The future of online tests…

Can someone give me a more really meaningful and engaging test?

 

I hope so… All of us have written tests. Starting from school days and then when we wanted college / university admissions and then when we wanted a job. Life in itself is another test. Which one do we enjoy? Well frankly, none of them. There is one other test though that many enjoy, and especially kids. Guess what? We dont even call it a test but we love it. GAMES… :)

Games are tests. Really powerful tests. Angry birds tests so many of our skills, knowledge, ability to strategise, plan, find the right angle, our understanding of height and distance, rigid body mechanics and even fracture mechanics when you need a few hits to break something and more to break others and that too at the right place. It must be testing more now but I am not following it anymore…

I used to love playing Wolfenstein 3D when I was in high school. That was a challenging game. Memory was crucial to play that game. We had to get through buildings which were a maze. 9 levels in each building and I remember playing 5 such sequences. Planning was also key. We had to know where we could get food, where medicines, where wealth etc and be able to plan how we get there and beyond. Digging out carefully hidden treasures, health and food were nice to do…. :)

 

Now, do any of these have any relevance to the way we do tests for professional purposes i.e. like selecting candidates for admission to college / university or for a job? Not much yet. Guess the puzzle solving requirements of Microsoft and their quizzing is one. I remember solving one puzzle of theirs when I was in college. Well. I didnt attend their interview coz I was a mechanical engineering student but then it took 2 days to solve it. Thats an interesting test to take.

So, what would companies and universities do, say 5 years down the line to choose candidates? Guess they will all move away from two things.

  • Relying on checking knowledge of component competencies alone
  • Paper based tests

 

Let me explain. Let me take a case close to my area of specialisation. Mechanical engineering and being more precise, computer aided engineering. When we want to hire someone who can be good at structural analysis of a particular aerospace system for example, we have multiple choices. We could either ask him/her to show us how he/she would do it. The trouble there though is the length of time we would take to get to a conclusion in this mode. We would all love to have somebody to spend a few days or may be more on a task before we can judge. Thats simply not available. So, we then list out all component knowledge that a person would require to execute this task, list out tools that one should be adept at handling and list out the systems / components one would have to handle. Then, we quiz them on those

  1. Knowledge (of engineering concepts in this case)
  2. Tools
  3. Domain

It is not very easy to do all of these in limited time. So, we also rely on records of their experience.

If this were for admission to a university, component 1 (knowledge) would dominate or probably be the only one. Are we happy with the result? Not always. We then end up seeing that this person may have an issue with say ‘decision making’ or ‘planning’ or simply ‘lack of focus’ on the job. Then, we add psychometric assessments to the set of tests we do.

While there are obviously many many more ways that people implement such tests and probably add rigour of multiple tests or interviews, the point is that it all costs time and effort and we would all love to use more meaningful and interesting ways to test candidates. Can we test multiple factors in lesser time? Factors like

  1. Knowledge of subject
  2. Problem solving ability
  3. Communication skills
  4. Planning ability
  5. Perseverence, will to succeed etc
  6. Willingness to learn
  7. Ability to cooperate

I could add a few more that actually matter when it comes to whether someone can succeed in a job or in a university course.

All this leads me to think whether we could devise games that can test many of these aspects, if not all in shorter time and with more precision. By precision, I mean the correlation between a positive output from the test and success of that candidate.

Now to the second point; of online tests. A game is of course an online test; whether played in a smart phone or on a desktop computer. Offline games could also be good but there are serious limitations in regard to resource to conduct such games. It is already seen that many organisations have started moving to online tests rather than use the paper based Optical mark reader (OMR) sheet system. Many more and I believe almost everyone will eventually move out to online tests for the below few reasons

  • The relief from limitations of geography
  • Transparency
  • Speed of publishing results
  • Cost
  • Lastly but very imporantly, ability to test much more…

The objective type questions which still dominate the scene would have to give way for newer methods of testing. Interactive tools including games are going to be essential to test much more than component knowledge and skills.

Lastly, the learning from the games is not to be discounted. While testing might be a primary purpose, the same can be used in a learning mode too. Militaries have certainly been at the forefront of exploring methods to assess skills including psychological skills but for the civilian world, we need alternates that help quickly and more meaningfully deliver tests and get better outputs while delivering a great experience to the candidate too… I believe that online games; interactive with the system and probably even interactive across a group of candidates could find a place in tests conducted sometime down the timeline….

Will write more as I learn. Please do leave your comments. Thnx.

Jai Hind !!! (This is my regular ending…)

 

Does secularism mean we dont need any religions?

The current context…

The debates and issues related to secularism are gaining big momentum as of today in India. I will not overplay it since I believe that there is still a pretty good working relationship amongst multiple communities. People do not react until something directly affects them. There are such situations occurring once in a while but those, I believe usually are local issues which probably get sorted out in some time without any major issue being made out of it. Those in positions of power or those wanting attention though, seem to be provoking trouble in the name of picking up issues and the news media faithfully amplifies these issues leading individual citizens to think whether there really is such a problem.

