Month: December 2002

School versus school

School versus school

You’ve heard of students from different schools competing with one another. How about schools themselves getting into the fray? Over 150 city schools have an opportunity to participate in the "Ideal School" competition, a special kind of contest in which the quality of the participant school’s facilities will be evaluated.

Together with the TMC, Thane Zilla Parishad and Navneet Publications (India) Ltd, the Rotary club of Thane has organised this competition for all secondary schools in the Thane Municipal area. According to the organisers, the primary objective of the competition is to "develop a spirit of competition and achieve progress thereby".

Such a competition is being held for the first time in Thane. A set of questionnaires has been prepared and is being distributed to participating schools. The schools are required to fill in this questionnaire which covers relevant aspects of operating a school: academics, sports, library, science laboratory, computer facilities, provision for sanitation, career guidance and level of teacher-parent interaction etc.

To be fair, facilities at municipal schools cannot be compared to those run by the various trusts and private organisations. Therefore, the schools have been divided into four major categories:

1.  Municipal Schools
2.  Marathi and other vernacular medium language private schools
3.  English medium private schools
4.  Schools affiliated to ICSE

There would be two winners for the first and fourth categories, with a prize amount of Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 7,500 at stake. For the remaining two categories, there would three winners for Rs. 10,000, Rs. 7,500 and Rs. 5000.   Additionally, for schools in the second and third category, there are two more prizes of Rs. 5,000 – one each for excellence in academics and for sports/extra curricular activities.

Schools will initially be screened on the basis of their answers to the questionnaire. Subsequently, a panel of judges comprising of senior representatives from the field of education, the Zilla Parishad, the TMC and the Rotary Club of Thane will visit the short-listed schools and scan the facilities to ascertain the claims.

The last date for sending in entries is December 31, 2002. The results of the competition and prize distribution will be held in the second week of February, 2003.

It is a known fact that there is a directly proportionate relationship of good educational facilities to student performance. Research proves that better facilities in a school get translated into superior performance of its students. Such a competition would not only promote improvement initiatives at private schools, but would also bring to the forefront the problems that many small schools face. Some schools lack basic facilities like toilets, water-supply and playgrounds. The class-rooms are small and badly ventilated. Blackboards and benches are broken. It is for this reason that the organisers have urged all schools to participate, regardless of how good their facilities are. They may not emerge winners in the competition, but may benefit nevertheless. Based on the entries they receive, the organisers plan to release a public report on the state of schools in the city. This initiative could help the under-privileged schools attract the much-needed funds to install basic facilities within their premises.

For more information about the "Ideal School" competition, you may contact Dilip Soman, President of Rotary Club of Thane, on 25803549, 25804408 & 25820734.

Promising Amateurs

Promising Amateurs

"Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself", penetrating words from celebrated American Comedian Rodney Dangerfield. On Sunday, 50 students, aged between 5 and 15 years, "exposed" their delicate emotions in a similar fashion in front of an enthralled audience at Nakhwa Hall in Thane East.

The students were participating in the annual acting competition organised by Mata Anasuya Baal Kala Manch, a group that organises acting camps. This is the fourth consecutive year of the camp and so far 425 students have graduated from this camp, which is organised simultaneously in Thane, Dadar, Vashi, Dombivli, Kalyan, Borivali. Famed Marathi stage, film and TV actress Anuradha Deshpande judged the event.

The key aspect of this competition was that every single participant was on stage for the very first time, with no prior experience in acting. Yet, once on stage, these amateurs displayed fine promise.

Each contestant had to perform a solo act. On several occasions, the audience spontaneously by cheering and clapping the performances. After articulately uttering his monologues, one little contender urged the audience, "If you agree with what I just said, please put your hands together". The audience was in splits, as the kid got an enthusiastic response to his appeal.

Then there was a boy who acted on a script he himself wrote. His script was interesting: How would an old lady, who has found a one-rupee coin, react? He then enacted her reactions in various styles ranging from the conventional bhajan-kirtan to the modern day filmi rap.

However, the performers who walked away with the first prize were Vipula Keer and Shripad Raut (It was a tie). Both these kids had chosen historic events as their theme. While Vipula became Jhansi Ki Ranni, Shripad was both, Aurangzeb and Sambhaji. Vipula was so immersed in her character that when role demanded that she weep, she did not resort to glycerine for tears – she had real ones in her eyes.

Rohan Joshi bagged second prize for his natural performance and the third prize was given to Kasturi Apte who was the youngest participator, aged just four years. What’s remarkable is that Kasturi had not attended the acting camp. Speaking about Kasturi, the chief organiser of the camp and the competition, Pravinkumar Bharde said, "Kasturi would accompany her elder sister for the acting camps and would keenly follow what was transpiring at these camp. When she learned about the competition, she immediately wanted to participate. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming and so I began preparing her for d-day. Today, when she received the second prize, it has surprised her parents and me. We are all proud of her."

