Making memories

Making memories

One of the reasons I decided to write Dear Popples was because I felt the need to ‘make memories‘ for my darling Popples. I wanted him to know about his early years however difficult and dark they were, and also to know how many people loved him and stood by him. Now he is a bog boy and does not need Maam’ji to craft him memories. He is busy making his own. Memories and their importance as well as there fugacious nature came to my mind today as I stumbled upon a quote that stated: Once you’re dead, no one else will remember your memories. If you take a moment and think about these innocuous words, you will realise how many of our memories die with us. So maybe, on our bucket list we need to give some attention to memories that we feel need to be shared by our loved ones or by others if we so wish. Not everyone is a writer or has the time to sift through boxes and boxes of yellowed pictures and either scan and caption them or write something at the back for our kids to read when we are gone. This is more for people my age who were kids and young ones in times where digital photography did not exist.

Many months or maybe even longer ago I began to write Dear Popples II – the Project Why Story – because I felt that so much of its trials and tribulations – particularly in early times – were inside my head that were I not to put them on paper, they would die with me, and some precious and unique moments would be lost forever. So I did begin to write and must have written over 100 pages before my life stopped when I heard about my husband’s cancer. I never found the right moment to pick up the story again till today when I read this quote and remembered the half written story. Serendipity one could say. Anyway I hope to be able to pick up the threads and remove the cobwebs from my tired brain to resume from the point I left.

After that is done, maybe I will think of the personal memories I would want my children to have after I am gone and write another book. One more item on the bucket list: making memories. Making here does not mean inventing them, but simply giving them form and a vehicle that would transcend my demise.

Saturday musings

Saturday musings

Saturday is my version of Temple Run. I dutifully visit three temples. The first is the Bhairon Temple in front of the Kalkaji bus depot; the second is the Shani Temple in Govindpuri and the third is Mataji’s temple in Giri Nagar. Normally if we do not leave on time, we run late and into crowds. This morning as soon as we hit the main road from our colony road I knew something was amiss. A police picket greeted us at the end of our colony road and as we drove on the main road heading to the temple, we saw men in uniforms of all shades and hue and also armed in all sizes. The road looked eerie and it took me a few seconds to realise that the sidewalks had been cleared of all hawkers, beggars and were squeaky clean. You guessed right: a VIP was expected. He would be zipping through this part of the city to attend a meeting of sorts. Even the beggars who sleep under the over bridge and who normally are waking up at this time, some brushing their teeth, others cooking the daily meal were absent. It was after a long time that no smiling kid came to seek a few coins. They too had been hidden away. This part of the city was looking unreal.

The roads were empty and we zipped through and reached the Temple which was also unrecognisable from outside. No car, bikes, scooters, three wheelers, buses were parked on the road side as they normally are on a Saturday morning and the Temple was also less crowded. There were no flower and other offering vendors at the gate and no beggars with their recipient waiting for their morning hooch.   Bhairav is a God who is propitiated with whisky, beer, and any sort of alcohol and the ‘prashad’ is gathered in huge vats and is a heady cocktail of all sort of alcohols that is given to the beggars aligned outside. Today no beggar will get his morning shot. No flower lady will make earn her mornings share’s people tend to come to temples in the morning and hawkers too will have to forgo part of their daily earnings.

I wonder why the city authorities felt the need to clean and spruce up the route the PM would be taking to get to his destination. Was the city as it is everyday, buzzing with activity and day-to-day chores too dirty for the VIP to see. Would it not have been better for him to see how his people live, the ones who voted him in and reposed their faith in him. Maybe if he had a glimpse of the filth and the squalor, if that were possible in a zipping BMW, then he may have done something more permanent than this artificial sanitisation that happens too often. The one thing it does prove is that the very people who are supposed to ensure that civic amenities work are themselves aware of the fact that much remains to be done, then why not of it.

In yore times rulers use to visit their fiefdoms incognito, dressed in rags if need be, to feel the pulse of the ones they ruled. I guess the press and media have now become the eyes and ears of the rulers, though they sometimes present a warped view. One also wonders whether these rulers actually read and view things or a given a sanitised and cropped version of it.

