Author Archives: Scatteredpillar

How Important Is It To Find Your Element?

I managed to read the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything over the weekend. The book, written by Ken Robinson, talks about the importance of finding the one thing that you like the most and then pursuing it passionately for a fulfilling life. Paul Graham more or less says the same thing in his famous article How To Do What You Love.

Robinson’s book triggered a number of thoughts in my mind. It is full of examples of people from various fields, including sports, dance, music and entrepreneurship; the people who made it big. When I was reading about these people, I found an unmistakable similarity among all of them. They all wanted to live a meaningful life. They all wanted to achieve something. They were also determined to put in the efforts, and were passionate about the things they chose to do.

What separates these people who are so full of life from the ordinary people is not that they found their element as Robinson puts it. I think it’s the zeal for perfection and the passion for life and the passion for everything that they choose to do is what makes them extraordinary.

Our education system is designed in such a way that most of the students hardly get an opportunity to try out anything in their school days. It also defines a very linear path to success. Perform well in academics, go to a decent college, get a degree and you will get a decent job. It is only after college that people realize that it doesn’t work that way. You need to have much more than just a degree to not only get a decent job, but also to live a decent life.

Our society fosters a false notion in children’s heads that to succeed in life, you only need to clear exams with good marks. Forget extra-curricular activities, even learning and understanding of subject matter is considered secondary. Independent learning is not encouraged. Students are provided ready-made notes, have tuitions outside schools and are taught formulas to clear exams. This approach proves very dangerous as students remain weak academically as well as do not develop important life skills such as communication skills, critical thinking, or appreciation of art.

I agree with Robinson that you need to find where your interest lies and then pursue that interest for a happier life. But I do not agree that this interest is innate, or it can not be created/manufactured, or that we can not have multiple interests. As a child, I was not exposed to either reading or writing. But I still developed an interest in them. Most of the people who go on to become artists have a natural interest in those arts, along with the talent of course. But I also know many people who develop an interest after they get exposed to something. One of my friends took up Fine Arts because his uncle told him to. Before that he had never thought of it as a career option. But in his fourth year in college, he said that he was really enjoying it, and liked the idea of pursuing a career in it. You develop an interest in things as you dabble in them.

I think having an interest is secondary to developing a passion for something, because it can be manufactured (provided you have talent and have taken enough training for that particular thing). What is important is the positive approach to life, zeal for perfection, being open to try out new things, open to learn new things and not caring much about the conventional definition of success. Life does not have a final goal (Death can not be a person’s final goal. If it was, everybody would have committed suicide). There is no such thing as an ultimate success. We can only have short term goals. But it is very important to enjoy the process as we strive to achieve them.

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Isabel (Poem)

This is a poem from Shiksha Power’s poetry competition held in various schools in Thane. The poem is written by Sakshi Udavant, a class sixth student from the D.A.V Public School, Thane. The topic was The Bicycle Race. Hope you enjoy it.

Once there was a bicycle race
It started off with a fast pace

First was Isabel
But in between she fell

She fell in the dirt
And got badly hurt

She called her mother
To care, there was no one other

Unlucky was her ride,
So Isabel finally died

MOOCs: A New Page In Higher Education

Imagine a future in which you can take lessons from the best professors in the world, have complete freedom to choose whichever course you want, attend the classes from home at whatever time you prefer, study at your own pace and that too for free. You probably think I am kidding. Well, I am not. And I am not talking about some distant future either. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a new trend in higher education, which is generating a lot of buzz in the western countries, has made all of this possible.

MOOCs are online courses offered by various web platforms, such as Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and edX. The courses on offer range from Intro to Computer Science to The Modern and the Postmodern to Economic Issues, Food and You to How to Build a Start-up. The courses are mostly short term and each course runs for a few weeks (note- Udacity does not have a calendar based schedule).

Every course has an instructor, who sets the syllabus and looks after everything else the course consists of, including lectures, assignments and evaluation. A course is designed in such a way that students can also jump in the middle and every student can cover the syllabus at her own pace. Students are supposed to watch the video lectures put up on the website and also do the extra-reading that is suggested. Evaluation is mostly in the form of quizzes and writing assignments. Interaction among students and between students and teachers is highly encouraged. Since the courses are add-on courses and not a replacement for university degrees, syllabus is designed in such a way that students have to dedicate only a few hours a week for studies.

MOOCs is in essence an extension of distance learning. But what makes it almost a revolutionary concept is the sheer scale it can achieve at very low costs. A typical course can enroll around 60,000 students at one time. Anybody anywhere in the world with a broadband connection can sign up as there are no qualification prerequisites for most of the courses.

Internet has transformed many industries since its emergence, including music, publishing and journalism. It has changed their distribution models and revenue streams. It has democratized information by cutting down access costs. Some experts feel the same will happen in the higher education sector with MOOCs gaining traction. Cost, convenience, reach and variety of courses are some of the strong points of MOOCs. If the concept goes mainstream, it can truly democratize the education sector.

But thinking it will replace our current university education system will be foolish. University is not a place where you just learn concepts; it’s a place where you learn to socialize, interact with fellow classmates, appreciate various cultures, learn leadership skills and also have fun. Even if we talk in strictly academic terms, internet can’t be a replacement for a professor physically delivering a lecture and interacting with students in a physical classroom.

It has been just one year since MOOCs have been around in their current form. So it will be too early to make any predictions. If MOOCs have to reach to the masses, India will have to create indigenous content in English as well as regional languages. India still faces the basic problem of infrastructure i.e. access to computers and broadband connectivity, so it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds here.

Take Your Higher Studies Seriously

Our society looks at education as a passport to upward mobility and a better lifestyle. A parent, while discussing his child’s studies, said, “I don’t want my son to face the same hardships that I had to and to make it possible, I will try to give him the best education possible.”

