Excellence has no barriers

In the early part of the 19th century, Michael Faraday, a self-made scientist, in his quest for excellence, discovered the semiconductor effect. This quest continued throughout the decades and centuries that followed during which the pro-active scientists, engineers, businessmen, committed world citizens contributed their best.

Their “small steps” each turned out to be “giant leaps” for the mankind and one cannot help but be in awe considering the advancements made in any field today.

At Atmiya Vidya Mandir, we are proud to take one such small step in our commitment towards providing excellence to our dearest students. It is a great pleasure to announce our partnership with ViSiON IIT Kota – Surat, beginning this academic year from June 2010. As part of this initiative, the students of Class 11 Science (and 12 Science next year onwards) will be offered an integrated school programme:

– To target overall academic excellence in the 11th and 12th CBSE board exams

– To prepare them for competitive exams like IIT-JEE, AIPMT, SAT-AP, AIEEE and CET

The integrated approach will ensure optimal use of the students’ time and efforts for academics (and preparing for such reputed exams like IIT-JEE) which will also provide them the opportunity to further enhance the essential 21st century life skills like leadership, social responsibility and adaptability.

Furthermore, the school has experienced many a young lives getting positively transformed in its mere 6 years since inception, the very fact which makes Atmiya Vidya Mandir a truly unique and life-transforming alma mater!

We look forward to many such small steps…

Learning for Life

Hungry birds have always been a problem for farmers. Sometimes the birds eat so much corn or wheat that a farmer and his family would not have enough food to last through the winter. So, for more than 3000 years, farmers have been making scarecrows.

But the ones made here at Atmiya Vidya Mandir were erected by the class of 4th division with the help of their Gujarati Language teacher. These students have a poetry on scarecrows in their coursework/syllabus and for the introduction of the poem their teacher built a scare crow in the neem garden on the campus. When the children saw the scarecrow they said it would be very difficult for somebody to build one, but were positively challenged by their teacher to build their own. Under the guidance of the teacher the students together built the first prototype. The students were then divided into teams who created many other such Scarecrows. It seemed that the little champions erected these bogeyman’s to protect their beloved neem trees.

Confucius once said ‘You hear and you forget you see and you remember you do and you understand’.

Each child in this class now remembers the poem and even if they forget the lines, they have understood the meaning and importance of scarecrows for life.

Learning at Atmiya Vidya Mandir happens round the clock. A typical Science class for 8th standard on a particular day began at 9:54 pm on the terrace of the new school building. 42 students of class 8th with their teacher observed the moon through a telescope magnified at 160 X zoom and experienced beautiful craters on the moon. The curiosity of the students then rose to such an extent that they wanted to explore more and some said they wanted to find their own K-Pax. To challenge these inspirers the science teacher gave them a project and asked them to select any celestial object in the solar system – planet, satellite, comet, asteroid anything in the solar system and asked them to inform him why they were interested in that object. But he also made them think by asking a critical thinking question that if their research team is funded by our dear Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh with Rs 10,000 crore for their project what would they do?
All the teams did impressive research work and some of their original ideas are as follows:

  1. Setting up an Internet hub on Mars with a telecommunication satellite hovering over Mars.
  2. Sending plants and insect samples on Mars and see how life if any is affected on the planet.
  3. Coating their Venus Exploration spacecraft with platinum so the sulphuric acid clouds of Venus does not bother their mission.
  4. Young authors – this group started writing fiction – they said they went to Mercury and found a dead alien which they brought back to earth and are now going to spend the money on doing research on the alien. (X-files Returns – what will Scully and Moulder do?)
  5. Creating drilling equipment for their Mission to Europa (one of Jupiter’s many moons) so that they could drill easily through the frozen surface and will check if there is life under the ice sheets there!

It is said that Ye can lead a man to university but you cannot make a man think. But can you say the same about the children of Atmiya Vidya Mandir?

Empowering the leaders of tomorrow today.

