Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Smart city plan is an insult to common man's intellect

The definition of Smart Cities as envisioned by the Indian Government in their website is reproduced verbatim as under

By definition, if one is an unfortunate citizen of a "dumb city", one is not entitled to any of the above regardless of whether one pays the taxes and carries out other duties as a citizen. Why should any of this be exclusive to a "Smart City". Isn't any city, suburb or village in India entitled basic amenities such as adequate water supply, sanitation and safety? Isn't this another form of blatant discrimination?

By boldly posting the definition on its website and expecting endorsement, the government insults the intellect of the common man.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Education: A few thoughts and one radical idea

Lets think about education at school and its current status in India.

  • Our government schools are undesirable to us citizens. We send our children to government schools if we can't afford private schools, or if we are  government employees.
  • Our public education depends on budget allocation and hence driven by economy. 
  • Though there are improvements in public education (RTE, play-way methods and achievement of universal enrollment) quality remains sub-standard, it would be fair to say that it hasn't evolved fast enough to match the need.
  • Our private schools range from cheap to expensive ones. In general they prepare students to be the workforce for India's private and public enterprises. They prepare them for work, but not for life. 
  • Private schools are business enterprises and it’s a sellers' market. Schools dictate the price of the commodity,  they assess the quality of the raw material (read children) before being used as an input, and tailor the finished product (read students finishing 12th grade or equivalent) to meet a standard (read college entrance exams!). If it mandates, they have the free hand to get rid of the raw material midway, if they feel that not doing so would significantly diminish the perceived reputation of the business (school).
  • School expenses form a significant percentage of family expenditure regardless of whether  the school is a cheap or an expensive one.

I am no expert in education, even though I am interested enough to read, watch and discuss a lot about constantly. I think the above summary fairly captures the reality about today's education in India. Needless to say, this has to change. But how should education be?

Stakeholders should recognize  that employability does not completely define success in education. It is only one dimension of success. What defines complete success of education is, in itself, is a worthy matter of debate, research and stakeholders are better of forming a framework for this. However, in my opinion, when a child turns sixteen, if she recognizes
  • her interests, has a general idea of how to pursue it,
  • that an unfamiliar situation makes her curious rather than insecure
  • how to handle a setback and use it as a lesson
  • that excellence can be attained through resilient pursuit, constant endeavor to improve rather than "high adrenaline, last minute" preparation
  • that mental, physical health as important as professional success
  • that social responsibility is relevant

the school would have played its part. Clearly, only academic excellence as the primary aim doesn't do justice to this end. If children right across the different strata of the society are to be empowered, the school system should be highly research-oriented, personalized, universal (inclusive of children with economic and learning disadvantages) and evolving.

To make it research-oriented and personalized, teaching position should be made reputed enough to attract in the best minds. Such individuals should be empowered by the stakeholders (government, parents, school administration) to design or modify the curriculum.

To make it universal, education should be decoupled from yearly budget allocations or reduction and the uncertainties of market economics. Education should be cheap if not free.

To make education an evolution, exams should be considered as much an assessment of teaching quality as it is of learning ability.

Countries and local governments best known for their education system already implement the above suggestion. Finland, considered to have the best education system in the world, offers free education with highly personalized curriculum designed and customized by empowered teachers. USA, despite a lot of criticism of its educational policies, has a lot of best minds like Howard Gardner, Carol Dweck and multitudes of school teachers and teacher-trainers devising, customizing and implementing teaching methodologies at all school levels.  A look at Edutopia would give an idea about the mind-boggling churn around education. I don't see this level of energy at the school level in any of the stakeholders here in India, though we do have positive outliers like Maduram schools, Barefoot college, Government Primary School in Motwada and Azim Premji University.

Following the footsteps of those who have tasted success is a good start, but devising our own strategy  in education is just as important to ensure quality. I would like to put forth one radical idea here - as a question rather than a suggestion. To my knowledge this isn't done in any other country.

