Sunday, 30 September 2012

How do you teach life-skills and moral values in school?

I often wonder if it is not the inculcation of strong moral values and timeless etiquette in students that makes a school distinct from the run of the mill schools that we find all over the country! What is it that we look for in some of the best schools all over the country? True, the pass percentage at the twelfth board level is one important indicator of how well the school is doing in academics, but then, some of the best indicators of a good school become apparent many years after a student passes out of school! The first few questions that come to mind when we look at a decent, well mannered professional is his upbringing and the school he had gone to. Is it for this reason that Khushwant Singh’s Grandmother favored village school education over city school education, because of the fact that there were teachings of the scriptures in the former which were lacking in the latter?
The building of successful personalities includes the teaching of those timeless core values that make them respected in the larger society. These core values include respect for each other, respect for elders, punctuality, honesty, sincerity, a sense of fair-play, patience, obedience, respect for rules, an understanding of basic principles of humanity, love and respect for nature, wildlife, an understanding of how our actions and behavior have an impact on others, and a respect for the delicate web of social relations that bind us to the society. It is quite true that the parents are the first teachers who try to instil awareness for moral values in their children, but then this task is soon taken over by teachers when they start going to school.
The teaching of moral values is a highly debated topic, with many educationists insisting that you can’t teach moral values to students directly and formally, and they go on to suggest that moral values can only be taught through the setting up of examples by teachers. I however wonder, if students in primary classes might not perhaps be taught by their teachers about these timeless values more directly? It is at this tender and formative age that children can be taught moral values. Interesting lessons from different scriptures, lessons of bravery, and even examples from real life can prove invaluable in the formation of the child’s character. This teaching could also include reinforcing good behavior with praise and appreciation. In senior classes, literature lessons could include examples of heroism, courage, and these could be in the form of allegories and anecdotes!
If good education doesn’t mean the building of character, then it is a great failure! Ultimately, it is character that makes you noticed in the society, and a person with good manners, good etiquette is always held in due regard. Unfortunately, when we step out-doors, we often observe people trying to break queues, people who speak good English but who show an utter disregard for others, we notice a great deal of impoliteness, and foul language being used  by products of even highly acclaimed public schools! The recent increase in the number of cases of road rage and the tragic instances of grievous injuries could have been lessoned if the perpetrators of harm had learned to be patient in school. Rudeness and impoliteness can never be the traits of a successful person, and they cannot be an indication of economic status in the society. Politeness should never be mistaken for passiveness, fear, or even poor self esteem! In fact, politeness is the sign of good character, it is the trait of great men, it is the sign of culture, and an indicator of a strong family background! Politeness is about royalty!
Unfortunately, we can’t argue that we are like animals and we need to resort to violence to struggle in the society for survival! Man is distinct from animals, in that he is more rational and he knows the difference between right and wrong! Thus if man has to struggle for survival in this society, then it should be on the basis of the ethical values that he has been equipped with. Cut-throat competition, glitz, glam, and the pressure to achieve unrealistic goals has lead to our ignoring the importance of those timeless values that have been handed down to us from our fore-fathers!
Have we, then forgotten our responsibilities as educators to produce great thinkers and good characters in our obsession to create products that will be commercially viable in the corporate world? Do we need to send our children to finishing schools after passing class twelfth when we could have done the same in regular school? Can we afford to ignore teaching of values in schools because they don’t figure in the written assessments and don’t contribute to the marks we get in the final term? Shouldn’t we grade schools on the basis of the quality of education imparted by them in terms of character building and strength of values imparted by them? Or is it that we find it difficult to assess the quality of values being taught to students in schools? Have we forgotten that by ignoring the importance of inculcating moral values in our students, we are essentially ignoring the human element, and are instead training our students to perform well in written tests, and to be machines that are more efficient than others?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Spitting Cobra

Giant Spitting Cobra
This is an incident that took place in Arbaminch when I was about five years old. One evening after we had dinner, and were about to go off to sleep,  my mother suddenly told my brother and me to go to the bedroom and to climb on to our beds. A little later I heard my father tell my mother that  there was a snake in the living room, and it appeared to be a  spitting Cobra!  I later came to know from my parents,  that the snake had somehow gained entry into the sitting room and it was now facing my parents with stretched on the floor, with part of its front portion raised, hooded head clearly visible. After some time, the snake turned and looked away from my father, puffed its hood, turned back towards him,  hissed and spat ! What came out of the mouth of the snake seemed to be  a fine mist of aerosol particles directed at my father. This did come  as a bit of a surprise because the action was rather unexpected! My father, without wasting any time rushed to the water tap and washed his face with water ensuring that he splashed water on to his eyes which were stinging from the effects of the venom in the spray. It was this action that probably saved his eyes!

