Thursday, March 26, 2009

Keeping my fingers crossed

Last week, back from school my 1st grader wanted me to help her with math home work. She was dealing with the first stage of subtraction by borrowing. Turning back on the previous pages of her note book I noticed that she had solved at least four pages of similar problems. But she looked completely blank on this one. Controlling my urge to reprimand her on not paying attention in the class, I explained to her the simple way to the solutions. Sharp as she is, she successfully dealt with them within next 10 min. Once done, she approached me with a very relieved expression, “It is so simple. In the class, the teacher just crosses across the numbers and then we have to hurry to copy the sums otherwise she wipes out the black board!!!”
A statement that has been coming to me very frequently as a counselor. Parents and students from almost all schools across the city have reported lack of explaining and teaching especially in mathematics. There is a dangerous race to get done with the syllabus and obviously who would like to spend time explaining to the students? It is the same story being repeated year after year, one institute after another. More and more new schools are mushrooming all over. They have national and international brands, sprawling campuses, customized uniforms, and even fruits and milk. However it is noteworthy that none of the schools flaunt real teachers! Amazing isn’t it? The most important aspect of a school is education and the most important factor in education is the educator. But the situation today is quite paradoxical. Teachers are not trained to teach. Most of these are degree holders with another ornamental qualification- the B.ed!! Bachelor of education!!! Most of these degree holders lack the two most important ingradients of teaching-Communication skills and Interest in the pupil!! The interest lies in completion of prescribed curriculum and extracting forced grades. Is it any surprise that most students develop distaste and in many cases real hatred for subjects like mathematics and history. There are many students who learn these subjects again as adults and wonder why they had disliked them as children. Many who could go on to develop careers in these subjects never get to taste the real essence of the subject. It’s a tragedy.
We all know that children place a lot of faith in their teachers at every stage, (that is before they are disillusioned). But when I teach my children they say, “Why don’t you take up the teacher’s job at our school? You make everything seem so easy”. This sentence and more like these talk in details about the current education scenario. Of course there are some exceptionally good teachers even today, but that is precisely how much there are, just “SOME”! And the population is increasing; so is the number of educational institutes- sans real teachers.
The trend with which the primary education starts it leads up to a potholed high school education, the higher education then takes up from there. I recently asked a final year civil Engineering student to give me the approximate dimensions of the large hall (20’ by 30’) we were in. looking around and contemplating she concluded-3’by 4’. I decided to give her one more chance and asked her to look around and at the roof height and then estimate. She reconsidered, had a more serious note on her face and corrected herself-3m by 4m!!!
I am keeping my fingers crossed. Not just my children, but all those around me are groping in the dark. Competing against others and trying to make a mark in the system, they have stopped competing within self to better their understanding and concepts.
All individuals have to grow in order to live fully. Will they get an opportunity to understand the real growth? I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This is the thought that popped up today as I was struggling to catch up with my own mood swings. One of those “when everything goes wrong” days. Sitting back and contemplating now, it has been an interesting day. I, like most normal people convincing myself that none can be the worse sufferer than me. A friend telling me to look around and see that everyone suffers. Another friend showing me the futility of brooding. A senior counselor friend highlighting my capability of handling things well . A great bunch of friends I have. At times I feel they get affected more than me. At the slightest hint of a downward mood, they swing into action and try to set things right for me! You got be very fortunate to have them. Well, the reason for writing today is this thought that struck me. All these people around me were telling me all that I have always known, in fact things that I have myself been showing others. For that matter, when I counsel others or deliver training programmes, I have realized time and again that what I tell is no rocket science. Most of us with the right inputs in life know most of this life saving knowledge. Somehow it is there in all of us, inherited from nature. I approaching you with a set of problems and you would be more than happy to show me the clear pathways to alleviating my misery. But the moment you have your own issues LO! It becomes a problem which has the unique capability of not having any solution, at least not the easy ones!!! What a theoretical life most of us lead. I guess we are prepared for it right from childhood. Take for example our education system. We learn history and the theories of Newton, there are the integers and Algebraic expressions, poetry and laws. We learn them real well for we have to write a paper, but how many times pain is taken to teach us how this knowledge is applicable in our life or rather how this knowledge can be used to gain something more than a degree in our life? We use it to prove to others that we have gained knowledge- theoretical knowledge, same as we keep our knowledge of living as a tool to be shown to others and not using it for ourselves. That takes me back to the stories of Gurukul I had cherished since childhood. That was the real education. There were real lessons, real hardships, real solutions and hands on experiences with the real challenges of life. It was all real and hence the learning was real something that made life real at an early age, not theoretical!! I think we need Gurukuls to learn to live the knowledge we are blessed with.

