Wednesday, 23 December 2015

I sense a disturbance in the Force! #AwakenYourForce

In a Galaxy, far far away......

I have been a Star Wars fan for almost a decade now. I have also been using a laptop for over a decade. Laptop, like various other electronic machines, gave me a sense of power like no other. It meant I had the freedom to move around and work from anywhere. It doesn't seem like much now but at the beginning, it was almost magical.

Now that I think about it, I think laptop to me was what 'The Force' was for the Jedis. I got it before a lot of my friends did and that gave me, apart from bragging rights, a sense of power like no other. I could do things that they could not with their desktops. 

I recently saw the HP Star Wars Special Edition notebook. It looks great and is immensely powerful. It is the Han Solo of laptops. 

The backlighting keyboard ensures that you can use it at anytime and there will always be 'light' to ensure that the 'dark' side is never be able to stop you from using the keyboard. :P 

After using the HP Star Wars Special Edition notebook, I found out that its faster than the Millennium Falcon! Fully armed and operational, there's no other notebook like it in the galaxy. With a Galactic Empire-inspired design, commanding 6th generation Intel® Core™ i5 processor,1 and extensive collection of rare Star Wars™ content, it is irresistible. 

I think if I had the privilege of owing a HP Star Wars Special Edition notebook, I would take it with me all the time. I would show (off) everyone the amazing pre loaded videos. I would definitely take it to Comic Cons or other such events and use it as a conversation starter. :D 

I think most importantly, it would serve as a constant reminder of my love for Star Wars. 

Just like Star Wars is not 'just another movie francise', the HP Star Wars Special Edition notebook is not 'just another notebook'. 

I really wish I had one. *puppy dog face*

If you are not sure what is a HP Star Wars Special Edition notebook, check out this page

May the force be you! 



Saturday, 10 October 2015

Rules for Garba!

It's almost that time of the year again. The time Gujarat, among other places, gears up the longest dance festival in the world. No prizes for guessing, I am talking about Navratri.

I shall now attempt to tell you some 'rules' that you should know before you go round and round to dhinkchak music or on the other hand, curse the blaring sound from the nearby party plot however you wish to deal with the situation.

Anyways, here are the 'rules':

Rule 1: Garba is not just a gujarati thing. It's just another dance form. Anyone can learn it. It is not surprising to see a lot of non-gujaratis dance better than gujaratis. Being gujarati does not mean you are good at garba and being good at garba does not mean that you are a gujarati.

Rule 2: The thing they give after the pooja/aarti is called prashad. Take it that way. Don't skip dinner and then later on hog on prashad.

Rule 3: Dandiya is a prop. It's not a sword. Stop acting like Tipu Sultan. Be graceful. You just have to dance with it and not attack with it.

Rule 4: Sheri garba or garba's organised by small societies are always better than large grounds with insane crowds.

Rule 5: I agree that most girls look beautiful during Navratri. If you are a guy, don't be a creep and stare. If you are a girl, don't get jealous, you look just as good.

Rule 6: If you don't know how to dance, be discrete. Don't just jump around and show your stupidity. I know they say that you should dance like no one's watching but guess what, everyone's watching!

Rule 7: If you clap like a maniac and pelvic thrust your way around the ground then it will not be counted as dance. Garba grounds are not a place to 'Kill a mosquito and move inappropriately'.

Rule 8: If you don't have a large group to dance with, feel free to join other groups. No one will mind, or rather they would welcome you, as long as you just dance and remain civil. :)

Rule 9: If you stay in Gujarat, learn Garba. It will help you not just during Navratri but even when you are at a wedding or a disc. It will increase your social acceptability.

Rule 10:  Sanedo is awesome! Never challenge that fact or even hint at it being 'okay'.

Rule 11: If you are dancing on a ground and the music suddenly changes from 'Tara Vina Shyam' to 'Don't you worry child' then don't stop dancing and look surprised. Just go with it.

Rule 12: Going to eat out after garba is a tradition. Follow it religiously.

