30 June 2012

Stories for children in Hinduism

Nowadays good news items are rarely found in our media. Many news worthy good things happen everywhere but the publicity given to them is far less than to those involving crime, violence etc.

Yesterday, my morning coffee seemed to blend with a news item about a retired school principal's attempt to revive a nice tradition that is almost completely lost today: Grandma' stories.

When telling stories from scriptures, we should be careful  about the source from which we take them. Primary sources are always authentic whereas secondary ones may sometimes carry misinterpreted concepts as in the following two examples. 

I have come across many Hindu religious discourses, books and other media in which Lord Krishna's Dances with Gopikas are mentioned as if there was some romantic string attached to them.  This interpretation is baseless and hence wrong. According to Shreemad Bhagavatham, when these Dances were performed, Lord Krishna was a small boy and Gopikas were as old as His foster mother. 

When Ajaamila's story is explained in some media, it is as if Ajaamilaa's sins were dissolved and he obtained Moksha as soon as he called his son, whose name was `Naarayanaa'. This depiction is also baseless. It gives a wrong signal that whoever committs sin can get himself or herself freed from its consequencies by simply uttering God's name (Such a wrong interpretation goes against the principle of Karma). Those who have read the original version of The Bhaagavatham would know that when Ajaamilaa was about to die, he repented for his sins whole heartedly, surrendered to Lord Naaraayana completely by calling His name (not his son's name), vowed never to commit any sin again and vowed to tread on the Dhaarmic path. This made Shree Hari bless Ajaamilaa with Moksha. It is said that he lived happily for  several years after his surrender to  Shree Hari and then reached Heaven.

I wish that any Hindu material for children tells them stories based on original sources so that concepts are not exaggerated or misinterpreted. 

29 June 2012

Krishna to kids

This evening I happened to listen to a nice hiphop version of a devotional song about Lord Krishna. I think that such child friendly songs will motivate today's Hindu children into spiritualism. Thanks, Ram K, for your song.

Once Hindu kids delve into the nectar of God consciousness (via Krishnaa Consciousness, Raamaa Consciousness and so on), it is better to gradually replace western music by Indian Classical music because the latter is more appropriate in the Hindu context.

This is one way to let kids appreciate Indian traditional music (such as this song rendered by K J Yesudas, one of my most favourite singers); otherwise, they may not get to appreciate our devotional or classical music at all. (I am neither comparing the two types of music nor saying that one type is better than the other. All music is good if it is within acoustic limits, melodious and free from obscenity).

27 June 2012

Child abuse in schools

According to a report published in this morning's edition of a newspaper, Tamilnadu Government has issued a Government Order to all K-12 schools in the State with a clear message that teachers who indulge in child abuse can not only be dismissed but also find that they don't get employed anywhere else. I think that the move will be welcome by parents and stakeholders in the system and the general public at large.

Schools have a crucial role to play in sensitising children and making them  aware of all the negative aspects of child abuse. Though schools cannot have control over children's behaviour outside their campuses, they should ensure that (i) resources with negative potential are not used and (ii) situations which can possibly give rise to child abuse are not created, anywhere in the school. In 2003 in a school where I worked, I was shocked to find a very popular book (written by an Indian writer who won the Booker prize for her book in the late '90s) in the school library. The problem was that the contents of the book were far from being conducive to the school atmosphere.

The news report reminded me of `Snehamulla simham' (which means `Friendly lion'), a Malayaalam language movie released in 1986. I had the pleasure of watching it when I was teaching in Kochi at that time. In this film, Mammootty, one of my most favourite actors, comes as a brilliant and strict college lecturer. Oddly enough, when not in college, he finds solace in liquor (due to a failed marriage) despite repeated doses of advice from his close friend and colleague (the role of which is played by Jayaram, a versatile and talented actor). In the college, one of his students is deeply in love with him. She tries to convey her love to him in many ways. But he is very stubborn and finds her love repulsive. He advises her as to how she is wrong in loving her teacher. One should see the movie to believe that this is the best part of the movie. (I think that his English is superb). The movie casts popular actors such as Lalu Alex, Mukesh, Nalini, Paravoor Bharathan and Sukumari.

As teachers, it is very important that we maintain a morally appropriate distance from children always.

Well, coming back to Tamilnadu Government's G O, let us hope that the Government comes up with similar measures to curb corruption at all levels in the K-12 system.