Friday, March 13, 2009


History talks about the earliest man being engaged in basic survival activities till he discovered his higher needs and newer ways to satisfy them. As his needs increased, providing for them individually became impossible. Then came the barter system and that was the beginning of official ‘Careers’. There were the farmers and the weavers, the blacksmiths and the carriers, the wood cutters and the potters and the number went on increasing as the divisions became finer and finer. And here we stand today with not just biologists but biotechnologists, biomedics, biochemists, animal biologists, plant biologists, microbiologist…then there are doctors who are physicians, surgeons, pediatricians….not to forget the surgeons who are neurosurgeons and later on hand neurosurgeon who would probably go to specialize as thumb neurosurgeon….The point here is that we are living in an era of mini, micro and nano and that shows the big picture of the career opportunities available to us.

And yet we are still fixated on a select few career options that are the easy secure preferences of the masses. Our reasons?- That is what everyone does/ my friends have opted for it/ parents choice…and the big picture starts fading. We put on the blind folds and enter the rat race. This story has been repeated over the decades and it is amusingly the same even today. My grandfather told my father that science subjects give better career, and my father dutifully passed it on to me and even today I see parents who strongly hold to this myth. They surely appreciate some child emerging with flying colors in the field of performing arts, but when it comes to own children, it is always the age old well defined tried and tested risk free options, irrespective of the fact whether the option and its profile suits the child or not.

Some may ask, ‘why so much fuss over making a career choice? People have been doing it over the age”. Agreed, but here I am talking about the bigger picture. For earlier generations, a career had certain meaning and that invariably was spelt as MONEY. A house of ownership and a personal mode of transport while making education and marriage possible for children had been the sole purpose of life and career for many. But today the needs have changed and hence the relevance of ones career.

Agreed, money is one of the vital factors even today, however it ceases to hold its monopoly over the top of the list of factors for personal satisfaction and happiness. Allow me to quote Maslow (1943) here, “Every individual has five levels of needs- physiological, safety, social, ego, and self- actualizing.” He explains that once a lower level is accomplished, the individual seeks higher attainment and thus the quest goes on. Having born into an era of economic abundance, an individual who is adequately educated gets access to most of the basic needs at a comparatively early age. And when the stimulation to advance materially fades out, there comes in a vacuum from lack of purpose and interest at a comparatively early age thus leading to drudgery in life.

Since career occupies the major portion of an adult life, satisfaction and interest in ones profession becomes a prime factor in determining the quality of life.

How can we then afford to make light of the process of career selection when in reality career means the way of living life?

We seek information and guidance before investing money in a property, a vehicle, luxury tour and even at times commodities while these are all temporary, perishable and certainly replaceable. Then how can we afford to make an uninformed decision on the most important aspect of our life? When we doubt all the here-say and so called ‘friendly’ suggestions and almost attempt a research to avoid being cheated in the deal of material goods, how can we make career decision for us and our loved ones on the basis of our age old convictions, friendly advice or the so called popularity trends?

It is high time that we understand that the major questions while selecting a career can not be about the “Best Course” or “best institute” for wherever we study, the period would come to an end in 5 to 7 years. Rather the deciding questions must be, “What is the type of work that I will enjoy performing all my life, even when its glamour has worn off?” and “What is the way I would love to live my life?” An objective answer to these two questions would eventually lead to the suitable career option for the individual.

Here it becomes a little difficult, for it is usually hard for an individual to make truly unbiased and objective observations on one self and on a loved one. And this is where the role of a trained counselor comes in. The counselor can help obtain an objective self analysis, answer all doubts, dispense off the popular myths and with the help of scientific Aptitude and Personality tests give you clear choices on what options would be good for you and which ones to avoid.

A counselor is trained to look at issues objectively; a counselor is non-judgmental and certainly unbiased. His training gives him the vision to see the broader picture. And this is the vision that can be gained after a scientific counseling session. Many a times there are other related issues with career planning like marriage plans for a girl child, community and social preferences, financial status, relationship and responsibility related factors and many more. A counselor can help put things in perspective and give the right direction to career planning.

There are many counselors available around us. What is important is to look at career as a way of living life and not just as a study course. The hesitations to approach a counselor will fade away and the answers will become clearer.

Remember, we all deserve a lasting fulfillment in this beautiful gift of human life.

