Higher and Higher #GivingTuesday#India

Higher and Higher #GivingTuesday#India

The class XII results are out and the topper secured a whopping 499/500 in Humanities! That is close to 100%. My congratulations to the young lady and to all those who passed their examinations, even those who did with a low percentile because I know that every child puts her best foot forward and gives it her 100%.

Every child who has passed should be celebrated but that is not how it goes in India.

A very incisive and pertinent article by Avijit Pathak entitled A sick society that manufactures failures, gives a very real and almost uncomfortable image of the state of education in India. He writes: Young minds in India are being destroyed by a faulty pattern of education, parental ambitions, the aggression of hyper-competitiveness and a flawed idea of ‘success’. In such a system that brings about the death of creativity, there is no real winner.

The article is a must read. He talks about our children who are growing up with the euphoria of success and the stigma of failures. That is what it is all about. To reach the dreaded class XII Board exams the child is deprived of breathing space between school, tuitions, coaching centres and anxious parents. Nothing else. No poetry, no music, no creative activities, no games, no fresh air, all these being considered a waste of time. All creativity is sacrificed at the alter of success.

You can never be a winner as there is always someone who has done better, and even if you miss the coveted space by1% you are branded a failure. Things have to change but who will bell the cat.

First and foremost being the product of a school system where individual thinking was lauded I am aghast at a system where you can score 100% in subjects like History, English or for that matter any of the social sciences. The testing method is totally flawed as it cannot assess whether the child has understood what she has written and would be able to debate and defend an opinion and its opposite. This is a game we loved to play when we were young and it really was an excellent proof of whether you had understood what you had studied. Questions in our exams were so framed. I still remember the history  question I had to defend for my Baccalauréat where the curriculum was from WWI to present times (the 60s). The question was: Had the Allies lost the war, what in your opinion would have been the economic status of Germany. There was no right answer. You had to defend your point of view. So any system that does not allow grasping and comprehending the system and does not leave room for improvement is skewed and gives a false sense of success to the child.

The next point is that our present system aims at creating clones and leaves no room for individuality. It gives you one objective only. This too is wrong. Every child cannot be a doctor or engineer. Every child is not happy being a doctor or an engineer. Our system removes joy form learning. A child may want to be a musician or a farmer and find joy in doing so. Let her. Don’t stand in the way. The world needs all kinds of souls, doctors as well as comedians, artists, writers, entrepreneurs. Find what your child wants to do and encourage her or him fully. Let her shine and not fail.

When I told my darling Popples that  he did not have to fulfil my dreams but his own, an artist was born. The world is now opened to him and not strangled by my aspirations for him. And for those of you who may still doubt, this is one of his paintings done in water colours barely a month after he began to paint.

This painting has already earned him kudos and admiration, something his studies did not. The smile on his face says it all.

In today’s world children have to be able to think out of the box if they want to succeed. With fewer ‘jobs’ on offer, they need to create theirs themselves and love what they do. We need to bring up children who are compassionate and grateful and happy in their skin. Society will thank us one day.

 

The heat is on #GivingTuesday#India

The heat is on #GivingTuesday#India

The heat is on. Mercury rising! This summer the weather Gods have also sent violent dust and thunder storms. But nothing deters Project Why children from coming to their respective centres and participating in all activities. It is assessment time and no  one takes it more seriously than the Yamuna Centre kids. And with reason, as they have to make up for lost years.

Our Yamuna Centre is a little over three years old. Before that these children never attended school. They helped their parents in the fields and lived close to nature as free spirits. Even if they had wanted to go to school, there is no school in the vicinity so that was never an option.

When we decided to open our centre it was foregone that we would run it as a full day intervention and give these children a ‘school’ like environment with a healthy midday meal graciously provided by Azure Hospitality. Our objective was to prepare these kids for Board examinations through the Open school.

We would have never imagined that within three short years we would have our first batch ready: the class of 2019. Six bright children will appear for their class X next year.

Come sunshine or rain, these children are always in the mood to study. Last week was assessment time and everyone took this very seriously even if the temperature was soaring at 45 degrees C.

