Saturday 18 August 2012

I recently decided to quit my work as Principal Consultant, Tech Mahindra Foundation (TMF). The decision was difficult, but I had to make it since amongst other reasons, the work that I was doing lately was not aligned to my core competence - education and child development.

2 years with TMF were full of learning. I worked with wonderful colleagues and met some outstanding change makers and grass-root NGOs. This experience was life enriching and I hope to carry my work forward through the NGO REACHA with greater vigour and intensity. 

These 2 years also taught me that if you have done original work in your area of expertise, then you must not compromise beyond a point if your job does not provide you with time and space to further develop/share it for the larger good of the community.

.....I shall add more later......

Tuesday 23 December 2008

A child wants 'effort' from parents in order to feel solidarity

Children are always judging caregivers - parents, teachers, coaches and elders - on a minute by minute basis. Often, what they want from us is genuine effort, genuine action in order to feel that they are cared for and supported in their endeavors. An incident highlights this in more ways than one.

In our colony Club the Annual Children Cultural Week 2008 was celebrated in Nov 08. Each day a new competitive event is held...debates, street plays, dance & music, quizzes, dumb charades etc. Children love to win prizes...and at times their parents get over eager in pushing them towards these. This day an incident happened that conveys a very deep meaning for all parents as well as teachers.....the importance of true effort!!

A little girl was taking part in the dance competition. She must have been 9-10 years old. Just as her chance to perform came, her mother like other parents went to the organisers with a cassette of the song she had to dance on. The cassette was played and it got stuck. It was re-played at least 10 times...and each time something went wrong and the child had to stop dancing mid-way. The organisers said it was the parents' responsibility to get a good working CD or a cassette while the parents blamed the music system. All this while the little girl, all nicely dressed up, began to sulk and became heartbroken. She left the stage and took an isolated seat at one corner of the hall. She began sobbing....very gently and quietly. In the meantime, the parents and the organisers mutually came to the agreement that both parties had done their best and perhaps it was the girls misfortune that day.

All this while I watched the goings-on from another seat at the back. And this seat was pretty close to the one where this girl sat. Soon her parents jointed her and convinced her that they all had tried their best and so they had to accept the situation sportingly. The girl got convinced and sat quietly...watching other girls perform. But her cheerfulness had disappeared. She appeared highly un-fulfilled to me sitting one row behind. I kept watching her for about 10 minutes, but finally my patience broke.

I got up and took the parents aside and asked them why we could try getting a new cassette or download the song from the net. Both showed little interest...for them the show over!! This happens in life, one of them reasoned with me. Their daughter had accepted this as a bad day and was now ok.

This was preposterous, I thought. How can they all not see the body language of the child. I asked them if I could talk to her, to which they agreed. Since the girl knew me well....more as a friendly neighbourhood uncle...she readily agreed to give it a second try if a 'good' cassette could be arranged.

The father as well as I got started...he went to the nearby market while I went home to try and download the song. While at home I soon got a call from the father that he was lucky to find a new cassette with the same song.

I had some work at home so reached the Club again in another 30 minutes. By that time the girl had 'successfully' given her performance......this was evidently visible be the hop-skip and jump I saw her doing when I entered the complex. The parents too thanked me for the concern shown.

I felt really happy....there was now a 'closure' in the child's mind...she had done her best!!!! And that's all that kids actually aspire to do....unless parents push them too hard.

The next day the results were pasted at the Club Notice Board.....and guess what!! This girl had got the first position!!!!!!!!

Hope this incident exemplifies the need for GENUINE EFFORT on part of parents. That's all that kids look for.

Nikhil

Friday 19 December 2008

The importance of 'owning up'

We all make mistakes in our daily lives. Children need to be encouraged to accept without fear if they have committed a mistake or an error. This implies 'owning up' and raising your hand to say that I was the one who 'did it.' To illustrate how we need to encourage this I am compelled to narrate an incident from my school. This episode is another one in my quest for 'truth' as I spend my time with children and hope to instill in them virtues of honesty, truthfulness, accountability and fairness.

I was taking my Physics practical class with students of Class IX. This happened about a fortnight ago. We had 2 periods in the lab. Each lab table had some equipment meant for the next class...i.e Class XII. So I told all my students not to fiddle with the apparatus. Saying this I kept the class busy with lab work meant for them. After two periods the bell rang for the tiffin break and all students left the lab. At the end, as I made a quick recce of all the tables just to ensure nothing went amiss, I noticed one of the convex lenses in one of the tables missing. Looking around I immediately realised that this lens had been broken as I saw glass pieces on the floor.

Later in the day I gave the lab keys to our lab incharge ma'am and told her that one of the lenses had been broken by my students. I paid her Rs. 50 as damages and promised her to identify those responsible.

The same day I had my 8th period Physics with Class IX B. I knew it was 5 odd students from this class who were the culprits.....but the challenge now was to have them own up. This was the toughest part, I knew. I announced in the class what I had discovered and requested those responsible to confess...separately to me in my room. If they did this, I promised I would not tell anyone about them. Children fear peer ostracism. They cannot tolerate being looked down upon by friends. So the best way to make them own up is in isolation. I gave this class 2 days to sort out the issue.

