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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

 

The three-day hiatus in blogging owes in large part to several visits to Doctors (the medical kind). It’s depressing business, sitting in hospitals for hours waiting in grubby offices, but I now know more about the Heart than I care to.

I visited a leading cardiologist two days ago. He sat my Mother down and checked her blood pressure. 140/90. He scribbled it down on a small paper (not on his diagnosis sheet). He proceeded to check her breathing and then, two minutes later, asked her to put her other arm forward and again wrapped the Blood Pressure sensor around it. The blood pressure this time? 130/85.

I frowned. How could the readings be different?

The Doctor smiled. He think took out his fancy pen from its holder and made a note on the diagnosis sheet. He saw the look of bewilderment on my face.

I asked him to explain.

It’s simple, really,” he began. “Most patients come into my chamber for the first time feeling anxious. This accounts for a higher first reading. After a couple of minutes when they’ve warmed up to me, they relax, and I get a lower and correct reading.

I pondered his statement. It did make sense. My Mother was quite the picture of nervousness when she stepped into his chamber, now she had settled down to a healthy chatter about her symptoms.

He pointed out that this pattern repeated itself for almost every patient who consulted him for the first time.

Now as I sit here writing this, I wonder about what he said and what it could mean for us. We, who have been told by psychologists and researchers that in a hiring process, most decisions are made within the first few minutes of the interview. We, who evaluate students (often many more student and very little time) in a hurry, quizzing the student in a viva-voce rapidly about his topic as we thumb through his project.

Is it possible that we may be making Type-II Errors?

If we are indeed choosing in the first few minutes, is there a possibility that we may be rejecting as unsuitable, candidates who may indeed be fit for the job?

Is it possible that the low grade on that project on the Incas was because the student was a first-timer to this kind of evaluation? Because he was nervous coming in? Maybe he really did know Inti from Pachamama?

Or does Malcolm Gladwell and his ‘Thin Slicing’ Theory hold true? In his seminal Blink (a book I loved, successor to Tipping Point which again, I devoured) points out that we make judgements about people within a few seconds of meeting them.

Let me give you an examples from his writing – it’s one from Teaching that you’ll love (and that may make you shudder!).

“Some years ago, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, Nalini Ambady, together with Robert Rosenthal, set out to examine the nonverbal aspects of good teaching. She used videotapes of teaching fellows which had been made during a training program at Harvard. Her plan was to have outside observers look at the tapes with the sound off and rate the effectiveness of the teachers by their expressions and physical cues…. She showed her raters just two seconds of videotape and took ratings.

She compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations made, after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two, she found, was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.”

Gladwell mentions that in his view, any footage longer than the two seconds is superfluous: anything beyond the first flash of insight is unnecessary.

Clearly the students had decided, by the facial expressions and the body language how effective the teacher may be. It sounds uber-cool, the kind of research we’d all love to lap up. I love Gladwell and his work (he goes on to give other examples of snap judgements, even in interview situations), so would be inclined to agree.

But somewhere it doesn’t agree with me.

If fifteen of us were to sit together and watch footage a few seconds of footage of a potential teacher in the classroom (or in the interviewee’s chair) would any of us be comfortable making the decision to hire based on our median vote?

Ditto for grading a student on a viva-voce?

The fictional Severus Snape doesn’t have great body language. Nor did some of my most inspiring teachers. I would vote (my lowly teacher voice against that of the great Psychologists) in favour of the theory hinted at by the cardiologist – our recruits, our students, indeed all of us are anxious in new situations.

When evaluating, give these folks time to prove themselves.

I wonder what you have to say on this? I’m all ears.

 

Further Reading (as always, click on numbers to follow links):

#1: The New Boy Network (from the New Yorker) – the article that led to the writing of Blink, and the article excerpted above.

#2: Keen on Higher Ed? Here’s Malcolm Gladwell on the Social Logic of Ivy-League Admissions. You should read it to get a handle on what went on behind the heavy oak doors of Admissions Departments.

#3: Fun Aside! Will you be happily married or divorced? Predicted marriage-success in 60 seconds at the Love Lab (referenced in Blink)

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I was in Lucknow recently and had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Amrita Dass and her charming family. Dr. Dass comes from a family of Educators- her Grandmother, educated at Columbia in the 1940s, was the first Indian Principal of the famous Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. Her mother taught for several years and her brother, Ranjit, is Principal at the Nath Valley School in Aurangabad that is rapidly gaining popularity as a ‘school of the future’Dr. Dass runs the Institute for Career Studies and has over the last few decades guided a number of students to their preferred careers in India and abroad. In addition to whole-school and individual counselling, the institute also does some fantastic workshops for in-service teacher development. Dr. Dass believes, and this is prominently displayed on her organisation stationery, “There are no Ideal Careers, only Ideal Choices.”