So proud of my kids

 

 

So incredibly proud #GivingTuesday#India

So incredibly proud #GivingTuesday#India

Utpal is at home for his summer break after giving his class X Board Examinations. This young lad is not just watching screens or chilling with pals. He has decided to spend three days a week volunteering at Project Why! One of the group he is ‘teaching’ is the first class X batch of our Yamuna centre. Remember these are the children of agricultural labour whose parents grow vegetables on the banks of the Yamuna and who have never been to school. They are all free spirits who live close to nature and use to help their parents in the fields before we came three years ago and set up our centre. Six of them, are now ready to sit for their class X in 2019. That is how bright these kids are.

Utpal who has just sat for his class X was the ideal person to teach his ‘peers’ and he decided to teach them English. Letter writing, grammar, public speaking: the whole enchilada. And this 16 year old takes his work very seriously and does not miss a class. When I once suggested we do something else he told me very seriously that he had given the students homework and that he had to go to class. I am amazed at how seriously he has taken on this responsibility. But then this child never ceases to amaze me.

When I look at this picture I see one child who 15 years ago was almost given up for dead after suffering third degree burns and then a bunch of children whom everyone had given up on and who would have continued doing what their parents did forever. It is the magic of Project Why that changed everything for them.

In these moments I feel humbled and extremely proud.

God bless them

 

 

The auto rickshaw and the BMW #Giving Tuesday#India

The auto rickshaw and the BMW #Giving Tuesday#India

I have been using an auto rickshaw as my unique mode of transport for almost two decades now. It ferrets me from slums to page 3 happening event. I have travelled in it in the scorching summer heat and the biting winter cold a  wet cloth on my head dealing with one and an extra layer with the other. I have never felt the need of changing mode of transport. My three wheeler is also my reading room and I must have read hundreds of book while zipping across the city. This was the best way of handling road stress! I love my auto.

We have recently shifted into a new colony as our house is being rebuilt. Imagine my surprise when an irate Radhey (my auto driver) came up to tell me that the security guard of the colony had told him not to park his auto in front of the house as some resident had complained to the secretary of the colony. Complained about what! I was not breaking the law  in any way. The auto is normally parked in the assigned parking that comes with the flat we have rented.

I gave the guard my visiting card and asked him to tell whoever had a problem to call me. I would deal with the matter. No call has come as yet.

What I fathom is that the auto sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of SUVs and BMWs and mars the socio economic profile of the colony. I wonder with amusement at whether we have also fallen a few notches in the eyes of the neighbours.

But when you think of it a little deeper you cannot but feel saddened at such an incident. It reflects who we have become as a society where we judge everything by the colour of money. Hence anyone who travels in an auto cannot be my peer! And the auto cannot sit next to my BMW. It is infra dig.

How can India change if we are not ready to accept the other if the other does not look like us.

Think about it.

 

10 to 4 A day’s fast #GivingTuesday#India

10 to 4 A day’s fast #GivingTuesday#India

A leading opposition party observed a ‘day long’ fast for communal harmony; laudable indeed as communal harmony is often threatened. Fasting is also par to the course in a land where the father of the nation adopted this path to secure freedom. But there is a huge difference between version 1940 and 2018.

My maternal grandfather was a nationalist and freedom fighter and as a child I heard many stories at his knee, some about the indefinite fast he participated in when he was in prison and when the protestors had to battle force feeding with every ruse in their books, even that of eating chillies so that their throats would swell and the feeding tube not go through; fasts that laster weeks taking a toll on your health.

Version 2018 is quite different. You can observe a day long – read few hours – fast after making sure you have gorged yourself before. This is sufficient to get the needed headlines, the social media exposure and score some brownie points.

Today, I would like to speak about another kind of fast, longer than the token fast of today’s politicians: it is the one many of the ones we dismiss as ‘poor’ are forced to take everyday. I have seen many women waiting for their men to come back at the end of the day with the day’s wage that would allow them to buy what is needed for the evening meal. And if the man has stopped by the drinking hole, then in all likelihood everyone will sleep on an empty stomach. For many children this is far longer than the ‘token’ fast as their last meal would have been the midday meal given in government schools. These children often have a watery cup of tea and a ‘fen’ (small price of low quality puff pastry) for breakfast. The time between breakfast and the midday meal and the small midday lunch if longer than the one of the token fast.

Before we began the Yamuna Centre, the children would eat one meal in the morning and then toil on the fields with their parents, help sell the vegetables on the roadside and then eat their evening meal consisting of the unsold vegetables and some flat bread. You can work out the length of their ‘fast’!

