Friday, July 27, 2012

Safety Quotient

The safety of the children in and outside the home is of real concern for all of us specially when they are   travelling from home to school and back. Not only this the traffic on roads particularly in the cities has reached a situation that if corrective and preventive measures are not taken immediately, it will prove to be extremely dangerous to all in general and the school going kids in particular.  The number of vehicles on road nearly doubles in every five years but the width of the road remains the same thereby causing bottle-necks at every short distance. To add to this sorry state of affairs, there are traffic rules which are frequently violated. In this condition, the children are the most vulnerable group whether   they are on the roads or commuting to and fro the school. The Supreme Court of India has clearly mentioned the guidelines for the safety and security of school going children particularly while they are travelling by school buses. Most of the schools hire the buses on contract and others have their own buses for the transportation of the students.  The education for the children is important but at the same time the safety and health of the children is of prime concern for the parents as well as the schools. We come across many grievous news reports in the newspapers now and then regarding the difficulties faced by the children in the school or in the buses while travelling to and from schools. Everybody is concerned regarding the safety of the children and a lot has been done in this area but much more is required to be done. The recent news of an accident in which a child lost his life just because he was not watchful for his safety, has disillusioned the society. Before this also there have been casualties because of the fault of the driver or the child himself.  Whosoever was responsible for unfortunate incident,  an innocent life was lost which is a great loss not only to the parents of child but also to the nation. Whenever such incidents take place everybody shows a lot of concern and all remember and remind themselves about the safety guidelines of the honourable Supreme Court and blame game continues for a few days to be forgotten till the next similar unfortunate incident takes place. 
Earlier the role of the school and school teachers was limited to imparting education in the school and not really about the commutation of the students. They were concerned for their safety on school campus and by and large they were able to perform their duties quite well. In the last few years, when the schools started to be established at a distance from the main city because of the scarcity of land available within city limits the school buses became an important means of transporting the children because it was not possible for the parents to do the pick-up and drop for their kids every day. Also the children cannot reach school on their own because of the distance and mainly due to the traffic menace in our country.  As all schools cannot afford to possess their own buses hence the transporters are approached for the sake of helping the children and parents. Most of the buses employed by such transport contractors are those which ply on city routes also, so it becomes difficult for the school to ensure all the safety measures.  But within these limitations,  the safety of the children can be advanced by taking simple corrective measures like having the first aid box, a helper/support staff in addition to driver so that they can have proper watch on the activities of the children in the bus and also while they board and get down from the bus. The safety grills are extremely important and should be ensured in all buses irrespective of whether these are school owned buses or hired buses.  The drivers and the helpers should be counselled on regular basis so that they understand the requirements and problems of the children better. A speed limit check of 40 kilometers an hour is equally imperative to be maintained. The schools and parents must continuously talk to the children regarding the precautions they can take while travelling by the buses.  One thing which I found missing in the discussions which takes place on safety of the school children is, the awareness among the children for their own careful conduct and self discipline.  Every time the blame is put on the school bus driver, teachers, school authorities or somebody else without mentioning anything for the child.  In the incident which I mentioned above,  the child took his head out of the bus window for some reason and suddenly got hit by pole outside.  Now even if there were many teachers in the bus and the child had done the same, all of a sudden nobody would have been able to predict and stop the child. What I want to convey here is that we have to make our children more aware of the safety measures to be taken by them which can help to save them from many unfortunate incidents.  At the same time the schools and teachers must learn from such unfortunate incidents and try their level best to create a safe environment as at times the safety of the children is jeopardised because of their slackness.    It is the responsibility of the teachers and parents to teach and guide children the lessons of self safety self.  It has been found that the children do not listen to the helper and at times even the teachers in the buses and put themselves in a dangerous situation.  I remember one incident in which two children sitting by the window side were playing some game to exhibit their strength to each other and when the bus slowed down because of some obstruction in front, the children got imbalanced and one of them got multiple fractures in his elbow . Now in this case no other person could have been responsible for the incident but the children themselves. 
Even in the school campus the safety of the children should be paid more attention to, more than what is being done today.  As the number of students in Indian schools is in many thousands hence it becomes all the more important for everyone particularly the school management and teachers to ensure that our children are safe while they are in the school.  They should be trained and taught of the ways they should walk through the corridors and inside the classrooms.  The furniture should be designed in such a manner so as not to hurt the active children of the school.  More precautions should be taken at the time of dispersal of the children after the school is over because at that time all of them want to be the first to get a better seat and in the process they tend to push each other and run.  In this they themselves might get hurt or may hurt others also.  The teachers should be around and with the children to guide and check them. If this is done for sometime then the children will inculcate the habit of walking properly towards the buses.
