CBSE Recommended Reading List

The CBSE wants children to be motivated and encouraged to read more, so they’ve produced this list:

CBSE Book List

Whilst I don’t intrinsically have anything against any of the books on the list I am surprised at a couple of things. I found myself wondering how much time the makers of the list have spent around children.

For example – Class V and VI children to read Famous Five and Noddy?

Also, there’s very little that’s ‘new’ to balance out the classics, which would probably cause an awful lot of children to get switched off this list. Where is Percy Jackson or the Whimpy Kid?

In my experience, the Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl would need to be moved down by at least one age bracket – maybe two.

Perhaps the panel to choose the next list might have some children on it, avid readers themselves.

Jeff Bezos Commencement Speech – Princeton Class of 2010

My sincere thanks to parent, Neelam Hiranandani for sending this to me:

Editor’s note: These remarks are from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos commencement speech to Princeton’s Class of 2010, delivered on May 30, 2010.

As a kid, I spent my summers with my grandparents on their ranch in Texas. I helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle, and do other chores. We also watched soap operas every afternoon, especially “Days of our Lives.” My grandparents belonged to a Caravan Club, a group of Airstream trailer owners who travel together around the U.S. and Canada. And every few summers, we’d join the caravan. We’d hitch up the Airstream trailer to my grandfather’s car, and off we’d go, in a line with 300 other Airstream adventurers. I loved and worshipped my grandparents and I really looked forward to these trips. On one particular trip, I was about 10 years old. I was rolling around in the big bench seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell.
At that age, I’d take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I’d calculate our gas mileage — figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending. I’d been hearing an ad campaign about smoking. I can’t remember the details, but basically the ad said, every puff of a cigarette takes some number of minutes off of your life: I think it might have been two minutes per puff. At any rate, I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per days, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on. When I was satisfied that I’d come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed, “At two minutes per puff, you’ve taken nine years off your life!”
I have a vivid memory of what happened, and it was not what I expected. I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and arithmetic skills. “Jeff, you’re so smart. You had to have made some tricky estimates, figure out the number of minutes in a year and do some division.” That’s not what happened. Instead, my grandmother burst into tears. I sat in the backseat and did not know what to do. While my grandmother sat crying, my grandfather, who had been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow. Was I in trouble? My grandfather was a highly intelligent, quiet man. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time? Or maybe he would ask that I get back in the car and apologize to my grandmother. I had no experience in this realm with my grandparents and no way to gauge what the consequences might be. We stopped beside the trailer.

My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

This is a group with many gifts. I’m sure one of your gifts is the gift of a smart and capable brain. I’m confident that’s the case because admission is competitive and if there weren’t some signs that you’re clever, the dean of admission wouldn’t have let you in.
Your smarts will come in handy because you will travel in a land of marvels. We humans — plodding as we are — will astonish ourselves. We’ll invent ways to generate clean energy and a lot of it. Atom by atom, we’ll assemble tiny machines that will enter cell walls and make repairs. This month comes the extraordinary but also inevitable news that we’ve synthesized life. In the coming years, we’ll not only synthesize it, but we’ll engineer it to specifications. I believe you’ll even see us understand the human brain. Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Galileo, Newton — all the curious from the ages would have wanted to be alive most of all right now. As a civilization, we will have so many gifts, just as you as individuals have so many individual gifts as you sit before me.
How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?
I got the idea to start Amazon 16 years ago. I came across the fact that Web usage was growing at 2,300 percent per year. I’d never seen or heard of anything that grew that fast, and the idea of building an online bookstore with millions of titles — something that simply couldn’t exist in the physical world — was very exciting to me. I had just turned 30 years old, and I’d been married for a year. I told my wife MacKenzie that I wanted to quit my job and go do this crazy thing that probably wouldn’t work since most startups don’t, and I wasn’t sure what would happen after that. MacKenzie (also a Princeton grad and sitting here in the second row) told me I should go for it. As a young boy, I’d been a garage inventor. I’d invented an automatic gate closer out of cement-filled tires, a solar cooker that didn’t work very well out of an umbrella and tinfoil, baking-pan alarms to entrap my siblings. I’d always wanted to be an inventor, and she wanted me to follow my passion.
I was working at a financial firm in New York City with a bunch of very smart people, and I had a brilliant boss that I much admired. I went to my boss and told him I wanted to start a company selling books on the Internet. He took me on a long walk in Central Park, listened carefully to me, and finally said, “That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.” That logic made some sense to me, and he convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision. Seen in that light, it really was a difficult choice, but ultimately, I decided I had to give it a shot. I didn’t think I’d regret trying and failing. And I suspected I would always be haunted by a decision to not try at all. After much consideration, I took the less safe path to follow my passion, and I’m proud of that choice.
Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story. Thank you and good luck!