Some of the issues being debated today are

  • Teaching of Bhagavat Gita in schools
  • Fatwa against Surya Namaskar
  • Quota for minorities within quota

As you can see, none of these are issues that have cropped up from the ground level scenario. The first was a decision by a govt., the second a fatwa issue by a cleric, the third a statement made by a central minister. These are ones that media picks up and blows up… while I as a citizen do not have any issues of such magnitude with those of other religions and communities working with me or living near me..

Do we need religions?

Quite clearly, unless one wants to be blind and take extreme views, we as humans do need religions. Every community across space and time has come up with some vision of a supreme power and who they call god. It could have been the communities which regarded nature and it’s powers as supreme and accorded them godly positions or the major religions that came up. Broadly speaking, religions are a means for society to feel secure and control itself rather than allow each to go one way and thereby de-stabilise the society. After all, each of us individuals are unique. Religions brought those living together under one umbrella of faith to ensure some cohesiveness. Morality and thereby law and order were intrinsically linked with religions. Primarily, religions apart from having a theory on how and why humanity came about, who or what created it etc, also imposes a moral code which all are expected to follow. The first is only a theoretical aspect. The second is the one we face day in and day out. Each religion also had a blasphemy concept whether mild or severe to ensure that almost everyone conforms to the rules and does not jeapordise the system. They valued the system more than the individual beliefs. This certainly was necessary to some extent since each of us may start thinking wildly, not take any lessons from the past and come up with crazy rules to live. This will of course, kill the communal harmony, even within a single small community living isolated from most others. So, even tribes have some form of religion if not one with great theoretical standing and big volumes of written sacred texts.

The major point we see is that religions were born to bring together individuals and to them, give a sense of security and establish a moral code of conduct. It was a uniting and stabilising force.

When did problems start?

As we can easily imagine, when each group living in isolation evolves it’s own religion and runs the society there and then, there are no issues. Problems occur though when people of various faiths come together or else, two or more religions are born in the same place and time. All religions have a commonality in purpose. There is no dispute there. The dispute is in the way it has to be practiced and the rules. Differences are hardly even on ‘WHAT’ but most often on ‘HOW’ .

If religions had been used only for their main purposes as illustrated earlier, there would not have been issues. Trouble started brewing though when it became a tool for oppression and power struggle. Religions never had this purpose. ‘Power’ has always been a great attraction for humans across time and is..  Some religious heads, who already wielded some power craved for more and tried to bring some other communities under their fold. Some believed that theirs was the best religion and that others need to be saved by bringing them into their fold, irrespective of whether they already had one. So, religions which were meant to stabilise society and define a common way of life became reasons to fight and die for.

What is our scenario now?

Coming to today’s scenario in India, being a large country and one which has faced multiple imperalistic attacks across time has many religions and faiths being practiced. When we got Independence, we already had the many religions amongst us. So, in time, our constitution also got the word ‘Secular’ into it’s preamble itself. (If I remember right, through the 42nd amendment in 1976).

We had Hinduism from many centuries. We had also many tribes who had non-codified religions of their own. We got Islam when invaders came in. We got Christianity when the Europeans came in to do business and then decided they were the best to rule the place. We had others come in like the Zoroastrians who come to seek shelter when persecuted. We saw the birth of Buddhism and Jainism here. So, we today have many many religions and even within each, have many schools of thought and thereby sects.

There are also others who have long contended that humanity needs no religion. The atheists in their various forms, whether influenced by Karl Marx or others have stood on the other side, although highly outnumbered.

Hence, we obviously are a highly pluralistic society and today, no more live in isolated pockets. We are thoroughly mixed up and each state or district has a population with most of these religions. This clearly means that we need a way to live together without fighting. Once we start fighting on these lines, we can not live comfortably.

What we would do by living amicably is a different question. Essentially, a peaceful existence is the platform for evolution. Some may consider discovering planets and stars as evolution, some finding new ragas in music as evolution, some others in genetically engineering humans and yet others in seeking the goal of life in various philosophies. Those are irrelevant here. The common base though is that to do any of these, a peaceful co-existence is essential. I will stop at that.

So, is it better to be secular?

Given the fact that we are highly pluralistic and thoroughly mixed up, interactions among people of various religions are a day to day issue now. Since our constitution also says we are a ‘secular’ country, all political parties which today fight to govern the country have to declare that they are secular. They do so. Just that, each one has a different definition.

Yes. It is better to be secular. We do not have a choice. We cannot become a ‘hindu’ nation or an ‘Islamic republic’ or something else. We need to evolve a good definition of secularism.

My view on what secularism should mean…

What choices do we have?

