursery school teacher when some tiny tot who was also known to some mutual friends actually said ,”She is sexy” on being asked “How is your teacher?” Height of “catch them young” I would say.

One almost feels like going back to school and reminds of that song “Koi lauta de mere bite hue din”

Just a couple of days ago, in the Sunday Times( 15/10/2006), in an article “Orissa teachers coy about talking birds and bees” , Arabinda Mishra says that Teachers in Orissa are reluctant to impart sex education and the dangers of AIDS to their students because they find words like condom, sex and intercourse too unpleasant to discuss in classrooms. Under pressure from the HRD ministry, a chapter on AIDS was introduced as a part of social studies for students of IX and X but the teachers were so uncomfortable discussing it that it was withdrawn. Since then, it has been a tug of war between the teachers and the bureaucrats of the HRD ministry. The Orissa Aids Cell had prepared the chapter in consultation with experts but could not convince the teachers. Orissa has had a spurt in AIDS cases but the teachers found the topic to embarrassing to handle.

A few months ago, there was a similar article in a magazine advising parents on how to go about imparting sex education. It was also somewhat amusing but the fact remains that before imparting an education of this type, the teachers themselves have to be specially oriented if not trained. The teachers however do not seem to be too inclined it seems.

The gates of this impasse can be penetrated by no less a man than Bill Gates himself. Though he has not mentioned the word “sex” anywhere in his book Business@speed of thought, some of the extracts(relevant to online education from the chapter connected learning communities) seem to be written for the current situation:-

“Most teachers have a great love of learning and they will get excited about anything that will help kids learn. What teachers don’t want is to be thrown into something they have not had the opportunity to learn about and be comfortable with”..

This exactly describes the Orissa situation..

Elsewhere, Mr Gates writes, “ An important reengineering principle is that companies should focus on their core competence and outsource everything else. “. Though this book was written a few years back, these days , it is not uncommon to find reports on homework of American kids being outsourced to India. Why then should teachers or for that matter parents take the onus of sex education when it is not their core competence and requires specialized knowledge imparting skills?. Why can’t it be done by the computer to the extent possible? As it is, on line education is all about the best teachers producing the best content and making it accessible to all, not just their classrooms. This is true for all subjects and the added advantage is that the computer can both innstruct and demonstrate and therefore make it more comprehensible.

One more extract from the Book also fits the bill “ One of the most forward looking ideas is to use the PC to offer a variety of ways to learn. About fifty different major theories identify similar attributes. Some people learn by reading, some by listening, some by watching someone else do a task, some by doing the task. Most of us learn from a combination of all these methods. “Any subject can be personalized according to the learning style of the student. What a unique way to know about sex.

It is also given that “ A highly motivated student can learn from different reading materials, where a poorly motivated student needs accessible materials such as a video to learn”. Well, considering the subject matter, I would not be surprised if a majority of students turn out to be poorly motivated. One should also discuss the motivation of the teacher here. Off and on, one gets to hear things like how teachers have not exactly taken a liking to computers and there is resistance to change. Now, if you give them a Hobson’s choice- either teach sex education directly or through computers, I think you can kill two birds with one stone and do away with the resistance to computers problem forever.

The children can also ask the uncomfortable questions on line and get their answers. With the way broadband services are improving, why a multi-media sex education initiative has not been taken surprises me. Such a move can live up to that saying in Hindi “Saap bhi mar jaaye or laathi bhi na toote” . Why not? Especially for those who find it too difficult to handle. It can also be a combo strategy- the computer can give the basic orientation and certain doubts cleared by parents/teachers.

I had read in a book how a father, on failing repeatedly to get his son to wash his hands before eating finally took him to one of his doctor friends. The doctor briefed the child on what germs were, gave a display under a microscope and topped it up by showing a video film showing explicitly what could happen if he didn’t wash his hands. Thereafter, the child never had to be told to wash hands. Another doctor had told me similarly that to prevent people from smoking, they should be shown video films of lung cancer patients and apprised of other problems they could face with advancing age when health becomes more and more precious. This is the “Without, danger, you cannot go beyond danger” that I have advocated in my earlier posts.One cannot have a wishy-washy,ambiguous, half hearted approach to AIDS(or other adverse effects of pre-marital sex) . It must be significantly scary to create an impact.

There are many who feel that teaching sex education at a young age in school is both awkward and undesirable as it may prove counterproductive. Many others are of the view that such an education is not in accordance with our culture. Such issues are best addressed by an expert.For those inclined to know more,let us have it from the horse’s mouth. These are two best articles by renowned sexologist, Dr Prakash kothari.They address AIDS, awkwardness of parents and teachers, influence of television etc among other things and vindicate the introduction of sex education among students:-

Sex education for adolescents stressed

Birds, Bees and Relatives

Today)17/10/2006), it has come in the papers how children are becoming more violent because of influence of Television. Whether it is sex or violence, one has to follow Osho’s philosophy “ To remove darkness, one has to bring light into the room and not take darkness out of a room”. The right knowledge has simply got to be introduced in the right manner and spread as fast as possible. .

The fact that “Child is the father of man” applies now more to sex than anything else can be proved by this joke:-

The teacher at the beginning of the class says: “OK kids, we are going to talk about sexual education today. First we’ll talk about how the human reproduction goes on…” Immediately, little Johnny raises his hand, and desperately tries to get the teacher’s attention. But the teacher, knowing how little Johnny is about these things, goes on… “… First, a man a woman have to be in love… ” But little Johny keeps his hand up, waving it up and down, and from one side to the other one. The teacher ignores him..”..They have to be very much in love because…” But now little Johnny even starts making noise with his feet, so the teacher decides to acknowledge him: ” OK, little Johnny. What do you want to say.” Little Johnny then stands up, and says: “I just wanted to ask. Those of us who have already f****d, can we leave?