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

The Generation Gap

Husband was telling Daughter that we didn’t have television while we were growing up.

Pat came the question, ‘So how did you watch the telly, on the phone? Or on YouTube?’

After we stopped laughing, we told her that at her age, we didn’t even have a phone in the house, asking her, ‘Can you imagine how tough it must have been to call our friends and relatives?’.

‘So did you communicate using emails?’

It is funny how Daughter finds it so difficult to even understand how different lives were while we were growing up. She couldn’t bring her head around the fact that so many things that she uses on an everyday basis, was not even part of our lives, when we were her age.

So much so, that she had to ask, ‘So, did you feel like you were living in the olden times?’

When Love becomes a poison…

Last night, we watched BBC’s India’s Super Size Kids.

It was a scary watch,to say the least. They followed the lives of two young people. A 13 year old and a 20 year old. Both of them obese and addicted to fast food. The program was following the impact of Western fast food joints that have mushroomed in the Indian cities and how it has resulted in the obesity crisis among the adolescents of India.

While I am sure that the fast food and the general eating out culture has a lot to do with the crisis, I was more appalled by the attitude of some of the parents,who saw nothing wrong in their children being overweight or eating badly. And these weren’t the uneducated or people who wouldn’t know better, these were parents who should have known better, who should have the tools necessary to find out more.

It reminded me of a family we met in India. Their teenage daughter looked overweight to me, not obese, but definitely overweight. In the conversation, the mother talked about wanting to buy the best for her children. It made me wonder, what the ‘best’ was, when the she said that she loved it that her house was centrally situated to two KFC outlets.

Another friend was telling me about a friend of her’s who would make gulab jamuns in ghee for her daughter, on a regular basis, until they realized that they had an overweight 10 year old on their hands.

Daughter’s school had some performance night, and I remember being a little surprised that the children(adolescents mainly) seemed a little on heavier side. Another mum told me that it was because all that children want to eat these days is junk food.

I’ve heard parents proudly claiming that they want to give their children ‘everything they didn’t have while growing up’. It makes me wonder if that attitude has more to do with the current crisis. Pampering with food and inactivity. Every wish of theirs pandered to.

While I am sure the fast food outlets do need to be responsible, surely, we as parents, have a bigger responsibility to ensure that our children are eating right? We all love our children, and sometimes, that love might mean that we have to stop them from doing things that our children might love, if it’s not right for them. And really, it is far easier if we start off right, rather than having to set things right after things have gone horribly wrong.

As I read this back, I do feel that I’ve been rather judgemental. Probably because, the feeling I got was that eating out regularly at junk food outlets, seem to be aspirational not just for the kids but also for the parents. And that saddened me, so much so that I woke up still thinking about those kids who are eating their way to bad health.

Just for the sake of recording things.

I don’t write too much about Daughter these days. I guess the fact that she is older and far more independent helps, plus the fact that I don’t want this place to be about me being a gushing mommy.

But some things need to be recorded. Like the way she has been a super trooper this last year. I have always said that the only reason I was able to do all the relocating and the re-relocating was because Daughter was such a star. The first two weeks in India was manic. And she was right there, patiently reading a book while I sorted out the plans for the new kitchen or helped me select sofas by trying each one out, being a star even when she was tired. All that I needed to do was bribe her with some books. At the end of long days, we would stop at Landmark and pick up books. That would be enough to keep her spirits high.

The whole time in India, wasn’t easy on her. She was missing her dad, and yet she did not act up as much as she could have. Just as we got settled in, plans changed and we had to move back. For her, moving back was more fun, she was going to be back with her dad, and in a lot of ways, she missed the UK. I realized how much only when we got back here.

Coming back here, going to a new school, making new friends, she did it all. Before we knew it, she was settled in, happy. I was worried about how she would cope up because the syllabus here is much more vast, but she did fine. The teachers and the school were great, and she did fine.

Yesterday was the last day of school for her. This school is only until Year 2. Next year they will transfer into another school. It made me wonder how she would manage, after all she has changed 3 schools in 14 months. This change, of course, is the easiest because quite a few of her classmates would going to the same school with her and she is excited and looking forward to it.

Sometimes, I would wonder if all our shifting around would have had a negative impact on her, but thankfully she seems quite alright for it. Yes, she doesn’t have close friends who she has known since she was a toddler or anything, but she has learnt that she can make new friends. If anything, I’m hoping that it just gave her an experience to cherish and learn from. One of the things I have realized is that children are truly resilient.

One of the things that I worry about is the peer pressure. Although there is nothing much we can do, apart from helping her be secure and confident. Slowly, I can see influences creeping in. Daughter and her friends discuss more than Disney movies, for instance. These days they seem to discuss Simon Cowell and 1 Direction. And the other day,while watching Despicable Me 2, there was this scene in which a teenage girl is falling in love with a boy, and she turns to me and giggles and says,’ She’s falling in love, Amma!’. And this from a child who watches only age appropriate stuff!

