Aadyaa is raring to go! She is a few months beyond five and studies in a progressive school where they take it fairly easy in introducing basic concepts and she has just about finished covering the alphabet. However, she is a big fan of Udai, who is nine and is grade 4. Result: We have a super aggressive learner on our hands right now. She wants us to assign her 3-digit addition problems and we struggle to ensure that they do not have the carry-over issue to deal with. She wants to read and write.
Today she has been working on writing out a description for an illustration she has made. This is happening in the other room. So there is a writing pad going back and forth in which I write out a word and she copy-writes it onto her creation. I haven’t yet seen the product of all this activity, but am totally amused by her little frustrations and triumphs.
Learning is such a fun process. Why do we make it such a drudgery? Why do we link learning to fear- fear of failure, fear of punishment? I see the joy Aadyaa takes in discovering each new fact, each new formula (Udai was the same in pre-school) and in contrast, I see Udai starting to get bogged down by the compulsions of learning, and starting to somewhat lose the excitement to discover new ideas. There must be a good way to keep excitement levels high through middle and senior school! Technology, perhaps, could be a good tool, but I see school hesitate to go that way for various reasons.
Thinking back, I found some subjects painful, especially in grades 11 and 12, but now I see the lethargy was either because of poor quality teaching or too many distractions and I’m none the worse for that short phase. For the most part, I have found learning a lot of fun and continue to do so. In fact, I can learn and study all my life! On that note, let me get back to my work….a part of which is trying to find flexible ways to pursue a PhD in migration and urban planning.
Ok, I managed to click a few pics of what she is upto….here you go!
It always strikes me when I go out and interact with the poor; how much of our understanding of the world around us comes from deeply ingrained biases about social class.
In our survey work in Nathupur Village, Gurgaon (which I am doing as part of my research on shelter conditions for migrant workers), we clearly do not have a lot to offer those we are speaking to. For the moment. But that does not put people off. They are interested to listen to us because we seem empathetic to their lives and their problems.
We tend to believe that being illiterate and uneducated hampers an individual’s understanding of systems and processes that govern their lives. But I am happy to see that that is not necessarily true. Many of the people we meet are intuitive and intelligent and have very insightful comments on why they are in a situation of poverty and disenfranchisement. For instance, one construction worker told us “Kheti karne se paise kisne kamaaye hain, kheti karne keliye to paise chahiye”, which translates to “One does not earn money from farming, one has to earn to be able to be a farmer.” A telling commentary on the plight of the million engaged in subsistence farming across the nation, with small land holdings supporting large families.
In the context of women’s issues as well, many upper class urban people assume that less educated rural folk treat their women badly, or that they have less regard for the rights and dignity of their women. That is not true either, even though cultural norms make this seem so. For instance, the fact that women cover their heads and behave in a more subdued manner in public may not mean that they are dis-empowered within the household. Many of the women we met were vocal and completely involved in decision making for the home, including financial decisions. Many women in urban migrant families work as well and therefore have a fair understanding about financial issues like affordability, savings, repatriation of income, expenditure, etc. It must be said though that these women find it much harder to have identity papers in Gurgaon because the nature of their work is far more informal that their menfolk who usually work in semi-formal or formal jobs (drivers, guards, cleaners, retail assistants) with contracting agencies.
An interesting case in this regard was that of a middle aged gentleman from Bihar who works as a security guard in one of Gurgaon’s glittering skyscraping office buildings. His two grown sons work somewhere close to their village and are educated until Class XII and BA respectively. Their wives, though, have BA and MA qualifications and the latter aspires to do a PhD! I was intrigued and I asked him about how this came about. His story was so simple and interesting.
He said: “Girls nowadays want to study too. When we fixed the marriage for my older son, we knew there would be some time between the wedding and the gauna (when the girl actually comes to reside with the husband’s family) because my son was still studying, so my daughter in law asked me if she could study too. She completed her BA in her father;s house. When she came to our home, my son was away from the village working, so she went ahead and did her MA as well. Today, she has a job as a secretary in the local Bank of Baroda Bank and supports her own financial needs as well as her child’s. Why would I object to something that helps my family be more financially secure? Together, my son and his wife can be financially independent and maybe I will not have to be here in Gurgaon so far from my family forever!” We also found out that the same man had paid Rs 20,000 in bribe to get his younger daughter-in-law a job as an Aanganwadi worker in the village; a government job is considered the ultimate panacea for all troubles in Bihar, UP and most of rural north India.
