Friday, March 8, 2019

Awaiting the true International Women's Day

Today March 8th, 2019 is the 110th year that the world is celebrating International Women's Day. How far have women really come from the early 1900s to now? Iceland has been voted the most gender equal nation for the 10th consecutive year. Let us see where India stands.

Closer home, the population Census 2011 states that there are 940 females for every 1000 male. Hence, we still need campaigns like 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' even in the 21st century. India has been ranked in the 108th position out of 149 countries on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap 2017. The Gender gap was measured across 4 key pillars - Economic opportunity, Political empowerment, Educational attainment and Health, and survival. Despite the same qualifications, Indian men get 30% more pay than women according to an ILO report in 2018,

The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs ( MIWE) has ranked India 52nd out of 57 countries, judged on the parity for Women Entrepreneurs. The 6th Economic Census by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), finds only 14% of businesses in India are run by women. Considering all these aspects, how much time and effort is still required for women to celebrate this year's theme of #BalanceforBetter?

The above might just be numbers and statistics. But when we observe within our own environment, it starts with the microcosm that is the 'Family'. Within our own spheres haven't we come across women who are being subjugated or abused either physically or emotionally by the men in their lives? Mind you this is not restricted to any particular socio-economic class.

Sex determination and female foeticide are still rampant, be it in urban or rural areas. Girls are still considered to be a liability.

I have come across women who work at menial jobs, just so that their children can get better education translating into better job prospects and better lives, with absolutely no support from their husbands.

Women working outside of the home are still trying to put on different hats to be that 'Perfect' mother, wife, daughter, daughter in law, friend etc all at the same time. At times they have to sacrifice their promotions and job assignments outside for the sake of the family.

A woman who is a homemaker has to face the ignominy of 'not working outside and earning', though she is the busiest, working to make family life that much more meaningful and comfortable for all.

These are the everyday women, the real heroes, who despite facing hardships and frequent knocks are out there with boundless energy, smiling, working harder because they want to bring about that change. A salute to all the women out there, and hoping that a time comes when we no longer need to celebrate Women's Day to showcase different facets and areas where women are facing challenges, but celebrate a lifetime of 'Humanity Day' where the word 'Gender' is stuck out of the dictionary.

Friday, January 25, 2019

A choice by Design

After the preliminary academic journey of our second son, which I have captured here, it was research time once again. This time around it was to look for good design schools. We actually found that there were several institutes offering courses in design. However, some institutes preferred students having a science background. So automatically these got eliminated from our list.

We zeroed in on five Institutes which offered Design courses and applied online. The Entrance exams for the design courses were very different and tested their creative skills, design conceptualisation, logical and analytical thinking and so on. The exams happen in between their school academic years. Being private institutes, they conduct their own entrance exams.

While four out of five of these institutes had entrance exams as their main criteria for selection, the fifth institute had several steps when it came to shortlisting the candidates. Now, this institute was what interested my son! This came highly recommended by one of his friends whose cousin was doing her course there.

The candidates got shortlisted at every step. He first submitted the Statement of Purpose and once this was approved, then came the submission of his Portfolio. The first two steps being done online. He uploaded his collection of sketches, designs and drawings that he had done during his Foundation Course. Once he was shortlisted he went to the Institute to give his Entrance exam. They were given their scores on the same day and then as he got through this he had his interview. Then began the nail-biting wait to see whether he had made it to the final list. Yes, he had made it! The best part here is that we get to know the results even before his school final exams! This then would let him concentrate solely on his final exam!

His final exams were soon over and he got his results. He had done well. Since his college would start only in September he had a good three months to relax. However, days flew past and it was time to start packing. Second time round we were connoisseurs. This time it was me advising on traveling light and not over packing! Our second son was now ready to spread his wings and fly!

Another milestone and another Institute to see where my son was going to be for the next five years, as this was an Integrated Masters Course. The institute located on the outskirts of the city was spectacular. The Academic and the Hostel blocks were designed beautifully. There were beautiful and intriguing murals and structures. These were set amidst huge expanse of well manicured lawns. It was truly a beautiful design campus!

The itinerary was prepared by the college for the students as well as the parents. Admissions and college procedures along with checking into the hostel was done on the first day. The hostel rooms were neat and clean. It was a twin sharing arrangement. We were very satisfied with the room. My son took to the place as a duck takes to the water. He insisted that he will stay in the hostel from the first day itself though he had the option of staying with us in the hotel room. Suddenly it struck me that he was now ready to make his own mark in the world!

