Thursday, 23 February 2012

He who rejects change is the architect of decay

Never thought leaving first job would be as joyful as getting it. 20 months of donkey work, 4 bosses including one female and 3 posting took me to understand that this is not my cup of tea. Tracing back to my IRMA days, I find myself as an aimless fellow lost in the world of highly competent people. I participated in the campus placement without any plans in mind and 2009 being recession year, there were not many options as well to think upon.

Finally I got through an interview, with a job in hand and decent salary to keep my head high in eyes of near and dear ones who expect heights from me. These 20 months I have been thinking the turns life took without even giving me the hint of where it is taking me.

Certainly things didn’t go my way. Mom always used to say, “God is a better planner than all of us”. Taking her words of wisdom, I always accepted every change. Often I was reminded by close friends that I am compromising with my likings, and that I am not trying hard to achieve my likings. (..These friends always make you feel extra special and achiever).

God has been kind in these 28 years.

2003 was the major turn.
A place which I hated the most in first few days of my stay there, for it was the place I was forced in. I wanted my chance to prove my capabilty of passing medical entrance. But parents denied. Ironically, here I meet with most lively people probably the best in the world. An unpredictable but innocent room partner, gang of cool dudes, caring sister, crispy Aaloo paratha and old profs. A place where people just 365 days older or sometimes at par with you in age will treat you as his/her own son/daughter, a place where you will be treated as parents by your juniors, a place where you will not be allowed to spend your money when seniors are with you. The only way you greet people is, “Sir/Ma’am”. Either you are referred to or you have to refer. The place is undoubtedly Pantnagar. For the first time in life I felt my presence and importance of existence in this world.

They say parents are next to God……………………….Eq 1
Mom says, “God is better planner than all of us”….Eq 2
Eq1+Eq2, Parents are God and they are better planner for us.

I am happy today that I was denied my chance to become a doctor.
“Change always comes bearing gifts”- ~Price Pritchett


Next year I found my interest and starting dreaming myself as researcher. I started rigorous preparation for research scholarship in horticulture and this continued for 30 months. Profs were sure, friends were sure and I was sure of success. But again there was a “turn” completely unseen, unnoticed and dream shattering. Dad wanted his son to be MBA and earn quick money. I respected his feelings. For a smile on his face, I can pay anything.

Confused…….Bemused…Baffled.

Friends say it needs smart and good preparation for decent MBA College for which you need atleast six months if your brain is of premium quality. My being average brain would take 2 years if not more to prepare. The only time left for me was 30 days of semester break during which I could have prepared for MBA. Data Interpretation, Logical reasoning, English comprehension was altogether different from Seed rate, varieties, species, scientific names and chromosome number of crops. Two books of Rs 630/-, borrowed material of Career Launcher (CL) from room partner, guidance of friends and silent tears in toilet was all with which I aimed at cracking MBA exams.

Those 30 days, I have to study horticulture also, for it was my liking and 3.5 years of preparation which would go waste if I do not revise. I decided to study 18 hours a day, 15 hours for MBA preparation and 3 hours for horticulture. This was too much of asking from an ass like me. But I did it without fail.

Result of SNAP was out, which I did not gave. Many of us got good ranks and were sure of getting seats. I was doubtful of my success in MBA exams, hence went back to my horticulture thing. Ritesh (aka Harry Potter, Raute) was anxious enough for next result to come was of his dream institute, IRMA. I hardly had any clue of what this college is all about. One good after noon, he came hopping searching for me, barking like a dog. And the good news of my selection in IRMA was out. I enjoyed 2 years of learning and fun at IRMA.

I am happy today that I was denied my chance to become a research scholar.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The diagnosis is there...can we have the prescription please?

That little boy in Grade 4 of the MCD school gave me a desolate, forlorn look...a look of desperation and helplessness. In front of him, on his desk, was a notebook. On it was his vain attempt to write a simple sentence in Hindi.

Just a few minutes back, as I had walked into this classroom at the school in Nand Nagri in North Shahdara, Delhi, the children had greeted me with their singsong Good Morninnnnng, Sir! I had walked to the back of the class, and had asked this little boy whether he knew how to write. Yes, he had said confidently. Okay, I said, smiling at him. Can you write down this simple sentence? I opened a fresh page on his notebook in front of him, and dictated, "राम आम खाता  था", ensuring the words were all of the same easy vowel sound in Hindi (the long aa). He took his pencil, and started to write. Managed to write the first letter र. Added the aa sound to make it रा. Then stopped. Fumbled...thought...gave up. Looked at me with those helpless little eyes. And said something that laid open to me everything that was wrong with our education system. He said, सर, सामने बोर्ड पर लिखा होता है तो देख कर लिख लेते हैं! (Sir, I can write it down if it is written on the board in front of me).

This was 2004. Or maybe 2005. I was still in Pratham, doing my Education 101 as I valiantly tried to manage a mass primary education program that had close to 30,000 children attending remedial or bridge courses each day. One of my favorite activities was to walk into an MCD school (Pratham used to run its remedial education program "Balsakhi" in close to 300 Municipal Corporation of Delhi schools at that time), and observe the classroom activities. The writing test I administered on the child was a part of an initial random assessment that we conducted to develop a remedial program (called "Reading to Learn - R2L", as a follow up to the "Learning to Read - L2R" program) for 3rd and 4th graders. During the visits to these schools, it had become amply clear that we as a nation were staring at a huge human resource deficit, thanks to an inherently faulty education system. This, after all, was Delhi, the capital - the MCD is among the most well resourced municipalities in the country. What would be the state of affairs in the thousands of primary schools that dot our vast rural landscape?

An MCD "school" in Mustafabad in north-east Delhi. A 2004 picture. 

Six years down the line, it appears as if this deficit is finally getting into the popular conscience of our people. In the last two months, three large-scale surveys - the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), and the NCERT educational survey - have all established the learning deficit that the country faces today. A quick google search reveals that the media has gone to town talking about these reports. So the middle class in India finally knows that if their children are under-performing at their chosen English Medium schools, they are still better off than the millions of other children of the country.

All these surveys are merely diagnostic in nature. They tell us what the problem is. However, none of them really suggests what the prescription is - how do we address this quality deficit. And for a reason - this is one prescription that is nearly impossible to write. How do you redress an education system that has close to a million and a half schools? Or ten million classrooms. 10,000,000 classrooms...imagine that...which are supposed to deliver to nearly 400 million children every day. How do you build the systems and processes to ensure that what goes inside these ten million classrooms adheres to quality norms and parameters... knowing that the classroom process is almost entirely fueled by human effort and capacity?

Can any management expert take a shot at solving this gargantuan problem? Do we see a hand going up...?