Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Common Core Standards document at the K-12 Level is better than a single board in India?

What we need is a standardized, streamlined and credible board system that prepares students for the future and offers scope for differential learning. The need to shift towards a more experiential and expedition based learning experience is evident in the popularity of the International Programmes in schools today.

A board of exams would have to be a board that prepares assessments of learning while independent bodies (state boards, or central boards) that frame the curriculum would be preparing the learners to be assessed for learning. It is evident, therefore, that for reforms to take place in school education, we need to have two separate bodies, one that frames the curriculum, and another that examines whether learning has indeed taken place.

The system in our country works fairly well with the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) working on the curriculum and training of teachers and printing of books and study material, while the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) ideally works in the field of assessments and examinations. The States however have their own exams and boards while having of course the equivalent of the NCERT, except that they are called SCERT (State Council of Education Research and Training) and a separate Board exam at the grade ten and the grade twelve levels in which the question paper is different from that prepared by the CBSE.

The ICSE (Indian Council for Secondary Education) is yet another board which is run on the Cambridge Pattern and it differs in curriculum and assessment from the CBSE and the NCERT. The problem arises when students who graduate from the different boards, the CBSE, State Boards, and the ISC/ICSE boards at the grade twelve level come up with widely differing marks. With the ISC/ICSE, it is about scoring fewer marks, while the same might be said of students appearing for their Grade twelve exams from the state boards. Students appearing for their grade twelve exams from the CBSE Board might, however, score in the higher nineties! Unfortunately, the marks are not standardized and a student scoring above ninety-five percent from the CBSE in his or her best of four subjects might not be half as good as a student scoring seventy-five per cent in the ISC grade twelve exam of the ICSE board! Students appearing from the state boards might not even be lucky enough to pass!

Academic rigour, and marks apart, it is clear that the different examination boards and curriculum framing bodies in the country are working at loggerheads with each other. The learners and students are, unfortunately at the receiving end, especially when they seek admission in some of the centrally run universities in the country. It is clear that in their obsession for numbers of students who graduate from school, some boards might even be resorting to so-called moderation strategies, which would happily see their students sailing out of school. Unfortunately, in their haste to inflate figures of pass outs, and perhaps happily claim to have done their job of educating the youth, these boards are in fact ruining the lives of the very people whom they claim to have provided an education.

One very harsh fact is that very few students who pass out of schools today are future ready; very few are equipped with twenty-first-century skills, hardly any have sound research skills, and barely a few know what they are going to do after grade twelve. A large percentage of students who opt for engineering end up doing tasks unsuited to their professional qualification. In a world that is steadily moving away from traditional work skills and instead is paving the way to welcome Artificial Intelligence, and Augmented Reality if not Virtual Reality, we remain stuck in a system of education that is mostly teacher-centered and dependent on chalk and blackboard.

It is clear that our educational system at the K-12 level needs a major revamp. Modern education calls for continuous evaluation and differential assessments. The now defunct Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation might have had a positive objective but then it failed because of poor implementation, overloaded classrooms, and poor planning. C.C.E. failed because it was not backed with standardized protocols and objectives. So what was happening across schools was that there was no accountability nor any parity between the kind of tools used for Formative assessments. In many cases, marks entered under Formative Assessments were not, in any case, true scores, nor did they really measure learning in the true sense.

The gap between schools using IT and those not even having adequate infrastructure as for example, schools in rural areas is increasing as time passes. The increased call for digitization, and with it, the dependence on online transactions, online projects, and online registrations has meant that while IT literate students manage to handle technology efficiently, those who are not tech savvy are helpless and they have to look for help elsewhere.

While educationists might argue that it would be impossible to bring all the students of the country under one curriculum, what with differences based on Cultural Diversity, Geography, Language, Economic and Social backwardness; it might be argued that the setting up of minimum or basic standards of skills expected of students at each grade level could at least provide some level of standardisation across all schools in the country.

The need of the hour is to have a standard Curriculum framework that sets up benchmarks of skills expected of students in the beginning and at the end of each grade level. These standards need to be set for each subject, and to address the deficiency in IT skills in some schools, there should be a separate set of standards for IT skills expected of students at all grade levels irrespective of whether the school is located in the rural areas of the country, or for that effect urban areas. Setting up of standards for IT skills will ensure that the basic minimum requirement for internet connectivity and the availability of Tablet P.Cs, laptops or even desktops is guaranteed by state education departments.Strangely enough, one might see three major stakeholders in school education in the country today, and these include the Central Board of Secondary Education, State Boards of Secondary Education, the National Council for Educational Research and Training, the State Council for Educational Research and Training, and of course the Executive bodies of the Zonal Education departments. All of these stakeholders of Education need to be aligned to a common objective, and their areas of competence need to be clearly defined. If there is a National Policy of Education, then there needs to be a National Policy of Information Technology in Education, and there needs to be also a National Policy of Teachers Education, all of which are aligned to a common core of state education standards.

