Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Climate Change-A Myth or a Reality?

Just today while browsing through some tweets, an Article appearing in Huffington Post Green, dated July 31st caught my attention. The article titled, “ Kivalina’s Climate Change Problem - Why The Small Alaskan Village Is Disappearing”, described how climate change and  rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of the village! The opening lines read, “ It is already difficult to find Kivalina on a map, but soon it may be impossible. Not only does the Alaskan village only cover 1.9 square miles of land (while being) home to less than 400 residents, but it is disappearing. Fast. As one of the most apparent and shocking examples of coastal erosion, Kivalina could be uninhabitable by 2025 -- all thanks to climate change.” A summary of a five minutes video clip in the  Huffington post reads, “Narrated in the Inuits’ native tongue, the 5-minute clip shows a quick, tragic peek into the residents’ plight. “It’s just global warming,” one villager says in the video. “I mean, it’s a lot warmer today than it used to be before.”
How then could the fate of Kivalina affect those of us who live many thousands of miles away in India? Well I guess whatever is happening in  a distant land is a warning of what everyone in the world can expect in times to come. Nations and people closest to the polar ice packs are affected sooner than those that are more removed from them in terms of distance. But then, can we afford to be complacent in the knowledge that we still have borrowed time?
Another story about Global warming revolves around the island nation of Kiribati. This is a low-lying Island Nation located in the central tropical  Pacific Ocean. With a population of over 100,000, its very existence is threatened by rising ocean levels caused by a meltdown of polar ice. The whole populace of Kiribati is looking for an alternate settlement in Australia, the nearest landmass. The Government of Kiribati would have to purchase land in Australia, which I believe is under way!
Popular tourist destinations like the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles located in the Indian Ocean, are also threatened by rising ocean levels. It would however, be wrong to conclude that it is  only island nations that are affected by rising ocean levels, in fact countries with coastlines too are vulnerable to rising sea-levels!
Countries that have an extensive coastline will be most affected by rising ocean levels - imagine the strain of resettling the whole population of people living in coastal areas. India’s coastline  stretches over 5700 kilometres on the mainland and about 7500 kms including the two island territories. The impact of global warming-induced sea level rise due to thermal expansion of near - surface ocean water has great significance for India due to its extensive low-lying densely populated coastal zone. “Sea level rise is likely to result in loss of land due to submergence of coastal areas, inland extension of saline intrusion and ground water contamination which may in turn have wide economic, cultural and ecological repercussions. Observations suggest that the sea level has risen at a rate of 2.5 mm  a year along the Indian coastline since 1950s. A mean sea level rise of between 15 and 38 cm is projected by the mid- 21 st century along India’s coast. Added to this, a 15% projected increase in intensity of tropical cyclones would significantly enhance the vulnerability of populations living in cyclone prone coastal regions of India. Other sectors vulnerable to the climate change include freshwater resources, industry, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and human settlements. Given that many climate change impacts on India’s coastal zone feature irreversible effects, the appropriate national policy response should enhance the resilience and adaptation potential of these areas.India has been identified as one amongst 27 countries which are most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming related accelerated sea level rise (UNEP, 1989). The high degree of vulnerability of Indian coasts can be mainly attributed to extensive low-lying coastal area, high population density, frequent occurrence of cyclones and storms, high rate of coastal environmental degradation on account of pollution and non-sustainable development. Most of the people residing in coastal zones are directly dependent on natural resource bases of coastal ecosystems. (Any global warming-induced climatic change”
Can we then sit complacently in our living rooms, secure in the knowledge of the fact that we are far away from the coastline and perhaps less likely to be affected by a deluge of ocean water? The answer is perhaps a  strong no! The pressure caused by shifting a large population living in coastal areas both in monetary terms and the physical impact can only be guessed! The cost of moving the 400 residents of Kivalini is about $400 million, an amount the government has yet to offer! How much more would it cost the Indian Government to shift millions of residents from coastal areas to higher ground? The figures would surely be staggeringly prohibitive!
The global impact of rehabilitating populations of people affected by rising ocean levels would lead to a global economic melt down! In an age where the ecosystem is already challenged by an increasing population, increased population density caused by the relocation of coastal populations would create havoc at levels beyond comprehension. Added to the burden of looking after a displaced population is the burden it would put on natural resources. Imagine a city like  Delhi having to accommodate an influx of people from coastal areas. A city reeling under the scourge of jammed roads, water shortage, power shortage and law and order problems would crumble at the very outset! Imagine what would happen to other cities which have fewer resources than the capital city!
Can we, therefore, afford to sit back relaxed in our living rooms watching happenings taking place in far away places like Tuvalu, or Mauritius or Seychelles or even a little known village called Kivalina? The answer is a clear no! We all need to get our act together and Governments need to work towards fighting the common cause of Global Warming. Developed countries need to contribute more towards the fight to contain Global Warming, both in terms of financial support to the developing countries for the intorduction of green technology and in terms of a sincere intent of doing more to protect the world from a serious crisis! In a world that is energy hungry, it is clear that dependence on crude oil and the resulting impact on the environment are the main culprits for global warming. Global warming in return is the result of a very sick  environment!. Someone once told me that the measure of a country’s economic prowess lies in the amount of crude oil consumed by it. This is something that we need to change. An immediate reduction of dependence on crude oil, research in alternative energy sources and popularisation of a green philosophy of life can perhaps stem the uncontrolled descent into a chaotic situation! India has been largely impacted by global warming. We have witnessed an increase in the occurrence of natural disasters caused by global warming. The recent cloud burst that took place in Uttarakhand resulting in a destructive deluge has caused massive destruction to life and property. While no doubt it was caused by nature, one can never ignore the fact that massive deforestation coupled with building of hydroelectric power stations, building on river beds, and overexploitation of natural resources might have exacerbated the situation. It has been known that global warming has been responsible for excessive melting of glaciers in the Himalayan mountains. This has resulted in a series of flash flood resulting in immense loss to life and property. Global Warming is not a Myth, it is a Reality; many would argue that global warming has always been around, and there is no way we can doubt this. A better and more effective term would be, Climate Change. While few will argue against the claim that human industrial activity is indeed one of the reasons for frequent shifts in weather patterns which includes rainfall patterns, perceptible shifting of seasons and so on.
One of the indicators of a shift in seasons is the shortening of the winters as compared to the lengthening of summer seasons in India. June and July used to be two months where there would be heavy rainfall, and by September the weather would mellow down so that it became pleasant in Septmeber. Today, after a period of twenty five years one can see how the rainfalls have failed, and winters have become really short. 

