My 10 year olds walked out of the Municipal Commissioner’s office with a broad  smile and bouquets in their hands  -Mission accomplished ?” Yes and more than that “they screamed in unison . I said , ” I can see that . Your chests are full of pride and you seem to have grown taller in an hour’s time “. They smiled sheepishly . These fifth graders were interviewing and having discussions with the Municipal Commissioner and the town planners on the future plans for the development of Thane .

When the children of Grade V met a few days back telling me about their project on Thane city., I briefed them about doing references through books and digital media  , inviting guest lecturers to talk to them about  Thane to widen their knowledge .I wanted to to go through the TMC website  to know about their functioning. I advised them to design ways  to contribute to the development of the city.What followed was a huge file of researched work and action plan .They were accorded such a warm welcome with inputs from district authorities which added  first – hand experiences to their reservoir of knowledge already gained.

This blog is in continuation of the previous one on where  and how  to begin…..to make learning better.The above example is a case of true learning . Practically , one can not do this exercise each time . But these experiences makes them more inquisitive  ,more thoughtful and makes them own up their learning . A few more examples – Shops and vendors are spaces to learn budgeting and planning.

Let children own their learning . Preparing a schedule, working on it and setting goals . Goals are not percentages. It is about understanding concepts. In the visit to the TMC , they may have learnt a  lot of Civics. While making their presentations to the class they will acquire clarity of concepts. Every day experiences provide fun in learning When kids are packed off to tuition class with the hope that they learn more , the  opposite happens . They learn by rote. Retention does not happen since the  intake is hardly 20 % . Kids want to just complete the task .The reluctance of children to go through an ordeal is quite evident from the fact that look unenthusiastic.They will give excuses as how the teacher was too strict in her corrections or the questions were out of syllabus or that just careless mistakes. Carelessness comes from lack of concentration. Lack of concentration is sign of disinterest and disinterest is due to monotony. Yes ! Monotony is due to absence of wonder and joy in the learning.This explains why students perform below average even when they are tutored privately .

Create inquisitiveness , more research and understanding that leads to fun in the process of learning.We must know how how to ride roughshod over shirkers.There can not be any complacency from the teacher or the taught.The mind cannot be idle with dull thoughts.better learning happens with open minds, willing to experiment and be flexible. An environment that is stimulating ,where all kids – introverts and extroverts , slow and quick learns find space to grow. Working with kids bit by bit, just creating a difference in their outlook towards learning will see a need based value addition to the learning .

A question often raised is ,”Why do some kids perform better than the others considering similar preparation, levels of capability ,interests and environment?” While all external factors may appear similar , one must ascertain the child’s personal style of learning, the interactions with peers and adults, the activities in school and at home.You will realise that simple everyday interactions have helped your child realise her/his fullest potential I am fortunate to have the luxury of observing thousands of kids everyday of my life for the past 28 years and learning each day of my life about them ,for them and from them . I will take you with me on this beautiful journey of understanding and being understood.

What a child  learns in his early days has an indelible mark on his ability to  learn. During middle school and high-school it impacts his academic scores, his performance  in sports ,his ability to socialise, his interests in co-curricular activities and his personality as a whole.A couple of  examples from our own lives prove this point. Our tastes in food is developed during our early years. Our  life-style may have undergone a huge change with all the world-wide travel  but at 60 , the dhall -baath that may have  been the  favourite in our school days remains on the top despite newer likes. A grand parent at 70 is eager to learn to use a smart phone smartly. They try and pick up every lesson on technology from their grand -kids or from anyone who is willing to share.They observe, understand  question and clarify till they have mastered it.Their quest fro learning , their oral, aural abilities developed in their early childhood  comes in handy.

