30 September 2011

Off the beaten track: FM radio's manifestation in 2011

In one of my earlier posts, I had written about how I  used to enjoy shortwave listening. This post is somewhat related to this hobby.

Like most Indians, I used to be very homesick when I worked abroad in the '80s and '90s. Thanks to my SONY ICF-7600DA receiver. It gave me a very good company.

Besides, it could easily be charged by using my car battery even during my outings without any problem. Whenever I bought a new car, I used to remove the cigarette lighter from the dashboard and replace it by my SONY receiver and Nikon TW2 camera.

There were problems of reception quality at times, paticularly when listening to FM and AM frequencies, which any way was quite normal, as DXer would know.

When working in Southern Africa, in late '80s and late '90s, I used to receive a number of FM radio stations such as Radio Jacaranda and Radio Lotus. Radio Lotus used to air on 87.7 MHz. I remember with nostalgia, as to how I used to long for its Sunday morning programmes containing old Telugu and Tamil film songs. Though the reception from its 10 kW transmitter from distant Durban was not of good quality, I used to solve the problem by fiddling around the antenna of my receiver. I liked Radio Lotus mainly because it brought back pleasant memories with its film songs which were popular during my boyhood years in India.

As I had a lot of spare time especially during weekends, I could quench my thrist for writing. I used to contribute to  `Short Wave Magazine', published by P W Publishing Ltd (which also used to publish `Practical Wireless') on an almost regular basis, thanks to columnists Ron Ham and Brian Oddy and my portable typewriter.

Difficulty in accessing FM stations is a matter of history nowadays, thanks to post internet technology.  Today we can listen to any broadcast or telecast from any part of the world just at the click of a mouse.

One such broadcast is from Radio Jaagriti from the beautiful islands of Trinidad in the West Indies. This radio station is a project of Trinidad Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. It's a pleasure listening to Hindu devotional songs with 100% audio clarity without any technical problem, even in my simple notebook.

Well, coming back to our local scenario here in India, I am yet to come across an exclusive FM station broadcasting good devotional songs in Chennai (where I am permanently settled) or in Gujarat (where I work). 

29 September 2011

Stories in communicating with children

We all know that stories are not only interesting to children but also to people of all age groups. I have found stories to be very effective in teaching value sytems as well as lesson concepts in subjects across pre K - 12 curriculum. I have also used stories in teacher development workshops and board meetings successfully.

In this post, let me present a short story which I had written when working for a children's magazine, a few years back. Hope you enjoy reading the story:

Jaanaki’s jump

Jaanaki is 10 years old and attends a primary school very near her home in a village. She is good in studies as well as in games. She likes helping others whenever possible. Hence everyone likes her. She loves her parents, grandmother and Jagdeesh, her 3 years old brother.

Everything goes on well in the village, until there is a sudden outburst of cholera. The village primary health centre tries to rectify the problem by taking preventive steps and decides to send health workers to administer door-to-door cholera inoculation. As the first step, the village administration spreads the message using public address system with a warning that all the inhabitants are expected to take the inoculation without fail.

Now, this is the most unpleasant message to our Jaanaki. Do you know why? It’s because, she doesn’t like any kind of injection simply because it ‘pains’. In fact, whenever she gets ill, her first priority is capsules, followed by tablets and then liquid medicine.

It is Sunday. All are watching TV. The doorbell rings. Jaanaki sees her father opening the door and greeting two people in white uniform. One person has a few papers in his hand and the other holds a stainless steel box that looks like a first aid kit. Immediately Jaanaki recognizes her “problem”. She has to act swift, as otherwise it will be too late.

As her dad is talking to the visitors Jaanaki slips out of the room very quietly and comes out to the backyard. There is no way she can escape, as their house has a large fence. Although there is a Neem tree adjacent to the fence, Jaanaki has never climbed a tree. That is a problem. However, this time she has to overcome it.

Jaanaki is relieved at the very sight of the tree. She runs to the tree and climbs it without any problem (In fact she doesn’t have time to be hesitant). Within seconds, she is on the fence. She feels like being on top of the world.

