Friday, 16 December 2011


“He writes answers in his own words”, our son’s teacher commented.

Bursting with pride I replied, “That’s great isn’t it?” Taken aback, the teacher just nodded her head, speechless, unable to comment.

As a student I was never a big fan of the rote learning method… which child is? A product of Kendriya Vidyalayas (Central Schools), I never had a strong foundation in most subjects and my understanding of the most basic concepts was always very shaky.

Wasting all those evenings mugging up lessons was not my way of spending time productively; and the sad part is that I suffered. My Mathematics skills never came up to the desired levels and happy to be given a choice between Maths and Home science, I chose the latter in the XI, against all advice.

However, the only way I cleared my exams, and yes sometimes with flying colours, was to pay attention to what the teacher said in the class and to try and understand concepts on my own. I had a knack of making sense of things in my own particular way. 

Seeing our son Aaryam do the same pleases and frightens me at the same time. Pleases, because I see him turning away from becoming a “rattu tota” *like others, on his own initiative. (A “rattu tota” is my term for one who writes answers from memory, without comprehension of the basics) and frightens me because our education system doesn’t favour students with a mind of their own.

I had promised myself that I will ensure that my children will study in schools where the teaching methodology was totally different, schools which believed in the overall development of the child and did not focus on rote reproduction and regurgitation skills. I did just that but then not all cities have such schools and I was forced to put him in the same old familiar pattern again.

Truly fed up because neither his school nor his teachers after repetitive feedback have taken cognizance of my suggestions of incorporating activities, interactive sessions in the class, internet and book study, I undertook the task of researching the net and talking to other parents on the same topic. While doing so I came across some very interesting and enlightening but already known facts.

  • ·         According to a recent comparative study with the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate (IB) and Britain’s International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) on curriculum, the World Bank has shown that the Indian syllabi only encouraged rote learning rather than creative thinking. 
  • ·         With respect to mathematics, there is a surprising amount of similarity in the topics and subjects addressed, although each curriculum has its unique features.
  • ·         “Concerning the sciences (physics, chemistry and biology), the Indian curriculum is distinguished from the international one mainly by the teaching approach and the focus on rote reproduction skills,” the study said. Like the Indian mathematics syllabus, the science syllabus was not taught in a thematic manner and contained an abundance of standard exercises, which are directly related to questions on the certification examination.
  • ·         In our country, pupils have no option but to become rote learners because of the extreme importance attached, both by their parents and teachers, to their performance in a three-hour written examination.
  • ·    These examinations, however, are not a real test of a child’s comprehension ability. In reality, if the children are able to regurgitate all that they have memorised from their text books, they score top marks.  
  • ·         One of the biggest fallouts of this system of education is that it completely annihilates any imagination that the child may possess. 

What scares me the most is the indifference, lack of awareness and the will to explore and expand horizons of all those involved in the education system. I have always believed that an educator plays a very significant role in the life of a child; the child carries the teachings of his educator throughout his life. It’s their guidance which makes a child “a successful human being”, a human being who is well adjusted and well behaved on top of being an achiever with a mind of his own.

The only ray of hope I can see is the changing mindset of certain people around me and in the government (if they are to be believed i.e.).

According to reports, from later next year, lives of school students across India will transform. Under the Model Rules of the Right to Education (RTE) Act circulated to school education secretaries, rote learning will be replaced by a system of “Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation” that will take into account the talents of children in fields such as music, dance, art, writing and oratory. Students will also be evaluated on life skills such as thinking ability and emotional skills, attitude towards teachers and understanding of values.

However, at the cost of being cynical, how much of the above will be implemented is the question of the hour. As mentioned in an article I read recently, the challenge faced by most schools is the lack of untrained teachers. It also seems that the country will require an additional 5 lakh teachers once the RTE Act is notified to maintain a mandated pupil teacher ratio of 30:1.

It is for parents like you and me to bring about this change. And if we want our children to possess free and self thinking minds we need to begin by letting them write in their own words.

*Our son laments the fact that once the syllabus of a semester is covered by the teacher, they actually have to mug up the answers loudly and repeat them in the class every day. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Mere anmol ratan

If there is one thing all we women, the ones who work out of their homes, from their homes or for their homes, can all concur without any dissension - not many of those darlings around though - on, is the fact that “diamonds are not our best friends” it is the…didis, auntys, ammas, bais, call them what you may, who are without a doubt in my mind, our unrivalled friends, our anmol ratans.

Their contribution to our lives goes unnoticed by most of us though in our hearts we know how much they mean to us. Life without these support systems can never be the same. They give so much of themselves to our families, our homes, treating us like their own families, sometimes at the cost of their own family, that they become a part of our daily lives without us realising it.

For some they are just servants who are hired to do menial tasks at home, tasks which are too demeaning and degrading to even think about doing by themselves; for some they are helpers who are employed to share their daily burdens while for some they are family members who have become integral parts of their households.

I have indeed been very fortunate to have some of the best gems work for our home and their contribution to making our house a home cannot ever be denied. As a newlywed I got to learn the basics from Mary and Babli. As a new mother, Shanta bai was the one who helped me bring up my first and second born sons when I was struggling with my inner demons and new found motherhood, or Rani and Rekha who make our home lively and comfortable now.

However, here many of you will say that all homemakers are not so lucky and there are also those who do not feel the need to recognise their efforts or see them as more than “servants” and “maids”. I do agree that not all our domestic helpers fall into the category of hard working and are not “giving it all they have” types; rather, some of them can be quite a handful, testing our nerves and making us fraught with worries doing just the opposite of what we hired them to do.

Baby Haldar, whose best-selling memoir, “A Life Less Ordinary,” was published in 2002, says, “Some people understand that we are looking after the most precious things in their lives — their homes, their children, their parents, their mental peace is in our hands.”

Once we have understood that, our search for the perfect maid will end right there. That I believe is what we need to recognise and remember. Like Baby Haldar says, “it starts with respect”.

A salute to all my anmol ratans.