Monday, 29 July 2013

My Memories of visits to lake Chamo in Arbaminch

He lay on the mud bank, a good thirteen feet in length, jaw opened wide open, we called him "grandfather". His skin, a dull grey colour glinted in the sunlight. He was the largest of the crocodiles that we saw on lake Chamo, that is when my father had the time to allow us the luxury of a boat ride on the lake. It was an amazing site to see all those crocs basking in the sun, with him in the centre. The crocs on lake Chamo were known to be the most ferocious lot of the two lakes, lake Abaya and lake Chamo. The crocs vied for space and hegemony with the Hippopotamuses and the huge Nile Perches that grew to amazing sizes, weighing up to a hundred kilos.
The wind picked up speed and whipped up the waves into swells. My dad commented, “ I feel like shooting into the maw of that fellow with the mouth opened wide!” My brother and I, must have looked incredulous, what could a Beretta pistol do to a beast that could do short service with its jaws and powerful tail! I remember that one of the boats, made of fibreglass was missing one side window. When I asked the boat-man, he told me that the prison chief of Arbaminch had let loose a bullet from his service revolver, and the bullet had ricocheted and hit the glass window shattering it to pieces.
At the landing place, crocodiles often floated on to the place, deceptive logs submerged in the water, only snouts and eyes sticking out of the water ranging for victims to swallow! My brother and I fished for smaller fish standing on the promontory while my dad and his Russian friend Mr. Pustukh fished for the much valued Nile-Perch. Once, I remember hooking a carnivorous fish called the “bale bandera” or the fish with the stripes. This was a fish that bit off half of the fish that we threaded on to the hook leaving the hook untouched. We invariably used tilapia as bait. The nylon line sang through my hands, the fish, snaking left and right as it tried to escape. When I landed it, it surprised us when we saw that it was a “bale bandera” a good one kilo in weight, snapping its jaws, sharp teeth snapping at what came into contact!
Back at the mud bank, the wind increased in speed and the waves grew deeper. The boat began pitching, and water began to wash over the front. The boatman told us that we would have to turn back, and then the rather violent journey commenced. My brother and I were filled with fear, what would happen if we capsized? We felt sure that we would be eaten alive by the crocs! Pitching inexorably in the swell, we edged on to the quay. That day my father and Mr. Pustukh had landed three Nile Perches weighing ten, eight and fifteen kilos each. Most of the fish would be sent to the Russian Embassy in Addis Ababa in return for the vodka and the Russian cigarettes they would send.
Once in, we landed at the promontory,  and my mother and aunty Vera, our Russian Aunt sighed in relief. The evening would be spent skinning the Nile Perch carving it into sizable pieces and packed into freezers for the onward journey to Addis Ababa. Evenings were often spent at Aunty Vera’s and Uncle Pustukh’s home and we enjoyed supping on the blineys ,jellied fish, Saur-kraut  and the potatoes that were eaten with an accompaniment of cloves of garlic! While the the elders guzzled on copious amounts of vodka, my brother and I talked about the day gone by. We both competed with each other in terms of the largest fish we could catch, and the elders often gave us the liberty to catch whatever we wanted.
Those were days that passed in a blur. Our only entertainment was based on the visits that we made to Lake Chamo at the end of the week. For my brother and I, the best time of our lives constituted fishing in Lake Chamo, and sure we looked forward to this trip. In those days we did not have T.V., nor did we have movies, except for the 18 mm movies that the Russians showed us at home or in the school. These movies were invariably based on the second world war.
The evening following a big catch of Nile Perch was followed by the cutting and carving of these large fish. They were often hung from the rafters in the kitchen of our home, the carcasses swaying from the rafters would be carved into sizeable portions conducive to transport to the capital. The skeleton of the fish would often be thrown outside the boundary of the house to an accompaniment of the howling of hyenas that fought amongst themselves for a morsel or a piece of the goodies.
Our visits to Lake Chamo often were not about fishing, as the gentlemen often remembered the women and planned extensive boating trips. More often than not we took the boats for a trip across the lake. We often saw locals sailing boats made of Papyrus and grass that were so waterlogged that the boats were often submerged. My brother and I wondered what would happen if a crocodile took interest in the fisherman on board the  papyrus boat. There was a story in those times about a crocodile that took seemed to take more than natural interest in the man manning the papyrus boat. The Croc came close and flipped its tail, knocking the man into the water. What happened next was food for imagination. But then those were surely good days, days which will never return, days of adventure fraught with danger.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Arunima Sinha talks to students of Heritage School-Gurgaon

Today, when we  gathered in the auditorium for a talk on leadership by Arunima Sinha, (the first woman amputee to climb the mount Everest) we expected to see an imposing personality, and when a delicate and petite woman passed by us without the hint of a limp, we did not realise that it was Arunima  herself! I even asked another teacher if she could recognise Arunima on the stage and she replied she couldn’t! little did I know that the petite woman who passed me was none other than Arunima herself! She walked so well that no one could detect the fact that she had a prosthetic limb! It came as a surprise when she came on stage and we were told that she was Arunima! She had just passed us and walked rather like normal people do!

Sitting before us was a woman who had against all odds conquered the Mt. Everest with one good right leg and a prosthetic left leg on the twenty-first of May, 2013! She told us about how she was once a promising sportswoman and that one day while travelling in a train she had resisted some robbers who were trying to rob the passengers. Enraged by her resistance the robbers threw Arunima out of the carriage. What happened next could only happen in dreams or films. She narrated how she fell off, got entangled in the wheels of the train, and then fell on the tracks bleeding from both legs. The shards of her shin bones were poking out of the skin and she lay close to the tracks unable to pick herself because her legs would not bear her weight. She told us how she tried to move away from the tracks by dragging herself across the tracks, but then was afraid of not being able to do so before another train arrived. So she lay close to the tracks for a good seven hours, helpless but conscious! Forty-nine trains passed her before she was spotted by some village folk who then took her to the hospital nearby. At the hospital, they did not have anesthetics and the surgeon told her that he would have to amputate her left leg but without anesthetics! And Arunima told him to go ahead without the anesthesia! She told him that if she bear the pain and shock for seven hour, then she could definitely bear the pain of the operation! The Surgeon was so impressed by her courage, that he decided to operate on her forthwith, and he donated one unit of his blood to her. So, Arunima gripped the bar on the top of the bed and bore the pain once again! She survived the operation, and then was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi for further surgery. She was given further treatment, the pieces of bones in the right shin were attached to her right shin bone, and a prosthetic leg was provided to her. All this time while lying in bed she had decided to conquer the Mt.Everest and this gave her a goal or a direction in life. The day she was discharged she travelled to Jamshedpur to meet Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb the mount Everest. She had incidentally tried to contact Bachendri Pal while she was convalescing in hospital.
Arunima then told us about the rigorous training she had to undergo prior to attempting to scale the Mt. Everest. She spoke about how the pressure she put on her right leg caused her immense pain, and how the stump that fitted into the socket of the prosthetic was full of blisters which burst and bled due to chaffing. The doctors had repeatedly warned in the hospital that the prosthetic leg was meant for walking and not for the strenuous activity of climbing a mountain! But Arunima persisted pushing her mind and body to the limits! She further spoke about how people spoke behind her back about how she would soon quit training and go back home, not that they were being cruel, it was just that they were being concerned about her and it defied logic that this girl could even think of climbing the Mt. Everest!
Her first break after training took place when in the year 2012 she started on an expedition to Mt. Shamsher Kangri in Ladakh. Of the twenty-one people who started, only four reached the summit, and Arunima Sinha was one of the four! Her next target was the Mt.Everest, and guided by her strong conviction in herself, and the thought that she would climb the peak even if she died there drove her on. The big day soon arrived and on the twenty-eight of March 2013 she started on her ascent. She spoke about how thick the ice was. She managed to cross Base Camp to Camp one six times. The whole section is called the death zone area. Arunima spoke about how  while climbing from camp 3 to camp 4 her prosthetic leg came off and she couldn’t move on and the people behind her kept shouting at her to move on. At that moment her greatest fear was of losing the prosthetic leg. So, she crawled to a ledge, grabbed hold of her leg and fixed it back to continue on her onward climb. Close to the South Summit she had almost exhausted her Oxygen supply. The Sherpa accompanying her reminded her of this fact and advised her to return, while calls were received from base camp telling her to return. Arunima however refused to oblige saying that she could see her target and didn’t want to give up. Looking at her persistence the Sherpa angrily accompanied her to the summit. The saving grace came when a British climber suddenly gave up on the ascent and threw one of his oxygen cylinders and continued on the descent with the other. Arunima gladly grabbed hold of the full cylinder and continued on her ascent. When the summit was still some distance away, she could see the flags of different nations and this made her even mire eager to reach it so that she could plant the Indian tri-colour. She somehow wanted to plant the flag there and then it became something that she wanted to do for her country! On the way back, on the descent she was able to see a large number of bodies of unsuccessful climbers who had succumbed to the harsh conditions prevailing there. The snow would cover up the bodies, and the next moment a strong wind would blow, exposing the bodies once again. These were the people who had succumbed on the return from the summit, or they were those who had succumbed to the cold before reaching the summit. It was at this moment that Arunima Sinha was finally able to understand the scale or magnitude of what she had achieved. It had taken her more than fifty days from the twenty-eighth of March 2013 to reach the summit of Mt. Everest- a journey through pain and suffering, a journey that was the result of grit and courage.
While no doubt, Arunima happens to be a Guinness Book record holder for being the first woman in the world to conquer the Mt. Everest with a prosthetic left leg, she will continue to be valued more as a  a beacon of encouragement for all of us young and old about how determination, persistence and patience are all required to achieve success in life! While she was convalescing in Hospital in Delhi, she refused to sit on a wheel chair, nor use a crutch to prop herself! The doctors thought she was crazy, but then little did they know that she wanted to recover as fast as possible because she had a dream! She was able to use her prosthetic limb in two days, and was able to walk normally much before the two years that it takes people to perfect their gait and balance. Arunima now plans to climb Mt.Kilimanjaro soon. We all hope her all the best on her forthcoming climb. She continues to play football and wants to do blade running. Arunima will continue to be a source of inspiration for the youth of India and to do more for the youth she has a dream of opening a sports academy which would provide a suitable platform for children to grow. Bachendri Pal and Yuvraj Singh, both continue to inspire her.
Note: I would like to thank Gulmeher Dhillon, a student of class twelve for taking down valuable notes during the talk. Her accuracy and diligence are commendable, and without her valuable feedback it would not have been possible to prepare this write up. Thanks once again, Arunima for inspiring us with your story, and Gulmeher for your valuable notes!

