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.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Sheils recommended this book, and on reading about the book, I found it very interesting, and was delighted to get hold of it so quickly.

Here we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first time you are a stranger, the second time you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to to anything – even die.

In 1993, after a disastrous attempt to climb K2, Greg Mortenson ends up in an impoverished village in Pakistan. He is touched by the villagers kindness and shocked to realize how tough life there was. The children had no school. He was appalled to see eighty two children, kneeling on the frosty ground, working by themselves. They shared a teacher with a neighboring village, and he taught here three days a week. The rest of the days, the children would practice the lessons he left behind, in the open, in all the harsh climatic conditions.

Seeing this, Mortenson resolved and promised to build a school for the village. The book is his story of how his personal conviction and efforts resulted in schools in many of these marginalized villages. He started off with the promise to build one school, but ended up building fifty five schools. Understanding how educating girls can change the lives of the villagers, he tried to make it easier to educate the girls. He wins the locals’ confidence, becomes one of them, understands the difficulties they face, and does whatever he can to help them. The story of how one man can make a difference, if he really wants, no matter what obstacles he faces.

It is the story of one man’s determination, and grit to overcome it all, to make a difference. He has risked his life, gone into dangerous territory, gotten kidnapped.. All for the purpose – his purpose to get the people of Central Asia education, a means to better their lives. The story, of course, is not just about him. It is also about his family. His wife who understood and supported his passion. Who made do with the fact that her husband would be away for months together. In places where it would be impossible to even reach him by telephone. Not knowing when or if he would be back. And yet accepting it, because that was the man he was. It is a riveting read. Very inspiring, and very touching. I would certainly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I did read some allegations of fraud and people contending that this book is actually more fiction than fact. So I am not really sure what to make of it.. Even if it were inaccurate, it would still be a very interesting read, albeit a fictional one, rather than a non-fictional account.

Educating ourselves…

.. is such a huge part of being a parent. There are so many things that I have learnt in the last five years of being a mother. Usha’s post on Perspectives reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine.

She has a daughter a year younger than mine, and she goes to a private school. Before I go further, let me explain the schooling system here. Most children in the primary level go to state schools. Only around 8% or so go to private schools. There are several very good state schools, and if you are in a good state school, the education is quite good, and comparable to private schools.

So this friend of mine sends her child to a private school, and is not very impressed by ‘what they are teaching her’, in her words. Just to put things into perspective, she has been quite worried about her child’s education(or the lack of it) since the time the child was just 3. At that time she was concerned that her daughter did not know how to write. Here, they do not pressurize the children to write, they encourage, and the child picks up when they are ready for it. For some reason, she keeps comparing the education standards with that in India – whether it makes sense or not.

So coming back to her worries, she is worried because the school does not send back daily feedback – no homework, and nothing for the parent to work upon. So I explained to her that it is quite similar in Poohi’s school as well. They don’t really send back much work. They only ask us to spend around 10 minutes a day reading with a child. But that did not satisfy her – it is fine for Poohi’s school to send back no work, because it is a state school(free), but in a private school, where they are paying for an education, they should get the child to do more..

Now this is something I find difficult to get my head around. Paid or not, surely what matters is how well they ensure that the child picks up things. Given the fact that the education system is quite different from what we are used to, back in India, I think we really ought to approach it differently. We cannot after all expect the same sort of studying pattern, curriculum or teaching styles from two very different systems.

Every time I go to Poohi’s school, I can’t help be amazed at the amount of work the teachers put in. I really don’t find anything to complain about nor can I ask for anything more from them. The efforts that the teachers put in ensures that the children are motivated and excited by work. For instance, we got the overview of the curriculum for the next term, at the end of the last term. The children had been told of what they would learn too. One of the topics was ‘Dinosaurs’. Poohi came home excited, opened her book of dinosaurs( we just happened to have a book), and read through everything. Apparently,’When Mrs C asks the class, I can put my hand up!’ was the motivation behind it. She is so excited about learning, that she makes that extra effort without any prompting from anybody else. I can honestly say that this sort of excitement can only come from teachers who have made it all so exciting for them, that they look forward to learning more.

Yes, they might not send home books and books of homework, they might not force children to write or read, but they make it fun, they make it interesting, so much so that the children want to learn more. They are motivated, not pressurized. That is all I ask for! That happiness on daughter’s face when she learns, when she picks up new things, makes links of how dinosaurs dying out is similar to how people evolved from monkeys – what more can a parent ask for? We get to see the work that our children do at school during the Parent teachers evening, and it is amazing! They do a lot at school. They cover so much ground, that there is no real need to send home work. Children do get some work, but it is not a huge amount of stuff, and a lot of it involves a child using her creativity, thinking and understanding what needs to be done. When I see daughter working on her learning logs, I am amazed at how her mind works. It goes to show that young minds are so fresh, and innovative, that they can indeed come up with incredible stuff, if we let them be.

Usha also talks about the environment at home affecting the child. So many times when I hear mothers lamenting that their children show interest only in TV shows and would never pick up a book of their own, I can’t help asking how many times they pick up books instead of the TV remote? Not that being a reading parent guarantees a reading child, but being around books, does encourage a child to read(in my opinion). After all, we parents are the first role models that our children have. Taking a child to the library regularly for an outing will making him/her think of reading as a fun activity rather than a chore or a ‘homework’.

