Education, here and there.

There is a reason I don’t write on topics close to my heart, these days. Once I start, I don’t seem to stop. Or so says the husband, and can’t really blame him. I do tend to go on and on.

So I was talking about teachers and schools yesterday. I’ve been asked many a time about how the schools in India and abroad compare. I can’t talk about other places, the only place I have some experience in is the UK. So here is what I found. It might be limited to the circle I moved in, or even the city, probably. Education is one area where I do feel, quite definitely, that we are better off in the UK. Here is why.

1. Focus on Reading – In India, I found that the focus was far more on the writing than reading. Children in daughter’s class(Grade 1), were still struggling with reading. Apparently during the tests, the teachers would read out the questions so that the children knew what to write. In the UK, I found that the focus was mainly on the reading. They get library books, reading books, and there is a systematic program that measures what level each child is at, and the minimum levels for each year. So most children at the same age in the UK, would be reading at a far more comfortable level. And I think it makes sense. Unless the child can read, how can he/she understand? And despite the fact that so many children couldn’t read, there was no focus on that in the school in India. My friend was trying hard at home to teach her six year old to read, when really, this should have been the first target of a school.

2. Methodology of teaching – In most of the subjects, what I found was that the teachers of my daughter’s school in India still followed the old method of writing on the blackboard and getting the children to take it down. Here it is very different. It is a lot more interactive and children seem to remember their lessons better. I’ve had several instances of daughter coming home and telling in great detail of the things she learnt. Learning was/is fun for her.

3. Student teacher ratio. There is a government specified teacher-student ratio here that all schools have to follow. I wish it were there in India.

4. Different learner levels. I really like this concept in schools here. Children are grouped together based on their abilities and then pushed and encouraged in a way that suits their abilities. This is of course possible only because of small class sizes and teaching assistants to help.

5. Interactive learning. There is a lot of interaction between the children and the teachers. There is also a lot of opportunities for parents to see how classes are conducted and for us to understand how concepts are introduced to the children and for us to teach them at home.

6. Accessible Management. Daughter’s school in India had a very accessible management. And from what I heard that was not common. Here on the other hand, all the schools, that she has been to, have had really accessible management. In her old school, the head teacher would be dusting snow off children’s boots when it snowed. Her head teacher here, was acting as the lollipop man, because the lollipop lady was late. We can go and talk to them anytime. And they do seem to know most of students by name. Of course, the fact that the schools are smaller, must help.

7. Exams. There are no exams here. Daughter had exams on India and she did fine. I’m not sure yet of the merits and demerits of exams. I guess, you do need some form of progress tracker. Are the exams necessarily the right kind, I don’t really know. What do you guys think?

How do you feel about the education system in India?

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 1st – 7th September 2013. Hop over to see more Day 6 posts.

Write Tribe

Scoring high into the IITs

Yesterday, Kapil Sibal proposed that the minimum marks to enter the IITs would be raised possibly to 80-85% in the Class 12 exams. Since then he has back-tracked, but I still wanted to talk about this.

On the face of it, it seemed alright, but the more I thought of, the more I was convinced that this was just not a sensible move. One of the reasons that Sibal states is that coaching centres have been mushrooming around and this move will curb it.

Now, if we do take into consideration, the much maligned coaching centres. The reason, we have so many coaching centres is

1. Our Class 12 syllabus is not geared up to allow a student to successfully meet the IIT standards

2. Our school teachers are not competent enough to teach the children

Surely, if we do need to curb the culture of coaching classes, what we need to do is, ensure that our Class 12 syllabus is geared up for the competitive exams rather than increase the focus on marks in the Class 12 exams. And we need teachers in schools who are able to guide the children through these exams. We have children going to tuitions and coaching classes from Class 1  onwards – surely, there is something wrong in the system? And not in the way the IIT entrance criteria are structured? The fact that so many of our students need coaching outside of school is just an indicator that somewhere our schools are not performing the role they are meant to be.

Secondly, to increase the eligibility percentage to 80-85% also assumes that every board has the same standards and marking policies. Most of us would be aware of how different every state board is. I know, some states, where scoring an 80% is no big deal while some states where it is very difficult and only the very top students manage an 80%. So students studying in some state boards are automatically at a disadvantage.  There is a distinct difference even in ICSE and CBSE boards scoring standards. Without a common board, such a proposal is just recipe for disaster.