I admire José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano the present President of Uruguay who lives on an austere farm and donates 90% of his salary to benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs, yes the very people who were so carefully hidden today! Pepe is known as the poorest President in the world.  A person worthy of our admiration. He has no palace, no motorcade and waits in queues just like his fellow countrymen. It is time our politicians learnt a few lessons.

I still feel galled at the number of police personal detailed for any VIP movement though I guess it is par to the course in our day and age, but to feel the need to dislodge people who earn their living even in disturbing ways like begging is simply unacceptable. It is part of what we are of have become courtesy the political choices we have made over the years. By ‘hiding’ children who beg, you do not solve the problem. And if it is something you have accepted as inevitable then why ‘hide’ them. On the other hand if it something you find disturbing then it is time everyone saw it and maybe did something to put an end to such abhorrent practises.

If each time a VIP has to cross the city to attend some function or the other, the whole city has to be ‘made’ momentarily presentable, then why not do to once for all in a humane and sensitive manner. Everyone on the sidewalks you so mercilessly expurgated is there for a economic purpose, be it the beggar who earns a living or the water cart man who quenches the thirst of passersby or the snack cart that makes waiting for the bus easier, or even the cobbler who saves you when your shoe gives up en route . They are all small entrepreneurs with a keen market sense as they meet the demands of the market. Regularise them but do not cast them away as they not only fulfil our needs but feed their families. They are no danger to the VIP that whizzes by and are very much a part of the electorate that voted him in.

Needless to say, everyone was back in place as soon as the caravan passed. Good for them. I hope they made up for the lost time.

We are no one’s Trojan horse

We are no one’s Trojan horse

NGOs are in the news and for all the wrong reasons. A recent article entitled It Is The Pot Calling The Kettle Black examines the two sides of the coin quite pertinently. The author states: not all NGOs are neo-liberal Trojan horses furthering a subversive agenda, while the number of actual good Samaritans working for change is also not particularly very high. I guess we belong to the later category. However what is rather disturbing is the last lines of the article that state: The establishment may be over-exerting itself to hijack the mojo of the well-meaning NGOs, but it is for the latter to fight their case. So the onus falls on us to defend our work, integrity and honesty. One has to prove that one is not furthering a subversive agenda and then go on to show that one is well meaning. Tough task in a space where each time you mutter the word NGO, you are looked at suspiciously even if it is the almost imperceptible raise of an eyebrow. So how does one go about convincing one and all that we are ‘well meaning’! Let us take it from the top.

The little girl in the blue cap leading her class in the picture above is the same one in the picture on the left in her yellow top. That is how much we have grown. Kiran, as that is what she is named and rightfully so as she is a ray of sunshine, is now in class VIII in a public school. That her life would have been different had we not landed in her home in the year 2000 when she was born, she most likely would have gone to the local government school but as her aunt Rani joined the project team as a teenager and now leads it with aplomb and confidence, she also set about changing the lives of her family members and the one thing she did was ensure that all the children of the family go to a good school. I do not know what Kiran will become as the world is wide open for her, all I know is that she will fulfil her dreams. We are in the business of fulfilling dreams of children who did not dare to dream. One of our bye lines was: where children dare to dream. If it is subversive to fulfil dreams, then we are subversive and fulfilling dreams is our agenda, an agenda we do not hide but flaunt with pride.

So what dreams have we fulfilled? A young gypsy lad that now walks the ramps for the designers in Paris. I guess that is our show stopper and his God given good looks were a head start, but in the past 14 years we have given over 1000 children the opportunity to finish school and aspire to better morrows. This may seem paltry to some but believe me if they had been left on their own, they would have most certainly dropped out. Let me tell you why. In Government schools in Delhi there is practically no teaching. This is due to many reasons: no fail policy till class VIII, overcrowded classes – 120 in some cases,  and 35 minute periods, disinterested teachers who have no fear of losing their jobs,  one the one hand, and illiterate parents who cannot afford private tuition which is essential, cramped rooms where it is a Herculean task to study on the other. Project Why provides them the enabling environment they need to study and fills in the gaps which are enormous. If providing an enabling environment to children is subversive then we are just that.

