Education and Careers

Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota, in India's desert state of Rajasthan, August 13, 2012. A boom in India's management education sector that saw the number of business schools triple to almost 4,000 over the last five years has ended as students find expensive courses are no guarantee a well-paid job in a slowing economy. India's seemingly unstoppable economic rise, an aspiring middle class' desire to stand out in a competitive job market, and a lucrative opportunity for investors fuelled a bubble in business education that is now starting to deflate. Picture taken August 13, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (INDIA - Tags: EDUCATION) - RTR37QQB

By Abhishek Jha

Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota, in India's desert state of Rajasthan, August 13, 2012. A boom in India's management education sector that saw the number of business schools triple to almost 4,000 over the last five years has ended as students find expensive courses are no guarantee a well-paid job in a slowing economy. India's seemingly unstoppable economic rise, an aspiring middle class' desire to stand out in a competitive job market, and a lucrative opportunity for investors fuelled a bubble in business education that is now starting to deflate. Picture taken August 13, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (INDIA - Tags: EDUCATION) - RTR37QQB
Source: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Anyone who has studied in a coaching institute in Kota will tell you, the classroom is more of a factory. A hundred or more – unless you are the creamiest of the several thousand and are being constantly monitored – students crammed on metal benches are addressed by a teacher and then left to toil on their own for the rest of the day. Your doubts have to be extraordinary or can be laughed upon, sometimes discarded with disdain even by the teacher. Your seating arrangement, to avoid hassles, is usually according to rank – one poor rank and you are either in a lower batch or on the back benches. A rather explicit preference in attention to those who score well makes the pressure of performance explicit within days of your arrival, which is soon after your 10th standard board exams.

The institute that produces the best-ranked students in the final exam draws a larger crowd next year and that all of this is not unusual is already internalised by students. Having experienced this first hand, it is not surprising for me to see reports of a spike in suicides by students in the city. However, having come out of the cocoon of that world, I am surprised that this almost exploitative regimen hasn’t been addressed yet.

It is not through media reports alone that our politicians and administrators come to know of suicides by students. In fact, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) counts the number of suicides due to “Failure in Examination” every year. This cause of suicide and the number of deaths resulting from it are significant enough for NCRB to not relegate it to “Other Causes”. Institutes, politicians, administrators vow regularly to end this menace. Yet the problem remains unsolved. In Kota, 24 students committed suicide last year alone and two coaching institute students again committed suicide this January, according to reports.

Between 2012 and 2014, a total of 22,319 suicides by students were recorded by NCRB (the numbers each year varying from 6000 to 8000), of which the students who committed suicide particularly due to “Failure in Examination” were 7,120. There can be little doubt then that the pressure on those who prepare for competitive exams takes its toll and needs to be addressed.

Those preparing for admission to what are considered, marketed, and eyed as the premier institutes of the country, this pressure is not only of being able to pursue a passion or career but has also an emotional undertone of honour and prestige. Every rise and drop in scores or rank is scrutinised by your peers and your parents and sometimes even distant relatives who have hopes pinned on you to guide their children. For some children, this process begins as early as the beginning of secondary school for which separate coaching classes run.

This was also acknowledged by a Task Force constituted by the MHRD to look into and prevent suicides in all central government-funded technical institutions which submitted its report in 2012. The report observes, in the context of coaching and tuitions, that the “focus is no longer on engineering as a career choice but on ‘’preparing for IIT'” and identifies “social isolation, poor coping skills to face failure and the inability to share problems” as emerging behavioural patterns.

Coaching institutes, however, continue to flourish due to the vast difference between state-run or even private school curriculum and teaching and the admission tests, which those heading these technical colleges say have to be tough due to the vast number of applicants. After the spike in the number of student suicides in Kota last year (from 11 in 2014 to 24 in 2015), the district collector is reported to have issued an advisory to coaching institutes to tone down their advertisements. Coaching institutes too came together to start a counselling helpline. But as further reports showed, this helpline too is overburdened, with only two doctors, three stress counsellors, and 10 academic counsellors for over a lakh students studying in the city.

The reason forcing students to commit suicide are manifold, as the report of the Task Force also identified. The incessant call to merit, performance, ranks and scores that plague our education system is something that our society itself should abandon if it is not to make machines out of the labour force of technocrats that it boasts of. The stigma associated with mental health issues and internalised by young people need to be addressed too.

The government of Rajasthan seems to have taken cognizance of the crises in Kota and there have been reports of implementing regulations for coaching institutes late last year. But these regulations, safety nets, psychological help should already be existing anywhere in the country, especially for young people who form the bulk of those committing suicides. For the “coaching gurus”, parents and the administration of Kota, the huge rise in suicides should, at least, be a wake-up call.

Take action. Demand the creation of a counselling centre in Kota. Sign this Change.org petition here.

teach

By Tanay Sukumar:

teach
Source: Flickr

Having completed my Fellowship with Teach For India, it would be a grave injustice to my work if I do not share my learnings with the outside world. Having observed the municipal school system in Delhi for two years, I feel that what many of us tend to see as issues are not actually the primary problems.

A myth that most concerned citizens have is that government school teachers do not teach and that they are the reason behind the poor levels of public education in India. Once you blame the teachers, it’s easy to think that the solution lies in good skills training and good monitoring/inspection – but these solutions would work only if teachers were the problem in the first place.

To shatter myth number two – if being an amazing teacher is magic, then knowing your subjects well is not the wand that will perform it. If each factor that contributes to being a teacher has an impact on the lives of students were to be ranked in order, two items would be at the top – belief in the child and belief in oneself.

Teaching is a job fuelled by inner mindsets – much more than self-motivation, salary, intentions, love and concern for children or knowledge of your subject. And that’s why real teaching is hard. A teacher who does not believe in the child but knows the subject well shall spend hours explaining things to the class but won’t take more than a few seconds to give up on an unyielding child. A teacher who loves kids but does not believe in them will succumb to emotions and hence lower her expectations from them – thus never letting the child reach his or her potential.

Belief breaks more barriers than love, intelligence, concern & intentions. Belief empowers you to make yourself accountable, to innovate and research better methods to ensure that the child learns and to go to the child’s parents and change their mindsets. Belief keeps you away from punishing the child and becoming impatient with difficult children. Belief makes you find ways.

Government school teachers usually cater to disadvantaged children, belief in whom is more important than anywhere else. A teacher who does not believe in a child in an international school does him little harm; the child is likely to end up well anyway. A teacher who does not believe in an underprivileged child tends to make sure that he/she doesn’t even put in the effort.

Once we address the belief problem, other factors inevitably creep in:

1. Teaching Time

Teachers in municipal schools are part-time clerks. The system requires them to meet parents of all students inside the classroom multiple times a year to distribute various funds and scholarships. Teaching ends up being a nice escape from an otherwise highly clerical job: signatures, stamp pads, registers, and cash.

2. Teacher-Student Ratio

This is a big problem in our country. It ends up being a cultural problem. A teacher with fifty kids tends to pay less attention to the children who need her the most, leading to a widespread national culture where we teach the brightest and ignore the weakest.

3. What Is A Good Education?

“A quiet classroom.” Most municipal schools in Delhi consider this as an accurate definition of a good education. A principal who walks around the school is likely to be looking for quiet classrooms and angry teachers instead of busy classrooms and teachers teaching. Such medieval expectations are again a socio-cultural problem. We have been conditioned to believe: 1) good education is being able to score good marks, 2) discipline means being quiet and obedient without reason, 3) respect means the art of not questioning an adult, 4) children are lesser individuals – adults know more and yet, if the child fails to achieve, the mistake is his and not the teacher’s, 5) there is only one way to learn: the verbal and linguistic way; a hyperactive child is spoiled and can’t do anything and 6) there is only one way to correct a child – be angry and punish.

Other Challenges

(a) Teaching is thought of to be a student-teacher relationship whereas it actually consists of four parties: school leader, teacher, student, parents. The role of parents is more important because the teacher needs to fight mindsets and the economic divide in order to make her teaching fruitful in the long run.

(b) There is little or no training for school leaders & principals.

(c) While most teachers have received formal training before they start their job, there is little on-the-job teacher training. Even if there is, a proactive monitoring system is found to be non-existent. Inspections are limited to (1) checking if children can wish the inspector “good morning,” (2) checking if fourth-grade kids can recite a memorized poem, (3) checking if the school administration can provide them good tea and snacks. This colonial, hierarchical treatment of inspection is ensuring that we are satisfied with too little. Inspection immediately needs to be replaced by a continuous-feedback-and-improvement mechanism where, trainers, not inspectors, are involved in students’ learning as much as teachers are and are not seen by teachers as objects of fear but partners in the education of the future generation.

(d) There is a widespread lack of purpose among our teachers. Our culture regards teaching as an easy complement to child-rearing for young women. Without a passion for teaching, it’s needless to say that it’s not going to work.

I hope the next time we seek a revolution in Indian education, we know that we must work towards a change in ‘Education Culture’ and not the ‘Education System’. Reforms in the Education System will soon follow.

Teach For India‘s Fellowship program places outstanding working professionals and college graduates as Fellows – who work full-time for two years in low-income & under-resourced schools teaching underprivileged kids. Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Application Deadline: 2nd February 2016.

school children classroom

By Shasya Goel:

Exam-StressUndoubtedly, each of one of us has lived through the ordeal of the dreaded boards. The albatross that dangles around the neck lurking furtively for another comeback; just in case it didn’t choke you well enough the first time around. With nosey, prying aunties, making others’ business theirs, discussions concerning board results have never been anything less than the heated discussions at Arnab Goswami’s ‘News Hour Debate’. Once through with the exams, the harrowing task of deciding upon one’s stream of choice and getting into a decent college is just the tip of the iceberg in a seemingly unfathomable, impenetrable sea of problems.

On that eventful day that I remember so vividly, we found ourselves in the company of an old friend of dad’s, one of those people who have their nose permanently stuck in others’ lives. After skilfully finding an opening during a dull moment in the conversation, our esteemed guest (let’s call him Mr. XYZ) looked up from his perfectly round glasses and inquired about the stream I had decided to pursue. Looking at my face fixedly, eyebrows propped up and a visible smirk on the face that added to the comic effect, he added, “so, is it Science or Commerce?” Cringing hard as I was to suppress the laughter that threatened to erupt like a volcano, at the same time thinking of the perfect response, I managed to mutter something like, “uncle, but you see, there’s also a third stream called humanities. Call it the road less taken, if you may.” What followed after that is anybody’s guess. Fuming hard and snorting like an engine gone bad, the visible redness on his face was hard to miss, and harder not to laugh at. For such a bunch of nincompoops who never cease to amaze me, there’s only one thing I would say, “pesky, prejudice-laden guests and neighbors, not allowed!”

