Thursday, 27 October 2011

Parenthood and Facilitation

Before joining Edulever, blogging used to be my favourite pastime. I was reading through my own blog yesterday and hit upon this piece below. This had been posted on 5th May 2009 - almost two and a half years back - but the invaluable learning I made as a parent, continues to guide me in all my learning facilitation activities even today ........

K~ here refers to my daughter and Mumma is me, of course!

K~ manages to do addition and subtraction related to numbers 0-10, with the help of her fingers, that is.

Today, I decided to find out whether she understands the application of these very basic math concepts in her real life. In simpler words, what ADDITION and SUBTRACTION really meant! After explaining what is to be done on the activity sheet, this is what I gave her to do this morning, the results of which led to a lot of teaching introspection by me ... I had definitely gone wrong!

Mumma :: "So, K~. If you add this square to the left window, how will it look?"
K~ :: "Mumma, how do I use my fingers?"
Mumma :: "Addition does not mean that you keep using your fingers all the time. It means logically counting two things together. Do cheezon ko milaana ..... "
K~ :: "Matlab, mujhe iss window ke saath iss chotu square ko milaana hai?" (Refer to picture 2 - "Add")
Mumma :: "Haan."
K~ was finally able to do it. The subtraction was difficult initially (in fact she got the first one wrong - refer to picture 1 - "Subtract").



The above exercise set me thinking ...... my girl was doing subtraction and addition error-free, but only on her fingers, just the way I taught her. Pity! I never went around explaining her why do we do it? How will she use it use it in her real life? I immediately went to the garden, plucked a flower from a plant with 4 flowers and asked her "K~, what is 4-1=?" and pat came the reply - "3". Opened the pack of 10 biscuits, made her eat 4, asked for the balance, and there was my baby, replying with complete understanding. I wish I could express the excitement in her eyes through words.

Starting now, I have decided that before I begin with any teaching, I will first make her understand the application of it in our lives. I continued ......

Mumma :: "K~, why do we write alphabets?"
K~ :: "Ummmm....."
Mumma :: "So that we can write things like books, letters which help us to tell others what we are thinking. So that you can know about interesting places without visiting them. So that we can make babies learn when they grow up...."
K~ :: "And also because we can read poems ..... hai na?"
Mumma :: "Right."

We discussed at length about the real reason behind learning things together like colours, stories, puzzles etc. We in India take pride in being the best brains in the world. We make our children write at age 3 when the rest of the world does not allow kids to hold the pencil before age 5. We are done with Differential and Integral Calculus in Std.XII, whereas it should be a Masters subject. We force our children to take up Maths, Biology or Commerce even if her heart is in Fine Arts. Thousands of Civil Engineers pass out each year from premier Engineering colleges and not one perfect highway in our country! Hundreds of MBAs are churned out by the best B-schools walking away with a jaw-dropping moolah, so many of them not knowing how to manage their own lives! Several civil servants, the self-proclaimed Creme-De-la-Creme of the society, supposedly work for their country without making an iota of difference to the life of even one citizen of the country, leave aside the nation at large. It is because our fundamentals of education are RIGHT ..... but INCOMPLETE.

K~, this is for you ........... Today, I want you to know that I do not expect you to become anything great in life. You do not have to do BIG things in life, but do SMALL things in a BIG way! I set you free from any of the parental ambitions or aspirations. I will not entertain anybody who will come enquiring about your marks in the final examination followed by an unsolicited remark - whether good or bad, with you overhearing us from behind the doors. I refuse to DECIDE for what is best for you and your future. The very fact that I gave birth to you makes you special. You do not have to prove worthy of it.

Go my precious ..... follow your heart, chase your dreams! Discover your true passion. I am here to shield you from the rest of the society!!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Saraswati still resides in Chaita...

A brick road runs through the center of the village. It had rained heavily the previous evening; we are greeted with the warm smell of fresh earth and cowdung. Chaitasangma is one of numerous villages that dot the landscape of north Bihar, situated around 100 kms to the north of the capital city of Patna. I am there as part of a recce for a forthcoming project for Edulever.

The people aren't sure what we are doing here. They look at us with a mixture of suspicion and anticipation. The people are largely the women and the children - the men of Chaita are in far-off Delhi and Punjab, some working as construction labor, others as rickshaw-pullers. The women lament that their children have no option but to grow up without their fathers - who are here only for the festival season. Since Chhath, the largest festival of Bihar, is round the corner, the menfolk's arrival is eagerly awaited in Chaita.

It's not 10 am as yet, so the children are not in school. Not yet. Some of them are in uniform, and would presently leave for school. They crowd around us as we move through the village, till an elder comes and shoos them away. It's time for school...get going...he shouts at them.

A villager approaches me seeking help for his son, who had appeared for the State Level National Merit-cum-Means Scholarship examination in 2009. Of the 125 children in all of Samastipur district who had cleared this exam, his son - Aman - was one. He had been promised a monthly sum of Rs. 400 by the state so that Aman could pursue higher education. He was asked to open a bank account and provide the details at the Block Education Office, which he duly did. Two years have passed, there's no sign of the money yet. Not sure what to say, I tell him of the Right to Information Act, asking him to file an application at the block office.

It's time to go to the school. The "Upgraded Middle School" of Chaitasangma, with classes from Grades 1 to 8, has 630 children enrolled in it, all from the village. The school is a single-storey structure, built along three sides, with a small courtyard in the center. A total of six rooms, a corridor running along them, the Indian flag painted on the columns.

Apparently, the state has sanctioned the construction of more rooms to accommodate the children, but the village has not been able to find the land for this construction. Because of the lack of space, all children of Class 1 are seated in the corridor, a sight not uncommon in government schools in India. Children of classes 2, 3, and 4 have a room for themselves, but those in Classes 5 and 6 share a room, as do those in Classes 7 and 8.

I decide to spend some time observing the classroom proceedings, starting with the senior-most group. The teacher is a young man in his early thirties, and the session in progress has to do with the mathematics of stocks and shares. I'm slightly surprised at the complexity of the topic, but then remind myself that these are eighth graders. The students are all attentive, and it's obvious that their grasp of the topic is not just a cursory one.

The classroom which has Grades 5 and 6 is bursting at its seams. There are about 60 students in this room, with those of Class 5 seated on the left and those of Class 6 on the right. The girls are in front, boys at the back. The teacher is not in the class - she is being interviewed by one of our team members as part of the project preliminaries. Despite the absence of the teacher, and the large numbers, the class is surprisingly disciplined. I find that the students are engaged in self-study, reading the textbook of their choice. I decide to ask them a few questions, and they seem responsive to the idea. I start with a 2-digit multiplication (32 x 7), and am given the answer within seconds. A few more questions - on science as well as English - are received with the same fervor: the answers are quick to come in most cases. The few minutes of my interaction with the group are enough to ascertain that there are a number of bright sparks in this class. I end the session by asking them as to what they wish to be when they grow up, and again the enthusiastic answers - teacher, doctor, engineer... A shy little girl sitting in front of me wants to be a doctor, and when I ask her if she will be willing to go to a city such as Patna to study to become a doctor, she takes her time to respond, "अगर डॉक्टर बनना है तो जाना ही पड़ेगा!" (If I have to become a doctor, I will have to go...). Will her parents allow her to go? This time she is not so sure...

Soon, it's time for the mid-day meal. One of the rooms has been converted into the kitchen, where the meal (Khichdi - a watery mixture of rice and lentils) is ready to be served to the children. The corridors are converted into a dining hall, the children are on the floor with their steel plates (which they bring from home) in front of them, and the serving begins. The younger children eat first. The whole process takes about an hour.

I find some time to talk to the teachers. There are six of them, plus the Head Master (HM). All of them are contractual staff; they had been inducted as para-teachers in 2003-04 as part of a mass recruitment drive by the government of Bihar to overcome the paucity of teachers in schools. To my utter surprise, I'm told that the teachers have not been paid their salaries for the last six months (since April 2011), and yet they're continuing to fulfill their duties with dedication. These teachers of Chaita are true heroes - most others would have given up long ago.

The driving force behind all of this is the HM, Mr. Naresh Pandey, a resident of the village. He is in his fifties, is quiet and unassuming, and the only time I can see a sparkle in his eyes is when he talks about the children in his school. He knows these are bright young minds, truly feels for them, but the sparkle dissolves into frustration when we talk about their future. He laments the fact that the community has not been able to provide land for the expansion of the school, and that the powers-that-be that run the education system in Bihar seem to have forgotten who they are really working for. Mr. Pandey is a gifted teacher himself, and teaches the children whenever he has a chance.

One of the walls of the school has been adorned by a large portrait of Saraswati - the Goddess of Learning. Saraswati Puja - a day dedicated to her when prayers are offered by everyone in the community - is celebrated with fervor in this part of India each year in February. The countenance of the Goddess on the wall seems to suggest that she herself is dismayed at what she sees around her, while trying to ensure that the little minds continue to get from the school what they come here for, each day.        

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Migrant Workers and the Civil Society

"The Poor are the spiritual reserve of the world."

I've just spent two illuminating days at an international conference on Migration at Ahmedabad. Titled "Migration Practice - Pushing Borders", the conference had civil society representatives working in the field of migration from China, USA, Germany, and India. It was organized jointly by Transatlantic Forum on Migration & Integration and Aajeevika Bureau.
That Migration for the sake of furthering livelihood is a global phenomena is well known; yet getting to know about the issue from an international perspective -- and how different nations are dealing with it -- was enriching, to say the least. Over the two days, I learnt about the challenges the European Union faces in its free-border policy, of how there's talk of Schengen Visa rules being rolled back. I got a glimpse of the massive rural to urban migration happening in China over the last decade and a half, and of the desperation of Central Americans to get into USA. We were shown an excellent short film on the plight of these central Americans, and the quote that you see at the top of this blog is from this film. 

We also heard some heart-tugging stories of migrants in India: how children as young as ten are smuggled from Rajasthan into Gujarat for cultivation of BT Cottonseed, how poor farmers from the drought prone districts of western Orissa trek to north Andhra each year to work in the brick kilns in harsh, exploitative conditions, and how sex workers from parts of Karnataka have been traditionally migrating to Mumbai and Kolkata for decades on end. Stories that leave you perturbed, humbled, and helpless...

A typical dwelling of a migrant worker at the destination. This
picture was taken in Allahabad, in Feb 2011.
Though migration for work is perhaps as old as civilization itself, its emergence as a theme in the development sector is a relatively new occurrence. Across the globe, the civil society is playing an important role in molding public policy to improve the plight of migrants. In India, thanks to the efforts of organizations such as Aajeevika Bureau, this issue is taking some rudimentary steps towards the limelight, though there's a long way ahead. For me, an important takeaway from the two days in Ahmedabad was the universality of the response to migrants - the middle class is largely indifferent, the unscrupulous view it as an opportunity, and the State chooses to either restrict it or show some tokenism. Amidst all this, the response of the civil society seems to be the most measured and reasonable one. For this very reason, the NGOs working in this field have a huge responsibility on their hands -- perhaps more than they can imagine. Their stance and approach, and the models they create, can potentially decide the fate of millions of migrant workers in the country.    

Thursday, 13 October 2011

El álbum de ACE

In April this year, Edulever partnered with ITC Ltd. in Saharanpur to conduct a feasibility study for a setting up a vocational training center. The three-month study by the Edulever team involved a household survey of over 1000 households in Saharanpur, focused group discussions, and interviews with prospective employers in and around Saharanpur.

Based on the recommendations of the survey, we launched the Agrasar Center for Employability in Saharanpur in September, after a fortnight of intensive mobilization. The center is being implemented by the Agrasar team (Agrasar is an offspring of Edulever), with support from Quest Alliance and ITC. The center completed a month yesterday (on Oct 12)...and we thought this was the right time to share our journey on this blog...  

Feasibility Study-Market Scan (May 2011)

 Focused Group Discussion with Youth of Saharanpur

 Focused Group Discussion with Parents of Saharanpur

 The center in Saharanpur (before the inauguration)

 Mobilisation for the First Batch

 Inauguration - September 9, 2011

 And then there was light...

 Courseware developed by Edulever launched by the ITC TEAM

 Classroom Sessions in progress


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Saleem-“The Remote Cover Seller”

Having nothing much serious to do on the holiday, makes me think. Recollect memories from the past-good, bad and ugly….and feel the feeling. Some silent smiles and some tears of remembrance of old days. Some incidence never leave you and frequently keep daunting.

Over the time, I developed a bad habit of sharing painful moments. Another bad habit which I posses (this one being transferred with gene), is pondering and disturbing myself for heart touching moments. I know writing here won’t help the cause, but certainly I feel relaxed after sharing with you all. (I don’t know how many would, read this-think upon- reflect.)

Here goes yet another scene, which awakes me in the midnight and compels to pen it down. Pen it down, for people to think, not only think-feel it, not only feel it-act upon it.

I am missing name of the only protagonist- sign of ageing, you see.
Will that reduce the impact? I fear.

Okey- let us name the kid, the protagonist to make it easier. We will call him Saleem. The name has nothing to do with Salman Rushdie’s Saleem Sinai of Midnight’s Children.

I’ll skip the name of city in this one, for we have tendency to associate geography and demography with behavioral issues. Often these associations end up with false attributions which further degrade moral values and bring us closer to being an animal.

Forget it- considering we are busy individuals, with less time to read, why others are disturbed in sleep at mid of night, I’ll try to keep it short.

Coming straight to the point- Saleem is a kid of not more than 12 years of age. He sells plastic remote covers. Remote that controls television. Remote cover that protects remote- from the naughty kids in every home and angry adults, who throw every household things in anger. Never thought our anger would earn bread for someone. I do not know the background, why he used to do the pity job in the school hours. This means he is not going to school like many others of his age group, whom we call child labour.

While we were enjoying famous chaat at a famous spot, a voice just as pleasant as that of a humming bird wanted our attention. The voice of god- the voice reminds me of a famous hindi song which sings, “Bacche mann k sacche”- Kids are pure at heart. You have to be a devil to ignore the voice.

The voice belongs to Saleem. Saleem- “The Remote Cover Seller”.

Many of us, the frequent visitors of this famous spot were familiar with Saleem and Saleem also knew them all. Saleem was too naïve to understand that no one would buy “Remote cover” on daily basis. Whenever he see my friends in the market, he will try to make a deal. Abhishek was huge admirer of this kid.

Abhishek used to talk with Saleem politely-sign of civilized man, and say, “Beta kal hi to liya tha”.

Saleem would pester, “ Bhaiya ek aur le lo…please le lo bhaiya…le lo na bhaiya please….please bhaiya”.

We have often seen small kids selling things which are useless to us. But some of us who carry slightly softer heart would purchase these useless things, just to make the kid happy. Abhishek belongs to the same caste of people- with softer heart.

In the midst of all this, Abhishek told me that he had already purchased two from him. I asked why two?

“ le lo na bhaiya please…teen din se ek bhi nahi bika”

He told me- "Brother, once I purchased it and this kid approached me next time also selling me the same remote cover. Second time when he approached me, I offered him ten rupees. But he refused to take the money unless remote cover is purchased".

I was surprised that even in this poor state of life; Saleem has moral values intact. Is’nt this amazing? The respect for this kid multiplied in my heart. There is something for us to learn from this kid.

“Bhaiya pppplease bhaiya”- he kept humming in the background.

Abhishek challenged us to test the self respect of Saleem. Last time kid sold Abhishek his first remote cover was two months back. We offered Saleem, ten rupees again but not purchasing remote cover.

But this time, he hesitantly accepted. Abhishek was shocked. How can Saleem change in just two months? The hero Saleem- became ordinary to me with the acceptance of ten rupee note.

In between tasty chaat and useless talks, we missed one line from the humming bird.

“Bhaiya teen din se ek bhi nahi bika”

OMG-He was unable to sell even a single piece in last three, which broke him down. Who is responsible for this?

Do we have an answer, certainly NO.

Self respect shattered, kid brought up with the moral values passed on to him from parents- for he has no teacher. But the ugly life has taught him how to survive in the world. Forget about values when there is no food in the stomach.

We can offer him food, I said.

Saleem has somebody back home who is waiting for his return with the money.
Ask yourself, What would you do, when someone back home is waiting for you?
Often I see status on facebook regarding, “Delhi vendors and beggars, on traffic signals”, people hate them.

But the question remains unanswered, Who is responsible for this?

Saleem is unfortunate to have born in a poor family. We have not done anything remarkable to get birth in a well to do family. It is by chance.

Many of us will forget this after reading, we are used to it. And also we sadly do not have "Like button" which shows a "sign of thumbs up", here on blogs unlike FB. We press the "like button" and our moral responsiblity ends there.

Please share your views...who knows when our thoughts become our action..

Next time when you meet some Saleem, Atleast do not hate him.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Unveiling the new Edulever website...

When Training Fails ....

What comes to our minds when we talk of Training?

A Trainer talking and reading out Training Manuals to a bunch of employees after their duty hours. Or, do we think about periodic email reminders from Human Resource Development about not being able to achieve the Training Man days and Man hours. Perhaps, a few of us might even have awakened memories of a connoisseur-of-sorts who seems to be enlightened about a lot of things and tells us how-to-do, when-to-do etc. And then, many of us attending Training ourselves might view it as a relaxation get-away from the hurly burly of core operations.