In a similar manner,all experiences of early years will help parents and teachers (if shared with them ) provide such learning experiences that will contribute  to maximising his ability to perform.I was watching a Kids’Show where a kid recited some rhymes and the ” R” pronounced as  “L” for e.g” Roll was LOLL”Rock was LOCK” The audience was was laughing and perhaps enjoying the cuteness. The kid was terribly embarrassed because his peers were also laughing at him. In the third attempt ,the host made the child pronounce correctly. I was surprised that the parents had chosen to ignore the correction till so late (5 years) ,whereas the host in the show  managed it in 5 minutes.The approach was different.Interactions  with the child must  help to build skills in language , communication ,social skills and conceptual skills.

So , how do we go about it ?Observe the baby in its infancy when no external influence played a role. When music is on , the baby would made movements with hands and legs , with gurgling sounds to express joy. A cartoon is on for the elder sibling and this infant turns towards the TV and “watches” in rapt attention. Try reading to  your infant .You may be holding on to the infant’s attention for a long spell. The infant can’t read but shows interest. These examples can lead  parents to understand the innate learning style of your child. When he enters school , he has other influences.  The play-way , the audio, the visual -treats, the reading , the phonics, the incidental learning, peer experiences….all of them become a part of the teacher’s lesson -plan.When the parent shares the inborn learning style of their child with the teacher ,they will  help the child perceive newer ways of learning.Ideally , children must have the right balance of all learning styles.

The general observation is that today’s children are digital natives and are inclined to be only visual learners.Parents share their concern about their children.Here are a few – “I told him this was important” “.Where does he listen?” The minute I speak ,he shuts the door I know he is not at all listening ,”…he does not communicate at all ” Do not  blame them for that .I have seen parents giving their I pads and I Phones to play to silence the child , to feed him , to cajole him ,is used  as a lollipop for homework completion, even at times when parents need  to have a peaceful conversation each other !!!  So we are consciously driving them to a virtual visual world of learning.As the child grows older , one realises the need to sharpen our abilities which have been relegated to the background . Is it possible to reinforce newer skills when the child is already inclined to a particular style from his infancy?Yes.. ..if we very  consciously and gradually sharpen their abilities in other styles by introducing newer  multi-sensory approaches. The going may be slow initially but will make the child a happy ,willing and well-adjusting person.Thus strengthening the overall personality.

Where do i begin …..? My next blog tells you that.


“We Share”

Independence Day celebrations bring nostalgic moments for me. Having attended more than 13 Independence Day celebrations in Red Fort during my student days, I still look forward to this day with the enthusiasm of 10 year old. The parades, the display, the dances, the grandeur and the National Anthem, all of them bring a great sense of belongingness and pride for our nation. Braving the rains, the humid weather during Independence Day and the wintery mornings on Republic Day added the element of excitement. If ever I said, “It is so hot “, my father would say,” You can’t bear this for 3-4 hours. Imagine how the leaders sacrificed their comfort for you. “A full stop….. Never did my friends or I dare to comment after that. That evening, we had to write an essay on that.

I had a very similar experience this morning. The students had all gathered at the flag hoisting area. There were classical and folk dances, light and instrumental music, quizzes on India my country, patriotic songs and speeches. The sky was blue and clear and we were happy to be outdoors. Children in their finery and scouts and Guides in their uniform added to the grandeur. All of these bring in a great sense of pride for our culture and its diversity. And then the Rain God decided to bless us abundantly. Braving it all, my students, staff, parents and I hoisted the flag with same excitement and joy that I had once experienced as a child. There was silence in the air when grades 3 & 4 and the Guides presented multi-lingual patriotic songs with gusto spreading a patriotic fervor across. Onlookers on the roads stopped and watched.

We wanted to add more meaning to our celebrations. Every year, we take a community project for the school. This year, each class pledged their support and contribution to a particular theme project that will be their initiative towards building a caring society. This social initiative is called “WE SHARE”. The purpose is have age – appropriate sensitization programs that will build a positive physical and social  environment.