The socio-cultural diversity and the linguistic range of students in India call for a unification and standardization or benchmarks of student learning and skills at each grade level rather than a single board system. Having a single Education Board for the whole country would result in stretching of resources and the handling of too many areas in the field of education. Having a single Education Board should not mean that it imposes the same curriculum all over the country. States should have the right to have their own tailor-made, differential curriculum that caters to the requirements of the state. Standards, however, can be set up to be followed and there should be a central body to ensure that all the state boards and curriculum follow the document of standards. This does not in any way mean that we don't have standards at present. The only thing is that some of these standards are too vague and weakly defined. We need to have Common Core Standards similar to the ones we have in America.The Common Core State Standards of America document has a detailed and specific set of standards for each skill in each subject area at each grade level! A lot of effort and time would go into the framing of such a document in the country, but it would certainly be a good investment.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Holiday in Nainital

Nainital, a quick getaway from Delhi is merely 300 kilometers away and on light traffic days, this distance can be covered in about seven hours. This time my brother inlaw's family and mine decided to take a three-day trip into the mountains of Uttarakhand. While I drove all the way from Gurgaon on to Ghaziabad and then to Marchula in the Jim Corbet National Park, my brother in law drove from Ghaziabad. Our first stop was Marchula in Uttar Pradesh. We stayed at the Le Tigre Resort for one day and then the next day checked out and left for Ranikhet and from Ranikhet continued on to Nainital. By the time I returned to Gurgaon, I had clocked 945 kilometers on my odometer. 

For my family and I, this would be must be a sixth visit to the city. People visiting Nainital should spend at least a week so that they can visit the outlying areas, one of them being China Peak, others being Sattal, Nukuchia Tal, and Bhimtal. In our case, however, it was just about enjoying the cold weather, a respite from the heat wave scorching the plains.

Strangely enough, the town comes alive at night and people walk up and down the Mall Road simply enjoying the breeze or simply shopping for knick-knacks. While the roads inside the city are overcrowded and there are restrictions on driving on the Mall road, one simple solution is to hire a motorcycle for the whole day.

An early morning stroll to the flat area next to the Mosque can be especially rewarding because people who stay up late wake late, so you have the whole area to yourself. I wake up early and always explore new towns in the early morning. I got some wonderful snaps of ducks and the landscape, as I am sure you will agree on seeing the snaps posted below!

A Boat ride on the lake is a must, not just for the sake of boating, but also to take snaps. My suggestion would be to leave your mobile phones in your hotel rooms if you really want to enjoy the ride!

What is so unique about Nainital is that you can literally have your breakfast off the street. In one of the photographs, you will have seen pastries placed inside an Iron box. Tea can be had (in the morning) from the streetside tea-maker. Steaming and piping hot samosas can be had for ten rupees each, and Momos of all kinds are available. The advertisements for the fast-food joints can be intriguing, and thus interesting too.

Perhaps, I should have tasted the Coffee, but then I did not. As for 'PEACE.LOVE.AND ICE CREAM', well I guess I will leave it for next time! Yes, I will certainly visit Nainital when the opportunity arrives, and this is because it is a convenient and really good getaway from the hectic rush of the city! My advice to you? Well book your accommodation in advance, start early, and enjoy every moment of your trip, even the drive!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Marchula, Jim Corbet Park Utter Pradesh

When my Brother in Law suggested that our first destination on a three-day trip should be to the Le Tigre resort in Marchula near the Jim Corbet Park I was a little skeptical about the prudence of visiting a little-known resort. My family and I left Gurgaon and stayed overnight at my Brother in Law's place in Ghaziabad one day before. We left for Marchula from Ghaziabad on the 8th of June at 6:30 in the morning. Marchula close to the Jim Corbet Park is one of the farthest resort in the region while traveling from Delhi.The resort is 325 kilometers from Delhi and the driving time would vary from 7.5 hours to eight hours depending on the traffic condition. The toll roads and by-passes make the journey relatively easy. The Hapur bypass and the Moradabad bypass offer roads that allow you to speed up while driving. 