Rule 13: This is the only time when guys are allowed to take as much time to get ready as girls.

Rule 14: Even the silliest of steps will become a rage if you can convince a large group to do it. Don't be shy to innovate but keep Rule 6 in mind.

Rule 15: What happens during Navratri, stays on the Garba grounds.

For a glimpse on how people dance during Navratri, check out this video: click here

Get your dance mode on.

See you on the ground!

[Re-posted with slight modifications. Original can be found here.]

Friday, 4 September 2015

Dear Teachers, Thank you!

Dear Teachers,

Thank you for making me who I am today.

Thank you for being there when I could not make sense of things. Thank you for giving me knowledge and teaching me values. Thank you for teaching me how to survive and thrive in this world.

Thank you for making fascinating me in class day after day. Thank you for making me curious enough to learn things on my own. Thank you for teaching me that teaching people things is as important as learning.

Thank you for making the classroom feel like home. Thank you for bringing joy in the class and for making it a fun place. Thank you for teaching me compassion and love.

Thank you for teaching me life lessons along with studies in the simplest way possible. Thank you walking the thin line of stopping me from making mistakes and letting me learn from my mistakes after I had made them.

Thank you for showing me how a great teacher inspires and leads. Thank you for doing a phenomenal job day in and day out without letting up.

Thank you for guiding students to becoming better human being.

Thank you for making me a better human being.

Thank you!

[Please share this or any other message with a teacher who has impacted your life. They will love it.]

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

India's Educated Unemployment: Aspiration v Capability

India will become the youngest country in the world by 2020 and will have 64% of its population in the working age group. It is a demographic advantage which a lot of countries would love. It only remains an advantage if that part of the demographic is employable.

It is a very big challenge for a country to make its population employable. It is different from the population just being educated. It means there has to be a co-relation between skills/knowledge taught in schools/colleges and skills/knowledge required by the market. 

The trend that is emerging in India is that a lot of our youth is educated and has a degree but is not ready to join work without being given extensive training. A lot of companies have publicly stated that the quality of graduates that our colleges are producing are not market ready and need to be re taught most of the things so as to make them employable. 

So basically, when our graduates enter the market and try to do work, they seem a little like this:

Now this is a problem but it can be solved by training the candidate properly after he/she graduates. It is not the best way but it is still a solution. 

The bigger problem arises when candidates don't realise that their skills/knowledge are not up to the mark to do the things market demands of them and hence their expectations from the market will also remain unfulfilled. 

To understand this better, lets look at the graph below. Ideally, you would want our citizens to be at 'High capability and High Ambition' because its the best place to be at for anyone. Unfortunately, because of a lot of reasons, a lot of our citizens are at 'Low Capability, High Ambition'. It leads to a lot of problems for the candidates. It will result in job satisfaction dropping dramatically. If job satisfaction drops, so will job productivity and that's not good for anyone. 

Why is this happening?

There are various reasons for it. Candidates nowadays have a very high sense of entitlement. They believe that they deserve a lot right from the start and if they don't get it, I am being undervalued or under appreciated. A sense of entitlement is wrong on its own but for candidates who are barely employable, it is dangerous. 

Another reason could be the declining importance given to hard work when talking about successful people. Role models set the tone for the work culture of individuals. If they see that their role models got rich instantly and don't see the hard work they put in to achieve that success then they will not understand the importance of hard work. 

No one wants to talk about hard work because hard work is not sexy. It has stopped inspiring people because it involves a lot of effort. The result is 'fly by the night' role models keep cropping up. People end up disliking jobs which require hard work and go for things which they feel will give them instant success. The result is that a lot of people leave their jobs because of dissatisfaction and the market doesn't have enough employable pool to choose from to achieve their best results. It is a massive loss of efficiency all around. 

India's citizens will do well to find a match between their capability and their aspirations. Capability without aspirations is not good but aspirations without capability is disastrous. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A solution to U-turns by political parties

Elizabeth Swann: Whose side is Jack on?
Will Turner: At the moment? 