What is under the scanner is foreign contribution and the famous FCRA! We have one as without it we would be dead and gone. Our donors are not big agencies, Foreign Governments or international foundations. Our donors are small people like us who give small amounts often because they have come and seen what we do or sometimes because they read these blogs and feel that we are real and down to earth and trustworthy. They are of all age and hues and come from all the corner of our planet thanks to the magic of the Internet. They have no hidden agendas but want to help one woman who decided to get up and walk!

I would not have needed an FCRA had my fellow country men found their hearts and dug into their deep pockets. We cost a pittance. Were the amount spent on what is called a normal wedding placed into an account, we could run perennially with the interest. Our annual budget is less than the price of a fancy watch, pen, or such luxury items owned in multiples by many. Sadly donations from India cover less than 10% of our needs so we knock at doors outside our frontiers not by choice but by necessity.

When we got our precious FCRA it was supposed to be for the life of the NGO but I just got an email from a friend and donor who informed me that now our FCRA will come up for renewal next year and henceforth will have to be renewed every five years. I do not know whether we will meet the conditions and also do not know how many renewals I will witness in my lifetime. I remember how long to took for us to get our FCRA specially of you want to do it in a kosher manner.

Another article on the same topic begins with these doomsday words: The Hindu nationalist. The neo-liberal. The grassroots activist. The Leftist. Everybody, it seems, has a reason to hate NGOs! Some have been charged of “de-Hinduising India” whatever that means. Some are accused of hijacking the left agendas and displacing and destroying organised Leftist movements by co-opting intellectual strategists and organisational leaders. And in the present situation when growth has been promised at all costs the Intelligence Bureau report is a welcome one. Add to this a delhi High Court order that observes that most private-run so-called philanthropic organisations do not understand their social responsibilities. 99 percent of the existing NGOs are fraud (sic) and simply moneymaking devices. Only one out of every hundred NGOs serve the purpose they are set up for. Scary! The onus lies on us tiny NGOs to prove that we are the 1% that accepts our responsibilities.

There is more. According to the same article most NGOs are top-heavy, with little connect to the cause or individuals they work with, resulting in very little of the budget actually finding its way to field work. We can most certainly beat this one as we are none of the above. More than 80% of our budget goes to the beneficiary and the only top we have, if any is me and I cost zilch! The rest of the team belongs to the target group we work with.

The task that awaits me is haunting. I hope I can put my best foot forward and overcome all obstacles. So help me God!

No sex please. We are Indians!

No sex please. We are Indians!

On his website, our new health Minister has stated that sex education in schools should be BANNED! This of course made headline news! This is part of his ‘vision’ Document for Delhi schools and is item 5 of section B – Curriculum Development – . It says: So-called “sex education” to be banned. Yoga to be made compulsory. I wonder what so called sex education means. Sex education is Sex education and cannot be called otherwise. It is time we started calling things by their names and not by silly synonym. Before I state my views on the sex bit, and yes I have no problem saying or writing the 3 letters S.E.X. , I was also taken aback by item 8 which defines our new Minister’s, who we must remember was a strong contender for the Chief Minister’s post of Delhi, ‘four pillars of education’ namely: patriotism, health care, social consciousness and spirituality. No comments here! But I much prefer Delors’s Four Pillars namely: Learning to Know; Learning to Do; Learning to Live Together and Learning to Be. This is what we have been trying to follow at Project Why for more than a decade. There are some pertinent suggestions in his vision paper as well as lacunae but maybe I shall write another blog on the issue. Let us get back to the three letters that need to be banned.

First of all, I would like to tell the Minister that sex education is in no way a Kama Sutra position based education or education about sexual activity. Far from that. It is an education that is meant to protect children from being abused and raped within their homes or when they step outside. There is no guarantee that the little girl lying in the safest haven on earth, or so one would like to believe, her mama’s lap, is not likely to be sexually abused by a member of the family or a ‘kind’ neighbour. And should the perpetrator be a family member then in all likelihood, the same lap may turn against her as family honour takes precedence on a child’s pain. These are the values we are taught and as long as they are not rejected, sex education as we understand it, is not only needed but critical. The so called sex education teaches little girls what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch is and should the touch be ‘bad’ then it teaches the child to say NO and go and tell her mother or teacher or anyone the child feels safe with. I would like to know our honourable Minister’s view on this.