On Grooming plus sixteen teenagers for life

When my Pastor came  to my home for  a thanksgiving function which included a prayer on the occasion of my daughter turning sixteen, he addressed  all those gathered and said that when children in western countries turn sixteen, they become eligible to apply for a driving license. This statement set me thinking about how teenagers in India become eligible to apply for a driving license only after they reaching eighteen. The significance of giving a driving license to a child who has turned sixteen lies in the assumption that the child has become mature enough to drive a car. While for many this might seem to be not a big deal, for others there are serious implications in allowing a sixteen year old to do so. Well that is because for many parents it is difficult to believe that their son or daughter has grown up!
The decision to allow teenagers to hold  a license to drive on roads stems from the results of many  research projects conducted all over the world. The big question however is whether parents allow children to be responsible enough to drive a car on busy roads. In India, where parents tend to be overprotective, (although for that effect they might neglect their children in cases where both parents work), often taking decisions for their children till late twenties, it seems as if teenagers might not be trained in the skills of thinking for themselves or even making intelligent choices in life! From the cognitive point of view, the child is mature enough by sixteen to know where his duties and responsibilities lie.
In a country which is still grounded in a sound cultural belief in respect for elders, children are often viewed as children by parents even when they reach middle age! Being overprotective towards one’s child might rob the child of important decision making skills. This can be seen when parents impose their failed ambitions on children. There is pressure on teenagers to take up the science stream in grade eleven because parents believe that engineering or medicine is a more paying job and any way more trendy and popular. The main bone of contention lies in allowing a teenager to make his or her own choices regarding the stream and career options for  later life. If a child of sixteen can be issued a driving license in the West, then it means that he or she can be responsible enough to make his or her own choices. So then, why do parents impose their own goals and ambitions and goals on to their children? Is it a let down that only  teenagers who reach the age of eighteen in India can be issued a driving license, or is it a pointer to the fact that unlike teenagers in the west, teenagers in India are not mature enough by the age of sixteen to drive a car?
In a country that believes in strong culture of respect for adults, elders, parents, uncles and aunts, there is a need to accept teenagers as future adults who will be called upon to make intelligent choices in life. While the purpose of this article is in no way about adopting a laissez faire attitude towards the upbringing of teenager, it is mainly about training them to make intelligent choices in life. It is all about weaning children, training them to be  independent thinkers, problem solvers and decision makers. The issuing of a driving license at the age of sixteen is the result of the acceptance of the fact that a teenager is by the age of sixteen mature enough and wise enough to take up the responsibility of sitting behind the wheel and driving a car on busy roads! 
It has  been seen that parents in India often make choices for their children beyond sixteen years, and this includes the choice of marriage partners in adult life. Often career choices are made by parents. The choice of clothes, the choice of friends, and even the choice of clothes are made by parents which often kills initiative and a desire to explore options in children. There is a strong insistence in India that the child should follow the profession of his or her parents. The child of Doctors will be expected to take up medicine as a career, while the child of teachers will be expected to take up the profession of teaching. There seems to be a vey strong trend which suggests that a God-given lineage should be followed very strictly.
A teenager in the country is eligible to apply for a driving license only after he or she attains an age of eighteen. Does this mean that the teenager is not mature enough to drive responsibly on busy roads by the age of Sixteen, or is it that we, as adults do not consider the same teenager mature enough to do so? I guess this is the crux of the matter. We as grown ups don’t want to let go of our teenagers, and we always tend to view them as infants who have never grown up! This conclusion suggests that we need to train our children act as responsible teenagers by the age of  sixteen. Responsible parenting should include allowing teenagers to make their own decisions-being able to make intelligent choices in matters which will affect their future lives. A teenager of sixteen should know about the need to plan their studies, develop a working strategy for achieving their career goals, and the need to lead a well organised life style. The main idea is to let teenagers develop their potential. Each child is a unique individual and needs to grow according to their capabilities. To let the child drive a car by sixteen means accepting that the child is mature enough to do so. Perhaps it is about parents being themselves mature enough to allow their children to make their own choices and decisions.
A society which is overprotective towards its teenager might in fact be destroying initiative in them, it might even lead to lack of mental maturity in teenagers which would include inability take their own decisions an inability to make good choices, and an inability to realise what is really good or bad. Adults might unknowingly be imposing their ideas in the form of advice on to their children robbing them of the ability to be problem solvers or even independent thinkers. I have come across a mother who continues to fuss over her middle aged children about what they eat, the clothes they wear and perhaps even giving an introductory preamble at parties extolling the virtues of her children. This is perhaps the worst that can happen in the process of parenting.
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Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Hunt-A Short Story