Just like Elizabeth and Will from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, are not aware of Jack's allegiance, citizens of India are also not sure of their candidates's allegiance when it comes to taking a side on an issue. 

News channels have named these political turnarounds "U Turns". Although they should ideally be called 'Breaching the trust of the people who voted for them' but U turns are better for the headlines.

In the recent past we have seen so many political parties completely change their stance on issues before and after elections. Some of these issues are: Land Acquisition by the government,  One Rank One Pension (OROP), Goods and Servies Tax (GST), Direct Cash Transfers, political toughness against Pakistan's incessant ceasefire violations, Jan Lok Pal Bill, FDI in retail etc. 

This is not limited to a particular political party and neither is it a recent phenomenon. Political parties take different stands on issues depending on whether they are in power or in the opposition. It is made possible because in India, even though we vote for individual during elections, their decisions are taken by the party as a whole and not individually. 

It means that if I am a MLA who got elected by being a member of Party ABC, my vote in the parliament on all issues will be what the party decides and not what I personally believe. Hence, sometimes I will vote against something even when I am actually not against it. 

What happens if a MLA votes against his party? He is disqualified under the Anti Defection Law. The law clearly states that if a member of parliament decides to give up his/her membership or votes against or abstains from voting against the directions given by his/her political party then he/she will be disqualified. 

This means that sometimes some politicians might be forced to take a U-turn just because their political party asks them to do so unless they want to get disqualified. This law was brought in to ensure political stability and because it was believed that citizens vote for the party and the candidate is just a representative. 

Political parties in India don't follow any particular ideology like the ones in the USA (Democrats and Republicans) and neither have they stuck to their pre-elections stands on issues. So there is almost no way to determine the stand of different political parties on issues which might arise in the future. 

The solution is to modify the anti defection law. It would ensure every individual MLA would be free to vote as he/she may choose to on all issues. This would increase the accountability of the MLA to his/her constituents and also give him/her a chance to actively participate in the parliament based on his/her beliefs. 

Would this affect the political stability of the parliament? It won't if we restrict the anti defection law only to confidence motions in the parliament. 

Would this give MLA a chance to take bribes for their votes? Maybe. If you can't trust a person to remain honest then why vote for that person in the first place? If they still flip flop on issues, citizens have the opportunity of not voting for that person during the next election.

Modifying the anti defection law will make sure that debates on all new bills will be centered around the merits of the proposed bill and not be decided based on which political party has put it forward. It will ensure that opposition parties don't just blindly oppose everything the government proposes. It will ensure that politicians actually get to express their opinions on different issues in the parliament. 

"Parliament can be effective only if individual MPs have a significant role as law makers, and if they can be held accountable for their actions by their electorate." - M R Madhavan, Co-founder of PRS Legislative Research in the article 'The Anti-Defection Law needs a relook'

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

An open letter to Mr Hardik Patel

Respected Mr Hardik Patel,

I am a common citizen of Gujarat. I would like to make it clear right at the beginning that reservations are something I don't support. I think that caste based reservation increase caste difference rather than remove them as was the original intention. 

I did not know who you were until a few days ago. I have a feeling I will be seeing a lot more of you now. I have read that your organisation, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), came into existence less than a month ago. I have been told that you believe that the Patidar community is losing out in the development race because of reservation quota. 

I completely agree with you. Reservations are the problem. One thing I don't understand is, if you think reservations are a problem, why are you asking for it? In a television interview you said that the government should either give reservation to the patidars or remove reservation all together. This is like saying "Give me a piece of the cake or throw the entire cake away." On one hand you are saying that reservation causes problems and on the other hand you are demanding it too. If the Patidar community gets reservations, it will still be a problem for the rest of the citizens and the Patidar community will go from being against the problem to being a part of it. As someone who is a strong supporter of the Patidar community, why are you letting this happen to the reputation of the community? 

I was also curious about a few thing that I saw during your rally. In a state where majority of your audience speaks in Gujarati, your speech was completely in Hindi. Who was your real audience? You have photos with political leaders from BJP, Congress and AAP. Have you decided which party you are supporting? Your past and present actions don't look apolitical to me.