If I think of the many urban educated households I know that actively or passively deter their womenfolk from going outside the home to work, or at least give them a darned hard time about it, stories like these seem reassuring and logical.
I was also struck by the number of fathers who take hands on care of their infants in poor migrant families, contrary to our perception that women are saddled with all child rearing responsibilities among the poor. With no extended family for support, these families live in one-room tenements with shared toilets and baths and working in partnership to rear children is a key for couples to be able to make ends meet and survive the harsh lives of migrant workers who are far from home in an alien, urban environment.
I come away from the squalor and filth of those village streets, full of grime but full of hope. It is ironic that many of us who drive around in air conditioned cars and live in homes we own struggle to keep at bay the negativity in our lives; while those who have nothing in the bank and live a financially and socially precarious existence are willing to share their meager resources with you when you visit and are able to be positive about the future. Their biggest source of happiness is that they are spending their hard earned money on investments into the future like education for their children. It is another matter that the quality of the education they pay so much for can be very questionable. A story for another day….
An evening of kathak in baithak format, a profound experience: ‘Milestones’ by Aakriti Foundation, Gurgaon
Mastering a classical art form is not for the faint hearted. That was amply demonstrated during Saturday evening’s baithak at the home of my kathak guru Jayashree Acharya and her husband Shiv Shankar Ray, who is an accomplished and well known tabla exponent.
Before a mixed audience of rasiks, curious neighbors and parents of children who were already under the tutelage of one of the several accomplished gurus present, Aakriti Foundation had laid out ‘Milestones’, a clever program designed to seduce, educate and enthrall. The foundation is driven by three artists passionate about the power of the arts, the duo of Jayashreeji and Shiv Shankarji as well as danseuse Sushmita Ghosh.
Anchored by Sushmitaji, the program attempted to unravel the complexity and beauty involved in the apparent effortlessness that the audience sees in a performance of kathak. Through a demonstration by beginner-level students, little adorable children, she set out the basic pattern of the dance, the ta-thei-thei-tat aa-thei-thei-tat footwork based on the 16-beat teen taal rhythm. With the help of Anandi, a more senior student, Sushmitaji demonstrated how this simple pattern can attain more complex variations and how the dancer can improvise within the confines of the beat cycle. Making the audience count along with her and a small demonstration by Shiv Shankarji on the tabla helped cement the lesson and bond us onlookers deeper with the art form!
What followed was an impressive recital by Mahika Nair, a young disciple of Jayashreeji who has been under her tutelage for a little over four years. Not yet a teenager, Mahika’s poise and confidence combined with her technical prowess and abhinaya showed a maturity far beyond her years. Through her performance, I could see not just the talent but also the sheer hard work of her and her guru yield fruit on stage. Their closeness and shared sense of excitement was evident and added an extra flavor to the show.
The guest artist for the evening Shikha Khare is an exponent of the Lucknow gharana of kathak and a guru at the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi. I felt a twinge of regret for those few who had left the program before Shikhaji came on, for they had surely missed a treat! Eloquently, Shikhaji’s excitement at the opportunity to perform in the baithak format was obvious. Before she started, she explained the benefits of viewing a performance in this ‘mehfil’ style of performing that was prevalent during the time of the royal patrons, how you can see the minute details, relate closely with the dance form, really internalize many trivial aspects that can otherwise be missed in a stage show and how the artist and the audience can enjoy an interactive session this way. Her short performance exemplified all these aspects. I particularly enjoyed watching her eyes and expressions, which kept us all absolutely glued!
I’ve been learning kathak from Jayashreeji for a year now and I am intrigued by how much individuality the dancer brings to the her art. I am aware, of course, that a lot of that stylization comes from the taleem that a dancer receives from her guru, or gurus. And here too, Shikhaji’s performance was an education as she was able to pinpoint what aspects of her dance were imbibed from which of her gurus. Once again, it struck me that beyond talent, it is the dedication and complete submission to one’s guru that makes for true classical artist, in the Indian tradition.