In the end, I would like to say that no one person/agency can be held responsible for any unfortunate incident but at the same time this is sure that if we all work sincerely (including children) then the safety of the children can be ensured to the maximum and that is what all of us want.  So in spite of blaming others, we must play our role actively and to the best of our ability. By teaching the basic life skills, guiding them to develop the sense of right and wrong, imbibing self-realization and self discipline, perhaps a greater safety can be ensured.  Wishing a safe and happy schooling to all the children.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Learning by doing

All are aware of the fact that the real learning takes place outside the boundaries of the classrooms. All those who have been more successful in their life are the ones who did not gain knowledge only in the classrooms but also in the outside world. The initiative taken by Delhi University regarding the learning outside the classes is a welcome step and should be appreciated and followed by all. Many of us might be aware of a story in class VII or VIII Hindi textbook of UP board in the eighties, in which the writer explained the importance of visiting different places. Firsthand experience always gives us a better understanding of the things than what we learn in the classroom or in the books. Classrooms and books are very important but visiting different places and institutions make people aware of the real things by providing real life experiences in real life situations. While watching the telecast of the programe regarding the above mentioned step taken by DU, it was proved so well that when the girls were told about the submarines and the functioning of the ships, many of them were so impressed that they are now contemplating to join Indian Navy which furthermore gives enough opportunities to join the armed force services. Similarly, visit to ISRO and other places would have given them motivation and an opportunity to choose their profession as per their interest.
We are flooded with media advertisements in which the promoters of the colleges and schools explain about the infrastructure and the other facilities made available to the students. There are institutions which have air conditioned buildings but no facility of games and sports. The students are made to see the whole world through the use of audio visual and other facilities available. But the fact is that the impact of the artificial things cannot be the same as the real experience of seeing and doing things self. They not only  learn the things which they see but also get an opportunity to interact in a group. While they are out of the class and away from the help of the parents and other relatives they learn to manage things themselves. The students are exposed to easy as well as difficult situations and learn to adjust and solve the problems on their own. I remember the time in a school, where I worked for sixteen years,   the principal used to tell the teachers and the children about an outdoor/field destination and provide money as per their requirement and then ask them to manage things. Though at times we were puzzled as how to manage everything, but to our pleasant surprise we always found that the children adjusted within the resources provided and managed in a much better way than what we expected. Later, when we asked the principal the reason behind all that, his reply was that he wanted all of us to learn by practically doing the things self. The students and the teachers cherished the memories of doing and arranging things themselves much more than the ones who had gone for tailor made tours and excursions.
Though all realize and talk about the importance of visits and excursions but not much is done due to certain reasons. Along with this an initiative is to be taken by the educational institutions and the government to take some steps to promote such kind of learning. I can quote an example of NASA which has taken an initiative promoting the American space programme for the students of the international community. They have made it open to all the students of different countries to visit different locations and know more about the space programmes including the training of the astronauts, launching of satellites and the history of space programme etc.  This has proved beneficial particularly to those students who had interest in the space exploration. When people visit NASA they visit other parts of the country also which help both, the visitors as well as the host county. The write up I mentioned above was ‘Deshatan ke labh’ in which the writer had explained the advantage of visiting different places. NASA and other such organizations are doing exactly the same for the benefit of the students and other people.
Now the question is, if visiting places is so important then why many schools and colleges are not taking initiatives to exploit the potential of learning through educational trips, excursions and trekking etc. If we analysis it carefully then we find certain reasons responsible for that. First of all the load of the curriculum is told to be too much to complete within the time available during the years, because the number of working days comes out to be much less than what is required, hence the management is unable to decide about arranging the field trips for the students. Second reason is the security of  the students which is of utmost importance and the management finds it difficult to ensure hundred percent safe and secure visits. I remember an incident when the children of central school were taken on educational trip to Goa and despite the teachers’ best efforts and precautions few children went deep inside the sea and had problems.  In this case, the teacher incharges faced an enquiry and were stressed for quite long till they were given clearance. After this no teacher of that school was willing to escort the children for such tours.
Then what is the solution of these problems. I think the educational boards and universities should device the syllabus which has educational trips integrated in that. The burden of theory should be reduced and more of practical experience can be the part of curriculum. The educational excursions should also be highlighted in the report card/progress report and due credit should be given in the grade points/marks of the students who visit places as per the design of the curriculum. This will encourage all to take advantage of learning outside the classroom. Once this has been done the trips should be planned by the school/ college authorities well in advance with proper homework and advice to the students so that no unpleasant incident takes place until and unless it is a natural calamity. We also have to learn and teach our children that fear of untoward should not deter us from doing something which makes us a better human being and a good learner. If these visits are planned properly and we have a motivated team of educators, then no difficulty can stop us from doing what we want to do.