This brush with reality taught me a valuable lesson at an early age, apart from functioning as an important eye opener. While perusing the facts provided by a recent study conducted by LinkedIn, I found that a startling and disturbingly high percentage (82%) of parents are involved in deciding their child’s career. According to the study, it is estimated that globally India is among the top three countries following the trend, with Brazil topping the list at a whopping 92%, followed by China at 87%.

In India, last year, 1.4 million candidates appeared for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), making it one of the biggest exam conducted in a single day in human history. According to Adhitya Iyer, author of the bestselling book The Great Indian Obsession: The Untold Story of India’s Engineers, more than half of the engineers in India enter this field either because of pressure from parents, or a simple lack of choice.

The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that 45 students committed suicide in Kota in 2014, a rise of more than 61% from 2013, for being pressurised by their families to pursue engineering. The severity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that several coaching institutes have now jointly launched a ’round-the-clock’ helpline to offer counselling, and track callers suffering from depression to provide assistance. What is more, there was a spike in the number of suicides committed by students studying in India’s most sought after chain of ‘ivy league’ institutes, the IITs.

Along with the faulty framework of our education system, the flawed mentality of the society at large needs to be questioned. What comes across as alarming is the frightening ease with which ignorant people assert and reinforce the stigma, conveniently dismissing the existence of a third, least talked about stream. On a larger scale, it depicts a frightening pattern that has taken hold of the country as parents force their kids to chase after fat packages; crushing their dreams under the weight of bulging pockets, teaching them to barter passion for money. How many cases of suicide, depression, failure, and bullying will it take for us to let go of stereotypes that have been damaging the very fabric of the country, limiting the immense potential for the growth of today’s youth? If now is not the time to wake up, then when?

anuj nirmal tfi

By Alankrita Khera

15-year-old Anuj Nirmal’s interests range from writing his blog, building robots and researching on how to create learning apps, to studying human psychology and predicting how people would behave in different circumstances. His personal achievements so far range from winning an inter-school parliamentary debate competition against 30 teams to placing second in a city-wide Kho-Kho competition organized by the BMC – naming but a mere few. He has also recently been the student facilitator at a Teach For All Conference which saw participation by leaders like Wendy Kopp (Founder – Teach For America) and State Senator (Colorado) Mike Johnston.

Anuj and his family moved from a small village near Allahabad to a one room set-up in Prem Nagar Chawl in the bustling suburbs of Goregaon, Mumbai a few years ago to start life afresh. He is the youngest of 3 children and his parents iron clothes for a living. However, his tough circumstances have never deterred him from his dreams – Anuj is not only a brilliant student but also makes it point to find the time for his passion for technology.

“I was 7 years old when sci-fi and superhero movies began to inspire me. I loved watching how superheroes were able to help the world using technology!” he says with a grin. It was then that he started to keep a journal of all the ideas that would strike his mind and experiment them on any object that he could find around him. “I dismantled a DVD player I found somewhere once and used its parts to create a locomotive engine for a small prototype crane lift. My experimenting actually caused a power failure inside the house once which made my parents ban the activity at home altogether!”

In the absence of a computer at home, Anuj would save up money to visit an internet café to write his blog – where the owner discovered his ability to type fast and offered him a job. “I got to use his computers for free and paid my school fees with the salary he gave me. My weekday evenings and all Sundays since then are spent working at the café where I teach Microsoft Office and undertake admin duties along with learning the basics of coding and javascript myself.”

Anuj draws inspiration from his parents and teachers alike. “Studying in Siddharth Nagar municipal school, I’ve been fortunate to have Teach For India Fellows as my teachers since 3rd Grade as they’ve always guided me and supported my ideas. I recently developed an interest in hacking and showed my science teacher and TFI Fellow Sravanti Didi how easy it was to hack into her computer. She wisely made me aware about cyber law and ethical hacking and recommended that I look up Ankit Fadia who wrote a book on ethical hacking in 2001 when he was just 15. Another Teach For India Fellow, Apoorva Didi, taught us how to debate and construct arguments. I’ve always been a shy public speaker but Apoorva Didi made me challenge my fear by taking us to the mall and asking us to debate in front of all the people there!”

For a 15-year-old, Anuj has perfected the art of managing his time prudently. He wakes up at 5 AM every day, studies for an hour before reaching school at 7 AM. Being the Head Boy, he starts by making sure that everything is clean and ends the day by leading other students to disperse school in an orderly fashion. Since the school does not have a Hindi or Marathi teacher, Anuj attends tuitions 2 – 3:30 PM to address his weakness with language studies and then proceeds for Just For Kicks football practice (a TFI led annual inter-school competition) at 5 PM before heading to the internet café at 7PM where he works till 9.30PM. He has also been selected by Teach for India to be in the Planning Committee for the next phase of the organisation. “I feel so happy to be able to give my views and ideas. Teachers are usually aware about their classrooms to only a certain extent – when I interact with my classmates during recess and outside school, I get to see another side to them. I hope I can make as much of a contribution to the next phase of Teach For India as their Fellows have made to my life and thinking over the last 5 years,” he says solemnly with heart-warming humility and touching honesty.

Anuj dreams to be the youngest founder of a technology company called Anuj’s Products that would build various tech gadgets and wishes to use the money that he makes from this company to build hospitals and schools for the poor. “God has given us one life and we should use it to the fullest. I feel like crying when I look at beggars and handicapped people on the street and wonder why nobody is even trying to train them to talk on the phone so that they can work in a BPO for example? After all they can still use their mouth to speak! I want to make technology that can help such people so that nobody is ever left helpless. I also see boys in my area who sit on their bikes all day – smoking and picking up fights all day. If they are so interested in fighting, they should do something useful and join the military!”

Children like Anuj Nirmal are our hope for tomorrow. Hope that one day every child in our country would be able to nurture a strong dream of his/her own.

Teach For India’s Fellowship program places outstanding working professionals and college graduates as Fellows – who work full-time for two years in low-income & under-resourced schools teaching underprivileged kids. Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Application Deadline: 2nd February 2016.

teach for india innovation weekend

By Alankrita Khera:

Teach For India hosted the Innovation Weekend, in Pune between the 22nd and 24th of January that saw multiple teams of a diverse group of participants come together at COEP’s Academic Complex to find innovative solutions to an existential problem statement – How do we ensure high school students in Pune attain the knowledge, skills and mindsets necessary for the 21st century?

Day One

teach for india innovation weekend
Source: Teach for India

The InspirED format weekend marathon was launched with an opening ceremony that established the fundamental understanding behind the purpose and context to the problem and the need for innovation to solve the same.

Rupali, an 8th grade student from iTeach Kondhwa School, shared her dreams, her struggles and her hope for her future through a poem written by her, titled “Aayushya”.

Post the opening ceremony, 8 teams of 6 participants each dug into the research documents provided to arrive at what they felt was the crux of this complex problem.

The day ended with each of the groups sharing their results that ranged from poor quality of teacher training programs and lack of exposure to vocational professions to the complexity of the system to allow for students choices, to name a few.

Day Two

Students at each table pushed the participants as they thought through their results from the previous day. The participants were also taken through sessions on design thinking that left them with a question “Do we want to design for our stakeholders or with our stakeholders?”

As solutions started emerging, Kavita R from Villgro took them through a session on Business Model Canvassing that provided the participants with a framework on to build their ideas.

Mahesh, a 7th grade Teach For India student, was seen helping his team think of innovative solutions to generate a revenue stream for their business model. He suggested collecting a nominal amount from all parents to build accountability, in addition to building a corpus to access and pay skilled mentors to help students understand what the real world needs.

The day ended with a gratitude circle to urge the participants to build relationships with their team members and have them focus as much on the process as the outcome.

Day Three

The final day was all about how teams could pull all their thoughts and learnings together to create a 6 minute presentation for the Jury. They were required to word their problem, solution and a business model to see their solution through.

The jury, comprising of Joseph Cubas (Head – Research and Planning, Avasara Academy), Meher Pudumjee (Chairperson – Thermax) and Sheetal Bapat (Founder – Shyamchi Aai), asked critical questions to push the teams to dig deeper.

teach for india innovation
Source: Teach for India

We saw solutions ranging from tech-enabled platforms for connecting skilled mentors to students to revamping under-used computer labs into R&D centres to working with CSR leaders in the city to design classroom interventions that exposed students to the ‘real’ world. Solutions also involved working with a diverse range of stakeholders; from parents to teachers to community leaders to students themselves.

After a heavy round of deliberation and an audience poll, Team ‘Champions of Change Club’ won the Jury Award for their solution to build parent investment through community centers that encourage open dialogue and offer sessions on financial training and vocational guidance.

Team ‘Skill Saturdays’ won the People’s Choice Award for their solution that focused on ensuring students had more ‘choice’ early on. They designed a model where they would connect skilled workers from the community and the industry to students in school and offer certificate courses to students to develop skills that are relevant in the 21st Century.

The Jury shared that they believed in an approach that moulded an ecosystem around the child and urged the audience to think critically about the role of the government.

The Innovation Weekend ended with a closing ceremony led by students. Each participating student shared what they had learnt and talked about what the year 2025 could look like for them if all the solutions that came out of the weekend were to come to life, today!

Teach For India’s Fellowship program places outstanding working professionals and college graduates as Fellows – who work full-time for two years in low-income & under-resourced schools teaching underprivileged kids. Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Application Deadline: 2nd February 2016.

indhist

By Neha Karnik:

The overused adage – “History is written by the winners,” is extremely valid in the Indian context. Unfortunately, despite winning our independence, we still suffer nationally from ‘the Stockholm Syndrome’. To this day, we accept the erstwhile conquerors’ narrative of us to be the truth. This video is an attempt to open our eyes to our civilizational greatness and invaluable contributions to humanity.

As a land, India has been through several phases, issues that this generation is unaware of. And with Republic Day 2016 still fresh in our minds, Groot Films in association with SpoonFeed has initiated a web video series. It is our endeavour to try and create a cogent story of our India while taking into consideration the latest insights and discoveries brought to light by technology and modern research. We’ll follow this up with more interesting videos in order to keep the effort going.

Watch the video here and let us know what you think of it in the comments below!

Video courtesy Groot Films.

2015-06-22-1434956990-9610251-Seema7

By Alankrita Khera

2015-06-22-1434956990-9610251-Seema7
Source: Teach for India

Today, she is the Head of Academics at the 3.2.1. Education Foundation. From leading curriculum design to overseeing student learning and teacher training, she does it all with humble aplomb. Armed with her zeal for an excellent education for every child, she goes about her work with the aim of learning something new every day. Looking at Seema Kamble, I simply see a headstrong, confident young woman ready to take up any challenge that comes in the way of her passion for education.