The other day, she went to a birthday party where they discussed what each of them wanted to be when they grew up. Apparently, all the other girls wanted to be dancers and singers. So I asked her about what she said. Apparently, she stuck to what she wants to be a ‘Dinosaur Scientist'(her own words, and what she wants to be, at the moment), and apparently they others gasped. She went on to tell me that some of the girls ‘changed’ what they wanted to be, just because they wanted to say the same things as their friends. ‘But that shouldn’t matter, should it, Amma?’ She asked, ‘ We should say what we really want to be, not what our friends say!’.

That, I have to say, certainly made me happy. Fingers crossed, she will remain this way. Knowing her mind and confident in her choices.

How Important is Handwriting?

We always hear of children being praised for ‘good handwriting’. Although I’ve heard it more in India than here.

I’ve even heard people praising schools for developing children’s handwriting, sending children for handwriting and calligraphy classes. Our apartment’s email group has emails every few days about someone advertising hand writing lessons, there were even handwriting lessons during the summer hols.

I can’t help wonder why this focus on ‘beautiful handwriting’. While I’m all for clear legible writing, I’m not completely sure if it is necessary to send children to classes for it?

The other day Daughter got into the mode of writing beautifully. Now her normal writing is perfectly fine. You can easily read what she writes. Is it beautiful? I have no idea. I’m it sure I care either, as far as she can communicate effectively. As far as I’m concerned, what she writes is far more important. So as I was saying, she got into the mode of ‘I’m going to write beautifully’. She was so caught up on ‘writing beautifully’, that she ended up with a piece that was substandard, for her. She did not read/review what she wrote, and also made grammatical mistakes that she never does, just because, her whole focus was on making the writing look beautiful.

That to me, is a bigger crime than handwriting that doesn’t look ‘beautiful’. And anyway, does it matter at all? Have you at any point in life felt that you are getting a raw deal because your handwriting isn’t up to the mark? I haven’t. I haven’t even written much since my college days. I don’t know… I just don’t like this craziness about it.

While I can’t get the whole world to change, I just hope I can help daughter focus on what is truly important. That substance more than appearance is what will matter through life. Be that in your writing or anything else.

Edited to add: I published the post earlier, by mistake. It wasn’t complete, and realised only later that it had got published, and you guys have also commented on it. So sorry. My darn phone!

The best sort of worries..

…have to be the unfounded ones…

One of the biggest worries I had with all this shuttling back and forth, across countries was Daughter.

One of the reasons I wanted to move back to Bangalore was to put an end to our nomadic lifestyle and put down roots. The dream that I had of daughter growing up in one place, with friends that she would have known for ages. Not a huge deal, I know, but one can fantasize..

Clearly that was not what was ordained for us. And it really worried me that we were turning daughter’s life upside-down, too much, too often. The biggest challenge has always been getting the right school. By the right school, what mean, if course, if the right environment for her, where she is allowed to be herself, while being pushed into improving herself.. Too much to ask for, I know. Any school will do, as far as she’s happy, I guess. In India, I just went with the only school where I managed to get admission into, hoping that it would be fine. It was, thankfully, and it also had loads of children from our apartment so things were smooth.

Moving back to UK, came with its own set of school related worries. Especially since it was midterm, and chances of getting anywhere decent would be slim. I had resigned to the fact that she might get into some not-so-great schools, as the others would certainly be over subscribed.

To my absolute astonishment(delighted astonishment, I have to say), she got into a very good school. A bit farther than I would have liked, but that hardly matters, does it, as far as she is in a happy, secure environment.

It was her first day today, and she is back happy. Can’t ask for more.

Just to make note of a milestone..

.. daughter’s very first exam!

She did take a ballet exam last year, but this would be her first academic exam. And I am the only one worried about it, it’s just another day for her!

She woke up at 5:30 this morning, and says,’I can’t wait to get to school today!,’ my ears couldn’t believe it! Really? That excited about exams? But then she went on to say, ‘I can’t wait to wish S on his birthday!’. It’s her friend S’s birthday, and clearly birthday are far far more important than exams 🙂

If she remains this cool about exams, I would certainly be the happiest mum!

Parenting help!

Some times I wonder if I am a minority.

A minority who feels that as a parent we need to guide our children and stop them when they do the wrong things. Ok, most parents would be with me on that. Let me try and put it better. The guidelines deciding what is wrong and what is acceptable seems to be the problem area. Foul language, for instance. I came across a 10-11 year old using ‘WTF’ very easily. Not once, but three times. I moved away from there after that, but she said it so casually, it certainly did not look like she was saying it for the first time. It shocked me, to say the least.

