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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

What Young India WantsWhat Young India Wants by Chetan Bhagat
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A difficult book to review. It covers a wide variety of topics. Many of them sensitive and controversial. It is obviously not easy to agree with the author and at the same time not disagree on many topics. Most of them are related to what problems plague India and some solutions on how they can be weeded out.

Most of the solutions are not wrong, but many of them are wishful thinking. They are not strong solutions. Unfortunately it is unlikely any of them are going to bear fruit in the near future.

One solution that has not been talked about in the book is a social revolution leading to Uniform Civil Code which is fair and just to both genders, all religions, and all castes.

A decent read, nothing earth shattering.

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Posted on: April 4, 2016

What Did You Ask at School Today? A Handbook on Child LearningWhat Did You Ask at School Today? A Handbook on Child Learning by Kamala V. Mukunda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Warning a long read)

A wonderful book and a must read for all the teachers and parents.

The book is based on multiple researches done in different parts of the world including India in the educational institutes on the teaching practices.

Some the key interesting, not necessarily unknown, points that have been brought up in the book are
1. Stress is not good for learning. It prevents students from actually learning. She categorically states “Stress inhibits learning!. If we want students to learn, school must not be chronically stressful environment”.

2. Instead of asking “What is the answer to so-and-so?” ask “How would you do so-and-so?” and “Why is this the right answer?”. This leads the students to think and they end up understanding the subject better.

3. Encourage and ask the students to solve the problem by different means.

4. Encourage the students to classify different problems according to how they must be solved. Although the problems may appear different on the surface, there will be potentially common structures which will help the students solve the problems better.

5. Have the student to teach a concept to someone else. This is one of the best ways to make the student understanding the concept better.

6. Ensure that the word problems in mathematics are set in contexts familiar or relevant to the student. The students should be able to relate to the problem.

7. Use “Discovery Learning” which is letting the students discover things for themselves. I.e. give the students the material and let them learn the concepts on their own by running their own experiments. But for this they need to be guided and nudged to conduct the right set of experiments in the right order and gets an opportunity to understand all the concepts. The students must also be made to think and speak to further strengthen their understanding. This is much better than trying to “lecture” the students on a concept. This helps because students tend to understand better what they see happening in front of them rather than trying to imagine something abstract.

8. Use fruits and scales to explain solving equations.

9. Use gift wrapping/unwrapping to explain how mathematical equations should be unraveled.

10. Students tend to misunderstand the equation (2x + 4)/7 = 10 and tend to solve this as 2x / 7 = 10 – 4 and solve it wrongly. If the student is taught to look at this as a gift wrap where they are taught that they should be told that (2x + 4) is like the inner wrapper of the gift and / 7 is the next level of wrapper. If this is how it is taught then they will be ‘unwrap’ the equation correctly.

11. At one point, speaking about how drilling the concept is used in the Indian education system, the author makes a very pertinent statement “Concepts and Procedures are two different things, both of which students need to learn. Practice alone cannot lead to conceptual knowledge, and understanding alone cannot lead to mastery of procedure”. It is very important to understand clearly the difference between “Concepts” and “Procedures” to be a good teacher. Procedures are things that we do in our everyday life like learning to ride a cycle, handle a spoon, tie the shoelaces, light a match, cross a road etc. These are activities where repeated exposures leads to improvement in performance. Knowing about how balance is achieved in a cycle, or how properly tying the knot in the shoelace prevents it from being tangled are concepts. There is a need for this kind of learning too.

12. One important aspect that the author brings out it that every person has two types of memory
a) The working memory in which the data is stored for immediate use and
b) the long term memory where things are imprinted over a period of time and stay there for a long time and are retrieved when required.
An example of use of working memory is trying to remember the phone number of a person that has called one. This memory is limited and one should exercise caution when the child needs to use this memory. Some suggestions that the author has to help the child use this memory effectively is to
a) Reduce demand on a young child’s working memory by breaking up a task into smaller parts, and writing down instructions. Encourage them to write things down, so that they do not have keep excess material in working memory – this will free up space for other processes.
b) Give younger children guidelines on what to pay attention to and what it ignore in a given situation. Try to eliminate excessively distracting irrelevant stimuli from the material.
c) Connect all the new material with something the child already knows. Also, use familiar contexts to teach new ideas as far as possible.
A classic example the author gives of how a particular mathematical problem involving multiplication or division is solved by a child. They need to hold in their working memory the basic numbers that is required for the calculation. For a child that has not learnt her tables this act becomes difficult as every number she needs to multiple she requires the working memory and this can push out the base numbers that she needs to remember from this memory. If the child has the multiplication tables memorized (i.e. available in the long term memory) then it becomes more easier for the child solve the problem mentally as the working memory is not used for actual multiplication.

13. As people age people tend to avoid situations where they might be corrected. This means that they end up learning lesser and lesser as their lack of knowledge is not exposed and nobody is present to correct them. Whereas a young child does not hesitate to try and makes mistakes, which the people around promptly correct, and over a period of time the child starts correcting its mistakes. E.g. a child that is picking up a language does not hesitate to say “I goed” and as the adults keep correcting it to say “I went”, it picks up the right word. If an adult were to learn, they end up speaking less knowing fully well that they may be corrected in front of everybody and this would be unacceptable to them. So they tend not speak and thus learn a lot less or take longer to learn.