Seema comes from a low-income community – both her parents have served with the Indian Defence Forces. It was in her 5th grade – when the family had to shift from their erstwhile home in Colaba Defence Quarters to Worli due to financial problems – that her experience of living within the community began. It was a confusing time for Seema – having been used to an environment of discipline, she suddenly had to learn to cope up with chaos. As an added challenge, she was forced to shift schools from the private Navy Public School that she used to attend earlier to a municipal one – a school where the emphasis was on literacy rather than on education and on rote learning rather than on understanding. She even faced corporal punishment for the first time – the acceptable method of school discipline back then. It was her first encounter with education inequality and in her words, “I wasn’t able to cope up with the dip in my educational standard.” It was also tremendously difficult for her to focus on studies while living in the community as there were always disturbances and distractions that threatened to sway her concentration. It was around this time that Seema began to lose faith in herself and started to feel like she didn’t belong.

Crossing Paths With The Akanksha Foundation

Akanksha Foundation had just started a learning centre in Nehru Planetarium, Worli. Seema was in 6th grade at the time and she went to see what it was all about, thinking it’s probably a system of free tuition classes for school children. Her first reaction was that of surprise – Akanksha was nothing like the school she’d been attending for the past one year. There was immense focus on values and mindsets and an astonishing sense of possibility. The teachers at Akanksha believed in their kids no matter what – and that led her to join. From the very beginning, Seema’s teacher Rajshree Doshi pushed her towards excellence. “She believed in me and walked with me every step of the way with the aim to help me rise to my own expectations.”

In the Maharashtra municipal school system, English medium schools are only till 7th grade. So when Seema reached 8th grade, she had to shift back to a private school. Since the learning standards there were higher than that of the municipal school she had been attending, her academic performance dipped again and old fears of being inadequate came rushing back. ‘Rajshree Didi’, as Seema refers to her, patiently and lovingly saw her through it all. “I was an average student and would often try and bunk the Akanksha classes – for no specific reason. Rajshree Didi would come to my house every time and drag me back!” That was the kind of commitment the teachers at Akanksha had towards their kids. It was in her 10th grade that Seema’s mother spoke to her about substituting her Akanksha classes with tuition classes instead. “She said that I was the only remaining hope of the family and wanted me to prove to the world that no matter the circumstances that we had encountered, they should not be the excuse for me not attaining an excellent education. I ran to Rajshree Didi and implored her to do something, anything to help me stay!” Rajshree subsequently spoke to Seema’s mother and she stayed with Akanksha till the end of her school term.

A Sense Of ‘Giving Back’

Seema graduated with a B.Com from Lala Lajpat Rai College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai. Before she joined college, she began interning with Akanksha in the HR Department. The idea of wanting to give back had germinated in her mind. Once college started, she started to volunteer at the Akanksha centers as a teacher with the aim of transferring her learning to more kids – to be the Rajshree Didi to another Seema. “I would go to the center in the morning, then head to college for my classes and from there go for tuitions – it was hectic but so immensely satisfying! Even though I would reach home every day only around 10 PM, I also started to use my time after that teaching the kids in my community. The purpose was clear – empower as many kids as I can.”

Teach For India And The Fellowship Experience

Seema had started working with Akanksha full time in PR and Marketing after finishing college when the idea of doing an MBA struck her. “It was the career option of choice back then and the thought of pursuing a degree that could help me achieve financial stability – given the struggles my family and I have seen – seemed very attractive. It became my dream and I started to prepare for the entrance exams with lots of help from Sriram Bhaiya at Akanksha.” Around the same time in 2009, Teach For India was getting ready to begin operations and welcome its very first cohort of Fellows. Through Shaheen Mistri – Founder Akanksha Foundation and Teach For India – Seema was always connected to TFI but never really thought of joining as a Fellow – “Even though Shaheen Didi urged me to apply, I gave my MBA entrances instead.” 2010 came and Seema found herself sitting in an Akanksha conference room as Shaheen explained to her the importance of becoming a part of the TFI movement – it was this conversation that finally convinced her to apply. “I was apprehensive that I might not be on par with the knowledge and skill-set level of the other applicants but I was also confident of my understanding of the community and the kids.” Her acceptance to the TFI Fellowship came at the same time she got accepted to Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai with a 100% scholarship to their MBA program. But by that time, Seema had already decided – she’d rather work towards achieving educational equity in her country. “It was too easy to use an MBA as an escape route, it was harder to stay and work to solve the problems I’ve encountered myself. Being someone who thrives on challenges, my path automatically became clear.”

The Fellowship was extremely challenging – especially because she chose Pune rather than Mumbai as her placement city in order to work outside of her comfort zone without the distractions of family and the community. “In my 1st year, I remember coming back crying almost every day as I berated myself for being a horrible teacher to my kids.” There was no dearth of difficulties – from having monkeys in her classroom that shortened her students’ already limited attention span to the principal doubting her teaching abilities just because she was less than half her age. But there were also instances that restored her faith – an impulsive hug by one of her students, the school principal’s appreciation of her work with the kids, her students finally starting to do well in school exams. By her 2nd year, Seema started to get involved with the Pune Municipal Corporation as well – helping out wherever she could – be it curriculum design or funding. This experience is what developed her in-depth understanding of education at its very grass root level. She finished my Fellowship with a musical put up by her kids on ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory‘ – a dream come true. “It was funded by the government – there was actually an instance where, when my kids were making a presentation on the musical to a group of govt. educational officers, one of them simply couldn’t believe that they were municipal school kids!”

Career With The Education Sector And Joining 3.2.1.

Education became a default option to pursue after the Fellowship – “I had seen the changes that could be brought about at a small level and wanted to be able to scale it up from a macro perspective.” Gaurav Singh, a TFI 2009-11 Fellow, first put the idea in Seema’s head. “I remember him telling me at Teach For India’s first InspirED conference that if he ever started a school of his own, he’d like me to be a part of it.” In 2012, as she was filling out TFI’s placement applications, Seema came across the vacancy of a kindergarten teacher at 3.2.1. Being apprehensive about taking up a full-time teaching job due to persistent health problems, she digressed in applying but Gaurav soon called to change her mind and the decision was made. “We started off with a group of 5 Teach For India Alums and the job description was to be all hands on deck! Together, we were recruiting kids, looking for funding, hunting for school premises and designing the curriculum all at the same time! We ran from house to house in various communities asking for enrolments – and though we faced the hurdle of having no standing/reputation to base our pitch on, we also had 75 kids whose parents put them with us without question or objection. I remember us not even having a school venue 12 hours before our formal school opening! But the journey was fun and we were all united by one mission.” Seema taught her kindergarten class for the 1st year and went on to additionally become the grade leader in the next – finally rising to her current role as Head of Academics.

The Indian Education Landscape And The RTE

“Education inequality is still being perceived as a problem rather than a crisis in India. When you are faced with a problem, you try to look for solutions. Let’s try this or try that. In the case of a crisis, you jump straight in and do whatever you have to survive. That is the scale at which we need action and reaction on the subject of education in our country today. We also have a lot of ancillary problems that lend to the overall educational crisis. Health and Hygiene for example. If sanitation levels in a particular community are low and it results in the child falling sick repeatedly, how can we expect him to attend school regularly and be able to pay attention in class? Or take Poverty for instance. In a family who has 8-9 members with an average total income of Rs. 5000 per month, how could they possibly focus on the education of their children as a priority over basic hunger and survival? Another thought that comes to mind is that teaching as a profession is no longer aspirational – teachers are underpaid and undervalued – how can that possibly help in attracting talent? If we don’t have the right kind of talent, how can we ensure the idea of an excellent education? As a nation, we need to adopt a holistic approach to be able to make any real impact.” A viewpoint that strikes home.

Seema also feels that though a lot of policies within the RTE do bring in results – “With the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the idea of a free meal in school at least helps ensure that children from low-income communities attend school regularly!” – but at the same time, a lot of these policies are not thought out all the way through. For example, the RTE has a plan to ensure student enrolment but not for retention and the idea of education within the RTE is defined by literacy – the ability to read and write – rather than actual learning and overall child development. “The policies need to corroborate with learnings at the ground zero level with enforcers like teachers, parents and school principals. What might make sense on paper might completely fall through in action. It also makes sense for the government to partner with NGOs who’ve been working in the education space – in a non-restrictive way. It’d definitely help bring innovative and far-reaching solutions on the table.”

There are times in your life when you witness that rare display of courage, conviction, compassion and commitment. The ones that compel you to relook at your own life choices and become inspired to do more. Seema has been one such instance and my hope for the world is to see many more Seemas marching to the forefront of the problems we all seek to address. More power to you Seema!

Teach For India’s Fellowship program places outstanding working professionals and college graduates as Fellows – who work full-time for two years in low-income & under-resourced schools teaching underprivileged kids. Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Application Deadline: 2nd February 2016.

teach for india

By Adithya Narayan

While previous generations of young adults had to pick between a financially viable job and a career in the social sector, today there are multiple opportunities for social change that are monetarily sustainable as well. India has also seen a steady rise within social entrepreneurship in the development space. These entrepreneurs are typically young, dynamic individuals who seek to find solutions to some of the most pressing issues that plague those who’re at the bottom of the social and financial pyramid in India. With multiple incubators like Villgro and UnLtd India stepping forward to offer support to these young change makers, social entrepreneurship has slowly begun to evolve as an exciting career option for the youth in India.

12523131_10153804800938449_6493827278713527105_nAfter years of battling the education crisis in India, it has become increasingly apparent that solving it is going to demand a lot more than the regurgitation of old solutions. It’s going to demand our most innovative and collaborative thinking – ideas that aspire to advance progress for our most disadvantaged children. Today, mere academic success isn’t enough to realize every child’s true potential.

Teach For India – a non-profit organization that believes in an excellent education for all children – believes that entrepreneurial ideas that could address existing problems in innovative ways and mobilize people and resources in the right way are necessary to fundamentally shift the status quo in education. In an effort to bring more youngsters face-to-face with real world problems within the education sector, Teach For India has launched the Innovation Weekend, Pune – an InspirED event that follows the format of a weekend-long marathon where multiple teams with participants from diverse backgrounds will come together to find innovative solutions to a local problem embedded within the education system of the city. Through a process of collaborative problem solving, the weekend not only provides youngsters an opportunity to use design thinking to solve real world problems, at the end of the weekend, the solutions will also be shared with the larger community working in the city.