What happened next is etched in my mind. The snake after spitting at my father in the ensuing confusion crawled under the fridge.  After washing his face, my father returned to the sitting room where he discovered that the snake had crawled under the fridge. His main concern now our safety and so he had to get rid of the snake! My mother  in due haste went to call some of our Indian friends who lived close by. I remember seeing our Indian friends, Mr. Kingston and Mr. Charles close to the window encouraging my father to take action! Mr. Kingston and Mr. Charles didn’t dare to enter the house, and they kept giving instructions to my father about flushing out the snake. Mr. Kingston advised my father to shoot the snake with his Beretta pistol, while Mr. Charles told my father to pour some kerosene under the fridge and  light a fire to the inflammable liquid! My father did none of these, and having a presence of mind, he filled the electric kettle with water and having boiled the water, poured it under the fridge, whereupon the snake slid out, and my father dealt it blows with a stout stick. When the snake’s back was broken, he proceeded to put it into a tin of powder milk. When we saw the remains, the snake measured four and a half feet. Our Indian friends then offered to drive my father to the hospital run by some Danes on a mountain some five kilometres away. My father refused the offer, deciding to drive himself believing that the concentration required would keep him alert and in senses! Well, he drove the car to the hospital accompanied by Mr. Charles and Mr. Kingston. When he arrived at the hospital, the Danish doctor didn’t know what to do, and he kept on consulting various books, and he kept on injecting my father with various anti-venom injections! This process took some time because the Danish Doctor had to make sure about the treatment, never having come across such a case! After my father got somewhat better, his face having swelled to double its size,   Dr.Rekijay requested my father to show him the snake. My father then turned to the boot of the car  (he had the presence of mind to stow the snake) and opened the lid of the tin whereupon the snake proceeded to wriggle swiftly away. My father grabbed the guard’s staff and proceeded to deal the snake a few blows to kill it.

Spitting Cobra

My father took a couple of days leave from the school because his face remained swollen to twice its size because of the effects of the snake venom. I remember looking at his blood shot eyes the whole week! People later told us that my father’s eyes could have been irreparably damaged if he had not washed his eyes with water, thus diluting the effects of the poison which had been spat by the snake! About a week after the killing of the Spitting Cobra, its mate visited us, and lay curled inside one of the spare tyres kept in the kitchen. It had been looking for its mate, but then that is another story! Fortunately for the whole episode, my father recovered within one week! We had a dog that had probably been spat upon by a spitting cobra as its eyes had turned rather opaque rendering him sightless. The poor dog didn't live long!

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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Is Conformism killing Individuality and Creativity?

The other day while looking at some photographs of students celebrating a  fresher party in a leading English Newspaper and, I just couldn’t help thinking how similar everyone looked! And this is not just about the similar  types of clothes they had put on, but also their facial appearances, and  attitudes! They all looked the same! Having worked with young  students of various classes in various schools, I couldn't help sensing a disturbing trait of conformity  which seemed to be robbing them of their sense of originality!
It seems as if the inability to think differently from others is the result of  pressure to conform to  accepted patterns, the demand to blend in with the group, and an acknowledgement of what is cool, what is hep, and what is not! There somehow seems to be a uniform, all-pervading sense of indifference towards those who don’t belong to the group in terms of age  such as the elderly man  standing in the metro train.The trait of  loudness and garrulousness seems to bind our young ones together and this seems to include  a general sense of indifference towards others, and a  sense of selfishness!
The fruits of technology have unfortunately made us lazy, and helpless!  Easily available material on the internet makes it easy for most of us to copy from the net and submit it as our own work  (in spite of the uproar about plagiarism these days). In class, I have observed that students who give their own original answers are looked down at by their fellow classmates. Everything has to follow a fixed and accepted pattern! Students who behave and think differently are ridiculed and not accepted within the group. You have to be really daring and courageous to behave differently from the accepted trend, and this includes wearing different clothes, thinking differently, or not conforming to the accepted patterns! It seems therefore, that today, the original thinker, the rebel, is a novel species, someone who is an outsider, an aberration and so avoided at any cost! It goes without thinking that those who think out of the box, those who think differently have to go into hiding, that is unless they really have nerves of steel and raw guts to stand out of the crowd and make themselves noted and seen!
So then, is conformism killing individuality, originality and creativity  today? The above instances and examples seem to point out towards this harsh and disturbing trend! It seems as if we are all heading towards a time when we will not be known as individuals, but as a crowd, a collective whole headed by those  who have the strength and going power of thinking out of the box, those who will think for us. The apparent lack of new thoughts,  rampant plagiarism, cases of copyright violations conforming to the accepted norms, the pressure to think alike,and the need to blend with the group has meant that we have stopped thinking for ourselves, we have stopped thinking our own thoughts.   All this has lead to a situation where we have begun to live in a virtual world where others do our thinking for us! This is a scary scenario, and one is reminded of films like the Matrix! We seem to be steadily headed towards a Matrix where  individual identities are subservient to the identity  of the matrix. Nature has not created Man to  be a conformist, and humanity is all about originality, creativity, problem solving, and higher order thinking. All these learning strategies require  thinking out of the box, and  thinking differently! Today, more than ever, we have started working on auto-pilot, we have started living stereo-type lives, even our responses to different situations are stereotyped so much so that these responses can be predicted! Today everything can be mapped, and this includes our emotional responses our behavioural responses towards different challenges that life may throw at us! While it is true that the human brain is  unique, original and exclusive and that no two human beings think alike, but then  training, living in a group, conforming to set patterns,   is bound to usher changes! Globalisation, shrinking of distances through advancement in travel, the use of the internet and the viewing of the whole world as a global village have meant that we are  becoming one amalgamated mass  of thought processes!