  • Take the atheist definition and remove all religions
  • Try to make all religious communities equally powerful
  • Each keeps their religion but we evolve a good working relationship

As we have seen, the first option is out of questions. Humans need religions and they will not let go of it. Even the atheistic view still serves the purpose of religion by defining a social code of conduct. Just that they do not recognise any god existing above the clouds. The communist parties who have advocated this and still do remain a minority. There have been attempts in other places. I am given to understand that ‘basavanna’ in Karnataka attempted the same to remove caste differences but we still live with it. So, I rule out option-1.

Can we make all religions equally powerful? Not really. The numbers count. We are supposed to have about 80% hindus, 13% muslims, 6% Christians and so on. I am not too sure that 80% are hindus in the sense that they follow hindu books and traditions. I understand that many tribes who do not have a codified religion but follow practices similar to hindus are classified under hinduism. In fact, the ‘dalit’ community as it is called has become the bone of contention with each wanting them to belong to their religion and each political party wanting their votes as they really are a huge number.

However we look at it, we can never have all religions wielding the same amount of power.

The final option. I call it final. Some others may come with others though.

Religion, social structure & conduct, governance and thereby politics have always been closely linked and will remain so.

This really is why much of our political fights are to do with religion and caste centered fights. It is a power struggle. The one with power governs. To gain power, you need the backing of people. The largest scale of grouping people is on the basis of religions. I do not want to delve much in the political games. I am only interested in a peaceful social structure which can form the platform for development, whether it is capitalistic or philosophic or artistic or whatever.

What we can clearly see from above arguments is that while religions were meant to unite people to give a stable society, power struggles have hijacked them and have made them into a divisive power. Those looking for power (politicians mainly) are playing with religions to gain or retain power. Each has their definition of secularism. What is important though is what we as citizens of India want to choose as the definition of secularism. Can we have a sane understanding and one which works to our benefit rather than drag us down? The final purpose is clear, to have a peaceful society allowing all persons equal opportunity to evolve and live comfortably. To do this, there is no choice but to let each person practice his/her religion but to learn to live together amicably. We cannot get swayed by what politicians choose for us. We as citizens should choose what we want.

Who am I?

I am a Hindu and happy to be one. I consciously choose to say ‘happy’ to be one rather than ‘proud’ to be one. Not that I do not have pride in being a hindu but that is not what is important. Pride is always associated with a sense of superiority. Hinduism in itself does not preach that. Hinduism clearly brings out the fact that our enemies live within ourselves and ‘ego’ amongst all is the toughest to defeat. The great Vishwamithra had to finally bow down to gain the accredition from the even greater sage Vasishta. I am very happy to be a hindu since that has provided me the opportunity to learn the many good things from the various philosophies associated with including those from the Bhagavat gita.

I have read the Bhagavat gita more than once and revere it as a great text, full of insight on how, we as humans should conquer our enemies within. It illustrates clearly the many paths one can take to achieve the goal of reaching the supreme. It does not in one place deride any other religion or belief system. It is not so much a part of religion as it is a part of philosophy. We cannot easily separate religion and philosophy in their existence but can easily separate the content. Yoga is defined within the bhagavat gita and it goes beyond the physical exercises which form part of ‘hatha yoga’. It is thus a text which helps us find a good way of life and go beyond it too. When we are trying to go beyond life, it would be crazy to believe that we can go there with a sense of superiority. So, obviously, the Bhagavat Gita itself teaches one to kill pride and ego. So, it would be self-defeating if anybody who understands the Bhagavat gita claims superiority. All religious communities have humans of similar mix of knowledge and ignorance. Our common goal is to kill ignorance and ego; not others and their beliefs.

Philosophy is not a common man’s game. It is way too complex. So, let us leave that out. ‘Hatha yoga’ though is something to do with health which all of us wish and need. I realised one thing recently. When I was trying to do ‘Vajra Asana’, I realised that this is the same pose which a muslim uses when doing namaz. So, each community has evolved ways of life and some common aspects are bound to exist. We certainly have uniting factors across religions too.

I am also a child rights activist.I also see the role of social science in education as a very key component, more so than natural sciences. I am very interested in what children learn at school and what we as a society teach them. We certainly build the platform for a good society at the schools. So, we need to very careful about what we teach at schools.

How do we live out ‘the most helpful form of secularism’?

I will not define a ‘true secularism’ as this ‘true’ version will always have contenders. I am interested in the utilitarian aspect of how it can be helpful for us to achieve a peaceful co-existing society. Thus must ‘most helpful’ definition of secularism.

I have to now come back to the current issues I highlighted; that of teaching bhagavat gita in schools, or the fatwa against surya namaskar or quota within quota. These clashes are bound to arise. They are are power struggles. They will not be an issue between two individuals belonging to different religions. It is always a fight between leaders who wish to amass people and power on their side. Media will go behind the powerful. So, such issues will crop up. We as a society should learn to live with it.

