Thursday, February 25, 2016

Testing Times

The field of education and learning has always interested me. I've always been curious about how it works, what goes into education and so on.
The questions that are now occupying my thoughts relate to the area of testing.

When I did my schooling more than 25 years ago, we had to write a string of tests..class tests, unit tests, dictation tests, surprise tests...and the biggies, term exams and the final exams. These tests and exams were always a sore point not just for me but for everyone who has gone through school. Yet, some of them managed and many of them struggled. Mine was a huge struggle. Just scraping through an exam would be a moment of triumph for me. I still believe that the examiner in my Class 10 Board exam, took pity on me and handed over  a few 'grace marks' because my score was 48 on 100, the passing score being 40! I endured the pain right from Class 2 to 10, until I reached class 11, when I got to choose my subjects. I loved each one of the subjects. I understood every theory. Exams became a breeze. Why, even a pleasure! The high scores I got became a motivation to do better every time. The high point was when I managed to top the Marketing Management course with a Gold Medal! I am sure my school teachers who labelled me as 'failure student' and subjected me to every possible humiliation will not believe this story. It is ironic that today, I write for and edit school textbooks. And I totally love what I do.

Well, I often tell myself that there is no point revisiting the horrendous past but it's all coming back to haunt me. 25 years after I finished schooling, I am shocked to know that not a thing has changed in the system. It is the same exams. The same grading. The same stigma. Yes, there are School Boards like the CBSE and ICSE that are taking every effort to veer away from sole dependence on examinations. They have introduced projects, classroom assessments on various skills and many more such initiatives. But the question we need to ask is if the schools are following the pattern diligently? Are they making a mishmash of their own ideas and the Board requirements?

So, I wonder. Are written examinations the only way of testing children? What is the process-flow like? We teach the child a concept in class and want to know if he/she has understood it. How do we do it? By asking questions orally, by asking them to draw it out if the concept allows for it, by role-play, classroom discussion...all these methods are already available and being put to use but only in a small way. Ultimately we all fall back to making children write sentences, paragraphs and pages full of material just to show us they have understood the concept. This kind of assessment for the past so many years, still seems to be the only accepted thing. The written exam seems to be lord of all other forms of assessments. I once overheard a child happily tell her mother that she had scored 24.5 on 25 in her test. "Where did you lose that half mark?" snapped the mother. I couldn't bear to see the child's flower face wilt. Examinations can make or break a person's life. They can squash a person's confidence forever. Don't we read of suicide attempts every day? Yet, we are stuck to this method of assessment as if there were no other.

I give here, a very extreme example. Imagine a very bright child who doesn't have fingers in both his hands. The ideas are all up there - in his head. How will he show it to the world? He will have to perhaps find a scribe or join a school for physically challenged children. Why? Just because he can't write. There is every chance of a regular school refusing to take him in.

What about children with dyslexia? Imagine all those agonizing hours they spend before getting a grip on their pencils and these exams. I have read and been inspired by stories of so many dyslexic people who have gone ahead and made a place for themselves. But from what I have read and understood, most of them have been school dropouts and had resolved to mark their own path.

Forget those who are physically challenged and those with clinically proven learning disabilities. There is a new crop of children that are completely 'normal' in every perceivable way possible. They are as intelligent as anyone in their age group. They have only one difficulty and that is writing. This is a very common problem these days. Many teachers might agree with me that there are at least 2-3 children per class with this issue. The problem according to some experts is attributed to a very early introduction of writing. I have learnt that each child's readiness for writing varies slightly, just like any other developmental milestone. But the way early-education works in our country, children are categorised according to age groups and not skill sets. No government or Board of Education has control over what children are taught and made to do in their Kindergarten years. Some schools make them draw strokes and some schools make them write even some five letter words So when children are forced to do cursive writing before they are ready for it, some of them tend to develop writing issues in later years especially between the ages of  7 and 10*. The idea of a written test is so daunting to such children that they go off into a shell or become rebellious.

Be it primary school admissions or admissions for Post Grad courses or even Government/Public Sector job interviews...everything is based on a written exam. At least, it seems to be the first step. A person who hasn't done well in the written exam is knocked off in the very early stages. There isn't much room to look for other skills like communication, negotiation or other soft-skills. I strongly believe that expression through writing comes only for a few people, inspite of years of LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing) training right from primary levels.  Look at competitive examinations. Do you think our much celebrated dyslexics Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell or Leonardo da Vinci would have cleared any of those funnily acronymed, much sought after, competitive examinations? In today's world they couldn't have ever been able to go anywhere near the esteemed universities to pursue higher education. It is another matter that the quoted people might have been only in search of knowledge and never university degrees. Sadly, things don't work that way anymore.

All of this talk brings to my mind a bigger question. What is the purpose of education? Wasn't learning supposed to be the purpose of education? Since when have exams become the be-all-and-end-all of education? Do we send children to school to learn or to pass exams? Schools and educational institutes should make learning joyful. Not intimidating. I will never forget what my mentor told me when I had written a rather tricky exercise for a grammar concept for a Class 1 textbook. She told me, "The purpose is to teach and not to test."