Nestling at the base of the Uttarakhand mountains, Marchula can be a bit warm during the day time. The Le Tigre Resort, however, turned out to be better than expected. The suites housing two bedrooms with attached washrooms a living area and a pantry happen to be air-conditioned. Moreover, we were more interested in diving into the swimming pool once we reached the resort and completed formalities by about 12;30 p.m.

Meals were served in the dining hall area, and the food was simply amazing. While we spent a couple of hours splashing and swimming in the pool, we spent the evening trekking a short distance to the Ram Ganga river, where, the sole of my floater came off. The evening before and after dinner was spent listening to music and dancing. If you were to ask me whether or not I had spotted tigers, the answer would be and emphatic, 'No!' Yes, I did come across what I would term outsized chameleons that reminded me of ancient dinosaurs, and birds including parrots that were gorging themselves on mangoes. A flycatcher was actively gobbling up insects, and the two dogs at the resort followed us everywhere!

The only bad thing about the Le Tigre Resort at Marchula was the poor mobile signal. There was no WiFi and no data services, which is a way suits people who want a breather from the constantly connected culture in the cities. Since we had planned to stay for only one day, we did not really explore all the facilities provided by the resort such as the pool table, badminton, and cricket.

Last but not least, there is something about Marchula that makes it mystical! One wonders if this was the very moon that Jim Corbet used to see on his lonely late night vigils for Maneaters! 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Gurgaon - a Hundred Years and more

My association with Gurgaon starts with the moment when my Paternal Grandmother's eldest sister settled in Gurgaon in the early nineteen hundred. Miss Mall as she was called worked with the Health Department.  She, along with my grandfather The Revd. Moti Lal, who later became the Principal of the St. Crispins School Gurgaon, and the Presbyter in Charge of the Church of The Epiphany,  and my Grandfathers younger brother, Mr D.K.Lal bought a plot on what is now the New Railway Road Gurgaon which would later accommodate the Mall family, the D.K. Lal family and the Moti Lal family to which I belong. My grandfather, Revd. Moti Lal was once a resident of Subzi Mandi, Delhi. My Grandfather's younger brother, Mr. D.K.Lal had joined the British Navy during the Second World War and he had been involved in the sinking of The Bismark. His ship had been sunk in the process and he had been adrift in a lifeboat in the ocean for a few days. He would later become the head of the I.I.T. in Batala.
My Grandmother's eldest sister, Miss Monica Mall once owned a couple of buses now merged into the Kamal bus service. These buses were however acquired by the Government during the Second World War. Besides owning a couple of buses, Miss Mall, my grandmother's elder sister also owned a horse carriage known as a Tonga, and a couple of horses to draw it. Gurgaon in the nineteen forties and fifties was a sleepy and peaceful town. If I remember clearly what my Grandmother once told me, our house was the third last house on the New Railway Road. My father used to tell me when he was alive that the road to the aRailway station was fraught with dangers. The road was once covered by a canopy of trees, and robbers attacked people going to the Railway Station.
My association with the once sleepy town of Gurgaon started when I migrated from Ethiopia after completing my grade twelve. In 1985 I got admission to the English Honours course in the Sri Venkateswera college in Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi. In those days my Grandmother and I would visit the vegetable market or the Subzi Mandi to purchase vegetables. Later I began to go alone. Just recently when I visited the Subzi Mandi it was to see it almost as it existed in the middle 1980s!

The only change in the vegetable market is that the stalls have become 'pukka'.

The Subzi Mandi, or the vegetable market remains more or less unchanged.

In those days, the Sadar Bazaar was not so crowded, and my Grandmother's favourite provision store used to be the Messrs Prabhati's store and Messrs. Amri's stores from where all our provisions and rations used to come. Today Sadar Bazaar is overcrowded and I wouldn't dare to visit it during rush hours.I prefer visiting the stores close to my house on New Railway Road rather than visit the Prabhati store. When I clicked the picture below of the Sadar Bazaar road, it was in the morning, much before the market had opened.