This three-day event will be held between the 22nd – 24th January 2016 and will see college students, designers, corporates as well aspiring entrepreneurs in Pune coming together to answer the question posed to them – “How do we ensure high school students in Pune have the necessary knowledge, mindset and skills necessary for the 21st century?” For the overall purpose of the Innovation Weekend, the participants will be focusing their efforts on designing solutions for students from low-income communities in Pune.

Through a process of discussion and debate, participants (in 8 teams of 6 members each) will engage with the problem statement and delve into understanding the various factors that contribute to the problem at hand. They will speak to different external stakeholders to the education ecosystem and together brainstorm on possible solutions to the problem – subsequently moulding the same into a product, service or program. With the help of mentors, they will then design a functional business model for the same and present it to a panel of judges that includes Meher Pudemjee (Chairperson – Thermax), Sheetal Bapat (Founder – Shyamchi Aai Foundation) and Joseph Cubas (Head, Research and Planning – Avasara Academy) among others.

Over the course of the year, Teach For India plans to take this format to other cities across the country. Watch this space for more updates as the Innovation Weekend in Pune unfolds!

Teach For India’s Fellowship program places outstanding working professionals and college graduates as Fellows – who work full-time for two years in low-income & under-resourced schools teaching underprivileged kids. Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Application Deadline: 2nd February 2016

Elementary_School

By Nijam Gara:

Elementary_School
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Whether we like it or not, globalisation is here to stay and English is the lingua franca. The Colonial reach of the imperial British Empire of the 19th and 20th centuries that extended across all continents made sure that English rules the lives of people all over the world today. Thus, it is obvious that an English educated population will be the biggest strength of a ‘developing’ country such as India.

So what is the state of affairs concerning English education in India?

A Right to Education bill was passed by the Indian government in 2009. According to the 2014 Annual State of Education Report (ASER-rural), among 200.8 million children in the 6-13 age-group in India, 190.9 million are enrolled in schools (~96% enrollment). Among these, about 31% go to private schools and with the addition of government school kids going to private tuitions, this number shoots up to 50% in several states. The report also highlights that between 2007 and 2013, enrollment in government schools (Class I-VIII) fell from 133.7 million to 121 million while private school enrollment shot up from 51 to 78 million. That is a 77% increase in private school enrollment over 6 years. These figures expose the elephant in the room – it is the penchant for English education even among the poor and rural Indians that is driving the divide between the government and private schools. We all know that there are hardly any private regional language (including Hindi) schools. So why are the government schools in India still predominantly teaching in a medium that the population seems to disown?

Successive governments, even in the post-globalisation era have consciously chosen to ignore the need to catch up with the public’s aspirations when it comes to English education. Though none of the elected representatives and officials would send their kids to non-English schools, they made sure that government schools do not provide kids the ‘right’ to education in English. Then what good is such a ‘right’ in this fast-paced world today? Hapless working-class parents break their backs to send their kids to English schools in the private sector that loot them and yet provide sub-standard education. This is glaringly evident by the fact that only 47% of Class VIII students in the country can read an easy sentence in English. Thus, the poor are cheated twice!

While our leaders are busy thumping their 56-inch chests over issues such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Startup India’ with a narrow focus on financial capital, whose responsibility is it to build the much needed human capital of the country? Can governments wash their hands clean of basic issues such as education and health and leave vast sections of the country to the mercy of the private sector? The irony is that the quintessential capitalist nation of the world, the USA, has a robust public education system at the school level while our embrace of capitalism is only driving our leaders away from investing in our kids’ education. Perhaps our leaders don’t want an English educated citizenry that might then tap into the wealth of knowledge, through sources like the internet, and become unresponsive to the currency notes that they dangle in front of them come election time. Just imagine what an impact Rohith Vemula’s death would have had if only the masses he so passionately loved could understand his painstakingly written indictment of caste in English. The entire country would have erupted, and not just social media and university campuses.

If only our workers and daily-wage labourers were English-educated since their primary schooling, they would not have become victims of human trafficking in the Gulf countries. Better yet they might have had a fair shot at a better life than to a hand-to-mouth existence. Heck, they may have known better than to keep a political dynasty alive for almost 100 years or vote a regime with fascist tendencies into power with an overwhelming majority. While the governments have to take the blame, what about our ‘civil’ society? Thousands march on the streets against corruption but nobody fights for equality of educational opportunity. They all want the abolition of reservations while ignoring the systemic imbalance that forces millions of Dalit, Muslim, tribal and OBC kids to languish in regional language government schools across the country. The ‘civil’ society wants a vast non-English educated ‘underbelly’ so that they have a steady stream of gullible maids, farm hands, vegetable vendors, etc., while their ilk seek greener pastures overseas with the help of their English education!

It is high-time the west-leaning, capitalist-embracing 21st-century government of India adopt universal English education in all state-owned schools. That will then be the single best tool that our country can provide its citizens to fare better in a global ‘village’ – perhaps more powerful than millions doled out in meaningless welfare measures that never reach them. And for all the naysayers out there, this does not necessarily translate into dumping our culture, tradition, etc. Our regional languages can still be taught and promoted through various platforms, just not as primary languages in schools. While the logistics of universalizing English education in government schools will certainly be staggering, that by no means should be a deterrent. As they say, a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.

studying abroad

By Syed K. Jamal

The 21st century is one of global connectedness. Technology has made things easier, but technology alone does not make it a sure thing. Global connectedness requires specific skills and the right environment. An international education is one great way to be part of that globally minded environment, as well as a means to developing and diffusing it to places where it is most necessary. When you travel abroad for higher education, you begin to challenge those default settings you have grown up in and raise the bar for your own performance as a global citizen.

There is something special about taking the leap to learn new things, meet new people, and gain a new understanding of the beauty of diversity by becoming a part of, and thereby enriching, that experience for yourself and others. Learning to competently navigate complex work cultures, understanding different ethical codes, and interacting in challenging intercultural settings are assets required of the 21st-century global citizen. The mastery of these skills, in many ways, will allow you to lead a crowd of strangers, and find meaning and comfort in strange places. To forge a higher purpose, to be one and to be many, is now part of daily lived experience. It is no longer merely academic, it is now very real, allowing us to work and to collaborate in the midst of uncertainty and the unknown.

And, most importantly, this global competence means having a sense of humour when approaching situations that may amaze, confuse or upset us.

studying abroadIn the present time, where a complex and intertwined economy is characterized by the growth and success of new ideas such as Uber and Kickstarter, and by millions of searches, and thousands of petitions for social change which take place entirely online, it seems to have become “uncool” to go out in the “real” world, meet new people, take on new projects, and dirty our hands! But if we limit our transactions and interactions to the online world, we limit ourselves and our potential.

And so, as we strive to act and live life to the best and the fullest, we pursue that idea of global engaged citizenship. We look for ways to serve others, to make a difference, or, as millions of students have chosen to do, to go abroad to study, and gain a wider understanding of our world.

It is my appeal for you to go out there and learn about our world. See the wonders, confront the problems, find new ways to think about things, and connect with others who may see things from different perspectives. I know that it can seem overwhelming and feel daunting, as we freeze up in fear and confusion when confronted with so many choices to make. It happens to the best of us.

One way to thaw and begin to forge our path is to take part in opportunities that are more organized. With my background in international education, I often recommend that students take a break to do some studies abroad. It’s a big world out there, and there are so many places to go!

With nearly a million international students hailing from every corner of the world the US can been seen as a country with a longstanding commitment to educational exchange. There are over 130,000 from India alone. In order to make a more informed decision about which University to apply for, you can attend a US college fair organized by companies like Linden which has been working with people like you since 1982 to help you meet with campus admissions representatives from many universities across America.

If you’ve been keeping up with recent news about several students being barred from boarding flights because the universities they had been accepted to certain ‘blacklisted’ universities, be rest assured that all of the US universities in its fairs are fully accredited, with established histories of welcoming international students on their campuses. Such fairs are a great place to attend specialized sessions on the application process, US education system overview, and study visa. It is also an awesome opportunity to find out about the university programs that you are interested in, available scholarships and financial aid, campus life, and also connect with many alumni networks. You can attend these fairs for free by simply walking into the venue in your city or, to avoid long lines, register online for a quick entry!

It will be a good start. And, as often happens with good starts, it might just take you in a new and exciting direction to a place you had not yet imagined. Go with it. As long as you travel, grow, and learn to navigate new situations, it will be rewarding.

I wish you a beautiful, crazy and restless life. Go forth and learn!

The author is an International Education Specialist in Washington, USA.

Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

News by YKA Staff:

Rajahmundry (AP), Dec 28: A class VII ailing girl student of a residential tribal welfare school died allegedly due to lack of timely medical help, following which the school headmistress has been suspended, officials said today.

Latha Durga Jyothi was suffering from fever and vomiting since December 21, but the school authorities allegedly neither informed her parents nor the doctors about her health, they said. However, later some residential school students apparently informed about Jyothi’s illness to her parents, who live in a nearby village, following which they rushed to the school and admitted her to a local private hospital on Friday.

Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

As her condition deteriorated, the parents shifted to another hospital on Saturday where she died, Integrated Tribal Development Agency, Rampachodavaram, project officer R Chakaradhara Rao said.

After taking note of the incident, the school headmistress was suspended for dereliction on duty, he said.

A medical examination of other girl students in the school was being conducted, he added.

It is pertinent to mention that the model of Andhra Pradesh Residential Schools was adopted for the purpose of setting up new schools on similar lines. Deaths in residential tribal welfare schools are a long-standing problem. In February last year, a Parliament Standing Committee report noted that 793 deaths had occurred in such schools between 2001 to 2013 in Maharashtra alone. The causes of deaths were snake or scorpion bites and minor ailments, among others.

Expressing “shock” over the high number of deaths, the Committee stated that it had to be a matter of “criminal neglect” on behalf of the school authorities in ensuring that the ailing students received timely treatment. It also recommended regular health check-ups and provision of immediate first-aid in these schools.

The report also noted that literacy rates among tribals was the lowest among all social groups in India; not only that, the drop-out rates of students from tribal communities remained much higher than others. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs had issued revised guidelines for setting up these schools also called as Eklavya Model Residential Schools in 2010. These guidelines had also mentioned the need for medical facilities being made available in the school.

The functioning of these schools is also marred by several other problems, like absentee teachers and sub-standard food, as has been reported. Other than deaths, sexual harassment of tribal girl students has also been alleged in these residential hostels.

Back in 2009, the Bombay High Court had lambasted the functioning of these schools as “pathetic.” Without the provision of adequate medical facilities in these schools, which are supposed to be located in tribal areas, the government’s stated intent of educating every child in the country under the Right to Education Act will remain a non-starter.