It is sad that aven after seven decades of Independence 5000 children die everyday of malnutrition related disease. No one ‘fasts’ for them.

 

No more maths- follow your dream #GivingTuesday#India

No more maths- follow your dream #GivingTuesday#India

So it is true: no maths retest for class X which also translate into no maths for all Project Why Kids, Utpal and Babli and of course me! Hallelujah! What a relief! Cause for celebration.

For many maths is a dreaded subject! And yet we as parents and guardians push our kids to study subjects they do not like. The children do their best. For some the best is not good enough.

What we forgot is that each child is born with a talent, a skill, a gift from God and if given a chance s’he can excel. However it is not always what we adults would like it to be.

I was recently introduced by a dear friend to a software ProMyTheus that ferrets out the hidden skill in every child. It may seem puerile and naive but it is not quite so. We tested a few kids both at CSKM and Project Why. The results were unexpected to say the least: a quiet and seemingly withdrawn kid had talent for Performing Arts; a shy girl with sparkling eyes was your bon comedian and a happy go lucky kid was actually a financer/accountant who actually liked to save and not spend!

Utpal was inventor material, the kind that does not need a big degree to invent a a game changer. He also has the skill to make people laugh; the proverbial entertainer. I am glad I came to know of this before I began my pushing saga. I had my dreams for him. They were not his.

Utpal will be taking humanities for his Boards. No science, no commerce! You should have seen the change in his body language and the beaming smile I got. Reminded me of another smile from another child: my own when I agreed to accept her dream of working with special kids. What a relief it was for both of them. What we fail to understand is that children have their own soul plan and they are there to teach us one thing only: unconditional love.

We parents are stuck in a time warp that is now obsolete. We are still want to make our kids doctors, bureaucrats, engineers and so on. By the time they grow up and enter the job market robots will be performing surgeries and 3D printers will be manufacturing things. Adidas is already planning to ‘print’ its shoes by 2020. New times requires new skills and new skills require us to let go of our aspirations for our children.

Let our kids be writers, painters, inventors, comedians. They have to compete with robots or rather do what robots cannot. It was a delight to find out that Utpal is a born artist with a propensity to make/create!

Education as we know it is passé. Sadly it will take a log time to reform it and make it relevant. Our role as parents becomes crucial if we want our children to succeed and above all  happy.

So listen to your child, even if what s/he wants to do the exact opposite of what you dream for her. Follow her dreams, not yours for her!

 

They are not aliens from another world

They are not aliens from another world

In the wake of the horrific rape, brutalisation and murder of two children, one still unidentified, India is outraged and many want action NOW! How do we keep our girls safe TODAY is the question being asked. Alas the answer is not simple.

On the one hand the clamour to HANG THE RAPISTS is growing by the minute but that is easier said than done as the wheels of justice are painfully slow. The killers of the brutal Nirbhaya rape in 2012 are still of death row. Moreover to hang the rapists, the victim has to come forward and be subjected to unimaginable and debasing interrogation and cross examination which makes many victims desist from coming forward. Even filing a simple FIR is accepting to be raped over and over again. What were you wearing? Where did he touch you? What di de do? Then of course the family honour and code of silence comes into the way of any justice as perps are often known persons.

I have first hand experience of this as I have seen how the ‘family’ gathers to protect the perpetrator and malign the victim, even if she is a mere child. She is isolated while everyone gangs up on anyone who dares take her side. That is the sad reality.

At best we can get justice for all the reported cases but how do we stop the pernicious, surreptitious ones, the ones committed everyday endlessly.

How does one stop this hydra headed rape culture where rapes happen every 15 minutes?

What is needed is to try and understand, if understand one can, why men rape!

Madhumita Pandey decided to do just that post the Nirbhaya case. She interviewed 100 rapists for her doctoral thesis and what she found out was that they were ordinary men. She writes: “When I went to research, I was convinced these men are monsters. But when you talk to them, you realize these are not extraordinary men, they are really ordinary. What they’ve done is because of upbringing and thought process.”

Now this is both disturbing and somewhat reassuring, disturbing as we would like them to be monsters; reassuring because upbringing and thought process can be worked on. The young researcher was keen to get to the bottom of the question and find out WHAT prompted men to behave in such barbaric ways.