Whatever it might be, Training definitely seems to be a divorce from core operations. Training seems to be a mandate to be achieved in hours and days which have got nothing to do with the real results or profits. It is more often than not conducted tucked away in classrooms away from the action field. And, when the session is over, the participants go back refreshed and carry on with the same way of doing things with nobody to track their actions and services.

Now, that is when Training fails …..

It fails when it is not made continuous, when the service and operational gaps revealed during the sessions find no follow-up. It fails when the TNA (Training Need Analysis) is left at the behest of incompetent Survey Agencies disoriented in the program objective. When the TLMs (Training Learning Materials) are made by academicians adorning arm-chairs in air-conditioned offices who perfect the definitions and scripts but not the content within. Training fails, miserably, when no inputs are taken and output measured from the actual implementing hands on the ground.

I have made much invaluable learning by working primarily in core hospitality operations before even trying my hand at Training and I wish to document it here.

Clearly, Training is a continuous process with four stages which we are all aware of -

  1. Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

  2. Creation of Training Learning Materials (TLM)

  3. Training and Follow-up

  4. Audits and Assessments

Conducting Training Needs Analysis (TNA)
Who is our learner? What are his needs? Where will he apply this learning?
All aspects must be given due importance before we go ahead with any kind of material creation. Training fails when we do not interview the learners through samples to learn about their motivation and knowledge levels, when we do not profile the beneficiaries like Guests, Head of Departments and Co-workers, we do not align the Training to the Organizational Career-path of employees nor the future plans of the hotels in terms of added new services and products and when we do not consider the Guest Feedback and Performance Appraisal findings.

Creating Training Learning Material (TLM)
Does our TLM address the learning needs? Is our TLM made for classrooms or on-site application?
The TLMs created thus must be customized as per every hotel’s existing infrastructure and unique features. Training fails when TLMs are based on broad bookish concepts rather than Standard Operating Procedures and when they are made only for classroom sessions rather than on-site practice.

Training and Follow-up
Is our Training Style effective for the learner group? Is our Training able to convey the content of the TLMs?
Training fails when the Training style does not truly complement the TLMs, when it is only theoretical instead of practical and most importantly, when no service and production gaps are identified in the course of the process.

Training follow-up must ideally comprise of clear-cut Action-plans to better production and services, Training groups identified to ensure the Action-Out and Follow-up Meetings for status update.

Audits and Assessments
Is the learning from the Training resulting into better services and production? How do we measure improvements or decline post-training?
Training fails when on-site service delivery and production standards are not monitored, when learners are left without being counseled for their lack of will upon being detected for not complying with the training learning and when paucity of resources is not identified and addressed if that is the finding for non-delivery of services.
In a broader sense, Training also fails when there is non-participation from all corners across all levels within the organization and one or two individuals are made solely responsible for Training especially if they are a far cry from the day-to-day operations.

Strange though that this article is being read on a website which imparts Training and must publish only “When Training Succeeds ….”, but for the authenticity of our efforts in alignment with the client business objectives, we must ponder more on

When Training Fails ……

हिंदी और अंग्रेजी - प्रतियोगी या पूरक?

पिछले हफ्ते मैं अपने ससुराल गयी थी और वहाँ बिस्तर के सिरहाने मुझे पुराने मासिक पत्रिकाओं का एक ढेर रखा हुआ मिला.....

यद्यपि मुझे हिंदी भाषा का गहन प्रयोग किये हुए लगभग १५ साल हो गए हैं, परन्तु हाई स्कूल में पढ़ते हुए मातृभाषा में चिंतन-मनन-लेखन का शौक मुझे भली-भाँती स्मरण है! मैं खुद को न रोक पाते हुए इन पत्रिकाओं को पढने में जुट गयी कि तभी मैंने एक नहीं अपितु कई लेख पढ़े जो कि पाश्चात्य-संस्कृति और अंग्रेजी बोल-चाल को हिंदी भाषा के घटते हुए प्रयोग का कारण मानती है. ज्ञातव्य रहे कि यह अंग्रेजी-हिंदी का आपस में दोषा-रोपण कोई आज कि बात नहीं है बल्कि इस खेल की उम्र भारत के स्वाधीनता की जितनी ही है.

मैं जितनी बार ऐसे लेख पढ़ती हूँ, उतने बार आश्चर्य करती हूँ कि हम अंग्रेजी और हिंदी भाषाओं को एक दूसरे का प्रतिद्वंदी मानते हुए दोषारोपण भला क्यूँ करते हैं? अगर दोनों तरफ के महानुभाव और विद्वान् अपने तर्क-वितर्क को दर-किनार कर इन भाषाओं को एक दूसरे के पूरक बनाने की ओर मार्गदर्शन करें तो जाने कितने जरूरतमंदों कि सहायता हो जाए!

किसी भी भाषा का अभिप्राय क्या केवल किसी देश के इतिहास को दर्शाने के लिए होता है? या कि भाषा इतिहास से उठकर वर्तमान और भविष्य कि बागडोर संभालते हुए समाज में संचार, रोजगार और मनोरंजन के प्रखर मापदंड के नए आयाम तय कर सकती है?

Edulever में हमने दोनों भाषाओं को एक दूसरे से अलग करके नहीं अपितु एक साथ रखकर युवा समाज में शिक्षा का स्तर और रोजगार के अवसर को सुधारने कि ओर कुछ ठोस सार्थक प्रयत्न किये हैं.

इसमें प्रमुख हैं:
1. तकनीकी और प्रोद्यौगिक कार्य-कौशल को मातृभाषा में सिखाना
2. उपर्लिखित कार्य-कौशल से जुड़े अंग्रेजी बोल-चाल के न्यूनतम दरकार को पूरा करना
इन प्रयासों की कुछ झांकियां इस प्रकार है.
कोर्स प्रेजेंटेशन हाइजीन एंड सैनिटेशन विषय पर जो कि फास्ट-फ़ूड कोर्स के अंतर्गत है:

यह प्रोफेशनल ड्राइविंग कोर्स के अंतर्गत अंग्रेजी भाषा के मौखिक प्रयोग के लिए युवाओं को दिए जाने वाला एक लेसन हैंड-आउट है:

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ba still takes care of our Girls!

How had you felt on the first day of your school? Did you cry… were you glad to see lot of friends… missed your mother, to whom you were clasped for last four years? Faint memories?  

You talk to Reena, 9, and she remembers each and every moment. She jumps and says that she was extremely happy. “Didn’t you miss your mother at all?”, I enquired. “But, where is the mother? She goes in the morning and comes back only at night. My elder sisters take care of me during the daytime.”, she replied innocently. Her mother is a daily wage labourer.

Reena joined a primary school, but, had to drop-out in class 3rd only. The school was far. She had to travel 5 Kms every day and her parents couldn’t afford a bicycle (We don’t have school buses in rural India). The environment is not considered safe for girls in the hinterland. That’s true for Delhi too; Right? “There was no teacher in the school. Better that our beti  takes care of her younger brother.” – replied Reena’s parents on being asked. They had a son after three daughters. It’s normal in India; Right?

Life changed suddenly for Reena. She recently got admitted into a school again! “What happened now, Reena?” I investigated. “I don’t have to travel at all. I stay in the school. The teachers are very good. They are ‘didi’ not ‘aunties’. They live with us; take care of us; take food with us”. Areyy… what kind of school is this… Are you also puzzled as I was?

These are Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalyas (KGBV). These are the residential schools in the remotest areas of the country, for girls who have been forced to drop out of schools.  Now, they do not need to travel every day as they stay in the school premises itself. The warden and full time teachers stay with them and so are not just teachers but actual guardians for the students. Parents do not need to pay at all. The KGBVs schools have been provided with good infrastructure including spacious classrooms, dormitories for girls, an activity room and a big enough playground.

Google will tell you more about these schools. A visit would be great and inspiring!!!

Thank you Ba.

A lesson from Mr. Ambani

GRANULARITY. It was the first time I had heard this word.

And that too from no less than Mr. Mukesh Ambani. In person. This was 2002, Reliance was still one, and the Sensex was touching new highs to reach the 3000 mark! Mr. Ambani was on the board of Pratham India Education Initiative (PIEI), an industry body that - among other things - sponsored professionals to work for Pratham. I happened to be one such professional, and soon after joining, found myself in the board room of Reliance in Mumbai where the AGM of PIEI was being held. Other than Mr. Ambani, Mr. N. Vaghul (the then chairperson of ICICI) and Mr. Ajay Piramal were in attendance. I was, obviously, in awe.

My seniors at Pratham made their presentations to the board about the work the NGO had done over the past year. Future plans were presented. Large numbers were bandied. The need to spread Pratham's work in every corner of the country was expressed. While all this was going on, Mr. Ambani appeared preoccupied in running his company - making some notes, looking at his laptop screen, talking to his secretary a few times. He hardly seemed to glance at the power point slides being flashed in front of him.

The presentation over, we looked towards Mr. Ambani, not sure what to expect. He did not disappoint - no sir, not one bit! In the next 10 minutes or so, he came up with an eloquent perspective on what he thought Pratham should be aiming at. The one point that I most clearly remember was this: that at the heart of the large numbers and the big picture lies that one child whom Pratham seeks to benefit. This child could be anybody, she could be anywhere. And unless the Pratham team ensures that the focus remains on her - that she does not get lost somewhere in the big picture - all the numbers, and the plans to scale, were meaningless. That child, as per Mr. Ambani, represented granularity - that single unit that makes up the whole. This is at least what I, as a greenhorn in the development sector then, had managed to fathom.

Over these years of my journey in this sector, this understanding has only grown deeper. I think one of the biggest challenges that the sector faces today is to strike a balance between the scale and the grain - so far, this balance is shamelessly tipped towards scale. True, attaining a certain scale in a development program is critical to creating impact and ensuring replication; however, this cannot be at the cost of the grain. This thought, admittedly profound, happens to be the fount of Edulever's vision: to substantially improve learning in every classroom, one at a time!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

To Review or Not to Review .... that's the question!

Dictionary meaning of word - Review:
Part of Speech: Noun
Definition: examination, study
Synonyms: analysis, another look, audit, inspection, once-over, reassessment, recapitulation, reconsideration, reflection, report, rethink, retrospect, revision, scan, second look, second thought, survey, view

Edulever meaning of word - Review:
Part of Scope of Work: Follow-up
Definition: investigate, pursue
Synonyms: drill, fresh look, march past, parade, procession, scrutiny, payment lead-time

Having the content reviewed at edulever can be very in-the-sting … errrr … excuse the typo … I meant interesting!

The last two years have provided me the unique opportunity of developing a wide spectrum of content – curriculum, reports, assessment papers and last but not the least – multi-media messages. Content Development and Content Reviewing resemble the conjoined … uhummm …. I mean …. inseparable twins! Most of the reviewing episodes have been very meaningful barring a few agonizing interactions which inspired me to write this blog on the types of reviewer/s!

So, here it goes …

Classification of Content Reviewers:
I. The Active Reviewer:
Normal, positively engaged, methodical, punctual and giving meaningful feedback are a few adjectives that can define this efficient reviewer.
II. The Passive Reviewer:
This type is defined by its unique characteristic of periodic disappearance. They disappear into the unknown lands disconnected from all communication or means of civilization – be it phone or e-mails and re-surfaces only if there is trouble in paradise or the deadlines bang the doors.
III. The Hyperactive Reviewer:
Panic and sweat define this type. “Can we quickly work on this one? I need it like yesterday!” is their mantra. This type is characterized by habitual sending of review reports in the wee hours of the morning following it up with frequent reminder sms and guaranteed reminder over the phone.
IV. The Techno-challenged Reviewer:
Their inability to locate the edited content files in their mailbox coupled with complete ignorance on internet download, best defines this type. More often than not, we hear a panting and grunting over the phone prompting a call-back at a later time. And still more often than not, this type is unable to attend the phone-call due to a missed reminder over the phone or a failing memory. And, finally when the stars favor the review discussion conducted mostly over the phone, the content developers are often blamed for the delay in work!
V. The Insecure Reviewer:
This type usually has a troubled past in terms of being charged with carelessness towards work and is review-phobic. They usually request the work to be reviewed by someone else over the e-mail attaching a read-request to the mail.
VI. The Chat-ter Box Reviewer:
Always demanding a written proof of all discussions distinguishes this type of reviewers who have also been observed to be amnesic most of the times. This type has a very strong affinity to chat-reviews over the internet and spends more than half the time writing about inconsequential stuff like weather, vacations, society etc.
VII. The Hawala Reviewer:
This type believes in the human presence of the content developer more than any indirect means like phone, email or chat. He functions like the epitome of autonomy and his word must be treated as the gospel.

Disclaimer: Characters being read here on this page are not fictitious but any resemblance to real persons, mostly living and not dead, is purely coincidental.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Classroom

A "classroom" in progress at the courtyard of
a Masjid in Tonk, Rajasthan. July 2011.

The classroom remains one of the most sequestered environments within any institution. What goes on inside this sanctuary is seldom subject to observation, and that which is not observed can scarcely be corrected or improved. This is especially true in the case of a classroom with young learners, who cannot be expected to be discerning about the quality of learning that they receive. Even older learners tend to accept the “service” provided to them in a classroom rather unquestioningly – unlike what happens in any other arrangement between a service provider and the recipient of the service.

What goes into the DNA of a classroom? Is it the curriculum? Or the teacher’s ability to transact the curriculum? Why is it that learners’ tend to positively respond to certain stimuli, and remain apathetic to others? What sets apart a high quality classroom process from a poor quality one? How do we know that the learners are really learning? These, and other similar questions, are the ones we have tried to address at Edulever. We have narrowed down the basic issues that need to be addressed within a classroom to three critical things – Teacher Training, Curriculum, and Learner Assessment. Our belief is that once these three components are given the necessary attention, most of the issues within an education system can be resolved. After all, any education system, at the end of the day, is only as good as what happens within its classrooms. The word about the need for education reforms has been in the air for a while now – we at Edulever firmly believe that this process has to begin and end by reforming the classrooms. 

Natalie's Story

I never planned to get employed right after college.

Post-graduation life to me was either (a) a continuous pursuit of further degrees (MA, MPhil and PhD – my kind of golden trio), or (b) get into advertising. Having chosen option (b), I applied for an advertising course at the IIMC (Indian Institute of Mass Communication). I wasn’t accepted, and because I hadn’t thought of registering for (a), the summer of 2008 was suddenly looming large as a vast stretch of non-activity. (Somewhere in my mind, that old proverb that warns us not to put all the eggs in the same basket was playing on repeat.)

I said to myself: what the hell? I am not going to rot like this. That was when I signed up at Soon, I was flooded with job offers. (Don’t listen to what people say about liberal arts degrees, by the way. A graduation degree from a reputed university can apparently inundate your life with job opportunities.) Being the unintentionally arrogant person that I was, I answered only one ad: content writer at an office located near the place I lived. I got the job, and within a month, realised I wasn’t cut out for producing cookie-cutter articles six days of the week.

As luck would have it, one of my college friends was working at this office called RANResearch. She asked me if I wanted to do some freelance work for them. I agreed without hesitation. A few months later, I was shifting to South Delhi, freshly employed by RANResearch. It was definitely a different ball-game here. The monotony was the first thing to go, instantly replaced by new and constantly evolving challenges. I was no longer just a part of the machine, chained to the computer and producing work that had no individuality. This time, my content was leaving a mark. It was helping people, people I could reach out to. Can there be anything more gratifying and humbling?

Almost three years down the line, I am still working with the same people, although the company has now branched out into Edulever, a separate organization with its own visions and missions. And because liberal arts degrees do tend to flood you with job offers, I often get calls from multiple consultancy agencies, sometimes with a higher paycheck. Yet every single time, I have said no without a second thought. Why? Because working as a content developer for this sector is quite an experience. There is something new to do with every project, something new to learn. It keeps me on my toes; it forces me to unlearn certain things which I’ve been complacent about for two decades; it introduces me to various facets of the country and its people. But most importantly, there is nothing as exciting as a job which makes you smarter with every project!

Lesser Known World - The Madrasa

“WE want you to design and conduct an education development program for the Maulanas and Mohtamims of Madrasas in four states” - We were told by our client. “Who is actually a Maulana?” and “who is a Mohtammm ....err?”- I reacted. This was how our journey began in this lesser known world about a year back.

As soon as we started pondering over the issue, the visuals of Muslim kids moving back and forth like a pendulum and reading aloud some religious verses crossed my mind. Suddenly, “Breaking News” on 9/11 and “Breeding ground for terrorists” flashed in-front from somewhere deep inside my subconscious mind. And, I was wondering – what on earth have Madrasas to do with education. I tried to talk about this issue with some friends, but withdrew with a threat of these thoughts getting reinforced. We live in the same world, Right!

So, we decided to have a first-hand experience, and, with this thought I visited a Madrasa in Delhi. I met the Principal (Mohtamim) and bombarded him with a lot of questions. He smiled at me as if I am a lost kid and asked me to have a round of the Madrasa and come back. I straightaway headed towards a classroom, where to my utter surprise students were solving mathematical problems. Next classroom, a gentleman with long beard was teaching Photosynthesis to his students. “A Maulana teaching Science?” – I felt as if I am in a wonderland. Upon probing about his credentials, I found that he was a retired school teacher who now teaching in Madrasa daily for two hours. In another classroom students were learning to make sentences in English. I rushed back to the Mohtamim and asked if this is some special kind of Madarsa. He laughed and said – “This is not a special but a typical Madrasa”.