Anyways, coming back to what happened yesterday. You wanted to hold a rally to demand reservations for Patidar. It is your right to demand anything you want to from the government as long as it is peaceful. Government told you that they would give you official permission to use the GMDC ground to hold your meeting and even permitted that you walk all the way to the government office from that place. The road blocks and crazy honking by your friends caused a lot of inconvenience to a lot of people but the government still let you do it because it did not want to be called 'autocratic' for rejecting your application to disrupt more than half the city. 

You got the ground. You got the permission for a rally right through the heart of the city. You even got the state to bring in thousands of police personnel to ensure that no one disrupted your rally and everything was peaceful. Great. 

You were given permission to use the GMDC ground till 8pm. No one questioned or stopped you from using it till that time. At 8pm, when the police asked you to vacate government property, why did you not agree? Why are there photos and videos of your fellow patidars shouting slogans and destroying public property? Doesn't the government have the right to ask you to move out after the permission expires? 

You refused to vacate and so the police arrested you and took you to the police station which had jurisdiction. You were let go after sometime. You alleged that you were man handled inside the police station. I suppose we just have to trust you on that one. While you were in the police station, your supporters burned a lot of private vehicles and buses which belong to the city transport department. They even vandalised a few shops. 

I don't see how your supporters think any of these things will help their case. If they were angry at you being arrested, there are legal ways to go about it. Those are the ways everyone follows if they feel an arrest was illegal. If they were angry that they are not in the reserved category then as they already know, there is a pre defined procedure to ask for it. Government authorities get to decide on a case by case basis if your community is eligible for reservation. There are set guidelines/checklists to do this. 

Any individual citizen or group of citizens cannot hold the government hostage. If it tries to, government has every right to neutralize the situation to ensure the safety of the other citizens.

I don't know how you can, with a straight face, say government lathi charging your people is wrong when the people who were being lathi charged were destroying public and private property. 

Freedom of expression is a great thing to use but government has the right to stop it when it clearly violates other citizen's freedom to live peacefully and feel safe. 

It was also great to see people come in really expensive cars to rallies and then claim to be 'under priviledged'. As a lot of people have noted, a 'show of strength' to prove that you are one of the 'weaker castes' is hilariously ironic. If the money spent in organizing this rally was used to help the poor brethren of your community, no one in the community would even need reservation. 

At 22, you have a lot of good years ahead of you. I would suggest improving your knowledge atleast on topics that you are fighting for. I would suggest reading 'Falling Over Backwards' by Arun Shourie to understand the issue of reservation. 

I will break down the above things for you in simpler terms just so that there is no doubt:

Burning public/private property - BAD
Peacefully putting forward your views/demands - GOOD
Holding the government hostage and blackmailing it - BAD
Fighting elections and changing things - GOOD

I hope I have made my point. I have a feeling I will see you more often atleast till the 2017 elections in Gujarat. I hope you use your power to bring positive change in the country. Youth in India rarely get this chance, don't spoil it for the rest of us. Don't malign the reputation of your community/city/state.

If you ever take start a peaceful campaign to remove reservations, I will stand by you. For now, lets stop this and bring back normalcy to our city and state.

Here's to hoping for a more peaceful tomorrow.

Thank you


A common citizen.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Judiciary, Government and Education

In a 'landmark' judgment, the Allahabad High Court directed the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary "to ensure that all government servants send their children to primary schools run by the state basic education board. The list includes members of the judiciary, government officials, semi-government employees, employees of local bodies and representatives of people." Read the news article here.

This judgment has been celebrated all over different social media platforms with everyone thinking that this is the best thing that could happen to our government schools. Almost everyone seems to be convinced that this will 'force' government employees to improve the condition of public schools because now their children also study there.  

The order seems unconstitutional at first glance. If I am not wrong, it violates Article 19 (c) of the Constitution of India. It is in violation of the Supreme Court judgment in Divisional Manager, Aravali Golf Course vs Chander Haas which stated that judges must not ordinarily enter into the domain of the legislature or executive. This is a classic example of judicial over reach.