Sometimes, the pressure to conform might have some far reaching implications for both, the students and the teachers. I am reminded of one such case which a teacher in a public school told me about. The students of a class of tenth graders would point out to the teacher that he should shave off his mustaches  or better still change his hair style, or why he had got two pens, why he placed them on opposite sides in the same pocket…and so on. The teacher patiently told them that he didn't shave off his mustache because it would look odd since he had kept a mustache always!
The pressure to conform to accepted trends is so great in teenage students that they get distracted when someone comes into their midst who looks different or acts different. This pressure however wears off as these children grow up. It is only as they begin to discover their own individuality that they begin to accept that everyone is equipped with different skills and abilities, and even personality traits. It is ultimately a great fallacy to treat all children as copies of each other. Unfortunately, consumerism, propaganda techniques, and a market based culture have led to a culture of conformism. The bandwagon technique of advertisement deals with the idea that if you don’t jump into the bandwagon, then you will be left out, if you don’t use a particular product, then you will be called and uncle or an aunty! It is because our children don’t want to be out of the bandwagon that they are forced to think and behave in a particular manner which is dictated by market trends and market forces! It is as if young children are under a constant pressure to conform to a particular belief of what is cool or hep or in and what is out, not realising that these beliefs have been dictated by market sources!

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Saturday, 22 September 2012

The thrill of Macro and Close-Up!

No one can deny that Macro as in Macro-Photography is thrilling, not just for purists, but also for  fun lovers. If you look carefully at the chameleon below, you will notice a rather odd feeling as though the eyes were following you!
Very few insects and small lizards will allow you to get closer, and what makes everything even more difficult is that these small creatures move around so quickly that by the time you aim your camera at them, they are gone!
Some insects, however will give you all the time you want, especially if they are feeding. The spider photographed below first spun a web, and then when a fly got trapped, it proceeded to liquefy it!
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You will notice if you see carefully how the spider has grabbed on to the fly and is proceeding to liquefy it! The we beads on the web show that the web is still fresh from the spinneret factory!
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The wasp too looks great while building its nest, but then, you have to be  careful lest you should agitate it
But then flowers too can be most satisfying to photograph, and not just creepy-crawlies! These Easter lilies look nice, but close-ups seem to show more about them, as I am sure you will agree!
A Macro shot of the Sun-Flower will reveal the intricate patterns of the whorls of the seeds!
And you thought that Cactus do not have flowers? Well you are wrong. These flowers bloom at night, and in the photograph below, you can even see an ant feeding on the nectar. The bees apparently had gone off to sleep!
Yes, and poppies too have intricate patterns:
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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The house on the rock that was undermined by Greed

House on sand and house on rock

The Holy book says that the wind and rain and flood couldn’t
Break down the house that was built on a foundation of rock,
But men's  greedy  minds  do  burrow deep  into  the rock like
Termite  that  riddle  the wood with  holes so to undermine the
Structure! For verily, are we told that thou shall not serve two
Masters,  God  or mammon, but  love  one and hate the other!
Fallen house built on sandy land

So sad it is, that while men of greater minds do build structures
On rocks, the men  of  lesser  minds that follow, work to destroy
The very  same! For they  be without faith, because to earn gold
Be their  wont! They  serve and worship  Mammon to feed their
Distended  stomachs,  and  see faith  and hope go to seed!Great
Structures  disappear   into  dust while greedy people make hay! 

It is impossible to build a stable life on wicked principles

Greedy minds thus eat into   structures built on faith and prayer, for
Mammon  tells   them  to  do so! They    build  houses  on  Earth but
Ne’er  live to  see them  for they die  soon  being men of lesser faith!
So why do you undermine the work of faith and prayer? Methinks it
Not so  fair,  that  chosen  ones  play so rude! To fill  their distended
Gobs  oh so  full,  and  crush  monuments  so  fair, for gain so bare!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Nothing is impossible if you have Faith!