Omkar Pole was awarded a consolation prize for his enacting of the extremely popular Marathi play, "NattaSamrat". Omkar’s voice modulation and facial expressions won him the prize, despite the fact that he was not properly attired. Commending his performance, Deshpande said, "The play is quite difficult to understand and the language used is also very complex. Yet, Omkar was able to pull it off quite well."

At the end, every contestant was given a certificate of participation. A farewell party is scheduled December 25 at Shiva Samartha Vidyalaya, Thane, wherein the winners will be felicitated. The focal attraction of this day is yet another exciting acting contest – only this time, the parents of the participants would compete with one another!

Whizkids India

Whizkids India

As we approach the National round of Children’s Science Congress, Thane has reason to be proud. Out of the 15 projects selected to represent Maharashtra State at this national convention, seven have been prepared by city students. And this is no mean feat, considering the fact that over 800 projects entries were sent at the district level convention and 80 were selected for the state level convention.

This is first time that seven projects from one city have been selected for the national convention of the Children Science Congress, since it began in 1993. Another national record for Thane is that one of its schools, the Saraswati Secondary School, sent 48 entries to the Congress – the highest number of entries from any single school. While declaring the results, State Convener of the Congress, Surendra Dighe said, "This is a great achievement for Thane city and Thaneites should be proud of it"

To give you an idea of how painstakingly each project is developed, consider the project tilted "Anaemia" that was developed by Nachiket Kulkarni and his group from Saraswati Secondary School under the guidance of their teacher Suresh Jungle.

Their project revolved around the broad area of Food Management and Nourishment for All. In this light, they decided to study the food habits of financially backward boys aged between 10 and 14 years. The group prepared questionnaire and recorded the responses of 50 students selected randomly from TMC school no. 18 located in Dharamveer nagar and Sathewadi in Thane. With the help of the popular pathologist Dr. Gupte, they organised a blood investigation campaign for all the 50 students. Based on the blood report, specifically the haemoglobin count, the group concluded that the out of 50 children, 33 were anaemic and 21 of these were perilously anaemic.

Then, in order to verify their results, the group conducted similar investigations among 18 children belonging to the middle-income category and found that five of these were anaemic too. The group concluded that it is not just poverty, but also ignorance, that causes these boys to be malnourished.

The group then organised orientation programme to guide the children and parents, wherein experts were called in to speak. The experts suggested a number of "low-cost, high nutrition" alternatives to these financially deprived people so that their children derive all the necessary nutrients from their regular meals.

A number of voluntary organisation support the Congress in many ways specifically in developing activity books, organising training workshops for guide teachers, evaluating the research projects and coordinating the district and state level conventions. In Thane, Jidnyasa Trust is the organisation that that convenes the Congress at the state level.

The state level convention was held on November 30 and December 01 and was inaugurated by senior scientist and former vice-chancellor of University of Pune V G Bhide.

The National convention will be held later this month between December 27 and December 31 in Mysore. The President of India APJ Abdul Kalam will inaugurate the convention. Kalam is certainly the best individual to inaugurate this convention which will honour bright, young boys and girls.

Once, when Bharat Ratna winner Kalam was the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, he was called to attend a function. On his way out of the building, Dr. Abdul Kalam was approached by a group of awed students, one of who said "Dr. Kalamji, I want to become a scientist." The doctor answered with a question of his own. "Do you have a piece of paper?" The student eagerly retrieved paper and pen, ready to record the advice of this esteemed scientist. Dr. Abdul Kalam continued, "Write this down. Dream, dream, dream. Think, think, think. And then put that thought into action, action, action. OK?"

Scientifically Inclined

Scientifically Inclined

The National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC) is an apex organisation of the Government of India that endeavours to popularise science and technology by stimulating scientific and technological disposition. One of the activities of the NCSTC is the Children’s Science Congress. Meritorious and innovative projects selected for district congress, state congress and national convention. Each state also sends two delegates to the Annual Session of the Indian Science Congress.

The Congress is organised each year in almost all districts with more and more schools joining the activity. The Congress is an opportunity for brilliant young scientists (between 10 to 17 years of age) to:

  • work in teams under a guide on an identified theme
  • select a problem from the neighbourhood
  • develop a hypothesis and conduct field research
  • see patterns in data and prepare a report
  • present findings before peer group in one’s own language.

One such congress was held at Chimbipada, a village on the outskirts of Thane. City-based NGO Jignyasa Trust organised this Congress, which was sponsored by the Adivasi Vikas Mandal (Thane Division). The theme of the project was "Food system towards adequate nutrition to all". In all, 275 adivasi (tribal) students and 70 teachers participated from as many as 83 schools from around Thane and adjacent Districts.

Under the guidance of their teachers, the adivasi children prepared wonderful projects that covered a range of issues such as the typical adivasi diet, agricultural production, adivasi lifestyle, medicinal plants, storage of perishable food and transportation of food et cetera.

It was easy to make out that a lot of hard work had gone into each of the project presented. The judges too were impressed with the performance of these young brains. They were especially bowled over by the local dialect of these little ones and the way they presented their work. On one occasion, a judge asked why the trees around the village had names of students. A student quickly responded, "Each tree is planted by a child of the village and it belongs to that child. This child takes care of the tree, waters it and generally protects it. As the child grows, the tree grows also. Thus each tree is named after the individual who planted it."