14. The author states how sometimes not learning things too early can be beneficial. It is accepted by many that the brain is plastic enough from the ages of 4 to 20 making it easier to learn new cognitive activities. These activities are ingrained during this phase and the reactions to situations are ingrained and so are quick. The downside is that changing these reactions become very difficult for the person preventing the person from adapting the responses. Albert Einstein is said to have quoted “I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. There are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up. Naturally, I could go deeper into the problem than a child with normal abilities.” An interesting quote to think over.

15. Speaking about the evergreen debate of “Nature Vs Nurture” the author refers to some studies which have concluded that “schooling does not affect the children’s ways of thinking ‘in any deep and general way’. Instead schooling changes the way children perform on school-like tasks”. The author concludes that while a born child is not a blank slate, the environment in which the child is brought up does influence many of the outcomes in the life of the child.

16. Speaking about rewards and punishment the author has the following to say. More or less excerpted from the book as is.
The easiest ways to manipulate behaviour come from the behaviourist school of psychology, which recommends punishment and reward in different forms to get rid of undesired behaviours and boost desired ones. The author gives the example of an attempt to correct the rude by a child by punishing the child each time she has a rude behaviour could lead to the following:
a) The child stops the rude behaviour as long as the punisher is around, to avoid punishment, but continues otherwise.
b) The child stops the rude behaviour, but has not positive behaviour to replace it.
c) If she is required to ‘clean the classroom’ as a punishment, she learns that cleaning activity is a punishment.
d) She learns that to get people to do what she wants, punishment is the way
e) She reacts to you with anger and fear.
f) She associates you and/or classroom with emotions of anger and fear, which now come up automatically whenever either is encountered.
Instead if the strategy was to reward the child when the she was polite the consequence would be
a) She might be polite only in situations where she will be recognized for her good deeds
b) She might think that she should only do things for which she is rewarded
These are not desirable reactions.
At the same time not acknowledging good behaviour is also not a good idea. Appreciation should come, or rewards should be given, but the problem starts when the reward is unrelated to the activity itself. E.g. giving certificates for reading books, instead of natural consequence such as reading a book leads to your being able to borrow another. Positive reinforcement works best when it is given in the form of appreciation, encouragement and information feedback.

17. The three stages of maturity in humans are
a) I do it because I like it
b) I do it because others approve
c) I do it because it is right. Psychologists state that this last stage never reached by majority of human beings.

18. Everybody agrees that being unselfish and helping others is a desirable behaviour. The author points out how schools end up inadvertently subverting this behaviour by pulling up students when a) the student helps another with homework b) worse during the tests. When a student outranks others it is a triumph, not regret (so why would that student help others compete with her). One student’s success is at the expense of others, but such achievement is praised by all without being aware of the consequences of these actions on the young children’s internalization of moral principles. The author says that various researches have shown that children are inherently moral and just, but actions like being praised for coming first and being pulled up for helping others pushes the child towards selfishness to inflicting injustices inadvertently.

19. It is pointed out that we stress more on analytical skills of the person in schools rather than gearing them up for the real world. The academic tests of intelligence contain problems which
a) Have all the required information available from the start
b) are usually well defined
c) are not of personal interest
d) are detached from everyday experience
e) Have only one correct solution.
Whereas real world test of practical intelligence contain problems which
a) do not have all the required information available at the start
b) are not well defined
c) are of personal relevance
d) are related to everyday experience
e) have many solutions each with its advantages and disadvantages.

20. An example is quoted where a group of children from Zambia and those from the US were tested. Some tests involved wire models, some paper and pencil and some involved clay models. While the Zambian children performed well in wire models, the US children did well in paper and pencil tests while both did equally well in clay model. This proves that the way the test is administered also goes a long way in determining the outcome and conclusion. It is not sufficient to test using only one means to arrive at a conclusion.

21. The brief summary of effects of different types of rewards on intrinsic motivation are:
a) Tangible rewards (ranging from certificates to sweets) decrease intrinsic motivation, and children are more vulnerable to this effect than college students.
b) Rewards for trying, completing, bettering others and meeting standards – all decrease intrinsic motivation when they are seen as controlling our behaviour.
c) Verbal rewards or positive feedback do not decrease intrinsic motivation, and can even increase it. In fact, if any reward is given in the spirit of informational feedback, say to acknowledge good quality performance, and not with the intention to control the student’s behaviour, it can increase intrinsic motivation.
d) However, many students, in our schools who not perform up to the set standards may only rarely, if ever, receive rewards or positive feedback. This amounts to receiving continual negative feedback about one’s competence, which will in turn decrease intrinsic motivation for school work.

22. While praise is good it has to be carefully administered, otherwise it can lead to negative impact.
a) Praise can be seen as externally controlling and thus reducing the student’s autonomy which will lead to reduction in intrinsic motivation.
b) Praise can create pressure to continue good performance
c) Praise can lead to an obsession with maintaining one’s own image while tearing others’ images down.
d) Praise for extremely easy tasks can lead to a student feeling she has low ability
e) If a student senses praise as insincere, she may reject it outright, or feel that the teacher does not really know her.
It is likely that children below seven take praise at face value, by the time they reach the age of 12 they view praise with suspicion.

23. The right way to praise would be
a) Praise the process of an activity (strategies, ideas, effort) not the ability of the student.
b) make your praise descriptive, related to the student’s work, such that it works as useful feedback.
c) Praise without referring to comparison with other students.