Seth Godin – What School’s Should Teach

Seth Godin’s new book – Linchpin, includes this great page


A simple, but pretty profound approach to what education should be.

School Field Trips

Here’s an interesting little piece from Mumbai newspaper, DNA looking at ‘new age school trips’.

DNA Article

There are a couple of aspects that rather saddened me. Firstly, where did ‘History’ and the past suddenly become something so unimportant that we can discard it all in the pursuit of ‘relevance’. Unfortunately, I feel the issue is not that children no longer need or want to know about the past, but two things are required for visits to zoos and museums to work;

a) Teachers need to prepare the ground with students in the classroom, sometimes over a few weeks, building an anticipation/ expectation for what they’re going to see and do. Then, when the children travel there need to be well thought out activities to do at that place. Then, there need to be meaningful, stimulating activities to follow the visit. It’s no good just piling a load of children in a bus, taking them somewhere and then expecting something exciting to come out of it.
b) Museums and zoos need to put in the efforts that actually suggest that they genuinely want to offer a high quality service. Through my years in India I have really been saddened to see the quality and standard of museums and places of historic interest. I don’t want an ‘entertainment’ sound and light show. However, what i do want is to learn of the history, the people, the experiences. In late 2008 I visited Kunming, China. There I got to see what can really be done with a modern museum – it was comfortable, spacious, all exhibits were preserved and laid out very carefully. I was visiting on a mid-week afternoon and there was hardly anyone else around. The place had lots of eco-friendly features like movement sensors, so lighting was on only in those areas where anyone was visiting. There was lots of information available, so i knew what i was looking at and its significance, available in a variety of languages. Sad to say, i don’t believe I’ve seen anything as good or as effective here in India. It’s all achievable and i believe if the commitment was there to create world class museums children, schools and families would be fascinated to visit.

What’s that one about people who forget the mistakes of the past being destined to repeat them? For this and many other reasons we must not write off the past as though it’s somehow irrelevant because we’re marching in to a bold new future. We just need to work a bit harder at how we introduce the past to children.

School Leadership Influence on Pupil Performance

I’ve seen reports in the past that suggested that the influence of quality of leadership in schools was more important (i.e. greater impact) than in business and commercial areas . However, it was many years since I saw anything that attempted to quantify the scale of that impact. So, I was particularly happy to find this report with a link to download a University of Minnesota report on a 6-year study looking in to this very issue. Whilst it’s written in an American context, I believe it still offers useful learning and insight for those of us in Indian education.

Minnesota Article with Report downloadable

The message ringing through loud and clear is that we would be most foolish to underestimate the critical importance of educational leadership. The report clearly suggests that it’s second only to the quality of classroom instruction in determining pupil performance. This being the case it links to one of my biggest concerns over the last few years – where are the Institutes or mechanisms in India on sufficient scale to develop educators to be ready to take up leadership roles and to do so effectively? Without such Institutes or mechanisms on sufficient scale there must always be a question over the extent to which teachers can be blamed for the lack of quality education when their leaders lack professional development.