The above statement was the theme for today’s worship in the Church today, and our Pastor, Revd. Sunil Ghazan went on to elaborate  the same in his sermon for today’s service. In his message, he went on to remind all those in the congregation that as followers of the Good Shepherd, we must behave like sheep in our walk of faith whatever our faith might be!
The above words spoken by the Pastor set my mind on a train of thought, that we believe that our prayers have a magical quality and we believe that praying will solve our problems the way we want them to be solved. We pray continuously for months on end and when the desired results fail to appear instantly, then we tend to become depressed, disillusioned! We don’t realize that God might have already answered our prayer in his own mysterious ways, and who knows that He might have answered our prayers making us strong enough to face the problems we might already be facing!
We have today become so weak in our faith that we have started adopting the ‘Instant Coffee’ approach rather than the bread making approach towards life and its attendant problems, thinking of instant solutions rather than waiting patiently for one to present itself to us! The Book of Ephesians 6:10-13,16-18 reads: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole Armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole Armour of God, that ye may be able to to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand…above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints”. The keywords in the above passage, “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, Praying always with prayer and supplication, with all perseverance and supplication” remind us to strengthen our faith. The above passage also reminds us that today, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. It becomes clear that today we are not just struggling against the more mundane problems in life, but rather adversaries who are formidable, against spiritual wickedness in high places! So it becomes imperative for us to build our faith in such a way that we are not disappointed by not receiving instant answers and instant solutions knowing well that our patience is being tested! Nothing is impossible for faith which is the result of, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”! Psalm 124 very clearly states, “ If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us, Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindles against us”. Our faith is strengthened by our conviction that the Lord is by our side, and He will not give us away!
In today's times of technological advancements, where we have been taught to expect instant solutions to problems, in time when we can sit and log in to the internet, make purchases overseas, chat to people thousands of miles away, we also begin to believe that prayers will bring us instantaneous results, but then this will not be! We cannot confuse ourselves with the machines that we have started using, and we cannot also deny our essential humanity. In times of instant gratification, instant communication, in an age where we have shrunk distances, we shouldn’t forget that without our Faith in God, without prayer and supplication, we cannot achieve peace.  Machines are machines, and they cannot replace our souls, they cannot answer our prayers, and they cannot give us that essential peace of mind. In this rather technologically advanced but volatile age, we will continue to face persecution. We will continue to be cheated and fooled by spiritual wickedness in high places, people will continue to bully us, we will continue to have phases of bad luck, we will continue to be depressed, but then we can’t afford to despair if we have faith, faith which is built on the strong foundation of prayer, perseverance, and supplication.

The Earphone Syndrome

Earphones : Funny cartoon boy listening to music Vector

Of all the syndromes affecting our young ones, the earphone syndrome seems to be the most ubiquitous one! It is common to see young boys and girls standing by the road-side, swinging and swaying, lost in a world of music, insulated from the world in which they live, and often oblivious to the perils of not having the advantage of hearing a truck rushing towards you from  the wrong side! A passage appearing in one of the question papers of the students I teach was exactly about the perils of earphone addiction!
Earphones :  earphone

Experts claim that listening to music continuously on earphones might lead to permanent damage of the ear drums because of the continuous pounding of drums and sounds that cross the 90 db. safe limit! Viewed as specimens of the new age, these swinging and swaying boys and girls seem to be living in a virtual world of music cut off from the world of reality, and it seems as they they might soon become emotionally and mentally dissociated from what is going on around them. A disturbing trend, no doubt, but then it seems as though the virtual world of music heard through their earphones has more attraction than the real world around them, perhaps they feel that listening to the latest pop numbers would be more comforting than listening to the blare of horns and the din of a world in a mad frenzy!
Earphones : Girl listening to music Vector

The other day, having stopped at a traffic junction, my eyes were drawn towards a man, probably a college student swaying and swinging, and mouthing words! Looking closely, I noticed that he had earphones on, and was in a virtual world of music swinging in tune with whatever he was listening to, and furthermore he was gesticulating with his hands, probably beating at drums in a virtual world! Aside from the fact that the whole thing looked ridiculous, I often wonder if this might not be a disturbing trend today! Newspapers keep writing stories about tragedies taking place because of young people listening to music on earphones, the most common of these are stories about railway accidents! There was this story about three or four boys walking on a railway track, who were also listening to music on their mobiles through earphones, and how one of them was not able to get off the track on which a train was travelling, because he couldn’t hear it coming! It is not just about listening to music through earphones, but rather the use of earphones to listen to the caller that is risky. I recall being surprised on many occasions looking at pedestrians talking loudly into their collar mikes. Not seeing the mobile phone hidden in their pockets would make it appear as though these people were talking to themselves, often shouting loudly, weird, no doubt!

Earphones : man listening to his music player on an isolated white background

I guess, people who are addicted to the earphone are true followers of the famous line, ‘If music be the food of love then play on, play on!’ The dangers and health hazards besides the risk of being hurt because of not being alert, resulting from the constant bombardment of the eardrums by noise, and the possible skin reaction resulting from the constant contact of the silicone rubber of the earphones far outweigh the benefits of using a pair of earphones! I guess if I want to listen to music on the go, then I’d rather use those bulky headphones which allow one to listen to the ambient sound than the noise cancellation kind of earphones that fit snuggly! Well, I guess like all the other fads, this fad might soon pass away, making the world a safer place! I don’t believe that we are so crazy about music that we can’t live without our earphones all the time! Our safety and alertness to our surroundings are more important than a pair of earphones. Many people unfortunately feel it is cool to listen to music through earphones, while many feel as if they exude confidence to have a pair of earphones with loud music playing on them, loud enough for others to hear!
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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Emerging challenges in the teaching of English as a second Language in India