Initially, when Kapil Sibal spoke of reforms, the impression that came about was that the system would change from rote learning to practical, from the basic learning. IIT entrance exams, if anything, are a very good test of how good our basics are. I think to shift the weightage from the entrance exams to the Class 12 scores is a sure-shot way of shooting in the foot, the reforms that Sibal spoke of.

Since then, Kapil Sibal has back-tracked. He is doing a lot of things in the right direction, to reform our education system. I think IITs is one place where things are functioning the way it should and he should just let it stay the way it is.

I just had to get that out of my system!

What we learn with pleasure we never forget.

What we learn with pleasure we never forget.
-Alfred Mercier

Scene 1

Friend 1: The syllabus here is so bad. My daughter is learning nothing in school

Me : Is it? She is in nursery, isn’t she?

Friend 1: Yes, and in India, she would be learning spelling and writing and everything.

Me:  But, she is quite young isn’t she? She is not even 4.

Friend 1: All they do is sing and play.. Take them on farm visits – no proper studies! I have brought the syllabus books from India and I teach her in the evenings.

Scene 2

Friend 2 : My daughter is enjoying school a lot here. She used to be terrified of school in India(They just relocated to UK).

Me:  ‘She was just in KG wasn’t she?’

Friend 2: ‘Yes, but they had started teaching them properly. They expected them to start writing and there was a lot of criticism if the children could not do spellings. I find that my daughter picks up things much faster here because she is not under any pressure.’

Me: ‘Oh – that’s a different view. Most people I have spoken to talk about how little is taught here.’

Friend 2:  ‘That was what I used to think too.. Until I saw the difference. Here they encourage imaginative play, let them think, let them grow into their personalities, instead of a fixed syllabus. I think the initial years here are quite good.’

I had been having a lot of discussion earlier, to figure out how much of a difference there is , between the school systems in UK and India. Since we are clear that we do want to go back and live in India – the question just was ‘what was the right time to do so’ . And to be honest, even after all the conversations that I have had, it is still quite a confusing subject for me.

The Advantages of the system here that I hear of is,

  • It is a more relaxed way of learning.
  • Children learn important life skills through the structured ‘play’
  • Children are allowed to develop at their own pace.
  • No tests

And these very points translate into disadvantages

  • It is too relaxed. There is no pressure on the children to excel, no homework
  • Not enough ‘teaching’
  • Children are not ‘pushed enough’
  • no tests – so we can never be sure of how the child is actually performing.

All this just adds to my confusion. I want my daughter to enjoy her childhood. I am not quite sure if forcing her to study is the best way. Isn’t it better for her to get interested in subjects that be forced to ‘learn’ stuff. I hear parents talk about -’which child likes to study? No child will study unless they are forced to!’ But is that really true? Do we need to be forced to study? Is that getting an education or just learning by rote? Are we missing the point somewhere? Isn’t it better to get the child to actually enjoy studies than make it something to dread and worry about?

It all just makes me wonder about what is the perfect balance? How do we ensure that children get the best possible education, they understand the value of education and at the same time are not under undue pressure to perform and remain competitive in a healthy way?  It is so important to get the balance right, isn’t it? I have heard about children here who get no encouragement from parents though they are brilliant in studies. Apparently teachers sometimes have to convince parents to encourage their children to take up exams. That is another end of the spectrum, I guess. I always hear people saying that children studying in UK  are not ‘pushed’ enough, not forced to study.

When I was growing up, I remember that until I was in Class 3, my mother used to keep an eye on my studies. Then, my brother developed some medical complications so both my parents could not really concentrate on my studies. Surprisingly, that year, I performed so well, that I was given an award for exceptional improvement – an Enid Blyton book which totally made my day – but that is another story for another day :) From an average student, I jumped to being a good student. So I used to joke with my parents that I do better without supervision – and they left me to my devices since then. I was always told that they were around if I needed them for any clarifications – but they wouldn’t check if I did my homework or stuff like that.  And I think I liked it that way. I remember visiting a friend once to find her flanked by both her parents – busy teaching her. And I remember even at that age thinking -’ I am so lucky that I am allowed to be independant’. And I did well all through.