Sex education is above all age appropriate and should start as early as possible, specially in a country where tiny children are raped. What is horrifying is that even babies are raped before one can even begin to warn them. The so called sex education would also address young boys before they turn into potential rapists. Statistics talk for better than words so here are some. A woman – and here we should say a female as rape victims range from of a few months of age to 6 decades and plus – is raped every 22 minutes: that is 65 rapes a day! In 2013 ~ 25 000 rape cases were reported and 24 470 were committed by a relative or a neighbour. That is ~98%. In a country where honour stands on the top of the value range, I cannot begin to imagine how many cases went unreported. And even if they are reported as happened in the case of one of our students aged 6 when she was raped by her neighbour, the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment and now roams free cleared of all stigmas, whilst the victim was branded and the family had to move. You see it is always the girls’ fault. Sex education would address this issue too!

The little girls in the pictures above are all doing what little girls do: one is finishing her ice cream cup, the other is about to open a packet of chips while the one on the left is trying to imitate her brother who loves sitting on this wall. In Delhi today all these little girls are potential sexual abuse victims. The so called sex education teaches them how to protect themselves. I wonder what our Minister has to say to that. The number of unreported cases is alarming: between 70 and 90%. If appropriate sex education is imparted girls will know how to protect themselves. Sex education is about learning to say NO! It is about not going alone with anyone, not being lured by any treat proffered. It is about learning about your body and how it changes. It is about understanding what is age appropriate and what is not. It is about replacing the shame and the ‘bad’ and ‘dirty’ tags with normal ones.

Sex education as activists rightly say is also about instilling essential information about conception and contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. It is the role of parents but also teachers more so in a society where parents often shy of doing so.  Yet today more than ever. sex education is needed as children are turn ally sexually mature faster and subjected to an overdose of sexual information thanks to technology and of course the good old TV that is in almost every home. This abundance of information needs to be put in perspective as early as possible. Not having sex education is a folly. Sex education should not be on any agenda but should be considered an essential element of any sane education curriculum.

Stop playing with their lives

Stop playing with their lives

There is a battle raging in our capital city. It concerns the debate between the three year BA course versus the four year one introduced last year. It seems that one is set to revert to the good old 3 year BA course we all passed! One wonders why the controversial four year programme was ever launched. What is worrying is that those who sit in close offices and come up with such drastic changes do not realise that they are playing with young lives where a year can mean a lifetime and a percentile can make all the difference between pursuing your dream or giving it up altogether. It does seem a bit absurd that a mere 1% in a unrelated subject is what it could take to make you a doctor or a vet! I must admit that I have not been following thus polemic as I am more concerned about the percentile in school that can open or a shut a door.

Call is synchronicity or serendipity but I was forwarded a mail by a friend who ‘introduced’ me to the horror of the state run school system when I was a greenhorn and is herself a great educationist with her heart at the right place. This mail is written by the principal of a known public school and addressed to the Board of Secondary Education, the supreme body who decides what the curricula should or should not include. ( I am pasting the letter below my rants for those who would want to get first hand knowledge of how those in power play with the lives of voiceless children.)

The letter is about the sporadic changes that occur in the curriculum and its effects of students and teachers. I was particularly concerned by this sentence: Most disturbing of all these changes is the habit lately in the CBSE to introduce changes in the middle and even late into the academic year. The letter outlines the absurdity of the whole approach that seems to be the bane of our land, where we are always putting the cart before the horse! But here the story is far more perilous because adults re playing with children’s dreams and aspirations. Sitting in the comfort of an air conditioned conference room, men and women whose combined degrees and certificates would fill umpteen walls and whose combined ages would run into centuries, decide the fate of millions of children as different as chalk and cheese: some belong to erudite homes and have been fed books with bottles, others to educated ones and yet others to homes where the only written word is the label on a purchased item. And that is not all, the decisions this hallowed men and women make has to be implemented but teachers as varied as the one who hold several degrees in education from Ivy colleges while others have failed the basic teacher tests conducted in the country. But you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand the absurdity of introducing changes in the middle or even the end of the academic year, something that you will realise, if you read the letter pasted below, seems to have become the rule rather than the exception. Any change needs to be piloted, fine-tuned, retested and then fully implemented. When you change the curricula you need to first, if not discuss it with stakeholders, train those who will need to teach the changed curricula.

