World Book Day Thoughts

Today is World Book & Copyright Day. Can’t have a better day to celebrate it as today is the birthday of the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare and the day the celebrated Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes was buried. A birth and a death. In between is the journey of life. With technology changing every minute, to me the power of the Book is still unquestionable. Yet as an educator I can see that the love for books and art of reading books is dying.

My books

How did I come to be an ardent book lover? I remember fondly my childhood days. Daddy used to read books to us just before we went to bed. And the most vivid memory is that of Dad reading Jim Corbett’s stories to us. Probably because we lived in the midst of coffee / tea plantations with forests and wildlife around in Valparai, Anamallais, I could connect that with the topography mentioned in the stories. Dad had a knack of reading it in such a way that it painted a picture in the mind’s canvas. He bought us lots of books. During summer holidays when we spent time at Dad’s work place, he introduced us to the books of Enid Blyton. My guess is it is those books that got me hooked to reading – not surely the classics. Abridged editions or original versions were not good enough to inspire me read more.

Later as I grew up, I not only started reading but also collecting books and build a library. I do have lots of books now and would love to keep on reading. However, today, when I see students around me not really reading, I wonder if it is because many of us, English teachers, focussed first on classics. (We are old school, you know! I plead guilty of this till recently when I laid hands on a wonderful book called Caring Hearts, Critical Minds by Steven Wolk, which completely changed my perceptions and brought in refreshing insights.) We wanted them to read Oliver Twist and Three Musketeers or Anna Karenina and Moby Dick first. There is nothing in them that would hold their attention. I must also add that those books were written by adults for adults. Yet, we asked our students to read them.

Instead if we ask them to read something they can relate to – like something they see around them in the real world – may be they would find reading a more engaging experience. For example reading books like Freak the Mighty (Philbrick 1993) that explores friendship or the award winning Bamboo People (Mitali Perkins 2012) that hinges on the redemptive power of love, family and friendship. Or Copper Sun (Sharon Draper 2006), the riveting story of the trials and tribulations of an African girl and the practice of slavery. Any Small Goodness (Tony Johnston 2003) a story steeped in hope, love and warmth. Or Scrawl (Mark Shulman 2010), a juvenile fiction that deals with social issues like bullying and peer pressure.

The sad truth is we teach reading to test. Not for the pure pleasure and love of it. We ask them the very evident questions, not those that will make them think. “Instead of teaching ‘Reading’ as a school subject”, how about teaching “reading filled with real purposes, experiences and emotions of life” asks Steven Wolk.

Yes, we need to do this to stoke the embers of this dying fire of reading. For even in this techno savvy geeky world, everything boils down to reading. Adult life is full of that. Read, comprehend, analyse, synthesize, extrapolate and create completely new things out of what you read. Granted what you have to read may not be in hard copy but surely it is in the form of an e-book, kindle edition and or the plain and simple PDF. I hasten to add that this is also reading, but minus the essence. I mean the heady fragrance of a brand new book or the musty smell of an old book. To a connoisseur of books both are sure to gift a very special olfactory experience. Something that makes one clamour for more!  Sniff, sniff and sniff!!! Open-mouthed smile

By the way, did you know that there are perfumes that you can spritz on your e-reader or kindle to make it smell like a paper book? It is like bottled scent of ink on paper – check this one out! Eau de books??? Or is it meant to be worn as an actual perfume? In any case, I doubt if even book lovers would love to walk around smelling like a book. It is great to sniff will it be so to walk around wearing it on your sleeve?

Smell of a book

I think language teachers have their tasks cut out. It is time that schools, teachers and parents helped today’s digital generation discover the simple joys of reading books. Meanwhile, I have rediscovered the joy of reading, thanks to a lot of books that my children, Aathira and Praveen, gifted me for my birthday. From The Immortals of Meluha I am traversing into the absorbing tale of the The Secret of the Nagas (Amish Tripathi – the second in the The Shiva trilogy).