The next two days I waited.....and waited!! Nothing happened and nobody came forward. Third day was the Physics paper...and I had some important questions to discuss in the class. I thought this was my best chance. So, I tried this too....saying that only if by the end of the day those responsible owned up, I will discuss these questions regarding my paper. I gave them 1.45pm as the cut-off time....school gives over at 1.55pm. 

The school watch struck 1.50 pm and nobody turned up in my room. Instead, some other children came to me and pleaded...."Sir, what wrong have we done? Why should all others get penalised? Please help us?" 

This left me with no options.....and I went to the class and explained the important questions in the last minutes of the day. All children were happy as they left for home...but my worries kept multiplying. My search for truth had hit a road-block....and I was feeling pretty much lost.

As I drove back home that evening this whole episode kept my mind ticking. I had to find a way to get the culprits to own up...and now it will have to be in public!! They deserved nothing less, I convinced myself. Next morning as I woke up and was brushing my teeth an idea struch me. This had to succeed, I told myself.

Class IX B Physics was the 4th period today...time 10.20am to 11am. 11am to 11.30am was to be the lunch break...and I went for the jugular!! As I entered the class, only a few children got up to wish the teacher...and this gave me the excuse to kick-start implementation of the idea. 

I asked everybody to stand up...the whole period. This was just part of the deal, I said. This standing will continue till 11.30am...till the break ends. All tiffins were to be collected and placed on my table. Nobody would sit...eat...or go out for the break, I announced with a tinge of glee in my eyes. Being the captain of this 'sinking ship' I said I too will stand and not eat today. But I gave the class, once again, a loop hole...a way out. If the culprits owned up by 10.55am all punishment will stand cancelled. However, these guys will now have to own up in front of the whole class...since they missed their chance earlier in the week.

The clock ticked passed 10.55am and once again nothing happened. At 11am the break bell rang...and I opened the class door. Kids ran out of the other classes, as is their wont. Lots of noise all around...lots of kids eating all around!! This was going to be make or break for my strategy, I thought nervously.

11.10am.....still no result. Some children began to get fidgity. Some stated pleading...;like the day earlier. But I was not going to have any of it. The plan had to go the whole hog...and I was determined.

11.115am....no result again...!!

...... But now I saw 2-3 children discussing something in one corner of the class. I crossed my fingers...was this the moment! 

.....11.17am.....4 children came out and pleaded guilty. They had tears in their eyes, some remorse and a lot of guilt. I asked them...why so late?? What compelled them not to 'own up.' Were they so scared of me that they thought I would report the matter to the Principal? I asked them all these questions and they answered...they answered all my questions in front of the whole class. I assured them right at the beginning that there was nothing to fear. We all make mistakes...but a bigger mistake is not to own up at all. I told them that we all...and that included me...will share the cost of the broken lens. I was also responsible, being the instructor in the class where the incident happened. This surprised the whole class, but I insisted...it was a matter of my ethics and they must respect them.

Well, this was one heck of an incident.....so I thought to 'blog it' as part of my eternal quest. Unless we own up...unless we get kids to own up,...unless we remove the element of fear from the child's mind & heart no education can succeed. A child must know that committing something wrong intentionally or un-intentionally needs to be 'owned up.' This instills responsibilty and accountability in a child.....firm attributes for a responsible citizen later on in life.

Nikhil


Friday 5 December 2008

The Mumbai Carnage.....will it change anything??

Am back to blogging after almost 60 days. Reasons have been many...most importatly its been grass-roots' action .....all the time....that has kept me away from the keyboard. Check out the latest on www.reacha.org and www.samvedna.wikidot.com

I feel the only way this tragedy can wake us out of our slumbers to make any meaningful change in the country is through ACTION. But, somehow as a nation we are always so eager just to keep talking. This is my gravest concern.

A Karma Yogi is incessantly engaged in meaningful action. He has little time for debates and discussions. You can either debate or do work on the ground. You could most definitely debate to explore the best line of action in order to achieve an objective. But once this is defined the only way forward has to be action.

It is only selfless action that can make a sustainable difference around us. When I say selfless I mean action with passion, with a zeal that goes beyond mere calculations about results, about money, about success. Such action is driven by a divine motive - TO DO GOOD!!

Specifics of this action need to be worked out by people and organisations in the aftymath of this mayhem as per their respective functions. A school teacher has to inspire action in her students in terms of reaching out to their neighbours with the spirit of 'love thy neighbour.' Jesus perhaps foresaw this more than 2000 years ago....that family and neighbourhoods will begin to break apart. And so he preached about the 'larger family.' The Hindu tradition talks about the whole world being a family - vasudev kutumbakum and atithi devo bhava - the guest is like god...take care of him and feel blessed. Islam preaches brotherhood of man - sadly, a far cry from what many of its youngsters are practising today.

