Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Norwegian Social services.

About 25 or 30 years back, I had been horrified to read an article about a family where two small children were taken away from their mother because she had not kept her house tidy. This was in Norway or Sweden (I forget which). A woman with two small children very often does not have time to tidy up her house. I remember my house when my son was about 5 years old and my daughter was an infant. I did not have any domestic help and it was all I could manage to cook a meal of sorts, send my son to school and take care of my daughter. Tidying the house was last on my priority list. If I had chosen to spend time tidying my house I would have to stop cooking or bathing the baby or some such more important task. (in my age group, husbands did not consider any of this their business)
In most of our households, very small children sleep with was their parents. In fact, when one of my relatives made her infant son sleep in another bedroom alone, I thought that was ill treatment of the baby. I believed (and still do), that a small baby needs to be near its mother at night.
It is ridiculous for governments to decide how someone should bring up his own child unless the parent is actually hurting the child in a manner universally perceived to be harmful.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Coincidentally, I just read Amy Chua's book "Battle hymn of the Tiger mother".
I do believe that we must praise children appropriately (meaning no extravagant praises), but Amy Chua is something else.
The Chinese mother treatment is fine when the child turns out to be a concert pianist as well as a cosmologist at the age of 16, but what about the normal, average children? If they become just a run of the mill physics teacher who plays the piano at family get-togethers? I think Amy Chua was lucky that her daughters survived the sergeant major treatment.

Saturday, 21 January 2012


A recent post on nanopolitan mentioned something that I have come across many times. People who firmly believe they can sing beautifully, or that Harvard is just waiting for them to apply in order to give them a PhD. It varies in degree, but it's the same thing.
In our college, we have an assembly every morning where a prayer is sung. A group of students lead the prayer. A boy often goes up on stage to join this group. He is really tone-deaf, but holds the mike. So his voice predominates. The result is really painful. So why does he not know that he cannot sing? After all, these are not small children. In our college fests, students put up dances which are reproductions of the popular Hindi movie songs and that too very often with lack of coordination. The practice for just a couple of hours and it shows. But they get "wows' from the audience of fellow students.
We do not expose our children to excellence during any part of their education.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A project

I had posted on my stint as a judge for a school science fair under the INSPIRE scheme.
In this exhibition, one participant had set up a the lemon battery. Old hat. I think every science fair has one lemon battery. But when I probed a bit, this boy told me he had observed that if he used old lemons, that were spoiling a bit, he got a higher voltage. That is a remarkable observation and I found it intriguing. I told him that he must take it further.
So though his actual project was unimpressive, his was probably the most scientific work.


The RGUKT Rajiv Gandhi University for Knowledge Technology is a fairly new institute functioning in different campuses- Basar, Nuzvid, R K Valley and the Hyderabad unit functioning from IIITH campus.
The idea is to educate rural youth after class 10 for six years leading to a BTech degree.
What is different is the pedagogy adopted.
There are course coordinators who design the course content. Based on that, the students are presented with video lectures. They use these and the study material. There is a mentor for the class.
Students are expected to study Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Humanities and social sciences and later, the core engineering subjects.
I am curious to know if this works.
One complaint I heard was that since the students have not been exposed to the English language much, they find the video lectures difficult to follow.
I am trying to go and see how it works one of these days.

Monday, 16 January 2012

education again

"The widespread shift towards bottled water products is increasingly causing consumers to lose faith in public water infrastructure, which ultimately leads to public reluctance to support investment in public water supplies. This concerns many cities who are worried that a lack of public support will cause funding for water infrastructure to erode."

This is what has happened in the realm of education. Most people, who can salvage even a few hundred rupees, send their children to private schools. So anyone who has even a little clout, is not using this facility (govt. school). Hence there is no pressure to improve them. There will soon be "public reluctance to support investment" in school education.

more on pisa

The KV system though run by the government, works well. The learning outcomes are good in these schools. When it comes to the state government schools, the system does not work- infact, TN which was one of the states chosen for the PISA, is one of the better states in our country as far as school education goes.
I was talking to some officials of the KV sangathan and they tell me that the state governments' funding for the state schools are a small fraction of what the KV s get. That is one problem.
Another thing is to make the SCERT independent of political influence and set up an autonomous "sangathan" like the KV sangathan, and make it accountable.
The goal of every state government is making the numbers large....more number of students passing the 10th class...irrespective of whether they have learnt enough or not.
Education will improve only if the goal is to make children learn and not to just have good-looking statistics.
Will that ever happen?
Maybe not -since the Anna Hazare follower types, the now vocal middle class does not send its children to these government schools.
NDTV has been covering the admission to the KG classes of various private schools in Delhi, where they are demanding bribes of Rs 8 lakhs.
But does it give a 5 minute slot to government schools? even those in Delhi? Not that I know of.
So the chances of any pressure building to improve the govt. schools is a bit low.