24 June 2012

Reading habits in children

A recent survey showed that a significant per centage of Chennai's school going children suffer from obesity. It is nothing unexpected, considering the amount of time children spend in front of TV and computer. Those of us who are in teaching would know well that many children do not perform well in school because of the same reason. I think that the fault lies in parents and not in children.

(During my tenure as school principal, I have interviewed numerous parents who complained that their children didn't study well. Following is an excerpt  from  such an  interview:
  • Parent: Sir, we have given a seperate room for my children to study. But still, I find that they don't do well in  their studies. It worries us.
  • School principal: Do they watch TV or sit in front of the computer for a long time?
  • Parent: Not at all. We never allow them to watch TV or be at the computer. We are very strict with them. We see to it that children go to  their study and concentrate on their work; we monitor them too.
  • School principal: When they are in their study, what do you do?
  • Parent: We watch TV, check our email at our PC or chat on skype. However, we see to it that our children do their school work at this time.
After some counselling, I have seen  such parents accepting to sacrifice their TV/Computer time for  their children's sake and coming back  to tell me as to how effective my advice had been). 

Though entertainment electronics in general  and TV/Computer in particular have brought immense benefits, they are also capable of wielding very negative influence if abused. Research studies have proved beyond doubt that the time spent in front of TV or Computer has a positive correlation with couch potato attitude and obesity. Thanks to public awareness campaigns, worried parents and teachers like the trend to be reversed ( to `back to books').

(As I wrote in my post on 13 November last year, we were motivated into reading good books. Our reading habit helped in improving our linguistic skills significantly).

This afternoon, I happened to read a very informative and thought provoking article on this issue. I wish all parents and school managements read such articles and implement the ideas so that children can be on  a better track.

(When I was working in PREPARE, a Chennai based NGO, we had the pleasure of observing how children's learning improved after their parents began listening to their children reading aloud, in a remote village in Orissa. Parental involvement in children's learning in any possible way brings its own rewards).

By the way, good stories not only motivate children into reading but also help them in many other ways as mentioned in this article.

16 June 2012

Quality in K-12 schools

Poverty at home and lack of resources in school are considered to be the most predominant causes of poor performance of children at the global level. This being just the tip of the iceberg, there are many other causes (not usually noticed outside school systems) such as quantity driven curriculum with scant respect for quality, teachers' workload (which leaves them with  no free time for lesson planning, marking children's work etc. during school hours) and lack of accountability.

I think that accountability is not taken  seriously in many school systems in our country. If a teacher teaches wrongly or doesn't contribute positively to teaching learning, the school principal is expected, logically speaking, to mend the problem. But sometimes, school managements ask their principals to ignore such problems. (I have experienced this oddity myself). Principals should be allowed to be strict (without being harsh) when handling issues related to teachers who are indifferent or display misbehaviour.

We can always learn from authentic educational research done in similar school systems in other countries. Eversince I joined as Physics master at a local school where I began my career nearly 35 years back, I always tried to implement good practices from other countries in my work.

As education professionals, we know that exams are one of the main causes of stress in children and that it is compounded by parental obsession for `ranks' and `marks' in Board Exams. Is CBSE's recent move to abolish annual exams upto standard 9 a viable solution? The answer lies to some extent in an article which I read recently. I hope our K-12 education policy makers take such  articles seriously and work out solutions so that all children get quality education at least to some extent toward the objectives of the The Dakar Framework

12 June 2012

Textbook turbulence

In the past few weeks, many debates have been going on about cartoons in school textbooks  published by NCERT. While cartoons in lessons may be  effective resources in our classrooms, other contents are also important. In fact all contents in textbooks are important.

After reading Standards 11 and 12  Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry textbooks published by NCERT, any competent education professional would be able to see that these books are perfect examples of what a textbook should not be.

Sometimes, in spite of earnest attempts, involvement of competent professionals in textbook writing doesn't happen because of the rigid systems in which we work. Our Central and many State Board Textbook Development Committees do not consist of adequate number of competent practising teachers as illustrated, for example, in Standard 12 Physics textbook published by NCERT. As we can easily see, only 5 out of 20 (25%) are practising school teachers.

A few years back when I was heading a K-12 school in Chennai, Mrs Latha, chief education officer of our district, asked me to head a subject experts panel which was working on Standards 11 and 12 of Tamilnadu Higher Secondary Board. She was one of  the most honest officers in the Department and hence very respected. It would have been a privilege to  work in a team with which she was involved. But, when I sought permission from my school management, it was refused as the management thought that my time in the school would be compromised. Hence I had to decline the nomination.