At times I feel Islam is going through the same crisis today that Hinduism went in the early part of the AD period. That was when Gautam Buddha came along and Buddhism became widespread. It was later left to Adi Shankara to revive Hinduism with his all encompassing philosophy of advaita.

Does Islam have such a saviour or rather revivor? Even more importantly, do Muslims really feel that there is any need to reform at all. Reform in terms of better health & education for its followers the world over. Perhaps, the Muslim who begins the march on this path would be their most likely modern day Prophet.

I sincerely hope there is this guy somewhere who begins to walk very soon.....for I will be the first to join hands with him. There are many Muslims who are close friends, associates as well as colleagues. I urjge them to take the initiative.....the task of walkinging the path of EDUCATION.

Signing off

Nikhil

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Can serious, organised sport training lead to better academic performance?

Yes, it sure can. 

Kids who play regular organised sport also begin to 'organise' their lives better. To them time management comes naturally...for they know that even a minute lost frivilously will harm their cause no end. Gradually, they begin to realise the value of genuine focused effort, for they experience how a match played with great intensity gives them a real 'high.' This is very much like doing math or science with great focus.

Parents must be encouraged to understand that regular and daily sport helps the growing mind & body develop optimally. Exam time should not prevent their child from playing...we need to pass the message that life's challenges must not prevent us from doing good stuff.

A child who plays regular organised sport enjoys to experiment with truth in life too. Attempting to do a math question differently is just like attempting to hit a shot in squash in ones own unique style. Perfection and mastery in both lead to similar results - a correct answer in math and a good shot in squash. Regular and disciplined math & squash practice are so very much alike. Both demand focus, concentration, discipline and a great regard for ones master - the teacher or the coach. 

Life Skills learnt through sport are lifelong. These are never forgotton. Inculcation of a sportsman spirit - being humble in victory and optimistic in defeat serve us forever. Even as we grow old the passion to keep playing keeps us fit and healthy...as also mentally alert and young. 

So, to parents I say......keep your kid on her toes....and see how she loves to study as well!!

Monday 22 September 2008

The joy of catching up with 'real' friends

The last year or so has been one great journey for me......catching up with a couple of my real good friends - batchmates to be precise. The joy I have felt is immense, and so thought to write it up on the blog.

Investments we all know make sound logic. Most financial guru's tell us to keep doing it in order to give ourselves and our families reasonable security in life. Most of us heed this advice and proceed accordingly. But how many of us attempt to diversify the meaning of 'investment' beyond the tangibles? My guess is as good as yours.....very few!!

A true friend is undoubledly a rare 'commodity,' if I may use this term. In today's world making genuine friends and sustaining friendships is extremely difficult. Time comes at a premium...and one of the first to get sacrificed at its alter is friendship.

My experience since last year has been simply out of this world. Firstly, I caught up with my dear friend Anand in New York and then this year with Muneesh in Delhi. Both have been like brothers to me. So 're-discovering' them was like being born again! As we embraced on meeting it felt like holding an extension of my own body...and mind.

Old memories came streaming back into our minds. We began to feel young once again. The revival acted like tonic...a soothing balm. We now want to meet up again and again as much as possible. 

But to make it all happen its important to take out time and make the extra effort to catch up. There will always be an excuse to put off such occasions. Don't let them slip by, friends!! You don't know how much this 'investment' will 'pay you' in the long run. Don't just rely on e-mails and chat and SMS. These give only a superficial effect. 

Nothing can replace real body language...the energising vibrations can only be felt in physical presence and not through cyber-space.

So, do explore ways and means to 'catch up.' You don't realise the 'wealth' you are missing on by simplying denying it to yourself. 

   


Wednesday 17 September 2008

The urge to cheat!

As I see kids do their exams as part of their schooling, I am amazed at the urge they display to copy from their neighbour. The methods they adopt are extremely creative and deceptive. Sometimes I wonder what great works might be achieved if the same creativity was put to doing something more useful.

The desire to succeed is intense. Parents, teachers, students alike cannot stop focussing on marks. The quantification of success in education appears to be at its peak. The craving for marks in school, high salaries in jobs and victory in sport I feel has taken away much of life's joy. This I say because each one appears so hell bent on achieving all these that they fail to realise that there is much more in life beyond.

With the internet age at its prime the world has already become 'flat.' This implies that each individual in the world today can create a place for himself...even by scoring less marks, getting low wages and failing to win in sport. This can happen in many ways. 

A child good in art must be encouraged to draw and paint. Parents and teachers must explore ways to give a voice and an expression to this talent. Experience tells me that when this happens the child begins to gain confidence. This often leads to better performance in academics. And this reduces the urge to cheat...not just in school but elsewhere in life too. The art produced may be uploaded to online art galleries at minimal cost. Someday, it might begin to sell. This may happen years later, when the child has grown into an adult and is doing a job. As takers for this art increase in numbers the individual has a 'choice.' An option to perhaps switch over full-time as an artist once there is enough confidence that it will sustain. 

This might eventually lead the individual to 'live his true calling in life.' The day this happens a new birth takes place...the birth of a person who finds meaning in life...a sense of purpose!