Dealing with Embarassment


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Some of us go through embarrassing situations in life for no particular fault of ours. It becomes increasingly difficult to take a stand, especially when the people involved are the next of kin, good friends or well-wishers. A story in the Bhagavatha Puranam speaks of one such predicament.

Naabhaaga, an erudite scholar, decided to find his own fortune. He was well versed in all areas of rites and rituals. He knew that he could earn a great deal of wealth if he offered his niche services. For starters, he went to the Yajna conducted by sage Angirasa as directed by his father Nabhaga. The sage was very happy with the arrival of the young man.

On the sixth day, ceremonies, which involved a lot of nitty-gritty, had been worrying the sage. Naabhaaga did the needful efficiently. The Yajna was completed successfully. Sage Angirasa was very happy and satisfied.

In a moment of gratitude and generosity, he offered every bit of his frugal possession as Dakshina to Naabhaaga. The latter accepted his fee thankfully and took leave of the sage. Naabhaaga was waylaid by Rudra. The angry god accused Naabhaaga of walking away with what rightfully belonged to him. The young man was confused. Nevertheless, he walked back to the site of the Yajna along with Rudra. The duo found sage Angirasa in conversation with Naabhaaga’s father. Rudra presented his case. Almost immediately, Angirasa and Nabhaga realised that they had goofed up. Strangely, both of them in their zeal had overlooked that the last portion of the Dakshina had to be lawfully offered to Rudra. They admitted their fault sheepishly, clarified the matter and apologised profusely. Both of them found it highly embarrassing to dictate the future course of action.

Naabhaaga and Rudra understood the nature of the faux pas. Naabhaaga decided to iron out the matter. He did not play the blame game nor did he cock a snook at Rudra for being angry with him for no reason. Instead, he handed over the entire amount to Rudra. Angirasa and Nabhaga were overwhelmed with the turn of events. Rudra was touched by the integrity of Naabhaaga and blessed him with unlimited prosperity.

If any of us happen to inadvertently get involved in a slip-up, we will do well to display a generous and forthright spirit like Naabhaaga.

“Education ” By Question Banks


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We are in the middle of the academic year. Students are busy taking periodic tests and midterm examinations based on the portions completed. Their answer scripts are being evaluated and assessed. Parents are being apprised of their ward’s performance.

Teachers’ meetings are being conducted to analyse their inputs and involvement in their responsibilities.

Everything seems to be going on like clockwork — just the way it should. Or, is it just a mirage? Perhaps this is the right time of the year for the parent, student and teacher to do a reality check.

Most schools have revision sessions before tests and examinations. They generate a question bank of sorts. The children are told directly or indirectly to concentrate on the revision sessions.

Parents and tuition teachers help the children out with the preparation. Most pupils get thorough with the “necessary portions” and score well. The tests and later on examinations are taken and evaluated — well, you know the drill.

While the process seems natural and harmless, it can turn out to be a quite a negative influence. It can uproot the fundamental aim of learning and education. Young students are being led by the nose to take up tests which prove to be a test of memory rather than understanding.

The very schools which claim to give holistic education shrink even the prescribed syllabus so that the students are not strained to look beyond a few questions.

Limited reading

Reading textbooks, ancillary reading material, referring to class notes are all relegated to the backburner because they do not count as “test portions”.

The learning that can be evinced from group study, working out varied problems, reference works are increasingly becoming non-existent because extensive reading or learning need not be displayed in answer papers.

The young learners cannot be blamed for wearing blinders because they are made to wear them by their teachers. When we look at the problem from the tutors’ point of view, it appears that they are shackled by several constraints. They are expected to cater to unwieldy numbers which makes it almost impossible for them to correct notebooks sincerely.

Then they have to live up to the expectations of the management and deliver cent per cent results as far as possible. When their increments and sometimes their employment depend on the results they deliver, they find it convenient to create “question banks”. This way they hope to step up the level of the results.

Multiple choice papers

The parents for their part do not really seem to mind this new infusion into the system right from primary school because their accountability comes down considerably. Sometimes, schools also opt for multiple choice question paper models partially or completely to make it easier for evaluation.

This method not only encourages blind guessing among students, but also conveniently circumvents the need to comprehend, work out or articulate their thoughts. The net result of this phenomenon precipitates as a mockery of education. No one is any wiser at the end of the day though everyone, the students, parents and teachers have gone through the exercise.