There should be everything from informal development opportunities, to more structured diplomas and even MBA courses in Academic Administration available from top management institutes. I want to see a scenario where there are thousands of trained, professional education leaders to fill the roles of Principals and Vice Principals bringing about a revolution in the quality of schools, the leadership that teachers receive and ultimately the educational experience for lakhs of children.

There certainly are, already, outstanding education leaders around (TSRS is fortunate to have some of the very best), but they are way too few. I fear that all the time this situation persists initiatives and efforts to bring about systemic improvement in Indian school education will be destined for limited or anemic success at best. It’s time to find, attract, train and develop the best of leaders and managers to lead the vanguard in an education revolution.

What’s Wrong With ‘The Simpsons’

My mother and Step-father live on the edge of a sleepy little village in Somerset, England. That village was propelled in to world news this week by an education controversy. A parent got a bee in his bonnet about the school using such contemporary material as ‘The Simpsons’ cartoons for teaching.

BBC Article on lessons in The Simpsons

I have to say that being a long time fan of The Simpsons , I think he’s lost the plot. I understand the way he gathered his petition signatures was to set up a table outside the village supermarket. I’m sure he’ll have found plenty of retired ‘gentlemen’ of the “A good dose of Chaucer and 6 of the best never did me any harm” variety.

I’m really interested to know what experimentation otrher teachers have done with contemporary materials, what worked, what didn’t and the different reactions of students and parents.

The $35 Computer

There was much excitement and conjecture this week and no shortage of hyperbole as Kapil Sibal unveiled the new device jointly designed by students of various top engineering institutes of the country. There was even talk of pushing on further to a $10 device that would revolutionise education.

BBC News Story on Launch
The Hindu – Article

There are many schools in the country that already take advantage of the use of IT, who will be only too glad to see hardware costs coming down. However, these still represent a tiny minority and there are many reasons for caution,

The BBC article above mentions the MIT, Nicholas Negreponte ‘One Laptop per Child’ Scheme. When first launched that scheme was met with massive excitement, but it really not lived up to the expectations.

The following article from Live Mint highlights some of the very legitimate reasons why caution is needed and some of the lessons that will have to be learned from the MIT project.

Live Mint Article

A few of my own observations;

a) Are all the people who work in Om Books, Landmark or Crosswords walking geniuses? They spend their every working hour surrounded by the collective knowledge and wisdom of many of the greatest minds that have ever lived (plus, of course some Mills & Boon, Chetan Bhagat etc.!) – it’s all there and they can just help themselves. Of course, that’s not how it is – and letting children loose on the vast sea of knowledge on the internet (where the volume of dross far exceeds the worthwhile material) is even less likely to have positive effects on learning without very well designed strategies and a great deal of teacher training. In the worst case scenario, learning could actually be negatively impacted.
b) Bringing ICT in to the learning domain is not inherently about hardware or software. It’s actually about hearts and minds and fundamental aspects like the belief of teachers about ‘What is teaching?’ A paradigm of teacher as deliverer of knowledge, to then be drilled repetitively until it sticks long enough to pass an exam does not need or require any computer hardware or software – the teacher is already the hardware and her voice and lecturing is the software.
ICT only really becomes useful where a teacher wants to adopt the role of facilitator and guide to the curious to ‘discover’ knowledge. Worse, the technology can become an excuse for traditional teachers not to change.
c) The Live Mint article raises the issue of how many schools currently have internet connectivity/ wireless facility. However, even where schools get equipped with wireless hubs etc., how much bandwidth would be required for a school with 1-2,000 such devices in use, and what would be the ongoing costs for that bandwidth? I fear that these costs would render the basic hardware cost almost meaningless.

