Education Reforms: Curricula, Teachers, Parents, Children – Itihaas Annual Summit

Yesterday was a very insightful, introspective and compelling morning, being at the ITIHAAS’ 9th Annual Summit of Teachers and Educationists. Over 250 of them congregated in this annual immersion from across the country. Prof Poonam Batra, an eminent professor who has contributed immensely to the education space in the country, and Ms Prachi Agarval, noted developmental psychologist were the first ones to address the esteemed audience on the issue of, “Teachers and Curricula in the times of Educational Reforms”

It was a pleasure listening to Prof Poonam Batra of Delhi University on the shifts in the outlook towards education as the nation went on a roller-coaster ride that the ruling dispensations took the nation through, with their concept of nation and nationalism, paradigms of developmental economics, notions of secularism and tolerance! Here are a few of the salient points I managed to capture and tweeted live too.

Prof. #PoonamBatra #Teachers&CurriculaInEducationalReforms @ITIHAASKiBaat

  • Teachers have become one of the most marginalized, in a society that is hierarchical! #EducationalReforms are driven by #EconomicReforms. what are the #HumanIndicators? #Health #Education sliding further
  • #Teachers are catalysts in societal transformation. But #liberalization made the schools a market place #lessonplans, #studentprojects are being bought! #Teachers become #laborers #corporates who don’t understand #children and #education are packaging
  • #EducationPolicy is being pushed by #VentureCapitalists. #Teachers are no where in deciding what, why, when, where and how of #curriculum. #market has taken over #love, #affection too. Where is #Education? Where is development of #people?
  • We are focusing on #learningOutcome than #LearningExperiences #joy #child #Centricity has vanished! #Education has to be contextual, you cannot have global uniformity. Marginalization of #knowledge #context of course #Teachers.
  • #Child-centred vs #Discipline, #traditional vs #modern, why do we see only #polarity? Best way to learn is to have a non-threatening environment? Freedom means free to make mistakes, air opinions! Children observes your walk, do not talk!

Here are few points that I captured from Prachi’s sharings – @PrachiAgarval

  • Why do we go to #school? How many of us as #Teachers promote #questioning? Do we help the child to #realize his #potential? #developmental #relationship
  • Are we listening, understanding children? Are we co-creating? are we making children comfortable in committing mistakes? Helping them be compassionate? how many of us use our potential? How will we help children unearth theirs? #ExpressCare belonging, #ChallengeGrowth

Singers from TONK who have been championing the cause of education in country side, championed by dear friend Amir Abidi and his movement. The audience had the privilege of listening them.

I had short engaging interaction with the audience on  “#Perspectives, in the rapidly changing #world”.

Thanks to my dear friend Manohar Khushalani, an eminent theater personality and a Professor at IIIT Delhi, who went live on FACEBOOK while I was engaging the keenly learning facilitators and mentors in the auditorium.

#Education is so much more! It is not about syllabus and marks for sure!

I am summing up the three things that any #educationist or #institution should strive to facilitate in a #child………………………..

1. Desire to #learn, through life: Life-long #learner
2. Have #courage to push boundaries: #Discover more of self. Dare to make #mistakes.
3. Be #humble whatever you achieve: #humility

These will not only help one in the changing times, but also #facilitate one ride the #change. Be the #master of your journey and destiny. Be the #change-maker. #Impact the #world.

#Shivani  of @ITIHAASKiBaat nicely summed up. If you do not know #where you are #coming from; if you do not take pride in who you are,  #why and #How will you know where you want to go? Do we facilitate #integrity #compassion #courage #humility?

Smita Vats, the founder of ITIHAAS concluded in her inimitable style, exhorting the teachers to create their own stories that they and also the society will be proud of, and also facilitate children in a manner that their stories too become legends.


Social Media – tread judiciously to safeguard yourself and your institution

(An article written for a publication, to appear soon. While we are aware of all the lovely upsides, very few look at the downsides, especially in an institutional environment. This article / interview has been in that context.)

Social Media is a great tool to reap rich rewards, if tread judiciously.  Institutions and individuals have adopted social media (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, blogs, Twitter) as a medium of sharing information and connecting with people.

  • Institutional uses include connecting with work groups, sharing knowledge, recruiting, rapid dissemination of information as conditions change, and connecting with immediate stakeholders or larger audience.
  • Individuals are excited about reconnecting with people who are distant in both time and location or engaging with others who share similar interests and many a times to show the face that would get them more following and LIKES!!