Solutions? Let me try…. (I cannot claim to solve it sitting in front of a PC in the comfort of my room)

Teaching Bhagavat Gita in schools: I am in favour of it but at the same time, I would go beyond it. If we teach the bhagavat gita alone and tell students that this is the only and best theory of life, then we would be doing a dis-service to our society and our children. We should teach ‘Religions, social structures and social conduct’ as a subject. In that, the Bhagavat gita will certainly be a part but this subject should be taught in a non-judgmental manner. The facts that we have so many religions, the reason they were born, their nature and how they hope to build a society with stability and peace, how they give strength and courage to humans, how it works against crime is to be taught. Certainly, the Bible and the Quran will also find a place as will the teachings of Buddha. but in all that, we should not be judgmental to say that one is better than the other. This is where we will build unity amongst our children and respect for each other’s faith. Are we as a society mature enough to do this? I doubt. We are still swayed by what the politicians and others in power say and what the media echoes. I hope we get the maturity to do this.

Fatwa against Surya Namaskar: I think this was unnecessary. I do not practice surya namaskar but that does not make me a non-hindu. It is my choice or laziness that leads to me not doing it. If a muslim likes it as a good form of exercise, then why not do it, even if he wants to call it by another name? I,  as a hindu do not want to claim credit and superiority because some muslim people adopted surya namaskar. That would not be appropriate and it cannot be blasphemic for a muslim to do surya namaskar.

Quota within quota: Reservation is a major issue. It had a purpose when it was built but certainly has been hijacked by politicians. Now, they want to use it as a carrot to get votes. No more. I do realise that many communities may need some extra help and that minorities including muslims may need additional support to claim their due representation in every field but that can happen by universalising good education and making govt. schools better. I am fine if we have time limited quotas for communities. If we want to see ourselves as Indians having quota systems 100 years down the line, it worries me. Can all of us not come to an equal level even in 100 years? 100 years is 3 generations; more than enough to equalise any imbalances that exist.

In conclusion, I would say that secularism needs to be defined in a utilitarian manner that helps us and not kills us. We can certainly live together harmoniously and ask our politicians to focus on development issues rather than keep playing religious and casteist cards.Each of us can practice our religions and still remain respectful of others. Most of us do that on the ground. Just that those greedy of power are trying to split us and media follows and blows up what they say and do.

All religions have a common purpose,  just like the many languages we speak. May we mature as a society to start seeing religions as uniting factors rather than divisive factors.

Jai Hind !!!

Open Letter to the Editor of Deccan Herald on child rights reporting

I sent this to “dhfeedback@deccanherald.co.in” but it bounced back. Hence, I put it up as a public open letter here.

 

Hello Sir,

I wish to bring to your notice a comment which I wrote on the article titled “Class VIII student turns kidnapper” dated 02 Oct 2011 (link given below). I write this mail in addition to the comment since I am not sure if the comment is just for public view or whether you read it and take action if necessary.

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/195102/class-viii-student-turns-kidnapper.html

Text of the comment:
To the Editor,
I switched from buying another newspaper to “Deccan Herald” a few months back so as to be able to see more local news. We certainly expect a newspaper like yours to do “Respectable Journalism”. The above article though seems to me as pure sensational stuff. I have written personally to Shri Nitish Kumar, CM of Bihar about the issue about the child rights scenario there and the need for their police to act lawfully. The above case is a serious violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 as amended in 2006. A boy less than 18 years of age cannot be put behind bars and questioned by the police in treated like a criminal.
While you do not control what happenned on the ground, I would expect your journalists and yourself as Editor to say that while this happenned, it is in violation of law and that their police has to act more responsibly. I see ignorance of the law on your part while reporting this and mere need to catch the attention of the reader. I take serious objection to this. Kindly ensure that while reporting such issues, one is firstly sensitive to the child and then also know what the law says and how we should treat children. Even if one does not know law, is it not apparent that such treatment to the boy is wrong? Hoping to see better sensitivity and professionalism in research and reporting.
Thanks,
Amrudesh.

My suggestion:
I understand that your reporters cannot be proficient or even always aware of what the law says on such issues. It would be nice though if you have your reporter on child rights issues study that subject before he/she writes about it. In the event that is not possible, the minimum that the reporter could have done is consulted someone knowledgeable in this field, taken their opinion and then written accordingly. I am sure there would be quite a few people knowledgeable on child rights in Bangalore who would be more than happy to give you the information about the law which you can quote in the article.
Well. There may be those who may wish that you mention their name also so that they get publicity or those who may ask you to pay them for their opinion but certainly there would be others who would not ask such favours. Otherwise, you certainly have the option of consulting govt bodies like the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights or the Child Welfare Committee and Juvenile Justice Board members.