The whole village had turned up for the hunt-expectant of a share of the kill which would supplement their diet (which included whatever they could garner from their fields-meager crops) which constituted of  paddy, leafy vegetables and the few tubers they had planted. They looked up to their Landlord- a man they considered to be blessed with psychic powers, a man who could divine when to plant crops, and where to dig wells for a source of pure sweet water.
It was getting late and it seemed as though the day would would turn out to be one of the days when they would have to return empty handed. The beaters had passed ahead, beating the bushes for hidden animals, while the hangers on waited with expectant breath for a big one, an animal which would feed many stomachs. Their favourite kill was a species of deer which grew really big, weighing about a hundred kilos. Ideally, their landlord would kill a couple of bulls filling the cooking pots of all the village folks. The deer had become a nuisance for the farmers because they ate away the valuable shoots of the crop whether it was paddy or mustard, and so the village head often advocated the culling of these animals from time to time.
The moon ascended into the sky, big and bright, imbibing the whole land with a golden glow- shadows lengthening into absurd shapes, causing the imagination to run riot about imagined animals and possible monsters lurking in the bushes. Their landlord had brought his tractor- the jeep not a good option because of the possibility of the wheels bogging down in the wet mud. The crickets sounded loudly-an ominous tone of monotonous warnings. Imagined creatures wriggled in the underbrush and there was a expectant tension in the air. This would be a night like no other they had ever seen. The cloying scent of the mustard blossoms overwhelmed their senses as they waited for their landlord to fire his shot at the quarry.
The shadows lengthened, and the men began to yawn-their landlord, with his Winchester repeater rifle walked ahead of the team of beaters.He was a man short in stature but then buoyed by the expectations of the village folk had a chest which swelled to larger proportions with pride. He didn't want a share of the veal- rather it was the regard that the village folk had for him that filled him with a sense of greatness. A man filled with the conceit of greatness, coupled with a sense of leadership. He had principles: he never shot at females or those with child!
At some moment of time there seemed a pause, it was as if there was a lull before the storm, and then things moved with a pace that seemed almost dreamlike. The beaters suddenly exclaimed-and their landlord raised his rifle, aiming at a spot in the distance. For what seemed ages, the rifle pointed at a spot in the distance, the barrel not wavering, and then there was a loud report-a flash that seemed to freeze the action like a a time lapse photograph. Time froze, and then a commotion broke loose as a herd of deer broke loose out of the bushes. The village folk trusted in their landlord-they knew he never missed! The tractor with the mounted search-beam chugged to the spot where the kill lay. The batch of carvers rushed to the spot of the kill with knives sharpened to part skin from flesh and bones from sinews. Their idol, the landlord had a smirk on his face as he sauntered to the spot of the kill, conceited by the confidence that he could never miss. The  village folk trusted his skills, and respected his beliefs.
The tractor with its search beam closed in before the meat-carvers, and then the beam settled on the prey, and then it was as if the gong of doom had sounded, a sense of foreboding settled on all those gathered for the kill. It was a doe with a child in its womb, and she was breathing her last, each gasp a curse on the man who had shot her, and the men who had supported him in his hunt! It was with a sinking heart that those who had gathered dealt the Doe the final death blow. A hushed silence settled on the scene. The crickets fell silent-the very world seemed to fall silent to see what these men had done in their hunger for a few mouthfuls of meat. With a silent sense of foreboding they carved the mother with knives sharpened to cruel sharpness. Of their landlord, there was no sign. He was later found crouched in the bushes, his head in his hands. He knew, he had done something terribly wrong, something that would bring him and his men great harm.
This incident would have great implications for the people of the village in later years to come. A great drought came over the village, robbing them of crops that would feed them throughout the year. Of the landlord, well his youngest son turned into a drug addict, while his elder son lost his job as a teacher in a school. The Landlord became a demented man who became as mad as a hatter. That one incident was to leave an indelible mark on the whole village.An atmosphere of doom settled on the village. The wells began to spout brackish water, crops failed, and a number of cases of miscarriage were reported. Everyone who had been part of the hunt that night was affected in some way or the other.The people blame, to this day the incident. 
This story was told to me by the man who shot the doe that day. a disturbed person who tries to seek answers from the scriptures. The incident that shook him up a great deal seems to have left him depressed and anxious. But then it seems as if he might sold his soul to the devil.

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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Fairy Tales-Should Children read them?

