Embryo

Cuddling the blanket on my couch,

I shrink into my prenatal phase

Inside the womb as an embryo

To have some cozy warmth

And oblivion and solitude.

I reel into the protective membrane

Holding tight to the umbilical cord

And wait for the hour of my rebirth

With renewed hopes, reborn zeal

For doing what was undone,

For rectifying my hamartia.

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Time

Time changes, time evolves
Time creates, time destroys
Time is ungraspable, unstoppable,
Unrelenting, unfathomable,
uncompromising, unpredictable
incalculable, irrevocable,
Invincible, irreparable…
Like the edgeless universe
Like metaphysics, or postmodernism
Time is relative
Time is simultaneous
Time is Destiny’s tool
Time has no frills.
Time is Andrew Marvell’s sigh
Time is Pegasus’ winged horse
Time can not be timed
Nor can it be chained.
Time knows no destination
Nor is it time-bound.
No units, digits, or hands
Can measure time
Time has no history, no lineage
Time just moves on
Heedlessly towards infinity.

Geometry of Life..

I wanted perfect circles
Which are concentric.
I wanted perfect squares
With four equilateral sides.
I wanted straight lines
That curve not till infinity.
But Oh.. this damn world
Defies every geometric law.
Where are those perfect men
Or women I dream of?
So imperfect, so impure
So vile, so fragile..
Every single moment
Hearts get broken here,
Beliefs change colour,
The living turns dead.
They say, love takes us
Closest to perfection.
But love ascends and descends
Like stock market index..
Life has no affinity to geometry
That’s the truth I accept with a sigh.

Teacher, Teaching and the Taught : Past and Present Trends

Before proceeding on to discuss the various trends and techniques in educating the students upto secondary level and making a comparative assessment, it may be more appropriate to start off with the concept of ‘education’ itself. ‘Education’ is the imparting of knowledge and skills by some experienced agents called ‘teachers’ and its reception by some inexperienced and immature ‘learners’. So, it is a two way process. Though the two terms ‘education’ and ‘learning’ are used almost synonymously, there seems to be a thin line of difference. ‘Learning’ is, unlike ‘education’, a one-way process, that’s related to acquisition of knowledge only. A person learns throughout his life, right from the cradle to the grave. But to take education he has to attain certain age and can continue upto a limited age, in general. Education denotes institutionalized and systematic teaching-learning process.

The task of teaching, in another word – educating, is not anybody’s cup of tea. Just acquiring the requisite knowledge on a specific subject does not ascertain that a person is competent enough to be a teacher. Teaching is an art ; a skill ; a temperament ; a way of life. A teacher must have a pleasant personality, an optimistic view of life, abundant knowledge, social responsibility, inquisitiveness, alacrity, presence of mind, sound physique and mental health, good sense of humour, leadership quality, kindness, humbleness, zest and zeal and a loud and crisp voice. It is said that a teacher is a friend, philosopher and guide. Alexander the Great said, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well”. So, great responsibility lies on their shoulders. They are the moulders of all other professionals. A teacher’s quality should be judged not by his range of knowledge, but by his ability to invoke a desire for knowledge in the students. He must interact with the students, take their response, rather than just speaking on his own. He should make a dull subject interesting by correlating the textbook references to real life situation. He has to be constantly aware of current events and trends, so that he may minimize the generation gap between a teacher and a student. He can hone his skills by taking formal training in teaching in courses like B.Ed. (formerly known as B.T.), D.Ed., B.El.Ed. etc.

Coming on to the methods and techniques employed in teaching and learning, it can be said that there has been tremendous change particularly in the West and far East. But Indian education system is still on a snail run. Since distant past till this day, chalk, duster and blackboard has been unavoidable teaching tools in India. Yet, in some urban places, it has been replaced with marker pens and whiteboards. In a few state-of-the-art classrooms,  visualisers, episcopes, LED glowboards and DLP projectors are also being used. Visualisers are used for projecting handwritings, episcopes for printed materials or photographs and DLP projectors for digital media such as images, videos, audios, powerpoint slides etc on wall. On LED glowboards handwritings glow in bright colours. Today is the day of ‘virtual classrooms’ and ‘cloud learning’. Virtual classrooms are equipped with all sorts of electronic equipment including computers connected to the internet. In such classrooms there is no role of ‘teachers’ and ‘textbooks’. The reading materials are in digital format (like e-books) and are stored on the internet publicly accessible from any part of the world.