As simple as that. Isn't it? I am not an academician. I am not a teacher. I don't have the answers. I think of these questions just because I have once been a student. I am now a parent. I love people and the light they carry within them. Examinations, which are just one facet of learning should not snuff out the spark that every individual is born with.

*Useful articles:

Pic courtesy:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In a Limb oh!

I hurt my foot real bad last week.

I asked my boss permission to work from home. "Permission - my foot!" he yelled.
"No, that'd be MY foot," I said.
He asked me for the reason. I said I had fractured my little toe.
He cracked up at that and said it's a very lame excuse.
I went down on my knees. He just dug his heels in and said no.
What could I do? I couldn't put my foot down. I could only prop it up. That was the doctor's advice.
I couldn't take leave on loss of pay either. Who would foot my medical bills?
Plus I have my deadlines too. Can't let grass grow under my feet, you see.
For those who want to know how I am doing now?
Well, another 20 days before I am back on my feet. But I know I will limp back to normalcy soon. Thanks for asking.

*Disclaimer: Apart from the fracture everything else is a fragment of my imagination. Not even a nail of tooth. I mean truth*

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Little Thought on Apology

What is apology? Acknowledging a mistake? 
A lapse happens. We apologize. It's over.
Is there a take-away from this? Yes, we will ensure that the mistake doesn't happen again.

Now, picture this. We have done something, which from our perspective might have seemed right but ended up hurting someone. What do we in that case? Sometimes we sit on our high horse and insist that it wasn't our intention to hurt. Sometimes we give in. We say "Hey, I'm so sorry, I really didn't mean to hurt you. Please don't be mad at me."

Why do we do this? Is this a lie? No, it isn't. It comes out of honesty. We do this because of the kind of a relationship we share with the person. We do this because of the immense respect, care and concern we have for the person. We want to remain close to this person's heart all the time. Mind you, I am talking about all kinds of relationships here.

Every time some one has a fall, be it a stranger, don't we check on the person, as a reflex? We do this just to provide a moment of comfort for a person who is shaken. An apology is just that. When we do this to strangers on the road, can't we do it to for those who care for us and those we care for?

Most of us human beings are blessed with this thing called INTUITION. Let's use it. Not many people are going to tell you they are hurt. The silent reaction could vary from going off into a shell right up to suicide. (Sorry I don't mean to sound morbid but that's reality.) But if we use intuition, we can sense hurt. At the same time, I know it is not easy to look in the eye and say "Hey buddy, I'm sorry." It takes a lot of courage. If you want to say sorry but don't know how to do it, don't worry. Here's where intuition comes to play again. Try eye-contact or hold the person's hand quietly or just hover around the person, . The hurt friend will intuitively understand what you are up to and forgive you. Believe me, it works. 

What can the act of forgiving do to a person that is hurt? It is not about ego. It is a way of healing themselves. It is a way of reassuring themselves about the strength of their relationship with you. Indirectly, regaining their own strength and personal conviction.

While doing all this, let us not forget that the learning after an apology is not temporary but permanent. Never, ever to hurt the person again. 

PS: Personally speaking, I don't remember holding grudges against ANYONE all my life. There have been countless instances when I have apologized for no obvious fault of mine at all. I'm quite shameless that way! Similarly, if I sense even a whiff of remorse, trust me, I have their back-for a lifetime. 


Monday, December 14, 2015

Memes I Make

  • After the Chennai floods Dec 2015

  • #100SareePact


  • For the love of MMKR! (My favorite meme)

  • For the love of music - any kind.

  • When I am really happy to see someone! (or when I want to be sarcastic about it :P)

  • Run for your life!

  • More of MMKR dedicated to Whatsapp Groups

Chennai Airport After the Rains

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Instant Karma x 2

I am on my bike, getting back home. Satyam Cinemas lane. (One-way lane)
This guy is crossing the road a few meters away from me, from my right.
As he is crossing the road slowly, he has completely turned his heard left and is busy staring at me. I'm irritated. He won't look away.

Enter: stern-looking uncle on a scooter. The uncle is speeding on the opposite side of the road, toward me (on the wrong side). Our chap (henceforth called the 'starer') has forgotten all rules of crossing while he busy staring. The uncle who is now really close to the starer applies a sudden brake and his scooter touches the starer's knees. At the impact, the tea that the starer is holding in his right hand, completely spills all over uncle's black shiny shirt.

Uncle freezes. Starer freezes. I slow down. Uncle raises his hand towards the starer. I wait to cross a few meters from where I am, to burst out laughing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Weather I like it or not


A week of unstoppable rain. Four days of house arrest.

Anyone who knows even a little of me knows how much of a romantic I am.

And yes, true to the cult of romantics, I love the rains. I always have. But for the first time in my life, I almost wanted it to stop. Perhaps personal and professional pressures have mounted up just like the laundry pile sitting in the corner of the room. Look! A shirt sleeve menacingly juts out of the filled-beyond-capacity laundry basket. If you've watched at least one horror movie, you'll know what I mean.