The impact of these tools of ‘unimaginable speed’ is far reaching. While this rapid and widespread dissemination has many advantages, many times the social networking sites end up being a place for big online cocktail party or even an open glasshouse! It is no more about reaching twenty people with ‘an image’, but about twenty million with a click of the mouse!

1. What are the specific concerns around security on social networks as it relates to the higher education sector (Institution, students and faculty)? Any incidents of security threat through the social network especially in academic environments?

The very nature of the medium makes an individual, institution, organization and even a nation vulnerable. The unintended and intended consequences are pretty high –

  • Classrooms with laptops and wifi connectivity have not only created distractions, but also made the institutions vulnerable – anything can fly-out any time!
  • Break-ins resulting from innocuous Tweets about being on leave or vacation
  • Students posting a short video on YOUTUBE –
    • A discussion among themselves about a situation or a faculty, tarnishing the image;
    • A video of preparing food in an unsanitary way leading to charges of health code violations
  • With corporate recruiters and other stake holders always cross checking the veracity of statements of individuals in their CVs or publications with their online presence and activities, every individual is vulnerable
  • Social friendship building to an emotional plane and at times threat to personal privacy leading to really bizarre situations; god forbid the extreme personal safety incidents that come to light!
  • At an extreme, institutionally –
    • It shapes perceptions and thinking like the one that may lead to revolutions like the African spring across nations, an Anna Hazare’s movement in India, ‘Occupy squares’ in the US – universities and institutions have always been the hubs and epicenters!
    • Educational, corporates, research labs, national agencies – The number of channels of exit of classified documents have multiplied: Wikileaks is a great example of thriving on such a phenomenon

Knowingly or unknowingly many of the innocuous acts on this medium of ‘anonymity’ and ‘lulled privacy’ are leading to damaging the public’s perception of an individual, institution, organization and nation.

In fact, the law has not yet caught up with the pace at which technology is moving, leaving many helpless! Nations like India are still groping in the dark!

2. What guidelines do you recommend/suggest to prepare students and faculty in the higher education sector for the security concerns on social networks?

Social networks are highly impacting channels to communicate to the outside world in an economical way. What could be a better way than reaching the target segment directly without clutter! World wide they have taken away about 20-30% pie from conventional marketing channels. But, yes, if it is not handled judiciously we can end up in a soup.

Recognizing the vulnerability and threats, intentional and unintentional, an institution has to safe guard itself and its community. The aforesaid reasons are compelling enough for most institutions to come out with behavioral code or advisory on ‘net-etiquettes’. Everyone will benefit if each one of us keep a few things in mind –

  • Discretion is part of valor – While creating your profile page or writing on any blog or public forum, do not divulge any detailed information [addresses, designations, birth dates, family details, schedules, business or financial information.] that would expose you or anyone else to unscrupulous individuals who may take advantage of it in the future or makes you vulnerable of identity theft or malicious threats.
  • Think before you type – Internet gives false security, your guard is low and at times you type things without any inhibitions.  This includes gossip, insults, obscenity or even outrageous claims. Be careful so that nothing will come back to haunt you.
  • Being a Skeptic helps for sure – Useful information as well as useless propaganda is abounding on social networks. While a few out there are wearing colorful masks or even masquerading as some one else to further their personal agenda, certainly a great number of posts or stupid or ignorant. Take everything with a pinch of salt!
  • Professionalism pays
    • Never post any picture or video of individuals, contexts and situations that can compromise anyone’s dignity and security, above all institutions.
    • Never download anything from untrusted sources that can compromise your personal privacy – computer, personal data, bank accounts and also institutions privacy.
    • Check the privacy and security setting details on your net-tools and bring in appropriate checks to thwart any untoward data flow.

  • Vigilant Firewalls save – Take precautions by creating monitoring methods to track individual accounts for unusual bandwidth traffic. This can help quicken any response towards untoward endings.

All in all, if our sensory and analytical antennae are conscious and alive, we can certainly take advantage of such a wonderful medium. Let us tread judiciously.

IWSB – The institution at a glance : Admissions 2011

Selecting a course, an institution to study in; an organization to intern with….How do I take a call?

It is that time of an year where a student is very confused and parent very stressed. They want to reach the portals of an institution worth pursuing a course from. There are many questions that may be popping in mind – How do we really evaluate a course and the institution very objectively? How to compare a course in an institution with that of another? Is an education fair useful to find answers to my dilemmas?

