Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Discussion in abeyance...

I dont know if the cigerettes drive the lack of sleep or if things are the oher way around, but the net effect seems to be that I spent 100 of the last 106 hours awake. I apologise to those of you who might have wanted to talk with me (I mean both of you!) but couldn't because I wasnt on goog talk. I do know that there are discussions that have been left hanging for a fortnight. Please do call me for I cannot come online as often as I used to. (Have I told you that I pronounce the 't' in "often"? (Note: The use of -quotes for the char and double-quotes for the String. Also note the uppercase 'S' in "String". If that doesn't tell that I'm a Java coder; nothing will;)

Planning to get sloshed tonight. A (feeble) attempt to soft-reboot my system so that I can sleep more hours/day. If that doesn't work, I might just have to go and get my heart stopped and restarted. Anyone (or many) wanna join me for a booze-session? Also, does anyone own a de-fibrillator that I can borrow if Plan-A doesn't work?

GRT Grand beckons. Gotta get in before the last order. Bubye!

Monday, July 06, 2009

The family education saga: a new hope

One oxymoron that I never can get the hang of is the sight of a teacher shouting "Silence!" at the top of her voice. Through 14 years of schooling in arguably Vizag's best school, I've lost track of the number of times I've heard teachers holler. I hated every one of those moments. Especially when the voice sounded like it had been utterrred by a banshee! Mrs. Meenakshi Pradeep instantly comes to mind, as does Mrs. Harsha Chiranjeevi (How I hated the fact that the woman shared her first name with me!).
Why do kids shout? My own childhood is far enough in the past for me not to hazard an opinion from memory, but having taught children long enough, I have finalized on two things that are as much instinctive as they are environmental: 1. There's safety in numbers. Kids will readily pipe in when others shriek but will be more circumspect about being the first audible voice. 2: We all open our mouths when want someone to listen.
The traditional system of raising one's hand and getting permission from the teacher is based on eliminating the former factor without eliminating the latter reason for speaking.

More on that later (perhaps another post). For now I just wanted to write about a school that completely took me by surprise. Here was a school with roughly 150 kids in the primary section (Pre-Kinder Garten to 3rd) and I couldn't hear single screaming voice - either teacher or student - as I went past the classrooms. Mrs Annapurna Emani had invited me to visit her school (Jassver EMS) while we were discussing Anitha's teaching efforts in Gurgaon on my last trip to Vizag. Annapurna Miss, as we all called her as kids, was my history teacher in school, and she had since worked in Muscat (Indian School) before coming back to India to take over as principal of Jassver. She was forever an enigma to me: her dignified demeanour just did not go hand-in-hand with her twinkling eyes : Tradition and adventure together? That was too much for my kiddie mind to handle.

An invitation from Annapurna Miss was just too good an opportunity to throw away, so my regular day-job took a hike for 24 hours, even though I wasn't completely sure that this school would be any different from the dozens that I had visited and taught in (including some of the "better" ones in Chennai - I'll tell you another day about how i think the DAVs suck!).

To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. Even before I entered the school building, I knew there was something different. There was none of that deafening noise of a classroom full of students trying to recite shout the multiplication table at the top of their voices. Since I had long come to recognize a school working day by this particular ritual being carried out religiously every morning by the students of the municipal school right next to my house, I could be forgiven for being disappointed that Annapurna Miss had asked me to meet her on a school holiday. As I walked into the building - escorted by her son (and my good friend), Uttam - I could hear children laughing and singing. When we entered the principal's office, we were greeted by the sight of a cute-bouncy-haired, brown-eyed toddler sitting on top of the principal's desk and rearranging the desk's layout as she saw fit (which mostly involved throwing things around). Mrs. Annapurna was watching the 2-year old, fascinated. The kid looked up at us (Uttam and me) and promptly went back to the task at hand.
The next half-hour was a masterclass in education: Why should children not be forced into learning something they don't want to learn? Why should teachers never shout at a child? Why doesn't repetition work as well as it is proclaimed to work? (Evidently, there's no way an IFSJ will ever learn by rote!) But I was still a little doubtful. After all, familiarity with the problem doesn't necessarily bring you closer to the solution!
While we were waiting for the opportunity to go around the classrooms, Mrs. Annapurna asked me if I had ever seen a Taala Pathram (Palm Leaf manuscript). When I remarked that I hadn't, she promptly took out a palm-leaf manuscript. This one had been handed down through generations before finally finding its way into the lady's hands. She estimated that it was probably a few hundred years old.
One of the teachers (what a coincidence: this teacher was an Anitha too) dropped in to let her know that we could go around the classes.
We visited the primary section, and the first thing I noticed was that there were a few kids who were moving from one class (the KG section) to another (the Pre-KG section) and a few more who were just peeping into classrooms without actually venturing inside. When I asked Annapurna Miss what section they belonged to and why they were walking around, she explained that until the 3rd standard there were no really no restrictions on what the children could do. Those who did not want to set in the class needn't. Letting the child find it's comfort zone was more important than forcing discipline. She told us about a kid who in his first year at the school did not actually enter any of the classrooms though he peeped into quite a few and participated in many more. This kid, she told us, was now one of the leaders of his 3rd standard class (both academically and in other activities). By the time I had watched the children learn how to count (through a lovely interactive song-and-dance with multi-coloured pebbles), I realized that Mrs. Annapurna's school actally walked the talk.

I had to cut the visit short to catch my flight, but not before I unearthed part of the secret of Jassver's success. That piece of information is something that I'd like to share with one person first, before I make it public. The rest of you will just have to wait in line. :)

Incidentally, Annapurna Miss casually said that she'd like to have me work for her school. I'll have to ask her if she meant that seriously! If she does mean it (whatever be the offer), I could well be joining Jassver in two months time!

p.s. You can read more about the Jassver School here and here.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The family education saga: another chapter ends

In the early 1970s, Manda Subbalakshmi, had to choose between being a sportswoman (Handball), a Commercial Tax Inspector, and a primary school teacher. She chose to join the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan as a Primary Teacher, though she continued to play sports competitively. One day, she landed awkwardly while jumping during a handball match and tore the ligaments completely out of her left knee. Her doctors advised her to rest her leg completely, forget sports entirely, and take up a desk job. That was in 1979.

On June 30, 2009, Manda Subbalakshmi retired after thirty eight years of service in the Kendriya Vidyalaya. Every single evening, she came back home with her kness swollen. Every single morning, she was the first one in the family to get ready to go back to school! On seven different occassions she was told that she would not be able to take another step in her life. On all seven occassions she was back on her feet in less than a week.

She taught whatever she was asked to teach: Hindi, Social Studies, English and occasionally everything else. She taught just about everything she knew, and she kept learning more. She is one those people who learns how to do something simply because it is there to be learnt: Knowledge for its own sake.

I don't know how much I learnt from her. But I do know I'll treasure two ideas she inculcated in me.
  1. The only opinion that ultimately matters is your own. Never let anyone tell YOU what YOU are worth. Never let anyone tell you what you CAN or CANNOT do.
  2. Never give anyone the responsibility of making decisions for you. Never blame anyone for the way your life turns out.

Wishing my Mum has a lot of fun as she embarks on her next assignment: Imparting her wisdom to her first grandchild!
Thanks, Amma!