For effective teaching and learning, the ideal teacher-student ratio should be 1:40. But, in present day, maintaining this ratio has become almost impossible due to increased enrolment of students especially in the provincialised and govt.-aided schools. The reason may be ascribed to the Right to Free and Compulsory Elementary Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act, 2009). It lays stress on ensuring free and compulsory elementary education. Subsequently, the central government has been increasing funds to be utilized in the education sector. Zero fee enrolment and distribution of free commodities like bicycles, computers, uniforms etc and free midday meal are aimed at bringing the poor and working  children into schools. Sending each and every child, especially the girl child, has become the topmost priority now. With this sudden increase of enrolment in schools, the provincialised and semi-provincialised schools have become overcrowded now. Parallely sufficient schools are not being set up and teachers are not being appointed despite the fact that RTE Act visualizes one school in every five kilometers. This problem gets magnified in the sub-urban and rural areas where less number of private schools exist. Besides, the government’s imposition of newer rules regarding salary, teacher appointment and formation of trust etc are posing threat to the existence of such public ventures. Instead of straitjacketing the public schools, the government should be pliable enough to encourage newer private schools especially in the rural areas. Another factor that is greatly damaging quality education is the directive of SSA (Sarva Siksha Abhiyan) to promote all the students to the higher standard. It has made the age-tested examination system a farce and students are also seen taking undue advantage of it by not bothering about studies. Teachers have also lost a sense of motivation as they are targeted by the government for failure of students and harassed with discontinuation of increment and other facilities and compulsory remedial teaching in vacation time. Instead of harassing the teachers, the government should build special schools for the slow learners and make special curricula, provide experienced teachers and arrange free boarding for them. Or the reverse may also be done. The gifted children may be separated and educated in special schools. Our education system lags behind mostly due to the fact that the education department does not consider it worthwhile to take expert advise from educationists. Hence we see some awkward decisions from the education department. Another factor that demoralizes a teacher is the abolition of corporeal punishment.  Now-a-days, any teacher found to have caned or pulled ear etc can be prosecuted under law. Though injuring or mutilating a student’s body in the name of punishment can not be encouraged, minimum use of cane is essential at least for the sake of maintaining discipline and order. There’s a saying, “spare the rod, spoil the child”. In earlier times, students were very much respectful to their teachers and followed their orders word-by-word. Now-a-days, respect for the teachers seems to have lessened. Students, these days, seem to come to school for recreation, gossip, free meal and scholarships etc.

Modern educational theories demand the classroom to be student-centric. A teacher is expected to be pliant, supportive, sympathetic and interactive. Instead of posing like a dominating figure inside the classroom and giving judgements for the learners to follow unquestioningly, he should interact with them trying to clarify most of their doubts and enabling them to infer rules or patterns etc on their own. He is expected to take individual care of the students. He also has to prepare lesson plans, annual schemes and TLMs (Teaching Learning Materials). So, in comparison to earlier teachers, the present day teachers are entrusted with an almost unmanageable amount of responsibilities. He faces greater challenges than the past teachers.

In Assam, SEBA has recently launched NCERT textbooks which is a welcome step. The earlier textbooks were generally uninteresting, devoid of illustrations, and having biased or politically-influenced data. But NCERT books have some loopholes too. These books are qualitative, but too voluminous and complicated. Rural students are finding it difficult to adapt with the changed curricula. The curricula of English, for example, is so vast that it includes a main book, a supplementary reader, grammar, composition and oral. Expecting a single teacher to cover up all these sub-sections of a subject is nothing but fancy. So, there’s a need for more teachers in schools, not just a single teacher for a single subject. There is also a need for more weightage on practicals and oral. But, unfortunately, the SEBA syllabi allot nominal marks, usually 10 or 20. Students like to learn by doing. But SEBA course makes them passive listeners and immature beings. There’s no provision for continuous and formative assessment. A transition period has come in education sector in Assam with the introduction of NCERT textbooks. But it will take more time for the change to take full effect. SEBA should realize the ground realities and should not overburden the students with unnecessarily gigantic syllabi and curricula. SEBA and DSE should aim at proper gradation of course contents according to student psychology and their needs. Moreover, teachers should get flexibility in teaching. They should be allowed to choose their lessons in a textbook for teaching and set their own question papers, rather than the examination  board setting a common question paper. The reason is the difference of understanding level of rural and urban students. An average urban learner may learn more lessons in less time with less effort, than an average rural learner. But now, voluminous textbooks have just compelled the teachers to skip or skim over lessons. They are only concerned with finishing the lessons on time, instead of elaborate explanation, homework checking, or interaction with students. In this regard, I feel that the former teachers got better chance to interact with students or explain a topic elaborately as the burden of textbooks was less.

In competition with CBSE, SEBA has started to loosen its marking system and question patters. In earlier days, getting a first division/class at matriculation level was exceptionally tough. The question pattern was almost fully essay-type and the marking system was stringent. So, very few could achieve that. But, now-a-days, getting 60% doesn’t attract attention. The reason is more weightage on objective type questions. These types of questions require no reflection at all. These test their knowledge of some facts, rather than their level of understanding, expression, analytic skill, or depth of thought. Students are, in fact, being built up for facing objective-type competitive examinations that generally ask ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’, instead of ‘why’ and ‘how’. It seems, it is part of a conspiracy for suppressing critical thought and subjective analysis for the benefit of some corrupt political groups. These political groups want to flaunt high literacy rate, but ironically, do not want intellectuals in the society as they are the catalysts of public opinion. Quality is sacrificed for quantity. Now, the education sector has been converted into a corporate sector where all that matters is money. Admissions are given against donations. With the introduction of distance-learning mode, one does not have to attend classes regularly. This system is just producing a meritless group of degree holders with high percentage of marks. Degrees that were once earned with hard labour and merit are now sold in open market.

“I am Malala”

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Anyone who has kept track of the recent happenings on the globe through the media of TV, radio and newspaper over the past few months must have come across the pathetic as well as valiant story of the Pakistani schoolgirl named Malala Yousafzai. She is a young girl living in the Swat valley in Pakistan along with her parents. Like any other girl in Pakistan she  too got the opportunity to go to school and learn. But her life suddenly got a severe jolt when the Taliban militants announced on their radio channel to stop female education after 15th January, 2009 and gave threat to blow away all the schools for girls. Malala was 13 years of age when she heard about this and she got much depressed as all her dreams and aspirations seemed to shatter into pieces. Her dream was to be a doctor, though her father later on convinced her to be a politician. Subsequently, most of the schools in Swat valley were closed out of fear. Talibans started killing anyone who promoted education for girls. Malala gathered  her hopes and made a plan. She secretly started going to school in casual clothes, so that no one suspects that she was going to school. She got courage in her endeavour from her father who used to like her very much and inspired her to be eligible enough to serve the cause of the society. Her father Ziauddin Yousafzai was a social activist as well as a teacher. Malala used to visit her friends’ families and convince their parents to send their girls to school without fear. She      became a bit successful in this attempt and gathered quite a lot girls as schoolmates. She secretly maintained an online diary (technically called a ‘blog’) named “Diary of a Pakistani School Girl” meant to be published in  BBC Urdu, where she used to write about the hard days she had to face while getting education. Her blog became very popular and the international community became aware of the condition in Swat and denounced the Talibans for their barbarian acts. The Talibans got infuriorated over this and searched for Malala. They found her in a school bus while she was returning back to home after school. The day was October 9, 2012. They shot her in the head which went down her neck and lodged in her shoulder. They left her lying unconscious in a pool of blood.

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She was immediately rushed to a military hospital in Peshawar where the doctors successfully removed the bullets from her neck. But she was still in a coma. On October 15, 2012, Malala was taken to the United Kingdom in a special plane and was treated in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. On October 17, she came out of coma and on October 18, was able to talk. Following her assassination attempt there was much ado on the global front over it. The print media and electronic media brought her into limelight by publishing and broadcasting news about her. Even after getting shot and threatened by the Talibans she has continued to promote education for girls with more vigour. She wants to open an organisation to be named as Malala Foundation to help underprivileged girls in getting education. But before that she wants to complete higher studies and become fully eligible to take part in social reconstruction. On October 15, 2012, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Mr Gordon Brown launched a petition in Yousafzai’s name with the slogan “I am Malala” which demands that there be no children left out of school by 2015. Malala says, “Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right”. The united Nations has declared 10th November of every year to be observed as “Malala Day”. Moreover, the Pakistani Government has announced to establish “Malala Schools” for special education for female child workers. Beyond any doubt, she is a true crusader for the basic rights of girls. Her attempt at bringing all teenager girls to schools is really commendable. Her story has inspired and will continue to inspire all. That day is not too far away when fanatic groups like the Taliban will lose their strength and every girl all over the world will get education.

Dream, or Reality?

Janaza

A corpse lies before me,

Whose I don’t know,

Nor should I know whose,

Who cares? It’s a regular scene here.

A person young of age, as they say.

Most probably a Muslim, as they say.

I say, what’s the hurry! Let’s see him.

As I approach, a chill went down my spine.

My heart forgets to thump, my forehead wet,

Who’s this? It’s none other than me lying dead!

I shriek out in fear, and close my eyes.

As I open, I see worried faces of my parents,

I realize, what I saw was just a dream.

A dream, yet not a dream at all,

We all have to depart thus, still and cold.