The teaching of English is witnessing changes and revisions at a rate never seen before! such. The removal of the teaching of formal grammar, and of course the removal of various teaching units by the C.B.S.E. such as the telegram, from class ten, and the removal of single sentence definitions from class twelve many years back were bound to happen what with  telegrams becoming obsolete, and the E-Mail becoming more popular! I wonder if the formal letter and informal letters might not soon be on their way out! As an English teacher however, one wonders if formal grammar really be done away with because, understanding the rules of grammar should forms an important basis of the understanding of any language, and this is more so important when you are talking about the teaching of English as a second language! A few days ago when this teacher began to teach a few grammar rules on transforming sentences into the indirect speech, and some rules about differentiating noun clauses from adverbial clauses and adjective clauses, the students observed that they already knew the rules. When their test papers were later checked, it was observed that a large number of errors were evident in the editing and omitting sections on grammar. It was evident that they had made these errors because they hadn’t paid proper attention to the teaching of rules of grammar! For example, they made errors while  writing sentences in the reported speech. They would put in the relative, ‘that’ where it was not required, and they forgot to chance the tense into its relevant past form! The question remains, how do you expect students to identify errors in the editing section, how do you expect them to identify omissions, and how do you expect them to transform sentences into the indirect speech without drumming or drilling into their minds important grammar rules?
Another challenge that English teachers face today is in the area of handwriting! Answer scripts are still handwritten and when the handwriting is bad then it becomes difficult to mark them! I goes the days of beautiful cursive and script writing have gone! One of a long running debates in one of my groups on LinkedIn is whether we need to concentrate on developing good handwriting in students, and surprisingly, many feel that there is no need to waste time on handwriting, because they believe it is more important to move ahead in the other subject areas than spend time in teaching students the formation of letters! Today, I observe that even students in class ten, eleven, and twelve have horrible handwriting with letters falling all over the place! The stance taken by most countries in the West is that, handwriting, paper and pen will soon be replaced by the keyboard in any case!
A few students and some teachers have begun to question the relevance and need to teach plays written by Shakespeare because they claim that students find it difficult to relate the culture, and language in Shakespearian plays at least at the school level. Some educators in my groups on LinkedIn argue that it is time we moved ‘beyond’ Shakespeare! This educator however would like to argue that what makes a work a classic is because of its lasting quality, its being a unique work of art, and appreciation of classics forms an important part of the teaching of English whether at the school level or the college level. No doubt, the teaching of contemporary literature should form an important part of the syllabus but, then we still shouldn’t forget that the classics have made English what it is! This also brings to mind how teaching of literature has begun to undergo a sea-change! The lecture method, the explanation methods are all frowned upon today! So then how do you teach literature to senior students in school? Traditionally it would include a loud reading of portions of the lesson followed by a discussion of salient themes, concerns, and issues. This would be followed by giving the students leading short questions. At the end of the lesson, students would be given essay type questions to analyse their understanding of themes, character traits, the message or moral of the lesson and so on! Where appreciation of poetry was concerned,  there would be a loud reading of the poem in class followed by examining each stanza, identifying various poetic devices used by the poet, learning  to appreciate the poetic style, discussing the various themes, and finally, the students would be given extracts on which various questions would be given in the Reference to Context pattern, or the Quote analysis pattern. Today it is less about the lesson and more about extended reading, reading literature with similar themes or concerns such as those in the prescribed text! While the focus today is about learning beyond the text, learning beyond the syllabus, it important not to lose track of what has been prescribed, lest we should wander off-track! While no doubt the context of ‘Thinking out of the Box’ is an ideal concept of progressive learning, it should however have some relevance to the syllabus which has been framed after considerable thought.
The internet has made it easier for students to prepare projects and so today projects have become popular among students. Unfortunately work that is often copy-pasted from different sources increases the risk of plagiarism. Often entire passages are copied and the same applies to ideas. Technology, it seems has made our learners incapable of thinking their own ideas and thoughts, making them dependent on others who have published their work on the internet. So today, even the good old essay or article that the teacher of English gives to his students might not be authentic after all! All this has made it a challenge for the teacher of English to teach his students the art of creative writing, descriptive writing and even discursive writing. Projects, long preparations, blue-prints and stat-cards might make the student lose interest in the whole activity. The good old practice of  writing repeatedly a large number of essays would be too tedious for the student today! The adage, ‘Practice makes a man perfect’ doesn’t seem to work very well today!
In the context of a rapidly changing world scenario, it becomes prudent to revise our syllabus and pedagogy according to the times. The syllabus for teaching of English in schools as framed by the N.C.E.R.T. and the C.B.S.E. is highly progressive today, and revisions have been taking place at a fast rate today. The introduction of C.C.A till class ten has increased the parameters of testing for students, and the introduction of one novel in class nine along with a listening and reading section have made the teaching of English more interesting in class eleven. However, improving spoken English and listening skills in English depend on having language laboratories in every school!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Morning Magic