When I started a discussion on a social networking site for professionals regarding whether or not children should be allowed to read Fairy Tales because they are full of fantasy, I didn’t realise that there would be an overwhelming response in favour of it! The detractors believe that Fairy Tales are full of fantasy and so they should not be read by children because they might create a disconnect in the children with reality. One basic argument is that an exposure to the fantastic could make children susceptible to fantasising to the extent of beginning to believe in a world that is not connected to the world of harsh realities. Teenagers are known to fall into the trap of living in a dream world, creating their own world in which failures are transformed into successes resulting in a steady descent into a situation where they become divorced from reality and begin to believe in a rather fantastic world of dreams.
One of the arguments against exposing children to fantasy is that they begin to resort to escapism as a coping strategy thus aggravating real life problems they might be facing as a result of not being able to cope with stress, and not being able to adjust to difficult situations in life. Such teenagers begin to wake up to a waking dream wish fulfilment! One remembers the story of the shepherd boy who lied about the wolf that had come to eat the sheep just because he was bored and wanted the village folk to rush to his rescue. He does this a few times, and then when the real wolf turns up, no one comes to his rescue because the people thought he was taking them for a ride. Children who fantasise a lot tend to lie about things, claiming to have met great personalities just because they hunger for recognition. Those who live in a world of fantasy might tend to be looked down at by others who increasingly believe that they are liars and that what they say is false and made up. A lesson in a class twelve textbook for English prescribed by the C.B.S.E. describes exactly such a situation. The protagonist Sue believes that she has met Danny Casey, an Irish football prodigy, and she tells her friend and brother that she is meeting him at a predestined time, and day and will get an autograph from him. This is a story titled Going Places by A.R. Barton.
What Sue suffers from however might not be because of having read Fairy tales, rather it could be her way of coping with the circumstances of life. She has dreams of a life which is more exciting than an life that is led by a girl born in a working class family, a girl who has aspirations which are not supported by her financial circumstances. In many cases, this is a prime example of a malaise that affects many of our children. A dichotomy in aspirations and real life situations results in the teenager living in a life of fantasy which gradually leads to serious mental problems. These children lack the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is fantastic!
The arguments in favour of allowing children to read Fairy Tales however are overwhelming! Those in favour of allowing children to be exposed to Fairy tales suggest that Fairy Tales contain important messages about life. They say that the Fairy Tale about Beauty and The Beast, for example teaches the child that what matters is not external or skin deep beauty, but rather beauty of the spirit, beauty of thoughts, beauty of the soul. It is not the appearance that matters, rather it is the beauty of one’s inner self that matters, and in the story Beauty and The Beast, the maiden realises that the monster that she cares for is in fact a gem of a person. The fairy tale is a story that talks about romance in its highest version, and it reinforces the fact that you can’t judge a person by his or her looks! Cinderella is about inner beauty as opposed to the the artificial beauty that  that a make over can give you! It tells you that inner beauty is not determined by social status! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs tells the reader that ultimately beauty of the soul transcends everything.
Many of the learned people who participated in the discussion on Linkdin stated that we should not discourage our children from reading Fairly Tales because they contain important lessons in life.One of the participants in the discussion  Naghmana Khokar writes: “Why should we talk about reinventing wheel .. let's talk about having a colony on moon . Let the children write their own fairy tales . Rajive never stop them from reading fairy tales . We must keep stimulating their imagination . That's the main thing along with hope . If their is no hope there is no spark in life . Don't expect a child to love his routine work . Doing things this way and then the other way . Not at all .. let him live his dreams ~ .. Don't ban fairy Tales ~ “ Another participant in the discussion, Bruce Weaver writes: “Read children everything! Including fairy tales! Most of these stories are telling young children about the human race in simple terms. Some of them are preparing children for the twists and turns of life. "Sleeping Beauty" is one. I found that I loved the Fairy Tales even more when I read them to my nieces. Even write your own! They are fun to do! With mythology you have to be careful with the young children since some of those Greek Myths were told for religious purposes rather than entertainment. Yet, do you see a coincidence and a common thread between "Pandora's Box" and the "Adam and Eve" Story from The Bible? "The Brave Little Tailor" was always one of my favourites because it taught me at a young age that appearances can be deceptive. Some of these tales were written down in order to preserve them, as happened with the Brothers Grimm who were not writers but anthropologists, who recorded these stories as they were told by story tellers in the regions they visited.”Yet another participant in the discussion, Anastasia Karouti write:”:Fairy tales have a certain structure, right? And their structure follows some basic social models, huh? So, they teach kids, via an informal way, how to at, or what moral values to think of when doing a certain thing; they give a direction, let's say, through a fictional example. And, let's not forget that many cultures also have folk tales that are based on real incidents, so they are pure and raw! To me, fairy tales and folk tales were a miracle and they largely compose my mentality, thus I think they are crucial (and a little imagination always helps)!” Yet another participant, Chanela Cubbins writes, “Often in my ESL beginner and elementary classes for young children adults, I use fairy tales as reading texts. the concepts are simple and they have something to smile about. Learning a new language like English as a young adult can be trying and challenging for them and this is one way to ease the stress. It is also great for conversation as often students will relate to the fairy tale as they have probably read it in their own language as kids...and it might just have had that little twist in the tale that provides something to talk about. Students are always eager to talk about the versions that they relate to in their own language.” Yet another participant in the discussion , Joe Runde writes: “To revisit the initial question, I wonder whether it might be better if adults had to read more fairy tales.” Another participant in the discussion, Kim Parrish writes, “Like the 'user and the technology', fairy tales/egends are integral to our histories and, as one of you suggested, psyches; recognizing that, simply means to impart their wisdoms on- there needs be adults in the room to help interpret the 'evil forests and dragons', or-heaven forbid- that not every sleeping beauty has a Prince Charming. They, like everything elsein our world undergo change, and perhaps with those changes we try to change old stereotypes and rusty paradigms that have not always served us well.I have Robert Munsche's delightful, "Paperbag Princess" in mind, there.ta,K.P.”
Today as a teacher of English in India, such discussions have forced be to do a rethink about allowing my students to read Fairy Tales! Should we then force our students to stop reading Fairy Tales Because they are fantastic? The overwhelming arguments seems to be in favour of letting students and children read Fairy Tales for their intrinsic value in terms of social and spiritual message. Looking at the overwhelming response in favour of the reading of Fairly Tales, I believe, we should not prevent children from reading them, in fact we should encourage our children to read them because of their intrinsic value! The transcending importance of Fairy Tales, lies in the fact that they teach us important lessons about life, and any way they teach us about the need to dream, the need to think big about the greater possibilities of life!
The overwhelming argument is that we should continue to allow our children and students to read Fairy Tales because they contain important messages from life, and, they are too valuable in terms of their cultural value to be done away with. Many of us who have reached maturity have been fed on a veritable mixture of Fairy Tales and literature based on the immense possibilities of life. These consideration therefore far outweigh arguments for not encouraging students and children to read Fairy Tales! Children who are at a disconnect from the world of reality might be doing so not because of reading Fairy Tales, but rather because of other reasons!

Epiphany Church, Gurgaon, A Life-Skills Workshop for young Christian

A life skills workshop was conducted for members of the youth fellowship of the Church of the Epiphany, Gurgaon today, on the 14th. of July 2013. The programme was conducted by Mrs.Romina Pitamber and Mrs. Antara. It was a well organised workshop which explored the importance of setting up of goals and the need to be “Coachable” in order to live better in the society.
The workshop which started at about 11:00 a.m. after Sunday Mass came to an end at 2:00 p.m. Besides a power point presentation, there were many activities to make the workshop more interesting like group activities , getting to know each other…etc.

Although the workshop on life skills was largely attended by young members of the youth fellowship, there were also some elders present who made the workshop more lively through their contribution in the form of valuable insights. The Presbyter In Charge, Revd. Sunil Ghazan was also present during the workshop.

Who is My Neighbour?

Today, when we are living in most testing times, when tempers are on a short fuse and intolerance has reached new heights, it has become increasingly important to learn to respect one another. We live in high-rises and apartments with neighbours literally round the corner, breathing down our necks because of the fact that space is a premium. Ironically, the neighbour next door continues to be a stranger to us because of the fact that he wants to protect his space, and you don’t want to intrude into his! Strange, you come to know that the neighbour living next door was very important person, a scientist, a senior Government Policy-Maker!
How then, when you are incapable of forming a good relationship with your neighbours at home can you expect members of other communities to respect yours? We are living in times when in spite of the fruits of internet we are drifting apart from each other, we have  started creating distinctions on the bases of religion, caste, gender and even economic status.. We have today started compartmentalising ourselves more and more, retreating into niches we have created for ourselves. In times when intolerance and communal hatred have begun to erode the basis of our very existence, the fact that we are humans, it has become increasingly important to understand that it is only man who has built barriers and distinctions that separate us from our neighbours.
This then leads us to the question, who then is our neighbour? Could he be someone from our religious community? Someone, perhaps from our language community? The Parable of the Good Samaritan suggests that the ideal neighbour may not necessarily be found from within our own religious or social community. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the wounded man could not find a single sympathiser from his own community. It was in fact somebody who belonged to another religion who came and applied salve to his wounds, and took him with him for further medical treatment. In the Book of Job in the Bible, 29.1,7-16, Job talks of the respect in which he was held because of his concern for those in need- “ I delivered the poor who cried, and the fatherless who had none to help him. The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me;and I caused the widow’s heart to ring for joy…I was a father to the poor”. This, then is what good neighbours are made, and they have the same compassion for people of other communities according to the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
According to the Book of James (2.14-18,26) in the Bible, faith which doesn’t issue in loving acts is dead! ‘But someone will say, “ you have faith and I have work. Show me your faith apart from your works and by my works will show you my faith. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”’ It is clear that your neighbour is not just the one living next door, your neighbour is not just a member of your community, he is not just a follower of your religious beliefs, rather he or she is anyone and everyone! It could the the old lady who needs help in crossing the street, it could be someone who is collapsed in the heat and needs a sip of water. And it is clear that strong faith in one’s religious beliefs without the corresponding actions ( “work”) is hollow in nature, for, according to the Book of James, 2.14-18,26, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”!  No one who claims to have a strong faith in whatever religion he follows can ignore a fellow human who is in need and this doesn’t have to be someone from the same community.
Increasing hatred between people of different religions, communal strife, terrorism, religious intolerance, and fundamentalism are all the result of not recognising our neighbour as a fellow human being who has been created by the same God, who follows a different path but which ultimately leads to the same creator! The second commandment for all Christians clearly mentions that you should love your neighbour. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells you that your neighbour need not be from the same faith, and the book of James tells us that faith should also be supported by actions or “works”. In the same way, Job tells us about the respect he was accorded  because of his concern for those in need. Your neighbour is a human being who is need of your help, and you will be respected if you fulfil your duty towards humanity! The Commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is  a panacea for all the problems we are facing today in the form of extremism, religious intolerance, and communal strife. Although, I guess at a more immediate level it is about respecting one another at our places of work, on the street, at the market, in the neighbourhood, on the train, the bus, or for that effect anyone who needs your help!
This is what I was able to glean from today’s Sermon on eighth Sunday after Pentecost as delivered by Revd. Sunil Ghazan at the Church of the Epiphany, Gurgaon. The theme for the sermon was, “Who is my neighbour”.
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Saturday, 13 July 2013