I made it a point to take both my kids, Udai and Aadyaa to see the show. For Aadyaa, the highlight was when Shikhaji assumed the role of Radha and pleaded with Kanha to let her go home. My little one is a Krishna Bhakt, and she absolutely loved that piece. Udai was captivated by the jugalbandi between Shikhaji and the tabla. Both of them were reciting snatches of bols and whirling around the carpet for a long time after we got home! That, after all, is the entire point of the baithak format, in which art is not far away but accessible; not seen, but imbibed; not enjoyed but savored. The evening had a profound impact on me, and my children. These are the experiences that make life more meaningful, beautiful; that motivate me to be a better artist myself and dream the dreams I have for my children!
@THiNK 2012-Big History: A great way to see our place in the Cosmos and build a more secure future for our civilization
There are moments in your life when you are simply filled with awe at the power of the human brain to understand the world around us. As children, these moments came often. As adults, unfortunately, we get aught up with the tiny, nearly insignificant details of our lives, and we lost that curiosity, that wonder, the awe. Here, on Day 2 of the THiNK Fest in Goa, David Christian take us back to that state of wonder. In a very interesting context.
Many times in my life I have wondered how the many many thoughts we have come together. How do we make sense of the world we live in? How will future generations cope with the challenges of the 21st century?
David Christian, like many of us, felt the urgent need for a liberal education for young people. Schoolchildren actually. He evolved a new subject to do this and called it Big History.
Big history is a global story, one that links many disciplines together seamlessly, a map of knowledge, a framework to understand our place in Cosmos.
David took us back through time, from the Big Bang to the present day, outlining some specific turning points. Some things struck me particularly.
Agriculture, an important point, was essentially an energy grab by one species and the ability to exploit fossil energy, another grab. An unprecedented one by any species. Paleolithic man consumed just as much energy he needed plus a bit for insurance. Today we consume 100 times the energy we need! As energy grew, so did populations, towns, cities, and I though this was an interesting way to view urbanism in this Big History perspective. Quite an eye opener in terms of viewing us as a greedy species and teaches us a lot about the need to be particularly careful as we move ahead.
We need to open our eyes and see things in a larger perspective; there is a need for a wider perspective than tribe, nation, continent, encompassing the entire Earth and then coming back with deeper understanding to work meaningfully within our communities. But we can be a part of this!
David has been teaching Big History for some 22 years. Now, the Big history project has Bill Gates joining hands with him to drive a vision to create a free online courses on Big History for high school kids and college student. The project is in pilot and trial stages in US, Australia, Scotland, Netherlands, Korea and other places and they hope to release a road tested version sometime soon. Teachers testing it observe that it seems to get average and below average kids interested and excited about learning.
To me, nothing is more relevant for India as Big History at a time when we need more analysis, more questioning, to challenge our notion of intelligence, more liberal views, more empathy, more tolerance, more humanity. I will go up to David and demand Big History is promoted in India. I am excited to imagine how much it would benefit our children.
Both my parents have been academicians through their careers, so observing the relationship between teachers and students and simply understanding the position of the teacher has been something I have inadvertently done all my life. My father always told me that I was born to be a teacher and yes, I do love teaching. Sadly, the status of teachers has declined in Indian society and education has become more a transaction than an enriching process. And so, it’s rather late that I have taken up what I perhaps should have done earlier!
My experience with advising students at SPA this semester has taught me a lot about a lot things- the psyche of the present day student, the role that faculty must assume in an information-rich world, the malaise that plagues our educational institutions and how, despite all obstacles, the show must go on! With the final seminar presentation done and done well, I can now write about what I felt through the journey, as a teacher and as an observer.
When I first started interacting with the students, I was struck by how bright and idealistic young people are. This is perhaps a usual first reaction to teaching and we got off to a positive note. A few weeks in, I found myself sympathetic to the student community, who are aware that their institutions gives them limited exposure and seek a more exciting, challenging experience.