How can the judiciary decide which school someone's kids go to? It doesn't matter that this someone is a government employee. Every citizen of the country has the freedom to choose which organisation he/she wants to join and under it, choose the school for their children. It is very likely that this order will be squashed by a higher court. 

It is interesting to note how this news has been perceived by the citizens of the country and how everyone is celebrating. People are saying that this is the 'punishment' that government employees should get for being inefficient in their job. It is almost comical when I ask a government employee to send his/her kid to a school over which he/she has direct/indirect control, I am literally asking them to create a conflict of interest. 

There are many ways to build accountability in the government system. First, the government should be the one initiating changes and not the judiciary. Secondly, when a system of accountability is being created, it should keep the employees at the center and should in no way involve the family of the employee. 

Also, why should the kids be 'punished' for the inefficiency of their parents? Children will be, for the lack of a better word, collateral damage in this attack on government employees. It doesn't seem logical. 

Another important thing to note is how are we running our government schools? Why are they so inefficient and ill managed? ASER data shows that private schools can get similar or even better results in less than a third of the money that government spends per child. 

Why is the government not able to manage schools? Or more importantly, if the government is not able to manage its schools, why is it running them in the first place? 

Privatisation is something we have tried in almost every sector but in education it is still only tried halfheartedly. Schools can only be started by trusts and hence cannot be for profit. The process of starting a school is still in the license-raj stage and hence starting a new school is even more difficult than running a school! 

The reason why privatization of government schools comes up from time to time is because of years of evidence of how inefficiently most of these schools are run. The growing frustration among different factions of the society with regard to this is understandable. Government's inaction on this is because of a plethora of other reasons. This in no way gives the judiciary the right to over reach and definitely doesn't give it the right to breach the fundamental rights of any citizen. 

Government schools are in shambles and something needs to be done about it. No one can argue against that. There are various steps that the government can take but forcing government employees to send their children to government schools is not the most appropriate step. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

New Job? Here's something you might want to know

Every day, thousands of us start new jobs. It can be in various different sectors and at various different posts. It doesn't matter who you are and what you do, you will most probably have 'new job' jitters. Its very natural and also difficult to deal with sometimes.

Ofcourse you don't want to create a bad impression on your new colleagues or boss or juniors. Everyone wants to be liked at the office along with being effective at their work. There are so many things that can go wrong in the first few weeks but fortunately, we get to learn from other people's experiences. 

Here's a list of things you might want to keep in mind when you start any new job:

You don't need to have an opinion about everything 
More often than not, whenever you join a new job, you want your colleagues to see how smart you are or well informed you are. To prove this, you might start giving an opinion about everything. It might make you feel involved but it can get irritating after a point of time. No one expects you to know everything as soon as you join. Actually, everyone expects you to know more about the working of the organisation before you start passing out opinions on everything and everything. 

Observe. Observe. Observe.
Jobs are not like classrooms. No one will come to you and explain everything to you every time. You have got to learn things on your own. Observation is the best way to learn new things. Observe how each process is done. Observe how people behave in different situations. Observe the social norms of the office. Observation and introspection will teach you more in the office than any training session. 

Don't judge people.
The people you are going to work with have probably never worked with you before. You probably don't know them at all. This might be the first time you are working with/for them. Don't be quick to form judgments. It can not only play out in your actions but it might limit your development. You might judge someone and not mingle with them that much and you might miss out on meeting an interesting person. This is not just for the beginning few weeks. This is for life. 

Listen more than you speak.
Another mistake that most people make is to speak more than listen. You have joined a new place. You are the one who needs to know more about the work and the people. Every time you speak, you are missing an opportunity to listen. Be patient and listen to people. Listen to everyone. It will help you get an idea of the work environment and work culture. 

Trust the system.
You might feel the need to bring about radical changes in a lot of things at the work place. Don't do it. This mindset will stop you from understanding the rationale behind the work process currently in place. All might not seem right from the beginning but you have got to trust the system. After some time if you think its not working out, figure out a solution but don't go to work with solutions and then look for problems. 