A day in the classroom-a poem

The door bangs open as the Head Nerd swaggers in,
A  silly smile  on  his  face,  centre of  gravity  all lost,
While greet him his, “friends” with sniggers as he falls
Into his chair.  Across  the  room  the  girl  throws her
Rolled up  pencil at  her beau, while  the others wink,
And nod their heads  knowingly!  The nerd  suddenly
Wakes up as if reminded of his hunger and then digs
Into his sandwich  which  Mom  had packed for him in
Hurry, but had forgotten to put an extra tissue to soak
Excess juices  dripping  down his chin! A scuffle, and
Then a  friend  grabs  at the  sandwich   which  flops
On the the ground  with sad resignation as the boys
Start guffawing  uncontrollably,  while the girls giggle
And shriek!  Another  boy  moves  in  jerks, his eyes
Turned  the  wrong way,  “He’s wired wrongly”  says
His Mom!  The Cross-eyed  boy moves around with
Sense of  disorientation, barks  out a few words and
Then he too flops down on to his chair exhausted by
His exertion! Another, a girl sits puzzled, holding her
Head in her hands  as  she stares at  the symbol  of
An  organic  molecule  in  her  notebook! Her friend
Talks  loudly  to  her friends and stands up to dance
A few dance steps, energy bursting to be released!
The two boys and a girl sit on the ground,discussing
An outing  they’ve  planned  for  the day, homework
Class work, projects  relegated to the  nethermost of
Their  priorities!  And  yet,  “this  is a  class  that  will
Spring  surprises”  in  the  board  exams  knocking
Off estimates  and  predictions of  scores like a ball
Scattering pins like wind scattering chaff into the air.

Friday, 5 July 2013

A Comparative Analysis between The Common Core State Standards for English Language and the Objectives of Teaching English Core according to the Senior School Curriculum of the C.B.S.E for class twelve

Nature of the Subject
English being a medium of communication should be viewed not just as a language but as an important skill which has an impact across a wide range of subjects and real life situations. It goes without saying that a good command over the language would have a positive impact on not only inter-personal social skills but also determines one’s ability to comprehend and solve complex problems. It is with this in mind that we, as facilitators need to ensure that the learners have a good grasp of the semantic and syntactical components as also the ability to communicate effectively, express ideas effectively, comprehend all forms of the language, spoken, written, and heard.  To speak effectively and be able to place ideas in a logical manner, to write argumentatively and conclusively, to listen to what is spoken, picking out crucial information, and to read effectively, understanding important ideas and information are all important aspects of English as a subject. To say that English only belongs to the domain of the language teacher is a fallacy because it is a medium of instruction for different subjects and so has a definite impact on all subjects taught through it.

Note.  Printed with permission from National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, (Early Childhood/Generalist Standards, 1998) All rights reserved.
Content pedagogy refers to the pedagogical (teaching) skills teachers use to impart the specialized knowledge/content of their subject area(s). Effective teachers display a wide range of skills and abilities that lead to creating a learning environment where all students feel comfortable and are sure that they can succeed both academically and personally. This complex combination of skills and abilities is integrated in the professional teaching standards that also include essential knowledge, dispositions, and commitments that allow educators to practice at a high level.
Delineating effective practice and recognizing those who achieve it are important first steps in shaping the kind of teaching profession America needs. This is the core challenge embraced by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Committed to basic reform in American education, NBPTS recognizes that teaching is at the heart of education. In this light, the single most important action the nation can take to improve schools is to strengthen teaching. 
           National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  (1998).  Washington, DC: Author.  Available:

In the Indian context
In India, the pedagogy of English is based on mostly conventional methods and skills. However, with the introduction of CCA or CCE, the method of teaching English has had to undergo certain changes. The traditional methods included the conventional model reading in the class, question and answer session, lecture method, drills, rote memorisation, dictation of notes, brief explanation of grammar rules, and drills in grammar topics. Now, pedagogy is about exploring different and more effective ways of making teaching more student oriented, more interactive and effective. As such more importance is given to interactive methods like discussions, debates, learning by doing, experiential methods, and other activities like excursions. Grammar is today taught not in isolation, but is integrated into the written and read forms. Thus the C.B.S.E. has introduced the integrated and communicative approach towards the teaching of Grammar. Thus instead of teaching formal grammar and the learning of rules, we have exercises based on editing, close-gaps, and omissions. Today the teaching of the subject includes out of the box thinking, introduction of reading topics, novels, speeches, and biographies which go beyond the prescribed syllabus. Suggested readings in class tenth would include biographies of famous writers like J.K. Rowlings, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela,  a speech by President Obama, a suggested reading of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a preparation for a debate on the Relevance of Capital Punishment as a means to curb crime. At the class eleventh level, students have been given a list of a wide range of written novels like Old Man and the Sea, and A Train to Pakistan, besides being given a Research Based project for honing Higher order thinking and writing skills.

Our Approach/Position on the subject at the grade eleven and grade twelve levels
At the tenth and eleventh grade levels, there has been a change in the approach towards the teaching of the subject. While the lecture method is definitely out at both levels, student participation is on the increase. However increased student participation has to be modulated and controlled lest it should distract the session from the set goals and objectives of the lesson. Similarly, linking of prescribed texts in the prescribed syllabus is important as students query the relevance of reading lessons out of context. For example, the relevance of reading the lesson Silk Route in class eleven was questioned by students, so the teacher had to explain the importance of travel literature including the importance of travelogues. On being asked about the knowledge of students about historically important travel accounts, students came up with the names of important Chinese Monks of the Buddhist era like Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsiang. It has become important to link the lessons to other subject areas like History and Commerce, Chemistry, Physics and Biology! When the students join after the winter break, we plan to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible so that students are able to identify the theme of McCarthyism, the challenge would be to link the play to some of the themes relevant to us today. 