In the end, I would like to reiterate that teaching learning process should not be confined to the classroom only but the boundary should be demolished for exponential learning of the learners and that can be done when the curriculum and methodology of teaching and evaluation is revised in a manner which gives freedom to the learner and educators to explore beyond the boundary of classroom, using the tool of experience. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Examination fear

The debate regarding the common entrance examination for the engineering colleges seems to be over. Now top twenty percent students of each board will be eligible to appear in the advanced level test to be conducted by IITs. The organizing agency for the main test will be Central Board of Secondary Education and based on this the merit will be prepared for the admission to NITs and other engineering colleges and universities. I do not know whether it will reduce the pressure on the children or not but the debate has forced many people to think whether having examinations is not good at all. CBSE has done away with class X board examination and the schools conduct this examination as the internal exam. Somebody shared that he had appeared in the board examination as early as in class V and then in class VIII and I think all of us appeared in class X and class XII board exam. The person asked me whether there was stress and the pressure on me at the time of board examination and frankly speaking I do not remember having any fear or stress at that time. I have been debating on the issue of examination and its impact on the children`s psychology. Is it the examination responsible for the stress or the expectations of the parents and the teachers? Certainly the great educationists of the past invented this education system and integrated examinations in it to test the acquired knowledge of the students.But what are we making of it now?
 In a radio show a teacher was asked about her views on the weight of the bags of the school going children. Her response was very interesting. She said that this may true in some cases that the children are facing problems due to heavy bags but in other cases, elaborate and heavy talks about heavy bags has really made them feel the burden of the bags. Not only this, but the children also have started taking studies as a burden. This made me to think about the issue I am discussing today. Is it so that too much talk about the examination being labelled as the burden has really made examination as the burden and the stress on the children? The impact of the examination is same whether it is an internal or public examination. The important thing which changes is the expectations. If we can change the mindset of the parents, teachers and the society, then examination may not be held responsible for impeding the progress of a child. In spite of blaming examination for all wrongs, we have to introspect and try to understand the real culprit responsible for the problems of the children.This reminds me of Roosavelt's saying-"All we have to fear is fear itself", so unless we do not get good riddance from the fear, we cannot achieve the goals of life.
As per the report in one of the newspapers, most of the children who scored more than ninety percent in the practical examinations could not clear their theory papers. Why is it so? Till the recent past we used to talk about such issues in the school examination only because there have been cases where the students did very well in sessional scores (which are internal) and the practical examinations while they scored very low in theory papers. Everyone may be is talking about this anomaly but no efforts are being made to remove it. The boards are in the race of improving their results without realizing that in the process they are harming the future of the country. We are producing the human resource with a piece of paper in the name of qualifying certificate and not equipped with the skills and the knowledge to face the challenges of the future.  I have written it before also but would like to reiterate that examination is important for all to improve and do better. Indeed the real test is only at the desk. The basic problem is the preparation for the same. If the teaching learning process is in coherence with the goals, then the problem of examination stress will be taken care of up to a large extent. What we have to see and do immediately is the improvement in our learning environment in the schools and also at homes. To do away with examination may not serve the desired purpose but bringing some change in the system of examination will certainly help. Creating an unnecessary havoc in the mind of the children that examinations are bad and many problems crop up because of it, is not right. There are a number of reasons because of which the examination seems to be responsible for every problem the children face. As I mentioned earlier, every child is distinct in his qualities and potential of doing things in different walks of life. No two kids can be identical which all of us must realize and accept. The expectations from the children should be realistic and as per the potential, aptitude and the interest of the child. The government should ensure that there are adequate quality schools to fulfill the needs of the children. Here I would like to suggest that the money which is being spent in the name of NREGA should be utilized in such a manner that people get facilities for the quality education. The unemployed educated youth of the villages should be trained and made capable of teaching well in the village schools. The capacity building of the youth will help them acquire required skills to teach the children who are in the dire need of good education. Policy makers should also ensure that taking popular measures might help them on short term basis but the long term results would be disastrous. The right to education act will remain a slogan until the government schools and their teachers are not looked after well and serious concerns are not focused on them. Twenty five percent reservations in private schools is a welcome step but that is just a drop in the mighty ocean of knowledge and education. If the private sector has responsibility towards the society then government have bigger responsibility to share. Both the aspects i.e; proper infrastructure and the good quality committed and skilled teachers are of utmost importance. If you do not provide these two, then there is no option but to do away with the examination. We shall have to be realistic in our approach and stop having double standard.