24. The author states that very early on, certainly by middle school, children can be made to understand the special nature of their society and its demands – that at a young age, they must learn a great many things in order that, when they are older, they can better decide what they would like to go on with. This understanding can give them internally regulated extrinsic motivation to learn – similar to what motivates a teacher to correct students’ notebook. Free of performance anxiety and fear and taught with imagination and energy, learning anything can be enjoyable. And enjoyment is one of the prime factors that motivates human endeavour.

25. Most classes have a mix of students, some who are quick to grasp and some who take a while to grasp. It becomes difficult for a teacher to teach such as class as if she addresses the former the latter turn off as the are unable to keep pace and if she addresses the later the former turn off as they feel they are learning nothing. Some suggestions to fix this situation are
a) For some topics divide the students into small groups according to their level. Give them tasks appropriate to their level.
b) For some topics, divide the students into small mixed level groups. Device mini-projects where different group members have different responsibilities and can work at their own level without jeopardising the overall task
c) For some topics, find or create material that students can work through independently. Allow for some students to do more and more challenging work than others, by including extension topics. Make sure that everyone has learnt the core concepts an procedures.
d) For some topics, hold small group discussions about material, or use reciprocal teaching method. (Reciprocal teaching involves creating groups of students and making one of them read a paragraph, making another summarizing the paragraph, asking another to form questions based on the paragraph and asking one student to predict the contents of the following paragraph). This emphasizes the fact that regardless of the level, a group of children can be a community of learners and you do not always need a homogeneous group for meaningful learning to occur.
e) For some topics, by all means deliver lectures to the whole class. Keep an eye on the students for boredom or hopeless confusion, interrupt your own flow to ask questions at th right level to particular students, ask one student to summarize for others.

26. While one may be cautious enough not to compare, nobody stops comparing oneself to another. It is a natural human tendency. One way to limit comparison would be change the material in which the different students are working. This will limit the comparison as it will be difficult to compare apple to oranges. This may not always be possible especially in subjects such as mathematics and science where every student needs to learn and work on the same set of concepts. It is necessary for the school to recognize and encourage artistic and linguistic ability as much as mathematical and scientific ability.

27. Some of the negatives of present day education is that it all geared towards measuring what has been learnt. Some of the issues with this are
a) A significantly large percentage of learning time is devoted to preparing for, administering, and recovering from tests.
b) Motivation has shifted from processes of learning to outcomes, both for teachers and students.
c) Curricula are shaped by tests (this is called the curriculum backwash effect) and when tests are heavily knowledge-based curriculum pays less attention to understanding or application.
d) Students experience almost constant anxiety about tests
e) Tests make teachers anxious too, when they feel responsible for their students’ performance.
f) Tests encourage cheating among adolescents, who think education is about getting good marks rather than learning something.
g) the results of ‘high-stakes’ examinations can be unfair and depressing to countless young people.

28. Regarding testing the author says that the results of the tests conducted should not be taken as a conclusion of the ability of the children/person to perform certain tasks. Further probing questions should be asked to understand the real abilities of the child/person. Unfortunately in India a single number is used to determine who to allow or who to reject for further studies or for employment.

29. Some of the beautiful quotes/suggestions from the teachers are
a) Just think what you could do if you took all the time spent on testing and preparing for testing, and used it to teach. There is way too much testing.
b) They don’t need real teachers to prepare children for tests, and in fact, I think they could just develop computer programmes to do this.
c) Learning for the test isn’t meaningful … the scores are up, but the kids know less, and they are less as people
d) I think the tests were designed because everyone thinks there are so many bad teachers, and this would make the bad teachers improve. But it isn’t, in fact, it is giving bad teachers an excuse to continue what they have always done – lots of skill and drill. It’s a license for bad teaching.

30. Some good tests would be ones which assess more important skills such as
a) solving open-ended problems
b) framing problems
c) making and specifying assumptions
d) working in a group
e) being open to new ideas
f) dealing with data
g) using multiple perspectives
h) persisting in spite of failure
i) self-assessing and self-correcting
i) presenting information orally
j) ordering chaos.

31. One better way to assess students is use of portfolio where the portfolio contains a representative sample of a student’s class work, a variety of evidence of her performance in class.

32. Another useful way is collaborative testing, where the students are allowed to collaborate on assignments and both get the same rating. Some students would stay away and would work individually, others may join hands. It has shown that collaboration helps improve the rating of both the students.

33. Another method is the method of rubrics where a particular assignment is evaluated on multiple criterion like clarity, range, depth of understanding, sophistication of language etc. Each criteria would have levels e.g. clarity could have levels like
a) Points not clearly made, overall confused essay
b) A few points made clearly, rest mostly confused
c) Many clear points, a few confused areas
d) All points made clearly, overall very clear essay.
And thus for all the other criteria. The biggest resistance to this type of testing is because of the inherent subjective nature of evaluation and the fact that it does not lead to quantitative cut-offs.

34. It was assumed for a long time that having a high self-esteem with automatically lead to positive outcomes. But it was found out that this is not true. Baumeister who carried out a research to find out the impact of self-esteem states “It is therefore with considerable personal disappointment that I must report that the enthusiastic claims of self-esteem movement mostly range from fantasy to hogwash. The effects of self-esteem are small, limited and not all good. Yes, a few people here and there end up worse off because their self-esteem was too low. Then again, other people end up worse of because their self-esteem was too high. And most of the time self-esteem makes surprisingly little difference. For example, I think the world would be a better place if we could all manage to be a little nicer to each other. But that’s hard: We’d all have to discipline ourselves to change. The self-esteem approach, in contrast, is to skip over the hard work of changing our actions and instead just let us all think we’re nicer. That won’t make the world any better.”