The Picture so Far ( A comparison of the Common Core Standards, and the Objective of teaching the English Core syllabus)

What Benchmarks do the Common Core Standards Set for the  development of Reading, writing and spoken skill in students of class eleventh and twelfth?

Writing Standards:
According to the Common Core Standards for writing, a Note on range and content of student writing on page 41 suggests:
For students, writing is a key means of asserting and defending claims, showing what they know about a subject, and conveying what they have experienced, imagined and thought, and felt. To be college and career ready writers, students must take task, purpose, and audience into careful consideration, choosing words, information, structures, and formats deliberately. They need to know how to combine elements of different kinds of writing-for example to use narrative strategies within argument and explanation within narrative-to produce complex and nuanced writing. They need to be able to use technology strategically when creating, refining, and collaborating on writing. They have to become adept at gathering information, evaluating sources, and citing material accurately, reporting findings from their research and analysis of sources in a clear and cogent manner. They must have the flexibility, concentration, and fluency to produce high-quality first draft text under a tight deadline as well as the capacity to revisit and make improvements to a piece of writing over multiple drafts when circumstances encourage or require it.
Note: It should be made clear from the start that the context of teaching the English language in India is different from that  of the United States of America because for the Americans, English is a first language, while for many in India, English is a second language. Even where English is spoken predominantly at home, the overall exposure is to a mixture of languages including Hindi.
The C.B.S.E. sets very reasonable standards for students studying the English Core Syllabus (Although there is an Elective Syllabus too) which are listed in the form of a background note and a list of objectives on page 36 of the Senior School Curriculum Main subjects volume I Document published in the year 2011. The note on the Background reads:
For a large number or students, the higher secondary stage will be a preparation for the university, where a fairly high degree of proficiency in English may be required. But for another large group, the higher secondary stage may be a preparation for entry into the world of work. The Core Course should cater to both groups by promoting the language skills required for academic study as well as the language skills required for the workplace.
It is clear, therefore, that the standards set by the CBSE might vary from those set by the Common Core State Standards for the very fact that for many, grade twelve in India might be an exit point for those who want to take up a career directly and not go for higher studies.

What are some of the standards for writing listed by the Common Core State Standards for students of grade eleven and twelve?
The CCR anchor standards and high school grade specific standards for writing (page 45) are listed as under:
1.Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive  topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant evidence.
a) Introduce  precise knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organisation that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons and evidence.
b) Develop claim(s) and counterclaim(s) fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
c) Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
d) Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
e) Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
2.Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
a) Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which preceded it to create a unified whole; include formatting, graphics and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
b)Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
c)Use appropriate and varied transitions and syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
d)Use precise language , domain specific vocabulary, and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.
e)Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
f)Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
3.Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
a) Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and /or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
b)Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
c)Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent  whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome.
d)Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
e)Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
4.Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
5.Develop and strengthen writing  as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
6.Use technology, including the internet to produce publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
7.Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesise multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8.Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience, integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
9.Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
(Note: I have omitted sub sections a. and b. as I feel they are not relevant to the Indian context)
10.write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences.

 Standards Set by the C.B.S.E. for Writing for students of eleventh and twelfth (English core):

Some of the objectives and standards and expectations of reading standards for students of grade eleven and twelve set by the C.B.S.E. are given on page 36 of the Senior School Curriculum document suggest that the grade eleventh and twelfth students should be able to do the following:
1.      Text-based writing (Writing in response to questions or tasks based on prescribed or unseen texts)
2.         Write expository/argumentative essays of 250-500 words, explaining or developing a topic, arguing a case, etc.
3.         Write formal/informal letters and applications for different purposes.
4.         Write items related to the workplace (minutes, memoranda, notices, summaries, reports, filling up of forms, preparing CVs, e-mail messages etc.)
The fact of the matter is that due to constraints of having to complete the syllabus on time, not much out of the syllabus work can be given to students of grade twelve, and this is especially because they are focussed on their board exams. However, a lot of projects can be given in grade eleven which include doing a research paper on some interesting topics which go beyond the syllabus. Last year, students of grade eleventh did a research paper and they were marked on the basis of the standards set by the Common Core document. Some of the areas they were marked on included, coherence in writing, ability to write arguments to support claims, ability to introduce topics, use of appropriate syntax ability to provide a thesis statement and a concluding statement, ability to effectively use technology to do research, and ability to stick to deadlines! All of which are enshrined in the Common Core Standards document.

The Syllabus So Far
1. The writing of a short composition of not more than fifty words out of a choice of Advertisements, Notices, Posters, Invitations and so on. In this section weightage is given to using the correct format, creativity, content (use of correct value-points) and so on. The marks given to this section is 05.
2. A Report or a Factual Description in about 100-125 words. This, is to some extent more complex than the first unit. Report writing requires almost all of the skills mentioned in the common core writing standards. Both report writing and factual descriptions require use of narrative techniques, a variety of techniques to sequence events, use of words, phrases, and clauses as well as appropriate syntax to link major sections of the text. In case of report writing, students use the inverted pyramid format, three sections format and they use the past tense while reporting events that have taken place in the past. As far as the writing of factual descriptions is concerned,  students are expected to perfect the skill of conveying complex ideas and information clearly and accurately in many ways, and some could include introduction of the topic, organising complex ideas, developing the topic further and providing a suitable conclusion. The marks given to this unit is 10.
3.Letter Writing, both formal and informal. This is a complex writing exercise and requires a strong knowledge of the format and accepted conventions. A formal letter could be argumentative and might require the writing of arguments to support claims or to put a force a point of view. The student would have to be skilled in the art of making claims and counterclaims…etc. The formal letter on the other hand might require a student to simply write nothing but a factual description! Job applications, Bio-Data writing and the writing of cover notes are also part of this unit on letter writing. Some important  letters in this section include letters to the Editor, letters of complaint, letters to order goods, letters to cancel orders…etc. Opinion writing can find its place in one of the letters. The total marks given to this unit is 10.
4.Article Writing-125 to 150 words. This is a complex exercise which requires specific writing skills. Falling back on the standards given in the Common Core Document, it would be pertinent to underpin the fact that a good student should be able to transition through an proper introduction, explanation and a suitable conclusion. He or she should produce clear and coherent writing and draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis. Article writing may include opinion writing, discursive writing descriptive writing or even factual descriptions, and speech writing.
What can we do to help students hone their writing skills?
 It is very important for teachers to help students develop their writing skills. This can be done by giving students challenging topics on which to write articles and essays. This exercise can start from grade eleven itself, and students should be given projects in which they would have to write longer articles. Last year, students of class eleven in this school were told to do a research paper and marks were awarded for sticking to the deadlines, citing of sources, avoidance of plagiarism, unity of structure, the presence of a thesis statement and the presence of a sound conclusion. Students were told to prepare multiple drafts of the same. Some writing topics can be taken along with exercises on spoken English like Debates, Speeches and so on. Report Writing can be made more contextually relevant when the topics are linked to real life incidents or events witnessed by the students themselves. Telling the students to read good literature might help them develop an effective style of writing. Perhaps they could also be exposed to discursive literature which will help them write better discursive articles! Arguing a point in opinion writing will help them a lot. The writing of a research paper in class eleventh would help students go through the steps required to do a proper research. Following up the same with a rubric which included values associated with sticking to timelines, citing of sources, avoiding of plagiarism, introduction of a proper theses statement, and a good conclusion would make the research paper a better exercise in writing than the traditional projects which are in essence nothing but an exercise in copy and pasting from material published on the internet!

