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BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

It’s been a fantastic 2 weeks.

 

I’ve been in Cambridge (not the one in the UK) getting settled in before I start a chock full of courses in Education. Some interesting things I’ve noticed:

 

1. The Harvard Graduate School of Education has a Great Community Spirit. Everyone here wants to help in making sure you get settled in well, that you know who to turn to for anything and everything and that you make the most of the time that you have here. The Orientation last for 8 days- which is much longer than at most other schools at Harvard and possibly, at most schools around the world.

 

2. MIT is far more relaxed than Harvard. I went for a class over at the MIT Media Lab the other day and my classroom was more like a music studio. Lots of Computer Screens mounted on the walls (the large Plasma TV ones), music, leather sofas, a Lazy Boy and people sitting on desks (whatever few there were) etc. This was a real class. The Professor turned up in a Jacket and after making a statement about how that was important since ‘first impressions count’ – he proceeded to take it off and swore never to wear it again to class. Sure, grad school is very different from school but there is scope for considering a similar engagement in our schoolhouses- I definitely felt a lot at ease studying there.

 

3. Harvard is very complicated in the rubric and nomenclature across schools. One course means different things at different schools, and 30 hours of work (normally one credit at most schools) could be variously called 3 credits (Business School), 4 credits (Ed School) or 1 credit (School of Government) making it very difficult for people to fathom whether they are really meeting requirements for graduation. What makes it stranger is that all schools start at different times and even have different term-systems – terms at the Business School and just 3 at the Ed School every year, for example. But it seems that at the end of next year, after 350 years of existence, all the Harvard Schools are going to attempt to come to a uniform system. I’m sure that will be a huge relief to everyone concerned.

 

The most amazing thing I’ve learned, over at MIT of course, where everyone recounts it gleefully, is that Harvard once tried to buy MIT. This was a hundred years ago when MIT was not much more than an engineering school. Harvard didn’t have an engineering school so they thought it would behove them to take over their neighbours. As it turned out, all the faculty at MIT revolted and Harvard had to back off.

 

Now that I’m settled in and have got myself a new machine (from Apple- too bad they didn’t knock off $200 on their MacBooks like they did on the IPhone), I should be on the blog with the same frequency as before.

 

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YOUNG GIRL WITH VIOLIN

I took music lessons from age six to fourteen, but had no luck with my teachers, for whom music did not transcend mechanical practicing. I really began to learn after I had fallen in love with Mozart’s sonatas. The attempt to reproduce their singular grace compelled me to improve my technique. I believe, on the whole, that love is a better teacher than sense of duty.

– Albert Einstein

Image Courtesy: Bill Viccaro

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Today, India celebrated 60 years of Independence from the British Raj. We still have a long way to go on various measures on socio-economic development, but we will leave that discussion for another day.

I wanted to share a few pictures I clicked this morning of children from the the Anjuman Islam High School in Mumbai celebrating Independence Day.

The school is housed in a row of slum-dwellings just off the main highway that connects Mumbai to Pune. As I sped along toward the high-way I noticed school children (their pink uniforms dirty by the muck propelled by fleeting cars) standing in clean rows and singing a song celebrating the Himalayas. They were perilously close to the cars speeding by but seem unfazed by either the guttural engine sounds or the possibility that they might be hit by an errant vehicle.

I jumped at the opportunity to get out and take a few photographs and speak to the children who were all bright and excited to participate in this demonstration of national pride and solidarity.

Have a look!

 

flag at anjuman islam

Above: Parents and the community members of the School participate in hoisting of the flag. In the background you can see boards that show affiliation to a quasi-political organisation (that funds the school) and a board (in Urdu and English) displaying the name of the school. The classrooms are housed behind the grill door in the picture.

child getting eclair at independence day

Above: Reward for the patient wait. A Cadbury’s Eclair for every child.

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Above: The students (drenched in sweat from the 1 hour wait before the proceedings got underway) respond to my slogan of Jai Hind (Hail, India the Victorious). You can see the speeding truck and car on the far side.

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Above: The boy in the foreground, Mazhar, is the son of the teacher distributing the eclairs. He was thrilled by the prospect of modelling for my camera-phone and offered me his precious eclair when I showed him the image after clicking it.

 

I had a fantastic few minutes in the company of these children, none of whom, unfortunately spoke English (They don’t teach it in their school till Class 5). Many educators in India differ with me in this view bit I am convinced about the need to make every child learn English. I don’t decry the vernacular languages, indeed there is a wealth of literature and learning in regional texts; I only propose that they be taught alongwith English- probably the key to the path with the greatest opportunities for self-advancement and an improvement in quality of life.

