Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Did you ask a question today?

I was reading an article in the newspaper about the release of this book titled " What did you ask at school today?" by Kamala Mukunda. I am yet to read the book, but the title itself sounded very interesting. I read through the excerpts of her interview.

The author says that our education system does not stress enough on concept teaching. Our system is more rigid and stresses more on textbook reading than questioning. She also writes that human brain was not programmed to learn non-innate things like calculus and computer programming but is programmed to learn languages and social communications. Hence she says that a child learns to speak and understand a language well but cannot learn non-innate factors like spellings as easily.

"We give our students knowledge in disconnected chunks, and we expect our students to reproduce knowledge in more or less the same way it was received", writes the author.

That made me wonder if we are'nt making our children into cyclostyle copies or carbon copies of ourselves that is the parents, the teachers and all the other adults with whom they come into contact with or who play a role in shaping their life? The aim seems to be to shape our children into a miniature parent. At school the teacher tries to make her students think and interpret a thought just like she has understood it. This would then mean no originality.

But luckily God has made each child unique. Each one has his or her own level of intelligence. Some are better able to learn by repeatedly going through the lessons while some are able to understand the concept just by going through it once, while there are others who interpret the same concept in a totally different light altogether. Some are very skillful with their hands while some are creative thinkers.

Wouldn't we want some one who is Child I and not Papa II or Mama II?

And every person finds his own calling sooner or later and our world keeps moving ahead generation after generation.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happy Teachers' Day - A trilogy - Part III

In the last two parts of the series, I wrote about my personal experience; that of being a student and later of being a teacher. Over a period of time these have been my observations.

According to our Veda, the place a teacher or a guru is placed topmost in the hierarchy after mother and father. Students came to their Ashrams to learn at a very young age and it was the teachers' sacred duty to mould these young minds and shape their lives. Students did not question the Guru. These Gurus were wise and well versed.

According to Maria Montessori a person cannot be called a teacher. She just directs and guides the child. Children are like little saplings which require the right kind of ingredients for them to bloom. The teacher is the gardener who would nurture these saplings and give them a strong root or foundation so that they grow into strong and sturdy trees. Various eminent educationists and philosophers have devised different methods of teachings. But whatever the method one follows, I feel a teacher should have lot of patience and love towards children and an aptitude for teaching. These two go a long way.

But somehow over a period of time certain aspects have disturbed my mind with regard to this profession. Imparting knowledge, in other words teaching is considered a noble profession. But of late I have read of so many bizarre stories where teachers have been beaten up by students or students have launched agitation against teachers for various reasons.

On the other hand an even more disturbing trend is of teachers who should be enlightening are themselves in the dark. I have read articles where teachers have made the students from lower caste wash the toilets in the school, they have caned the students that have resulted in the little ones losing their sight or hearing and sometimes these actions have even lead to loss of life.

What has lead to this rotten state of affairs? Is this because teaching profession over a period of time has lost its nobility? Even after teaching over several decades, teachers are still living what one can call a 'non-comfortable' life style. India's future lies in its school rooms and if an important component of that ecosystem, the teachers, are not happy, the future of the country is also at stake. This is one of the primary reasons why teaching is hardly a coveted profession for today's qualified professionals.

I have seen instances in many schools where teachers are hired not because they are qualified but there are not many available. Any attempt to fill the vacancies without cognizance to the teaching abilities / qualifications will only affect the standard of teaching. And this is one aspect the Government needs to examine closely.

Hence I feel that unless teaching as a profession and the teachers are given their due place and recognition we cannot hope to bring back the former glory where we can equate the status of a Guru next to that of parents.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Teachers' Day - A trilogy - Part II

These are some of the experiences during my teaching days. I completed my masters in Human Development and for six months worked as a nursery school teacher in the same place where I had completed my nursery education.

Six months into it, I got a call from my college asking me if I was interested in working there. Just the thought of teaching undergraduates and graduates made me excited as well as nervous. Teaching is my passion but just out of college, I wondered if I could handle this job, and that too teaching at college level. I gathered courage and said yes.

My new life as a lecturer began. The first day however was a total disaster. First of all, we had to wear sarees and I was never comfortable in sarees. On the first day, I had to teach the second year graduates. We had an icebreakng session. Then I turned round to the board to give a short introduction to the subject that I was going to teach them. The board was high and there was a platform. I climbed on to that and was writing. My nervousness, the saree, all put together gave me a wrong equation of the distance of the length of the platform and there I was moving towards the edge and not realising it. All the students must have been waiting for this moment and then it happened. I stumbled right down. The saving grace was I did not fall! That was the worst moment for me but a very hilarious moment for all my students.