Unless the government takes the Standing Committee report seriously, in this and other regards, the entire plan of providing education to tribal children by keeping them in residential schools will come undone.

Starting Up, Screenshot Pitchers

By Vishwarath Reddy

Dear Students,

Starting Up, Screenshot PitchersSo you want to startup? I have been there. I had an idea and couldn’t stop talking about it. Eventually I co-founded StudentLive, a platform for student driven content. Within a year, we went onto build a good network of campuses across India, with 100’s of student contributors and 1000’s of readers. We then leveraged this network to help various brands to tap into college crowd. Sadly, 2.5 years later I called it off.

Entrepreneur at 20, failure by 23.

I failed for many reasons, much of which was attributed to the fact that we had very less knowledge about various aspects of building and selling the product. However, I learnt a lot in this journey from my success and subsequent failure. Here’s what you can do to be prepared for what’s coming at you.

1. Get out of idea phase: The problem is we focus large part of our energy thinking of endless possibility of our awesome ideas. Oh those sleepless nights! You need to move on from your ideas by testing each your assumptions. Write down your idea, vision, simple business plan with assumptions (target user, tech challenges, Revenue sources etc). This will help you transition from idea phase to execution with clarity.

2. Make the best of your campus: Being a student opens doors without much effort. Be it access to mentors, investors, tech talent or your first customers. Participating in business plan competitions gives you a platform to get feedback on your ideas and earn initial investment. Hackathons are a great place to find some really cool developers. Lastly, the entrepreneurship club in your college could help you with setting up your office or infrastructure to getting your 1st set of clients.

3. Get out of your campus: Get out there and talk to people. No one is going to steal your idea. Even better, do a summer internship at your favourite startups. Understand your market, stakeholders and sales process before jumping in. A lot of students I speak to tell me that they are under-skilled to score an internship but the reality is most of them haven’t even tried to reaching out to startups. All you need is the ability to learn.

4. Team: There are many blogs out there which will give you advices on hiring and finding co-founders. Do not be an ass to your team. If you think by being one you will become Steve Jobs, you are mistaken. You will come across as a shit head. Build culture, not ego.

5. Execute (The rough phase): Build a Minimum Viable product (MVP). Find out how you can reach out to greatest portion of your users with one particular platform. Do not waste time in building an iOS app, android app, web app, website and mobile website with 100 odd features over 12 months. Choose a minimum set of features that can validate your idea in the shortest time possible. The thing about keeping it minimal is to be agile. More often than not our assumptions fail. When that happens, you should be able to pivot your idea in a new direction without wasting more time or effort.

6. Technology and design: Try to keep most of your development and design in-house. Involve your developers and designer during idea, sales and customer interaction phases. Developers aren’t artists, you can’t expect them to perform magic. You do not want your products to look like an abstract painting (Nobody understands them). There is a difference between artists and craftsmen. Developers and designer are like craftsmen, they come up with elegant solutions to user’s problem.

7. Keep a tab of things (metrics): Establish your MVP’s definition of success. It can be revenue, customer conversions, page views, social engagement or app downloads. Track these metrics as you execute your MVP. You might discover a new source of income or engagement which you’ve missed out. Metrics will play an important role in product and business decision as you grow. To make sound decisions you need to rely on data rather than intuition.

8. Get the word out: There is no easy to do this. You need to do some annoying stuff like spamming your friends and persuading (threatening) your friends with high social reach to share your content. Talk to strangers at a bus station or an airport (if you’re lucky). You need to be in good books with your local journalists, they are God sent. I spent a lot of time as volunteer at local events to gain good network of journalists, friends and influencers who later put in a good word about me.

9. Investment and revenue: Do not fall prey to valuations and investment deals you see in the news. You need to be grounded in your idea and focus on your work. There are many conflicting views on idea of revenue for startups. One school of thought prescribes on building on users and let revenue come in later. Other one focusses on bootstrapping. I prefer the latter. It depends on your business and customers. check out companies like: Basecamp, Kickstarter, Zoho etc who’ve grown into valuable startups without heavy weight investments or stake dilution.

10. Failure: You are more likely to fail than succeed. Sadly, our society looks down on failure which only makes it harder. But it is okay to fail. Your story doesn’t end there. In reality you learn more by failing. You acquire tangible career skills and learn to embrace the passion for building something. I know many failed entrepreneurs who went onto be successful at what they take up next.

There are many more tangible and intangible factors like mentors, hiring, financial discipline, culture, continuous learning, etc which can make or break your dream. Take time out to read some good blogs and books with some great startup advice which will help you along the way.

Everything said, being on your own is the most amazing and fulfilling feeling ever. I wish you all the success.

Featured Image - homosexuality

By Lipi Mehta and Anugraha Hadke:

Gender and sexuality in India are issues that are pushed deep into the closet. Attempts to raise questions or initiate an open conversation are often met with harsh responses, or stoic silence.

The stigma and taboos against anything that falls outside the scope of what is seen as ‘normal’ is so immense that those who don’t identify within the gender and sexuality binary are subjected to severe discrimination, even physical and sexual abuse.

While there are no official numbers that can give an idea about violence against the LGBT+ community, there have been different case studies which paint a grim picture, where the victim is penalised instead of the perpetrator.

This fear is a major reason why many cases of violence against the LGBT+ community go unreported.

Another reason is the insensitivity and ignorance they are treated with while seeking basic services like education or healthcare.

Instead of addressing their needs, medical healthcare professionals offer ‘cures‘ to homosexuality, which can only be described as brutal torture in the form of electric shocks followed by drugging them with medication normally prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

What’s most disturbing is that this prejudice is taught to students in medical schools. These excerpts are from medical textbooks which are used in colleges throughout India, including some of the best institutions in the country. The way they define gender and sexuality is proof of the tactlessness with which these matters are approached and aims to inculcate a mindset of discrimination in the future doctors and healthcare professionals of the country.

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If those who are meant to provide us care are taught that homosexuality is a disease and transgenders are sexual deviants with a mental illness, what else do we expect from them other than discrimination and ill-treatment?

School children are being taught with the same kind of ignorant and discriminatory mindset. Read: These 10 Excerpts From Indian Textbooks Are Seriously Terrifying

Carrie-carrie-bradshaw-sex and the city

By Kenneth Waldman

Carrie-carrie-bradshaw-sex and the cityFreelancing has really taken the world by storm, especially in the last decade or so, and it is definitely here to stay. In fact, it seems set to become a way of the future and a manner in which clients and contractors will interact from now on. However, freelancing still remains a mystery to most people who aren’t sure whether or not they should try their hand at it. This is the reason why I’ve created a list of 5 crucial reasons on why you should become a freelancer.

1. Work Whenever You Want

The standard model of being in an office nine-to-five and then going home is proving itself as too constrictive for some people, as they may be able to make the most of their creative capacities and increase their productivity by taking on a different approach. If you fall into that category, you will find that freelancing allows for a great deal of flexibility in that aspect, as you can create your own schedule.

2. Choose Any Location

Saving up the time you would spend going to and from work on a daily basis is just one of the perks of being a freelancer. Although the majority of freelancers works from home, you can mix it up a bit every once in a while and change your work environment. You can get the job done while being in a park, or at your favourite hangout spot, or even while are on the move and travelling.

3. You Are the Boss

You will no longer have a boss over your head, barking orders at you. You will be free to choose the clients you’ll be working with, as well as projects that are best-fitted to your skills, and which pay your desired rate. You are in charge of every aspect of your freelance career, which requires great responsibility, but also offers many rewards.

4. Command Your Own Salary

Apart from the occasional raise, you are pretty much stuck when it comes to increasing your income if you work a regular job. When you’re a freelancer, the amount of money you are able to earn is only limited by the amount of time and effort you put into all of your projects. You can raise your rates, increase your work load, or even both, in case you need additional funds.

5. More Tax Deductions

Seeing as you are your own boss and you run own business, you may be able to deduct costs just like a company would, and that includes tax deductions for travelling, expenses for your broadband and cellphone service providers, meals, as well as any other costs that are considered normal by any business standard. The best way to inform yourself about this is to hire a financial expert, who will be able to tell you a lot more on the subject.

In addition, I think that you could also take the time and visit some of the top sites for freelance jobs and see if they are the right fit for you:

1. FreelancerCareers.com This website is aimed at freelance writers and editors. Choose from a number of different writing categories and find one that matches your skill set. They hire grant, resume, and dissertation writers, as well as copywriters.

2. Writers.ph If you’re a talented writer, Writers.ph offers you a chance to write reviews, legal articles, reports, and case studies, among others.

3. EssayWriters.net Academic writers won’t have to look for their first writing gig for very long after they visit this website, which offers new jobs every day, at good rates.

4. Upwork.com It’s pretty hard to beat the largest online workplace of them all. Formerly known as oDesk, Upwork connects millions of freelancers with top-notch clients from all industries.

5. Freelancer.com Yet another great online marketplace where you can find jobs if you’re a writer, designer, software engineer, voice actor, illustrator, or an architect.

6. AsiaWriters.com Freelance writing is a popular career choice in Asia, so if you are from India, Pakistan, China, or the Philippines, check out this website.

7. Jobs.ProBlogger.net ProBlogger’s job board is one of the best places to find high-paying gigs and reputable clients.

8. OnlineWritingJobs.com Earn top dollar as a freelance writer through this online platform, grow your reputation, and demand an even better rate.

engineering 3 idiots

By Arkid Bera:

“If you study well for the next two years, your life will be set!” is a very common axiom, which students hear after they pass out of secondary school. If not completely true, the hard-work during these two years will certainly define the course of your life for the years to come, so why not distribute the hard-work by starting prior to the scheduled time? I believe that the earlier one decides to prepare for engineering coaching, the better will be the yield. For me, personally, an ideal time to start IIT JEE coaching is from 9th standard itself (note that I am referring to this particular exam because preparing for it includes training for all other the competitive exams based on engineering concepts, due to similarity in the syllabus). But even if you do not start it that early, it’s not a matter of concern at all. After all, every student isn’t expected to choose his/her field of study before having the taste of all the subjects satisfactorily.

The key work begins right after the 10th board exams. Apart from the school/junior college you get into, for the next two years, it is recommended that you join some or the other JEE coaching institute, because it focuses mainly on preparing you well for the engineering entrance examinations. Let me get into a little more depth into how one can prepare for engineering examinations. There are many aspects to be taken care of while preparing for such exams, but the most instrumental factor is the understanding of the concepts. Every topic you encounter, the first approach must be a scientific one. Jump into the details and never leave even the smallest link vague, as that might fire back hard at you on the day of judgement, you never know! Engineering entrances are all about application of your concepts in a particular time-frame. This is where coaching institutes play a vital role. These institutes work hard into integrating decent questions from all well-known books throughout, to make their own booklets, modules, practice sheets, tests, etc. Use them to the fullest, and make sure at the end of the day you are thorough with the varied methods used to solve each and every problem of those materials. Also, with each test you attempt, you equip yourself with a set of skills which include application of concepts, getting accustomed to the exam-atmosphere, and of course, time management.