I hope that in the next few decades of Independent India we can get many boys like Mazhar into schools that are safe and provide a relevant education.

Jai Hind!

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WELL DONE, KUMBLE.

anil kumble hits maiden test century

 

 

Above: Anil Kumble acknowledges the applause after his maiden test hundred at the Oval.

 

I love Cricket.

 

A large portion of my readership is from outside the Commonwealth, so if you are amongst those don’t know much about it, read articles here and here that explain. That’s if you can indeed explain the passion, the intensity or the euphoria the game evokes in those of us who love it. (if you really don’t know about Cricket, do bear with me! To my EduReader friends, my apologies!)

India’s old warhorse, Anil Kumble, just scored an unbeaten 110 against England in the 3rd and Final Test at the Oval. A 100 runs. Anil Kumble, who’s been an untiring servant for India. A century for the first time in an 18 year career. Anil Kumble who once took ten wickets in an inning against the old enemy. Anil Kumble whose 550 wickets each stand for the untiring guile with which he’s won countless games for India. Anil Kumble, probably the most ignored champion of Indian sport.

When Kumble edged one past Prior to get a 100, I almost had tears in my eyes. Kumble is a giant-hearted performer, a great sportsman and someone who commands your respect with his sincerity and humility. If there is one cricketer you’d want to model your young wards after, it would be Kumble.

He’s had an ordinary tournament so far and in this, probably his last Test match as an Indian cricketer in England, I wanted him to leave his mark.

Well done, Kumble. May you go from strength to strength. The whole nation applauds You.

Further Reading on Kumble

#1: Anil Kumble, the official site (Kumble is a Computer Engineer himself)

#2: Cricinfo Profile on Anil Kumble

#3: Kumble- the Ignored Champion? Subodh Chitre argues that Kumble has never got his due from the people and the media.

(Image Courtesy: Getty Images, via Cricinfo.com)

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Two months ago I saw An Inconvenient Truth. It has been parodied and pilloried several times in the press, but it left me a message. Global warming is a reality and the ozone depletion is a cause for concern.

Today I finished reading Jeffrey Sachs’The End of Poverty as We Know It.” Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, ex-Adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is probably best known as the dapper economist who accompanies rocker Bono around the world trying to spread the message of fighting AIDS. His central message if “Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time.” He argues that Poverty can be eradicated in 20 years.

I’m not an economist, but the book left me with many unanswered questions. The book starts of with promise. Sachs’ tells personal stories and weaves narratives about several countries together wonderfully as he explains how Globalisation and Interconnectedness are key and how economies are linked to Topography and Natural Resources. He makes a forceful case for Technology as the killer app for development economics and surprises you with some tidbits (African Governments being no more corrupt than others, the US being amongst the lowers contributors (as % of GDP) to Foreign Aid etc. He fashions a hypothesis that 0.7% of Annual National Incomes of the 22 wealthiest countries would eradicate poverty and tries valiantly but failingly to convince you.

In the end a nice book with a lot of information, some oft-mentioned plans, but no pathbreaking ideas.

But this post is not about Messers Gore and Sachs. When I think back about the ideas presented in these two books and films, I realise it’s not about government, corporations or non-profits. It is about you and me. It is about what we can do to make our world live longer, be happier, brighter and better. It is about making a small difference, one thing at a time, and the results will begin to show.

I sat down to make my list of 10 ways I would try and make a small difference to the world and its inhabitants:

1. I will try and Pay it Forward: You may have seen the movie (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt). It’s about doing good for someone anonymously and starting a potential series of good deeds as receivers of anonymous good actions Pay it Forward by helping others in turn. I’ll let Trevor, the hero of the book and movie explain:

Trevor, 12-year-old hero, explains his idea to his mother and teacher: “You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.” He turns on the calculator, punches in a few numbers. “Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?”

On the way back home this evening, I passed a toll plaza. I paid for the next three cars behind me. My first conscious attempt at Paying it Forward.

2. I will volunteer: I plan to devote one month of my time every two years. The last time I volunteered was in 2004 when I worked in Tsunami Affected Areas for 7 weeks- first on relief and then on rehabilitation. It was also the last time when I felt ‘connected to the Earth.’ The last time I saw ‘all of us as one’ for weeks at a stretch. I don’t know if these words will mean much, but anyone who has experienced trauma and calamity from this close will know what I am talking about.