Exploring the self for course and institute

Exploring the self for course and institute

Education fairs are welcome interventions to facilitate parents and students to get the feel of the institutions and the courses. They may facilitate the confused child and a stressed parent, by providing opportunity to interact with counsellors, not only to gather information, but also have insights into the authenticity of the programmes. Many times one may even come across a university or a course of his or her liking while browsing through the fairs, which otherwise one is not really aware of.

But it has been observed that most of the times these fairs usually fail to attract the top-of-the-line institutions as those do not need any publicity. And also students who have scored well and who have the potential to get admitted in the top institutions do not visit education fairs either. So, education fairs are just a means to serve the purpose of gaining awareness of institutions and courses.

Bombastic claims and ad campaigns in various media should not influence our decision taking. It is very important that the parent or the student does a serious research to understand and evaluate the institution before taking a final call. This research can scourge secondary data on the web, primary research by visiting the institution and also interacting with professors, alumni etc.

A few of the parameters on which any institution can be evaluated are –

a. Course – How relevant is the design of the course you want to pursue, to the current and future evolving context of industry / economy? How up-to-date is the course? Is it futuristic and enabling enough for a student to discover or stroke ones potential and also grab the opportunities.

b. Faculty – What are the credentials of the faculty : academic background, experience (teaching / industry), publications – papers and books, larger roles played in the societal context (government committees, industrial societies etc.), consulting work (which organizations). Able and reputed faculties can make a huge difference to the institutional building and also in facilitating students’ excellence.

c. Infrastructure – campus, well-equipped classrooms, round the clock access to well stocked library and cutting-edge computer centres, sports arenas that can really engage the students in their learning process

d. Students Residential ? If a course is residential, it can make tremendous difference to learners as the collaborative learning through interaction becomes a 24X7 process. If the programme is residential, the interactions can be more intense and extended; discussions can encompass the entire gamut of issues around a problem that we are trying to solve, rather than looking at perfunctory solutions.

e. Faculty residential? If faculty also resides on the campus, the interaction can be even richer. While I was a student, I have had many an interaction with the faculty really late evenings too in a relaxed and productive environment, as the resident faculty usually spends in their office rooms till late in the evening and they encourage involved students to push their boundaries.

f. Location and Industry institutional integration? How well the institution is integrated with the industry is a significant key to shape the institution in terms of design of courses, attracting visiting faculty who are practicing professionals, possibility of students engagement in industry alive projects etc.

g. Students – how competitive is the selection process of students? Greater the competition (not necessarily marks) and intense is the selection process, higher the quality that emerges. If the student community is vibrant with activities across the spectrum – co-curricular and curricular with active clubs, inter-institutional competitions etc – developing ones personality will happen naturally.

h. Placements / Alumni record – Finally every student either wants to join a corporate or engage oneself in an entrepreneurial environment. The future of our nation will very much depend on the environment in an institution to foster entrepreneurial leadership. So I consider this as a very important parameter. Kindly probe more into the institutions records to categorize.

If an institution is new, and yet one can find significant strength in other parameters except for placement, I for one will opt for the institution as it gives an opportunity to the student to be part of the institutional evolution.

i. Last but not the least the cost for doing a programme after all the above parameters evaluated

These are a few parameters one can use to evaluate an institution. Irrespective of which course you are opting for, benchmarking will help you narrow on to an institution and programme worth investing for the next three to four years of under-graduation or subsequent graduation too.

2) While approaching an organisation for internship, what are the factors that a candidate should keep in mind?

As much as we evaluate an institution, one can benchmark an organization when a student looks for an internship –

a. What sort of work is the organization engaged in my area of interest? One needs to probe a little deeper to gain real insights.

b. How serious is the organization about the interns? Do they give live projects to work on? Do they really implement findings and recommendations of the intern to make the systems, processes and business more effective?

c. Does the organization invest in the interns as much as it does on the regular employees? Do they take interest in the development of the interns?

d. What sort of relationship does the organization maintain with the interns even after they leave? Do they give pre-placement offers and recruit outstanding interns?

In either of the cases – The course and the institution evaluation and, the organization evaluation – what would really help is the clarity one has about ones own goal; what is that one really enjoys and what one wants to do in life. Once we have this clarity, achieving the goal is a natural process as we will definitely work towards realizing it – where to undertake the course, institution to study in and Organization to associate with will emerge.

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