Image source: Blogspot
Image source: Blogspot

Once you are done with all the topics, then comes brushing up the skills mentioned above. The more you test yourself, the better you can judge. Error analysis is a crucial part of your preparation. If you don’t detect your weaknesses on time, how will you work on those? Smartness begins here. Your success depends on how well you gauge yourself, and handle the hitches. Having crossed this phase myself, I have a fair idea regarding the problems faced by aspirants. It isn’t possible for a student to have each and every concept at their fingertips. But along with being perfect in your strong areas, you need to lift your weak areas to such a level that you can at least manage a decent amount of problems in that area, if not all. That is the tough part!

Lastly, the one who survives this phase, ultimately goes on to clinch the trophy.

There will be phases within, when efforts won’t produce the desired results. You might end up on the bottom-half of rank-lists repeatedly. But not to worry. I have seen people rise in the last 3 months of preparation, by sheer perseverance. I have also seen students getting overwhelmed by their initial marks, and ending up devastating their own bright future. Try not to fall into this category. Competitive exams are like one-day games. You take two long years to prepare for it. An ample amount of money and immense moral support is involved. So just play it the right way, and never ever give up. Don’t waste even a single minute pondering over useless things, as each minute of your preparation phase decides your progress towards your goal. Remember this is not just a test of your brain. This is a test of endurance, temperament and management. This is no less than a game of cricket!

Good luck for the game of life!

REUTERS/Juan Medina

By Agniva Banerjee:

Competition and technological advancement has transformed the education scenario of India today. Every child is now expected to perform well to shine brightly in their own career. These days even premier educational institutes fail to give individual care and attention to the students. Hence, I believe that there is growing need for private education. Private tuitions, mainly home tutoring bring along benefits galore to facilitate quality education in the comfort of your home. It ensures quality time for one-to-one interaction between students and teachers that might be difficult in schools and educational institutes. However, this process of studying that is happening both in school and home can leave a student exhausted as they have to do a major exercise of their brains that makes them susceptible to stress. I believe that careful planning and following a properly organized routine can help a child imbibe the best of both, extracting the maximum from the benefits of home tutoring.

Some Benefits Of Home Tutoring:

1. Review and revisit lesson plans that are taught in schools for better retention and understanding: Studies have revealed that students without notes can retain 10% of the lessons taught in the classroom. Periodic repetition and revision with a teacher at home can help boost memory, and the individual will be able to remember more than 80% of the lessons. This will help them in strengthening their understanding of the lessons, tweak their basic concepts and enhance their sense of application. It will make their foundation about a particular concept stronger.

Educators also help explain to students the fundamentals in a simple and a faster way than teachers in the classroom, because the focus is on only one individual. Their attention stays on one child, clearly explaining every intricate detail of a lesson. For instance, after reaching home if you are doing the same sum or reading the same chapter once again then you tend to better remember and grasp the idea.

2. Motivating students and assisting them with their homework: Students dread homework and loathe doing it. From my experience, I have seen that home tutors make their work interesting by spending time with them and helping them in every step, especially where assistance is required. It helps them concentrate for an extended period of time. Students can ditch their shyness to ask questions freely and clear their doubts with their home tutor. They help them assimilate their thoughts and condense their understanding by breaking down the complex problems into a series of simpler ones that are easily comprehensible by the students. Home tutoring facilitates on-time completion of high-quality assignments.

For instance, after reaching home the students might not feel interested in doing their History homework. A home tutor can explain the concepts and the ideas through a tale that would be more interesting to them and not make the subject boring. That said, it all depends on quality of home tutors, who will be able to implement such methods to enhance the learning of the children.

3. Opportunities for pre-learning a concept: When you walk into the classroom already aware of the topic and its concepts, it infuses a confidence within you. I believe that a student can get this opportunity from a home tutor. The school and study room then aid in revising the topic.

Learning a complex subject and concept becomes easy with this model of home tutoring. The greatest advantage of this form of learning is that it creates a good image within a peer group and among teachers because the student is usually updated with school work. A student can easily have command over a new language through this process of learning that ultimately increases efficiency.

REUTERS/Juan Medina
Image source: REUTERS/Juan Medina

4. Students are equipped with profound home tasks: We know that practice makes everyone perfect in their job. The same is applicable to students. Thus, home tutoring aids in the same by assigning exhaustive problems of myriad types to whet the knowledge of the students, which they might not be able to do just within their school hours.

Schools do have their limitations and not every time can the teacher be aware of the strength and flaws of the student. The home tutor knows the strength and flaws of the students and sets homework accordingly. Being the private educators they have the scope of selecting homework problems from myriad sources, not just school textbooks, to help students understand and gain insight on a diverse range of topics where they need improvement.

For example, if you are weak in Grammar then your home educator will make you practice more of the grammatical concepts to prevent you from making errors.

5. Detailed constructive feedback: Learning to write a proper answer also needs guidance. A correct answer has many aspects to it. A school teacher may miss out the various subtleties that makes for the best answer and also might not be able to sit with the child over the faulty areas.

Home tuitions help in analyzing, enquiring and correcting answers at every step. It gives a detailed feedback to the students that motivate them to improve and do better.

6. Students are provided self-study and referential tools for efficient learning: I believe that home tutors take extra care in delivering quality education. I have seen that apart from reviewing answers and revising lessons, they also equip students with revision schedules and timetables, tips and tricks to do well in the examination and general learning, check their notebooks daily, offer easy ways of taking notes, devise strategies for reading and many more.

Home tutoring gives a respite from the classroom distractions: A classroom consists of numerous minds some are focused in studies while some are mischievous and the distractors. Studying amidst the distractions might lead to half-hearted learning.

Hence, tuitions at home help gaining proper knowledge in the calm and peaceful environment of the home.

I believe that home tutoring is a great way to provide education at home where they will be under the supervision of their parents and guardians. This is also a great way to save time for both child and the parents. There are plenty of opportunities for home tutors as it can be a part-time endeavour and source of extra income for many. But it does have its limitations. Not every system is perfect, and it is up to us to follow a good schedule so that children are not burdened from extensive study at home and in school.

vidya vanam school

By Suzanne ter Haar:

Welcome to Vidya Vanam, a school for rural and tribal children in Anaikatti near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.

Vidya Vanam is a school with no prescribed textbooks. The children learn their subjects in themes. Last year, for instance, the theme was Rice, and their learning included cultivating five micro-plots of paddy themselves. Two teams of first-generation English speakers even had a debate on genetically modified crops: Debating rice in the forest of learning

It is a school where children learn to speak their minds and explore their talents. And they do this at their own pace. Some of the smallest children are clearly born ‘leaders.’

At 12.15 it will be lunch time, so the pattis (older women, grandmothers) and akkas (younger women, sisters) get things ready, while some children enjoy their favourite time of the day: ‘games’.

In the open dining hall, there is silence before the storm.

A short while later the younger children are enjoying their lunch and the sounds of laughter fill up the open air dining area.

After about 10 minutes, the laughter is replaced with the chanting of ‘patti, patti‘ as the children request a second serving.

Meanwhile, the older students gather on stage for the daily assembly. Today is comedy day and whoever has something prepared or wants to improvise is given time to do so. These two boys enact a short skit on ‘The elephant and the tree’.

The children from the senior classes often steal the show.

After lunch, the children have some free time for doing what they like most: playing with the hula-hoops.

And soon the lunch break is over and the students walk back to their classes, though some girls want to keep playing right until they reach the classroom.

Senior students, Vindhya and Aravali are preparing the newspaper that will come out on ‘project day’ on November 27. During art class and discussions with group members they are highly focussed, jotting down important points in their neat handwriting.

This article was originally published here.

jyoti-oxfam india

By Natasha Badhwar:

A large group of students are gathered under a Peepal tree in the middle of the school ground. This is a Bal Panchayat meeting in Village Bada Lewa in the interior of Hamirpur district, which lies between the rivers Betwa and Yamuna in the Bundelkhand area of Uttar Pradesh.

“Now that summer is here, we want all the fans to be checked in every classroom. Windows with broken glass panes need to be fixed,” says Jyoti Devi, a student of Class 6. Jyoti is the President of the Bal Panchayat and conducts this meeting with poise and authority.

Other posts in the Bal Panchayat include Education Minister, Cleanliness Minister, Mid-day Meal Minister and Treasurer. The students make a list of infrastructural needs like a broken tap and a collapsed boundary wall that needs to be repaired. They remind their juniors to wash their utensils after the mid-day meal and make a line when they need to use the hand-pump.

They repeat the 4 rights of Children as laid down by the Convention for the Rights of Children.

Aided by their teachers and trained in workshops conducted by Samarth Foundation and Oxfam, these children have found a space in which they can be assertive and articulate. Jyoti, Gomti, Dharam and other members of the Bal Panchayat have travelled to Lucknow to attend workshops where they have learnt how to set agendas and follow up issues when they conduct meetings.

This government run Primary School in Hamirpur district is one of the 8% schools in India that comply with most of the norms and standards stipulated in the Right To Education Act. In an area that has been in the national news for increased farmer suicides, these children have emerged as RTE warriors who are learning about both their rights and responsibilities.

The RTE Act that came into being on 1st April 2010 advocates the fundamental right of children to free and compulsory education. It lays down detailed guidelines for the development of curriculum, training of teachers and pupil-teacher ratios. It emphasizes child-friendly learning and an environment that is free of fear, trauma and anxiety for children. 5 years since the RTE Act came into being, only a fraction of its promise has been fulfilled across the country.

Even that fraction throws up impressive statistics. 110 million children in India are served meals in the Mid-day Meal scheme making it the world’s largest school feeding programme. 199 million children are in schools and studying. In Village Bada Lewa, children of all castes sit together as they are served a freshly cooked meal everyday.

“Children who grow up eating and playing together are far more likely to see this as normal behaviour when they grow up. They are less conscious of caste divisions. Their Bal Panchayat meetings make them feel that they are a team who can assert their rights and choices together,” says Devendra Gandhi, who runs the NGO, Samarth Foundation in Hamirpur.

A typical week in this school starts with an activity they call ‘tracking.’ A group of Bal Panchayat members walk into their village during school hours, looking for children who are enrolled but have not been coming to school regularly. They will counsel the parents and the children to attend school regularly and offer support and solutions where required. The word ‘tracking’ is now part of their everyday vocabulary.