Monday, March 9, 2009

On the political platform

It was certainly first of its kind experience for me. Sharing the dais with the BJP stalwart like Dr. Najma Heptulla happens only once in a life time. Well… at least I hope it is not very frequent. The meeting was a pleasure and indeed a privilege. Dr. Heptulla stands tall with her excellent educational background and strong political career. She has even authored books on AIDS and women’s issues. At 69 she has an impressive personality and yet non- threatening.
However what intimidated me was the overtly superficial and obviously sycophantic display of political ambitions at the perceived apolitical programme. The occasion was International Women’s day and the intention was to felicitate women who are contributing to the society in some way. It got off to a good start but soon was replaced by the platform to promote the party and its candidates for the forthcoming elections. What amused me was the creation of issues from a non- issues. None seemed to be talking about the real problems. Here are a few samples:
“The govt. always talks about Gandhiji in high esteem. Gandhiji was a staunch advocator of non-alcoholism, and here is the Liquor Barron Vijay Mallya bringing in his belongings back to India. What a shame! How could the govt. permit such a thing? Do we want such a government???” this is followed by a prompted response from the ‘loyal’ audience “Noooooo”!!!???!!!
“Let us show the female power. So in the forthcoming elections, vote you city candidate in full strength and during the counting let the women voters outnumber the men voters…This is real women power….will you do that?”…again the loyalty takes a kick… “Yesssss” !!!???!!!
Frankly, all my way back I was at a loss as to what to make out of the experience.
But the bigger shock came when the next morning when a leading English daily introduced me as “Sr. BJP leader”. Another series of questions was triggered, “A reporter is supposed to report that is his primary duty, then how do they manage to goof up this way every time?”
I wanted to report this some where but the media was not interested. I and many others like me have wanted to report many real issues but no one is ready to take them up, not even the media. Probably they are burdened with many self created issues and non-issues.
Yes…all systems are bogged down by the “Non Issues- Issues”. Where do we take up the real issues?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recession and Kids

“Rich dad Poor dad” the phenomenal book by Robert Kiyosaki has left many impressions on my mind. Among the many lessons, one that struck me most was that kids need to be groomed early in life about money in the real sense. All parents wish their children to do well and grow financially independent. However, with the changing economic scenario and the increasing uncertainties in the world today, the parents need to worry about their own financial security and to ensure for the provision of basic education and training to the kids. And as we talk about the basic education, the kids need to be educated on money matters rather early today. They are exposed to the comforts of money at a very early age. Unfortunately they have conceived money to be a very easily available commodity. We parents are to be blamed to a large extent. However, it is more important to work on how to sensitize them to the changing economic scenario, the current recession and the impending depression? They have not learned to think before asking and it is painful for a parent to refuse anything to the apple of their eyes. How does one strike a balance? We have to gear up for lot more than the eyes can see and none knows for how long. Unless the entire family is in sync it would be difficult to tide through this. Our kids are important part of our family budget and unless they gain at least some understanding of what has hit the world today, it may go on to become a daily source of discontent in the family.
I propose mass training for kids above 10 yrs at educational institutes and on open forums in a friendly and fun way method, to increase their acceptability and sensitivity of the constrained economy today. Such mass approach would decrease their antipathy towards the parents and perhaps open them towards active financial planning with the parents.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Child Philosophy

As we watched the small cluster of lights moving in the sky above us, my depth perception deserted me, “how can an aircraft look so small? It has to be something else”. “Mom, it is very far from us that is why it appears small, don’t you know that?” “yes…but somehow I am not feeling that it is far away..” I was still unsure. “If you do not feel it, does it nor exist? If you hurt yourself and I do not feel the pain, would that mean you do not have any pain?” That was my 7 year old.
Numb with what she said, I just looked at her. My mind was with questions. “how did she think of that?” I have rarely come across adults making such profound statements, lest they are the self proclaimed Gurus. We underestimate the superb potentialities of the kids even though they have been demonstrating it around us time and again. Our education system is cramming the kids with numbers and information and data right from the early years. The sheer volume of the curriculum fills in the days and nights of the little ones. They have questions but they are not encouraged to ask. I have come across teachers that label such children as of nuisance value in the class room. The kids are not encouraged to frame answers with understanding. There is no time to give such attention to the students. In most schools, the mathematics problems are solved by the teacher from the top to the bottom of the black board with such lightening speed that the students have no other option but to copy at frantic speed. I have personally come across bright students that have no concepts with the mathematics fundamentals. Rightly so, when these students advance to the higher classes, they have great difficulty in understanding the subject and eventually develop dislike or even hatred. There is hardly any attempt to develop interest for subjects and general awareness among students leave apart the development of thinking process.
Long back I had come across an article in the Readers Digest titled, ‘Philosophical Thinking’. As per this concept developed by a teacher in the United states, children in very young classes were given a special class once a week where in the facilitators brought up new subjects like, ‘what is a rainbow’, and the students were encouraged to talk among themselves the way they perceived the subject. According to the author, amazing concepts and original ideas were generated during these sessions and students showed improved interests in their curriculum.
Can our education system promote something that thinks beyond creating literates and helps real education?