The whole act has lasted less than two minutes. As the TV show is very interesting, none seems to have noticed Jaanaki’s escapade. She looks around and decides to jump on the other side of the fence quietly and avert the otherwise inevitable inoculation. Jaanaki becomes completely ecstatic at the very thought of escaping the inoculation.

She takes a look at the other side of the fence for a secure place to jump. But what she sees there is more frightening than the syringe; there is a big dog casting a ferocious look at Jaanaki.

On seeing Jaanaki, the dog begins to bark. Immediately on hearing the bark, her parents come rushing to the backyard and find Jaanaki standing on the fence.

Now, in spite of all her planning, Jaanaki is back to square one. She has to decide between the “barking dog” and the “inoculation”.

Can you guess as to which one she prefers?  Yes, it is: inoculation.

Moral: Look before you leap. Don’t avoid anything that is good.

28 September 2011

Off the beaten track: Movies and their infuence on the masses (people)

Usually I don't watch movies unless they are classical or contain value based themes. In the past weekend, when searching for a good TV programme, I came across a seemingly good Malayalam movie. By the time I had bumped on the movie, I guess, it was running half way.

In the movie, Tilkan plays the role of a wealthy man, who is arrested for a crime which he never committed, by a police officer who  happens to be the son of Pavithran, a long time enemy of the wealthy man. (I don't know the name of the actor who enacts the role of Pavithran).

Mohanlal enacts the role of Tilakan's son. He gets furious at what has happened and engages a criminal lawyer (enacted by Mammutty). Mammutty enables the release of Tilakan. Thereby justice is rendered.

It was nice to watch superb actors on the TV screen. (I remember watching Malayalam movies almost every weekend in a three theatre complex known as `Sarita - Savita - Sangita' in Ernakulam, where I used to stay when I was teaching in a school in 1985 and 1986).

Such depictions in movies are a lesson to (i) venomous people who tell lies and say wrong things about peope whom they don't like, create and spread false rumours, exaggerate things by pretending themselves to be good etc., and to (ii) foolish people who  believe whatever the above-mentioned people say, without attempting to know the truth (often until they themselves are affected because of their association with above-mentioned evil people).

Both types of people don't realise that God knows every thing and that they are committing sin.    

Off the beaten track: Nava raathri festival

According to Hindu calender, today marks the beginning of Nava raathri festival with its great spiritual and religious significance. This annual festival ends on Vijaya Dashami  occuring on 6 October.

In my boyhood, like in all brahmin households, we used to celebrate this annual festival with great joy, by having `kolu' (display of dolls). On such occassions, it was a custom for all members in the household to share work toward the festival's lofty aims and objectives.

In the afternoon on this day every year, my mother used to bring out wooden boxes and iron `trunks' (boxes which contained things but were not used very much) from our store room to the main living room. She used to be assisted by one or two attenders from my father's school (a government high school in which my father was the headmaster). They would place wooden planks on the boxes such that the system looked like a gallery. Then my mother used to spread pure white clothes on the planks and then place dolls in a systematic manner. This was the custom in all brahmin households in those days. The main dolls were the images of deities.

We three siblings (I, my sister and brother) used to take part in the work gladly. We used to feel inexplainably happy as if the dolls were our `close' friends who were coming to visit us and stay with us till the end of the festival.

It was a custom in brahmin households to invite all friends and relatives to the house (usually only women and children). Hence, we used to follow the custom. My dad used to borrow a typewriter (as shown in the image at the end of this paragraph) from the school for some time; my mother would type invitation letters to guests (with `carbon copies' for multiple guests) to take part in the festival. My parents would sign each invitation `card' and distribute them to our prospective guests irrespective of whether they were materially rich or poor.
When guests arrived, they would be welcomed in the traditional manner. Then the congregation would sing devotional songs as a reflection of their Bhakthi (Devotion). At the end of each evening's programme, my mother would serve `prasaad' (eatables with divine connotation) to all the guests. It was a common custom for women and children to visit each others house at least on one of the nine evenings (from around sunset to 8 PM).