Getting one month off in a block is difficult, so I will try and do this over several days in the 2 years, investing evenings and weekends.

3. I will Give to Soup Kitchens: Next time I am having a get-together at home, good food left over goes to feed the needy. (dial 1098 from a PNT line in India)

4. I will Conserve Electricity: My laptop is almost always on. My Television is always on Standby. I leave the geyser running for hours to have a 5-minute shower. I forget (sometimes) to turn off the lights after I leave a room. My bedroom is wired to put on 3 halogens at a time (no single bulb switches at all). My Air Conditioner consumes energy inefficiently (yes there is a comfortable, yet energy efficient temperature for ACs). All these actions make cost more money and spend more of the limited energy resources that we have. BTW if you were wondering: leaving appliances on standby consume 5% of maximum power.

I don’t know if I am prepared yet to be carbon-neural, but many schools, and all new Government funded schools in the UK are.

5. I will Avoid the Car if I Can Manage it: Good for health and good for the trees too!

6. I will Re-commit to the reason I became an Educator: Education is the way out of global poverty and out of global violence. Everyone from Adam Smith (“An instructed and intelligent people ..are more disposed to examine, and are more capable of seeing through the interested complaints of faction and sedition. The whole society is at risk when any segment of the population is poorly educated” – from his seminal “Wealth of Nations”) and my eight year old student Harleen (I feel happy when I am at school. If everyone went to school, they would be more smiley and a lot happier)

As Teachers we can help shape the world in brighter hues than we find it today. Every day, every class, every moment spent with a child can be used to fill in him a zest of life, a joy for living, a passion for learning.

I have decided to keep a regular journal, think, reflect and recommit every day to this profession.

7. I will Smile a Lot more: I am sure there is some Psychology paper somewhere that mentions a smiling person as being more attractive, happier, more confident and a delight to be around. I know when I see a smiling person on the street, I break into the biggest smile possible. I’d like to be that way most of the day.

8. I will be more Empathetic: I want to – Say Thank you more often. Send more cards (when was the last time you did?). Say Good Morning. Good Night too. Listen with Genuine Interest. Smile at the newsboy every morning. Buy flowers for home. Call an old teacher. Call an old friend. Answer and help anonymous people who make they way to my inbox I have the time. Give more pats on the back. Say well-done more often. Criticise less. Provide more support.

9. I will Vote: I am ashamed to say that I, like more than half of my countrymen in every election, do not vote. I plan to put this right the next time and only then criticise the government for the ills we find ourselves in.

10. I will revisit this list: Ideas that are written and not implemented are soon forgotten. I am going to tack this to my softboard to make sure I see (if even from the corner of my eye), this everyday. I will try and stick to this. Try not promise, for as Amitabh Bachchan, Indian movie superstar says in his film Sharaabi (The Alcoholic): “Vaade toot jaatein hain, Koshishein Kamiyaab ho Jaati hain” (Promises are broken but efforts often become successful).

I hope that by following this (and some other little things I have jotted down) I can make a small but significant change in my immediate environment and in the World (remember the Hummingbird effect?) I believe that “When we Change the World Changes” and that all of us should attempt to make, in our own little and special ways, this world a nicer place to be in. When that happens, transformation will take place.

As Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Robert Kennedy said this in an impassioned speech in Africa (these are also the last lines of Sachs’ book):

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”

Do you want to help? (click on the numbers to read)

#1. Visit the Earth Institute’s “How you Can Help” page

#2. Read about the UN’s Millennium Development Goals; a report on Universal Primary Education

#3. Tips on Global Warming in the Classroom – educator resources from the Inconvenient Truth website (lesson plans, classroom activities, project ideas et al)

#4. More Educator Resources (including student grants of $500) by the Pay it Forward Foundation

#5. Listen to Imagine, by John Lennon (turn up those speakers!)

#6. How Happy is the World? A map of the world with different shades for countries based on their Happiness Index (UN Data)

#7. Try Blackle.com – It’s the Old Google in New Black Clothes. Apparently booting white pages takes more out of your PC, a black Google page would save the world 750 MW of power. (Thanks Krishnan!)

#8. This one is my favourite: If you haven’t read Desiderata, read it. The best advice on a happier, more fulfilling life I’ve come across.

 

10 things to do

This image above is from the Inconvenient Truth Website (but you knew that!)

How will you change the world? Let me know! I would love to hear what you think.

Are you an Educator? Maybe you use a similar discussion in your classroom?

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