Monday, 29 February 2016

Lets leave the kids alone!

There are a lot of things that we are told when we are kids. It's by parents as well as by other people around us. Almost everyone told us something. And rightfully so. We were just kids. We had to learn everything. We were knew to this world. I mean, we are super curious and everyone around is super excited to teach us stuff.

But have you ever wondered, did the teach us the right thing [What is the right thing?] or did they just enforce their prejudices on us? Shouldn't we teach children how to make decisions on their own? Shouldn't we teach them to decide what is good and what is bad for them?

The hardest part about being a parent is deciding which mistakes you let you children make and which ones do you help them avoid. 

Let's make a list of things that a lot of kids in India are told:

1. Mahatma Gandhi is the best example of a human being. Questioning his actions, even for the sake of understanding, amounts to blasphemy. 
2. Politics is what people engage in when they have nothing else to do. Don't even think about joining it. 
3. If you are a naughty boy/girl, police will come and take you away. Police is corrupt too. Stay away from them. 
4. Everyone elder to you is always right about everything. That's the end of discussion. 
5. Marks in school are everything. Its the yardstick with which we will measure your success in life.
6. Government system is always going to be slow and bribing is the only way to make it work faster. 
7. Respect your teachers. Don't ask why. But no, you can't become a teacher. That's what losers do. 
8. Poor people don't have a lot of values. They steal/fight/get addicted to harmful substances more easily than rich people. 

Ofcourse this is non-exhaustive list. There are a lot more from where that came from. Lets take them one by one.

History books will tell everyone how Gandhiji was a great man. He struggled hard to get India Independence. But hey, wouldn't it be nice if we let the kids decide on whether they like him or not? Everyone doesn't have to do something just because Gandhiji did it. He was not universally loved when he was alive so lets not force everyone to love him now. Even he wouldn't approve it.  

Politics is bad. It's like a sewer line. A quick sand kind of a thing. I am sure everyone has heard that. I am also sure that most of us looked down upon all our elected representatives. But let me ask you one thing, if good people don't join politics, how will it improve? Its a cliched line but it still asks the most important question. Engaging with the politicians and the political system is what keeps them accountable and efficient. 

Police are public servants. They are meant to protect us. They put their lives on the line. They don't take a lot of holidays. They try to see to it that you are safe. Don't they deserve a more positive introduction in front of young impressionable minds? If we plant the seed of disdain towards them in our child's mind, it will only grow over time. Anyways the media around them will highlight all the problems that the police creates more than the good things that they do. 

Ah. The 'elders are always right' card. This had been used on all of us once in a while. Guess what, inexperience is awesome. It helps think of newer and better ideas. It helps us innovate because we aren't bound by the mental restrictions that previous generation is bound by. It helps finds new solutions to old problems. Experience doesn't always mean wisdom. 

I am curious, smart and have amazing thirst for knowledge but it won't matter unless I get good marks. It is going to be the one major yardstick for measuring my success in life. It starts with marks and then as you grow older, it changes to the amount of money I earn. It doesn't matter if you enjoy studying or working unless you get marks or salary. 

Government departments face the same problem as the police. Everyone tells you that bribing is the only way the government department works. Everyone in the department is lazy and not competent to do the job. Most of them love the job security and that's why they take up this job. No one none of the youngsters ever want to get government jobs if they can get private jobs. No one even hopes to get work done fast if a government office is involved. 

Teachers are supposed to be respected as much as parents. All elders will ask you to respect teachers and listen to them. But as soon as you tell them you want to become a teacher, their stand on teachers will change immediately. I don't think I need to explain this further.

The poor- rich divide is made so apparent right from the start that I am not surprised that children grow up to being isolated from children from other economic strata of the society. Rich kids will almost always play with and hang out with rich kids and poor kids with other poor kids. It build in children the mindset that rich people are very different from poor people. This is good for neither the rich kid or the poor kid. Poor people are also always portrayed as people who would commit crimes easily or more likely to be addicted to harmful substances. So rich kids are taught to always keep their distance. Just to be safe. 

The entire point of the post is that, we are teaching kids how to do things instead of teaching them how to learn how to do things. Parents should teach their children how to think for themselves. Sure, the kids will make mistakes from time to time but that's a part of the learning process. 

Don't force your ideas upon them. Leave them free. Teach them how to think independently and you won't have to teach them anything else. 

Most of the prejudices in this world are because of stereotypes that are put into our heads when we are kids. If we stop that then we can get rid of a lot of problems from this world.