Well, slowly I started getting into the groove. I shared a wonderful rapport with so many of my students. The subjects that I was teaching was also very interesting mainly - Child Development, Womens' Studies, Microbiology, Physiology and so on. Hence there would be lot of interaction at various levels. As these subjects are mainly to do with being aware of various stages of human development, one could relate to them personally. Many of my students would come and discuss their personal problems as well.

My belief was that teaching had to transcend "lecturing" and had to involve the students at a deeper level. Hence creating various teaching techniques like having the students solve crossword puzzles, conducting quizzes, getting eminent personalities to talk on topics, getting the students to debate made teaching more interesting. I enjoyed this stint of my life getting to know so many wonderful students of mine.

Later my kids came along and I wanted to spend time with them. Once my children were old enough and became independent I worked for sometime in the school where my children were learning. Then, I also had a stint of running a preschool. To interact with little children is to open an amazing world. As Rousseau says children's minds are like a blank slate and hence filling up that space with the right things goes a long way in enriching a child's mind. That was again a deeply satisfying experience for me. The love and joy that the little ones shower on you is very rewarding.

So far this has been my teaching experience with varied age groups - both the teenagers as well as the little ones. All I can say is that teaching is a profession that one has to absolutely love. Because, people in their younger years grow (and grow up) because of their teachers and there cannot be a bigger letdown to these young people than a passionless teacher.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Teachers' Day - A trilogy - Part I

Yet another year and yet another fifth september is being celebrated as "Teachers' Day". I remember my nursery teacher - a very good teacher who used to run a nursery from her house. She laid a strong foundation when it came to the basics of teaching alphabet, numbers and addition and subtraction. I am still in touch with her.

After this, I went to a proper school. There were different kinds of teachers. Some of them were very good at teaching their subjects while some others just couldn't make us understand what they were teaching. Some teachers were forever frowning and scolding all the children while some had the habit of hitting the children on the head with their knuckles. Whew! That used to hurt a lot, though I got the taste of it only once and that too accidentally. That was the time when corporal punishment was allowed.

I also remember another teacher of mine who during exam times would feel so very generous towards those students who had not studied that she would ask the bright students to show their papers so that they too could copy and pass the exam. It was too shocking for us at that time.

At the same time there was this other teacher in high school who was quite passionate with her subject. I still remember her telling me that it is only in teaching profession that a teacher would feel very proud and happy when her students do well.

Then we stepped into a different world that of college life. That was when I really enjoyed my student life. The college that I went to was a very reputed one. Barring a few, most of the lecturers were quite good with their subjects.

Even here I would like to salute that one teacher who came like a whirlwind into our lives. She was short and hardly noticeable but by God! the moment she started her introduction we could all sense that here was a teacher who could be categorised as the "Ideal Teacher". She was the most lively and the most energetic teacher I had ever seen. She would enthuse the whole class. You know what subject she taught us? Of all the subjects it was Chemistry, the most boring and dry subject. That was until she came along.

Can you ever imagine the whole class waiting for a Chemistry period? That was the kind of teacher she was. We also learnt that her family was actually from Sri Lanka and they had come to India as refugees! It was only because of her that we all developed a love for Chemistry. We also started scoring very good marks in the subject. But good things cannot last longer, can they? She left the very next year and we never got to know why. But she will always remain in my memory and I salute a teacher like her and wish wherever she is , she is remembered fondly.

So on this Teachers' Day, I salute all my teachers who have played a crucial part in shaping my academic career. Happy Teachers' Day to each and every one of them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An irreplaceable bond

Today as I was clearing the bed I noticed a book which my son had read and left on the bed. I saw this book was a series of short stories by the great Rabindranath Tagore. Suddenly I remembered the story of Cabuliwallah.

When I was in school, the moment I used to get my textbooks I used to read all the lessons. So when I went through the lessons, one of the lessons was that of Cabuliwallah. I remember reading it and by the time I completed it I was in tears. It was the most touching story. Every time I would read it I used to always cry.

I thought this story brought out the wonderful bond shared between a stranger and a little girl. The Cabuliwallah away from his own little daughter gets attached to this little girl Mini in whom he tries to see his own daughter. The last scene specially is very touching. The Cabuliwallah comes back from the prison. He comes to see his little Mini. Instead he finds a grown up decked bride getting ready for her wedding day. It is then that he realises that even his little daughter whom he had left behind in Afghanistan might have grown up into a young woman. All that he had with him was his little daughter's handprint on a crumpled sheet of paper which he would carry with him everywhere.

Many a time I have seen father and daughters sharing such a wonderful bond and this story is an ode to that special father - daughter relationship.