I also observed distinct differences in student attitudes, but was glad to see that they still approached faculty with respect and a genuine expectation that they will derive value from our experience. I wrote a post before I actually started teaching about how things appeared the same but how attitudes had subtly changed, referring to the awareness of a new power among students and a sense of confidence (arrogance, intolerance) in their dealings with faculty and adverse situations. That post was critical and based on hearsay, but after having interactions all semester, I believe this empowerment is not a bad thing. I just wish there was a better process of managing and harnessing this sense of empowerment to challenge and encourage students, and address their needs better.
I feel like we need to accept that young people have different attitudes now, instead of forcing them into the mold of what we think students should be like. I also recognized, through these weeks, that backgrounds from which students come vary hugely. It is perhaps not possible to have a one size fits all approach to mentoring these knowledge seekers, whose motivations vary as much as their capacity to imbibe, contextualize and express themselves.
These differences come out starkly in the use of the English language. A bunch of erudite, suave kids confront you with part-intelligent and part-gimmicky questions and observations, some nearly mocking you, others genuinely inquisitive. Another bunch of sharp minds navigate this sea of ideas struggling to structure their thoughts because English is an alien language, because they are self-conscious about their means of expression, because material that they study appears alien to them and it is so much harder work to study it. The majority of the students seem to be somewhere in between. They have a basic grasp on the language and they put in a minimum effort into what they do, but need an extra leg-up to push their boundaries and really benefit from the education they are receiving.
Here is where the teacher comes in. With a glut of information available to them via the Internet, students are desperately seeking exposure to a new world view, to new ways of thinking. They are seeking assurance, but also direction. With my students, I was amazed by their instinctive sense of right and wrong, their strong convictions and passion for what they were researching. But equally surprised by how easily they lose heart and go astray. Perhaps distractions and caveats are an integral part of the journey of seeking knowledge. We were pretty clueless too at various points, and angry when our faculty did not think our angst was genuine!
What really surprised me though, and I wonder now why it did, was the motivation that came from having to share their work on a public forum. After seeing their ups and downs all semester, I was amazed at their confidence and their sharp sense of what would work and what wouldn’t. My students were addressing the rather complex idea of what the role of the architect can be in the low income housing market. They had received a rather negative response (their perception, not mine) from their peers and faculty during the first few weeks of their research. That invigorated them and warned them of prevailing attitudes. Besides putting in data to counter some of the criticism, they also invited a renowned architect-planner Mr SK Das to chair their seminar and Prof PSN Rao from SPA’s housing department as special guest. They surmised, and rightly so, that these experts could help them field questions that were too complex for their understanding. It was a smart move and it paid off. I am not implying they genuinely wanted these inputs. They did and they got excellent comments. External experts also were able to contextualize the content for the audience and offer directions for how students could think about their career and future.
I was also impressed by the natural confidence of students in being able to answer questions, accept gaps in their research, re-frame questions in the light of their work, etc. These were not qualities I had seen when we were working together through the semester and the dynamic of being up there on a public platform was very interesting to see! I also realized that the process was far more important than the end -product, though I do wish they go on to produce a paper that would be relevant to the community.
As if on cue, following yesterday’s post about the need to give students a more challenging and enriched learning environment, mHS had a visit from an enthusiastic young man called Brian today representing the University of Minnesota’s ACARA program. From what I understood, the program asks undergraduate and graduate students to prepare a business plan for an identified need in the development sector. The University partners with academic institutions in India and students work in mixed groups of Indian and American students. The business plans are then presented to a jury and a couple of winners selected, which then get helped in terms of mentoring, investor contacts or simply funding for feasibility studies, depending on the group’s intent.
Previously, the program specified a particular area of work, but in its new avatar, students are being put through a three week immersion exercise and will then decide on their own what sort of needs they want to address through their solutions. This change was made because they found previous graduates of the program have veered off their conventional career paths to opt for more socially aware jobs. Some have gone on to set up new organizations working in the development sector in different parts of the world.
Clearly, someone thinks allowing students to decide basis their interests and motivation brings out the best in them. And doing their best in turn inspires confidence, which is certainly the key to creating positive, motivated and solution-oriented professionals.