Friday, 13 January 2012

school science fair

I was a judge for a school science fair yesterday. The children had some really good projects. I was impressed by some of them, as I have never been in my college science fairs. Couple of years back, an MSc Microbiology student had put up a microbial elecrtochemical had an 9th class child yesterday. There was not much difference between the two displays except in size. In fact this was not the best exhibit...there were many better ones. Some of these children really knew what they were talking about. Of course, most of them are not their own ideas.
The INSPIRE scheme of the DST/ CBSE, under which this fair was organised, expects the children to come up with their own innovative ideas. I don't think any of them can do so.
I think this scheme is too grandiose an unrealistic.
What a child can do is find small innovations in his daily activities and that is what we need to recognise and encourage. But who will recognise this and encourage it? Many school teachers are not open to new ideas and that too from their own pupils!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


The results of the learning outcome audit is alarming (PISA)...but why is it alarming? people have been saying the same thing for years. ... maybe not that we have escaped being at the bottom by the skin of our teeth. We are in the same position in the HDI too... so it's not surprising.
But apart from speeches, will anyone do anything?
The problem with this situation is ..once there have been 5 -10 years of bad education, then there is no hope --for the next generation will be taught by those who have not learned anything during their education.
Assuming people wake up , and the govt, ngos and everybody gears up to improve our schools, maybe build toilets for the children, maybe get blackboards fixed... but the teachers will not know enough to teach anything to these children. So how will the learning outcomes improve?
It is really scary.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

WiS again

Women in science-- discussed again. We talk, do studies that come to conclusions which anyone standing at your local bus stop could tell you, but nothing happens.
If at all there is some improvement in the lot of women in science, it is because they themselves have changed and society as a whole sees the economic benefit of having an earning wife, and hence mother/mother-in-law pitches in. Then what of the mother/m-i-l's career? She has to take premature retirement? Or cancel her post retirement plans?
I am sorry to see that there are no creative solutions offered by any of the scientists themselves, though some of the top institutions have put in place some systems.. TIFR has set up up a childcare facility.... proposed by the women's cell(Why only women? Are they are going to take care of cloned children?) Many IITs have in-house childcare facilities as I see from their websites.
But can women work part time? Can they work from home if their field of research permits? Can their husbands if in the same instt. be given time off?
Secondly, what of women working in other institutions? Have the CSIR/ DRDO /other such labs taken up this issue seriously? What about Universities?
Is it enough for the PM and Nirupama Rao to talk?

Thursday, 5 January 2012


When I was 16 or so, the Statesman brought out a magazine 'Junior Statesman' which soon changed to 'JS' Desmond Doig and Jug Suraiya were editors (not sure who was what). There used to be regular contributions from a pair ..Papiya and Tuk tuk Ghosh. These two girls used to write amusing stuff. I was suddenly reminded of them and idly wondered who they were. I googled them just now and am horrified to learn that Papiya was murdered.
Life is scary sometimes.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pepsico and water

When Pepsico states that they give back more water than they consume, what does it mean?
The aquafina bottle states this was achieved by water harvesting and that the claim has been endorsed by an independent audit.
All this is part of the feeling most of us have that a particular amount of water is ours, a particular piece of land is ours...
Long back when I first read Chief Seattle's speech in Illustrated Weekly, I was moved. In those days, environment concerns had not arisen. We still believed the resources could be consumed for ever. Still, the power of the speech was moving.
I cannot remember the exact words, but the sense I got was that like the sky, land cannot be fenced and divided and owned.
Now, in the present context, it is more than just is prophetic. We own water, we own land, we own the skies above our land and maritime boundaries mean we own the oceans and by doing so, we haven't done ourselves any good.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Farming in the Nilgiris

I had visited an NGO couple of years back---a nice farm in a tribal village. They practise biodynamic farming. I liked the fact that they use organic methods of farming....a green house full of beans plants laden with beans and not a leaf that was eaten by predatory insects.
However, the biodynamic method involves the zodiac signs in some manner I did not quite understand. It also involves killing a deer and using its rumen/stomach/or some such organ for producing an inoculate with which the cowdung mixture is fermented. None of this I understood completely from what my guide told me and made me sorry for the deer.
In the same NGO's office, I met one of their people who told me about their work. They dry herbs grown in the villages and then package and sell them. They were also training the local people in traditional farming practices. I was surprised by this. I would have thought the local villagers were the experts!

I watch this TV show called Blue Bloods. It is about a family of New York Police Department officers. The show is fictional and makes all ...