Work Hard. Be Nice. 
The motto that never fails. If you work hard everyday and are nice to people, your chances of learning and doing well at your job increase manifold. It might seem like a very simple thing to do but it is the most important. Hardwork and empathy  have never caused anyone any problems. 

These are some of the 'rules' that you might want to follow throughout your work life but especially at the beginning. This is not an exhaustive list. There are lots of things that you need to take care of when you start a job and you will discover new things everyday. 

All the best.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Removing shut down time for shops will make cities safer

Safety is important. 

There have been a lot of analysis on what makes cities safe or rather what can make cities safe. Increase in the number of police personnel, stricter punishments, better collection and use of data about criminals and criminal activities, economic progress have been some areas that have been tried as solutions and have been partially successful. 

There is no one way of making cities safer and hence a combination of different ideas is needed. India has a poor police to citizens ratio. The justice system is so backlogged right now that even those who get caught roam around free for years before any action, if any, is taken against them. There are multiple ways in which governments are trying to reduce crime. A lot of these are either heavily debated or involve a lot of privacy issues or are just too expensive. 

Wouldn't it be better to prevent crimes from happening apart from having an efficient consequence system? Citizens would prefer no thefts instead of all thieves getting caught and punished, wouldn't they?

There is one way, the effect of which has not been documented, which will help the economy, improve the culture of the city and help reduce crime. 

Do away with the law which forces shops/restaurants to shut down after a particular time. 

Almost every state has a Shops and Establishment Act. A list of states which have this Act can be found here. This Act gives State governments power to decide the opening and closing time for shops/restaurants in that state. 

If we take the example of Bombay Shops and Establishments Act, 1948 then we can see that it clearly specifies the exact time at which commercial shops, restaurants and theatres can open and shut. The Act also makes it very clear that the state government or the local government can appoint inspectors to make sure that the law is followed. 

It is interesting to note it is NOT the duty of the local police neither is it under their jurisdiction to shut down shops at night unless it is officially notified by the state government. Although it is very common to see a police van come to the shops late in the night asking the shop to shut down. 

How will changing this law make cities safer?

Kate Painter and David P. Farrington of Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge wrote a research paper titled 'The  Dudley Project'. It correlates the drop in crime rate with improved street lighting. Research shows how, all other variables being the same, an area which is well lit will have a low crime rate than an area which is not well lit. It also shows how an area's crime rate will reduce even when the only intervention introduced is proper street lighting. This happens because more people hang outside because of proper lighting and the presence of more people outside is a deterrent to criminals. 

Indian streets are not always well lit and even if they were, why would people want to hang outside late in the night if they have nothing to do? We need to give people an incentive to stay out late in the night. Shopping or eating out can be those incentives. 

Recently, Inspector General of Police in Gandhinagar, Gujarat gave the following statement in Times of India:

“I don't see it (closing the shops) as an action that can prevent crimes..........When we have a safe state's tag, we have to ensure safety . It wouldn't be attained by shutting the shops. More people on the street would actually work as deterrent." 

If shops and restaurants remain open late in the night, more people will move around the city at night and in turn act as deterrents to crime. Police patrolling works on the same principle. If police cars are moving around an area at night or even stationed at regular intervals around the city then they act as a deterrent to criminals. 

It also helps traffic congestions because when you increase the possible working hours of an establishment, then the traffic will be spread out over a longer period of time and so average traffic will reduce. People who can go late, will go late and hence peak hour traffic will reduce. There are also people who believes that keeping bars open all throughout the night actually reduce the instances of drunk driving and drunken behaviour because 'last call' generally makes people binge drink rather rather than their usual responsible drinking and in turn leads to more accidents/incidents.

It also gives businesses freedom to choose their timings and in turn decide whether staying open till late in the night or even all night is a profitable option. There have also been allegations of "police's misbehaviour while shutting the shops and favouritism for a few who are allowed to keep the shops open till late for more business."  