Lets leave our kids alone.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Make it easier to start schools in India

India is the youngest country in the world. Its population is second only to China and given the current growth rate of population, that's going to change soon as well.

The necessity for every country with a population as high as India's is to first make sure that younger generation is well nourished and well educated.

Nourishment is something which the government hasn't been able to do much. The Food Security Act, however crazy it may be, is one way the government is trying to deal with the nourishment issue. The other way is to try and reduce absolute poverty. Overall economic development help reduce it. So there are some efforts the government is making in trying to get nourishment sorted.

Education is one field which is a lot more controversial than nourishment. This is because of the massive number of people involved in the field. The number of citizens employed in education in India is massive. There are close to 2.5 crore teachers in government schools alone. India doesn't even have enough teachers even at the primary school level. Reports suggest that India needs close to 7 Lakh teachers in primary!

Right to Education was thrown into this already messy mix. There are some reports which suggest that it is forcing schools to shut down and causing problems to the students while other reports suggest that that is not happening.

The problem with teacher shortages and school shortages all comes down to the fact that the government mechanism hasn't been able to keep up with the speed at which the demand for schools. This has led to over crowding in schools.

The government mechanism for starting a school is very cumbersome and also takes very long. Just to give you an idea, look at the examples of Delhi and Poona. It is easier to start a company in the country than a school. The regulatory and financial requirement have made sure that people are repulsed from starting schools inspite of the demand.

It is beyond comprehension why a country which needs more schools has such tough requirements for starting schools. Shouldn't we make it easier to start schools for everyone? The government is clearly not equipped to start so many new schools so why not let others do it?

Anyways the government doesn't allow organisations to 'profit' from schools. So the only ones who are trying to start schools are supposedly doing it for social good. Private players have the resources and the skill to do the job in a much better way. The ASER survey found out that government spends three times the money private school spends per student and both of them get the same student outcomes. The rise of small school specifically for low income communities shows that there is demand.

The RTE has already set parameters which the government wants everyone to follow. The government can focus its energy and resources on evaluating schools and making sure that they meet all the standards.

Private players should be given a chance to run schools. The idea is to slowly and gradually make government a regulatory body instead of an administrator.

Dear Government,
Please make it easier to start schools in India.
Thank you

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Life Skills vs Self Awareness

The modern day education system is very complex. 

There are very few areas where there is strong consensus among different groups of people. The most  contentious issue that has come up in recent times is : 'What should teachers teach?' 

In an extremely competitive world where education is a big differentiator between people, what we teach our children becomes even more important. Everyone agrees that our children need to have exposure to different things happening in the world. Everyone choose relevant content to teach and that's a slightly settled topic among educators. 

The major bone of contention comes when educators have to make a choice between real life skills and self awareness skills. 

Real life skills are like writing stories, coding, debating, drawing and such. Self awareness skills are having the ability to understand our strengths and areas of development. It also includes skills which make us more aware about our community. 

Now ideally, you would want to give both these skills to our children but given the scarcity of resources, sometimes we might have to make a difficult choice and we might have to choose one of them. 

So what would you choose? 

On the one hand you have real life skills which make you more employable. Something that every employer looks for in a potential employee. They are always specific and also keep changing with the times. For eg, there was a time when knowing how to use a computer would give you a leg up on your competitors when there was a job opening. We can compare it to say, coding, in our current time as something similar to that. It would be very difficult to choose not to teach our children skills like these. 

On the other hand we have self awareness skills. They are skills which would make us reflect on our actions and our behavior and make us more aware about ourself and our actions. These are things which have stood the test of time. A self aware person was appreciated a decade ago and we can safely predict that this person will be appreciated even in the next decade. 

I agree that self awareness is also a big life skill but it is not something which will directly help you get a job and hence aid your survival. It just means a company making software would love to have an employee who is very self aware but they would definitely want the employee to know a computer language that's essential for their work. Self awareness is currently a good to have and not a must have for most companies. 

So we can see that there are clear benefits of both life skills and self awareness skills. In most cases we would like to focus on both but in case there is need to make a choice, it will depend on the teacher. 

A good question that can help the teacher decide is "What do my students need?"

It goes back to the context. 

I believe that if there is an urgent need to know skills for survival, then life skills should be taught but if the student doesn't need to worry about survival for a few years, then self awareness skills should be taught first and then the focus should shift on life skills. Again, that's just my opinion. 

Teachers will always have the last say and I believe that they can make it that choice for the students after consulting the parents of the students. 

Is there a way do teach the children self awareness and life skills? 


But the question is if you had to choose, what would you choose?