The change the program has undergone exemplifies the new thinking in education. A move from top-down to bottom-up, as those familiar with development-speak would see it! And that’s primarily what I wanted to highlight through today’s post. That even as we theorize about the changes we want to see, those are happening already, in India and elsewhere. Hope is alive as long as we continue to experiment.
Yes, yes. I’m cheating and writing yesterday’s post now, but you can blame it on Krishna. Janmashtami or Gokulashtami as it is known (or simply Ashtami!) was not fully in focus on my radar till I had kids. Udai’s school is hot on celebrating festivals and when he was in Playgroup (pre-nursery), they made butter in school the week of Krishna’s birthday. That got my attention. What a wonderful way to teach kids a miracle of science while linking it to a popular character like Krishna. There must have been songs too, but Udai was never one to sing the school songs to us!
Aadyaa is another story altogether. She revels in music and dance and art. And she totally dotes on Krishna. No matter how cranky, a story around Kanha can set that right. Each time we go to Noida or Ghaziabad, the high point for her is crossing the ‘Yamuna’, even though she cannot really see the water. Well, she would be disappointed if she could, ‘coz there aren’t any gopis dancing there or Kanha playing the flute. The legend of Krishna is enchanting, especially for children, because Kanha is imperfect. He is naughty, he lies, he plays the fool and troubles everyone, but yet he is there to rescue people, help them when they are in trouble. That is a potent combination indeed!
So the entire week was about Krishna. In school, she painted a pot and filled it with cotton, making it look like a pot of overflowing butter, the sort of pot Kanha regularly broke to get at the butter. They rolled paper to make it look like his flute. They learnt songs about Krishna and about the monsoon season. Many traditional songs that celebrate the rains are about Krishna, so there learning about seasons and climate intertwined with the Krishna theme. They helped decorate the class and the day they celebrated Janmashtami in school they all got to give the baby Krishna a jolly good push on the swing on which he was placed!
At home, we had a little brood of Radhas (Krishna’s legendary soulmate), all decked up, all enthusiastic. They trooped into the little celebration in our local club, danced and generally had a great time! A lot of colourful, crazy fuss; all thanks to Krishna!
I had an interesting auto ride today. Walked a bit in the heat and didn’t find an auto, so when one stopped by with the driver apologetically inquiring if I minded him stopping by to fill gas, I hopped in. The driver was polite, reassuring me that the wait at the CNG station would take 5-7 minutes and generally seemed like a nice bloke.
And so, we had a full fledged conversation. Netrapal Singh, from Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh. He was happy to meet someone who had lived in UP. He had lived in Delhi for some 20 years, 16 of which had been spent driving an auto riksha. We spoke about Akhilesh Yadav, the wonderful politeness of UP dialects and about how one-way the phenomenon of migration is (though his retirement dream consists of chilling in the village someday!). His kids went to school and he, matter of factly, commented on them being ill at ease when they visited the village house and eager to return to the city. He was also understandably proud of being able to educate them and even more so of being able to build his own home in an urban village in Badarpur, which is on the border of Delhi and Haryana at Faridabad. He is now saving to add a second floor to his home. He earns about Rs, 25,000. I also learned that he can fill 4l of CNG in his auto and each litre gives him an average run of 25 kilometres. So he can run 100 km in one refill. Fascinating! I was happy to know I could strike up mundane conversation with my auto driver. He was happy to have a chatty ride.
He reminded me of another Netrapal. Also from UP, he used the be the office boy in CCPS, where I worked about a decade ago out of a poky office in Nehru Place. Now this chap was our man Friday. Once when I had asked him to get me a grilled veggie sandwich from round the corner for lunch, he looked very very concerned. He wanted to know why I wanted to pay an obscene sum of Rs 100 for shredded cabbage stuffed between two pieces of sort of stale bread! He expressed this in very colloquial Hindi, and it was hilarious! I’ve never been able to have a veggie grilled sandwhich since! Netrapal was one of those rare people who actually did go back to his place of origin, Bulandshahar or thereabouts if I remember right. That happened because he managed to wangle a government job back there. Now that’s one thing that can reverse rural to urban migration!