Immediate action:
I understand that space is a premium for you but it would be great if you could write at least a small follow up article on this tomorrow and convey the message of why such action by the police was wrong and why they should immediately release the boy from jail and produce him before the Juvenile Justice Board (if present) in Patna.

Doing responsible journalism is in your hands. Media is very strong and needs to be so if democracy has to survive but the power has to be utilised properly.

 

Jai Hind !!!

Indian Education policy: Is the centre going the right way

Education is a concurrent subject under our constitution. Has the central government forgotten this????

It does seem so. The central government seems to be in a hurry to make changes over changes in the education system and in this process seems to forget that we are more of a federal democracy and that education is not a central subject.

I very much welcome their move of bringing in the Right to Education Act, 2010 (RTE) and the current proposal that the right be extended upto 10th standard than just the 8th standard as of now.The announcement of the Prime Minister on Independence day to reconstitute the Education Commission to reformulate the Education Policy (the last being that of 1986) is also a very welcome move. We obviously need a relook at our education system. While many good recommendations of the previous commissions themselves (including the common schooling system) remain untouched, it would still help to have a relook. Things have changed a lot since then. Kerala has an IT@schools policy and recently Tamil Nadu has announced ICT@schools as a focus area. More and more changes will be seen in the near future for certain and a direction in the form of an Education Policy, 2012 would be most helpful.

Having said that, I see a few disturbing trends. We heard last week about the proposal from IITs to have one single common entrance exam for engineering across the country. While the RTE is fine, it still has not taken off very well in most states. There are still cases pending in the Supreme Court about it’s interpretations. The bureaucracy is still trying to figure out how much budget is really required if all provisions of the RTE are to be implemented in it’s spirit. State commissions for protection of rights of the child (SCPCRs) still do not exist in most states, which are supposed to be the body which are to check the progress of implementation of the Act. There is I guess a lot of confusion too regarding what the RTE says about curriculum. It does seem to say that the State bodies (like DSERT) would formulate it. Does that mean though that there can be only one curriculum within the state? It does not talk about it’s relationship with CBSE, ICSE etc. Moreover, it does not seem to give liberty for a school to evolve it’s own curriculum. Why is the status like this?????

I believe that the centre is going in the wrong direction. The way to go is to de-centralise and not to centralise. There seems to be a craze of bringing in a ‘common standard’ as if that is the best. Please….. Certainly not. Anyone can tell that averaging out a set of data does not give you the highest value. It brings up the value of those which are below the average but also brings down those which are above it. We do not want to just settle for ‘mediocrity’ in our education system. We want to ‘excel’. Right? So, the solution is not to set a ‘common standard’ but a ‘common minimum standard’.

I have gone through the NCERT books. They are really good. I wish all the state curriculum come upto that standard at least. The emphasis on social science, on economics etc even at 10th standard is really good. Before one learns ‘natural sciences’, I believe that one should learn the ‘social sciences’. We are to first co-exist with others well, get ourselves to a fairly good ‘standard of living’ and only then do we get the freedom to think about ‘natural sciences’ in their true spirit. So, the NCERT books can really set a good ‘common minimum standard’ but if we say that no one should do better than that, that would be absolutely counter productive.

The vast majority of our Indian children today do not get quality education. This is a well known fact. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) prepared by the ASER Centre (http://www.asercentre.org/) clearly illustrates how even 5th standard students in most cases have a learning level of just about what a 2nd standard student should have. Hence, lifting all those children to a standard of learning as given by the NCERT books would be a great move. That certainly should be our focus. Given that fact, this certainly should not stop those wanting to innovate and get better than that. Each school can be allowed to follow their own curriculum, provided it meets the minimum standards that the state sets. That is the right way to go. What does that mean? Absolute de-centralisation. This is when we will achieve ‘excellence’ in some pockets. Never will we achieve ‘excellence’ throughout the system. That cannot happen. Only a few will go to the top (although the upper limits will continue to keep rising) but even that is possible only when downward pulling forces cease to exist. Talking in a mechanical engineer’s terminology, the education system should act like a ‘one-way spring’. It should pull up those who are below but not pull down those who are above. I hope that by now, I am making enough sense. The RTE should impose the need to use a good curriculum but not say that the curriculum proposed by the state body should be the only one to be followed. Similar arguments can be made on other counts like infrastructure etc.