 

I spoke to Dr. Dass on range of issues regarding Education in this country with a focus on Youth Development and found her disarming, witty, thoughtful and well-read. The succulent soya kebabs she serves at her residence added much flavour to the conversation.

 

I am including extracts centered around the theme of ‘the main differences between career inclinations and choices a couple of decades ago and today.’ The ‘I’ in the next few paragraphs all defer to Dr. Dass.

 

 

 

(1) Earlier there was the pressure of competing for the limited seats available in professional courses & hardly any professional or vocational degree courses after Plus Two. Today there are infinite academic and career choices. Owing to the privatisation of higher education, there are more seats than students! Thus, today there is confusion of choice!(2) Though stereotypes and mindsets about courses and careers are still prevalent, earlier most persons got into a career by chance. Today many more are in a position to choose a career based on their aptitudes and interests.

 

(3) Another recent trend is that large numbers of students are eager to pursue their studies abroad. Bank loans have made access to foreign education much easier.

 

(4) A decade ago, students preferred to opt for jobs with hefty pay packets, regardless of whether it engaged their inherent talents and interests or not. There is a definite shift today towards jobs that would provide satisfaction.

 

(5) I am not surprised that Howard Gardner has added “existentialist” intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences. I have seen more evidence of this in students of junior classes! For example, when asked by me to respond to the question, “Who am I”, one grade 8 student wrote “This question has been bothering me for sometime. When I search my inner universe, I reach the stars”. His mother thought that his writings were “weird“! This reinforces the observation made by Peter Senge that today’s new age student is being reared largely by “industrial age” parents and taught largely by “industrial age teachers”.

 

(6) One of the most exciting developments today is that many more parents are encouraging their daughters to pursue higher studies and careers of their choice. Previously early marriage was their topmost priority.

 

(7) What still needs to change is the “fixation” on the Science and Commerce streams, which has driven out the Humanities stream as an option from most schools. Can you imagine the plight of students who excel in Social Studies in class 10, want to continue with it in Plus Two but are compelled to either take up Science or Commerce subjects?

 

(8) In this technology oriented knowledge age, what most organisations look for is a “smart” mind and a “smart” personality. Thus, most careers can be accessed from any subject stream or combination. Moreover, I find that there is increasingly little correlation between the education students are receiving and the careers they are choosing to pursue.

 

(9) Another malaise that remains to be addressed is the enormous pressure and tension students are subjected to in order to secure high marks in their Board examinations and at the same time get coached for the various entrance exams after Plus Two. This takes a heavy toll in terms of their overall sense of well being, self-esteem and all round development as extra curricular activities are virtually taboo.

 

(10) An issue that must be addressed is that the huge potential of our rural youth is not being tapped because of poor access to vocational guidance and training. Some sincere efforts have been made by NGOs and individuals but this remains a much neglected sector. A concerted, planned, sincere and dynamic effort by Government agencies (like the almost defunct employment directorates, employment exchanges), NGOs and the private sector (industrial and business houses, Banks, CII, FICCI, PHD Chambers of Commerce etc) is urgently required. I have conducted our career counselling and guidance programmes in rural areas and found the rural youth eager, enthusiastic and keen to go places!

 

A few of her ideas resonated strongly with me. The first was about harnessing the potentional of rural youth. A friend of mine, Akhil Krishna, is fired up about this idea and we often discuss the potention of bi-lingual (Vernacular Instruction for the first half of a 2-4 year course with intensive English Language Training, and English Instruction for the second half) colleges and universities.

 

Another idea, simplistic yet powerful, was suggested by him. He stated that most software programming languages have few keywords that are used in the coding syntax. If these keywords could be translated with Vernacular equivalents and coding could be done by non-English speaking programmers with basic computing skills, we would be reducing the cost of programming and providing employment at the same time.

 

The second was the issue of admission to colleges and universities in the country that demanded high marks – requiring students to study long hours at the cost of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that provide a very useful education to students. Until this is resolved, many of the evils of the schooling system in India will persist.

 

What are your thoughts on Dr. Dass’ points? Write in and we’ll get her to respond!

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Interviews!