It is being proclaimed on the Indian Government website of Department of Science and Technology that today India is one of the top ranking countries in the competitive economy especially in the field of research. However it is said on the same website that we need to embark on some major science projects which have relevance of national needs and which will also be relevant for tomorrow’s technology.
This means we will need a few more Nandan Nilekani’s in India, who currently is the Chairman of the Identification Authority of India. On his blog and in his book, he describes that this project will give each Indian a unique identification number which in turn will enable direct benefits, and fixing weak public delivery systems, giving the poor access to better healthcare, education and welfare safety nets.
One of the leading Scientists of India, Padmashree and Padmabhushan awardee Dr Raghunath Mashelkar while talking to school children at a reputed school in Mumbai highlighted top five attributes of success:
1. Believe in yourself.
2. When you fail, do not go into depression and when you succeed you keep your feet firmly rooted to the ground.
3. There is no substitute to hard work.
4. Positivism, it matters more in the case of leadership. That way you can get extraordinary work done from ordinary people. There is an extraordinary spark in every individual and you should know how to tap it.
5. Believe in teamwork. Individuals can achieve little what a team can. You therefore should build effective teams and guide them to success.
He also said that the gap between academics and industry in India is quite high. What does industry do? It converts knowledge into money and academia converts money into knowledge. Every evolving society needs to strike a balance between these two and the balance will make the society richer in terms of both money and knowledge. In the western countries we find no gap between academic scientific research and industry and therefore we see how advanced they are in terms of knowledge and both application of science.
So what children in 21st century need is more than academics and the top attributes as highlighted by Dr Mashelkar believe in oneself, Leadership, Positive Attitude, Teamwork and Team Building.
The teachers, staff and management of Atmiya Vidya Mandir are aware of these current societal needs and have been imparting these values in children since the inception of our school and thus empowering the leaders of tomorrow, today.

Where’s the teacher?

The global meltdown may have hit India, but one sector that has weathered the storm so far is school education. No other country perhaps displays such a wide range of school within the system. There is the government sector with it’s municipal schools, Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalayas and non government sector with its playschools in larger cities, missionery schools and finally top- end private schools, last but not least conventional public schools.
These all schools have one thing in common, they are desperately crying out for teachers. We may have our periodic overabundance of doctors, engineers, MBAs and IT professionals, but we never seem to have enough teachers. Though everyone knows that the bedrock of any country is its education system but no one is unduly concerned about this glaring lacuna. Little wonder that we are docile or better say paying a heavy price in terms of the quality of our leadership.
This pitiful state of affairs (teaching profession) has much to do with the way we, as a nation, view the teaching profession. Teachers are not considered frontline professionals in the same manner as, doctors, lawyers or engineers. It is believed that anyone irrespective of qualifications or training can teach. And that is exactly what happens. From the village schoolmaster who could be a labour contractor (teaching when time permits) or a disheartened chap who has found teaching as the last option as a breadwinner, to the bored or desperate urban housewife who is more eager to earn something rather than contribute, teaching is open to all. Add the fact, it is a relatively poorly paid profession, and you have a deadly mix (various and ambiguous reasons to join teaching). Teaching then generally becomes the domain of the ‘bored’ or ‘failed’ individual. This is not to suggest that we do not have some of the world’s finest teachers. Ranging from NGOs to private schools we have extremely competent and motivated teachers. But when you consider India’s billion one population, their number appears disappointing.
Another area of concern is the dwindling number of men in the profession. It seems all the men have hopped off to greener pastures (the other so called luring or challenging vocation). The IT sector has recently claimed a larger number. While women do make great teachers but they also have the role of homemaker. Being a teacher for a woman is not as professional as, say being a corporate executive. And the men, who remain, have largely embedded themselves in the tuition market, as opposed to being genuine mentors as school teachers. The most sensitive issue in this sector is there are no top-of-the-line teacher’s training institutions, certainly not one of the statures of a St. Stephen’s and IIT or IIM. What we do have is an excess of ‘fly-by-night’ B.Ed courses, in most cases not worth the paper the degree is printed on (mostly in Bhopal and in U.P). Nothing in the higher education scenario will attract bright young boys and girls to enroll for a teacher-training course. Yet all we can do is to talk of increasing the number of IITs and IIMs!
Career growth in teaching profession is also very slow. Surprisingly, not too many teachers today aspire to be principals. Women feel it puts too much strain in their role as homemakers: men feel the seat is not worth the trouble it brings. Moreover, the system does not provide for any systematic grooming of principals. Most are there either by accident or ‘teachers on promotion’, certainly not as a result of some long term scientific plan. So where does one go as a teacher? Becoming a head of the department may well be the end of the road for most. The profession itself suffers from a sense of low self esteem. Teachers do not see themselves in the same category as lawyers, doctors, civil servants or engineers. How many of us are being proud as teachers? Are we less than those engineers who construct building while we construct future of the nation? Are we less than those doctors who are to stand guard against fatal diseases while we are to safe guard our society against social hitch (through making students a better individual). Do we need to be less proud than an IAS who governs and deals with state affairs; whereas we direct the thought process of a child who can be tomorrow’s Vivekanand or Sardar patel. We are no less than an industrialist who manufactures the most expensive product as we are in the exertion of MAKING OF MAHATMAS. What do you think friends? How noble but vulnerable this profession is? It is nothing apologetic about being teachers. The irony is that we are still supposed to be the epitome of all that is noble and good. A redefinition of our attitude to the profession is highly required.