It seems that a ‘novel’ was withdrawn in October 2013 for the exam in March 2014! The most controversial issue seems to be the PSA (not the prostate test) – Problem Solving Assessment and the Open Text Book Assessment! The letter explains these points in a pertinent manner but just the names of these Assessments send chills down my spine when I think of my project why children and their Government school teachers. To change from learning by rote underlined answers that you barely comprehend, I cannot begin to imagine what you would do in an open book exam or a problem solving assignment. I cannot visualise the teachers doing it, let alone the poor kids.

The question one has to ask is whether the curriculum is for every child born in this land or for the chosen few! Another tale of two Indias I guess or a clever way of keeping a large chunk of kids, those born on the wrong side of the divide, away from higher education and plum jobs.

True I would be the first one to hail these changes were they brought about in the right manner: pilots and training the trainees. What would happen though is that most of the trainees would fail!

If you take time to read the letter copied below you will see the absurdity of how curricula are thrown out of a magician’s hat to dazzle god knows who, but are not connected to the reality of the situation on the ground. So you come up with an open book examination option not thinking of the child in a slum who goes to an overcrowded school where teachers wield the rod with impunity and have no time to ‘impart’ knowledge. They problem solving is the use of their voice or their stick. Maybe before thinking of any change at all, those in the air conditioned rooms should have a good look at every nook and corner of education.

But again maybe this is all part of some devious agendas or hidden policies where poverty and illiteracy have a critical role to play.

I would simply urge those in power to STOP PLAYING WITH THE LIVES OF INNOCENT CHILDREN.

Maybe our new Minister will hear this deafening cry!

The Chairman,
Central Board of Secondary Education
Preet Vihar
New Delhi

Dear Mr. Joshi,

 Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me. In this letter to you I would particularly like to bring up some path changing innovations that the CBSE has introduced in the last six years or so that have long been a matter of concern to educators.  Most disturbing of all these changes is the habit lately in the CBSE to introduce changes in the middle and even late into the academic year.

 The CCE is a prime example of a mid year introduction, other examples being the time of introduction of the PSA and the OTBA. Apart from these a) the novel for class xii English Course A was withdrawn in Oct of 2013 for the exam to be taken in March 2014. b) the examination specification for present class x English Course – A paper has been changed in June 2014 for the exam to be held in march 2015. c) the text book for Functional English  for examination 2015 is yet to come out.

 I think it is important to say at the outset that the CCE, Problem Solving Assessment and the Open Text Book Assessment are excellent ideas in themselves; it is the modality of introduction, understanding and grading of the two that is being raised for discussion here.

 Below point wise are areas in the PSA that are controversial and need to be immediately addressed.

 A.1. In the normal practice a curriculum is announced at least a year, if not two, before the commencement of the session. Alterations to the curriculum are not done in the middle of the implementation of the curriculum. 

The Problem Solving Assessment (PSA) was announced by the CBSE for classes IX & XI in August and was implemented in January, 2013 of the academic year 2012-13. The introduction of Problem Solving assessment was done after the curriculum was announced in the middle of the session in August of 2012.

A.2 Even though the paper was made up of three parts Language Conventions, Quantitative reasoning and Qualitative reasoning, marks were given to students in four subjects, English / Hindi, 
Science, Mathematics and Social Science. There apparently seems to be little logical or scientific basis for this.

 A.3. A single score was awarded for PSA and schools were instructed through your various circular (latest dated  3rd Feb 2014)  to replace the FA4 scores  with the PSA score. As you know Formative 
assessment includes a variety of evaluation methods such as unit tests, quizzes, debates, assignments, projects etc. These various points and methods of assessment, which is the hallmark of CCE, attempt to evaluate students holistically and continually. The PSA being a single examination with 60 questions can in no way be a meaningful substitute for the FA4. PSA is neither tuned to FA nor academically or logically can be tuned to the same, as the cognitive and decision-making skills required for them are more relevant to Summative assessment. Inclusion of PSA as a substitute to the FA4 in class 9 is basically against the core philosophy of the CCE.

