NDTV – Is It All About Education?

And …………………. I found the other episode of NDTV – No Kidding in which I was interviewed by Seema Chandra. It was a fun chat about some fairly deep issues about what education should be and the priorities in school;

NDTV – No Kidding – Is It All About Education?

This one was about shifting the focus in schools from cramming and rote learning of ‘stuff’ in favour of learning and learning to learn.

NDTV – No Kidding

Well well, I just found this – didn’t know it was still out there on the internet.

It’s an episode of NDTV’s ‘No Kidding’ hosted by Seema Chandra, called “How to Handle Bullies” in which i was interviewed. Watching it again after 6 years I found myself saddened that in so many ways the same debates are still going on and not too much has really changed.

NDTV – No Kidding – How to Handle Bullies

There’s no question that we still have a very long way to go if we are to make our schools more empathic places where children’s first inclination is to support and back each other up, rather than to attack, undermine and put down.

Open Schooling to Support Elite Sport

A short piece of film from NDTV’s ‘Marks for Sport’ campaign, making the case that students can pursue a sport passionately without neglecting academics, by pursuing the open school approach that enables them to spread out the learning and the examinations. It includes Ambika Pande from our phase III campus who has been showing great promise on the Futures tennis circuit.

NDTV Video

Right to Education Act

First off, here are two articles that begin to search the nuances of this amazing piece of legislation.

Some may have seen that last Sunday I had the good(?) fortune to appear on Barkha Dutt’s “We The People” as part of a group of people quizzing Mr Kapil Sibal about the act.

We The People

To be honest, the programme was pretty frustrating as it only allowed for very superficial discussion of some vitally important issues. But, then I guess that’s TV for you. A few things did become clear. The most worrying for me was the message that seemed to ring out loud and clear that the central government believes it has set out a visionary step forward, but implementation will be the responsibility of the states and schools. So, later it will be those who work in education who will be held to account.

The minister sought to give an impression that this was an Act about broad vision and that the detailed implementation will follow. However, one only needs to read the act to see just how vague it remains around the government sector and yet so specific about the private sector. In the short term we have genuine fears that the Act can and will be used as a weapon with which to beat private schools. It is an open secret that people in high office do ‘request’ seats in top schools and the schools can suffer greatly if they seek to take a moral stand. Now, with immediate effect they have a new weapon to use, even if schools are legitimately working towards compliance.

Here are two articles that highlight some additional issues:

Outlook Article
Mint Article

There’s something seemingly terribly ‘just’ about the 25% quota for a lot of people when they first hear about it. However, when you stop for a second and go a little deeper it’s full of problems:
We estimate that in 2011 this will amount to approximately 20,000 seats in Delhi. Already this year there’s a shortage of nursery seats in Delhi. Tiny tots of Delhi are already commuting daily out to Noida, Faridabad and elsewhere – what a travesty – and next year, it will be worse. Already, there’s a big disparity in the supply and demand of seats in private schools. On the other side the Act will give every aspiring poor parent a belief that their children are now going to get access to this far higher standard of education. However, the vast majority will be faced with enormous disappointment. The most coveted jobs in Delhi will be as drivers for Ministers!!

Another big worry is the denial of all rights for schools to have any kind of interaction with people before granting admission to a child. The Shri Ram School has been recognised as Number 1 day school in the country. An aspiring parent joked in Hindustan Times a couple of months ago it was like the Harvard of the East. This attracts vast numbers who want admission for their children. For many it’s the ideology of the school that appeals as it fits with what they’re looking for. However, for others it’s the name and the kudos that matter. They may really not agree at all with anything about the school’s educational philosophy. However, once they have joined the community they will be able to seek to cajole, pressure, lobby for changes.

The result – a homogenization of education as progressive, innovative schools like ours are pressured to conform to a ‘middle of the road’, more traditional, more backward looking ideology of what education is and how it is best carried out. What a tragedy that would be, especially as it still wouldn’t guarantee any improvement in grassroots education.

The next big worry i have is that this Act will force out of business the thousands of “irregular” private schools set up in small villages, slum areas etc. Their merits were well explained in the research of James Tooley in his book “The Beautiful Tree” – not least the fact that their children achieve better academically than those in neighbouring government schools.

We have seen ourselves, when anyone attempts to bring about change and improvement in the government schools the response is invariably, “Give us the investment, the infrastructure etc, but mind your own business when it comes to the education, teaching methods, absenteeism” and other ills that plague the government schools. Will any of that get changed?

Every child in the country aged 6-14 now has, on paper a constitutional right to go to school. However, only time will tell whether this delivers any meaningful progress in the quality of education in the country, and at what price.