  • The Kindergarteners will take up “Plant a Sapling”a month which means 12,000 trees would be in our immediate environment.
  • I chose to work on the Project – “Reuse and recycling from Waste”, so that they will understand the value of materials around them.
  • II has been particularly fond of animals therefore; they wished to take the project on “Care for Animals” – Adopt a Tiger programme.
  • 3 will re-initiate the “Car Pool” project which will bring awareness on the purpose and the outcomes of Carpooling. This will bring in more awareness about the need to carpool, use school buses and public transport for commuting.
  • 4 students will work on the Energy Audit project that highlights saving of water and electricity. This will entail a conscious drive towards Energy Audit and bringing awareness among people.
  • 5 works on “Zero garbage and no plastic bags” which will be a community project.
  • 6 takes to Organic Farming, Compost Pit and Vermiculture so that they focus their attention on agriculture and horticulture.The project has already been initiated in the school.
  • 7 moves towards educating adults and children on the need to develop and practice better road and traffic sense with special emphasis on Road Safety.
  • 8 – Swachata Abhiyan, a drive initiated in June 2014, will be taken on a larger scale to bring in awareness on cleanliness . Swachchata is about cleansing the mind, body and environment.  Drive to better health (Physical and Mental), hygiene and environment will be the highlight.
  • 9 to 12 have undertaken to educate the less –privileged so that they contribute to life –skill development of the children in orphanages, less –privileged children with their programs – “Adopt a School” and “Teach a Child “and bring in the joy of learning. This will ensure that India has no kid out of school.A drive from within to go to school is more effective external forces. This is in continuation of our existing program of teaching a child.Besides numeracy and linguistic skills, we can design curriculum that are need –based and interest- based be it in art ,craft , music and/ sport.

It is important to educate the society so that we ensure that a real learning community is forged in which each one further contributes to builder a stronger India.In the educational space, we must encourage independence of thoughts and actions with collaborations that will further promote innovation. The success of the actions will depend on the range of applications and materials, their leadership skills and above all their attitude. With our social initiative –WE SHARE – we hope to take small steps towards a world class learning outcome. These outcomes are not traditional by the way of academics but are designed to make people extensive independent thinkers.

Jai Hind !!!

Years after India attained independence ,we still talk about what Independence means to us.Most of us are born  in post Independent India ,yet ,we associate the word independence in the context of Indian history . Independence is freedom ,absence of dependence as I see in  a language.But let me take you to what Independence is, in the present day context.

What does Independence mean to me ?Let’s take a few examples from our daily lives to understand this . The first part of the sentence is the context and the second part is the justification we often give.

A child who gets a pocket money of 1000 Rs. and does  not feel it necessary to share with his parents how s/he spends the amount ,even when asked …… Laughing it off we say “We trust him wholly”

A child who shops for his /own clothes ,watches,  shoes  and other accessories …………. “Our tastes are so different”

A  child wishes to decide what to do with his vacations”. ………………”He knows where to go ”

A child tells the parent ,”it is my life,let me take my decision.”…………  “Kids are so independent these days”.

A child does his revision and plans for  his /her own future…………….”I have no clue . He knows it all.”

To me ,none of these are signs of independence.Independence is a state of mind. It may be expressed in words or through deeds.We feel it….we can see it …. we can experience it….  we live it. So, , to me, it is  an attitude. To acknowledge it , one must be into informed , mature decision making.If a child claims to know all and shuns mentoring ,it is  arrogance and not independence.If a child eats only what s/he wants ,s/he is pampered , not independent .If a child wears only what s/he wants(irrespective of the occasion),it is being insensitive not independent,.If a child talks and behaves the way s/he wants unmindful of others, it is immaturity on display , not independence.Having one’s own circle of friends is their choice but knowing about each of the friends is the Right of the parent.leaving the child to do it all alone is escapism.A child’s  pattern of behaviour, attitude , habits ,outcomes needs monitoring. Self-direction is an integral part of growth but not at the cost of leaving the child to fend for himself. Mentoring ,guidance and sometimes even hand -holding helps the child to develop confidence required to  carve a niche for oneself .After 16 , they are fairly on their own but they need motivation , inspiration and a quiet reassurance frequently.