Earlier in late '90s, I was trying for some meaningful occupation in Chennai after resigning my post at a school in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. As I had read several articles by Mini Krishnan, a well known writer who was commissioning editor at Macmillan India Limited, I thought of meeting her. She asked me to write a sample lesson, which I did. My work was accepted and I was about to  sign a contract. This was a time when the Company needed an education officer in Mathematics and Science on a full time basis. After a recruitment assessment,  I was selected for this position too and was given the option  of selecting between the two. I  preferred the latter instead of the former (which I think, was a mistake).

Quality of our school textbooks can only be enhanced if our State Boards and NCERT revamp the whole curriculum development process by involving outstanding school teachers  with proven experience instead of scientists (however eminent they may be) as members and chairpersons of authors' panels.  Teachers are the most competent professionals when it comes to developing lesson materials (print or digital).

When working for PREPARE, a Chennai based NGO, I was involved with Green Valley Public School, a K-8 school catering to children from tribal communities in the area between Rayagada and J K Pur in Odisha. The school was run by the NGO. All the teachers had a degree in a school subject but some didn't have their B Ed degrees (as it was not a mandatory requirement for that upcoming school). In fact not having B Ed was an advantages. We did away with textbooks and teachers were encouraged to develop their own curriculum and teaching materials. As they knew their children well, the exercise was very fruitful though it took time. Lessons were very child friendly and children enjoyed them.  

As many schools cannot afford to have their own curriculum due to  mixed ability classrooms which large pupil intake (exceeding recommended teacher pupil ratio), heavy workload of teachers, in countries like India, teachers resort to textbooks as a single source. Hence it is important to (i) involve practising school teachers in textbook development and (ii) prescribe textbooks which meet certain minimum benchmarks in terms of quality. (I tried an interesting experiment many years ago, considering the situation which prevailed at that time).  

The issue is not confined only to our country India. It is global. I have come across several  textbooks which are poorly written and published in  countries like USA and UK. In the late '80s, when I was teaching Physics in schools in Southern Africa, the government was about to replace `O Level Physics' by A F Abbott (a very good textbook) by `Physics is Fun' by Tom Duncan.

All physics teachers were asked to study the book and let the government know about their viewpoint. In one of the physics teachers workshops conducted for the purpose, we were asked to  give our feedback on the new book in a questionnaire developed by the Education Ministry. I wrote that the new book was not even fit to be used as a revision material let alone as a textbook and that the other book should be retained. My viewpoint was based on numerous conceptual mistakes in the book (for example, units of mass and weight were messed up on several pages). (When I  wrote my feedback, my friends including Mr Chinnappan, who taught physics in Lawrence School, Ooty (India) and in some schools in the US earlier, cautioned me that my adverse remark might mean that my contract wouldn't be renewed. However, I was least bothered about the outcome of my feedback because I knew that I would be able to get a good job or even a better job if the Government didn't renew my contract. I considered honesty to be most important).    Thankfully enough, later editions of the book were free from mistakes.

Any textbook from any country written by whoever be it, should be free from any kind of mistake and it should be 100% quality oriented. Otherwise, I think that the material is junk.

10 June 2012

Games and sports in schools

This post is related to my earlier posts dated 7 September and 20 October 2011 in this blog. According to media reports, Viswanathan Anand, who recently won the World Chess Championship for the 5th time (a record) has come forward with an idea to help our Government Schools in motivating children in this intellectually stimulating game. I think that the present Tamilnadu government would respond to the idea positively (as it has already been doing in a few other areas of development).

Viswanathan Anand
It is a well known fact that even in some high fee charging schools in Chennai, all children are not given adequate opportunities to develop their games and sports skills, despite the fact that games such as chess, carroms, scrabbles, snooker, hockey, football, basket ball, lawn tennis, badminton etc are far more cost effective than cricket. Indoor games such as scrabbles are known to play a crucial role in linguistic development. I don't think that there is anything that can prevent schools in implementing such games.

In fact indigenous games such as kabhaadi and  kho-kho require very marginal capital investment. In some schools where I worked we tried cycling and it was a favourite not only among students  but also teachers. So was scrabbles (which is not only entertaining but also highly pedagogical in a sense).

Like all balanced sport enthusiasts, I think that (i) all games and sports should be encouraged and (ii) every child should be  encouraged to  play one outdoor game of his/her choice. It is the school's responsibility to see that all children derive benefit irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds.