The second day was the Orientation day for students as well as parents. The Chairperson and the Principal along with all the Trainers gave us a thorough briefing about the Institute and the courses. All queries put forth by the parents as well as the students were answered to our satisfaction. An exhibition of designs and models made by the students over the years were displayed and we were taken around. We could see so many outstanding designs and we were told that many of these had been chosen by reputed companies and were already into production.

That night the college had hosted dinner for all the parents and the students. Over a sumptuous three course meal, we met students and their parents who had come from different parts of the country. There was a lot of bonding as everyone shared the same aspirations and interests. There was excitement, laughter and animated conversations going on. It was like one big family bash. We also got to interact with Trainers from different countries. Overall we were very happy and knew that we had made the right choice.

All too soon it was again that time when we had to bid our final adieu to our son. When we came back home it was time to restart our lives which had so far been revolving around our children. It was a fresh beginning and an adventure for all of us on this beautiful journey of life.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Decisions, decisions, decisions - Yet again

Two years just flew past. It looked like it was just the other day when we were busy with the admissions to the college of our elder son. I have chronicled that entire journey in
'Life out of a cocoon - Part 4'

It was now the turn of my younger one!

There is a gap of 21 months between my two sons. When my younger son completed his 9th grade we asked him what decision he had made about the stream he wanted to pursue in his 11th and 12th grade. If it was Engineering, Medical or Pure Sciences, then he had to take up the Science stream. This meant getting into the juggling act of coaching classes once again, which gave me nightmares. But, mentally we were bracing ourselves to go through this whole jig if he were to choose so (sigh).

But he decided on taking up Commerce as his stream. Two reasons sealed his decision:
1. While he was above average in Math, it wasn't something he was in love with.
2. He had seen what his brother had gone through and that was definitely not his cup of tea.

He is good at sketching and drawing. Right from his childhood, he was very methodical, detail oriented and neat in his work. This was the comment that his teachers too would make about his work. But, he was his best critique! He would never be happy with his work and it would be done and redone until he was satisfied. Everything from his books to pencil box had to be arranged in a certain way. Touching his books or pencil box by any one of us was taboo! Even if we took out something and kept it perfectly the way it was, he would still know that someone had gone through his stuff!

Given all these peculiarities, he was clear it had to be something in fine arts. But did not have any clue as to what it could be. We then zeroed in on architecture. On enquiring, we found that one had to prepare for entrance exams to get into Architecture. This required preparation. One of my friends highly recommended this particular coaching institute where her daughter used to go. We went to this Institute during his summer vacations to find out more details about the course. After talking to the Trainer, we came to know that apart from Architecture, they also offered coaching classes for Design courses. This was something very new to us! The Trainer explained to us about various fields of design which one can pursue like Product design, Transportation design, Game, and Animation design and so on. We had never heard about this at all. We spoke for a long time and the more we got to know about it, the more my son started leaning towards design. Finally, my son decided to explore this option for two reasons:

1. He had found something which intrigued and interested him.
2. He came to know that Architecture required him to take math as one of the subjects in 11th and 12th grade. That was anathema to him.

He started attending what was called Foundation Classes at the institute, during his summer vacations. The Foundation Classes would help the Trainers gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the students and also help the students to actually discover if this was their calling. The classes were very interesting. The students were asked to sketch and design some twenty odd T-shirts, ties, jewelry, cartoons, furniture, shoe, school bags, sketch stories and so on.

As he started attending the course, a new world opened before him. He started enjoying it and discovered different facets and skills unfolding. Once his regular school classes started, the Foundation classes were held only on weekends. Our days of scurrying, ferrying and driving to and fro was finally over! Did I mention that Math was not mandatory for Design courses? So there, that was an added incentive for him.

P.S.: My son finally ended up taking Math in 11th and 12th grade as we felt if he were to change his mind and wanted to take up Architecture, then he would still have an option. To his credit, he managed to do well in Math without going for extra coaching!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Life out of a cocoon - Part 4

"There are two times when Parenting is difficult. When the baby first arrives at home, and when the adult first leaves home"- Jennifer Quinn.

This is just a quote until the time you experience it yourself and then it hits you hard. Though my son had gotten into the Institutes in the same city that we resided in, we wanted him to go out from this protective cocoon out into the world and spread his wings. I remember one of my friends being surprised when we told her that we actually would like our children to go out and experience life outside of home!