35. Some of the reasons why the self-esteem movement has failed are
a) The self-esteem movement emphasizes  making students ‘feel good about themselves’, with insufficient attention paid to boosting actual skills and competence on which to base that self-esteem.
b) High self-esteem per se must be distinguished from the pursuit of self-esteem. Boosting a student’s self-esteem temporarily reduces anxiety. But, when the student takes on the work of protecting, maintaining and enhancing her own self-esteem, it increases anxiety. This is a truism of human beings in general; we all pursue self-esteem at the cost of our own peace of mind!.
c) While the successful pursuit of self-esteem reduces anxiety and other negative emotions, in many classrooms self-esteem can become a scarce resource gained only at the expense of others. For many students, therefore, the failed pursuit lead to increase in sadness, anger and shame.
d) Because failure leads to a loss in self-esteem, students whose self-esteem is contingent on academic performance experience great pressure to succeed, and this leads to lower intrinsic motivation to learn.
e) If self-esteem becomes a student’s goal, she will tend to over-generalize negative events to encompass her entire worth as a person. This can lead to depression.

36. The author quotes of the researcher who states “Education is also about assisting young people in becoming aware of and extricating themselves from habitual (automatic) ways of attending, perceiving, feeling, thinking and doing by cultivating more mindful approaches to these basic self processes and ways of being in the world, which is a precondition for creativity, freedom of thought and myriad forms of personal and social renewal.”
The author concludes the book with criteria for wisdom, which is what the children are expected to get from a well rounded education. Wisdom is
a) Rich conceptual knowledge about life: Knowing a wide variety of life’s issues in depth, both general and specific
b) Rich procedural knowledge about life: Knowing how to make decisions, solve problems, reach goals and give advice in a wide variety of situations
c) Life-span contextualism: Understanding past, present and possibly future circumstances.
d) Value relativism: Having both a small set of universal values (for the good of all) as well as the understanding of many values in life are relative.
e) Recognition and management of uncertainty: Knowing that life is inherently uncertain and knowing how to deal with that uncertainty.

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It's Okay to Fail, My SonIt’s Okay to Fail, My Son by Vasant Kallola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful book for all parents to read. The parents tend to set targets for their children and drive them towards it. While it is good to set targets, it is wrong to expect them to do it themselves or to find fault with them if they do not meet the set expectations. Every parent wants their child to excel and by excel means getting good marks and first rank in the school.

What most parents do not realize is that marks and first rank only mean so much. It is more important that the child understand and appreciates what they are learning and why they are learning it. They need to understand the practical usage of the subjects the are studying.

It is important that the parents spend quality time with the child rather than just leaving him or her to the teachers and tutors. It is important that the parents get involved in the child’s study and provide them a good environment at home so that they can study well. It is important that the child does not fear failures while at the same time they make sincere effort to excel.

The book presents these aspects in the form of a story where a father leaves his well paying job to take up teaching so that his son who has been living with fear of doing bad in the exams is encouraged to study and excel.

At certain places it looks like the book has been written with a Bollywood film in mind, but these portions can be excused considering the larger aspect that has been addressed by it.

An excellent read for all the over zealous parents. Should act as an eye-opener for all parents pushing their child to excel.

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Popular Education For the use of Parents and Teachers, and for Young Persons of Both SexesPopular Education For the use of Parents and Teachers, and for Young Persons of Both Sexes by Ira Mayhew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Started the book with a lot of skepticism as it starts with statements like Christian Morals should be taught in the school and that the students should be made to read Bible. But as I read the book I was able to appreciate much of the contents of the book. Although it has been written more than 150 years ago, many of the suggestions that is specified in the book is relevant even today, at least in India.

Some of the contents that put me off were “But these countries, occupied formerly by straggling hordes of miserable savages, who could scarcely defend themselves against the wild beasts that shared the wood with them, and the inclemencies of the weather, and the consequences of want and fatigue; and who to each other were often more dangerous than wild beast, unceasingly warring among themselves and destroying each other with every species of savage, and even cannibal cruelty – countries so occupied formerly, are now become the abodes of myriads of peaceful, civilised, and friendly men, where the desert and impenetrable forest are changed into cultivated fields, rich gardens, and magnificent cities”. Reeks of white man’s burden. What scares is the last sentence which speaks of converting “forests into cultivated fields, rich gardens, and magnificent cities”. The results of this is for everybody to see. No green cover and global warming.

In another part he suggests that the blind should not be allowed to reproduce so that over a period of time there are not blind in the world. He suggests that the blind should voluntarily agree to the suggestion. “And can you doubt whether or not this great proportion of blind to the whole community might not be considerably diminished, if men and women understood the organic laws of their nature? understood that, very often, blindness is the punishment following an infringement of the natural laws of God; and if they could be made to act upon the holy Christian principles, that we would deny ourselves any individual gratification, any selfish desire, that may result in evil to the whole community?”

Later these rantings stop and he makes more sensible statements. Speaking about voluntary and involuntary muscles he says “Here then, we have another beautiful illustration of the wisdom and beneficence of the Creator in so ordering that those muscles which are essential to the continuation of life shall perform their functions without the control or attention of the individual.”

Speaking about how children should be allowed to be active he says “These remarks sufficiently explain why small children, after sitting a while in school, become restless. Proper regard for this organic law requires that the smaller children in school be allowed a recess as often, at least, as once and hour; and that all be allowed and encouraged frequently to change their position. I fully concur in the opinion expressed by Dr. Caldwell, who says, “It would be infinitely wiser and better to employ suitable persons to superintend the exercises and amusements of children under seven years of age, in the fields, orchards, and meadows, and point out to them the richer beauties of nature, than to have them immured in crowded school-rooms, in a state of inaction, porting over torn books and primers, conning words of whose meaning they are ignoring, and breathing foul air.””

At one place he speaks about slavery in a very mild manner as “Moreover, across the very center of our territory a line is drawn, on one side of which all labour is voluntary, while on the opposite side a system of involuntary servitude prevails.” This sounds like a sentence translated from plain English by somebody studying for GRE or CAT.

Some the basic requirements of successful democracy is specified in the following paragraphs:
The American Republic, above all others, demands from every citizen unceasing vigilance and exertion, since we have deliberately dispensed with every guard against danger or ruin except the intelligence and virtue of the people themselves. It is founded on the basis that people have wisdom enough to frame their own system of government, and public spirit enough to preserve it; that they can not be cheated out of their liberties, and they will not submit to have them taken from them by force. We have silently assumed the fundamental truth that, as it never can be the interest of the majority of the people to prostrate their own political equality and happiness, so the never can be seduced by flattery or corruption, by intrigues of faction or the arts of ambition, to adopt any measures which shall subvert them. If this confidence in ourselves is justified – and who among the Americans does not feel a pride in endeavouring to maintain it? Let us never forget that it can be justified only by watchfulness and zeal in proportion to our confidence. Let us never forget that we must prove ourselves wiser, better and purer than any other nation ever has yet been, if we are to count upon success. Every other republic has fallen by discords and treachery of its own citizens. It has been said by one of our own departed statesmen, himself a devout admirer of popular government, that power is perpetually stealing from the many to the few.
The institutions of a republic are endangered by the ignorance of the masses on the one hand, and by intelligent, but unprincipled and vicious aspirants to office and places of emolument on the other. Where these two classes coexist to any considerable extent, the safety of the republic is jeoparded; for they have a strong sympathy with each other, and it is the constant policy of the latter to increase the number of the former. They arouse their passions and stimulate their appetites, and then lead them in a way they know not. A barrel of whisky, or even of hard cider, with a “hurrah!” will control ten to one more of this class of voters than will the soundest arguments of enlightened and honorable statesmen. And yet one of these votes thus procured, when deposited in the ballot box counts the same as the vote of a Washington or a Franklin!
There is one remedy, and but one, for this alarming state of things, which prevails to a less or greater extent in almost every community. That remedy is simple. It consists in the establishment of schools for the education of the whole people. These schools, however, should be of a more perfect character than the majority of those which have hitherto existed. In them the principles of science. Cases of conscience should alternate with lessons in the rudiments. The rule requiring us to do to others as we would that they should do unto us, should be made as familiar as the multiplication table, and our youth should become familiar with the practical application of one as of the other.
Cannot be better said. Education is the key to successful democracy. Today’s India is a very apt example of how true these words are. More than half the Indians are illiterate and they are exploited election after election by the unscrupulous politicians to come back to power and grow richer and more powerful.

At another place the author again observes “A sound system of government requires the people to read and inform themselves upon political subjects; else they are prey of every quack, every impostor, and every agitator who may practice his trade in the country. If they do not read; if they do not learn; if they do not digest by discussion and reflection what they have read and learned; if they do not qualify themselves to form opinions for themselves, other men will form opinions for them, not according to the truth and the interests of the people, but according to their own individual and selfish interest which may, and most probably will, be contrary to that of the people at large”.

President Caldwell, of the University of North Carolina, in a series of letters on popular education, addressed to the people of that state a few years ago, proposes a plan for the improvement of common education. The first and greatest existing evil which he specifies is the want of qualified teachers. Any one who “knows how to read and write and cipher”, it is said, is regarded as fit to be a schoolmaster.
“Is a man”, remarks President Caldwell, “constitutionally and habitually indolent, a burden upon all from whom he can extract a support? Then there is one way of shaking him off; let us make him a schoolmaster! To teach a school is, in the opinion of many, little else than sitting still and doing nother. Has any man wasted all his property, or ended in debt by indiscretion and misconduct? The business of school-keeping stands wide open for his reception; and here he sinks to the bottom, for want of capacity to support himself. Has any one ruined himself, and done all he could to corrupt others by dissipation, drinking, seduction, and a course of irregularities? Nay, has he returned from a prison, after an ignominious atonement for some violation of the laws? He is destitute of character, and can not be trusted; but presently he opens a school, and the children are seen flocking to it; for, if he is willing to act in the capacity – we shall all admit that he can read, write and cipher to the square root – he will make an excellent schoolmaster. In short, it is no matter what the man is, or what his manners or principles; if he has escaped with his life from the penal code, we have the satisfaction to think that he can still have credit as a schoolmaster”. Indians should be able to relate to the above words. Our education system is plagued by all the problems stated above.

Another observation on democracy is “Still, if asked the broad question whether man is capable of self-government, I must answer it conditionally. If by man, in the inquiry, is meant the Fejee Islanders; or the convicts at Botany Bay; or the people of Mexico and of some of the South American Republics, so called; or those as a class, in our country, who can neither read nor write; or thise who can read and write, and who possess talents and an education by force of which they get treasury, or post-office, or bank appointments, and then abscond with all the money they can steal, I answer unhesitatingly that man, or rather such men, are not fit for self-government.”
How true

Speaking of how a school should be built the author says that these should be large edifices with enough room for children to play and be surrounded by nature so that the children can enjoy and learn at the same time.

The author repeatedly stresses on the need of good teachers for a school to be really successful.

Another pertinent observation “We have said, as is the teacher so will be the school. We might add, as are the wages, so ordinarily is the teacher. Let it be understood that in any township, county, or state, a high order of teachers is called for, and that an adequate remuneration will be given, and demand will be supplied. Well-qualified teachers will be called in from abroad until competent ones can be trained up at home. Here, as in other departments of labor, as is the demand, so will be the supply.” This explains the lack of good teachers in the Indian public schools.

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The Education of the ChildThe Education of the Child by Ellen Key
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful book on how to rear a child. The author highlights how use of corporal punishment is detrimental to the growth of the child. She also highlights how forcing one’s opinion and worse wishes on the child turns the child into a limited human.

The author says that we should lead by example and create an environment where the child can pick up the right and good traits rather than drilling it into their heads.

Some of the strong statements made by the author are as under:

“To suppress the real personality of the child and to supplant it with another personality continues to be a pedagogical crime common to those who announce loudly that education should not develop the real individual nature of the child.”

“Education must be based on the certainty that faults cannot be atoned for, or blotted out, but must always have their consequences”. A moot point that is raised is does “saying sorry” really help? Or for that matter thrashing the child? The author goes on to say “At the same time, there is the other certainty that through progressive evolution, by slow adaptation to the conditions of environment they may be transformed. Only when this stage is reached will the education begin to be a science and art. We will give up all belief in miraculous effects of sudden interference; we shall act in the psychological sphere in accordance with the principle of indestructibility of matter. We shall never believe that a characteristic of the soul can be destroyed. There are but two possibilities. Either it can be brought into subjection or it can be raised up to a higher plane.” How pertinent it is when coming to reforming culprits.
“Madame de Stael’s words show much insight when she says that only those people who can play with children are able to educate them. For success in training children the first condition is to become as a child oneself, but this means no assumed childishness no condescending baby talks that the child immediately sees through and deeply abhors. It means to treat the child as really one’s equal, that is, to show him the same consideration, the same kind of confidence one shows to an adult. It means not to influence the child to be what we ourselves desire him to become but to influenced by the impression of what the child himself is; not to treat the child with deception, or by exercise of force, but with seriousness and sincerity proper to his own character.”

“Not leaving child in peace is the greatest evil of present day methods of training children.”

“The statement that no human being learns to understand another, or at least to be patient with another, is true above all of the intimate relation of child and parent in which, understanding, the deepest characteristic of love, is almost always absent.”

“Parents do not see that during the whole life the need of peace is never greater than in the years of childhood, an inner peace under all external unrest. The child has to enter into relations with his own infinite world, to conquer it, to make it the object of his dreams. But what does he experience? Obstacles, interference, corrections, the whole livelong day. The child is always required to leave something alone, or do something different, to find something different, or want something different from what he does, or finds or wants. He is always shunted off in another direction from that towards which his own character is leading him. All of this caused by our tenderness, vigilance, and zeal, in directing advising and helping the small specimen of humanity to become a complete example in model series”.

“The art of natural education consists in ignoring the faults of the children nine times out of ten, in avoiding immediate interference, which is usually a mistake, and devoting one’s while vigilance to the control of the environment in which the child is growing up, to watching the education which is allowed to go on by itself.”

“To bring up a child means carrying one’s soul in one’s hand, setting one’s feet on a narrow path, it means never placing ourselves in danger of meeting the cold look on part of the child that tells us without words that he finds us insufficient and unreliable. It means the humble realization of the truth that the ways of injuring the child are infinite, while the ways of being useful to him are few.” How true.

“What is required, above all, for children of the present day, is to be assigned real home occupations, tasks they must do conscientiously, habits of work arranged for week days and holidays without oversight, in every case where the child can help himself. Instead of the modern school child having a mother and servants about him to get him ready for school and help him remember things, he should have time every day before school to arrange his room and brush his clothes, and there should be no effort to make him remember what is connected with the school. The home and school should combine together systematically to let the child suffer for result of his negligence.
Just the revers of this system rules today. Mothers learn their children’s lessons, invent plays for them, read their story books to them, arrange their rooms after them, pick up what they have let fall, put in order the things they have left in confusion, and in this and in other words by protective pampering an attention, their desire for work, their endurance, the gifts of invention and imagination, qualities proper to a child, become weak and passive. The home now is only a preparation for school. In it, young people growing up, are accustomed to receive services, without performing any on their part. They are trained to be always receptive instead of giving something in return. Then people are surprised at a youthful generation, selfish and unrestrained, pressing forward shamelessly on all occasions before their elders, crudely unresponsive in respect of those attentions, which in earlier generations were a beautiful custom among the young.”

“We must begin in doing for the child in certain ways a thousand times more and in others a hundred thousand times less. A beginning must be made in the tenderest age to establish the child’s feeling for nature. Let him live year in and year out in the same country home, this is one f the most significant and profound factors in training. The same thing holds good of making a choice library, commencing with the first years of life, suitable books for each age; not as is now often the case, get quite spoilt by constant change of summer excursions, by worthless children’s books, and costly toys. They should never have any but the simplest books; the so called classical ones. They should be amply provided with means of preparing their own playthings. The worst feature of our system which imitate the luxury of grown people. By such objects the covetous impulse of the child for acquisition is increased, his own capacity for discover and imagination limited, or rather, it would be limited if children with sound instincts of preservation, did not happily smash the perfect playthings, which give them no creative opportunity, and themselves make new playthings from fir cones, acorns, thorns, and fragments of pottery, and all sorts of rubbish which can be transformed into objects of great price by the power of imagination.” Alas!

“Try to leave the child in peace; interfere directly as seldom as possible; keep away all crude and impure impressions; but give all your care and energy to see that personality, life itself, reality in its simplicity and in its nakedness, shall all be means of training the child”.

“Neither overbearing nor pampering parents do good for the child’s development. Both alike, torture their children though in different ways, by not understanding the child’s right to have his own point of view, his own ideal of happiness, his own proper tastes and occupation.”

“Family life would have an intelligent character if each one lived fully and entirely his own life and allowed others to do the same”.

“We must realize that every pebble by which one breaks into the glassy depths of the child’s soul will extend its influence through centuries and centuries in ever widening circles. Through our fathers, without our will and without choice, we are given a destiny which controls the deepest foundation of our own being. Through our posterity, which we ourselves create, we can in certain measure, as free beings, determine the future destiny of the human race.”

“An English specialist has maintained that the future thanks to the modern school system, will be able to get along without originally creative men, because the receptive activities of modern man will absorb the the cooperative powers of the brain to the disadvantage of the productive powers. And even if this were not a universally valid statement but only expressed a physiological certainty, people will some day perhaps cease filling down man’s brain by sandpapering process called a school curriculum.”

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At the end, on the agreed day the project has gone live. The Users have tested the Application and have certified it as sufficiently bug free; there were no Show Stoppers; the Performance Tests showed that the Application is capable of holding up to the expected loads. There has been a huge celebrations and there a flurry of congratulatory notes exchanged between the teams each one patting the other on the back. The management on both sides are happy to have pulled out, what they believe a bloodless coup.

A few weeks later the users come back saying, “Everything is fine, BUT there is one small change that needs to be made to one of the functionality that has been delivered. This is very important as it is effecting all our transactions and needs to be done immediately.”
After this statement here is the set of activities that happen:

  1. The Project liaison from the development team requests the user to raise a Change Request.
  2. Once the Change Request is raised there is a series of exchanges between the development team and the users seeking clarifications and details of the Change Request.
  3. At the end of this exchange the development team goes back to determine the “Change Impact” and estimates the time taken to make the change.
  4. The user team comes back saying that the effort estimates are too high and wish to cut down on the estimates. The reason being quoted to the development team is that this is a very important change which cannot wait till tomorrow, whereas the real reason is they are finding it difficult to justify the cost as it comes immediately after the management has written a huge check for the development team after the release of the application.
  5. The negotiation process begins and the teams go back to the initial requirements document and the user team is trying to find words and sentences to try and prove that this is a bug rather than a Change Request and that the team should fix this at no cost and the development team tries to highlight the vagueness of the words and sentences to try and bolster its request for a Change Request, to justify its timeline and to justify the requested payment.
  6. Soon one can see sweetness of the release changing into bitterness between the two sides.
  7. In the meantime the Project Manager of the development is trying to get things done more quickly so that she can spend minimum resources and charge the maximum amount to get the maximum profit margin to meet her targets.
  8. The development team is grumbling at the prospect of going back to tampering with the code that they thought was finished and done with. Also now when they go back to the code they find that it has not been written well enough for them to fit in the change requested easily. They rue the day they took shortcuts to meet the functionality requested by the client and not spending a little more time in making the code cleaner and more flexibly and easy to understand.
  9. Soon enough bucked by the success of the project and based on the appreciation received from the management and clients, the best in the project start hunting for greener pastures and start moving on to the next employer leaving the maintenance to the new team members and ones that are not bright enough to jump the ship.
  10. As more and more users start using the system and as the load increases and as the regulations change there is more changes required in the code. Soon the code starts resembling a piece of furniture which had just managed to stand up is being held in place by scotch tape over scotch tape.
  11. It reaches a stage where it is just not possible to fix the code anymore and the end users think in terms of rewriting the entire application from scratch.

The end result is every stakeholder is frustrated with the others. All this happened because of one root cause “LACK OF STRUCTURAL QUALITY IN THE CODE”.

Although many in the field of writing software (this is more from a perspective of software industry in India) are from computer science or similar background, none of them are taught the skill of writing quality code. It is not that it takes longer to write good code with a good structure (although it is perceived so due to lack of knowledge and experience), nor is it that the developers are unwilling to do so (if educated they would be more than willing to do so), it is just that they are not taught to write good code.

Our education (in India) is geared towards testing the memory retention and nary a time is spent in developing the creativity or logical reasoning abilities of the students. This leads to graduates who have a good retention power in terms of memory but are completely unskilled when it comes to working in any industry. Even if they have written some thesis and have acquired a Masters or a Doctorate degree they have no practical experience of how to put their knowledge (or rather the contents of their memory) to good use.

If industry, especially the IT or software industry, in India wishes to survive and thrive it is high time they start getting involved in defining the curriculum in the educational institutes. Without doing this they are never going to get employees who will write good understandable, maintainable code. The last couple of generations have managed to survive as the structural code quality was not in focus then. The clients have now started asking for quality in the code and we in this industry are going to suffer as very few in the last generation has learnt to write good code and most have migrated managing teams over a period of time forgetting whatever they learnt during their coding years. Given this there is a dearth of mentors to teach the new entrants in the industry to write good code. To top this there is cut throat competition with everybody vying to offer services at the lowest cost (as that is the only Unique Selling Point of our industries). This means the industry has to  cut down on time spent to build the software and reduce the cost of the associates used to make this software. Reduced cost of associates means not so good developers which further compounds the problems of Code Quality which leads to bad software. This means next time to compete the company needs to quote a still lower price to win the deal and this is a vicious downward spiral in which most IT companies from India find itself.

It will take a real strong company to lead this industry out of this quicksand into which it is sinking.

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity #TED : A beautiful talk by Ken Robinson highlighting how the school education is killing creativity.

Watch out for the example that he gives towards the end about the choreographer of the musical CATS. What is says is very true. Today the same child would have been suppressed by being given drugs. Although this is a bit of a stretch with respect to suppression of creativity, but it serves the purpose here. Children need to be allowed to follow their intuition and be provided an environment where they can pick and choose what they like to do. Teachers and mentors should guide the child in the right direction by praising the them in the area where they excel and gently nudge them away from where they are not able to show enough talent so that they do not face disappointment in future.

If this is what Ken Robinson has to say of the British and American education what will he have to say about the education the kids have in India? Learning by rote is the norm. Basics are never clarified. There is absolutely no stress on creativity. On the contrary the entire academics is geared to killing the creativity of the children.

The present education system was devised by the Britishers to generate efficient clerks. They succeeded and under relatively honest managers these clerks performed well. Now the education system and the environment into which these clerks enter has become so vitiated that neither do they function efficiently and to add to the woes they work under corrupt managers and become corrupt themselves. Many who wish to remain honest are either relegated to the sidelines or worst bumped off.

God save the country from the present education.

A good article about how science is taught with the context. It is true of all the subjects that are taught in our schools and colleges today.
Take history for example, a typical question is arrange the following events in the chronological order. How does that help any student. No way. Instead they should encourage students to debate on the pluses and minuses of the different events, probe into the psyche of the people of the different countries based on the events that occurred there.
The education should give examples from real life so that the student can become a well rounded personality. If one debates on the pluses and minuses of the different historical events one would better appreciate the good and bad of events. One could try to become a better human being by not repeating history. Instead one ends up answering questions like was Jahangir father of Akbar or vice versa which serves no purpose other than testing the memory power of the student.
Similarly for geography the students should be taken out to the fields so that they can understand the local geography and geology. They should be able to see the red clay soil if they are taught that the red clay soil is present in the Deccan plateau. The should be shown an estuary if possible and a delta of the river so that they can relate and understand better.
Similarly as rightly said the article students should be taken out to experience botany and zoology. They will be able to better understand and related if they are taken out on field trips.
A similar problem exists in the technical institutes of today. A bachelor’s degree in computers hardly means that the person can start working in the computer industry. The education is bad to begin with, which means the basics of the person are muddled and to add to it our IT companies do not have a formal concept of mentoring so that the fresh recruits can be moulded or shaped to be good to great programmers. What we have in India a bunch of Average or at best Above Average set of people who can get a software up and running with complete disregard to quality. Programming is an Art. Software cannot come out of factories (consider the movies coming out of Ram Gopal Verma’s factory). The same is true of Software being written in India. Unless driven by the client the quality is pathetic to say the least.
Hope there is an educational revolution that will change this situation and hope that the future of the current generation improves.

We as a society seem to think that reservation is the panecea for all inequivalities. Here is a editorial from The Hindu, which urges the government to pass the reservation for women in the assembly.
Nobody is bothered that we do not get quality legislators. All that we seem to be bothered about is that there are not proportional female legislators. Nobody is fighting for getting good legislators but we seem to be fighting for legislators from the ‘Backward Communities’ and from the ‘Fairer Gender’.
Why this attraction towards reservation, even after we have seen it fail to uplift the ‘Backward Communities’ after more than half a century of independence?
We rejoice at a K.R. Narayanan becoming the President of India. Why? Was he made the President because he was from the backward class? or was he made the President because he deserved to be one? Even if we elected him without bias it still is not a matter to rejoice for two reasons:
1. We should have done it in any case.
2. His daugther went on to become IFS using her caste credentials and not her capabilities.
So do we want incapably administrators, just because we have reserved 33.33 percent of the seats for women? or do we want legislators who are good, irrespective of whether they are men, women or neither?
If today women are suppressed why are they so? Is it because it is a society dominated by men? Yes to a great extent it is true that the situation today is because our society has been male dominated for eons.
So what is the solution. Did the women in the US need reservation to come up? Did the women in any other country need reservation to come up? No. What is needed is education. Women need to see that they should get elected because of their abilities. Today very few legislator’s are elected because of their ability. They are elected only because they have the muscle power or because they belong to a particular caste.
We are continuing to use caste as a means to divide ourselves. The British did that and we are continuing the hegemony. A hegemony which has led to lots of bloodshed, and lot of burnt hearts.
We do not wish to take an educated, unbiased, objective view at the situation. If we do, we will realize that only Education and objective outlook will help us redeem the situation for the women and also for the ‘Backward Castes’.