Thank You Mr. Minister #GivingTuesday#India

Thank You Mr. Minister #GivingTuesday#India

Last week, in the news bulletin, almost lost in between the reporting on the death of a star and mega bank scam was a news item that has the potential to change India! As I listened to the report my heart started thumping with joy. And if this one reform is undertaken, the face of our country will be transformed in a few years. So no more suspense: the change I am referring to is the reduction of the school syllabus by a whopping 50%!

It is heart warming to see a government looking at education from the point of view of the child!

So what does the Minister propose to change? Well first and foremost he wished to cut the NCERT syllabus by half and hence lighten the burden on the child’s shoulders, so that the child can get time for other activities and reach her full potential. Hurrah! Children need to be given full freedom for the development of their cognitive skills. More time for creative pursuits, for sports, for day dreaming, for playing for being a child.

There are other changes envisaged, but just this one change has the ability to transform the quality of our young. Today children have to learn a syllabus that in the words of the Minister, is that of a BA or B.Com. Much of what is learnt in school is forgotten right after the exam. With the kind of syllabus they have, there is no room for any other kind of learning but rote learning and the obsession with marks is such that children have to sacrifice their childhood to the alter of numbers. Even class I kids go for tuition in India. When does s/he play?

If a child is given the chance to grow to her full potential by learning all the life skills required to succeed, she will be a better person, worker, parent, citizen and so on and this can change the face of India.

The kind of learning that is imparted in schools does not allow a child to blossom. As often said, education as we know it now, was designed to make good subordinates not leaders. And to enable that, it was important to ensure the deadening of all independent thinking.

It is also good to hear that the Minister plans to implement this reform by 2019.

Now Mr Minister can you also change the examination system into one that does not require rote learning but celebrates critical thinking.

Thank You Mr. Minister



With a little help from my friends #GivingTuesday#India

With a little help from my friends #GivingTuesday#India

We all know the wonderful Lennon McCartney song With a Little Help from my Friends. It is a song I have hummed along for over half half a century to lift my blues and get by or simply to feel good. Today as Project Why takes its first steps in the world of corporates and CSR, I am filled with nostalgia for times gone by and with gratitude I cannot find words to express. Yet I will try my best.

Since its inception in 1998 the Trust I created to honour my father and all he taught me, Project Why has thrived simply ‘with a little help from my friends’ or should simply say ‘thanks to the help of my friends”. Though I know that it can only thrive further by expanding and reaching out beyond friends, I feel a tug at my heart and hence this post to revisit years gone by to express my immense gratitude to everyone who has been part of this journey.

It all began with dipping into my inheritance and almost depleting it. Project Why kept on growing organically one ‘why’ after the other, each needing to be addressed and when the pockets were empty and the ‘whys’ still there, it was time to step into the big world. For an only child with a nomadic childhood, the world was rather small and empty. And that is when friends began to appear. I was asked to join a social network RYZE and began making contacts. Then I would send individual emails till another kind soul who introduced me to blogging. It was a quantum leap. The almost 2000 blogs are a witness to that. My deep gratitude to these two saviours.

My French Connection came handy too as very soon a wonderful soul visited us, got touched by what we did and set up an organisation in France to raise funds for us. My deep gratitude to Enfances Indiennes. Another kind soul from Germany believed in us and set up Project Why Deutschland. The network of friends began to grow exponentially.

Our first volunteer would open the gate to a new mine of friends as over the years our hundreds of volunteers from the four corner of the planet would become staunch supporters and friends. Gratitude to each and every volunteer. The Project Why Family was growing by the second.

When someone suggested that I apply for funding to Asha for Education in the US, I sat in front of their long application form and realised that I ticked very few boxes. I filled the form with honesty and simply requested that someone come visit us before rejecting our application. Someone did come and the rest is history.

What touched me the most and is so humbling is that most of the help we have got has been from the heart. From a young girl who organised bake sales, to another who collected her pocket money, to yet another who gave up his birthday gifts, every penny that came to us was priceless and received with gratitude.

It would take a book to truly acknowledge each and every one who has helped Project Why exist and thrive, I felt it necessary today to remember them all and express my deepest and heartfelt gratitude.

I am simply busy being grateful!



We need to find that five year old again #GivingTuesday#India

We need to find that five year old again #GivingTuesday#India

According to a NASA study we are all born geniuses. What dumbs us down is our education. Astonishing is it not? The test devised for NASA engineers prompted the question: where does creativity come from? So it was decided to further the study and take them to school children. In phase 1 1600 children between 4 and 5 were tested and the results were dumbfounding. The test was meant to ‘test’ the ability to come up with new ideas and a whopping 98% fell in the genius category! But what happens as you grow up. So children were tested at age 10 and then 15 and the number of geniuses fell from to 30%  and then a mere 12%. And to prove the theory a group of adults were tested and the result was a mere 2%. Only 2% of adults have the ability to come up with innovative ideas. The test was repeated millions of times; the results remained the same. The take away was that education a.k.a the school system robbed us of our creativity in 10 years.