Moreover, it is only the human babies who are nurtured close to one and half decades in comparison to the bird and animal kingdom. The young ones of birds and animals, have to be up and about within a couple of hours or days after birth so that they don't fall easy prey to predators in the jungle.

Therefore, it is but natural for parents to be anxious and worried about the wellbeing of their children. More so, because of the impressionable (and vulnerable) age at which they leave home for the first time. But we wondered if not now, when? On his part, my son felt the thrill and excitement of exploring a new world on his own for the first time in his life as well as anxiety on how he would manage. Days flew by. The college forms and the hostel forms were filled. Though the college had allocated a single room with attached toilet, we opted for three students sharing a room with common toilet. We wanted him to build relationships with his peers, understand the meaning of sharing, adapt to the nitty-gritty of living in a hostel (washing one's clothes etc) and not get used to small luxuries that come with a single room.

There were umpteen things to do. Lists were drawn out as to what all things he needs to pack. His clothes, bedsheets, pillow covers, toiletries, medicine kit, hangers, etc. Apart from his list I had drawn my own list! How can I not pack some of his favourite goodies and snacks.... my list was never-ending. Somehow as mothers, we have this tendency of 'overpacking' (that is what I tell myself) thinking that one needs to be prepared for future contingency. As the baggage started increasing in numbers and getting heavier, both my son and husband finally put their foot down. They told me that it is not a remote place that he will be going to and removed half of what I had packed..(But then, I still managed to sneak in a few things when no one was around) My husband and son were baffled as to why the bags were still heavy!

The College had various formalities that needed to be completed and an orientation for the parents had also been arranged by the college. We did not want to miss out on this important milestone in our son's life. Since this was also the first time that our son was leaving home, my husband and I decided to go along with him. The college also made arrangements for parents to stay in the hostel rooms within the campus. We thought that would be the best way to assess things first-hand.

So, we landed up there and the first view of the college mesmerized us. Situated atop hills at a height, there it was, acres of lush green land with academic blocks and hostel blocks spread out far and wide. It made us go wow! The hostel rooms were very neat and comfortable too. This particular town actually is a University town. Engineering, Medical, Management, Hotel management institutes all being located in this town - it would perhaps be a town with one of the youngest populations in the country. One would only see students all around us. The small shops within the campus added to the charm. Here we were amazed at the range of products that were being sold! There was everything that a student would ever need. I realised then that whatever we had packed was all unnecessary. The shopkeepers, in fact, knew exactly what we needed and without being asked would just assemble everything in front of us as a package. Such was their efficiency.

Then to my son's delight there were umpteen number of restaurants with all kinds of cuisines. Guess what! The prices were half of what we would pay back home. The food in the food court within the college was also good. We were really happy with the entire set up.

On the parent orientation day, both the faculty and the hostel warden spoke about all the do's and dont's within the campus and the hostel. Whatever our worries were, was allayed by the staff and the faculty. The rules for hostel were very strict and it was a great relief for us. As all the parents were in the same boat, we exchanged notes and found that we were not the only odd ones out! All of them had similar queries and doubts.

Suddenly, it was that moment of saying our final goodbyes. With a promise to keep in touch whenever and whatever time it may be, and also assuring him that we are always there to listen to him with regard to any issues or problems that he might face during his course of time there, we bid him adieu. It felt strange when we got back home with one less member of the family. The saving grace was my second son being home with us for the next two years!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years - Part 3

As the students started preparing intensely for their school exams as well as entrance exams for professional colleges, we parents also had our tasks cut out. Our job was to research and do some background checks on the professional colleges, the courses they offered, the fee structure, their infrastructure and so on and so forth. Initially it seemed to be very confusing. Colleges that came under Government purview had a different system, whereas  private colleges had their own set of rules.

Since all the parents were in the same boat, we decided to set up a parents' group. On this group, we shared information about colleges, the dates when application forms were to be issued, the payment details, the last date for their submissions etc., This way we ensured that none of us would miss out on important deadlines. For the first time, I started maintaining a diary where I would note down all these details. By the way, the private universities/colleges start their admission process as early as November. The Government colleges as usual take their own time.