 I might seem to be little tough in my approach on certain things but these are my thoughts and as a citizen of the country, I thought it right to share it with you all. As I always say that I would be more than happy for correction suggested by any one of my esteemed fellow citizens. I am trying to convey one thing that examination is not the black sheep but the entire process of education including lack of infrastructure, the quality teachers and many other factors are responsible. The teachers should not be ridiculed all the time but environment should be created for better understanding between all stake holders. Those who are performing their duties should be dealt with accordingly but all teachers and schools should not be blamed. Those who are trying their level best should be appreciated and helped so that others also get motivated. The children who are the ‘instant coffee’ generation should be made to understand that examination and the books are most important for their growth and progress. Hence in spite of considering them as the burden these should be considered as the ingredients and recipes for their coffee of success which cannot be instant. They would have to possess an inexplicable and incessant zeal to reach the crowing success. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Learning by self

In the present age when you have large number of TV channels and other mode of information which are so fast that anything becomes obsolete in no time. There are two TV programmes which have come as a whiff of fresh air. Though the topics selected or the issues taken up are the old ones which have been raised and discussed before also, but the importance of talking about them is more now. Also the overwhelming response to these programmes has answered those people who say that public is not interested in listening or watching such issues. Yes, you got it right. I am talking about Aamir Khan`s Satyamev Jayayte telecast on Doordarshan and Star Plus and  Ravish Kumar`s Hum Log on NDTV (hindi). Mr. Aamir Khan has taken up very important issues in all his episodes telecast till now and the people strongly feel that the government and the citizens of the country should join hands and work together with sincerity to make things better for all. Though each one of them is worth discussing but I was impressed the most by a few of them. For example, the one which discussed about the negative effect of the pesticides and negative impact of alcohol by Aamir Khan and also the episode on water problem and the toys of Mr. Gupta by Ravish Kumar. As I teach in a school, I get influenced more by the issues concerning our school going children. The surveys show that the intake of alcohol has increased manifold in the last decade which has done no good to our youth and the society. The need of the hour is to nip this evil in the bud, that we talk and discuss with our children the negative and ill effect of the consumption of alcohol. I do not understand why are we shy of talking such issues with our children and in a way leave them vulnerable to the influence of the market forces.To our surprise,the recent news report also stated that the item which was sold to the maximum on duty free shops of the metropolitan cities was ‘liquor’.Also, the children are intelligent enough to understand what is being advertised under the name of branded soda. Anyway this topic may be discussed separately but the other important topic is related to the science teaching in the schools and colleges. We come across the school prospectus in which the promoters of the schools proudly talk about the exquisite infrastructure, five star facilities including air-conditioned building and computer labs etc. Nowadays another term is tossed around and that is smart classes. The bigger is the brand,the greater the attraction of parents towards such schools. I always say that proper and balanced use of technology is good but overdependence is equally harmful. Now look at the other side. Have we come across any schools prospectus in which there is a mention of the children and the teachers of the school learning science by the making toys and models from the waste available to us in plenty all around? The episode telecast on 1st July was so apt for all of us because it was based on the topic related to the learning of science by fun. The person I focus, explained the simple and also the complicated principles of science so easily with the help of the toys and the models made by the waste available to us. The very important lesson learnt by all was that science is not at all difficult to understand if we allow our children to learn it the way Mr. Gupta and many other teachers have taught us. Professor Yashpal, a great educationist, has been so popular among the children because he explained the scientific principles with the help of simple experiments that the children were never stressed to cram them. In the episode I am referring to, the teacher told us about the concept of the working of water pump specially the hand pump used in our villages. He talked about the centrifugal force and showed it to the people with a lot of ease because I remember many of the children have difficulty in understanding this concept. The other model was related to the production of electricity based on the concept of electromagnetic induction (though this heavy term was not at all used by him). If we let our children do these experiments themselves and then ask them to learn the definitions on their own,I believe that  they will never forget the same throughout their lives. The interesting and important thing is that these models do not cost us much and even if the child is not able to do it well for the first time, it can be tried again and again and in that process also the child will be learning. My advice and request to all concerned including the teachers and parents would be to let our children experiment themselves and learn in the process. The costly and fascinating toys and models would not necessarily make them learn better. I am sure all understand this better than me, but the glitter and glamour of the market driven advertisements has drifted us away from  learning from the things which are naturally available to us.
The science teaching and scientific concepts can be better understood by the children in their own context and environment. Not only the science subject but also the other subjects can be learnt by them so easily if the same are discussed keeping the surroundings in mind. The children possess creative skills and want to do things themselves. If discouraged by the teachers or the parents then they lose the interest and the studies become a stress for them and that is what is happening to many of our children in today`s time. What I personally feel is that we do not really need to change lot many things but the method of letting our children how to learn. The assessment and examinations are important but the most important aspect is the learning by self and with joy, without any stress of performing very well in the exams. Examination result should not be taken as the product but the real product is the learning which can help the child to learn to live life happily and let others also live it in the same way.Learning by self will not only enlighten the child but also give him the satisfaction of experiencing his own creativity.