Surendra Dighe, who was the chief guest at the event, said, "Each project was extraordinary in its own way especially considering that tribal children had worked it. Unfortunately, we could select only three projects for state level representation." The following projects were selected for the next level:

  1. "Food from Jungle Plants" by Bajrang Eelam
  2. "Food Grains – Processing, storage and distribution" by Shivram Dalvi
  3. "Nutritious food for adolescent girls" by Pratibha Chimte

Judging by the enthusiasm of the participants, we can say that the Children’s Science Congress is doing a great job of inspiring out-of-the box thinking in the students. After all, as Malcolm Forbes said, "Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one."

Next week, we will discuss the state-level Congress, in which seven out of the 15 projects selected for the national round are by students from Thane city.

For the Love of Learning

For the Love of Learning

I quite like what Peter Drucker, the most well-known management guru in the world, has to say about our education curriculum: "When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course."  

We are all different, each one of us. Our aptitudes, inclinations and outlook differ from one another. Yet, our education system attempts to test our abilities using one, hackneyed approach, which is primarily based on memory. We are often tested for what we do not know instead of what we know. And often, the subjects we are taught are outdated, irrelevant or both!

No wonder then, more than fifty years after independence, the dropout rate in Indian primary, middle and high schools continues to be shamefully high. And one big reason for dropping out of schools is the inability of the students to cope with the difficult subjects.

Thankfully, students who are "intellectually slow" or are for some reason, unable to cope with the stressful environment of formal education, can now turn to the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). NIOS was established in November, 1989 as an autonomous organisation in pursuance of National Policy on Education, 1986 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

The Thane chapter of NIOS was started by Diocesan Council of Catholic Women of India in 1992. Sister Rossetta, principal of Holy Cross Convent Special School, was instrumental in setting up the Thane division.

Clara Correia, honorary coordinator of NIOS, Thane, is among the few volunteers who are affiliated to the NIOS. Together with Lena Callasco, who works as honorary assistant coordinator, she works hard to provide an opportunity to those who seek education.

Their efforts seem to have borne fruit. Starting with merely 24 students, the Thane division today has 261 students. Since the last ten years, all kinds of students have enrolled for the courses offered by NIOS – school dropouts, marginalised girls, poor children or those from orphanage, street children and children of prostitutes. Even borderline children (mentally challenged) and those suffering from Dyslexia (a learning disorder marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and comprehend written words) have been admitted.

Another category of individuals who often benefit from NIOS are older people, who are desirous of completing some level of formal education.

In Thane, NIOS has had (and continues to have) an interesting mix of students. An auto rickshaw driver, a peon and a dry-cleaner are some examples. Once, a 56-year old lady enrolled for the SSC course and successfully passed the exams in two years. Based on this certificate, she was able to get her full retirement benefits.

The school once had a trio comprising a student, her mother and her grandmother – all doing the course at the same time!

So what makes NIOS really different? The keyword here is flexibility.

Correia says, "Students are required to pass nine examinations in five years. There is no stigma of failure associated with the exams. This allows students to learn at their own speeds and at their convenience. We also provide specially designed, self-instructional printed material on different subjects. Wherever relevant, other support materials, like audio cassettes, practical manuals, glossaries and study guides are made available."
 
Another interesting aspect of NIOS is that while admitting students, their past record is not seen. Correia believes that every student who comes to the school should be treated as a "fresh slate".

Unlike in the formal system, the instructional approach at the NIOS is multi-channeled. Students are encouraged to become self learners with the help of educational material provided by the NIOS. The school also provides a wide range of facilities to help students gain a better understanding of their subjects.

There are no regular classes like the formal schools. However, face-to-face contact sessions are organised twice a week. These sessions focus on academic problem solving, interactive peer-group learning, counseling and tutoring.

Another feature of NIOS is that to obtain a pass certificate from the NIOS, a student must pass in five subjects. One has to choose minimum one or maximum two languages for both Secondary and Senior Secondary levels. Once a student passes Secondary or Senior Secondary examination with five or more subjects with at least one language, a pass certificate is issued to him/her.

The NIOS offers three primary courses:

  1. Foundation Course, which is equivalent to Eighth standard and serves as a bridge course for joining the secondary level programmes in the NIOS.
  2. Secondary Education Course: This is offered to those who are desirous of completing 10th standard education leading to Secondary School Certificate (SSC).
  3. Senior Secondary Education Course: This is designed for those who have passed 10th standard or equivalent and would like to continue their education for 12th standard. This leads to the Senior Secondary School Certificate (HSC).

The students of NIOS have certainly benefited from the flexibility of time and curriculum. This can be gauged from the fact that some of its students have gone on to complete higher education and have become professionals.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge", said Albert Einstein. This is the true essence of education. And this is what NIOS is attempting to achieve.

Those who wish to contact NIOS Thane chapter, they can contact Clara Correia at Holy Cross Convent Special School Building on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm.