Tag Archives: Education

painting of Indians at a stretched buckskin with a story in images

Indian Homeschoolers Conference announced for February 2014

Swashikshan, the Indian Association of Homeschoolers has announced a five day homeschooling conference from the 21st of February 2014 to the 25th at Khandala. The Indian Homeschoolers Conference 2014 is a great opportunity for Indian homeschooling families to connect and network.

Fee: INR. 2500 for five days (or one day or whatever – regardless of how long you are present)

It is also a good opportunity for new homeschoolers and those planning to homeschool children in India to interact with the community and observe how homeschooling works for different people as well as get their questions answered by more experienced homeschoolers.

There are also discussions planned for formulating a plan of action with regard to the RTE and getting recognition for homeschooling children, which is important for children who may wish to pursue scholarships, competitions, competitive examinations and more. It is also important in terms of a safeguard from any potential action that the government may take against parents who don’t send their children to school.

The structure of the event is expected to be free flowing and spontaneous, though there are these few things on the agenda which will be addressed at some point. This is an event not to be missed for free learning families.

An additional bonus is the enriching experience of an inclusive gathering for mavericks who make choices off the beaten track for their values – perhaps the common thread running through parents who choose to protect their children from school at great personal cost and effort.

Read the Indian Homeschoolers Conference 2014 announcement and payment information at the Swashikshan website.

Register here.

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ALERT: Parents of children appearing in NIOS boards – No extra answer sheets!

A rather horrifying experience has come to my notice. A child appearing for the Maths exam through the NIOS was doing fine, till about 60% of the questions completed, he asked the supervisor for an answersheet supplement as he had run out of pages on the provided answer booklet.

What follows is a horror and something parents MUST know and prepare their children for, till fixed.

The supervisor refused to provide him an answer sheet supplement stating that it is not allowed. Worried, the child asked for permission to continue answering on his own papers he had in his bag. Naturally, that was refused. He had to leave his paper incomplete in spite of being well in time, because he ran out of writing space.

His horrified parents approached authorities about this outrage, and were pointed out the guidelines. Page 23, clause no 7.1.5 states in bold:

There will be no continuation answer sheets. The candidates will have to complete their answer in the first Answer Book itself.

I have no idea what education system is up to these days, but when I was the age to give exams, there was a certain sadistic pleasure teachers took in getting us to write nice lengthy answers and use lots of supplements as some benchmark of brains, so this came as a total shock.

Regardless of the reasoning behind such an absurd clause, if it was to be enforced, then it should have been mentioned in a far more upfront manner – like in big letters on the answer book – “Use the space carefully, supplementary sheets will not be allowed” or something. Also subjects that may take up more space – involving equations, reactions, diagrams, drawings and such should have default booklets with abundant paper!

It is rather unbelievable that a student is able to write only 60% of the examination paper for lack of space.

Obviously this is a problem that needs to be fixed, but while it is still a problem, do spread the word among anyone appearing for NIOS exams among people you know, that the answer booklets are all the paper that will be allowed to answer on, and to use it carefully.

Note: I have no idea if this is the case with other boards, but it is worth confirming rather than a student getting a shock like this.

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Education makeover is complex says Azim Premji

Speaking at the first convocation of Azim Premji University in Bangalore, Wipro chairman Azim Premji said governments and other stakeholders should invest more resources to improve education in the country.

“Given the diversity of our country , compounded by issues of socio-economic deprivation and ground realities , it is inevitably going to be a slow and arduous process ,” he said .

“They also need to reform governance of all related systems . Equally , I have no doubt that other stakeholders need to do more . This means that more people and more civil society organizations must engage in improving the government schooling system ,” he added .

In my view, it is more serious than that and people like Azim Premji have the influence and ability to push for far more. Education has become like an Olympic Sport. It is an exhibition of skill in performing in a very specific manner without any particular expectation of utility. Mere “improving education” is not going to work. What will be needed is a complete demolition and rebuilding of education based on actual needs people have.

It is no secret that even as job opportunities diminish, the problem of recruiting competent professionals remains. Any person who has interviewed job applicants will be able to attest to the fact that the number of unsuitable candidates makes selection remarkably like searching for a needle in a haystack. Even candidates overqualified on paper are rarely competent enough to handle jobs with any complexity.

Many jobs requiring no specific knowledge insist on graduation as a qualification. The basic reason being the hope that graduation would have provided more proficiency to basic language and logic skills. It is alarming that no one bothers to ask why spending 10 years in basic schooling does not enable students to be fluent in English or record their expenses competently, when uneducated vegetable vendors can manage their own accounts and kids pick up language easily.

Worse, because you have graduates competing on jobs which do not require any specialized knowledge, the people who have done basic schooling and can do those jobs are left at a disadvantage by their jobs going to someone capable of far more being under utilized and rendering them outclassed. At the end of the day, basic schooling that we are so adamant about as some kind of holy grail, does nothing to help people live more functional lives. It does not prepare people for jobs. It does not give them knowledge that they can use in the world. But we are putting a country of our size relentlessly through that machine to the point of insanity and even disallowing better alternatives.

There is fundamental uselessness in a system that doesn’t address the need for functionality.