The most important part of the festivity consisted of worshipping Goddesses Durgaa, Mahaa Lakshmi and Sarasvathi, for three days and nights each.

As children, we used to enjoy bringing in innovations by making models of mountain temple, hydel dam, park, houses etc. As I had always been interested in drawing, painting and basic electronics, I loved the excercise. My sister and brother, both younger than me, would assist.

We loved to get ideas from our friends' kolu and implement them in our own kolu. Our friends did the same way. We learnt from each other without any ego or jelousy. There was no room for negative competition.

More recently, in 1985-1986 (when I worked in Kerala), I used to visit a nearby temple to enjoy cultural performances such as classical dances marking Nava raathri.

Nava raathri is celebrated not only in India but also abroad, for instance in the West Indies.

22 September 2011

Laptops for all students

Tamilnadu Government is on the move to provide free laptops and cash incentives to all students in government run and government aided schools, according to a recent newspaper report. Though it seems to be very encouraging, if we look a little deep into our school systems, we can easily find that the move is not far sighted because of many reasons, some of which are as follows:

  • All schools do not have facilities (physical infrastructure and teachers)
  • Our school curriculum itself is not designed to be computer compatible
  • Our colleges of education do not train teachers to use computers in teaching all subjects across the curriculum
  • All students are not equipped with knowledge and skills to  use computers in a meaningful manner because of a range of factors such as curriculum, school and assessment methods
Any balanced education manager will know that computer aided learning is not always superior to other effective modes such as activity based learning (unless activities are not advisable to be taken up by students).

Hence, it is better if the govenment spends money in improving physical infrastructure and quality of teachers instead of spending it on laptops and cash incentives. (Otherwise, there is every chance that laptops are also sometimes misused like mobile phones, in the hands of children. The problem can become more pronounced with `cash incentives', as after all it is easier today than ever before for any student to acquire data-cards and other apps in the market without parental guidance).

If we go by educational research, there is absolutely no evidence that kids learn effectively when provided with computers without any technical and pedagogic support. Incidentally, most of our government, government aided and private schools lack in these two core factors.

Once the government achieves success in quality curricula, teacher training and counselling to parents (as to how best they can monitor children's activities when handling computers), it can get to schemes such  as free laptops.

20 September 2011

Proper use of language when communicating with children

All good people know that they need to convey only good things to children. However, sometimes, we may convey something without meaning it. Here is where choice of words is of paramount importance, whether it is oral or written communication. 

This morning when I was reading today's edition of the daily newspaper 'THE HINDU', I browsed through the pages of `YOUNG WORLD', the newspaper's supplement for children. (I am sorry that I couldn't access it's online version).

Page 2 of the supplement contained an article `To a nail-biting finish' on the lawn tennis champ Novak Djokovic, from Serbia, a country which was almost devastated by war for many years.

The article's first paragraph is as follows: "This year's U.S.Open has been a sumptuous fare in all respects. Right from Djokovic's unbelievable victory over Federer in the semi final to Serena Williams' angry rant in the final, there has been no shortage of pulsating entertainment...".   

The writer has done a good job in conveying the hard work and dedication of Novak. However, I think that he should have used any other apt word instead of "unbelievable" in the above paragraph (Is it unbelievable simply because he comes from a developing country?).

After all, no one's winning or losing in any game can be unbelievable. Winning or losing depends on nothing else but hardwork, dedication and God's Grace.

You may have come across words such as `fantastic' and `incredible' commonly used in wrong contexts.

It is very important that we use appropriate, non-ambiguous words and phrases when we communicate, particularly with children.  

10 September 2011

Value system

According to Vedic scriptures, wherever Shree Raamaa's name is chanted with devotion, Shree Raama Bhaktha Hanumaan would be present. One recent evidence of this fact is described in this wonderful article.