The private colleges conduct their own Entrance Exams. Generally, most of the children give about six to seven Entrance Exams! Be prepared for rising expenses at this time. You will not only be paying hefty school fee but coaching classes also come at a cost. Add to this travel expenses, books and stationary items, and the fee for all these application forms. Good education does come with costs attached.

It is a flurry of activity from November onwards. Filling online application forms, making payments online, and finally submitting the forms. The school as well as coaching institutes finish their syllabus by December and from then on, it is a series of preparatory tests and exams for the children. Our juggling still continued, that of driving my son to coaching class and from there to school everyday for two years!

Dates and centres for the twelfth grade final exam were announced. Time became a precious commodity. Before we knew it, the exams had started and also came to an end. The nerve wracking period doesn't end here. Immediately after his school exams, my son had to appear for the various entrance exams that he had applied for. I got to know areas in Bangalore which I had never ever heard of, as each exam centre was in different corners of Bangalore. While Google Maps was there, we would recce some of the areas that we were unfamiliar with, a day or two before the exams to ensure that it was actually 'the exam centre'.

Finally, the months of April and May arrived. This was marked by a frenzied activity of going from one centre to another to give entrance exams. The entire preparation of coaching classes was not only to make the students proficient in the subjects but it was also about training them to answer each question within two to three minutes. It was basically a race against time. To solve complicated and confusing questions using different logical steps within a given framework of time. To make it more challenging there was negative marking too!

After writing two or three exams my son started chilling. The two years of struggle was taking its toll and needed that chilling period. Most of his exams were over by May. Did I tell you that more than writing the exams it was waiting for the results which was nerve wracking? Some of the private institutes had already announced the results and had started with admission process. This was basically to get students to enroll into their institutes. I felt this was not fair on students and the parents. If all the results are announced around the same time, parents would have the leverage to take informed decisions (pick the best amongst the available)

I reiterate that one should let one's child decide what they are interested in. Most of the professional colleges announce a second and a third list of admissions. In such scenarios, your child might get into a reputed institute but the stream of their choice may not be available. The parents then try and convince the child that the name of the institute matters more than the stream of his/her interest. But, I would say that it is your child who will be going through the course and not you. Please let your child decide.

Well, by mid July my son was clear which University he wanted to get into and also got the stream of his choice. He was now all set for a new journey in the course of his life. For the first time, he was going to be living away from home.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years - Part 2

I started off this 4-part series by talking about how nostalgic I become when I see news items of entrance exams for professional colleges.  Please read on for Part 2.


My son was now all set to start at the coaching institute. It was time for some logistics. They had two slots: one was at 6.00 in the morning and the other was 6.00 in the evening. Choosing the first option would mean he could reach the destination in half an hour to forty-five minutes - courtesy no traffic. The question then was he had to get up by 4.45 - 5.00 in the morning. Could he? He would have to go through this process for the next two years! From the institute, he would then have to directly go to school. The school starts at 8.10 am. Even if he gets delayed by 5 minutes the school would penalize him. This also meant my husband had to take him to the coaching class every day.

Choosing the evening session would mean commuting in heavy traffic. He would have to start directly from school and while coming back it would almost be 9.00 pm. He then had to finish his homework, study, prepare for tests, complete school projects and so on and so forth. Whew!!

After weighing all the pros and cons, we decided on taking the morning session.  However, as a mother, I was worried about him eating on time and eating healthy. Since he would start at 5.00 in the morning, he would not be able to have his breakfast. We decided to send his breakfast and lunch box courtesy, my younger son who was also studying in the same school.

Finally, things sort of fell into place. It now became a routine for my son and husband to go early in the morning. While my son attended his classes, my husband would take his early morning walk in the park nearby, amidst lush greenery with birds chirping and temple bells ringing all round. This did have some positive aspect after all!

Every day would be an adventure, which we would all wait to listen to. My husband who is a safe driver otherwise had now become a la James Bond and Michael Schumacher rolled into one. Maneuvering the car through small gaps, whizzing past just as the signal would turn red, and a couple of times even jumped the signal so that they could make it to school on time. This routine would continue from Monday to Saturday. Even Sundays were not spared. The only grace was, the classes started a little late and my son would go on his own.

Many a time I would wonder if this high action drama was necessary at all. The solace was that my son found some of the Professors at the coaching institute to be really good. He really enjoyed the way math and physics were taught there. Anything that required logic, reasoning and analytical skills interested him. Here was a designed course material that was challenging and required him to really rack his brains instead of the usual rote method which generally the schools here in India follow. In fact, he would say that he had a better conceptualisation of problems and also would try different ways of solving the same.