Independence does not mean  absence of association , collaboration.It is about being able to get started even when resources are limited or when there are challenges to face. Rising above these with maturity and understanding with a smile and a desire to be better each time,learning  from the experiences and observation independently and the lessons of others  is true independence.Most people associate external attributes like independent style to independence . What we need to emphasise is that” within” is more important because that make the personality stronger .

I have been teaching English for  grade 6 since a fortnight .It has been a wonderful experience .While I was doing composition ,I asked them what they wanted to compose-an essay or  a  story.we then debated over it for 3 minutes and went with the popular choice of the easier one -Story writing . Then came the twist . I gave the class  10 new words , phrases , idioms which they had to incorporate in the story.I also gave them the starting line and raised the number of words.Suddenly , there was a seriousness in the light story.They did not mind choosing to do  the essay but I was firm. Though we discussed the words , the meaning , they made sentences ,all was fine but to get to the story with the conditions imposed was not something in their comfort zones. I wanted an original  and then the “I know it all affair” expression vanished.They knew they had to work. I was  trying to make them think  independently and creatively and help them  raise their own standards.Initially a few asked they need a nod from me for every new vocabulary they used but when I offered no help, having done the exercise of  building  their vocabulary thoroughly .They knew that they had to find  their way. What I read 20′ later were independent ideas.I asked them to re -read their own story and write another one  . Are they better at it the second time over ?This will make  them independent learners.

Independence is being original. So,let us create an environment that will promote students to be original ,so that their original thoughts could become ideas which in turn could become their way of living . India needs thinkers , innovators,creators and inventors. Towards that ,let us awaken our children

On the occasion of Guru Purnima , my pranams to each one of the gurus who have made us what we are today.  You have impacted our lives, our thoughts and our actions.  Gurus are not only teachers but also beyond.  Parents, grand parents and great men who have inspired us in our journey so far are also gurus.  Let us remember each one of them on this beautiful day and pledge that we continue to respect each one of our gurus, all our lives. Dear teachers, Our students made our day so special with their gurudakshina against the backdrop of melodious pieces in classical, semi- classical  and  light forms.

The morning made me think about the role that we have in the present context.  Is the Guru the one who delivers the model lesson in his or her classroom.  Is he or she the one who helps students chart out a career graph?  Is Guru the one who sows lessons of right behaviour, right attitude, right habits?  Does the Guru provide a right attitude stimulating environment for his / her growth and development.   Does the child’s emotional and social development happen with the Guru’s involvement and intervention.  Yes, all of these and a lot more.  Not just in classrooms and in school, but also at home.

With the invasion of IT and the digital communication in our little space, we see that we have undergone a revolution of sorts in our ideas, behaviors and living.  We really do not have to depend on our immediate environment for experts in any field.  We can reach out to the very best. A missed lesson can always be  accessed through online lessons . But , what can teachers do to be a step ahead ? Could we dealing with subject knowledge in isolation and have them integrated.  Can we look at the  teaching-learning practices  beyond  the immediate needs of the environment we live in and  explore the global perspective ?

Today after I interacted  with students  across the school  , I  reasoned that while  we need to study the global trends, innovations, newer thought processes, modify where necessary, it is equally important to remind ourselves that students need the personal presence of the teacher in the classroom and the parents at home . There are no substitutes for them . The eye contact , the reprimand , the reminder , the  warmth that Gurus maintain  during the process is a kind of reassurance that  they care.  How else can we explain the success of the gurukul system  ? It was relevant then  and is also  so now . Despite the rigour of discipline and hardwork , the shishya turned out to find a respectable place in society . All the anecdotes, personal experiences , humour that we sprinkle between serious discussions makes  learning  interesting . Examples from the real world is important for children to  connect to the ideas , concepts  and the real world  of challenges and  opportunities making education purposeful.