Madrasa literally means "a place where learning/studying is done". It is not that Madrasas teach just the Quran or other religious texts. At present, there is a separate group for people who conduct only religious education classes. They are known as Hafiz. Others (a larger percentage) read science, maths and other general subjects along with religious texts. Yes! Girls also study in madrasas. Madrasas teach poor Muslim children, whose families usually have no other option. The graduate certificates of the Madrasas are recognised by many universities such as Jamia Milia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard and Aligarh Muslim University for enrolment in select post-graduate programs. In states like Bihar, Madrasa certificates are recognized as equivalent to secondary and senior secondary level. A key recommendation of the Sachar committee — and also on the PM’s 15-point programme for minorities, a special panel set up by the Ministry — recently recommended that in states where Madrasa certificates are recognized as equivalent to secondary and senior secondary level, these should also be granted equivalence by the CBSE. Many State Governments support Madrasas by providing Para-teachers and other resources to them.

I consider this to be an opportunity of a lifetime where I got a chance to be a part of this project. We discussed, argued, laughed and sang together. Many questions were answered, many doubts stood resolved. I found a new love in the form of Urdu and have started understanding Ghazals better!  To those who want to understand more, I suggest  making a visit to a nearby Madrasa, and, to those who associate Madarsas with terrorists (like I subconsciously used to), I strongly recommend to do a reality check!

Towards Incurable ways..

Saharanpur is the district known for its wood carving industry. The district is blessed with craftsmen who are believed to have magical palms and fingers. The workmanship and the incredible designs project this district on the map of the world. Behind this antique presentation of art lies day and night manual labor of minors in the age group of 10-18 years. When one walks in the meter wide streets which cut at ninety degrees and where every turn leads to a workshop, one can see a number of small kids carving beautiful structures out of a wooden block.

Child labour is defined as an economic activity for children less than 12 years, any work for those aged 12-14 of sufficient hours per week to undermine their health or education, and all "hazardous work" which could threaten the health of children under 18. Around 6 in the morning one can see a number of bicycles moving towards the city from the villages and these cyclists are small children who come to their work place and return to their homes after ten hours of rigorous work.

Today this artistic class of rural India is struggling hard to survive in the profit oriented business class. The district has a low literacy rate and high density of population. Kids stop going to schools because of low family income and large family size. Therefore to feed the XL sized family, soft, extra-small hands have to pick up the tools. These kids from villages move to the city of Saharanpur in search of jobs, and getting in is easy. For the first year they receive just 5 Rs/day and from the second year onwards, the wages are increased to Rs 25/day. But in these early years, they hardly get to do the real thing - they are either asked to clean the floor or just stand beside the senior artist. They are expected to learn only by seeing and not by doing.

Therefore even after two years of rigorous hard work, these kids are, actually, at loss. And at the end of training period they find that they are unable to do anything because they were actually trained for sweeping the floor. The number of such children moving to the city from village Patni alone reaches 80 in a year. There are 1607 villages in the district contributing to a total of 10,000 to 12,000 kids working in the city.

This was just an example from a small city, the number for the country as a whole would go beyond imagination.

Child labour is the biggest abuse to mankind. The instrumental use of small kids who don’t even have a world view is beyond expectation from this civilized society.

Edulever, along with its sister concern Agrasar, has started a vocational training center for such children in Saharanpur, with support from ITC Ltd. The center went operational in September 2011, and intends to provide high quality vocational training and placement assistance for its students.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Prerit's Story

“I have a protean career...”, the thought came to me when I got an offer to join Edulever.

I joined engineering as I didn’t know much about careers then. There were very few known career choices in 1998. Joined a telecom company; had some great “achievements”. My story began on a fateful night when I resigned from the job without much forethought. I still have the resignation letter with me which says – “Dear Sir, I resign, Thank You… Prerit”. Not that I wanted to sound arrogant, but I actually didn’t have anything to say. I myself didn’t know what made me take this step, all of a sudden.

Joined an NGO and started working with children. Job was interesting as for the first time in my life I found myself on stage at some large institutes… Gave presentations in IIT and IIFT, among others, to get volunteers for our work… It was a big success too… People started admiring me. “An engineer turned social worker” was the tag given to me. But, there was hardly any self-admiration. I'd joined the ngo, not because I wanted to help the poor, but only because I thought that I wanted to be on stage. (I was in the manufacturing division in the telecom company where I always remained underground. And during my school and college days I was always on the cricket grounds of Gurgaon!).

Then, in 2007, got to know of IRMA – a management institute which produces “Barefoot Managers” – managers who work in villages and get paid well too! Very excited about the challenging job prospects. Dreamed of getting the Nobel Peace Prize one day! I joined the institute because I wanted to do something different and get recognized too. All my engineering friends started taking interest in what I was doing. Some of them were awestruck. But, I never was. Placement time at IRMA and I was still confused… Got into Microfinance … Phew!!! Resigned 8 months later without anything in hand. (I was married by then, to an Asst. Professor of Commerce in a Govt. College!!!).

This is when I met Chetan, who offered me Edulever. This was in December 2009. I was now in the Education sector. “I have a protean career” … the thought kept bouncing in my head as I drove to office on the first day. Engineering, NGO, Microfinance and now Education and Skills Development….

Now, I am happy. I love the work I am doing… I am not thinking about jumping to some other “interesting” sector. I am not thinking of recognition and prizes also. Not that I have grown old, or am too eager to make  peace with myself. I still consider myself young and excited about life... I still want to explore…. but am contented doing this within the Human Resource Development space. Not that I want to "develop" people… I just want to facilitate them in resolving their confusions.... I want people to be in sync with their own selves…..which I think I am now, after a long journey…

Tale of my Edu-Transform

Let me begin my humble story. Humble, did I say? Yes, because I am no icon, no idol nor a big name in the corporate biz, just an ordinary person trying not to waste myself into nothingness.