The next two years just whizzed past. The days seemed to be blending one into another without a break. His life revolved around studies, exams, tests, and homework. While we were providing the support systems for the preparation, we also realized that bulk of the effort could happen only through self-motivation and not through daily persuasion. Hats off to the boy (and tens of thousands others like him) for being focused for 2 long years managing 2 schools with 2 different curricula simultaneously.

This of course, did not mean that it was academics all the time. Yes, birthday parties were still on, sleepovers did happen but a little less frequently. Once in a while when we felt he was becoming a little lax, there would be pep talks too!

Yes, as parents we did go through moments when we would feel he could have studied a little more than he did or he could have utilized time in a better way and so on. He would get cranky at us sometimes. But, well that seemed to be a part and parcel of life at that given point of time. There were some very anxious moments for us when just before the pre-final exam he fractured his right hand!! Thanks to Abacus classes that he had attended for two years when he was in his 4th and 5th grade, he managed those days by writing his notes with his left hand! And finally, the 12th grade exams were just around the corner. It was Exam time!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years


In the last four years, whenever I saw the newspaper headline saying 'Common Entrance Test results announced', I would heave a deep sigh of relief. Why? For the simple reason we were now out of this ordeal. I took sadistic pleasure in passing on the baton to the next set of parents and students!

However, I can never forget those two gruelling years when children had to decide on their professional careers and the preparations that they had to go through to get into a decent professional college. India, like many other Asian countries is highly competitive. (You can read about and watch the exam frenzy in South Korea here and here)What with lakhs of children appearing for entrance exams for admissions into one of the thousands of professional colleges!

This series of blog posts documents the process, the upheavals we went through when our kids were preparing for their entrance exams for professional colleges. Our experience might help parents whose children are currently in their 11th or 12th grades.

First up, do not expect this to be a smooth sailing, physically, mentally and emotionally. However, do not forget that the most important person here is your child. Let your child decide what their dreams and aspirations are. Do not force or expect your children to try and fulfil your dreams. This would be a highly explosive situation, which both parents and children will find tough to recover from.

Remember, your children at this age are also going through very rough times. They now think that they are almost adults and know what is best for them. They make their own decisions and do not like parents to tell them what they should or should not be doing. You can guide them and discuss the pros and cons, but the final decision should always be left to them. 

Getting back to my experience, once my elder son was clear that he wanted to take up Engineering stream, our search for coaching institutes began. Here, I have to tell you that the need to take up external coaching through one of these Institutes is completely dependent on the child's work ethic (the ability to be focused, diligent and extremely goal oriented) apart from the confidence to handle the exams on one's own. Wait! there is also another option. You parents can don the mantle of a teacher if you so had a dream at one time. Yes, I have heard of instances where the parents take a sabbatical for two years to coach their children themselves! You have to be good in core science subjects though. So the choice is yours.

Coaching Institutes are another story. The bigger ones have their own entrance tests to qualify for admission into these Institutes. What an Irony! And all this to help your child prepare for the entrance exam to get into a Professional college!  So we were elated when it was announced that the school in which my son was studying had tied up with one of the leading coaching institutes which would give coaching after school hours. 

Hurrah! We felt happy as the advantage was, that the venue would be their own school. Commuting would be nil. Also, there were so many children from our apartment, that we parents could take turns to pick up children at 8.00 pm when their classes would end. The only negative being that he would be spending almost 12 hours at the school! But considering other options, we all felt that was not an issue at all. On the D day, we wished him all the best. He gave his Entrance Exam and we all waited with bated breath for the results to be announced. Well, destiny had other plans for him I guess. All our well-made plans came to nought when he told us that he did not make it to the final list.

This spelt trouble for us. So we spent time googling various other coaching institutes, their success rates, the fee and of course the distance. Our research helped us zero in on one of the best coaching Institutes. However, we also discovered that even among the one that we had shortlisted the best Professors were at their main centre. Now, this was a good one hour's drive from our house during peak hours in the evening.

However, the first priority was to see to it that our son got through the Institute's Entrance Exam. We thought logistics could be worked out later. Much to our delight,  he had cleared the Entrance and had got admission at the Institute. We were relieved. He had made it and had crossed the first hurdle. Hurrah again! Little did we realise that this was, but the first step.