Submitted by: Seema Joshi

Teaching is Connecting

Back in the corporate world, I’ve experienced many a day when a colleague or the customer was seemed expendable and then, actions to that effect followed. The customer was often simply an “Account” to manage and there was almost always the freedom to point the finger when things didn’t work out. Such an environment gradually leads to half-hearted efforts in achieving the objectives set forth. The once “most important and crucial for survival and growth” customer, in a predictable manner, becomes someone “not worth providing the quality in service to” customer. Of course, there are enlightened beings out there that make sure this derision doesn’t creep in their work environment. However, generally, it may seem ‘affordable’ to take the mediocre approach and not care for the customer. In light of this brief background, I’d like to make my point now: caring is indispensable for a teacher, period.

The above said scene in the corporate environment is mainly due to the implicit knowledge that it isn’t important or necessary to connect with the person on the ‘other end of the line’. The prime importance of financial gains and the lack of human element in day-to-day communications draw a non-existential form of the colleague/customer, someone you could feel free to become irresponsible for and even worse – get away being that! There is little visibility or lack of it, of the impact of one’s actions on a human being. Hence the individual is turned into a “can’t be bothered” slacker.

Enter the Teaching World. There’s a radical change in attitude needed here. You are no longer dealing with just another “good for nothing and always demanding” customer at the other end of the line. You have innocent, unselfish and at times demanding lives to care for and cater to. Every step you take, every move you make, every word you speak is all noted by them and has the potential to change them in either of the two obvious directions – good or bad. So, the Teacher, at whatever level, has to be like those few enlightened beings of the corporate world and more. There is an uncompromising need to connect with the lively minds both in the classroom and outside. The teacher has the potential to make the deepest impact in a child’s life. Till the day I entered a classroom for the first time as a prospective teacher, I held the view that a role within the Investment Banking industry was the most important job in the world. Because it was the most important, the challenges faced and overcome were of the highest concern for the well-being of any world citizen. Little did I know back then, how wrong I was!

As a teacher, I have come to realise that to connect with the students is of the utmost importance. Connecting is the outcome of communicating – both verbally and non-verbally. As listed by John Maxwell, one can’t afford to commit the “Four Unpardonable Sins of a Communicator”: being unprepared, uncommitted, uninterested, or uncomfortable. He aptly explains further that in order not to commit these sins and to connect requires energy. The teacher is the communicator and has to walk the talk 24×7. This is not an extra responsibility, rather, an absolute fundamental requirement to be a teacher. This makes the job of a teacher The Most Important job in the world. At the same time, the prospect of touching so many lives makes the job of a teacher The Most Honourable job in the world.