Detective Divij

Divij is in class VI at Senior School, Phase III. This week, he got the chance to appear on Barkha Dutt’s programme, ‘The Buck Stops Here’ in an entertining piece related to some materful deductive reasoning he had applied to figure out what Archie is up to in the Archie’s comic series.

Check it out:


Bullying and Ragging

Last week I got to see the interview I did a few weeks ago with Seema Chandra of NDTV for the ‘No Kidding’ series on NDTV Good Times. By the time i finished watching i felt quite disturbed (and it wasn’t just the realisation that i need to lose some weight and get fit!!). It was not for nothing that NDTV felt the need to preface the programme with a caption stressing that views expressed in the programme were purely those of the participants and not the TV company.

So, what’s got me so troubled? Well, two thirds of the programme consisted of people (including me) talking about prevention of bullying, the unacceptability of ragging, helping victims and improving children’s communication skills so they don’t feel the need to bully.

Then, in the final segment of the programme we got to hear from some children, including a number who attend boarding schools. According to these youngsters;
a) bullying today is not as bad as it used to be (their seniors tell them so)
b) It’s OK as long as nobody gets physically hurt,
c) It’s frequently justified, for example if someone is ‘spoiling the atmosphere’,
d) It’s easy to avoid if you make sure you fit in and ‘play by the rules’,
e) It’s normal for juniors to be made to run errands and other humiliating and belittling stuff, especially if they have put up a weak sports performance for the school,
f) It doesn’t really happen with girls.

Now, do you share my worry and concern? If this group of children were truly representative, then it appears we are bringing up a generation where both the bullies and the bullied have all bought in to the same set of myths – myths based upon survival of the toughest, a cynical belief in a dog-eat-dog world where the winners have the right to win by whatever means, regardless of who gets hurt along the way. Victims should just take it, develop a thick skin so they can take the hurt without it showing (or go out and train themselves up to behave uglier and harsher than the next guy!).

One thing these youngsters need to know – seniors have always told youngsters that “it used to be worse”, “we got it much harder” in order to excuse away their own demeaning, belittling power games. They were doing it when I went to school (and that was a very long time ago!!).

The fact is that bullying and ragging share one basic attribute – it’s about control. In the case of ragging it’s about – “we put up with being controlled, humiliated and subjugated when we were juniors. Now it’s your turn.” Even people in authority will seek to joke away the kinds of initiation rites that new students in colleges are made to go through, all too ready to ‘tut tut’ when the press get hold of pictures or stories and the ugly face of their institutes is revealed for all to see.

In the playground power battle it’s about the ‘in crowd’ making sure that those on the outside know that they are lesser, lower. As for those who want to believe that it doesn’t happen with girls – i say, stop kidding yourselves. Girls may not resort to physical violence so often, but they can have their own ways of controlling, of exerting power that are more subtle and invidious. Name calling, ostracism, passing comments on dress, physique, appearance etc. The reality is girls go for these routes largely because they know that such words can hurt a girl far more than a boy. Many girls take such words to heart and carry them, internalise them and believe them to be the truth about them as a person.

What kind of a world will it be, if every young person grows up believing that their one true measure of success is whether they ‘fit in’, conform to the expected norms set down by the ‘in crowd’, comply and take what comes to them if they step out of line or ‘spoil the atmosphere’ by daring to be different. When geneticists produced Dolly the sheep people worried about biologists and cloning. If our youngsters carry on this way, the biologists won’t have to bother – the young will be turning themselves in to clones willingly.

For those of us who run educational institutes or teach children we have to be concerned when even the victims are justifying away the practices – believing somehow that there is something innately justified in their enforced victimhood.

I believe every student who engages in bullying or who is the victim of bullying becomes in some way stunted in terms of their self worth, their self image. As a result, their ability to fulfill their potential in education, or indeed in life, gets impaired. That can never be a state of affairs that we settle for.

Yes, there are people who live in this world as though it is dog-eat-dog, survival of the strongest. However, such people are usually, in my experience, not the most successful and certainly not the most satisfied with their lives. They practice life from a scarcity mindset, believing that there are finite resources and if they want their desired cut of the cake then they must fight for it, by fair means or foul.

On the other hand there are far more effective role models – people who see life from a mindset that all is plentiful if people share, collaborate, work to their strengths, appreciate the contributions of others, celebrate differentness and find richness in their own lives from being positive towards others.

Am I being too naive and idealistic? Have I missed something, to the extent that the ‘survival of the baddest’ really is the only effective way that our young people will succeed in life?

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