Given that education has to be universal, economically insulated from the market uncertainties and unprejudiced, is there a good case for making education as the fourth branch of democracy alongside legislature, executive and judiciary? After all, judiciary is largely not affected by the prejudice of the government, judges and judicial staff do get paid even though they don't add any value to the market (nobody asks where the money comes from!) and education of our children play as important a role in the future of our society  as does justice. Doesn't it?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A chance to learn Storytelling!

As a student at school, how good a teacher taught directly affected whether I understood and hence whether I loved a particular topic of discussion or not. With a little experience at teaching under my belt, I hold an opinion that a good teacher is so significantly because she is a good storyteller.

As a father I try to surround my daughter with books and puppets to keep her engaged in stories told by humans and books instead of TVs and mobile phones. With limited success I must add, but that is a subject matter of a different post.

Chennai and Bangalore citizens have an opportunity to be better storytellers this August and September. Kathai Kalatta is organizing a Storytelling Festival titled, "Under The Aaladamaraam".
I hope that this would be a great experience for interested parents, teachers and creators!

Here are details of the event at Bangalore and Chennai. See you there! Have fun!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This ad just floored me!

The ad "Chalk" just floored me! Take al ook!

Kids usually scribble on the wall or on the floor, but what he ends up drawing is unimaginable, unimaginable for us!
Posted by Best Ads on Saturday, 11 July 2015

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Congrats Indian Womens' Hockey team!

Oh cricket-crazy Indians! This is to bring to your narrow attention the achievements of the Indian Women's Hockey team. After a lone appearance in the Olympics 35 long years ago, the hockey eves are all set to make the cut again. This is following their credible victory over a much higher ranked Japan to finish 5th in the recently concluded Hockey World League in Antwerp Belgium.

"So, whats so great about finishing 5th?" you may ask, and your question may not be too unreasonable. There is still a lot of work to do before they can take on the might of the top-ranked Holland and  Australia (who they have managed to hold to a goalless drawn in the recent Hawkes Bay cup). And by "might", I mean not only the skill but also the muscle. I think Holland women's hockey team might even match a top-10 Men's team. But in spite of their visible shortcomings, Indian girls intent was clearly visible. Having FIH rank of 13, to beat Japan placed 3 ranks higher is very credible. Their loss 2-4 to Australia (world number 2) may not look great on paper, but their performance was their best of the tournament as they were the only team to have even pulled level in terms of scoring twice before eventually losing to Australia.

So, after following both the Men's and the Women's hockey through the Hockey World League Semifinal tournament, I find that the Indian eves are among the fastest improving sides (along with Italy). Men's team who finished a decent fourth, haven't managed to beat any better ranked team and had actually struggled against lower ranked teams like France, Malaysia and Pakistan before avoiding a loss (No complaints though. This only shows that Indian Men have neither over performed, nor underperformed).

I think due credit should be given to Hockey India who have provided good coaches during recent times.

Great going girls and all the best

Friday, May 01, 2015

To Barkha on her "Women In the World Summit" comment

Barkha. In general, I find a lot of the interviews you conduct difficult to handle because many a time you express what you feel about the issue under discussion before you ask a question. In general, India's mainstream media is not standing up for the average Indian and doesn't ask the questions she wants to ask.

HOWEVER, on this one, I must say I am on your side. While Indian men AND women don't treat their women well, I don't see any reason why India has to be singled out. While the brutality against women akin to Nibhaya happens all over the world daily, the sustained protest that this incident has evoked in India is unique and this is a clear positive. But the rest of the media and the larger public have chosen to ignore it when the Leslee and you tried to highlight this. I choose to see the positive that the protest is. Amidst all the chaos and negative reaction your opinion has unintentionally caused, I see your positive point! On this one, I am with you!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

IPL in the Stadium : Great, but not a value for money!