I am very fortunate to have company of highly motivated inspirers whose lives are embodiment of this connecting process. Further, I have the privilege of knowing some of the best of the available literature on education. Allow me to narrate an illustration. One fine day on our way to the training institute in Bangalore on the public bus, I was reading “What Great Teachers DO DIFFERENTLY” by Todd Whitaker. The title of the chapter was ‘Make it cool to care’ wherein Todd briefly describes this incident. In (Principal) Todd’s own words…

“In Chapter 1, I described my interest in understanding what great teachers do differently. The first time this struck me was during an informal visit in the classroom of my best teacher, Mrs. Heart. I watched as Darin approached her desk – Darin, a rough, tough, tattooed discipline problem who easily intimidated the other students (and many of the teachers, and maybe the principal!). Making no effort to keep the other students from hearing him, Darin said, “Mrs. Heart, I was working on my poetry last night and I had a hard time with some of the words in the third verse, I was wondering if I could get your help on…” My jaw must have hit the floor.

Believe me, Darin was not a fan of poetry. Darin was a fan of Mrs. Heart. She had made it cool to care about whatever was happening in class…Getting along with others, treating everyone with respect, doing your best – that was Mrs. Heart.”

This incident was very touching for me and furthermore, enlightening to me. There were a lot of reflections from this small incident Todd narrated. The most obvious one was the connection Mrs. Heart had successfully made with Darin, regardless of his appearances or apparent behaviour with others. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess it that Mrs Heart would have poured her heart in establishing such a platform for effective teaching-learning. The connecting process always requires energy.

There’s however a way to effortlessly radiate this energy. Let me briefly narrate another incident to that effect. A friend of mine had an interview with the Head of the Department at a highly respected, industry leading company in the UK. His technical interview overran for more than an hour (total to almost two hours) and most of his responses were technically wrong. Despite this, he got offered the job! He later revealed to me that after the interview, when his interviewer showed him around the department, he was almost hopping around out of excitement seeing the opportunity to learn and contribute. His energy made all the difference. He didn’t have to put in efforts for radiating that energy, it just happened naturally for him. This was because he had the appreciation of the significance of that job and that industry.

So, connecting with students, after all isn’t necessarily draining, despite its need for energy on the teacher’s part. However, for that, natural enthusiasm has to be bred by the teacher. And this, my fellow inspirers, is possible only if we allow ourselves to gain the right perspective that – Teaching is The Most Important job in the world and that we are THE MOST FORTUNATE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD to have that job.

To quote the gifted Robert Frost,
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Teaching is a life long endeavour of fulfilling promises, a life long connecting process. So, let you and I not settle in for something good enough, instead, embark on the journey of excellence.

Because, it’s worth it…

Are we nurturing or killing creativity!

We have a very interesting education system. Our education system gives the memory unit of our brain a lot of exercise. Can anyone guess how does our education system gives a workout to brain? Yes, you all have guessed it right; it’s the retention and recall. Our education system has taught us how to memorize and how to reproduce what is learnt.
Picasso once said, “All the children are born artist; the problem is how to save and nurture the unique artist.” i.e. All the children are born with a unique talent. It is us the teachers who have the responsibility to nurture the artist within each child. But, do you all think that our education system allows us to do so? Do you think that only improving the memory power and testing the memory through various examinations we are nurturing the artist?
Our education system evolved in an era when industrialization was at its peak. To meet the demands of industries, education was designed to impart the knowledge to produce efficient workers. The only area we emphasize on is academics. Don’t do music, don’t do arts’, don’t dance, is all this going to get you a job? Do science, do math, study language that is what will fetch you job. Crash! Amidst all the jostling ofdemand, supply and producing human terminators, education system missed out on certain very critical and crucial point that is to develop the creativity in the child which will help him survive in the future. We have restricted or streamlined the learning curve to meet the current demands thereby strangling the creativity of the child. The kids are not afraid of exploring; they are not afraid of trying new things and experimenting. It is our education system in which mistake is the worst thing a child could do. As a consequence we are suffocating their creativity. We are not saying that being wrong is being creative, no. But what we do know is, “if we are not prepared to be wrong we will not come up with anything original” says Sir Ken Robensen world renowned coach in the field of creativity.
Despite of all the expertise, research and projections we do not know how the world will look like 20-25 years from now. In contrast we do not know how the child would adapt and flourish in this extremely unpredictable environment. So instead of being a Hitler, we should expand our boundaries for the children’s growth. The child should be given his own space to explore, adapt and flourish through learning and experiencing variety of things.
Our only hope for the future is to adopt a new course one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. We have to re-think the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children. Our education system should be aimed at holistic development of a child. Both the scholastic and co-scholastic curriculum should be designed and given equal importance i.e. along with mathematics, science and languages- sports, art, music, drama and dance should be given equal importance to instigate the creative artist within each child. It is important to expose the child to do the right things at the right time to develop his creativity. Lastly creativity is not an inherent skill or only for those with a talent for it; it could be successfully taught to and used by people of any age, walk of life or cultural background.
Dr de Bono said creative thinking needs to be included in curricula as a distinct but parallel subject. “Mankind had tended to associate the term ‘creativity’ solely with its expression in the arts,” he said. “However, creativity was also about recognizing and creating value.”
So, my fellow inspirers, it’s up to us, whether we want to foster the creative talents of our children or to manufacture high speed data access human machines.
What will you do? The choice is of course, yours!