 A.4 The decision to carry over the marks of the performance of class IX in PSA to class X is unscientific. In terms of space, learning experiences, the situations are entirely different and super imposing the same has no logical basis. The performance profile of the students in class 
10 will be totally different if taken again. Thus repeating marks obtained in class IX in class X lacks a sense of relevance, proportionality and context.

 A.5.The questions on Quantitative reasoning in the PSA paper have to be answered even by those students who are differentially abled and have been given exemption from mathematics. There is neither exemption nor any alternative for them. Thus, they are put into an unfair assessment. The injustice is doubled by the fact that the same marks are repeated over two years in their report card. This decision of CBSE puts back reforms for inclusion, done to facilitate these students, by over a 

 A.6. Any change in curriculum or assessment patterns are implemented only after the stakeholders in the system are briefed adequately and trained fully so that the spirit of such a change is meaningful and effective. Introduction of changes without training of the teachers affects a generation of students. In the introduction of PSA, since the schools were not informed early enough the teachers were not appropriately trained .  

 A.7.The curriculum has three important components – content, pedagogy and assessment. It is a holistic domain and any piecemeal alternations in one without addressing the other parts leads to confusion. The introduction of PSA called for appropriate pedagogical interventions in the classroom so that the shift in areas of assessment could be internalized. This was especially relevant since both teachers and students are conditioned with years of content-based assessment. In this case, neither teachers nor students were exposed to, nor given adequate resources, nor time and wherewithal to understand or appreciate the introduction of PSA.

 A.8. PSA calls for relevant analytical and critical thinking skills. The solutions to a given problem have to be uniform, credible, valid and reliable. It should not lead to answers which could be based on perceptions and which would not be considered reliable. Many questions in the PSA paper given in early 2013, and whose marks figure in the report card of 2014 batch of class x, can have multiple answers thereby challenging the validity and reliability of the paper.

 A.9. The whole edifice of the PSA appears to have been designed keeping the students of urban and high profile schools, where students have a wider exposure to interdisciplinary skills. Thus it creates an in built disparity between urban and rural children.

We strongly believe that the PSA cannot be a substitute to FA4, which must be conducted separately in both classes. The PSA exam may be conducted additionally and the score may be recorded in the CCE report card as PSA instead of the current practice of correlating the score with the various subjects.  Students of class x (2014) cannot be given grades in subjects when they haven’t been tested for the same. They cannot be tested for one thing and given grades for something else. They cannot be given grades that are not a reflection of their ability in that subject.The Board should defer continuation of PSA until such time there is clarity, better awareness, appropriate pedagogy in place, teachers/schools are in a position to prepare their students to meet the newer challenges and the needs of the differentially abled have been taken into consideration in the scheme of examinations with regard to PSA.

Given below are some of our observations regarding OTBA

 B. 1. In a similar manner, the CBSE announced, mid-term that students of classes ix and xi will be required to take an Open Text Book Assessment. The examination was to be a case study, which would replace 20 marks of each subject paper. This has subsequently been reduced to 10 marks. Since then the CBSE has  sent out case studies for all four subjects for class ix and for selected         subjects in class xi. Schools have been asked to print and give them to the children both before for study and again during the examination.

 B.2. Please refer to your circular of 31st May 2013 on the OTBA. The circular claims that the OTBA will have questions based on higher order thinking skills, while in actuality it is just another comprehension paper.

B.3. 10 marks of all main subjects have been replaced with the OTBA score.  Students are now required to study the OTBA passages given. No part of the existing syllabus has been reduced to accommodate this extra work.

B.4. Extra time has been given for the OTB so that the duration of the examination now stands at 3.5-4 hours.  Children who are differently abled usually get an hour of extra time. Consequently the time duration of children with special needs to complete a paper will be approximately 5 hours. This as you will agree is not a desirable situation.

C.1. Under the CCE a student is allowed to transfer points that he/she has got to another subject where she/he would like an improvement. The CBSE requirement to transfer points accrued in non-scholastic areas to scholastic areas is a matter of concern. While it is laudable that CBSE would like to give the co-scholastic areas greater importance, the transfer of points accrued under non scholastic to marks in scholastic lacks validity and reliability and has led to lowering of the high standards set by the CBSE.

 I would be grateful sir, if you could address the points raised in a manner so as to bring relief to not just children of this country but also to the confused teaching community.