The search for answers led her to look at the homes and how men and women exist within the home. Whatever your social profile the first thing that surprises you is that the woman rarely calls her husband by his name setting the stage for an unequal relationship. This is where it begins. Rapists are not aliens, they stem from the very society we live in. I do not mean to say that every one is a rapists or a abuser but that the possibility exists because of the submissive nature of the woman and the misplaced power of men.

Add to that the so called value system that makes sex taboo. Parents never ‘educate’ their children about sex, let alone answer any question about body changes. The child has to grow up alone, finding his own answers. The advent of the Internet has created more confusion in the minds of young people dealing with raging hormones. No one talks about bodies let alone vaginas and penises. You bathe with your underwear! This was quite a revelation for me. And masturbation is a no no as it weakens your body.

Sex education is left out of the school curriculum as legislators feel such topics could “corrupt” youth and offend traditional values. What they do not understand is that age appropriate sex education is a win-win situation: it helps the potential perpetrator understand his body and take control and the potential victim protect herself and learn to say NO!

Few rapists are repentant. Most try and find excuses or simply blame the victim. That has to stop too. Blaming the victim is an inherent part of the patriarchal society we live in. It is always the woman’s fault. Even if she is a child! That has to stop and every law enforcing officer has to be taught to treat victims with sensitivity and respect. This is again not as simple as it sounds as where does the officer come from but the same kind of home as the perpetrator.

Then there is consent. Few if no Indian men understands what consent means and that is why marital rape will not easily be accepted as a crime.

Pandey says: “Everyone’s out to make it look like there’s something inherently wrong with [rapists]. But they are a part of our own society. They are not aliens who’ve been brought in from another world.”

She is so right. This is something we tend to forget. Some rapes do have political and religious undertones, but the majority happen within the four walls of a place where the victim should be safe: home!

It is from there that the battle has to be launched.

All the Gods failed her

All the Gods failed her

She was eight.

On a cold winter morning she went to graze her ponies, just as she did every day. One of the ponies strayed and she went looking for it when a man offered help. Innocently she followed him unsuspecting, trusting like any 8 year old. He was part of a sinister plan that had already been hatched. When she realised that she was in danger, she tried to run but was forcibly held and drugged. Then the rapes began. She was taken to a temple where the Gods were not hers. She was raped again and again for days and nights, her cries unheard, raped in a a temple where Goddesses are worshipped by men who worship little girls like her. She was not worshipped but abused and tortured by old and young. It was party time! You too come and join in the rape! An endless nightmare. When lust was satisfied, or maybe when she became an impediment the ‘men’ decided to kill her but not before raping her one last time.She was then strangulated and as if that was not enough, her head was smashed with stones, her brutalised body cast away in a forest.

This is little Asifa’s story.

Law took its course but for a short time, as it was soon realised that the perpetrators belonged to the majority community and she to an inconsequent minority. Tables had to be turned. The perps had to be protected and the big guns cames out. After the Gods it was society that failed tiny Afisa.

The news took months to percolate down but it did, it has! The ball has landed in our court. You cannot escape. Now what! Do we sit in silence and wait for the next child to be raped. It will happen more than once in the time taken to read this post. Do we hear the deafening cries of this child, cries no one heard then but cries we can hear now as you read her story. This is not just an abhorring crime against a child committed by a sick mind, this is a well planned machination aimed at scaring nomadic families like hers, families belonging to a minority religion. Making sure that they do not settle in your backyard. It is a sordid game of vote banks and political agendas. It is a sick cover up game by politicians and law officers who are standing in the way of the law of the land, the law that is meant to protect all Indians.

Asifa was an Indian citizen too! So who gave anyone the permission to usurp her rights.

Today as her picture is flashed on screens, can we look into her eyes and promise her justice. Can we accept her as ours or does such brutalisation only affect us if the victim fits a certain mould, one that makes us uncomfortable, one that is too close to us. A poor child belonging to a nomadic tribe is almost alien to us. Yes we will march, we will light candles, we will rant and rave on social media, we will express our horror in conversations wit our peers. Then we will move on till another child is raped.

Social outrage is short lived.

An article came my way this morning and sums it all. It is entitled: How India reacts to the Kathua perversion will determine if the nation’s moral slide can be arrested.