That did not mean that  I was not competitive. I was fairly competitive. I knew what I wanted. I knew that I had to get into engineering , so I think I had my goals set out – without it anybody pushing me to things. Again, that might have been because of the environment that I was brought up in. Maybe, somebody from a different background might need more active guidance from teachers or parents.

What really worries my these days is how much more parents are competitive about studying, and education, extra curricular activities.. etc. One of my friends was relating to me about how, when she took up Abacus instructor training in India, she found parents forcing children to take up Abacus simply because it had become a ‘status symbol’! They wanted their children to do it – simply because all their relatives and friend’s children were doing it too! Apparently the teachers had talked to the parents quite a few times that their children were not interested in it – but they just refused to listen! While I hope that parents like these are exceptions, isn’t it horrible, that they exist at all? Isn’t it better to put our children in classes or extra-curricular activities that they actually enjoy? And is not perfectly alright, if for some reason the child is not interested in any such activities?

‘Why , why, is there, this big pressure to conform’

Is conforming to what society expects all that important? I wonder how I will react if my daughter comes up and says that she wants to take up something obscure. Something that might not draw the big bucks? Will I then get off my high horse and tell her that all her dreams mean nothing? That what she wants, has no future at all? I certainly hope not.

I have hopes that by the time she grows up, things will change. We will have more opportunities in India, which is beyond performing extremely well in academics. I have hope that performing well in academics is not linked to rote learning. That everything is not judged by parameters of failure or non failure. That the ‘so-called’ professional degrees lose their importance- that they become just another career. That a degree is not assumed to be an ‘education’.

Which is why, Kapil Sibal’s ideas for education – makes me glad. For a change, we have an education minister who is actually talking about policies that make sense, instead of just changing the syllabus to suit their ideology or changing symbols, left right and centre . He talks of having common entrance exam should determine college admissions, plans of getting rid of exams totally, eventually, he talks about foreign investment in education and of increasing opportunities. I am not sure how much will happen in this term – but it makes me happy that somebody has taken notice of children committing suicides because of exam results and the huge pressure that Indian children seem to be under. He talks like someone who has analysed the issues with our education system and wants to make it better!

Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.
Wiliam Butler Yeats

I think, that is what we need to remember – to light the fire, not just fill the pail!

PS : Kapil Sibal’s interview in which he details out his plans.

Corporal Punshiment – once again?

Another shocking incident of a child being punished (?) and grievously injured by a school teacher. I had written about some cases earlier this year too.. and now – one more, even more barbaric,even more cruel..

This little girl was apparently ‘hit’ by the teacher for not being able to recite the English alphabet.

‘The incident allegedly occurred on Wednesday when Shannoo failed to recite the English alphabet in class. Angered by this, the teacher allegedly hit Shannoo’s head against the table and made her stand in the sun for over two hours. Unable to stand the heat, Shannoo fainted and was found unconscious by her younger sister, who studies in the same school. The girl then informed their mother, Rihanna, who rushed Shannoo to Maharshi Valmiki Hospital. ‘ She is now in a coma and battling for her life..

It is difficult to digest that this sort of a thing happens.. and seems to happen all the time.. What has our education system come to? Why are we having such barbaric incidents of corporal punishments? And is it just a coincidence that these seem to happen to children from the lower economic strata..

Isn’t it time, we analyse to see why such incidents happen over and over again. In most of the private schools, things have changed, but these incidents keep cropping up.  Isn’t it shocking that the very people, we entrust our children’s education with, can actually almost kill them?

A lot has to do with the lack of awareness among teachers. Clearly, teachers who mete out such punishment are not really in the profession, because they really enjoy teaching or because they want to make a difference.. The sad thing is that in India, teaching has become the ‘last option’.. Of course, there are a lot of dedicated teachers, but even a few  bad apples make a lot of difference – to this little girl  – the difference between life and death!  It just goes to show that we have a long way to go , to try and ensure that good quality professionals enter the teaching  profession – instead of it being a ‘last resort’ , that it has become!

Edited to add - I just came across the news item here – that Shannoo Khan, has died. May she rest in peace. Lets just hope that we learn from her death and no more of this happens..