If all I had to do was to sit by the balcony and stare at the rain, I would have loved the rain and would have been so much in love--with no one in particular. (We romantics never need a real person to be in love with, okay sometimes.) I now get to visit the balcony only to pull out the half-dried clothes and to pull away the junior dreamer, muttering fear-inducing words like cold-fever-doctor-injection.

I would have loved the rains if I had someone supply me with hot snacks and tea. Forget dancing in the rain. The only water I came into contact happened to be freezing cold soap-water. The only things that blossomed in the monsoon were the callouses on my palms with all the dish washing.

Oh, all that kitchen work and the baby-sitting made the weather even more gloomy. So I yearned for and earned my TV time. The family was nice enough to hand me over the remote. So I plonked in front of the TV, rubbing my palms in eager anticipation of a cheesy rom-com or some classic. But TATA SKY did not think that way. It just sternly asked me to wait till the rains stopped (in 3 clear bullet points). Ah! Now I understood the family's generosity with the remote. Hmph! Not one to give up so easily, I sulked and pouted. The untouched DVD collection was raided. The Malayalam classic Balayasakhi was fished out. A sordid formula: Kolkata rains + Kerala rains + 1 broken leg + 2 broken hearts. Even Mammoty's handsome face couldn't save me from drowning into further depths of grey. (The leading lady was so wooden that they could have made an entire prosthetic limb for the handicapped protagonist using just her face.)

I then crawled to the book that I've been trying to finish reading for almost a year now. Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. Suddenly his huzun (loosely meaning melancholy, a word I had begun to love) made me whimper.

I politely shut the book and turned to the window only to see a 3-feet deep wading pool on the road - I shut the window with not-so polite words.

I don't know what the weather's got to do with nostalgic trips. This time I had an entire odyssey by itself. Thankfully, I did distract myself with work. And quite a productive distraction it turned out to be, as long as it lasted.

Make hay when the sun shines is one thing. But the motto of the anti-ruling party TV Channels seemed to be 'sow seeds when the clouds burst'. And the TV Channels run by the ruling party pretended as if it were all fun and sunshine (pun intended). However, talking about TV news, I firmly believe that what happens at home should stay at home. It felt terrible to see Chennai and its admin 'lords' being ripped apart on National TV, especially hurtful when it was done by a charming home-grown boy on CNN-IBN.

The lightning, thunder. The noise of the winds. The drone of the mind-chatter in the silence of power-cuts. My rebelling hormones. Flooding everywhere. People living in danger. Cumulative effect of the cumulonimbus, haven't slept well in days. Greydarkgloom.

Day 4, I woke up to see a few rays of sunlight sneaking their way in. Water-droplets on the balcony grill gleamed brilliantly, cheering the sun, as it were. Dear friends from other towns sent me sunshine in jpeg format. The stagnating water outside my house started receding. The romantic in me slowly stretched, yawned and opened her eyes lazily.

Though romance and routine don't get along very well, I have come to agree that there is indeed some comfort in routine. The house-helps are back. I am back at work. The ear worm has finally wriggled out. I now look forward to only two more sounds - the chime of the school-bell and the whir of my beloved scooter. And perhaps a little pitter-patter?


Saturday, November 07, 2015

She would have preferred her father to say that

Happened to read this article a couple of mornings ago. I'm still feeling rather disturbed.

It is the story of a 19-year-old girl who decided to marry her 21-year-old companion from another community. Her father who apparently didn't agree to this relationship filed a criminal case against the boy, alleging that the boy had not only kidnapped the girl but had also lied about his age. At the end of the hearing, the courts told the girl that she could go ahead and chose her life partner.

Let me make it clear right at the beginning that I am not saying 19 and 21 is the best age to get married. Let's talk about marriageable age some other time.

My point is this. In the times that we live in, forward thinking and liberal views are just a dream. A dream that comes true perhaps only for a minuscule percentage of Indians. A majority of us (not just women) still go by what others tell them to do, especially in matters like when to marry, whom to marry, how many children to have and when, what occupations to choose...

Isn't it sad? Two people fall in love and want to get married. The couple should not be waiting for a court order but just a kind word from elders in the family. They should seek blessings but not police protection (just look at the line-up of cops in the disturbing photograph!). Ideally, a responsible father would tell her daughter that he trusts her and will support her decisions. He might want to suggest that she should wait till she graduates. And the daughter should be able to trust the father enough to wait. Isn't that a lot easier than going to the courts?

I hear that today, it has become a 'trend' to go to the courts alleging kidnap when the case is actually marriage with consent. Who is to make up for all the loss of time, money and effort wasted in settling such issues? And given a chance, we all only love to throw darts at the judicial system in this country.

Now what happens after this court order?
The couple might go ahead and 'live happily ever after'. But what about the scars?
Will the family ever patch up?
Will the family desist from further tying to separate the lovers? Don't tell me we haven't heard such stories before (the girl having to lose both her father and husband as well in the battle).

I want to know. Isn't peace the main goal of every human being? Why is it so difficult to live and let live? What is that ONE THING we need to change in our lives? Where do we start?