I do not see how sticking with this method of boards and boring syllabuses taught by incompetent teachers to disinterested students will be useful even if you tweak it prettier.

A more useful goal would be to aim for abilities rather than subjects. For eample:

  • Basic literacy and practical mathematics skills for all – regardless of source of acquiring these skills.
  • Basic schooling – and I’m talking 4-5 years (starting at a later age – say around 8-13 years old) here, not 13 years as the useless monolith currently stands – should provide children with stable language, logic, communication, civics (laws, rights, structure of country, who to approach for what, etc), knowledge seeking and functional mathematics skills.
  • This would have your poor kids who legally start working at 14 at least having greater potential!
  • Nature of syllabus has to change. At the speed at which human knowledge is growing, subjects couldn’t possibly be defined or added to “teach” comprehensively, leading to an inflated sense of intellectual ability on achieving inferior quality memorization of introductory information – particularly among “top scorers”. It would be useful to teach children how to find (and test for soundness) information on whatever it is they need information on. There is no need for square roots and complex divisions of 10 digit figures by 4 digit figures. Teach them to use a calculator! The world has changed since the time these were handicaps if you didn’t know how to do it yourself.
  • Basic schooling should be designed to enable people completing it capable of any job not requiring specialized knowledge. No reason why a bus driver or receptionist needs to know more than this to do his/her job well.
  • Dignity of labour: Education must expand to appreciate the knowledge that goes into competence of all kinds rather than marks depending on some answers deemed “right”. If we need excellent soldiers, train drivers or garbage collectors, children must learn to recognize that there is ability in combat or strategy, driving a mammoth vehicle or sanitation.
  • High school diploma or degree too must focus on skill over information, though of course specialized information will be inevitable. Why do we not have enough architects and doctors? Is there a way to simplify syllabus and rapidly churn out more with only essential skills to handle the bulk of the load? Education needs to adapt to answer needs rather than create templates that will have to fit in somehow. Underutilized at times, lacking competence at others. We need to put the horse ahead of the cart.

In my view, if we are looking to build an India that is functionally strong, we must have kids who see their need to care for people and animals and dream of becoming forest guards or nursing staff committed to giving their patients every edge to thrive. We need kids who look at their pile of dismantled toys and think it would be cool to grow up to be a mechanic and do it with real cars. Or a child interested in food and wanting to become a chef should proudly put up a vada paav or lemonade stall in the neighbourhood without imagining that the excellence of a cook is in an air conditioned kitchen in a five star hotel. The excellence is in the passion!

Children are great “doers” and “makers” till we teach them that “respect” is in white collar jobs in multi-national companies after you do an MBA (another useless invented degree that abstracts presentation and management as a universal plugin – assembly line competence). Yet there are entire empires to be built doing so many things we do not teach kids to explore.

More importantly, there are dreams to chase and happiness to secure, which require knowing and chasing what the heart wants – education must not take up too much time and leave no time for this.

Note: I am a homeschooler, but this is pretty much what I’m trying to achieve for my child too!

Note 2: I do hope someone gets Azim Premji to read this.

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Tax on auxiliary services to make education dearer

Friend sent me this link about how schools are about to get costlier, commenting that it would mean more homeschoolers and that I should be happy.

When education was categorised under the negative list in the 2012 Budget, a finance ministry notification issued on June 20, 2012, read: “Services provided to or by an educational institution in respect of education exempted from service tax, by way of (a) auxiliary educational services or (b) renting of immoveable property” are exempted from service tax. However, another notification issued on Budget Day replaces “services provided to or by” with “services provided to”.

While some academics who believe that the change in wording is an error have been trying to get it clarified by the finance ministry, the excise department has gone ahead and asked schools to pay up. “The intent to levy service tax on services rendered by educational institutions to outsiders is right. But, the finance ministry notification seems to indicate the contrary. I appeal to the FM to exempt auxiliary services and renting of hostels provided by educational institutions to its own students from service tax,” said S Vaidhyasubramaniam, dean of planning and development, Sastra University.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Tax-on-auxiliary-services-to-make-education-dearer/articleshow/21566497.cms”>Click here to view original web page at timesofindia.indiatimes.com

This development is rather alarming because good schools are already rare and prohibitively expensive for a majority of the population.

I am not happy, actually. The idea that people might move to homeschooling because they cannot afford school strikes to me as a failed education policy and the worst possible reason to switch, though it is true homeschooling can be cheaper (or far more expensive) than school.

Homeschooling, in such a case would not be the first choice, but a compromise made out of necessity. This may not be a suitable situation for the considerable commitment to pursuit of learning that homeschooling demands.

Not to mention that the legal position of homeschooling itself is very tricky in India. While no one is persecuting homeschoolers, the few efforts that were made for recognition failed completely with no consession whatsoever so far. Informally, the word is that parents dissatisfied with the system may choose to homeschool, but it can be too precarious to risk for people unfamiliar with the concept.

In short, education in India is slowly becoming a complicated and increasingly meaningless thing, with no real alternatives.


Note: There are plenty of homeschoolers in India who have decided that we will not be sending our children to school. Technically, we are on the wrong side of the law, but many of us are determined enough to risk consequences if need be, but not inflict the schooling system on our beloved children.

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