Reading Standards
A note of the range and content of student reading skills on page 35 of the Common Core State Standards reads:

To become college and career ready, students must grapple with works of exceptional craft and thought whose range extends across genres, cultures, and centuries. Such works offer profound insights into the human condition and serve as models for students’ own thinking and writing. Along with high-quality contemporary works, these texts should be chosen from among seminal…documents, the classics of American literature and the timeless dramas of Shakespeare. Through wide and deep reading of literature and literary nonfiction of steadily increasing sophistication, students gain a reservoir of literary and cultural knowledge, references, and images; the ability to evaluate intricate arguments; and the capacity to surmount the challenges posed by complex texts.
Note: I have omitted some portions from the note in order to make it more contextually relevant to the Indian sub-continent.

What are some of the standards for reading listed by the Common Core State Standards for students of grade eleven and twelve?

Further detailed standards for reading have been given on page 38  of the Common Core Standards as follows:
1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

3. Analyse the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyse the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

5. Analyse how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

6. Analyse a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

7. Analyse multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

10. By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Note: The 8th. and 9th. standards have not been quoted here because of contextual relevance. Instead of just American literature, Indian students should also be encouraged to read works by Indian, Asian and even African writers.

Standards Set by the C.B.S.E. for Reading skills for students of eleventh and twelfth (English core):

The C.B.S.E. has mentioned some objectives for reading which are listed below:
1.      To perceive the overall meaning and organisation of the text (i.e., the relationships of the different “chunks” in the text to each other).
2.      To promote advanced language skills with an aim to develop the skills of reasoning, drawing inferences, etc.
3.     To develop the capacity to appreciate literary use of English and also use English creatively and imaginatively.
4.      Read and comprehend extended texts (prescribed and non-prescribed) in the following genres: fiction, science fiction, drama, poetry, biography, autobiography, travel and sports literature, etc.

The Syllabus so far:
For class twelve the reading portion is covered under Section A of the unit/areas of Learning and Section C.
1.Section-I primarily is divided into two unseen passages with a variety of questions including 03 marks for vocabulary in the first, and 05 marks for note-making. The total length of the two passages should be between 950-1200 words. The passages, according to the Senior School Curriculum document of the C.B.S.E. should include two of the following: a) factual passage, b) discursive passage, and c) Literary passage. The total marks covered by this section are 20 Marks.
2.Section C-primary deals with the students’ reading of prescribed literary texts in the form of short stories and poems. The C.B.S.E. has including a novel as an addition to the range and extent of reading material for students of class twelve. The distribution of marks as per the given text books to test reading comprehension  is giving as follows:
1)One out of two extracts based on poetry to test comprehension and appreciation of poetry
2) Three out of four short answer type questions from the poetry section to test local and global comprehension of the text.
3)Five short answer questions based on the prescribed prose lessons.
4) One out of two long answer type questions based on the text to test global comprehension and extrapolation of theme, character and incidents.

5. One out of two long answer questions based on the Supplementary Reader to test comprehension and extrapolation of theme, character and incident.
6.four short answer questions from the textbook.

Novel-The Hound of  the Baskervilles
7.Novels have been a recent inclusion by the C.B.S.E. across classes. For Class Twelve the prescribed novel is Hound of The Baskervilles. Students who have read the novel will be assessed in the Twelfth Grade Board exams in areas associated with the plot of the novel and characterisation. Two long answer type questions will have to be answered by the grade twelve students, including one question on the plot which will be of about 150 words and of  8 Marks, while another question on Character will be of 7 Marks.

What can we do to help students hone their reading skills?
Looking at the fact that English in India is taught as a second language for most of the students, it is important for students to come across different genres of writing. The type of comprehension passages given to students for practice should be varied. It is not just the length of the passage that matters; rather it is the complexity of the language and the use of a wider range of words that makes attempting questions on the comprehension passage more challenging. Students should also be made to read non-fictional material like treatises, essays, and even research papers, and even seminal Indian documents. The range of reading materials in terms of genre and complexity should be increased. Also, the absence of a good play in class twelve and eleven reduces the exposure of the student to some good plays, especially those written by Shakespeare! Perhaps exposing students to a variety of reading materials and then giving them questions which require a high degree of analysis and interpretation could help improve the reading standards in students. Students should be exposed to good literature, classics, and good journals. A reader with good reading skills would able to evaluate intricate arguments and descriptions irrespective of his subject area; he would be able to read a scientific journal with as much confidence as a treatise on the freedom of speech in the twenty-first century!

A Few more Suggestions for Improvement

1. It is clear that there is a lot of scope for improvement as far as developing the reading and writing skills of students of grades eleventh and twelfth are concerned! First and foremost I would like to suggest the incorporation of general and specific learning objectives from the Common Core State Standards by teachers of English in the daily lesson plans. The inclusion of these objectives will help teachers as well as students focus on core areas and skills in writing and reading. A lot needs to be done to improve the reading and writing standards of students studying English in Indian school. In many cases throughout various schools, it has been observed the objectives and standards for each task are given lip service with the result that neither the students nor their teachers are aware of what the learning outcomes should be, what the student will achieve at the end of the lesson.

2. Encouraging students to read a wider range of literary texts, including non-fictional texts, like travelogues, brochure, discursive essays, scientific journals ( I would suggest National Geographic, American Scientific among others) would go a long way in not only increasing the vocabulary of the students, but also exposing them to different styles and genres of writing. Students will learn how to develop ideas, argue points, and make accurate descriptions only after they have sampled some of these in the form of a wide sample of reading texts. Libraries should be equipped to offer students a wide choice of literature.

3. Fiction including all the genres, novels, poems, and drama play a very important role in developing the language skills of the learner! Classical literature holds an important place in the study of languages because of its long standing appeal and the fact that classical literature deals with some of the timeless themes and core issues dealing with the human predicament and existence. An exposure to a variety of genres, styles of writing, and literature  from all over the world will definitely enrich the students portfolio of experiences! Students should also be encouraged to read some of the works of good Indian writers which are contextually relevant and to which students can easily relate to!

4. Students should be encouraged to write, write, and write. The adage, “practice makes a man perfect” stands true as far as developing the skill of writing is concerned. The writing of multiple drafts tedious though it might seem is a step in the right direction! Students need to be given an exposure to the writing of different forms of composition including official  as well as informal forms.  Students should be exposed to writing exercises which include letters both formal and informal and informal forms, report writing using the inverted pyramid format, writing of brochures, travelogues, essays and articles and  which are descriptive, discursive, and opinions, speeches and debates.
It goes without saying that some these writing exercises should be based on templates and rubrics from the earliest grades. The six in one traits in writing should be given due importance. Stress on developing reading and writing skills should be given from the earliest grades.

5. Research writing is the culmination of the discursive and descriptive skills of students studying English in schools of India. Following specific steps which include the synopsis, intent of study, framing of hypotheses, writing of the bibliography and indices will help the student develop his/her writing skills.

6. Creative writing is an open ended exercise in which the student is allowed the freedom to express himself/herself in any way he or she would like. Creative writing skills should be inculcated at lower grade levels including grades fourth to eighth.