 A deep silence  shrouds the  Morn  with  baited breath,  while the  dying  night  awaits
The day yet to come! A  pregnant hush  insinuated, before  the din of  the  awakened
World, as a  lusty  new-born  babe shouts its arrival! While the world continues in deep
Slumber, a tramp  roots around in the garbage, looking puzzled and amazed knowing
Not what he has lost, perhaps he looks for fortunes lost, but the drink he had at night
  Has muddled his waking  thoughts as he  rummages for lost fortunes and lost  smiles!
Another young man sits below the lamp post, a mobile in his hands, while he looks
With   puzzlement  at  the instrument   belting  out   the sounds  of a tractor engine
Starting,  a  noise  disturbing  the expectant quietness of  the morning  still asleep!
As if  on a  cue,  the cattle  begin lowing, louder and  louder,  shattering the  quiet,
Like a glass shattered on the ground!The crows start cawing and croaking, ending
That  magical  moment  when  lost  lovers  finally  meet  and dreams  lead to smiles!
But some have slept a waking sleep  and  the day to  come bears no surprise gifts,
The tramp   lost his winning  ticket in the garbage  in a  night of drink, and the one
With the mobile  has stored  strange sounds in it. For them, the day holds nothing
But  a routine grind of  drudgery and boredom! As  for me, I turn back to my home
To prepare for the day  ahead.  Some  valuable lessons have I   learned, of waking
Early to welcome the approaching day and savour magical moments as they pass!
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Saturday, 8 September 2012

Sadar Bazar Gurgaon and the Vegetable Market

The Sadar Bazar Gurgaon is an important market place for people living in the city. While many people prefer visiting the Malls, it remains true even today that the best deals can be found here! The vegetable market too provides fresh vegetables which can be found nowhere else! In times when Malls didn’t exist, the Sadar bazar was a must visit for the residents of Gurgaon. The Sadar Bazar was and still is a place for shopping where you can drive a hard bargain and buy the best products! From footwear to apparels, you name it, you can find everything here! These photographs were taken by my brother, Sanjay Lal and they depict the essence of the Sadar Bazar, and the Subz-Mandi, the vegetable market where you can get all the vegetables you want, and they are fresh too!
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It goes without saying that the choicest and freshest vegetables can be found in the vegetable market in the Sadar Bazar Gurgaon. The only problem might pertain to the parking of your car. If you have a two wheeler, then it shouldn’t be a problem buying vegetables from the Subzi-Mandi, or the vegetable market!
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So if is shoes you want to buy, or garments, or perhaps kitchen item, look no further! And after a hectic day of shopping, you can enjoy the snacks and sweets offered by the sweet shops, some of which are famous throughout the N.C.R. region!
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The Gol-Gappas, and the lassi are simply superb. Of course the Dhoda served by  the Shyam  Sweets shop is famous throughout the region! The sweets served by the Rewari sweet shop is also superb. The Choley- Bhature served by the Laxmi Sweet shop is worth a try!

Photographing a Spider feeding on a fly

It was amazing to watch a spider feeding on a fly. First the spider made an elaborate web, scurrying to and fro. Later when a fly got trapped, it just stayed still as if it had gone off to sleep. I took as many snaps as possible with the lens a few millimetres away from the spider. Focussing was difficult, and the lighting was bad as it was getting late in the evening. It was amazing how in a matter of seconds, the poor fly was sucked dry, and it seemed as if the spider had somehow turned the insides of the fly into liquid! The white milky liquid can be seen in some of the photographs.
In the above snap we can see that the spider has got hold of the fly and is initially spinning a web around it, probably to restrict its movement. This is seen more clearly in the photograph pasted below:
Spider feeding on Fly
A fully satiated spider then scampered off the web and grabbed hold of a leaf, probably to go off to sleep after a successful meal, of course with a visibly distended abdomen!
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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Kingdom of Dreams-Gurgaon

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The visit to the Kingdom of Dreams today was a bonanza for all of us teachers, a treat worth cherishing and remembering. The ambiance of the food court was amazing with all those facades and theme stalls that tried to capture the essence of some of the States like Kerala and Rajasthan. The ethnic theme was evident in many stalls that were selling ethnic handicraft items.
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The artificial sky was so well done that it looked real, with birds flying in it! Yes, and there was an evening ambience, a cool relief from the heat of midday sun.
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Of course what what you see here is not the real sky rather, it is an accurate rendition of the firmament!

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The main attraction of the day however, was the musical comedy, “Jhumroo” which was very well directed. The props were excellent, the use of video projection, made the whole event a visual extravaganza with a 3-D effect.  We were not allowed to take snaps inside the theatre so it wouldn’t be possible to post any snaps!
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I guess there is something powerful, even today about drama , especially when you have a well scripted play, directed wonderfully and assisted by excellent props. What I liked about the play was that the script called for an active participation of the audience in the play, whether it was carrying the mike and asking members to sing a number by Kishore Kumar, or it was about waving coloured napkins. Apparently, the difference between a play and a film becomes evident when you go to a theatre. When you watch a play you are closer to the characters, better able to empathise with them, and sometimes even have an eye-to eye contact, all this makes watching a play a much more powerful experience than watching a movie! We can rest assured that drama as a genre of entertainment is still popular and alive!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Why are we promoting a culture of violence in our society?