But it remains only a dream for many families. Not because they lack access or resources, but mainly because they make wrong choices! Many students realize they have opted for the wrong course only after they start studying. They complete the course and later pursue some other course, wasting few precious years of their lives.

It is astonishing that though we rate education so highly, we are so careless about selecting a course, which may greatly impact our future endeavours. The two most obvious choices are either engineering or medicine, and the only basis for selecting them is that they offer high-paying jobs. Aptitude, interest, intellectual capacity is paid no heed at all.

We don’t understand that higher education needs to be planned. We should be clear about what course we want to pursue, which college we want to take admission in, and on what basis we make these choices. Most parents and students are clueless about what they want to do till the time results are out. Then they are left with very less time to explore. This results in taking admission to the safest courses. Safest courses are the ones which most of the students opt for, like engineering or medicine, or something that a family member or a relative is pursuing (e.g. if the father is a lawyer, chances are the child will also take up law) or the peers are taking admission to.

The biggest mistake that students make is that they don’t follow their interests. Most of the time, they can’t only recognize what their interests are. One of my friends was pursuing B.Sc., but later realised that she did not like it. She likes to read, write, sketch and is a bit creative in the usual sense of the word. Hence, later she shifted to BMM after wasting one year in Science. But most of the people are not so daring. They stick to the course even if they realize that it’s not for them.

Parents and students both need to be sensitized about how they make career choices. Students need to find out what they want to do in life and where their passion lies. It will avoid disappointments and resentments later in life.

Another Brick In The Wall

It has become a cliché to say that we have two Indias: one the English speaking, resource-rich urban India and the other semi-educated, resource-constrained rural India. If we look at the condition of education in our country, the same two Indias can be observed there too.

Schools in villages lack basic amenities, such as libraries, access to water and toilets. Some schools even lack playgrounds. The quality of teachers is really bad. It affects students’ learning and they falter in basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic. No doubt, the same problems can be observed in cities too, but the condition is not so dire.

Villages offer a great opportunity in outdoor learning, if only teachers are ready to use the available space. You don’t need to have hi-tech facilities to impart education, you just need a bunch of teachers who are passionate about their work and are capable enough. But sourcing these kind of teachers has proved to be a challenge in villages as well as cities.

Village schools rarely pay attention to the extra-curricular activities. Only a few students get to participate in events like elocution, essay writing or group singing in inter-school competitions. Schools never hold intra-school events. Reading is not encouraged. Teachers don’t try to make the classes interactive. And as a result holistic growth of a child does not become possible.

Students face the biggest problem while learning English. Teachers themselves aren’t fluent in the language. Some of them can’t even read and write properly. So students obviously suffer. Plus unlike their urban counterparts, students don’t have parents who speak in English. They don’t get English newspapers at their doorsteps every day and they don’t watch English programmes on TV. More than 80 per cent students go to vernacular medium schools (though this number is decreasing gradually), so there is no exposure to English at all. And as a result, you have a large number of students who can’t read, write or understand even basic English.

It doesn’t help that higher education in India is in English and therefore rural students face a huge setback once they reach there. The odds are so heavily stacked against these students that most of them just about survive in degree courses.

The government is spending a lot of money on schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan; but most of it is wasted on things which are not needed. The government can’t recognize the micro problems that a school faces and the teachers who do are not given the leeway to address them. It is also a common complaint of the teachers that all the additional duties (various surveys, census data collection, election postings, etc.) imposed on them by the government greatly hampers their productivity.

The government and other actors in the education system need to understand these problems and try to find solutions, if we have to ensure better future for our children.

What if you forgot A for Apple after the 1st standard?

Most of our school and college days go in preparing for exams. Is that bad? Is that wrong? It’s not, but it definitely is boring! How about if most of these days were spent in learning, and not just the syllabus?

Our education system is much derided for its focus on rote learning, and rightly so. We care more about marks and less about actual learning. We don’t care if students have understood the concepts or not, as far as they are able to put them on paper howsoever.

Talking about rote learning in this Times Of India post, columnist Meeta Sengupta says,

Every trained teacher knows that at the very least the learning they impart must include these four components – Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes and Behaviours (KSAB). Memory merely speaks to the first part. It is a tool that supports a part of Knowledge absorption and dissemination, not even contributing to building the body of knowledge. Such learning does not support the ability to create, build and sustain; it ignores the need to encourage a child’s curiosity and talent; and worse, rote learning restricts learning to past knowledge.

Focus on rote learning is more dangerous than we may imagine, as the evidence is there for all of us to see. If only we would pay close attention to this malice, we would not be shocked by the surveys which declare 80 per cent of our new graduates unemployable. Yes, all these years of yours in school and college have been mostly wasted.

The problem lies in our thinking, or the lack of it. We don’t allow critical thinking in our education system or even outside. Students don’t know why they are studying what they are studying. They are not allowed to explore. They are not encouraged to go beyond books and learn on their own. It is imbibed in their minds that marks are paramount and they will guarantee them a successful life ahead. This lie is further entrenched by the rewards and praise heaped on top scorers at home, schools and in society. As a side-effect, it takes the fun out of studying and students become mere competitors in an unknown and meaningless race.

As a system, our pedagogy focuses on very narrow objectives. Marks become more important than holistic learning. How do we change this? Giving grades instead of marks is a step in the right direction. It should be followed with introducing projects in the curriculum. We should also encourage group learning in schools. This can be achieved by giving group projects. Classes need to be made more interactive. Teachers also need to be told that their job is not to create toppers, but learners.

What do you think? Can this be achieved? If yes, how?