Ultimately, the biggest issue will come down to teachers. I fear a scenario where, in hundreds of thousands of classrooms in the country classes would continue to be rote based and indistinguishable from what went on 100 years ago, except, 2-3 times a day, the children will be allowed some time to ‘play’ with their computing devices. The teachers could then argue that the children have no reason to ‘ get bored’, to lose their concentration or willingness to be drilled under the old teaching methodologies. Inadvertently and ironically, the modern technology could become a significant blockage to progress.

Used well, ICT can fundamentally change our classrooms and has an enormous array of uses and benefits. Just by way of a single example, ability of children with special needs to record (video or audio) lessons and watch/ listen again later can be very powerful.

I would love to be proved wrong in my caution and will follow developments with interest. However, for now I’m on the side of the skeptics.

Parental Involvement – Impact on Pupil Achievement & Adjustment

Here’s a really interesting report based on 2003 research in the UK, prepared for the British government, looking at the linkages between parental involvement and children’s adjustment and achievement at school.

An interesting read:

(click on the link above to download)

Measuring the Quality of a Life

Once in a while you come across an article that leaves you saying, “I wish I’d written that”. Clayton Christensen is a Harvard professor whose books I have enjoyed and particularly I believe, “Disrupting Class” provides great insights in to where our thinking needs to be in the next q10 years for schools and education – especially secondary education.

So, when I came across this link to an article that Christensen wrote for the Harvard Business Review I was intrigued. However, the article was far more profound than I had expected. It outlines work he did with his students at Harvard where he shared his economic theories as applied to the living of one’s personal life.

Clearly, some of Christensen’s thinking has its origins in his strong Christian background. However, the lessons he brings out are profound and the examples very thought-provoking – for example, that Jeff Skilling was a ‘good guy’ at college!

I did find myself making strong comparisons with Steven Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective People (Habit 1 – Be Proactive, Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind, Habit 3 – Put First Things First and Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw).

Harvard Business Review – Clayton Christensen
(click on the link to read)

Educators and Social Proof

I recently came across some ideas that were not only interesting, but I felt have enormous impact th
at educators should be aware of. These ideas come from the world of marketing and are from the renowned book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini.

In it, Cialdini explains Social Proof as follows;

“The principle of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer.”

Cialdini cites a psychological study in which children with an extreme fear of dogs were cured of their phobia by watching a video of other children playing happily with dogs. After watching the video for just four days, for just 20 minutes each day, 67 percent of the children were able to interact comfortably with dogs. And the results didn’t dissipate over time. As examples of social proof in action, Cialdini also mentions canned laughter on TV sitcoms and the incessant naming of donors during public radio pledge drives.

The most obvious relevance for schools and educators is in relation to admissions and demand for seats – the most popular schools attract bigger and bigger demands for seats. Of course, when you have fixed and finite supply (at least in the short to medium term, until you build new infrastructure and recruit new teachers of equivalent standard to the ones you already have) this inevitably leads to frustration. In a natural economic market, this matter would lead to rise in cost/ price – but education is far from a natural market. (I wish some ‘powerful people’ were aware of this when they decide it’s time to pressure us over seat issues!!!)

The other, more interesting, perspective that went through my mind was the insights that ‘Social Proof’ can offer us about our students and how to influence them most effectively. For one thing, it explains how very powerfully the actions, views, tastes and interests of older students shape those of the younger children. Thus, negative trends, for example towards effort in school, cannot be allowed to run out of control otherwise they will become universal throughout the school with extreme measures required to reverse such trends. Instead, educators can look to inculcate and then ‘showcase’ positive and healthy behaviours so as to create and encourage good social proof.

The worrying news from this is that we probably can’t expect too much quick change in the society when it comes to societal ills. Whether it’s bad driving, spitting in the street or any other such things, all the time people have social proof (they see others doing it) they are very unlikely to change their behaviour. There would probably have to be a much greater sense of ‘pain’ perception, before people become willing to change the choices they’re making. The ray of hope – if we can find ways to highlight and make more visible those who do right, maybe there’s hope.

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