Interviewing teachers is not a regular part of my job. Its something I do multiple times a week. I have found some interesting threads common to teachers in Punjab.1. Shakespeare seems to be the author of choice in Punjab. He is the one that the ladies seem to read before they sleep at night or whenever they have free time: in the bus, in their cars..wherever. Or that’s what they claim. In must have asked the question “Amongst writers of English, who would you favour for easy reading?” The response always favours the Bard. Not only do they show a preference for Willy, they are unconditional in their love for hem, eschewing all other authors. Having read most of what Shakespeare wrote, I am surprised when anyone mentioned Shakespeare as their favourite author. Maybe his being the ghostwriter for Maqbool and Omkara has something to do with it.

2. Geography is no longer taught in Punjab Universities: Three advertisements and many referrals later, I am yet to find a Geography teacher to teach at my school. With the imbroglio surrounding Pluto, this is when we need them the most!

3. Teaching is a female preserve. Sample this excerpt from an interview a few days ago.

My Colleague (one of a panel of 3 male interviewers): “Why do you want to be a teacher?”
Prospective Teacher: “It is a noble profession for women.”
MC(Ignoring the platitude about ‘nobility’): “You mention women. Are you saying its not a noble profession for men.”
PT (rolling her eyes): “No way. Men should be doing better work.”

Give it to the lady for her frankness. But not the smartest of things to say to a panel of 3 men! But here’s the kicker. Owing to the aforementioned deficiency of Geography Teachers, this lady got the job!

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One of the most exciting organizations working in the area of Education in India is the Ahmedabad based Educational Initiatives (EI).

I have had the pleasure to meeting and discussing education with two of its three founders Sridhar Rajagopalan and Sudhir Ghodke who (along with Venkat Krishan) left MNC jobs to work in the area of Education. before EI three co-founded, with Sunil Handa, entrepreneur and popular speaker on management and education, the Eklavya School in Ahmedabad. This school set in 22 acres in the outskirts of Ahmedabad is interesting in many ways: it is one of the few schools that has fields and open spaces commensurate with the number of children being schooled, makes effective use of the research thrown up by Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory and has a good Teacher Education programme on its premises.

Sridhar and Sudhir are both bright and passionate about Education. Its difficult not to come away inspired from a conversation with them.

Their organization, Educational Initiatives, runs India’s leading standardized testing service, ASSET. I have seen several standardized tests; the other leading test provider in India is Macmillan (in association with the University of NSW) but the ASSET rest is remarkably superior. It is authentic – contextualized to the lives of Indian students, clear in its questioning and responses expected, inexpensive, and throws up fantastic action-oriented data for teachers and administrators.

 

In the past few years, EI has quietly been doing a host of other good work. There is work with the government of Andhra Pradhesh and Harvard Universtiy, Teacher Training, School Camps and a new offering called Mindspark, an after-school prgramme that teaches kids Math and Science. What I like is that the team seems to be getting a balance correct- doing great work on its flagship offering (ASSET), doing good and meaningful research and still capitalizing on opportunities like the After-School space through programmes like Mindspark.

 

I caught up with Sudhir Ghodke and Sridhar Rajagopalan for a candid chat.

 

 

EI now spans a gamut of spaces: teacher development, curriculum development, Science & Math Training through franchisees, Test Administration and of-course ASSET. What would you say is your core competency and going forward, what would your company like to be known as? In terms of ‘product mix’ how different in would EI be 5 years from now?

 

Continue reading the rest of the interview over at my old blog, right here. The post seems to be having trouble communicating with WordPress. Thanks!

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Addendum!!

Thought I’d do this to ensure transparency. My blog will reflect views of the interviewee and my views and not of the organisations either of us works for!

So in the case of Mr. Mason, for example, his views are singularly his, and not of the organisation or schools he works with, advises or consults.

Cheers!

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John Mason, Head of Asian Schools at GEMS Education and ex-Headmaster of The Doon School is in the hot seat for the first week. John Mason is currently based in Dubai from and he education delivery, curriculum development and learning systems for the many schools GEMS runs in India,the UAE and other parts of Asia.

In this interview he focusses on the new National Curriculum Framework introduced by the NCERT under the chairmanship of Prof. Yashpal and also delves into the conflict between marks and ‘real’ schooling.

(Full Disclosure: I work with GEMS as Principal of one of their schools in India)

The new NCERT curriculum framework has several points of departure towards a more progressive curriculum from its earlier avatar. What do you think of the changes being introduced?

The NCERT, in seeking to strengthen the national system of education, has addressed a number of vital issues. They are old concerns, expressed with a fresh urgency.

1) Quality education for all. It is a shocking anomaly that a large number of children from the marginalized sections of society drop out annually as the schooling available to them does not use their experience for learning.