07 September 2011

Encouraging sports in our schools

Two news items in this morning's newspaper caught my attention. The first one about India's defeating South Korea in the Asian Trophy match and the other one about Ms Jayalalitha's announcement of a proposed Centre of Excellence in Sports for school students in the 10-14 age range.

I remember my own school days, nearly 5 decades back, when school children used to play football, khabhadi, etc. in addition to cricket.

My father was a great sportsman during his college days. He used to tell us about the importance of sports. He insisted that I join the then ACC (Auxiliary Cadet Corps), which I did. ACC was an integral part of the school sports curriculum in those days. As a popular headmaster he used to get `District sports' organised in whichever school he worked.

My father (seen at extreme right in the photo) supervising some children running `sack' race in his school
It was a pleasure for us to spend three full days in the school playground and watching children from different schools perform.

Later when I was in college, I used to  play cricket. Whenever I batted, there used to be runner who used to run for me, as I could not run fast due to my polio in the right leg. However, I was popular as a left arm spinner. Table tennis and chess were two  other games in which I used to actively participate. 

My father, known to be a man of high self-esteem, continued playing lawn tennis regularly until he was 65. As he used to say, my mother was of great support to him in all his achievements.

When I worked as a school principal, I had always encouraged children, particularly girls and those from poor parental backgrounds to  excel in academics as well as in sports. I had always insisted that girls should be coached only by female teachers, for obvious reasons.

I had the pleasure of motivating my collegues into playing the above mentioned games as well as intellectually stimulating games such as SCRABBLES. Pleasure of playing good games had a cascading effect and fostered team spirit.

I think that our K-12 high schools can be centres of excellence in sports if school managements have the will and principals have parental passion.

Let me end this post by posting a few photographs to illustrate how my students enjoyed games and sports when I worked at Poorna Prajna High School in Yelahanka,  Bangalore, in 1997.

02 September 2011

Teacher - student relationship

Today seemed to be just another day in the calender as I was checking my emails: inboxes flooded with junkmails and invitations from social networking vultures, which I promptly delete, as soon as I see them in the list. This time it was a bit different. There was an invitation from a young lady from facebook. I accepted her invitation as she seemed to be my student in late '90s.

I and my students liked each other. It had always been easy for me to treat my students somewhat like a parent would. I cherish my students' affection as reflected in (i) one of the poems written by my students at a high school in Bangalore in 1997 and (ii) a short write up written by a student in the 30th Anniversary Souvenir published at a secondary school in Southern Africa in 1988, as shown below:

It is the moral obligation of teachers not to let children down for any reason. For example, if children's language skills are poor, instead of giving discouraging comments, teachers should allow them to continue speaking (or writing) and then guide them properly. I cherish mementos given by my students whenever I resigned from  my post in any school. These mementos tell a lot about student - teacher relationship. One such memento given to me by a group of children on a working day before or after Vinaayaka Chathurthi, when I resigned from my post a school in Avadi, Chennai, is shown below:

I think that a teacher's role begins when he or she interacts with children like a parent. A school principal's role begins when she or he interacts with young colleagues like a parent and with older colleagues like a sibling. When this happens, children will be happy and so will the parents.

Children enjoying their post lunch free time at the school in Bangalore
An article which I read just an hour back, reflects my own viewpoint as to what it means to be a good teacher.

Off the beaten track: Decaying cultural values

This morning I had some time to read a newsletter from a Hindu Organisation based in Trinidad. It contains a very meaningful poem written by someone in Trinidad, located tens of thousands of kilometers from India. The poem echoes thoughts of many of us, who wish that our youngsters do not lose grip of our cultural heritage. [Though the decay of cultural values is very obvious in today's younger generation, I think that the process already began a few decades back, when heavy metal rock music and odd movies entered the consumerist platform with the result that youngsters could not draw a fine line between modernity and lack of cultural values. I myself liked western popmusic and movies but my interest was confined to soft rock music with good lyrics and non-obscene classical films].

Our schools have a crucial role to play in this direction, in today's circumstance where parents (both mother and father) are busy in fulfilling material needs (which are often unreasonably large).

About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.