How do you guys handle bad language? I discussed with a few parents here and they seemed quite relaxed about it. And that, alarmed me, to be honest.

Is it alright to just ignore it because we cannot ‘control it’ or ‘control the children’? Or because if we stop them, they might use it more to just annoy us? Or they would use it anyway, when we are not around, so why even bother?

I was flabbergasted by these responses… How can we as parents look the other way? And why is it thought of as controlling? Surely children will understand if we explain to them, rather than getting cross at them? Surely we don’t need to ‘control’ so much as we need to guide. And surely are we not assuming the worst of our children and not giving them the chance to be better people?

Child Play

Long ago, before daughter was born, I remember going to Toys-R-Us and going a little crazy myself.

We had just found out the gender of our baby. No, not illegally, we were in the UK then, and was overjoyed to know that we were to have a daughter. I wanted to go and buy all sorts of stuff, but somewhere, the cautious me, stopped the frivolous me. And I had read of people who had been told the wrong gender, so decided not to jinx it. Yes, I know, I am a little crazy:-)

We ended up buying gender neutral beddings and nursery accessories that day. Since that day, Toys-R-Us has been  a regular haunt, but we never bought too many things. Most of daughter’s toys are gifts. We do buy her stuff, but it is very controlled. And truth be told, she is perfectly happy too. She’s happy enough to window shop, and come home empty handed. Although, I have to say, the one place where it gets difficult to get her out without buying anything is a book shop. But, that’s a different story for a different day.

We realized quite early she was more fascinated by mundane things than her actual toys. Pieces of paper, cardboard, ribbons from gift wrapped presents, a shiny piece of gift wrapping… And she could play for hours with odds and ends. She once made a picture of a friend of hers with her assorted odds and ends. If you knew her friend, you would admit that there was a definite likeness.

We would find thermocol ripped into pieces, paper cut into tiny pieces, driving us crazy sometimes. Why couldn’t the child play with regular toys for a change? She would, but in her own way. The dolls house would have all sorts of inhabitants, the toy laptop would become the check-in desk at the airport.. All sorts of stuff.

I have to admit, it makes me glad that she lets her imagination loose. That she finds can think beyond what the toy manufacturers must have envisaged fir their toys.

We had been to a lake in Wayanad. As we walked the path by the lake, daughter found ways of entertaining herself. Jumping on the uneven pathway, she created ‘levels’ and rules for herself. She went up to ‘Level 4’:-)


Watching her play, finding ways of entertaining herself, I feel so grateful. Grateful that in the midst of technology and toys of all sorts, she(and most other children) still plays games that are so natural and so intuitive. That anything can become fun, if we let it.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

A book that was recommended by Goodreads. An author I had never heard of, but I guess, now on, I will be keeping an eye out for her books.

For Jude Farraday, a mother of twins, the last eighteen years of her life had been around her children. Mia and Zach, the twins were different personalities. Zach was the super confident boy with all the girls fawning over him. Mia was a shy teenager, who some girls made friends with just to be able to get close to Zach. They lived a seemingly perfect life, in a perfect community.

Lexi Baill, a former foster child moves into their community and ends up as Mia’s best friend. Jude takes Lexi under her wing and tries to make up for the unfortunate life that she had, in whatever little ways she could, without making Lexi feel like a charity case. For the first time in her life, Mia has a friend she can count on, someone who she trusts. Zach and Lexi end up falling in love, which initially upset Mia, but she manages to overcome it, and the three become close buddies.

It is senior year of high school, and the three of them, are in the process of applying for admissions into colleges. Jude starts to feel her control over the twins slipping, she starts to get worried about how close Zach and Lexi seem to be getting. The foreboding of danger that she had, turns into reality when one night, everything changes for the Faraday family and Lexi. A nightmare that they never would have imagined in their wildest dreams. One that shatters them and overnight, from a loving close-knit family, they become a shell of a family.

Jude is in put in a position of having to forgive someone who, in her mind, is the reason for her loss, her tragedy. Jude has to forgive, or live in bitterness. Her sadness and bitterness transforms her into someone totally different from what she had been. It was almost as if her capacity to love had been turned off. All the characters in the book are believable, real and people we start empathizing with.

A beautiful book, am absolute page turner. A book that explores the situation from all view points. From the teenagers(in different situations), from the mother’s when she is unable to let go, and when tragedy strikes. Of love that can be enduring, and lifelong. Of times when forgiving can get one the peace that one longs for. A book that pulls at your heart-strings, and makes you wish that you could just make it all perfect. The pain that the protagonists go through, and the hope that it ends with. An absolutely lovely book. A recommended read.