The strongest contribution of this document is the call for a paradigm shift from teacher-dominated classroom transaction to the need for a child centered approach through knowledge construction based on the child’s experiences. This is by no means a new pedagogy but it is emphasized as the need of the hour because of wide spread disillusionment with the present system.

As the vision is education for all, total inclusion, the focus on the present breakdown in the transaction process is appropriate. In this regard it is interesting to note an observation in the Framework that knowledge of the psychology of the child is not as important as an understanding of the social, cultural, economic and political context in which s / he is placed. This is an educational rationale seeking to redress centuries of inequality and is to be welcomed in the national interest.

Not only does the new curriculum propose an experiential approach in classroom transaction but it also recommends, at all levels, contact with the world of work.

However, without denying the necessity of this bold proposal one is apprehensive, if not sceptical, about its outcome in practice. Acceptance is necessary over the supervisory network of government and private schools, not only for implementation but also for continuance. One is reminded of the disappointing status accorded to SUPW / work experience in the majority of Indian schools

2) The document regrets that the 0 to 6 age group has been excluded from the purview of Article 21. An important concern is hereby expressed as, for the majority of the children in the country, early childhood care and education is seriously neglected or non existent.

3) I support the view that there must be a creative and concerted effort to maintain the multilingual genius of Indians and persevere with the three language formula. The role of English is envisaged but not at the expense of the mother tongue. At the Primary level the mother tongue is regarded as the essential means for the expression of experiences in the process of learning. Given the multilingual character of society, it is a necessary that the education system promote multilingual proficiency which includes proficiency in English.
However, I believe the fine balance that the above proposition calls for may not always be met, given the tendency for schools to respond to public and community pressures based on less idealistic objectives.

The document decries the present system of loading information on to children at the Primary stage instead of developing their learning skills. Up to Class 2 the curriculum prescribes Language and Maths, advising that knowledge of the environment is to be derived through these two disciplines. The need for a dynamic approach to the promotion of reading is stressed. The process of knowledge construction based on a child’s understanding and in relation to his / her socio cultural experiences is well articulated and the most inspiring aspect of the framework. But, as I have said before, one hopes that these ideals are respected and that children who are the intended beneficiaries can look forward to a better way of learning

Finally, the document makes an important point on pre-service and in- service teacher education by arguing in favour of greater practical orientation of the new concepts. In fact, it is made clear that unless the teacher and the text book change radically, there can be no change.

There is an abundance of literature on progressive education. Given the marks-oriented culture of the Indian Higher Education System, do you see widespread adoption of Progressive Schooling? What systemic changes would you recommend for this to happen?

The key to progressive schooling lies in the child having charge over his / her own learning, as discussed above. There are a two issues however, that can obstruct this goal. The first is the feasibility of mobilising the teaching community to accept and deliver the new pedagogy. The second is the question of transaction time. A system which foregoes the practice of information delivery in favour of experiment, discussion and experience needs time. It is not clear whether the new structure of curriculum has factored in the time required for effective transaction..

If this framework is to be a success its precepts must be accepted not only by the large teaching community but also by the community at large. Just as these precepts have been produced through widespread consultation and public consensus, so also must the recommended policy be made known to the public for its acceptance. The call for quality education for all must be heard by all and demanded by all.

Do you agree with the oft quoted stand that privatization of education may be the key? How do you see this playing out in Government run schools?

The State has the responsibility to provide education for its people. It also has the responsibility as evidenced, in the several educational commissions and reports, to enquire into the state of education in the country and address the prevalent issues. Private education does not have the authority or the reach to bring about the transformation envisaged by the NCERT.

What do you think can be done by the famous public schools of India?

A large number of private and public schools in India are well endowed and have the capacity to incorporate the precepts provided in the Framework and in so doing, serve as model institutions in the propagation of the new system.

English Language Acquisition is a key problem across the country. A recent article mentioned that first generation learners in government schools can rarely hope to achieve even moderate fluency on the back of the dual problems of poor teaching staff and a non-English speaking/supporting environment at home. Would you agree? What would you recommend the government does to counter this?

Proficiency in reading is the answer and this should be pursued on a massive scale.

What is your take on the Education Voucher scheme?

I would suggest that the Government should take no course that would seem to indicate an evasion of its responsibility in providing quality education to its citizens.

Next week we will be interviewing Usha Albuquerque, Director of CareerSmart, a Delhi based career management company and the leading careers consultant in the country. Mail your questions to me at indianedutalks@gmail.com If you have comments and thoughts, use the comments link under and write away!

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