Today, we live in a world where education has been systematised. Learners go through the process of education in a set pattern and emerge as ‘educated’ people at various levels.

Where will all this spoon-feeding and holding hands lead them in the long run of life? Will their education stand them in good stead? Will they be in a position to think out of the box and handle unforeseen circumstances in life?

Can they come up with original or creative solutions to deal with problems? Will they employ just means to achieve their ends? How will they compare with their peer group across the globe? Will their accomplishments fill the lacunae that exist in the world?

The concept of “Question banks” was introduced at the university level, to help examinees to focus after browsing through an exhaustive material. To introduce the same, while shaping minds in their formative years in schools, amounts to committing intellectual suicide.

It is time to break this pattern and pay attention to learning for learning’s sake so that we can pave the way to developing inquisitive, fertile minds that are willing to go that extra mile before arriving at answers!

Gift for teacher? Classroom Discipline


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S Radha Prathi, Sep 5 2017, 0:08 IST

If teachers were asked what they would consider the best teacher’s day gift, the answer would be an unanimous chorus — classroom discipline!

Well, that happens to be the harsh truth. An average classroom in any school across urban India is almost always in a state of chaos. The teacher-student ratio is unwieldy in most. Under the circumstances, a conscientious teacher has to also double up as the bad cop, usher the students to step in mentally, not just physically, into the classroom. Healthy classroom practices like interactions, discussions and debates on the subject of study is often replaced with pontification, which has almost become a mandatory feature in the lives of teachers. Seldom can they do much else, because the law of the land forbids them from using the cane.

Most teaching staff are ashamed or afraid to rope in the help of colleagues, seniors or the head of the institutions because they do not want to show themselves to be weak or helpless. Besides, they do not want to jeopardise their chances of getting an increment by showing themselves to be lacking in class control skills. The students, for their part, ranging from primary school to the undergraduate levels seem to find it extremely difficult to sit still in the class and focus on what is being taught. Their attention span seems to be consistently declining year after year. They seem to have collectively traded the art of listening for the art of merely hearing that serves no purpose.

Such being the case, teachers have to often repeat themselves to reach out to everyone in the audience. In the process, a sense of repetition and redundancy sets in in the ones that got it the very first time. They become restless till the teacher takes the lesson forward but only after another round of disciplining. When this exercise becomes repetitive, it can get tiresome for both the students and the teacher. Precious classroom time is spent in shepherding students individually or in little groups into a state of silence before continuing with the lesson. Over a period of time, both parties get familiar with the pattern and play it out like clockwork to the point of frustration.

When teachers bare their hearts out on the subject, they are told categorically that “content is king” and the conduct of the teacher is the benchmark in a classroom. While that may be true, even experienced and passionate teachers who do know their subject and carry themselves with dignity are finding it difficult to handle disruptive behaviour. All the same, teachers agree that kids should have their fun and freedom as long as they do not constantly disrupt the classroom. They also vouch for the fact that the young are perfectly nice alone; it is only when they get together they become unmanageable.

It is time for us to unravel this conundrum. The restiveness stems from the environment the child comes from. The pressure to do well and realise the dreams of their parents has pinned them down. The gadgets they use and the amateurish exposure they get to various subjects on the internet make them feel that they know it all. The junk foods they consume, the sedentary lives they lead and the assorted pollutions they have to deal with have rendered them weak. Their preference to play with gadgets than with siblings or friends has made them strangers to empathy. The stress and strife of modern life is taking a toll on the children.

If we hope to salvage the future of our children, we must work on these issues on a war-footing. Remember, the family is the first school and the mother is the first teacher. Parents should make it their own imperative to spend quality time with children no matter what their age. Children who hail from sensible, ethical and loving homes will reflect those qualities.

Having well behaved students can prove to be a tremendous boost to a passionate teacher’s morale and her capacity to teach. Precious class hours can be channelised to sow the seeds of knowledge, nurture analytical thinking, and help children blossom into responsible, intelligent and considerate individuals. When teaching becomes a fulfilling and pleasant experience, a teacher can make a world of difference to the taught. When that happens, every day will be Teacher’s Day!

Raising Our Daughters the Right Way


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Bringing up: In a world full of judgements and suspicions, we have to raise our daughters with the correct set of values.