Indian Educational Reforms II – Raising the JEE Eligibility Bar

Mr. Sibal is creating news again, this time it is about raising the bar for students who want to appear for Joint Entrance Examinations (IIT-JEE). Currently any student who has minimum 60% marks in the 12th standard with Science and Mathematics can appear for JEE.

Mr. Sibal is asking the committee to raise this eligibility bar to 80-85 %. The government says that they want to raise the bar not to make it prohibitive, but to squeeze out the hundreds of coaching institutes that sell hope to unrealistic aspirants. Also they want the students to give equal weightage to 12th standard examinations as it is believed that they are the foundation of the students career and life.

Of course coaching institutes who prepare the students for such entrance examinations are unhappy. There is also a confusion where one student group would believe that now they will have to study for two examinations and the other who believe that this is a good step as now they will be judged on an elevated criteria. There is also a mixed reaction from the parents where some believe it is a good step forward as it will save them money and of course the freedom from coaching classes.

Being an engineer myself and having graduated from one of the country’s premier engineering institution, I have learned the hard way that there is a huge gap between the education which is provided by the schools/colleges and that is imparted through the private coaching classes. When we listen, hear or read about any schools results in our community today, I know and strongly believe that the school has acheived a certain result they boast only because their students go to a popular coaching class in the community after school.

The point I want to make is that why cannot the schools help the children the way in which coaching classes are helping the students?

The use of Technology in Teaching

I was watching a football show the other day and the pundits on the show were debating on the use of technology on the football pitch. The topic caught my attention instantly as there were major debates on the same issue in cricket as well.

One of the gentleman on the show strongly supported the use of technology and criticized the referees who at times make the wrong decisions and grab the headline on tabloids the next day. The other gentleman voted against it by citing the fact that human touch is required on the football pitch as it adds excitement and add uncertainty in the game which is required. He also argued that to many referals for the TV umpire can break the continuity of the game.
That discussion got me thinking on the use of technology in the field of teaching. In last year i along with my colleagues have been on the road for training on teaching. During that we had the privilege of meeting and talking to scholar teachers and trainers in the field of education. And it was evident that there were 2 different views on the use of technology in teaching.
I thought it would be very interesting and important for me to analyze these views as a teacher. One of the views and which is very widely popular all over is to support and encourage the use of technology. Use of videos, presentations, animations as teaching aids while teaching students. I can not help but give my thumps up for this. The reason being i always felt being a student that listening to an audio or watching a video always helps to understand the concept better. I can go on and write whole lot of statements supporting this view, but before i do that let me put across the other view.
The other view which of course does not encourage the use of technology in great extent. This view is mainly from the management perspective. The management of the schools are ready to splash money to bring these technologies to their schools and make their school a better place for students. But at the same time what they don’t want is their teachers’ lake of preparations for the teaching different topics. They think that playing a video or showing a presentation will make it very easy for the teachers and they won’t work harder. One of the other concerns is that teachers become very dependent on technology and which cannot be a good thing.
Again a very valid point from management perspective. Both the views are very strong and have points to be considered like those football pundits on the TV show. But here is what i am thinking.
I think we need to strike a right balance to use the technology very effectively for the benefit of the students. At the end of the day teaching learning process is more about the learners than it is about the teachers. Having said that i would also like to see the use of traditional chalk and talk method being used in the class room. It is very important that students and teachers make that connection during the process and i think chalk and talk method can provide that opportunity to both sets.
Instead of replacing black(white boards) with projectors and LCDs, i would like to use them as a supplement to the black board teaching. The concepts which are difficult should be taught using these technological teaching aids. I think this way we can keep the management happy without affecting the quality of teaching with the technological advancements around.
Coming back to the use of technology in sports, i strongly believe that we should use technology but to empower the umpires or the referees on the field and not to replace them.
What do you guys say?:)