So, how do we Gurus make education REAL ? ( Relinking Education and Life  ). Read on in the next ….

Little things we do and experience in our childhood remains etched in our memories for a lifetime. Some moments are cherished years later ,when we grow up and realize that they were the most important lessons for life.

Growing up in a family of committed and extremely passionate scientists is a different experience. I can relate to the level of passion today because I am sailing in the same boat.But those days ,I wondered how could  one only think of research in science! On the days of the seminars and symposiums, our house and guest houses would be flooded by like-minded scientists . After the working hours ,all of them would be invited by my father home almost every day. It used to be hilarious for us kids, to watch the expressions that  my mother had on her face when the guests would arrive. Simply because my father  always forgot to tell her about the guests arriving for dinner or he  would have casually mentioned that  “a few”  would join us for dinner. . And we would have at least a 20.  My simple mother knew  that my father never really  understood what happened back-end in the kitchen till he retired..But food would roll out freely .and in abundance . I wondered how my mother managed it . But she knew what they liked the most … simple south Indian food ….Curd rice being the favourite among all the top scientists of the country from Dr Kalam , Dr.Raja Ramanna to Dr Aatre, Dr. Rama Rao “Amma,,Thayir Saadam (Curd Baath)” was always the cry. The camaraderie that they shared was awe-inspiring. Each one of them headed one organization but there was never a one-upmanship. They only spoke about their labs and research.That was the  culture they built in the DRDO then.

Being with luminaries of this stature  has always been inspirational .Back then , I did not know its importance . I remember happily  sharing my kiddish my school happenings with them.They laughed and sometimes added their stories too !I I even sat through  their serious discussions on research . They never felt the intrusion.There was never any office gossip , jokes , petty complaints that were tabled.Every conversation was meaningful . I loved the little stories that went behind each of their research work, be it the making of the first indigenous torpedoes, the submarines , the space launches. When Dr Kalam became SA to Govt of India,  he moved with ease  from missiles to Defence Research .He has always been inspirational.

Years later I met Dr. Abdul Kalam in Rashtrapati Bhavan , That was 2006. It was  a very special for me and my family. My father received the Life time achievement Award for  his contribution in Science and Technology., Dr. Kalam invited us to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for tea. A spread of south Indian snacks greeted us. He had the same warmth and he spoke just like before. He came forward quickly to greet us.As we entered he  called out  my father’s name with a  child -like excitement ,”Chini , you are just the same. the old habits have not gone “(mentioning a few mannerisms of my dad ). When they started chatting about the good old days , they were like a house on fire. They discussed the importance of Tirukural at  length ,it being a common point of interest for both.He felt so proud that  I was a school teacher and as a Principal .I should dream big for education.

Dr Kalam lived his life simple and plain . No pretences about him. He was as comfortable in his village home as he was in the best of the residences across the globe . His needs were limited .No frills and fancy expectations .He only wanted to share his knowledge and ideas with children.Laughter and smile came very naturally to him. That tells us that he experienced bliss in what he did.

I met Dr Kalam half a dozen times after that , the last being  8 months back when I invited him to school . “I will come this time”,perhaps ,it was  not to be.The world will always remember  him as a visionary, a teacher ,a scientist ,the missile-man ,  the President of India.

I strongly believe that Man is never remembered for the position he has , the power he wields or the money he possesses but for the person he is!

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam  is one such who will always be remembered with respect down the generations for the person he was.

It was  a few days after the Boards, when a group of tenth graders came visiting me. It is always a pleasure to talk to these students.As we sat down for a chat on their future plans and careers ,we came closer home.They were all appreciative of the beautiful aquarium space which had all varieties of fish .”Ma,m ,What next ?”popped Nimish .