This is the first time  perpetrators have received official and public backing because they belong to a particular religion. This is a dangerous precedent and we must ensure that it does not succeed. The perpetrators whatever their religion or caste or political affiliation are perpetrators first. Little Asiya had no religion. She was every God’s child and yet they failed her. Close your eyes and listen to her cries in that temple hall. Let them sear your soul and conscience. This is the time to make Asiya ours. She was eight. That alone should wipe out all else. No eight year old should be treated this way. If as a nation we do not understand that, then there is no hope left.

Feel the weight of Asiya’s tiny coffin. Hear her cries. The only thing you can do for her now is get her justice.

A space to study #GivingTuesday#India

When class ends at 4pm, Neam and Tejender’s day does not. They take over the vegetable road ‘stall’ their parents run and run it till lights permit. But that is not all. They carefully carry their books and copybooks to finish their homework. The patch of road becomes shop and classroom at the same time. It is their space to study.

Both brothers are students of our Yamuna centre, and this centre is the only ‘school’ they know. They instinctively understand that this is also their road to a better future. They take their studies very seriously. They know that once back ‘home’, in their tiny thatched shanty they will not be able to study. The space is overcrowded, smoky and poorly lit. So they have created their own space on the road.

This picture not only speak volumes but is very moving. At a time where there is a furore about leaked exam papers, cancelled exams and a new exam looming large, the issue of adults letting down children is in everyone’s mind. For once the subject of debate has broken all social barriers. A strange way to unite India.

I ask you to spare a thought for the millions of children lie Naem and Tejender who too have been let down by everyone. They simply fall of the net. Before we came, none of these children, whose parents are agricultural labour, went to school. Even if they would have wanted to, there is no government school at walking distance. Their life consisted and helping their parents on the fields and waiting to grow up till they would tend to the fields, marry and have children whose plight would be the same as theirs.

I do not know how far will we be able to go, but it is a matter of pride to know that 4 of our students are preparing to sit for their class X Boards through the Open school. We will continue to soldier on as long as we can. We know the precarious nature of their parent’s livelihood on the flood plain of the Yamuna. But as long as we are there we will ensure that as many children as possible learn as much as possible. The benefits of literacy are not contained to examinations and professional courses and jobs. Literacy helps in learning about schemes and programmes that could be of benefit; of accessing bank loans and thus being free of loan sharks; of reading about better agricultural processes. We also plan to introduce them to computers and the world wide web!

We will not let them down!

Games adults play#GivingTuesday#India

Games adults play#GivingTuesday#India

We all remember the absolute joy and relief we feel at the end of an exam, mors so after the last paper. All the hard work is over and it is time to celebrate. March 28th 2018 was to be such a day for both Popples and I as the last dreaded maths paper was over. It was time to make fun plans. That was not to be. The celebration was rudely interrupted by the news that the maths paper had ‘leaked’ and that the students would have to sit for their maths exam again. Utpal was brave, as he always is. Maam’ji was devastated!

Not just devastated but outraged and sad at the same time.

Once again we adults had let our children down. I do not know whether it was pranksters or a well oiled nexus, but a bunch of adults felt the ‘need’ to play games, games that had the propensity of hurting millions of children by playing with their future.

The TV channels debated the issue furiously. Some felt that the perps were coaching centres and bureaucrat nexus, others thought it was some smart aleck nerds trying to show off. It does not matter. Whichever way, children have yo sit again for a dreaded exams, an exam that for some, like Popples, would have been the LAST MATHS EXAM.

What is sad is that papers are leaked with alacrity and impunity year after year.

A paper leaked a few hours before the exam would have benefitted a few; the rest of the kids wrote their paper with utmost honesty and integrity. Now because of some adults their holidays are spoilt, for some their professional entrance examination preparation is suddenly curtailed. Imagine the anxiety and fear of these innocent victims.

An irate parent asked the spokesperson of the ruling party if she could tell them about the punishment meted to past perpetrators. She had no answer. An angry school principal challenged the validity of a system where a child’s entire future was judged on a three hour paper. I second that. The debate went on and was to my mind a dialogue of the deaf. The spunky lady moderator hit the nail on the head when she reminded the politician that the class XII kids were first time voters in the elections to come.

The Government made the expected empty statements: the law will take its course; the culprits will be punished etc. But these are empty words as we know. And how do such actions make up to the children who are the innocent victims.

Can anyone answer?

