Monday, August 25, 2008

Tyranny of Choice – Dilemma Facing School Children

My daughter has come to dread this question asked her by many of our relatives and family friends – “So, what do you plan to do after school”.

Her exasperated reaction – “I do not know….I am so confused…..There are so many choices and I cannot make up my mind”

This is the dilemma that our school going children face today. On one hand you have expectations of parents or peer pressure to handle. On the other, if you wish to research and list all options available before taking a decision – you are drowned in an avalanche of information and choice.

The intriguing and frustrating part is when commercial art seems as interesting as bio-technology or hotel management seems as exciting as a career in space engineering.

Cannot do both can we???? We definitely cannot switch from one to another without considerable pain and loss of academic years. In many cases it is just impossible to switch.

Let us have a closer look at what sort of choice we have.

We have at least forty major branches available in engineering. Add at least two dozen branches in medical and para-medical avenues.

Relatively straight forward avenues like Commerce have at least a dozen and half different courses at the graduate and post-graduate levels. This is followed by a mind boggling array of career options. We have the same situation in arts(all types), hospitality, languages, pure sciences, home sciences and perhaps in many other fields which I am not familiar with.

Are children or their parents supposed to sift through this information overload and come to some rational decision or is it easier and less painful to just flip a coin and decide.

Many a time, children change their minds on what they like and very often they come to dislike a subject or course because it does not meet their expectations or they encounter difficulties in understanding the same.

It has taken us adults so many years to find our true calling and, this is probably, the lucky minority. I believe a vast majority of adults feel trapped in what they do with little chance of a change.

Is it not, therefore, very unfair that our education system forces the choice of a career stream when we have barely begun to understand our own aptitude, likes and dislikes.

This certainly merits deeper thought and a move towards making our education system more flexible such that it equips a child to eventually find his / her own true calling.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Independence Day Celebrations - Dullness Personified

India became an independent nation at the stroke of midnight of August 14 - 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, uttered those immortal words – “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially…….”

What a historic moment? - What a powerful speech? – An amazing achievement to throw off the yoke of colonial rule……..We were now free to shape our own destiny.

That was sixty one years ago. Let me, for a moment, risk being irreverent and ask – 15th August 1947 seems so far away and almost surreal. To us born in post - 1947 India and having grown up in a very different environment, independence is natural and, perhaps, taken for granted. The past, beyond a point, becomes a drag and fails to enthuse the younger generation.

I-Day has now become an annual routine. We open the old chest, remove the same things out, burnish them, use them for a day and wham – they go back in for another year.

The same routine, the same dull uninspiring speeches from dull uninspiring leaders, same patriotic songs intermixed with filmy mush. You have the mandatory “Aae mere watan ke logo…jara aankh mein bhar lo pani…..”. Leaders everywhere mouthing the same old overused clich├ęs………, plenty of protocol, stiffness and of course the modern day scourge – plenty of security.

I have tried to trace this decline from a pristine annual event almost bordering on being holy to something which is “Dullness Personified” and completely out of depth.

The euphoria of independence lasted, perhaps, for a decade or two. We were a newly independent nation and annual celebrations were looked forward to. Speeches from the ramparts of Red Fort were followed intently and the excitement of having to achieve much for the nation still survived. The memories of the independence struggle were fresh in the minds of the people and leaders alike as they had themselves participated. The pain of partition was also intense and a semblance of order was just getting restored in their lives.

With gradual change the post independence generation came on the scene. Their identity was different and they have not been able to relate with the movement for independence. The soul was somehow missing and I-Day celebration has slowly degenerated into an annual must-have ritual – almost like a parody. To make matters worse, cynicism rules high and is a great mood dampener.

People participation has dropped to an all time low. If you go beyond the Red Fort celebrations to the State Capitals, participation is restricted to just the leaders and officials.

This year it was a long week end and you actually saw people exulting and making quick getaways. It is sad that we consider it a waste of time to participate in any such celebrations.

I think,

Time has come to re-examine the relevance of the current format of Independence Day celebrations in the country.

Time has come to re-position the whole concept of I-Day celebrations afresh and establish its relevance to the people.

Time has come to infuse some interest, enthusiasm and variety and make it a joyous celebratory event and not a solemn, grim, dull and boring event.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spring of Hope in a Ghetto of Despair

Saturday – 9th August 2008 was meant to be an ordinary day without any of the glamour attached to 08-08-08, but it was not to be. Let me share my experience.

A few of my office colleagues and I have been debating the previous few weeks about the need to give back to society, do some social work or “seva” as we call it. Being from a corporate background, it was natural to come up with grandiose plans with no thought given to how we were to execute them.

Wiser counsel prevailed and we realized that we know very little of life outside our air-conditioned offices and sanitized environment. Our present efforts are to see and understand ground realities.

We visited a small school at Dharavi in North-Central Mumbai. Dharavi has earned the dubious distinction of being the largest slum in Asia with a population of over one million packed tightly in an area of just 1.75 sq kms.

We visited the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir run out of half a dozen sheds at the north-west corner of this mega shanty town.

This is a school with two hundred thirty students spread across Nursery to Class – V. The school authorities plan to add one higher class every year till they reach the tenth standard in the next five years.

The school presently has eighteen teachers led by Principal - Ms Shubhangi Karvir and a few support staff.

The school is part of the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir initiative in value education. Apart from the normal curriculum, great emphasis is laid on other activities like dance, music, martial arts like taekwondo, sports including chess and skating. Students from the third standard upwards are also taught about computers in a separate lab set up.

A novel part of the teaching process is the way in which “Value Based Education” is made a part of all subjects. Young minds are exposed to human values like compassion, friendship, caring, mutual respect, and teamwork….and so on.

What sets this school apart from many other schools is the incredible student-teacher ratio. The maxim of one teacher for every twenty students is strictly followed.

What we heard was impressive but what we saw overwhelmed us. Dharavi is as dirty as slums can get. Every possible failing of human nature can be seen there. Alcoholism and drug addiction is rampant and violent behaviour is the accepted norm.

Students come from disturbed homes and vitiated neighbourhoods. There is no concept of personal hygiene or a nutritious diet. It is an angst and acrimony filled atmosphere.

In the midst of all this is a monumental effort put in by a band of very dedicated people determined to make a difference in the lives of those whom modern Indian society has forgotten. To mend such tender lives and get them on a productive path requires immense confidence in oneself and faith that there is an "Unseen Power" who is directing this change.

A Spring of Hope bursts forth in a Ghetto to blow away the clouds of Despair.