As if waiting for someone to ask and feeling like n excited  6 year old waiting to share, I said ,”I want  to have the Sulonian Films Division which makes short films with strong messages.The films should me made by students , for students and of students.(pardon me ,Mr. LIncoln for borrowing your words)The boys sat up, very enthusiastically . What kind of messages should we convey?I wanted students to take up issues that affect them during their growing -up years . It had to be themes beyond particular incidents, Schools, Boards ,Course of study or any media related matter.It should be about matters that adolescents in general face as a part of growing up. These are acceptable as “FUN and NATURAL” but can affect one ,if s/he is sensitive.These can not be shared with  parents or teachers for the simple reason that they are “normal”. The discussion led to brainstorming of ideas.

We had a basket of ideas.When they asked me to pick up one ,I told them that the project will be theirs and  only they had the right to  choose but I advised them to take up  one that touched them the most.They announced -” Ma’m, You are  the Producer”,which subtly told me to keep away !!!  They huddled together for another round of discussion and took up one closest to their heart.Done! I suggested that they have a team We planned to meet a week later with the students coming back a week later with the script ,which I had to” edit”.

Three days later , a group of 14 were in my office with the script . A few suggestions and cuts later ,given by a few teachers who volunteered support, they were ready with the final one . The artistes were decided upon by them and the logistics was worked on by the students themselves. I asked them if they needed support for cinematography ,they flatly denied saying,”Ma’m, we will manage”I only had to be the” clapper lady” for the Mahurat shot . How privileged was I !!!!

On the auspicious day , when the camera rolled , I was surprised beyond words . 5 cameramen(my little boys and girls)were all over the place.The building top ,short distance cameras for close -up ,, long distance cameras for long shots other cameras to shoot from different angles,….. the Works!! Many times I caught up with them during the shoot because I was concerned about them handling electricals , SLRs,climbing ladders etc, all by themselves. They always assured me ,”Ma’m,please don’t worry .We will take care of each other”  The film making had begun in all earnestness. A week later , they were back in my office on a Saturday ,with the first cut.I could not believe my eyes .Scripting, Sound recording, cinematography,Background Score,Lyrics,Music, Light effects, Dubbing and Editing ..all by themselves.What they did not not know , they researched , spoke to experts but did  it on their own .

One  Sunday morning ,I sprung out of my bed , having noticed a mail from Sparsh. He probably had sent it to me  at midnight.It was the trailer of the movie.I screamed in delight.We met up the next morning to have a complete screening.As a critic , I gave them a review , discussed where they needed to add the punch or the finesse.In the whole process , I saw seriousness in their project and eye for detailing. Two days later, they were ready with the final script , happy about using the vacation well and satisfied with the final product. .

I invited the cast and crew over to see the reaction of the audience , when I had a special screening for teachers and students of the current batch of Std X.As the the first shot rolled – Sulonia Films Division presents-  CHRYSALIS , the teachers and students it greeted with a thunderous applause, that reverberated along the corridors of the school ,followed by pin-drop silence for the next 15 minutes . Expressions of the audience spoke it all – open mouthed ,forward body position ,in awe and wonder …till the credits came by . And the kodak moment  happened .. The teachers and students gave the cast and crew a standing ovation amidst a deafening applause. Unbelievable but exciting!!

My creative team was so excited as I went on to introduce them. A spectacular response to an outstanding project . I used the movie to discuss the theme getting very positive open resolutions made. The same day ,I screened it for Std IX .They were so inspired that the “naughty ones” actually met me up wanting to make the next movie on a mischief that they had done.They wanted to correct themselves. The ideas are being worked on The spirit is on the high…

The mission to make learning fun,meaningful and relevant  continues .The purpose is not only to experience the joy of creativity,trying something new , receiving appreciation but also to be able to introspect What we perceive as problems, arise out of our own creation  so, we are better equipped to find solutions too.

Using  films to drive home a message has always been the purpose of good cinema but for me ,it was a dream ,that brought  CHRYSALIS so close to my heart because my students created it. They lived the dream . My dear dream weavers, Thank you for dreaming with me  You  INSPIRE and you spread MAGIC.


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