 

I want to hold your hand #Giving Tuesday#India

I want to hold your hand #Giving Tuesday#India

How many times have you not reached out to your best friend and asked her to give you a hug? More so when you are feeling low. How many times have you not held the hand of your friend just to show your affection? I have and still do. It is said that hugs are good for you. Scientific studies have stated many benefits of hugs as they release oxytocin which is a feel good hormone. Hugs ‘help’ us feel supported; they lower blood pressure, ease stress and even lower your risk of infection! They are truly a powerful healing option and it is said that we need 8 hugs a day! Holding hands too has its share of benefits.It releases pain and stress, and provides a sense of security. Hugs and holding hands are good for you!

Not quite so in a school in Bengal where 10 young girls were branded ‘lesbians’ because of hugging and hand holding. The poor souls were even made to write that they were lesbians.

“If two persons hold hands, or put an arm on each other shoulders, that does not mean they are lesbians” said angry parents. What utter nonsense was this. To add insult to injury, the headmistress said in her defence: “Today we called the guardians to apprise them of the issue. Our aim was to discuss the matter with them so that we can bring these girls on the right course through efforts both at home and in school,”

And the Minister of Education promptly added that lesbianism was against the ‘ethos’ of the state.

If headmistresses and ministers have such narrow ideas, God help our children!

All you need is love #Giving Tuesday#India

All you need is love #Giving Tuesday#India

All you need is love sang the Beatles!I second that. After a long period of personal blues and professional worries I decided to go and visit all my Boarding school kids last Sunday. Armed with a cake (Meher’s birthday had gone without celebration; a pot of biryani and bottles of junk drinks, I set out to meet my special brood. I was meant to meet the Principal but she got unexpected guests and I found myself with my merry band to celebrate Mehar’s birthday.

We landed in the tiny canteen and sat on the few rickety chairs with the cake on a rickety stool. Kiran took charge and set out to cut the cake. There were no candles to blow but we made up with loud singing. The tiny paper plates used for chocolate cake were used again for the biryani! Who cared. Nothing ever tasted better. It was such joy to be with these kids.

The Boarding school programme is my pet programme even though it has brought me criticism of all sorts ranging from “How expensive!” to “why should slum kids go to upmarket boarding schools”, I have held my own and never regretted it. My formidable 8 are just like any other child born in India! I am so very proud of them.

All you need is love, the love these kids give you unabashedly and taught me the meaning of unconditional love.

God bless them!

(From left to right: Utpal, Kiran, Manisha, Meher, Maam’ji, Babli, Vicky, Yash and Aditya)

 

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’!

 

 

 

 

Complex problem solving #GivingTuesday#India

Complex problem solving #GivingTuesday#India

I have been screaming hoarse for the past 18 years that education needs to be reinvented in India if we aspire to become a leading nation in the future and if we want our youth to find employment. Sadly no political dispensation has made education reforms a part of their manifestos and so our children continue to follow a system where only marks are important and rote learning is the best tool to attain high grades.

Recently I have had many complaints about Utpal from his school. They mainly center upon his lack of seriousness in his studies. At the same time his teachers do not doubt his intelligence and even laud his problem solving and creative abilities. The child is just not interested in rote learning. He would rather be given a challenge to overcome.

This year ACER chose to survey secondary students in rural areas. The results are depressing to say the least. The article makes interesting reading. 50% of students interviewed could not solve a simple math problem. As for their general knowledge let me share the quote of one of the surveyors: “We were shocked when we spoke to some of the children. Asked to name the capital of India, one of them said Pakistan while another mentioned China. These were Class 12 students who could not even mark their states on a map of India,”

So what is this education we are doling out to children year after year and what is it meant to achieve. It is a relic of the education the British had conceived and aimed at making ‘babus’ or low rank officials that would obey and never ask any question. 70 years down the line this does not work!

I stumbled upon an article from the world economic forum entitled What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Sixteen skills have been identifies.

 

 

 

I do not think any of these are desired let alone taught in our system. In 2020 the three most important skills are : complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.

Our education system does not impart any of these. Children are busy learning by rote to regurgitate at the exam to get high marks and then forget. I cannot forget a young girl who has topped her class XII some years back saying proudly on national TV that she has mugged up every book by heart.

Kids like Utpal who love problem solving and are creative will not get high percentiles and yet they are best suited to the new demands of the employment market of tomorrow.

It is time to thrash the education system which is a legacy of colonial times and replace it by a new education policy in line with the future.

Is anyone listening?