So if shops staying open till late in the night can help the economy, reduce the possibility of police misbehaviour and make the cities slightly more safe, why aren't we allowing it? 

Friday, 24 April 2015

What should teachers teach?

Being a teacher is a very important job. There are a lot of areas where teachers have to tread carefully.

Teachers have to decide which mistakes they should let students make and which they should help them avoid. There is a very thin line which the teachers have to walk here and it is very easy to think that teachers should make sure students don't make mistakes. The fact is, mistakes teach more than lessons do. 

Similarly, opinions about things are also something that develops through experiences. Young students are very impressionable. Teachers and parents are two sets of people whom they see as their knowledge bases. So any opinion by these two sets has more weight than say a newspaper report. 

Thus, teachers should always remember Uncle Ben's famous last words from Spider Man "With great power, comes great responsibility". 

Having an opinion or having the ability to form an informed opinion is a very important skill. Teachers sometimes teach opinions and forget that they have to instead teach how to form opinions. Its not because teachers are evil but its because our education system just tests us on whether we remember the opinions of great people instead of testing if we can formulate our own opinions. Teachers teach this way because students are tested this way.

So ideally, what should a teacher teach?

The most important and primary skill that every teacher should teach is the difference between a fact and an opinion. That's half the battle won. If the student can do that then she/he takes the first step towards learning how to form an opinion. 

Second thing that teachers should teach is how an informed opinion is one that is backed by facts. An opinion without any backing is still an opinion but to convince someone to accept your opinion, you need to have facts which back it up. Similarly, students should be taught how when they encounter any opinion, they should look for and then verify the facts that the opinion is based on. If the facts hold up, the opinion is credible otherwise it is not. This will help the kids figure out which opinions they should rely on and which ones they should not rely on. At this point, teachers should also explain to the students how the legitimacy of an opinion does not depend on the age/sex/religion/position of the person giving that opinion and so credibility does not stem from there. 

Thirdly and this is probably one of the most important, teacher should teach students how to entertain two or more opinions at the same time without accepting or rejecting them immediately. It will teach the kids how opinions cannot be right or wrong and that everyone looks at things differently. Students should be told how opinions are formed over time and are heavily influenced by experiences so they should not judge someone just on their opinion. It will make students more tolerant towards people whose opinion they do not like.

Lastly, teachers should teach ways in which students can express a dissenting opinion without being overtly rude or loud. It is completely alright to not agree with someone's views and it is also absolutely fine to tell them that you disagree but the manner in which you express that showcases your personality. 

A person's value in the society is determined by his/her opinions and hence the importance of this skill. It is our opinions that show the world who we really are and what we believe. Having an opinion and basing your actions on it is what makes us free. 

Ofcourse there are multiple ways of teaching the above in class and it would be foolish to prescribe a specific way of doing this but there is little debate on whether this should be taught to students or not. Come to think of it, this should be done by parents/mentors as well. 

As someone wise very clearly said "A teacher's job is to teach the students how to learn and not what to learn."

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Wealth Gap v Opportunity Gap : Which one should we try and fix?

India is a land of contradictions. 

We have the most number of millionaires in the world and also have the most number of poor people. We have the most number of doctors and engineers and also the most number of illiterate people.

Inequality is present in every form in India. The extent of the wealth gap is not a disputable fact any more as several research papers and newspaper articles have rightly proven.

Unequal distribution of wealth is a very dangerous thing. It can lead to civil unrest and also block the development of the country. It is for this reason that everyone takes this very seriously and they are right in doing so.

The problem begins when people try to bridge the wealth gap by using the misguided Robin Hood concept i.e. to take from the rich and give to the poor. Someone very aptly said that sometimes we get so engrossed in figuring out how to best distribute the money that we have that we forget to concentrate on generating that money.

It is impossible to create a world where everyone has the same wealth and even if it was possible, it would not morally right to do so. Why should people who work hard not have more wealth than the people who don't work as hard? Wealth should be the reward for hard work.