Under the wings...Under the wings…

Archana insisted on homeschooling her twin daughters as she had nightmares about admitting her children to the kindergarten in the metropolis soon after being bombarded by stories of lurking paedophiles around learning centres. Vandana gave up her lucrative job because she wanted to be at home when her daughter arrived home at noon. She had heard horrific stories of children being administered sleeping pills in their milk at daycare centres. Meera laughingly calls herself the designated chauffeur of her kids because she is always driving them in and out of one class or another.

Lakshmi opted for voluntary retirement just when it was her turn to get promoted, to ensure that she could fund her daughter’s dream to study abroad. Suma, a qualified lawyer, decided to be a stay-at-home mother because she believed in the dictum “Better safe than sorry” (All names have been changed to respect their identities.)

What these young and not-so-young mothers have done for the apples of their eyes, is not unusual. Each of these mothers and several tens and thousands of their kind have been doing more or less the same thing in various capacities. No, they are not cynical or paranoid, they are just being careful. With reason too. We live in a world which is riddled by multiple standards, inequalities in every aspect, uncertainties and incomprehensible expectations. Hence, leading a normal life believing in the intrinsic goodness of fellow human beings is out of the question.

Now is the time for us to rethink our parenting strategies, especially where it concerns the girl child. After all, parenting is called an art and not without reason. We must prepare our daughters to hope for the best but be prepared for the worst right from the moment they arrive in our lives. Here are a few areas that need
serious looking into:

Physical well-being
A taste for a nutritious balanced diet punctuated with some form of exercise should be introduced right from the beginning. When a healthy diet and a physical regime coupled with personal hygiene become a habit, immunity levels will soar, and keeping healthy will not prove to be a challenge. Teaching them martial arts or sports or simply involving them in everyday household chores will help them build stamina and can prove to be a boon in times of need.

Modesty & morality
Modesty and morality should not be mixed up. Remember, being prudish can cost them dearly. They must be taught the difference between good touch and bad touch. Girls should be taught not to be ashamed of their bodies or the changes they undergo. They should be encouraged to spell out their doubts and fears. It will do well to sensitise girls to the fact that the outside world will judge them by the clothes, accessories and the makeup they wear, though character cannot be determined by the length of their sleeves or necklines.

Subjects like virginity, rape, honour, domestic violence, honour killings need not be drawing room conversations, if it feels delicate. All the same, there is no point in sweeping the subjects under the carpet and looking the other way when they do crop up.

Using such topics as a launchpad to clear the cobwebs of a growing mind can go a long way in preventing girls from becoming judgmental. The knowledge will also cushion them to some extent, if they are unfortunate victims of such
circumstances.

Coping with new age trends
Many girls go through a phase in life when they get their facial or body parts pierced or tattooed, when they colour, curl or straighten their hair or undergo cosmetic surgery on a whim and regret it later.

Depriving permission outright may not go well with everyone. So, the stubborn ones can be encouraged to try the temporary option and then if they really care for the fashion, then they can be told to take the plunge.

Being feminine
Girls should be taught to appreciate and enjoy their feminine side. Since we live in a diabolical world, girls can be groomed to be soft-spoken and delicate damsels. So, they should be clearly told that they must not hesitate to protect themselves even if it means biting and kicking the molester on the face, or very simply amplifying their lung power.

Expanding the mind
Encourage your girls to have friends, go out and mingle. While dating or having a relationship is not wrong, they should also be taught when and where to draw the line and how to say no firmly when they feel uncomfortable. Writing a diary or pouring their concerns to an agony aunt can help them ease their tensions. Ask them to be careful about what they post and with whom they share on their social media sites, especially their pictures. With so much cyber crime going on, one can never be too careful.

Evaluation of Evaluators


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The citizens in the world of academics are only too aware that there are wheels within wheels. Students, their parents and their teachers know that the path to progress is many tiered.

Students have to imbibe what they are taught, customise their knowledge to cater to the needs of the examination system and then await results post evaluation. The process appears to be ancient, normal and warranted as far as one can see.

The evaluators take over from the point the students finish their examinations, and it is this factor that most students and parents are apprehensive about. Realisation dawns on them that the ball is no longer in their court; their results are in the hands of unknown evaluators especially when they take up the board or university examinations.

The routine of nervously scanning through the Internet and news channels for the forthcoming results can be quite draining to all examinees, no matter to which age group they belong. Though the law of cause and effect is well known to be proportionate, it is apparently not applicable in our desi educational system to a large extent.

