Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Real life and reel life

Now and then I have been reading about the two child artistes Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail in the papers. The director of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle had set up a trust and the children were to get a stipend of $ 120 a month. This was done to help them get a better education and hence a better future. Later it was reported that they were playing truant and their school attendance was around 27% and 37% respectively. They were told that unless they attend school regularly or atleast have 70% attendance they would forfeit their stipend.

When I read this article I wondered whether this would be possible at all for these children. First and foremost we must understand that these children were living in the slums unnoticed. All of a sudden they came into limelight because of the movie that got them world attention and not to mention the Oscars.

But over and above this what is their motivation level? The combination of poverty, uneducated parents and the surroundings they live in definitely does not help them in achieving that motivational level. I wonder if they would at all realise the importance of education at this stage. Infact elders might consider using them as a lucrative option in making some easy money thus leading to their exploitation. Moreover having got the taste of earning money by acting, who would like to sit and study hard and pass exams? They need immediate rewards. I feel sorry for these children whose life has seen a steep high and a steep low. Stark contrast between their reel life and real life isn't it?

Our education system should be designed to motivate children to learn (and not study). This holds even more significance when we talk about getting children from the lowest strata of income level to enroll into schools. For most of them, getting two square meals a day is a priority than getting educated which they might consider a luxury.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Parenting lesson from a cab driver

The other day I got into conversation with the cab driver enroute to my mom's place. These days what with traffic and signals one spends about an hour to reach one's destination. Hence I had all the time in the world and started conversing with the cab driver. I enjoy listening to stories of different people and their lives. This is what he told me about his life.

He hails from Shimoga. Lack of job landed him in to our own Bengalooru. He got a job as a cab driver and has since been doing this for the past eighteen to twenty years. He has a daughter and two sons. His aim was to educate his children and enable them to earn a comfortable living. Unlike other people I have seen who prefer convent education for their children he sent his children to government schools. His daughter got 98% in science and showed keen interest to get into college and take science the stream. Though it was difficult, he encouraged her and managed to send her to college. English medium was a problem for her as she had studied in Kannada medium throughout. So she enrolled herself into an English learning school and picked up the nuances within three months. Math was also another subject she was weak in and her father sent her for tutions though it was difficult for him. But in her second year, she failed in math and though she reappeared a second time she couldn't make it. She told her dad that she would like to discontinue as she was finding it difficult. He agreed and she got a job in a bank and now she is married and has a child. He was happy that his daughter was well settled.

Coming to his sons he said that they both studied upto twelfth grade and now one is working as a cab driver and the other son is doing something on his own.

What I liked about this person is that he tried his best in fulfilling his parental duty. When his children wanted to study he was there for them, supporting them even under difficult situations. When they said they wanted to start work he gave full support and once they got into jobs he stepped back saying now it is upto them to make a success out of their lives. Now he says if they come to him and say they want to get married he will complete that duty too as a parent. So very focussed and clear. Hats off to this parent.

But after all this he says that his heart still belongs to the place where he was born and brought up. His dream now is to earn enough money and go back to his beloved Shimoga and lead a quiet life away from this mad frenzy. He says if this minute anyone offers him a job in Shimoga with a salary of Rs.4000- 5000 per month he will just pack his bags and leave that very instant. He says that he has had enough of city life.

Once I reached my destination I wished him all the best. I wished with all my heart that he realises his dream.

Monday, January 18, 2010

When should one start preparing for professional courses? - Part II

My previous blog post " Preparing for professional course, when should one start? received several helpful comments from parents and friends through mail and face book. Thanks for all the views and opinions that each one has given me. This made me get a better perspective and was really helpful.

Listed below are some of the opinions.
1. There is no need to start so very early.
2. This would put a lot of pressure on the child
3. Children at this stage cannot decide or will not be clear about the course that they prefer
4. Parents are the best judges to decide for the child.
5. The child should be the decision maker on what field he or she wants. We, as parents need to just be there to guide them.
6. Is it mandatory for a child to choose the traditional professional course at all?

We therefore thought that the best course of action was to clarify our doubts through the Programme Co-ordinator. A session was therefore arranged by the school. We were told that the CBSE curriculum for lower grades has been diluted over a period of time in order to cater to all IQ levels. However, those children who would like to pursue professional courses after their eleventh and twelfth grades need to be prepared to take up exams at a competitive level. 

As schools will not be able to fill this lacunae, children need that extra coaching. We were also told that in these classes children get to learn from a different perspective when it comes to solving problems. It would be more of analytical and logical thinking. Also children would get to know where their strength lies and hence prepare accordingly.

After this session we as a family had a discussion and the outcome was :

1. It is best to get a general idea of how challenging a subject can be and how he can work through it.
2. Let him have the opportunity to explore his own strengths and work on his weaknesses.
3. Finally, provide him with this opportunity and see if he likes it.
4. This would be part of his learning process and could be a stepping stone for the future course of action. 

We decided, as parents, we can only be instruments of guidance and help provide opportunities for our children. After this it is left to the child to understand and go through this process of learning and try and achieve whatever goals that he or she sets. After all I guess isn't that what life is all about? Learning continuously and discovering oneself?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Preparing for professional courses. When should one start? Part I

Right now my elder son will complete his eighth grade and will be in the ninth grade next academic year. There are many private institutes which have started giving out application forms for those children who are interested in taking up professional courses after twelfth grade. They claim that they will lay a strong foundation for children in science and math. Now these are two year courses which will commence during the summer vacation. Once school reopens then it will be held once or twice a week for the next two years.