Are you reading too? Happy World Book Day to you!

** Caring Hearts, Critical Minds; Steven Wolk, Stenhouse Publishers; Page 191

The Euphoria of an Award

15th April 2013 will remain a red lettered day in the annals of my school’s history. It was this day we were presented with the Khalifa Award for excellence in education in the educational institutions category. When our Acting Principal, Mrs Asma Gilani collected the Certificate of Excellence, a gleaming trophy and a prize of AED 100,000 we made our tryst with destiny. We are the Best of the Best, the first Indian School to win this coveted award. Moreover we are the first amongst the GEMS Schools to get into this ivy league.

OOS

In 2010 March when I walked down the blue and white portals of this School as Senior Supervisor, little did I realize that I would be part of the history making phase. We saw leadership changes. We embarked on and embraced change. We saw us taking giant strides in improving the quality of our exam results – 100% is the norm here. It is a matter of pride that from just about 7% students with an aggregate score of 90% in the Class XII board examination in 2010 we catapulted to 35% 90+ scorers in 2012.

We are such a huge school. Just about 8000 students. 😉 Yet, what makes us winners? What do we do differently? On introspection, I think it is all of these:

  • Amazing teamwork. No one competes here against one another. All for the school. It is one for all and all for one. 
  • Super teachers – in my 29 years of being in education, I am yet to find a more dedicated and focussed lot.
  • A great set of students who love and cherish every aspect of the school. Most of the students are self motivated and bring loads of laurels to their alma mater – be it in academics or co-curriculars.
  • Great leadership with an all encompassed vision.
  • A huge community of support staff who are the cogs in our wheel and keep the systems moving.
  • Phenomenal systems in place – so much so that the school can easily run on autopilot!
  • We do boast of a very low teacher attrition rate. When teachers leave, it is mostly to relocate to their home countries.
  • A very supportive parent community who engage with us whenever needed – substitution, trips, sponsorship and in scores of other areas.
  • If I may also add it is a happy school – so less stress for all and more smiles around!

To each one of you who helped us leave golden footprints in the sands of time – here’s a toast to your effort and Gracias! Merci!!

Khalifa Award

I am proud to be part of this wonderful institution. Awards and Prizes bring more responsibilities and challenges in their wake. Yes, we need to keep improving. We need to tweak and fine tune things. We need to work harder than ever. Complacency should never set in… So even while basking in the euphoria of this fabulous achievement, my mind reaches out to the enchanting final stanza of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening‘ by one of my favourite poets – 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.

Yes, I do have miles to go. We do have miles to go… ahead with our responsibilities and commitments. Make every impossible possible. Make every difference in each child – all of whom have been so trustingly entrusted to us! Cheers to us!!! 🙂 😀 We surely rock!!!!!!!!

Resources:

  1. http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/sharjah-our-own-girls-school-gets-award-1.1170797 Photo credit also to this article.
  2. 2nd phot0 credit: http://www.gemsoo-sharjah.com/home.php

The Nostalgia of yet another Vishu

Today was Vishu, a very auspicious day for a Keralite. A festival that is the harbinger of prosperity, plenty and joy. A lot of very special images fleet across my mind’s canvas…
Even Nature is ready for the festivities. The Labernum is laden with flowers. Mangoes and Jackfruits green and ripe are aplenty. The Sun is bright and is almost above the line of the equator.
The eve of Vishu montages:
Mummy & all of us arranging the Kani, the special arrangement of everything auspicious and yellow, so that we can view it first thing in the morning…
The array of yellow coloured fruits and vegetables like mangoes, jackfruit, golden cucumber or the Kani Vellari, lemon, home grown bananas…
The mirror adorned with gold chains and stringed jasmine flowers/ tulasi petals, the idol/photo of Krishna, the Kasavu Veshti, the Bhagavad Gita and everything else from raw rice to halved coconuts…
The dazzling Labernum blooms aka Kanikonna… A host of other flowers to decorate the Lord from the ordinary hibiscus to the sacred Tulasi leaves and to the beautiful and enchanting Lotus flowers the Daddy will get from our Lotus Pond…
The lighted lamps, the wafting fragrance of agarbathis and camphor…

Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning

Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning

The morning of Vishu memories:
Mummy waking us up one by one, covering our eyes with her hand, getting us to wash our faces without opening our eyes and then making us sit in front of the necklace adorned mirror…
Lo! You open your eyes and see your reflection in the mirror decked of course in gold and flowers…
As children the best thing to remember was the Vishu Kaineettam… (No pocket money those days. All you will get during the entire year would be a few rupees as Kaineetam, that the elders would give you!)
Then the very interesting part for children – the bursting of crackers & fireworks… (Gradually this became a much toned down affair, thanks to the awareness that child labour was rampant in the firework factories in Sivakasi and of the chemical pollution it releases into the air !)
When we had our cattle, Mummy used to take the Kani into the cattle shed for the cows to see…
All reminders of times when we lived close to nature… and treated every living being with respect and love…
Then the rush of local people – kids, young and old, to collect their share of Kaineettam from Daddy…
Sumptuous feasts…
Times when all would come home for Vishu… the joy, the merriment, the bonding and the camaraderie…

Today am at Sharjah. Far away from my loved ones, physically at least. Virtually I was even able to see some of the vishu kanis… The eve of Vishu gave me actually the blues… (which I tried rather unsuccessfully to beat by watching the Malayalam movie Amen in the nearest theatre!)  How I missed being at home during this festive time! Made a decent feast for myself with sambhar, rice and koottu curry – yet my mind, like a disobedient child, ran back to the courtyards of Sreyas (our home is named that); in the midst of Dad and Mom…

How true the age old adage is: East or West, Home is truly the best! Only one has to leave the shores of our land to realize this!!

Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna

Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna

Happy Vishu to all… May this Vishu bring you joy, peace, health and prosperity!!!

Are we equipping our Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs?

The other day, I was reading a very interesting hypothesis by the celebrated columnist and author, The World is Flat fame, Thomas L Friedman. His formula for knowledge acquisition in the 21st century is CQ+PQ>IQ. i.e. Curiosity Quotient + Passion Quotient will be greater than Intelligence Quotient. Thomas Friedman states that when curiosity is paired with passion in the exploration of a subject of interest, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent, because of the vast amount of information resources available through the Internet. He goes on a step further and declares, “Give me the kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over the less passionate kid with a huge IQ every day of the week.” IQ “still matters, but CQ and PQ … matter even more.” For an educator this is sweet music. But are we equipping our students with these smart quotients in the classrooms is a million dollar question?

Juxtaposed to this is the resignation letter of Mr Gerald Conti, Social Studies Department Leader at Westhill High School, New York. After 27 years of teaching, he felt his profession no longer exists. The policy makers, he felt, have sold out education to private industries like Pearson Education, who have gone hammer and tongs with standardized tests. (I must add here that CBSE has launched an assessment training programme. No prizes for guessing. Yes, its partner is Pearson education!)

Seth Godin in his Stop Stealing Dreams says, “as long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble. The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it?”

“Standardized tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning.” says Bill Ayers in his book, To teach: the Journey of a Teacher, by William Ayers.

To me the crux of the matter is simple. Let us make schools places of joy and fun. Let us make our students thinkers and creators. Decades from now, they will thank us for inculcating in them these skills. Let our children not say “I hate school”, like in this cartoon.

Meanwhile, it is sad to see the ‘assembly line’ model working stronger than ever though we have moved away from the Industrial Age where conformity and standardisation were the norm. Without teaching creativity and being inspirational in the classroom how can we create in our students CQ – Curiosity Quotient and PQ – Passion Quotient? Without these it is not possible for them to take up jobs of the future!

Mr. Conti, you have hit the nail on the head. You have done your best. So may you be able to live a superannuated life free of guilt!

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