It appears that the shloka from the Bhagavad Gita which says, “Karmanye Vaadhika-raste, Maa Phaleshu kadachana,” which means “You have the right only to do your duty, but never anticipate the fruit for your deeds” is applicable to the students who complete their examinations. That is why we find students spending their vacation with fingers crossed for the outcome of their performance.

The anomalies in the realms of examination results can range from appearing late to appearing wrong. Though all boards and universities do have channels for re-totalling, revaluation, availing copies of answer scripts and even provisions to appear in the court of law, the number of mistakes that happen have not come down considerably.

It is understandable that to err is human. After all, it is the teachers who correct answer scripts. It is quite possible that they could have made an error or two out of sheer oversight or fatigue. Considering the fact that they are also willing to recheck and award rightful scores when approached through proper channels also speaks for the fairness and the transparent nature of the system.

All the same, the students find it difficult to repose faith in the system because many of them have been unsuspecting victims of sheer apathy and convoluted processes which have scorched their spirits and singed their opportunities.

Shortage of evaluators

When the matter is scrutinised from the teachers’ point of view, many factors that seem to justify their slipshod job come under the magnifying glass.

Firstly, there is an acute shortage of evaluators. Since most teaching jobs are offered by private educational institutions, they have a floating population of teaching staff.

Teachers resign their jobs at the end of the academic year in search of greener pastures and are sometimes willing to take an unpaid holiday while in the process of switching jobs. This trend automatically shows a large dip in the number of evaluators during the annual academic break.
Teachers who are hired on a contract basis for the occasion try to earn a little extra money by hurrying through the answer scripts.

The teaching faculty with secure jobs usually decides to put up their price during this season and prefers to go on strikes and dharnas. They feel that it is probably the best time to make their presence and value known. The harsh truth is that teachers are the lowest paid educated class in society.

It is a fact that teachers are burdened with the onus of wading through a sea of answer scripts without respite and the remuneration mostly does not match with the effort put in.

Apart from that, the evaluators are answerable to the chief examiner as well as the students if they have bungled in the process of correcting an answer script or totalling the marks obtained. They can be even sued in the court of law for not taking up their responsibility seriously.

The callousness in assessment of students can be averted to a large extent if knowledgeable and conscientious teachers are chosen for the job consciously. In addition, they should be given their due importance, respect and remuneration. They will be only too delighted and diligent to carry out the responsibilities bestowed upon them. And then, the rest assured students can enjoy happy holidays.

Teach Them To Cheat Not


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The examination season is on. This year appears to be no different from the examinations conducted over the previous years. It has almost become a habit for most under-performers to try their hands at some hanky-panky.

Students have been caught cheating, warned and even debarred when they have proved themselves to be incorrigible.

Diligent students who have worked hard right round the academic year feel let down when they find themselves being treated on par with some of their classmates who have been promoted as they resorted to copying in examinations.

On the other hand, students who do cheat feel that if they did not risk the malpractice, they would never hear the end of it from their parents besides being looked down upon by their peers and siblings.

Then there are instances of students running away from home and even attempting suicide when caught red handed in the act. When such a case is visualised in proper perspective, it is evident that the squad had meant to check the smooth functioning of the examination entered the room where the errant student was writing the examination, sending a chill down his or her spine resulting in the unfortunate decision of the student.

The copycat who deserves punishment ends up as the hero at the end of the day by sometimes making it to the newspaper headlines. The squad, the principal, the teaching and non-teaching staff are sent on an undeserving guilt trip for simply carrying out their duties sincerely by identifying the malefactor’s blatant blunder.

Then, when the surface of the matter is scratched and deeper introspection is employed, one can see that a lot of invisible hands are involved in doing the dark deed quite unintentionally.

‘Great expectations’
The system and the expectations of the parents, teachers and the peer group are collectively responsible for the immature decision of the wrong doers. Students are pressurised to give their best shot to excel in examinations so that they can emerge as victors in the rat race.

One cannot really discount episodes where the students are led to believe that they could get away with unethical practices.

There are instances where the invigilators actually promise candidates to look the other way for a price when the black deed is being carried out in the examination hall.

There is also a section of candidates who opt to pay for a fake course certificate to university crooks to facilitate their job search.

Compromise in integrity

Compromise in integrity and ethics in the examination happens with unfailing regularity because the educational calibre of a person is determined by the marks obtained by him or her as a student in the board and university examinations.