If we need de-centralisation, then we clearly note that it is not the central government which should be the biggest player but the Panchayats. I recently read about a village in Karnataka which has become very famous for providing teachers to many parts of the state. Apparently, there the ‘teaching profession’ is highly respected. Every family aspires to have teachers in it. This certainly is a community effort and by no means a government effort. The government can only be a service provider which ensures minimum delivery. Taking a system to heights depends on the people. Without a strong will at the Panchayat level, ensuring good quality education to all our children would remain a dream. It is thus essential to put the responsibility with the Panchayats. It need not be only on implementing the curriculum given by the state but probably also on altering it for the better. We do know that each locality has it’s own specifics in India. Within a single state also, we have so much diversity. While one grows more rice in the south of karnataka, the north of karntaka grows more of ragi, bajra etc. Language varies within a state too. If the local community want a little more stress on such things in their schools, then why not? A little flexibility can exist and in my view should exist. That is when, one feels that education is relevant to the local community.

No one likes to be dictated to. In a democracy, there is no room for dictation from the top. This is probably the reason most states are still very slow in implementing the provisions of the RTE. Probably, if states had evolved their own legislations based on a ‘common minimum draft’ given by the centre and on the basis of Sec 21A and Sec 45 of our Constitution, we would have seen a better result. I hope that the Education Policy, 2012 takes that route.

This is also what I feel about the single common entrance test for engineering across the country. Makes no sense to me. While I agree that writing multiple written tests, one each for each state and each deemed university is not the right way, I have my reservations about a single common test. I will not outright reject it as a possibility today but think more about it. After all, the GRE is a single common entrance test which is accepted by all universities across the US … So, may be… I still doubt it would work though…

To conclude, I think we should set minimum standards but not single absolute standards. I have heard of children having been raised without ever being sent to school and yet doing great. Learning happens in a multitude of ways and to say that our current schooling system or even a better one to be formulated by the state would be the best is to only fool ourselves and condemn ourselves to ‘Institutionalised Mediocrity’ and stay far below ‘excellence’. May we realise this and head towards ‘excellence’ while assuring at least a minimum level for all.

Jai Hind !!!

Karnataka Jnana Fellowship – My experience…

Can instinctive action mislead us? Or will it always lead us to the right path?

This is the question that occupies my mind now. That is because, I have acted purely on instinct in the case of the Karnataka Jnana Fellowship. I saw an article in the newspaper sometime in June this year and immediately went over to the computer, went to their website and applied. The force of instinct was so strong I could not resist it. I did not try to resist it either. One part of my mind was asking though whether I was doing the right thing. I asked back. “Why not go ahead?”.

Recently, i did a little bit of financial calculations too. This project if we can call it one (of taking up Jnana fellowship, if I do get thru) has a negative net present value (in financial terms) of a significant amount of money. In simple language, it was a cost to me and not a financial gain. Do I still want to do it? Yes. It is corporations which look at profit and loss. Government looks at cost-benefit balance. I too had to see a cost-benefit balance. Benefit not only to me but benefit to the community at large. After all, living for oneself is so boring. I have written in one of my earlier blogs too (my previous blogspot blog) about why it should be the aim of every individual to ‘give more to society than he/she draws’. This was my chance to give. I cannot let this go… At least, I had to give it my best shot…

I was fortunate enough to get through till the interviews (past a lot of scrutiny and a good written test) which happened yesterday. A full day at Vikas Soudha… Starting about 8:30 am when I got in till about 6:45 pm when I got out, the time I got before the panel of eminent people asking me what I could do if I were selected was miniscule. Whether I managed to convince them, the result will tell. The lessons I learnt from this whole experience though were great. Never before had I sat before a panel of about 15 members. One does not get time to think (being a bit of a slow thinker had me a little troubled). So, it clearly boils down to what is deeply embedded in our minds. Only those points will come forth. Its a test for our ability to stand our ground and not let our thoughts be hijacked by what is being asked. Its a test of conviction, of strength of belief. Quite rightly so. It is an experience that has brought in more energy, conviction and strength to me. My instinct to work with the community at large has only grown stronger.

One aspect to be highly appreciated is the strength of the process the Jnanaayoga followed. The transparency levels have been very high. Sometimes, I wonder if it was a little too high. Criteria for selection was very clear, although I was a little surprised at the weightage given to our 3 answers on purpose given during the application. Arrangements were great. They have shown how well things can be conducted from within the government too…

Lastly, let me come to what occupied me over the whole day minus the interview time and the little time I took out while sitting there to prepare. This truly was energising. Never before have I got to know more than a dozen people in a single day. This was such a day. A very unusual day for me. I have at least 8 new contacts in my mobile now. I met people working on enhancing science education, on youth related issues,  those teaching management, those training teachers, teachers, people running a school, those working on getting the soil right for horticulture, …. Civil society is not sleeping. By no means. Each one has a passion and is striving to contribute in their own way, with a positive approach. Cool !

We discussed at length on each of our experiences and on the possible road ahead, in the education field mainly but even on horticulture. Like minds coming together… If I said that we came up with solutions, that would be obviously wrong. If solutions to the problems plauging the primary and secondary education were simple, it would have been set right long back. We even came up with plans on working together outside the fellowship scheme too.