I had taken my family to the Stadium to watch the IPL cricket match between RCB and CSK. At Rs. 2750/- per ticket, it was quite an expenditure. But I reasoned that it should be justifiable since it would almost be a once-in-a-lifetime expenditure. I should say the atmosphere was electric. The view of the pitch was great! The match was competitive for the most part and we got to see a few famous players fairly close by. The food was alright. However, I wouldn't say that the experience was worth the money spent. For a for highly prized ticket that has a seat number printed, I would expect that security of your seat would be a minimum guarantee. But it wasn't the case. The cops were old, callous and discourteous, and the crew was working hard in throwing out poor vendors who have entered the gallery to make a few rupees. Instead had they cared about throwing visitors who bought a much cheaper ticket (or who knows no ticket) and sneaked into ours (and I could spot them!) it would have made it worth the money spent.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Competitive sporting and financial security

I went to put my daughter for swimming classes for the summer. The coach was an affable young lady with the curiosity of a kid. So she opened up easily when asked about her swimming background. She said she was a state level swimmer and was doing well at the nationals. At one point she had to choose between competitive swimming, which is a shot at glory, but comes with financial uncertainties, and coaching school kids. She pointed to an old poor looking woman at the edge of the pool and said "My mom used to work as a house help. Coaching brings regular income to my family. So I chose coaching over competitive swimming".  I do not know  if this is a representative case. But it complements the sentiment other news reports about poor sportsmen and sportswomen in lesser followed sports.  It appears that India has a better chance of converting sporting potential into medals if sportsmen and sportswomen of poor backgound are rewarded with fiinancial security for their perseverance

Friday, March 27, 2015

A yardstick to measure the success of AAP

We all know about the Aam Aadmi Party and what it has managed to do to the Indian politics. Opinions about the party is always strong and polarized mainly because they have either failed big or achieved big. I am no unconditional supporter of the party (or any other party), but the fact that a few people with no political background have managed to upstage a couple of well-established political parties - twice makes this series of events rare to come by. However, does this mean that an end in social good is reached? Does this mean that the popular ideology (idea of Lokpal Bill) of the party is relevant? Not necessarily. However, I see that a couple of important underlying ideas behind the Lokpal Bill are grievance redressal (for example, someone affected by corruption) and easy access to preventive measures on grievance (for example, whistle-blowing). This is an end that, in my opinion, that has subconsciously attracted people to the idea of Aam Aadmi Party. But that is also an end very far away. I think success of this rare series of events that led to the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party should be measured using this yardstick. If this end isn't reached eventually, then the Aam Aadmi Party, its success would be irrelevant.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lest we forget - Sardar Bhagat Singh

Today is the day when revolutionary Sardar Bhagat Singh was hanged.
I believe strength of any feeling, especially nationalism, should be proportional to the gravity of the situation. Those who criticize his ways are entitled to judge him as someone who saw the world through the magnifying lens called emotion, and call his actions knee jerk. However, the fact is that it was a tumultuous time and he was hanged at an impressionable age of 23, by an imperialist government.

Lest we forget that he had his hand in inspiring the youth to nationalism at a time when it was needed. Lest we forget that he played a positive role (however small or big it is) in making India what it is today.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

World Storytelling Day!

Yesterday, March 20th was World Storytelling Day. A quick read about this in Wikipedia did not reveal anything specifically exciting. However, as I am a father of a curious child, the idea of story telling remains a matter of interest to me. For the same reason, I am surprised that I didn't consciously think about and explore this till now. Now is as good a time as any!

The first story that I listened to was Gajendra Moksham as told by my mother upon locating a sculpture that represented the story at a temple. That was probably about thirty years ago. Since then, I must have listened to a lot of stories primarily related to the great epics  Ramayana and Mahabharata. The fact that most of what I know of the these two epics is primarily because of my grandmother's narrative is testimony to the amount of time I spent listen to the stories.

Upon reminiscing about this experience, I think the impact of the story on the listener depends as much, if not more, on the narrative and the emotional connect the listener has with the teller, as the quality of its content. I think the derived moral of stories that we listen to, watch or read as a child settles beneath the conscious mind and plays its part, on how we react to situations and what opinion we form.

I find that there are organizations working in this space targeting young impressionable minds in the hope of improving their experience and enriching their personalities. Kid and Parent Foundation and Bangalore Storytelling Society are the curious cases in Bangalore!