The reason I believe is that all  education systems have been designed to suit the ruler classes’ hod on the majority. And too many creative persons rock the boat. This is very real in India where a mere 33% is sufficient to pass a school leaving certificate and even a degree. We are all aware that the rebarbative skills that we ‘learn’ in school will be useless with the advent of AI and robotics. The needs of tomorrow are very different to what children are made to cram, and require the very creativity that has been so insidiously thwarted.

Here is an image of what children will need to succeed:

We need to become the five year old we once were. The question is how? The answer is surprising too: dream, day dream, use your imagination, challenge yourself by taking an innocuous object and finding numerous ways to better it using your five year old brain and you will surprise yourself.

One must remember is that is is the fear of being criticised or laughed, of being checked and chided that kills curiosity and imagination.

Watching our poor children and teenagers cram for the impeding exams makes me feel terribly sad as I know that their imagination has been slaughtered at the alter of education.

We need to challenge our belief systems but if we dare too, be ready for many raps on the knuckles!


The needs of tomorrow #GivingTuesday#India

The needs of tomorrow #GivingTuesday#India

The dreaded Boards and final exams are around the corner and everyone is busy studying. It is a race for marks, as marks is what can make you or break you. If you do not perform well on one particular day, your entire life can be changed. It is rather unfair to say the least.

How many of us remember much of what we were made to learn in school? From log tables to multiplication tables, how many hours did we not spend learning them by heart. Today if we need to calculate anything we open our smart phone and go to the required app and voilà you have the result.

In India the race for marks is worse than anywhere else in the world. A different a half a percentile decides whether you will become the doctor you dreamt to be as a little girl or not. Choices are not yours to make but are decided by the marks you get. The grading system is also skewed. To ‘pass’ an exam you need a paltry 33%, to accede to a good college you need 95+!

Kids from poorer homes run the race with many handicaps. Poorly run schools, illiterate parents, economic challenges that make after school tuition a a chimera and tiny overcrowded homes where it is quasi impossible to study. I am in awe of these kids who manage to pass with respectable scores!

The question that begs to be answered is how relevant is this style of education? To be considered a ‘good’ student, you need to spend hours mugging. The child who topped her class XII, and I use the word child for a reason, stated with great pride that she had learnt every page of every school book by heart. My heart went out to her as I asked myself when had she let go of her childhood; had she been out in the park, seen a movie, laughed with her friends. Probably not. Had she had time to ‘learn’ beyond her school books, to read, to meet people, to widen her horizons. Certainly not. She had been too busy mugging every line to get to the coveted position of being a topper.

Do higher marks make you more intelligent? I do not think so. I always go back to Delors’s Four Pillars of Education: Learning to learn, to be, to do and to live with others. In idea we stop at the first one: learning to learn. A child needs to have an all round education and unfortunately in India we have missed the boat completely.

Will any one ever look at education in the light of the needs of tomorrow?

Not for a long time.


I hold every person a traitor #GivingTuesday#India

I hold every person a traitor #GivingTuesday#India

“While millions suffer from hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the slightest attention to them” Swami Vivekananda.

This quote was part of a play that Utpal’s school put up for the Republic Day Celebrations. It reiterated what I have alway held: that each one of us are responsible for the poverty and misery around us.

The same evening I was heading to an eatery when the car stopped at a red light. It was one of the coldest days of the season. A little child in a tattered shirt and shorts, barefoot was weaving in between the cars in the hope that someone would roll down his window and drop a coin in the proffered palm. When the light turned green the child would go and sit on the divider and wait for the light to turn red again

Traitor was the word that came to mind. The traitor of the quote I had heard in the morning. Each one of us that ‘did not pay the slightest attention’ to the child was indeed a traitor.

And the same goes for the collective silence that occurs each time we of someone dying of hunger, a child being raped and so on. We have become inured. Nothing moves us. At best we raise our brows in horror for the time it takes the read the news item. An 8 month baby was raped; will it outrage us as it should

Some of us do react and feel the collective shame. Some of us move out of our comfort zones to do something, brushing aside the many ‘how can you change anything and make a difference!’ I heard that too almost two decades ago when I decided to do something as the plight of the child that knocked at the window of my car actually managed to knock at my heart. Many of you may not know that the first programme of Project Why was to urge people to distribute biscuits and not money each time a child knocked at their car window. Sadly the programme did not take off. I had then believed naively that time was not right and things would change but twenty years down the line the number of children begging seems to have increased.

My promise to myself to one day do something for beggar children could only be redeemed last year when we opened our Kalka Mandir programme. The children in this picture are all ‘beggars’ or children of beggars. They come and study with the same eagerness as our other children and I hope that some of them will continue and maybe break away from the horror of begging. Makes me feel a little less of a ‘traitor’!