It was the winter of 2009. I was at home full time taking care of my 5-year old daughter and supporting my husband in all his personal and professional endeavors. It was an extremely meaningful role that I played especially for my child, something that I learnt the hard way. Are you confused about the previous statement? I owe you an explanation here.

Like many of us, I left home when I was barely out of my seventeenth year into the world of struggle and hardship. But, I loved the sense of independence and achievement it brought along. The highs of being selected into the best Hospitality Management School, postings at flagship hotels in Mumbai and Delhi, partying hard and facing challenging situations became my identity.

Life moved on, I got married and became a mother. Along with the joys of nurturing the baby, I also felt stifled at the daunting 24X7 responsibility and I felt lost in my inner-core. With not much quality baby-sitting help, I tried to re-claim my earlier life by joining back at work when my baby was just over a year old. I gained a lot of professional satisfaction but at a very heavy price. Needless to say, it was paid by my daughter who pined for me all day long for an entire year and a half. She expressed her insecurities by cutting down on eating and adopting a withdrawn disposition. I remember coming home after conducting a day-long workshop on English Communication only to be greeted my daughter in pure bundelkhandi phrase, “Mumma, it-hain aao!” Alas! She was picking up the language of maids. I resigned from my office the very next day and pledged that I shall set the basics of my life first before building lofty castles in the air conveniently naming it “career”.
Years passed, I continued playing the mother and wife very diligently. Even in moments of distress over lost independence and a perceived Identity-Crisis, I would comfort myself by finding a joyful and well-learning child and happy husband. I had entered a comfort zone believing that the home cannot run without me. Yes, I wrote blogs which acted as catharsis. I made a cocoon around myself – no ambitions, dropping self-confidence, feeling uneasy visiting professional networking sites to witness my friends, colleagues and peers hold impressive job positions. I closed down all my professional and personal networking web-accounts and avoided most of my friends. I wanted to remain blindly content.

Then, one evening I got a call from a familiar sounding voice. It was Chetan, who happened to be my husband’s ex-colleague a few years back. He wanted to speak to me regarding a hand-book which had to be created for one of the skill-training courses. I wasn’t quite sure about it, but agreed to understand the work nevertheless. I gave it a try and managed to deliver it just within the agreed time. It felt good but shook me a little out of my comfort zone. Phew! That was close, I said to myself vaguely.

But, there was more to come. It was a bigger project, this time. It was the faith in me displayed by Edulever Team Members, which forced me yet again to undertake this piece of work too. OK, this will be the last one, I said to myself as I struggled to put my mind into building the courseware meant for a Learner Group I had never dealt with before.

I was not aware that I was slowly coming out of my inertia, built over a period of five years. I would tremble within due to under-confidence before attending meetings or conducting training classes but yet managed to maintain a calm outer composure. The project was brought to a meaningful end and I was pleasantly surprised when girls who shied away from talking in English were trying their best successfully uttering some simple English phrases. I was surprised at my own abilities to do things never attempted before like designing lessons for topics varying from retail to nursing, of course under the guidance of field-experts.
By now, the office shifted from Saket to Gurgaon, where I lived. When confronted by Chetan about joining back work formally, I was forced into asking myself a few questions deep into introspection. Why am I scared? What makes me feel so unsure? It was more a matter of will than anything else. My husband also supported these thoughts and wanted me to stand up again.

So, I joined Edulever formally. It was the empathetic attitude and unflinching support of my Edulever Team Members that gave me immense comfort and there I was – traveling all over Delhi/NCR on my own, talking to people, trying to sell ideas and conducting training and assessment. I was glad and expanded my comfort zone.

“Shruti, your next project is in Patna for 4-5 days”, I was told one day over the phone. Now, that is it! I cannot do that. My daughter cannot sleep without me. “Your daughter is going to be seven years old. At least, give it a try!” my husband debated. The assuring tone of my colleagues comforted me a lot and I went ahead with this one too. It was a great learning experience and the response was very encouraging. I was pleasantly reminded of my days as HR/Training Head in a hotel.

Yes! I found myself back. I thought to myself as I boarded on the plane back to Delhi. My family welcomed me with open arms and I felt complete in all respects.

It was only because of Edulever and the wonderful people who work here, I was able to come out of my cocoon. I re-opened all my e-networking sites with a renewed interest to contribute meaningfully to various projects; I met my old bosses and peers to start work with them again and realized that there was so much to do!

I want to thank all my Edulever Team Members for having the confidence in me and displaying the much needed encouragement when most required. Thanks for the offering me the second innings in this life!

Chetan's story

This was sometime around the time I turned 30, ten years ago.
At this age — all of a sudden, a short poem that I had read as a seventh grader came back to me with a new meaning, a new message. The poem, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” goes as follows:
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
-William Butler Yeats
A bit heavy, yes, but then inspirations don’t have weighing scales. Around this time, I’d decided to firmly move into the development sector. Started off by getting a grounds-up view on Education at Pratham. The three years spent here were no less exciting than the ones at college, and certainly more purposeful. Then followed 18 months at American India Foundation, where I headed the Digital Equalizer Program. More learning, more experiences. Next, a brief stint with Bharti Foundation…and by August 2009, the internal tug was compelling enough to guide me to found Edulever.
Last month, Edulever turned two. All of two. But we’ve had great fun these two years. Trained over 500 teachers. Created content for first-generation English learners. Visited remote villages. Gave leadership gyaan to Madarsa leaders. Tried to fix worker-retention issues at a large auto-component factory (and failed!). Thought of new ways to measure learning achievement. As of now, we’re trying to figure out how best to teach Life Skills to the hearing impaired…no, we’ve not learnt the sign language…not yet!