I stayed with my grandmother, Mrs. Saloni Lal in our the house that my grandfather, Revd Moti Lal had got constructed in 1961.  There was a lot that I would learn about the history of Gurgaon from her. I learned that Kaman Sarai, that housed the Shyam Sunder Printing Press and the Gurgaon City Police station was once an Inn, a secure resting place for weary travelers. Today all that is left of this inn is the Facade of the entrance that retains its original structure. This neglected and historical structure close to the bus stand is in danger of being completely wiped off and in its place become the premise of a fancy Shopping Mall. Right now Kaman Sarai is being used as a parking lot.

There is another Inn, or rather just the facade in the Sadar Bazar area of Gurgaon. The history of this building is lost in time, and like all the other buildings of historical significance, this one too has fallen victim to encroachment and civic apathy regarding the preservation of out ancient heritage. I have posted a couple of snaps that I have taken of the second Inn in Gurgaon below:

Gurgaon a hundred years back was very different from what it has become today, a megacity gasping for breath and basic amenities. Rich nobles who settled in Gurgaon brought with them artisans and workers and they then set up whole localities. A hundred years back, Gurgaon was just a hamlet, the base of a British Garrison. My Grandmother's eldest sister, Miss Monica Mall, 'Miss Mall' as she was fondly called worked in the Health Center located in Sadar Bazar. Next to the Health Centre was a prayer hall where the Hindi speaking Christian community worshiped in the Hindi. Miss Mall settled in Gurgaon in 1916, thus indirectly marking my hundred years of association with the town. Jacobpura in Gurgaon is said to have been settled by a British officer by the same name. Remarkably enough, My ancestral house, Moti Niwas, on New Railway Road was the second last house in the locality and the road to the railway station was often deserted. People traveling to the railway station were robbed by miscreants so they preferred to travel in groups.

The District Health Center where Miss Monica Mall once worked

The Prayer Hall for Hindi/Urdu speaking Christians

The John Hall has an old history. The ICS British Officer, F.L. Bryne was posted as Deputy Commissioner in Gurgaon and when his son, John Goble Bryne died at an early age, he had a grand hall built in his memory in the early 1800s. I remember my father telling me about how important exams were once conducted in John Hall in Civil Lines, Gurgaon. 

Talking about sweet shops, I remember from earlier times when my family and I used to visit India, My Grandmother would get us 'Mixed Sweets' from the Rewari Sweet shop in Sadar Bazaar. The Rewari Sweet shop was established in 1935. Another equally old sweet shop that is still doing business is the Laxmi Sweet shop. My brother and I used to buy Cholley Bhature from Laxmi Sweet shop whenever we did not feel like cooking. Along the Cholley Bhature we would also buy yoghurt from this shop.

Talking about street food and sweets, well one of the most famous 'Jalebi' sellers still gooing strong is 'Sardar Jalebi Walah'. This outlet is crowded with people rushing to have their daily course of Jalebi with milk. Burnt down during 1984 disturbances, the outlet is doing brisk business.

Maman used to be the best for 'Bhalla Papri' and 'Dahi Vada' and other such street food. I remember having some of his bestsellers. Maman used to have a cart next to the Kitchen Collection store. I really am not sure whether he still sells 'Bhall Papri!'

This is where Maman had his 'Chaat Papri' Cart.

I guess one of the oldest buildings in Gurgaon is the Jama Masjid close to the Sadar Bazar vegetable market. It is an important mosque for Muslims of the town and for others in the outlying districts. Below and around the Mosque are the numerous eateries that provide traditional Moghul street food.

One of the oldest buildings in Gurgaon is the Church of the Epiphany, Civil Lines. Just last year we celebrated its 150th anniversary. The church has been serving the community for almost one and a half centuries now. My Grandfather, Revd. Moti Lal served this church as Presbyter in Charge from 1960 to 1966.

Unofficial sources, relatives did tell me that the name of this city was Gurgaon because Gur or Jaggery for Delhi used to be stored here. I cannot confirm the veracity of this story. When I arrived for a short period in 1984, Gurgaon, the city was limited what is now called 'Old Gurgaon. which included old DLF, Sector 4, Sector 7, Laxman Vihar, Mianwali Colony, New Colony, Urban Estate, and houses along the New Railway Road and Old Railway Road.Yes, how could I forget, Gurgaon Gaon, or Gurgaon Village was also part of the town of Gurgaon. There was a huge water body where the present day Tau Devi Lal Stadium is located. There was a stream that flowed all the way from Gurgaon to Badhshahpur. Gurgaon was surrounded by farmlands with wheat crops and mustard crop. Sparrows were in huge numbers, and the Indian Vulture (now extinct) did service, cleaning the town of animal carcasses.