And yes, if you do have genuine grievances, talking to the teachers and understanding their point of view is far more useful isn’t it than worrying and complaining that the teachers are no good? And no matter what we think, children do pick up on what the parent thinks. If the parent is unhappy or dismissive of the teachers efforts, chances are that the child may not take the teacher seriously either..

Every time I hear a parent criticize teachers, I can’t help feel uneasy. While I am sure there are several uncommitted teachers, I am sure that there are plenty of wonderful teachers out there. At least I was lucky to have some great ones.. And Poohi has had wonderful teachers so far. As a parent, what I really want to do is be a team with my child’s teacher, to work along with them, to bring out the best in my child. Yes, there might be times when she might not have the best of teachers, but that is when I will need to step up and be there for her.. And hopefully, I will be able to give her what she needs to learn, to grow and to expand her horizons….

Edited to add: Do read Sheils post on how wonderfully creative learning can be! 

I count my blessings.. Post 17

..every time that I go to daughter’s school.

We had an open morning at school, where parents are invited to come in and observe how their children work at school. It is an amazing experience, and every time I go for an open morning, I come back impressed.

Impressed at the teachers’ patience, the gentle way in which they impart knowledge. I could see every child participating, every child was involved, at some level or the other.

What I really liked was the way the slightly fidgety , not exactly naughty, but more disinterested children were handled. There was a child who was more interested in doing whatever pleased her rather than participate in their group’s activity(the children are divided into groups, and each group was doing a separate activity).  The teacher who was handling the group, would gently bring the child’s attention back to the activity. Gently but firmly, not once losing her temper. I was amazed at her efforts.Eventually, the child started participating. Even when children give the wrong answers, they are just asked to try again and then congratulated when they do come up with the right answer. You could see how the positivity helped the children focus, and improve at what they were doing. By the end of that 15 minute activity, all the children were equally involved and focused. Each activity worked towards a  specific goal. Activities which looked like fun, actually taught them counting, handling money, adding, taking away…

I had written about how we learn better when we enjoy what we learn, sometime back. It just gets reinforced when I see the way daughter’s school works. The children genuinely bond with the teachers, they wait to go to school, last time one of the children hugged the teacher as soon as they got in the class. I was so touched. It just showed to me how much the teachers cared for the children.

Despite the gentle approach, not one child misbehaved. Most of the children were vying to answer questions, they knew the protocol they had to follow, and any time they digressed, all they needed was a gentle reminder from the teachers. Who says children won’t learn unless they are forced?

I might have said this before, but I want to put it on record again, I truly feel glad, that daughter is able to go to a school like this. Where she feels secure, happy and is learning so much.

On about nothing – again.

I have to stop writing about the weather – but weather seems to be the most happening thing around here. The most clicked website on my laptop in the BBC weather page. The weather forecast for today was sleet and snow and icy roads – very treacherous and dangerous. For us, it just means that we stay put indoors today.

The biggest fallout is that going to school was out of question. The school was considerate enough to text us parents to let us know that they would ‘understand’ if our children were not to come to school today given the conditions outside. School closures were in the news last week with people alleging that schools were opting for the easy way out by closing schools. London Mayor Boris Johnson asked the education sector ‘to think twice before closing any schools in the event of further bad weather’ . Lots of parents seem to be upset by the closures too. For us, it was a quick decision not to send her to school – made easier by the fact that the school themselves had kept the nursery closed. From these reports, it just showed how important every day’s work is, for so many people even more so when they were single parents with no alternative options of child care to fall back on. For many, the only option was to brave the weather, take their children to school and then go to work.

On a lighter note, my biggest problem was keeping daughter entertained. Reading, playacting, painting – anything to keep her from being bored. School is so full of activities that the things we do at home is not half as fun – even less so, when we have stay indoors. These days , her favourite activity is pretending to be a princess and wearing a throw like a cape and walking around. It drives me nuts because the ‘cape’ ensures that all the cushions land up on the floor and the house looks like a hurricane passed through it 🙂 I will be GLAD when school starts again.

A friend and I had been discussing about how our children love school so much. They don’t have any problems waking up for school. Poohi wakes up all excited about going to school. The only exception is when she is unwell. She wakes up with, ‘Is it morning yet? Time for school?’ One of the reasons I think children find it difficult to wake up on time is because they have not had their full sleep. Especially when they sleep late and have to wake up on time. I make it a point to ensure that Poohi’s bedtime is not delayed during weekdays. During weekends, once in a while it does get late, especially if we go over for dinner to friend’s places but never during school nights.  A friend of mine was telling me how once she had guests over on a Sunday night and they did not leave until 2 in the morning. Her child was up all that time too – unable to sleep when there were guests around. How inconsiderate is that?

Oh dear, I just noticed that I have rambled on and on.. Just before signing off – what is your policy on the movies you would like your child to watch? I am extra careful and am very very very careful about what she watches. I am even very careful about what I read to her. I am not too fond of fairy tales where the princesses are waiting for Prince Charming to ‘rescue’ them. Call me crazy but I am not too comfortable with introducing such ideas into her head.  I know parents who let their children(of Poohi’s age )  watch movies like Rang De Basanti and think that I am being over-protective.  While RDB is a great movie – I still feel that it is not appropriate for my daughter’s age. What would be your take?

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.

http://www.ndtv.com/news/videos/video_player.php?id=1129905

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..