Not a single day passes without T.V. news channels  reporting stories about violence, abductions, suicides, murders, assaults and rapes! Often these so called “Sensational” stories are repeated the whole day making the viewer sick with a surfeit of gory phantasmagorical  details and graphic descriptions telecast repeatedly on T.V.! Added to this is an alarming growth in the number of cases of road-rage, and violence related incidents in school. It appears as if we, as a society are living on a short fuse  waiting to explode at any moment!
Students in schools all over the country are displaying alarming levels of aggression, impulsiveness, and instability! Cases of road-rage have become so common that they have become passé! In a matter of five minutes, I witnessed two incidents of road rage. In one, a person driving an SUV literally brushed away a motorcycle being ridden by a young man, and when the young man protested, then the SUV driver challenged him using abusive language, the SUV driver was taking a right turn, and the motorcycle rider was going straight. Was it lack of patience, irritability at the slow moving traffic, or was it just that the SUV driver thought that he had the right of way, because he was driving a larger vehicle? In the other incident, a man in his sixties was driving his car on a narrow lane and he hit a motorcycle with a rider and a pillion rider on it. After hitting the motorcycle, the driver of the car continued driving so that the motorcycle fell down, luckily no one was hurt! Was it that the man driving the car had become confused because of the heavy traffic and had lost his judgement, or was it again a case of apathy, lack of respect for other road users?
Just the other day, having gone to collect my wife from her school in Delhi, I observed two school children beating each other while I was waiting. A bigger boy started kicking a smaller boy sitting on a rickshaw. I scolded them once or twice but it made no difference. Gradually I observed that  the smaller boy,   weaker than the bigger    boy was feeling ashamed and  humiliated.  When the rickshaw driver arrived and tried to intervene, the smaller boy vented his anger on the elderly rickshaw driver, kicking him on his shins and punching him on the torso. Observing the whole episode, it became clear that we need to be concerned about the emotional and mental impact of bullying on the victim. Often victims who are bullied because they are weak, tend to bottle up emotions and feelings of frustration and anger which  they vent unexpectedly. Their bottled up frustration and anger gives them a strength which shocks and surprises us beyond measure, often surpassing the strength of the stronger bully!
The Media, too is both a victim of violence and even a catalyst of violence. Violence sells like hot cakes on t.v., the more the gory scenes, the more viewers will be attracted to the t.v. Nothing sells more than sensational news, violence, graphic details, and simulations of crime scenes. Somehow, our appetite for violence is constantly whetted by what we see on t.v. and prime time serials dedicated to crime in the country. Needless to say, many people have stopped watching such serials, and news programmes for the express reason that they have had enough, enough of violence, and enough of gory pictures of dead bodies, video grabs of violent crowds beating innocent people, groups of people assaulting girls out on a date! In this case I refer to an incident which took place in Guwahati in Assam recently, and a similar case which took place in Mumbai in the recent past when a group of girls were assaulted by a mob of men, while their boy friends looked on helplessly because they were out-numbered!
It seems evident that today we live in a society that literally feeds on sensationalism,and violence. This could be the result of leading boring routine lives, lives that lack change, lives that are without adventure, lives that follow fixed patterns day after day! Such a dull routine leads to a rather complacent, apathetic, insensitive and unemotional life! It is because violence provides a break for this emotional deadness of life that it is increasingly observed in the society today. So, what then is the solution to the problem of increasing violence in the society today? There is no magical solution to this problem today. To understand the problem, we need to understand that human beings are not machines, they need frequent breaks, they need change, relaxation, they need to meditate, they need to go to Churches, Temples, Gurudwaras, and Temples. Parents need to spend more time with their children, they should learn to empathise with their children, well the hectic schedules of most parents, this is easier said than done. The ancient Guru-Shishya tradition has now passed into oblivion, and students as well as teachers have a very commercial approach towards education, therefore students don’t relate to their teachers as parents, and teachers don’t relate to their students as their own offspring. Perhaps it is because of the lack of sensitivity and sympathy that students are not able to share their problems  with their teachers, who I am sure could curb the effects of bullying before it resulted in grave harm. Excess work load, overcrowded class-rooms, frequent transfers, repetitive work, a boring syllabus and stagnation might lead to some teachers becoming disgruntled and full of apathy the inability to empathise with their students.
It is clear that the benefits of technological advancement have to be balanced with their disadvantages, especially by making us lead mechanical lives devoid of the ability to feel for each other! Along with the advancement in technology, has arisen the concept of  efficiency, performance,and output! These concepts cannot be effectively applied to human beings because these concepts work well with machines. It is when we become confused and apply these concepts on human beings that things start to go wrong. Policy makers and system analysts should take into consideration the Human Factor while setting up standards of performance for workers. The stress of meeting industry standards, cut throat competition, impossible targets, and unachievable goals can lead to a sense of frustration which in turn causes us to become violent. Violence is often the result of rebellion resulting from a sense of disillusionment with our lives, jobs and social relationships. Violence is about the human soul rising in rebellion against the mechanical lives we are leading is about saying, “ enough is enough, treat us as humans not machines!” The same applies to our students in schools. Education has become so commercial and so unemotional that there is very little of the empathy that existed between the Guru and his Shishya in the past!
Frayed tempers and lack of patience resulting from hectic work schedules, excessive demands of performance, peer pressure, demands from parents of students to score higher marks, all of these, have resulted in the promotion of violence in the society! We need to slow down in life, spend quality time with the family take frequent breaks from work, go out for adventure sports, take up hobbies, and observe “silent times” at work, which would help us introspect and meditate. Observing a moment of stillness, a moment of quietness and meditation would surely help overcome the feeling of being stressed. It when we adopt such stress-busters and policies that we will surely begin to gain control over the propensity of committing violence amongst our workers and students. The recent rampage of disgruntled workers at a famous vehicle factory in Manesar recently, the exodus of Assamese people back to their home-state, riots that took place in Gujarat in the past, all, all of them stand testimony to the fact that do we enjoy feeding on violence!
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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Plagiarism Rules the Roost!