Personal interest of the student and the core competency for studying the subject appear to be the subject of little or no interest to most of the parents and teachers.

It is a common practice in our country for students scoring high marks to be absorbed in the mainstream or the science stream by the colleges impervious of the fact whether the student has the aptitude for the subject. The cream is expected to opt for professional courses like medical or engineering.

These toppers are the most sought after in the marriage market and job scene, and are regularly placed in the summit of the social ladder.

Those who do not fare well in these examinations are largely doomed for the rest of their lives because they could not prove themselves academically. This practice has almost become a tradition in our educational system much to the chagrin of the students who may have talent and aptitude for other aspects.

It is high time we as a society start respecting the individual’s decision and his/her field of interest. Youngsters should be told that it is important for them to do well in the chosen area no matter what it is.

Innate qualities like honesty, sincerity and sense of purpose should be nurtured in young minds by both parents and teachers to build their moral profile. They should be sensitised to the fact that it is better to fail in honour than to flourish by cheating. Only then can we hope to populate our nation with responsible, dependable and sensible citizens who realise that education is a means to the end and not an end in itself.

With Mind, Heart and Some Hard Work – Learning Sanskrit


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Isn’t it sad that Sanskrit has become merely a ‘scoring’ subject? With a little interest, one can not only learn the language well, but also fare better in exams

Preparing for a Sanskrit examination can be very different from studying for examinations of other subjects. The language is exact in terms of phonetics, grammar, and syntax and very vast in terms of literature. The usual methods of learning by rote or trying to stick to important points based on previous years of question papers will actually prove to be detrimental to students. This is one of the reasons why students who usually perform very well in academics fail to make a mark eventually, because they do not score enough in the language paper. This syndrome is true across students of schools, pre-university, undergraduate and post graduate levels. A close observation of the performance levels of students reveals that their marks mostly does not construe to their learning curve. Most students take up Sanskrit, because they are given to understand that their subject will be taught and tested bilingually. In other words, one can answer the Sanskrit paper partially in English or in the vernacular. This facility has been assigned to the study of this language because it is no longer a popular spoken tongue. Students are deprived of a healthy exposure to Sanskrit in their daily lives. Its ancient, immense and precise nature can prove to be a little intimidating to a first time learner. Hence the system considered it fit for the language to be studied through another language. Over a period of time, teachers and students alike have gotten used to the support, to the point of converting it into a crutch of sorts.

It is mandatory to realise that each subject has its own nuance and should be approached with an open mind. Sanskrit is a phonetically accurate language, where we write exactly as we read or speak. Students of Sanskrit, no matter to which age group or class they belong to, will do well to read and write their alphabet all over again. Once the student is thorough with the alphabet, learning to split random words and rejoining them in terms of vowels and consonants will give the learner a deeper understanding of spellings, pronunciation and meanings. In the long run, it will also sensitise the student to the joining and splitting of words.

The next step forward will be to learn declensions of nouns, adjectives and pronouns. This exercise akin to learning multiplication tables in mathematics will make the student realise set patterns of declensions in terms of gender, number, case and the attached prepositions. Similarly when students learn to conjugate verbs in Sanskrit they will become aware of the root forms of verbs, person, number, tense and voice.

Buying a modestly priced Shabda Manjari will prove to be wise investment to a conscientious student. They will do well to practice the same by writing out the declensions and conjugations using different examples and also reading them aloud so that they become familiar with some basic vocabulary. This knowledge in turn will help a pupil to form simple sentences, do translations, and answer questions that follow comprehension passages besides framing basic letters and writing undemanding paragraphs.

Learning to distinguish between declensions, conjugants and indeclinables will set the stage for the learner to become familiar with the art of arriving at participles quite on the lines of forming or balancing a chemical equation. Besides the learner will find it easier to grapple the basics of Sandhi or the joining of words and samasa or the formation of compound words which is peculiar to the language.

Acquiring these fundamental skills will equip the student to not only score appreciable marks in the Sanskrit section but will also prove to be helpful while answering the rest of the paper in English or in the vernacular. Examiners normally appreciate the use of the Devanagari script in answers written in the other lingo especially while using proper nouns, key words, quotations among such others.

If for some reason, a student of Sanskrit has neglected the basics, it is never too late to repair the damage. All it takes is a little interest, time, effort and dedication.

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