Terminators

When I was in school I used to get a standard report card on an A2 or an A3 size paper. My report card had two folds and it contained my progress for the year. It was possible to have this because it contained my score only for my regular academic subjects.

However nowadays in many schools in India and around the world report cards run into many different pages. Today’s English grades/scores are on a special sheet and the students are evaluated in Reading, Writing, Grammar, Listening, Speaking etc. The report is detailed similarly for other subjects and also have scores on neatness, punctuality, socio-emotional development, mental development, food habits, motor ability etc. Therefore the reports cards might be called report books. If you are a parent reading this blog or anyone who cares about education ask yourself what is it that you really want your child to be able to achieve?

I think every parent would want his child to be polite to them, should be able to make the right decisions, enjoy diversity and the list is endless…..

I am also asking myself does this report book/card mean anything to the student who is the most important stakeholder in the entire education system? After personal introspection I feel younger kids need to be encouraged for whatever they can do now which they were not been able to accomplish some days, months or years before. Therefore these kinds of report cards might mean a lot to their parents or teachers but they may not be important for a child.

Also in the 21st century the character of the student is being considered equally important as academics. Currently fortune 500 companies need and employ people who have strong leadership qualities, people who can work on teams, people who celebrate diversity and the list goes on… So who do we think really can help students achieve these skills?

A dedicated teacher and a right environment…..

This can only be done if we have great teachers. Today we need teachers who are really interested in overall development of the child and are genuinely interested in creating a global citizen. Otherwise looking at the current scenario it seems that we would create a society full of people who know very well how to write/give/crack a test but cannot do anything else.

Therefore rather than creating test taking “Terminators” we should create a generation who can serve their parents, the society and become global citizens of the world. I dedicate this post to all those teachers working around the world helping children to remain human and who are trying to make a child’s learning journey a legacy.

Financial Education – at what age?

In the New York Times best seller book Rich Dad Poor Dad the author Robert Kiyosaki talks about his two fathers one rich and the other poor. He talks about how the rich teach their children about money at a very early age, so they know how to manage money and not to earn money.

Rafe Esquith the award winning American teacher narrates in his books about his vision for teaching life skills to his 5th grade students. He cleverly teaches the importance of money to his fifth graders through his unique financial program where students use money designed by Rafe to survive in school everyday, like paying for their seat etc, they also get bonuses of for several challenging things they perform daily. The best thing is at the end of the year there is an auction and the student can get his/her favourite item with the money they have saved that year. Rafe explains in his book that is important to teach students about money because it is one life skill which will make a difference in the childrens lives, depending upon the way they decide to save their money. Please read the book “There are No-shortcuts” and “Teach Like your Hairs on Fire” to know about the details of his program.

In India also the awareness amongst parents and teachers about teaching kids about money is picking up. Banks like ING Vyasa, ICICI and HDFC bank have special kids and students account where the parents and teachers can help them learn about money in a fun way. Some banks also have cool animations to teach the kids about banking.

I remember my parents had forced me to go and deposit money in a bank at a very young age, and I was very afraid of going alone but their force helped me overcome my fear. However today this can be taught to the kids in a fun way in their own comfort zone with the help of information and technology. Please read the following article which was published in Times of India Mumbai Edition on what Indian banks have to offer and how the parents are helping (They are never too Young to Learn about Money).