My dilemma is whether I should enroll my son now or should it be done once he is in the eleventh grade. At this age he is not very sure what line he would like to pursue. I do not know whether I need to burden him right now. At the same time I do not know if he will be missing out on an opportunity given the tough competition that they have to face these days.When I asked these centres if it is important that they go through this now or should it be when they are in the eleventh grade? They say that it is better if they do it now as they will also get to know whether they have the aptitude to go in for professional courses in future. But don't children change over a period of time? At this age they are still not so serious.

These days coaching for IIT and other such courses start when children are merely in the sixth grade!!! I wonder if there is any childhood left for them. Apart from school pressure they must also study hard at their second school i.e. the coaching centers that they go to. These centers also have strict rules and are run just like a regular school except for different timings. I feel totally confused. If it is a child who has that extraordinary talent of deciding what he would like to do in future and is steadfast then it is really worth.

Many a time I really admire these children who from some remote rural village have got into IIT or an engineering college or medical college. They did not go to some fancy coaching center but got into this by sheer hard work. So is it possible to get into prestigious institutes without going to these kind of classes? Interests and aptitude change in children over a period of time. Specially I think boys show maturity only at a later stage and right now my son is still in that playful mode. Hence right now I am at crossroads. Can any one guide me?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Money matters and your child - Part II

In part one, I wrote why finance management is important for children. I was then pondering as to how could we as parents undertake this task of giving our children good financial education.

I was reading this wonderful book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. It was quite enlightening. He stresses the importance of giving a sound financial knowledge to children right from school. According to him, education is important but he says that the advice that he got from his own father whom he calls as poor dad was the standard one which we all say to our children from the beginning - study well, get a good job and live comfortably. But most of the time the author says that though his dad was a professor and earning a good salary, all that he was earning went into tax and to pay the loan taken towards home, car and other luxuries. In other words he was forever poor.

Whereas his friend's father who was running a company would always advise him to get a good education, try and own a company instead of working for it. Always try and build assets and not liabilities.

I feel in Indian culture from early ages taking a loan was considered to be a social taboo while it has changed in recent years. Most of them adhered to the saying - stretch your legs only till the length of your bed; in other words live life within your means and don't go beyond.

Who does not remember the first piggy bank that we all used to put our money into? We would never think of spending any of it. So I believe the first step is to inculcate in our children the habit of saving. Saving for a rainy day always helps.

Next the simpler the life we lead the better. Here we as parents have to practice what we preach. Discussing with our children the income and expenditure on a broad basis helps. When we take decisions making them the part of our discussion also creates awareness. How much information and in what way we give it out to them depends on the age of the children.

It would be a good idea if we ask our children to maintain a diary where they make a note themselves the day to day expenses that we incur.Then they know how and on what money has been spent. They will also then get a fair idea and can then categorise between money spent on necessity, comfort and luxury.

As they grow old enough to understand the nuances of finance, one can explain how credit and debit cards work. I remember this incident when one of our cousin's child was asked as to what he would do when he grows up. He answered that he would just go to the ATM, withdraw the money and hence there was no need to work.

As and when they start working, teaching them various ways to build assets with the money that they earn might lead one fine day to the culmination of all the financial education that we as parents have been teaching them from childhood.

I would also like to hear from you parents as to how you handle this situation and the solutions that you have tried which might also help me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Money matters and your child - Part I

Considering the price rise these days, juggling essential expenses like those related to household, education, the comforts (like eating out, entertainment etc.,) we have got used to, would be a challenge that every homemaker faces. Furthermore, children these days look for nothing but the best come what may.

I remember during our childhood our monetary requirements were very modest due to these following reasons:
1. We were not brand conscious and hence anything which our parents bought would do.
2. Our parents encouraged us to be responsible with our money. Pocket money of course was unheard of. Whenever we wanted any money which was basically something which the school had asked us either for picnics or for some charity, we would ask for the required amount and we had the liberty of taking the money from the family box once we had the permission.
3. In case we had to entertain our friends it was done at home.

But today our children are living in a 'brand era' thanks to peer pressure or continuous exposure to sophisticated advertising. Their wants have increased tremendously and their demands do not seem to show concern for the 'value for money' concept. This is what led me to think - shouldn't children be given sound financial management knowledge at an early age? And sooner the better. Schools do not teach any of this and therefore children are ill equipped to deal with money in day-to-day life.

Children also seem to have a different take on the 'value'. "It's only Rs.1,500. Isn't that cheap? My friend got it for Rs.2,200." And for what? A Football club branded T-shirt.

This has set me thinking as to how as parents we can teach our children the value of money. Right from a young age, they have got used to comforts and luxury. They have always travelled by car (although, thankfully, we insisted that they travel to school in bus / school van), eaten in modestly good restaurants, have got admissions into good schools - in short they have got it all. Though from the beginning we have tried to be quite modest in our expenditure, as children grow older, I see the peer pressure clearly having an upper hand. As a result, disappointments are aplenty as their wants do not seem to match with our expectations of what they should get. This really worries me a lot. How will they ever learn to be happy and realise that there is no end to their wants?

I always give them what they call as 'lecture' on how important it is for them to realise that material things will never give them long-lasting happiness and there will always be one more last thing that they need. But it never ends there, does it?

Hence I am putting down a few thoughts I felt would atleast try and bring things into perspective for our children in part two of my blog.