I wish to say one thing at the end. Lets get the cynicism out. Lets get to work, whether inside the government or outside but towards the welfare of our great nation. If we think that putting the education system right is a 10,000 km journey and give up, we will never complete the journey. We have to walk our talk… Good thing is that we are not alone in the struggle. If one goes out there looking, one would find so much of good work happening. So many are working. Lets give our bit…

Jai Hind !!!

Addition on the 30th Sept, 2011: After the results came out…

Its been a tough day… a day of gloom….. The fact that I did not make it kept haunting me through the day and still is haunting me. I understand that the other person who made it to the department I was looking to get in to, is more qualified than me and quite likely has more experience. That is comforting…. Still, at a personal level, its a loss that is somehow difficult to get adjusted to. I am sure that the commission has done a very good job of screening people and all those who are in deserve to be there. I still cant reconcile myself to the fact that I didnt make it… This is the battle thats been going on all day.. One moment this way, one moment that way…. :-|.

Quite clearly, my inability to hold my ground during the interview let me down. I got drawn a little away (towards pre-primary education) from my focus area (child protection) and i was less guarded in the new territory…. and got shot down… I will remember to hold my ground next time, probably in another context..

There is the NGO platform for me in any case…….. and I pledge my support to those who are in. Am here to help if required.

Jai Hind !!!

A date with history for India: 27th Aug 2011

 

Today, truly would be seen as one of the important days in the history of India. The 27th Aug 2011; a day when parliamentarians cutting across party lines came forward, having recognised the public sentiment to speak in favour of a strong lokpal bill…. Truly heartening….

 

I do not want to be naive and believe that the movie is over with a happy ending. No. There is no ending in real life and the struggle will continue. I know. We all know that. But today is a day that will give us much belief and strength. We, as Indians probably have been sleeping for long and not asking of our representatives, what we should have. This movement lead by Shri Anna Hazare ji has woken us up. I cant speak for all but I guess that is fairly true for the most of us. We have learnt how to voice ourselves. We know that come next time, we have a defined path, a precedent to look back to and take our movement forward. Why more??? Well.. There are many more things we need to change to become a truly great nation. I am quite sure that most people into this debate already recognise that the next movement is going to be on ‘Election Reforms’. It will come and we know how to handle it. That we have to be part of it. Peacefully. In the Gandhian way; in the Anna way. I hope we can spare Anna ji from those movements and that we wont demand another 13 day fast from him. Hats off to him for pulling it off in Great style. He has the energy to stand up and sing the national anthem after all this. You cant but respect him. Salute him. Hail him…. Jai Anna ji….

 

This also calls for an important recognition. While most of us have been left to feel that all institutions we have including the parliament, the government, the judiciary, the police are all pathetic to say the least, we should rise above that. We have to sit back and think about it once more. Are we just pouring our hatred of some of the people in these institutions on the institutions itself. Most likely yes. Believe me. I have read a little bit, if not much of our Constitution and you know what? Its a great document. We truly must be proud of ourselves for having such a great constitution. Following debates on news often, I can also read between the lines and see how good our parliamentary system is as an institution. How one uses it is another matter but the institution in itself is laudable. The judiciary off late has been very active and very rightly so. It is one of the best institutions we have. Our efforts should be to strengthen it and not to be disparaging.

 

We need to get the UPSC exams reformed, the elections reformed, our schooling system changed and so on… We have our task cut out. Are we ready to venture and get onto the job or are we going to remain on the sidelines and keep cribbing? Let us not crib. Let us act. Let us prepare ourselves for the struggle. How? Study the systems, work on the ground; not for a day or two but for years. We, only then will be powerful enough to do anything about it. Anna ji did not become what he is in just one day or even the last 6 months starting April when he came to limelight. Its been a lifelong struggle. We. the youth of India need to rise. We need to shoulder the burden. Building institutions is no joke. We will know when we do it. We will certainly do a better job than our predecessors. I am sure. But we must struggle to get it done. Nothing happens like in movies…. We need to motivate more of our youngsters to join the police, the government jobs, the judiciary and even become parliamentarians. We also should strive to be so. Then, we will see a truly powerful nation. A great India….

 

Jai Hind !!!

South Indian Marriages today: Is symbolism reigning supreme???

Are we a confused society today??????

is the question that comes to my mind when I go to attend south indian  marriages today.  I speak only of brahmin marriages since that is what I know to some extent and that is what I draw my thoughts from. I am not sure if I am the one who is ignorant or whether most of the people involved, including the seniors ignorant and confused about how a marriage is to be conducted and why we do many of the traditional procedures in a marriage.

I am quite sure many of us do not understand why some procedures are done in some way and even if known, is that relevant today? Culture has to be a dynamic entity and not one bound hard in an era which we for some reason like to cherish. Let me deal with specifics so as not to lose focus.