On one such tracking mission, Jyoti, Dharam, Gomti other members of their Bal Panchayat have a list of five absentee students whose homes they will visit. They run into 7-year-old Anjali, wearing her school shirt and balancing her younger sister on her hip. Jyoti takes the lead in confronting Anjali’s grandfather who is sitting in the verandah.

“Dadaji, why haven’t you sent Anjali to school today?”

“It is harvesting month,” he answers. “Anjali’s mother is away in the fields. She has to look after her younger sister.”

“Dadaji, Anjali will miss too much in school and then she won’t be able to catch up. Why don’t you handle the baby till the mother returns?”

“I can’t handle the baby,” he replies.

“You are our elder, Dadaji,” Jyoti reasons. “Anjali is still a small child. She needs to be regular in school. Please help her to go.”

“Whose child are you?” the old man asks, trying to place Jyoti.

She names her father. She tells him where her home is. Jyoti lives in the Dalit basti on the outskirts of her village with her mother, who is also the Safai Karamchari of this village. One of the boys in the group is patting the buffalo and running his fingers through its body hair as he participates in this exchange just by his presence.

Eventually, the elderly man asks Anjali to run along to school. He nods approvingly at the children, who seem to be ushering in a new age in the village.

“Nobody would have recognized me or taken me seriously if I tried to counsel the parents in this village,” says Vinay Kumar, who is a Project Coordinator with Samarth Foundation. “We try to create a link between government schemes and the people that they are meant for. It is the people’s own initiative that makes it a success.”

“Don’t even ask me about the time when I was studying in this school,” says Gurudayal, who is the President of the School Management Committee in this village. 10 years ago, the Dalit teacher in the school was not even allowed to sit on a chair throughout the day. Times have changed dramatically now.

Some parents in this village have taken their children out of local private schools and enrolled them in the government school again. The attendance rate of the students has improved by over 40% since the children started the ‘tracking’ programme.

Spending time in the school and village of Bada Lewa inspires an optimism for the outcomes that are possible when parents, teachers, local authorities and non-government agencies come together on a small scale to invest in making quality education a reality for their own children.

The nationwide scorecard on implementing the RTE Act leaves much to be desired. 6 million children are still out of schools and 75% of them belong to Dalit, Tribal and Muslim communities. The most deprived and marginalized communities have received the least benefits. Half the children who enroll in schools still drop out before Class 10th.

Deepak Xavier leads the Haq Banta Hai Campaign at Oxfam India that is campaigning along with the RTE Forum for full implementation of the RTE Act. “Education is the greatest equalizer against inequality. By ensuring full implementation of RTE Act, we can achieve both quality education for all children and reduction in inequality,” says Xavier.

India is going to be the world’s youngest country by 2020. In 1966, The Kothari Commission recommended that public spending on education needs to be at least 6% of GDP in 20 years. Nearly 50 years later, public spending on education has been stagnant at 3% for the last 15 years.

The RTE Act is substantial and well thought out, but it needs the will of the state and sustained resources to be implemented to its full potential. The RTE warriors of Bada Lewa village in Hamirpur show us how empowering the benefits of the Act can be.

“We want our school to have a field of green grass like we see in schools on television,” says Jyoti Devi.

“Are you afraid to speak up before your teachers?”

“Yes, I am,” 12-year-old Dharam Singh speaks up first. After a pause, he adds, “But our teacher says, don’t be scared of me. I have no right to hurt you. I will not hurt you.”

Jyoti is the beacon of education in her village. But lakhs of children in India are yet to enter a school.

This article was originally published here by Oxfam India.

Image source: Adam Cohn/Flickr

By Pranavi Sethi and Christopher Dee:

Imagine a world where every person has an equal chance at success. Boys and girls of all abilities and attributes are able to go to school. People hold jobs that allow them to earn for themselves and contribute to their family and society. Individuals are able to express themselves and exercise freedom of speech and opinion. A level playing field for everyone.

Sounds good, right? Sadly, today our world is a far cry from this ideal.

Image source: Adam Cohn/Flickr
Image source: Adam Cohn/Flickr

This is especially the case for people with special needs. Even using the very low figures from the Census, more than 21 million people in India, or 2.1% of the population, suffer from one or the other kind of disability. Of these, 1.5 million have an intellectual challenge, including Down’s syndrome, Autism, and Intellectual Disability. For children with such challenges, the playing field is bumpy, making it impossible for them to achieve their full potential.

All children need acceptance and love. Why should a child with special needs have a hard time to achieve happiness? All too often, stigma and discrimination get in the way. Because of the lack of a level playing field, a child with special needs does not have the same access to social interactions as other children: they are excluded from the classroom, they are separated in the playground, and they are often left out of social activities at school, and in the wider community. This creates unfair barriers for children with challenges when it comes to making friends, finding companionship and happiness. This is not a level playing field.

The Right to Education Act enshrines a commitment for inclusive education. However, one in every six out-of-school children in India has an intellectual challenge. Neither the school system nor any institutional mechanism is equipped to address the needs of intellectually challenged children. As a result, 57% of people with intellectual challenges are illiterate, compared to 27% of the abled population. Thus, it seems that children who are most in need of educational care do not receive a proper education. This is not a level playing field.

Early roadblocks to gaining an education bar people with challenges from opportunities later in life. Persons with intellectual challenges are not educated, making meaningful jobs difficult to get. Furthermore, the job market is rarely welcoming for those with various challenges. In total, only 3% of jobs are reserved for those with any kind of “eligible” disability which are limited to locomotor, hearing and visual impairments. This label of “eligible” further limits those who can access these jobs. Over 70% of the intellectually challenged population are not employed, compared to almost 40% of the abled population. This is not a level playing field.

Those born with intellectual disabilities require specialised services to help them maintain their health and overcome multiple challenges. However, in India, only 0.8% of total health expenditure is allocated to persons with intellectual challenges. This is not a level playing field.

So what do we do? Every child, no matter what their challenge, can fulfill his/her potential and make a valuable contribution to society. For children who face challenges, the playing field has to be leveled for them. In practical terms, this means that they must have access to specialised services that help them overcome their challenges, and allocation of health funding must acknowledge this. Furthermore, the commitment for inclusive education enshrined in the Right to Education should be implemented. Most importantly, society needs to learn to look past challenges to see the individual behind the label, and engage with them as equal members of society, as potential employees and as friends. Everyone deserves a level playing field.

About the authors: Pranavi is Executive Director at the Amrit Foundation of India. Having completed her Bachelors of Science in Marketing from IILM Delhi, she heads Amrit with the vision to create a level playing field for children with intellectual and developmental challenges. In her free time, she enjoys art and music.

Chris volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India and is a recent graduate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. He is interested in negotiating the junction between medicine and global health as a means of bringing care to those marginalized by society. As a Filipino-Canadian, Chris is interning in India to gain insight into solutions to health problems of the developing world.

japanese school children

By Steson Lo, and Sally Andrews:

There is a common belief that Asians are naturally gifted at maths.

Asian countries like Singapore and Japan lead the ranks in first and second position on maths performance in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tables – an international survey that ranks education systems worldwide – while Australia sits around 12th.

What is the secret to being good at maths? Are you simply born clever, or is it the result of a lot of hard work?

To understand the reasons behind exceptional maths performance, I travelled to Japan to see how Japanese children are able to instantly multiply three- or four-digit numbers together in their head.

japanese school children
For representation only. Image source: P2PU

How Children Are Taught Maths In Japan

From the age of 7 or 8, all Japanese children are taught the times table jingle kuku.

“Ku” is the Japanese word for “nine”, and the title reflects the final line of the jingle, which is simply “nine nine (is) eight-one”.

Children rote learn the jingle and are made to recite it with speed in class and at home.

Local competitions pitch second-graders against each other to see how fast they can rap all 81 lines of the kuku.

This takes lots of practice with a stopwatch. The constant association between the problem and the correct answer eventually allows the child to know the answer to the problem as soon as they see it.

As the popular science writer Alex Bellos noted, Japanese adults know that 7×7=49, not because they can remember the maths, but because the music of “seven seven forty-nine” sounds right.

Some Japanese children also attend after-school maths programs. In May, I visited a school in Tokyo specialising in abacus instruction for primary and high school students. This was one of about 20,000 schools operating independently throughout Japan.

Here, the students start by learning how to use a physical abacus to perform arithmetic calculations. They then progress to using the mental abacus by simply imagining the movement of the beads.

Children at the abacus school dedicate a phenomenal one to two hours on two to four evenings a week to practising arithmetic drills on pre-set worksheets at speed.

This is on top of the four 45-minute maths lessons per week allotted by the Japanese government.

After a couple of years at the school, the very best students can multiply seven- and eight-digit numbers in their head faster than Australian children can say the solution to 7×8.

Why Australian Schools Are Against Rote Learning

Despite the impressive performance of these Japanese children, the intensive “drill and kill” approach used by abacus schools is derided in countries like Australia where educators explicitly discourage such practice.

In Victoria, schools have recently been encouraged to throw away textbooks and old worksheets, teachers discouraged from teaching mathematical formula, and children warned against learning their times tables by rote.

These recommendations follow from the ideas of American psychologist Jerome Bruner who argued that learning is most effective when children actively discover concepts for themselves.

Since then, rote learning methods in which children spend most of their time memorising facts, following prescribed formula and completing drills are widely perceived to contribute poorly to deep understanding of mathematics.

However, research suggests that memorisation and rote learning remain important classroom techniques.

According to cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, children cannot appreciate the relationship between mathematical concepts if all of their mental resources are used to execute simple arithmetic operations.

As problems become more difficult, practice and rote learning are essential in speeding up some of these operations so they become automatic. This allows the child to devote more of their cognitive resources towards higher-level understanding.

Unfortunately, repetitive practice is not always fun.

One reason educators shy away from rote learning techniques is because they undermine children’s engagement and motivation.

The Drive To Succeed

But Japanese children at the abacus school enjoy performing calculations at speed.

Many treat mental calculation like a sport and participate in various local, regional and national competitions. These are not restricted to boys. I attended a regional competition for young girls while I was in Japan.

This contrasts with an increasing avoidance of competition in Australia, where children are cocooned from the realities of failure as well as the rewards of success.

In junior Australian Football League sporting policy, for example, children under 10 now play football with no points, no scoreboards, no awards and no recognition of individual performance.

Removing these objective benchmarks of performance leaves children with nothing to strive for.

When Passion Breeds Talent

Stars are made, not born. Research shows it takes at least 10,000 hours of intense training to become expert in a particular area. High achievers in maths sustain these hours because they are motivated to excel.