(I have literally seen the extent to which games such as football and athletics are encouraged in schools in Africa. It is no wonder that Africans are world leaders in athletics and that popular football teams such as Manchester United consist of players of African origin. I think that our Sports sponsors and Government Departments of Education and Sports need to follow best practices from  other countries).


07 June 2012

As I was browsing an ISKCON related website, I came across a very interesting article about Angkor Wat. As a person who worked in Cambodia, I know that Cambodia has many traditions which are similar to those in India. There are numerous words in Khmer (Cambodian national language) with Samskrit origin (for example `kaaryaalai' meaning `office' and `mukh' meaning `face') and Tamil origin (for example 'mun' meaning `before'). Names such as Karuna, Rachna and Sarath are common in Cambodia. Language and traditions of Khmer people seem to prove that cultural and trade ties between India and Cambodia were strong once upon a time. (Our school history textbooks don't seem to mention about this).

(Just before the end of my placement in Cambodia, I had the pleasure of initiating a programme through which Cambodian K-12 professionals and students can join our Universities for higher studies or professional training, thanks to our Indian Ambassador to Cambodia with whom I briefly discussed my proposal when meeting him in a very informal  setting at Dosa Corner, a popular Southern Indian restaurant in Phnom Penh).  

Weekends at Vadodara

Today I  had the joy of listening to  yet another 10.52MB SoundCloud track probably recorded by Hare Krishna devotees in Lima, Peru.  The song reminded me of Vadodara (where I worked for a year) and the ISKCON temple in the city. I used to enjoy Dharshan of the Deities in the temple and the eateries in their restaurant.

I fondly remember Amarnaathji, in whose auto I liked to go to Shree Krishna temple, Raghavendra Swamy Mutt and other such spiritual places in the city.  He is a nice gentleman of nearly my age. He was not just an autodriver to me; he was a like-minded friend. Just like in many places where I lived, people usually liked me (My mother and brother always say that if we are good to others they would be good to us. I have a different point of view: If we are good  to others, good people among them will be good to us). 

Vadodara is a historic city which is also very modern with fabulous shopping malls (such as Croma and Spencers very near my office located in Alkapuri).

I nostalgically remember my almost regular weekend shoppings, poori-sabji-milkshake dinners and chats with friends like Mr Madhwani (proprietor of the bakery) at Spencers. (Sometimes I used to dine at `Saffron' for its acoustically conducive atmosphere). I also used to visit an Amul outlet managed by a very cordial young couple. They had an assistant, who was nearly my age. Sometimes  I used to visit the outlet (which had a mini-restaurant as well) just to see them and relish their authentic `dhokla', a popular Gujarati delicacy. Whenever there was time, I liked to quench my academic thirst by buying some good paperback from `Crossword', a well known book store in the town.

Weekend outings had always been pleasant at Vadodara, thanks to its lower levels of  pollution and traffic density than in Chennai.  Though I liked the restaurant in ISKCON campus, I liked to go there only when I visited the temple to have Dharshan of the Deities.

Though Vadodara does have its own problems like traffic jams etc. commuting from one place to  another within the city is very cost effective (Vadodara autos run on meters and auto drivers don't demand exhorbitant fares like in Chennai). I'll write about this beautiful city in my future posts.       

06 June 2012

Sound claps to SoundCloud

By God's Grace, I derived the joy of listening to a rendition of Vishnu Sahasra Naamam (One thousand names of Shree Mahaa Vishnu) on SoundCloud format this morning; the 30 minutes long rendition sung by M S Subbulakshmi was of excellent audio quality and was thoroughly uninterrupted. SoundCloud deserves sound claps.  

03 June 2012

Trinidadians of Indian ancestry

Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Indian origin Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago visited our country in January.

Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar
Amidst busy schedule she took time to pay a seemingly emotional visit to her ancestral village in Bihar.
Trinidad Prime Minister in Bhelpur (her ancestral village in Bihar) 
This morning as I was reading newspapers from different countries (which is almost a regular weekend habit of mine), I came across an intertesting article about how Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrated her 60th birthday on 17 April. The article illustrates as to how people of Indian origin still retain their culture and traditions. Perhaps you may like to read the article as well. 

02 June 2012

Sacred music via SoundCloud

Eversince I began listening to audio via SoundCloud, I have developed a liking for the software because of its cabability of providing good quality uninterrupted sound even in my humble notebook.

Thanks to SoundCloud, this evening I had the joy of listening to excellent devotional songs from ISKCON Bangalore and those by San Fransisco based Dhanya Subramanian.

Technology can be immensely useful if managed properly.

About Me

My photo
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.