There is an event called the ‘Kashi yatra’ which is held. The story goes that in early does, boys used to go to gurukula and learn vedas and other stuff. That stage is called brahmacharyam. Once he completed the initial training at the gurukula, he would need to embark on a journey to the himalayas for further training and practice. He leaves home and is headed to the himalayas. Seeing a nice guy going off, a father of a girl approaches him and asks him to postpone his journey by a few decades. He asks the guy to get married to his daugher, take care of her and then may be later in life, he could resume his journey to the himalayas. The guy agrees and hence the marriage happens. Great!!!! Makes a lot of sense in that context. Is that relevant today? Why do we still have to make the guy ‘SYMBOLICALLY’ get started on his journey to himalayas (which he no way intends to…) , put a person with an umbrella behind him and then get the girl’s father to come and stop him enroute. All the while, the purohit or pandit instructs each of them what they are supposed to do. Obviously so, because neither the guy nor the father know what the script is until the last moment when the purohit directs the movie.. Yes. It is a movie because there is a camera rolling…

I do not want to be cynical and demeaning of what is done. Just that I am amazed why we have to live in the past and do stuff as it used to be done ages ago. Can we not be original? I am left confused as to what we are trying to achieve. What I illustrated above is just one of the great series of events that fit to form the marriage script. What troubles me is the sense of ‘artiificiality’ in the whole event. Apart from a top few experienced people, few know the sequence and much fewer people understand why many of the things are done. Since experts (pundits) are available to direct the show, the actors (including bride and groom) care little to learn anything about the age, the context and the history behind the tradition. For the actors, it is only a matter of a one day or two day event where they get to meet a lot of their family and friends and showcase their prowess in holding a marriage in a ‘nice’ way. The events per se and their meaning has little value for them. The seniors though are very serious about getting it done the ‘right’ way but what the ‘right’ way is, is driven by the one who calls the shots.

I dont want to keep writing too much. I felt strongly about this and hence am writing. Its been many many marriages I have attended and this sense has been growing all the time. Two things reign supreme, ‘symbolism’ and ‘copy-cat’ nature. I would much rather like to see an event driven less by what ‘ought’ to be the ‘right’ way and more by what the two families getting united like and feel the ‘right’ way is to express their respect for the other and to ‘break the ice’ so that a lasting relationship can flourish.

In our culture, marriage is more a union of two families than just the union of the couple getting married. Its absolutely fine. Good. Forms a good support structure for the couple. Social instinct is in all of us. Most like to get together with all of near and dear ones, establish new relationships etc. All that is relevant. Why not stick with just that and do it in a way we all feel it is good to do?

Food is a big part of marriage and rightly so. The greatest respect one can show to another is to call the other to their place and serve them good food by one’s own hands. That is great. I love it. I am just back from a marriage where even the cooking is done by the family members themselves. They themselves cook for then hundreds who come and serve by their own hands. Nothing better to start off in a new relationship. That though does not happen in most marriages. It has become increasingly difficult with the way we live now and with the number of people attending a marriage. That is an area which is ruled nowadays by contractors who do it all…. Just that the vastly important personal touch is lost. The host now just comes around to see that you are having a good meal….

I am not writing in a very organised manner. Started writing only because the force of the thought really is too high for me to resist writing. I am not sure how much of what I feel i have been able to echo in the above lines but am quite sure many of us would relate well to the topic.

In the end, I only want to see why we are doing what we are doing and why we should probably change. May be, may be we are just too happy to ‘hail’ our ancestors and attribute great laurels to them for establishing great traditions. Yes. They certainly were great because they started off a tradition based on original ways of doing things as suited to their context. It is we, today who are demeaning them by not being worthy descendants. We instead of again establishing great tradition as per our context today are just living with a ‘those-were-good-old-days’ feeling. In our enthusiasm to hail our ancestors and our traditions, we are losing out on an opportunity to bring realism into our culture. Hope we do not end up destroying the respects for our great ancestors among the coming young generations. Wish we could borrow the nice principles set forth in tradition, adapt it and conduct marriages (and other functions too) in a more original and relevant-to-today manner. Hope that would bring back the much needed realism and ‘genuine’ relationship amongst the families coming together. (It is much easier to show respect in a ‘formal’ way than in an informal instantaneous manner.)

We have had great ancestors who set forth great traditions. Living upto their status, we today as their descendants should establish traditions that would last a few generations ahead. If it lasts for too long, then tradition would become a burden rather than a boon. Culture and traditions need to be dynamic, changing to the needs of today or else, they risk dying and being consumed by other cultures or traditions.

Hoping to see more marriages which we can understand without the help of an ‘expert commentator’ sitting beside us and relating to us the script in the absence of who, we come back from the marriage function with not just a stomach full of good food but also a mind full of questions and confusion…..

Jai Hind !!!

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