But deliberate practice is hard work. From ever faster times in kuku recitation to increasingly longer mental arithmetic problems, my observations in Japan show that Japanese children use competition to fuel their passion for maths.

Such competition is lacking in Australia.

Discovery-based methods for maths instruction might be more enjoyable, but they are also less effective at producing fast and accurate performance at an elite level.

How can we encourage Australians to share the Asian love of competitive maths?

In China, the television game show Super Brain attracted 22 million viewers in March as contestants battled to solve increasingly difficult arithmetic problems.

So given the recent success of The Great Australian Spelling Bee in generating renewed interest in spelling, perhaps what we need now is The Great Australian Times Tables to motivate children to achieve the same levels of maths performance as our Asian neighbours.The Conversation

Steson Lo, is a PhD candidate at University of Sydney and Sally Andrews is Professor of Cognitive Psychology at University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

sahyog volunteers 1

By Shruti Sonal

Amidst all the news of let downs, shortcomings and heartbreaks, we sometimes come across stories about people who are doing their bit to make this world a better place. I happened to capture such a story happening in the campus of my college, Kirori Mal College in Delhi University. In a conversation with Shreyash Dwivedi and Deepak Mishra, two of the many volunteers of ‘Sahyog’, the story of the initiative unfolded. Started two years ago, it aims to brighten the lives of the children living in surrounding slum areas through the torch of education. As we sat down in the lawn, surrounded by kids sincerely doing their tasks, Shreyash began to talk about how the idea emerged.

sahyog volunteers 3
Shreyash with his students.

“It was an idea that clicked in my senior Aditya Chowdhary’s mind. He used to interact with the non-teaching staff members of our college a lot. One day one of them told him that he couldn’t afford the fees of his child and thus, didn’t send him to school. Aditya offered to teach him in the evenings after classes. Then one day, the thought struck him that there must be many more kids in the areas surrounding the college who’re missing out on education due to certain circumstances. He gathered his friends and roamed around the area, picking out kids who used to sell stickers in the market or Prasad at temples. As more and more kids came, the initiative was registered under the National Service Scheme (NSS). The group talked to the Sarpanch of the nearby Chandrawal area and organized seminars in order to attract more kids to the initiative. Thus, the team of ‘Sahyog’ grew.”

He joined a month later, in October 2013. With a gleaming face, he described the joy he felt while sitting with the kids. Smiling he said, “In those two hours of masti and padhai, the tensions of the entire day melted away. I loved the experience so much that I kept coming back.”

Before I turned to Deepak, we were interrupted by a child, who hugged them and shared that he had scored well in his previous test. I pulled out a candy from my bag which he gladly took and ran away to play football. Dreamy-eyed, Deepak began to describe his first experience of teaching.

sahyog volunteers 4
Deepak with a student

“I still remember the first day. Aditya bhaiya briefed me about the strict 6 day a week schedule. I sat down as I had no student allotted. Luckily, just then I got to know that one volunteer was absent. Thus, I got to teach his kid. I felt different that day. Having come to Delhi to pursue my education, I hadn’t yet experienced a day which felt complete to me. That day as I headed back to my room, I felt as if I had dedicated a part of my day to do something for others.”

I could feel the sense of happiness they got from initiative, yet I was curious about the challenges they would have faced while convincing parents to send their children to be taught by them. Shreyash thought for a while before he spoke, “Their first concern is safety. It’s a hard task convincing them that they’ll be safe in our custody. Secondly, due to the background they come from, they often fail to understand the importance of education or activities like dance and art. Most of them engage their children in jobs like selling small articles in order to contribute to the family income. Some of them are sent to government schools, where their main concern is just passing exams. The onus was on us to win their trust. Once we gained a foothold in Chandrawal by talking to the Sarpanch and other elderly, the belief cemented. Soon parents became less reluctant.

With a hint of pride in his voice, he added, “Now, some of them come on their own to leave their children with us. Almost every household in the area recognizes our faces.”

Seeing the success of ‘Sahyog’, I asked him whether such initiatives should be made compulsory in all colleges. He strongly rejected the idea, for making it compulsory would “take away the very essence of service”. Deepak pitched in, emphasizing that “it is not merely a task, but a responsibility. The kids and their parents choose to trust us with a part of their days. If an individual is even 1% unsure of taking up this responsibility, he should not.”

I enquired about the loopholes in government education that they came across while teaching. Sighing, Deepak said, “We often come across kids of say class 8, who are not even clear with the basics of class 3. some of them have difficulty in recognizing numbers and alphabets. In school, the sole emphasis is on their performance that creates a positive track record of the institution. As they become older they hesitate in learning the basic things. Thus, the task becomes harder for us. While on one hand we have to help them finish the syllabus, on the other, we have to work on their basics.”

Just then, a highly energetic little one came and climbed on the shoulders of Shreyash. “Won’t you be teaching us today?” she asked him. Pulling her cheeks, I offered to teach for a while. I asked her what she wanted to become when she grew up. “An English teacher. Yes, that’s right. I will tell stories to children like the bhaiyas and didis tell me.”

As she ran off to do her homework, I asked Shreyash about the importance of co-curricular activities along with studies. Smilingly, he replied, “We believe that every child has a talent. Some like to sing, some dance, others play or draw. Thus it’s important that along with academics we create an atmosphere that helps them to hone their talent. We regularly hold competitions to boost their confidence. We also collaborate with other societies like the dance and music society for classes. We even hold movie screenings. We have fixed specific days for different activities.”

So far so good. But it must be difficult to manage this alongside studies, right? Deepak rubbished my doubts. “I don’t find it difficult. If you cut down on the time for WhatsApp or ‘fooling around’ as we often do during college, you can manage it. During exams, we adjust our schedules so that no volunteer suffers on the academic front.”

Shreyash wasn’t so dismissive about it.“I do face problems as I have to travel quite a distance. When I reach home, I’m so tired I just have a bath, eat and sleep. However, I’m equally serious about my studies. I believe that if you’re passionate about something, you find time for it.”

sahyog volunteers 2I was inspired by their commitment, yet a nagging doubt persisted in my head. Doesn’t the socio-economic background of the children hinder interaction in the classes?

Thinking about it for a while, Shreyash answered. “Some kids are outgoing, some are a little scared and quiet, like any other children. Most of them stay are at an age where they stay aloof from home, spending most of the time in school or outside with friends. You have to take the initiative of interacting with them, drawing them out and act as friends instead of teachers. Once they open up, they also talk about their personal lives.”

As the first streaks of dawn appeared in the sky, I noted down Shreyash;s last thought on the conversation, which will hopefully inspire people to start something similar.

“I just believe that as part of a bigger society, it’s our responsibility to give something back to it. As students, our main motto remains our studies but if we can utilize our time constructively, we can create a better future for our country. We’re trying to find gems from those parts which have been neglected till now by the system. If you do not give them a helping hand, they’ll continue to live oblivious lives.”

We got up and gathered all the volunteers and students for a group photograph. The youngest one, who was three, came up to me and said, “Didi achi photo lena! Smiling wali (Take a nice picture of us! One where we’re all smiling).” I smiled for the photograph and the happiness lingered long after the moment had been captured in a lens.

Photo courtesy: Shruti Sonal.

college startups

By Shaifila Ladhani

Last year while I was trying to choose my subject for graduation, I came across a list of so many courses that it didn’t make sense. Biology was divided into botany and zoology, there was biotechnology, anthropology, psychology, English, Hindi and so much more.

What caught my attention were the honours and programs courses. I couldn’t understand the difference except the basic one that honors courses are for specialization. So I decided to talk to some of my teachers to get a better idea about it, and this is what I found out:

college startups

Bachelor Of Arts

Both these courses are three year courses.

B.A (Hons) gives you the ability to analyse, and form original ideas. Generally, the student has to study three subjects and specialize in one so that the discipline you choose is clear. For example, I am doing B.A. (H) Psychology. I study not only psychology, but also sociology as my subsidiary subject along with English. The main focus however, remains on one subject, which is psychology. This course is designed to developed knowledge and skills required for research in a specific subject or art, necessary for an advanced professional course. You can easily apply for a higher degree i.e. masters or PhD, only after successful completion of Bachelor of Arts (Hons). This degree opens up a wide range of opportunities for the students in journalism, advertising, management, marketing and administration, politics, public services, police force, teaching, psychology, etc.

B.A. (Program) is a three year course which is broad and flexible. This course is in great demand these days as it provides a proper idea of humanities and the world. You can study an array of subjects under B.A. Program, and have the option of choosing a few subjects to focus on during your final year. The degree provides students with career opportunities in administration, event coordination, insurance, social services, travel and tourism, sports coordinating, etc. The main goal of this degree is to develop analytical abilities, research experience, and verbal communication skill in students.

Bachelor Of Commerce

B.Com (Hons) is an undergraduate (UG) degree designed to inculcate business acumen in students. You can also pursue courses like Chartered Accountancy along with your B.Com (honours). This course gives you in depth knowledge of the subjects. You can specialise in subjects like Economics or Accounts. The industry demand for this course is very high.

B.Com (Program) is also a three year UG course similar to its honors counterpart. The only difference is that this is a general course and you can’t specialize in one subject. This course gives you an overview of all the subjects taught in B.Com (H).

Bachelor Of Science

B.Sc (Hons) develops advanced theoretical and research skills. It helps in building an advanced professional or academic career. It is an appropriate course for students who wish to pursue Master of Science (M.Sc) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) to follow a research or academic career. This program facilitates the students to pursue an independent research project in an area of interest under the supervision of an academic staff member.

B.Sc (general) is designed to provide the students with foundation knowledge possible for a science based career. This program facilitates a large range of career possibilities. It provides a broad foundation in the sciences, with a special focus on multi-disciplinarity. However, getting admitted in a Masters course is not easy, jobs in teaching, marketing, research. For that matter, all fields are open to them.

With honours courses, your chances of being hired for a job immediately after graduation are better. But since many of us want to pursue further studies after graduation, rejecting a program course because it won’t get you a job soon doesn’t make sense. A programs course is better if you want to do many things on the side. Also, honours courses are more demanding because of the deep study of the subject. The papers are more focused on one subject whereas in programs degree the knowledge is diluted but diverse.

An honours course is ideal for those who know they like only a particular subject and want to build a career on that. It is the in depth study of one subject only. But there is no diversity in subjects, and if you are unsure of what you want to pursue in the future, then it might be a problem. That is solved by doing a programs course, which gives you the freedom to choose your subjects and know more. Then for your post-graduation, you will know what subject you want to focus on because you have a good idea about what each has to offer.

So keep an open mind before you make a decision, each degree has its pros and cons, it all depends on what you are keen on.

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