Here we are assuming that the justice system works well and that anyone using illegal means to earn wealth is reprimanded. Questions about the efficiency of the justice system should be dealt with separately.

What we should really focus on is the opportunity gap. Due to multiple reasons, a lot of citizens in the country do not get the chance to compete. Levelling the playing field is different. We first need to make sure that everyone has access to a field.

Giving people opportunities does not mean reservations. Actually reservations are possibly the most inefficient way of giving people opportunities as India has found out over the last couple of decades.

Lets take education for example: On an average, a student who is from a low income family and studies in a government school will not do as well as a student from an affluent family who studies in a high end private school. It has little to do with their family incomes. This difference in results is because is difference in the opportunities that both type of students get from their education. If you give every child an excellent education then the comparison would give you different results.

This can partially be attributed to the fact that students from affluent families sometimes don't have that burning need to succeed because they have a fall back option while students from low income families know that they need to make the most of every opportunity they get because of the sheer lack of opportunities. Hence, if both are given equal opportunities, it is very possible that the student from a low income family will do better than others.

Ofcourse this is not true in each and every case but there are a lot of examples of this out there to prove that this is not just theory.

Once the opportunity gap is closed, the achievement gap will close as well and slowly but surely that will lead to the wealth gap narrowing down.

This will be without doing anything negative to the people who already have the resources. Giving more opportunities to people who don't have them will not take away the opportunities from people who already have them. We merely need to give access to the field to everyone, they will level it themselves through sheer perseverance.

This, apart from the fact that the wealth gap cannot be closed in any other way without harming honest hard working people, is why we should focus on fixing the opportunity gap.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Deworming Students to improve Student Outcomes

What if you could improve health and learning outcomes of children around the world for less than half a dollar a year? 

Deworming is one way this is possible. 

More than 33% of the world population suffers from worm infection. It is commonly found among children. Deworming is a safe and inexpensive way of getting rid of this infection. It is a simple procedure which involves giving the children two single dose tablets. Deworming targets diseases caused by parasitic worms. These worms live in the human gut and absorb key nutrients (including iron). It can also lead to other diseases like anaemia. 

Worm infections might not have immediate acute consequences but in the long run they do a lot of damage. Studies done in Kenya and South America confirmed that children with worm infections perform poorly in learning ability tests. Its effect on attendance is even more significant. It has been seen that some infected children attend only half as many days of school as their unaffected classmates. Deworming can benefit children's learning, substantially increase primary school attendance and significantly increase a child's ability to learn in school. In a study by Kevin Croke of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked children for 7-8 years after a mass deworming program. He found that keeping all the other variables the same, dewormed children had higher test scores in literacy and numeracy than the non-treated children. He concluded that the difference in outcome was because of the deworming and not because of any other variable. 

The good thing about deworming is that the medication, if given to students who don’t have worm infection, has no harmful effects. It means that we can do a deworming drive in a large area or maybe say a school, without having to test each and every child for the disease first. 

In a country like India where sanitation is still a major issue and more than half the country’s population defecates in the open, infections like these are very common. We cannot let easily preventable diseases slow down the development of our children. Especially when the solution is both accessible and inexpensive. 

Deworming is not just simple, it is also very inexpensive. At less than half a dollar per kid per year, it is probably one of the most economically viable medicine that we know as of now. This half a dollar includes the cost of procuring the medicines, distributing them and training given to the volunteers in its administration. According to World Health Organisation, children in high risk areas should be dewormed once every six months!

 In fact, the World Health Organisation encourages schools to take this up as a school wide process. It has created a step by step guide which explains how schools should go about the entire procedure of deworming. Poverty Action Lab has been doing mass deworming in schools and have dewormed more than 90 million children. You can find their report here

There are a lot of organisations, both government and non-government, which are working towards improving health and sanitation situations in India. Maybe deworming is something that can be done easily and effectively by them. Ofcourse, like any medicine or solution, deworming comes with its own set of critics. So it can’t be called a universally accepted solution as of yet.  But as of now, a lot of people are calling it a ‘best buy’ for improving both education and health.