A few weeks ago, there was a lot of brouhaha about a journalist in America who had been ticked off for plagiarism, although now he is back with his organisation! Just today, when I thought that we had left behind plagiarism for some other juicy titbit of scandal, plagiarism returned with a bang and A Hindustan Times Newspaper Headline today read, “ Harvard rocked by mass copying scam”! Now, I often wonder why we call collaborative work plagiarism, especially when Internet makes it possible to share information like never before! If information is in the public domain, then why do we crib about intellectual rights?
What happened in Harvard was however something different! If students copy material and information (being too lazy to put in more efforts in using their own brains) for a thesis or an exam meant to examine them and qualify them, then this is plain cheating! It is plain stupidity and sheer laziness on the part of students to resort to mass copying or cheating to pass an exam. I wonder, if the growing liberalisation in the system of education in India today will not encourage plagiarism? Take for example the numerous projects given to students studying various subjects including Social Sciences. What most students do is to copy-paste relevant matter from the net and then get it printed to be submitted as a complete project for the Formative Assessment! Who wants to go to libraries these days to consult books when you get everything from the net? Are we not to blame for encouraging students to copy-paste entire passages from the net turning a blind eye to the plagiarised work when they are submitted for assessment?
Education, however is not the only area where plagiarism reigns the roost, the entertainment industry too is one of its victims! Very often newspapers carry stories about actors, directors, and script writers accusing each other of plagiarism. Very often we hear Tollywood accusing bollywood of being copy-cats, while Mollywood accuses Jollywood of being copy-cats! I have watched movies which have been complete copies of English movies, and songs which have the same tunes as the English hits! This happens when people want to cash on to the success of another film by doing it in a local language film, without putting in much effort!
So then, what do we do to prevent plagiarism? Well I guess we could start with patenting thoughts and ideas, and if anyone wants to borrow  ideas, then they should pay a royalty! Those who steal  ideas can then be prosecuted under the Copyright law and made to serve term in jail! No, I guess that would be too harsh and it would stifle educational research and the spirit of enquiry! So, then what about education till class ten? I guess we should put in guidelines and  checks to ensure that students do not submit copy-pasted projects to their teachers as one of the tools for their Formative Assessments!
Plagiarism, we can be sure is another form of cheating and the perpetrator should be given a rap on the knuckles! When the alert teacher notices that the scripts being marked by him, or the project files being marked by him bear the same sources and the same ideas, then he can be sure that it has been a “collaborative work” and marks should be given not for content, relevance, or presentation, rather marks should be given for Co-operation, sharing among peer groups, collaboration, and generosity among students for sharing their sources and their work with each other! Think of the whole thing as one of the goals and aims of teaching Life Skills to students!  The open-book system of examination will open more and more avenues for Plagiarism and so called collaborative/group work, so we should have the open book system of examination only for subjects which don’t count!
I often wonder why, in an age of growing liberalisation in Education and the Entertainment Industry we are talking about Plagiarism! If we can have open book exams, and are allowed to copy material from the internet, and are not compelled to submitted handwritten projects then why blame the copy-cats? If somebody doesn’t understand English, then obviously it makes sense for script-writers to re-do the whole English film with the home-grown actors so that the audience can identify itself with its favourite heroes and heroines, and moreover, dubbing is not always perfect, is it?
Well I guess, the world will go on and little will change! The lazy ones will continue to steal ideas and thoughts while the fastidious and the great thinkers will go on churning great ideas and thoughts. There will be cases of infringements of intellectual property, there will be cases of copying and cheating, but then I guess it is very difficult to patent thoughts and ideas! Today we are living in the Information Technology Age where there is a dissemination of vast amounts of Information, and this information can be freely accessed without any inconvenience from the comfort of you home! Why then crib about something that you have encouraged yourself by making all this information freely available? Being generous and large hearted, I welcome my readers to copy from this article as much as they want, and enrich the experience of collaborative work!
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