Month: November 2003

Just Do it!

Just Do it!

Every major scientific innovation can be attributed to imagination. And science experiments need not be restricted to laboratories. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Science does not know its debt to imagination." With a little imagination and observation, one can experiment and explore anywhere.

Besides preparing their students for good grades in exams, effective science teachers also develop students’ scientific bent and imagination capabilities. This was the essence of a two-day workshop science teachers and students conducted by eminent scientist, science activist and educator Samar Bagchi who was in the city last week. The workshop was held at the Shiv Samarth Vidyalaya, near Rangayatan. While the first day was exclusively for science teachers, the second day saw both students and teachers participating. 90 teachers and 200 students from 12 schools from across the district participated in the workshop.

Last month we had written about Children’s Science Movement initiated by Prof. VG Bhide from Pune and how a few teachers from city schools had visited Pune to learn better ways of imparting science education. Bagchi’s workshop was also part of the Children’s Science Movement, organised in Thane by Jidnyasa Trust.

The objective of the workshop was to expose school science teachers to the various aspects of science and technology for better understanding and building scientific disposition. Bagchi emphasised the urgent importance of teaching science the practical way in order to make students more inquisitive, besides developing their mind at an early age. In his opinion, mere theoretical concepts do not do justice to a subject such as science which offers with never-ending possibilities to a scientist.

At one instance, Bagchi used the traditional glass water experiment – that of turning the glass upside down without spilling the water. He used a cardboard like material that is a little bigger than the opening of the glass and placed it over the top of the glass and carefully turned the glass upside down. The water stayed inside. Then he released the cardboard but it still stuck to the glass, holding in the water. Surprisingly, when he asked teachers to explain the phenomenon, they could not come up with a convincing explanation.

The senior scientist stressed on the importance of demonstrations and strongly advised against dependence on bookish knowledge alone. In fact, both teachers and students seemed pretty impressed with the lucid way he taught certain astronomical concepts – the why’s, what’s and how’s of movement of planets, their orbits and their relationship with Earth. He also employed interactive games and puzzles to teach some mathematical concepts and suggested to teachers that they too must employ innovative methods of teaching.

Being aware that many schools lacked basic infrastructure like laboratory equipment, Bagchi urged students to try carrying out experiments at home using everyday items. In other words, he suggested the use of imagination and urged the students to just do it.

Artrageous!

Artrageous!

Studies suggest that drawing is an important part of literacy development. Drawing can serve as a powerful means for developing children’s perception and thought. And when these children are given the appropriate environment, time and access to materials, it is not uncommon for them to spend hours on their drawings, expressing their thoughts, observations and imaginations as vividly as they can. Evidence of this was seen at an inter-school drawing competition held in the Thane city last month.

Organised by the Rotary Club of Thane Mid Town in association with Shiv Samarth Vidyalaya, the drawing competition saw over 200 students from 18 city schools participating. The winners were declared on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 at a function presided by renowned muralist Aarti Sanjeev

The participating students were divided into two main groups. The first group (class five to seven) were given themes like "Unity in Diversity," "Ganpati Decoration" and "Life in rainy season". Themes for second group, for class eight to ten, were more profound – "Bomb explosions in Mumbai," "Seven Wonders of the World" and "Cartoons depicting current affairs (a la R K Laxman)."

There were eight winners in all – three of each group and two consolation prizes. The winners were selected by a panel of judges headed by Vasanti Gokani, who teaches drawing at SES English School, Panch Pakhadi.

Architect Ulhas Pradhan who was also on the panel of judges said that the drawings were selected on the basis of many criteria. He said, "We looked for the human figures, which are rather difficult to draw. We also measured the depth of concept covered, the colour schemes used – but most importantly we tried to judge the visualising power of the child." Indeed, for imagine a child trying to illustrate the scene of a bomb blast and capturing the commotion after the explosion, in spite of not witnessing anything of the sort with his or her own eyes.

First come, First Served
Talk about enthusiasm among culture-crazy Maharashtrian people who will do anything to reserve a seat for the annual "Pandit Ram Marathe Sangeet Samaroh" show. This year, the plans opened on November 16 for the four-day show beginning on November 21. As usual, the booking windows of Gadkari Rangayatan, where the programme is to be held, had queues from the evening of November 15. The first person to arrive at the booking counter was Gunendra Phansalkar, a 65-year-man from Kalyan.

Many others soon appended the queue and spent the night at Rangayatan, waiting for the ticket sales to begin the next morning. Begin they did, only to stop three hours later, when the tickets were sold out.

Phasalkar will be honoured by chief guest Mohan Joshi – it has become customary for the organisers to felicitate the first purchaser of the ticket every year.

Perfect Timing

Perfect Timing

On Sunday, November 09, city-based Jidnyasa Trust, which works for the betterment of students, celebrated its tenth Annual Day on sports ground of Saraswati Secondary School, Naupada. The Chief Guest for the evening was Vinayak Sahasrabuddhe who is the Director General of Ram Bhau Malgi Prabhodini, a socio-ecological research institute at Bhayander. Sahasrabuddhe was rather impressed with the finesse that the evening was organised and more so because everything was controlled by the student-members of the trust. What made the biggest impact on him was the perfect timing. The programme was scheduled to start at 5:30 pm. At exactly 5:28 pm, Sahasrabuddhe was escorted from the entrance of the venue by students of Jidnyasa Military School, complete with a military-type parade that we see only on occasions such as the republic day ceremony or when heads of state visit our country. The parade lasted precisely two minutes and he found himself on the dais at 5:30 pm sharp, and the show began. So much for time management.

Talking of time management, a girl student from Thane, Asmita Chitale can teach us a lesson or two. A seasoned gymnastics professional, Asmita was awarded the Jidnyasa Gaurav Puraskar on the same evening. She received a standing ovation and her claim to fame is that she secured 91.6 per cent marks in the class X board exams in spite of leading an active sports life. In fact, just a few weeks before the final board exams, in January 2003, she participated in the National Games. Quite a feat considering that most class X students are busy with their umpteenth revision at the time.

Asked how she managed to score so well, she replied, "From childhood I have always balanced studies and sports. To me, sports are as important as studies." She admitted that she found studying easier after playing and would in fact derive the energy from sports. She also gave full credit to her parents, saying, "Without their support and encouragement, this would not have been possible."

It would be fitting to say that all work and no play make Asmita a dull girl. Asmita managed her time quite well, even when was in class X. That was the secret of her success.

Testing Times

Testing Times

A report on CNN.com says that when it comes to board results, "India is obsessed with the numbers, and some teenagers are so wracked by anxiety that they become ill, or worse." The report also quotes a study conducted by The Week in October last year which said that approximately 4000 students take their lives each year. The figures are hardly surprising as it is a known fact that taking exams is one of the most stressful times in a student’s life. The stress is a direct outcome of the psyche of students who tend to identify their self-worth with the marks they obtain. Fear of perfectionism, achieving success and unhealthy competitiveness has puts enormous pressure on our children.
 
Most teachers and psychologists opine that parents play an extremely important role in helping their children cope with the trauma of examination. Unfortunately, many parents are as nervous as, or even more so, than their children during exams. This sometimes causes them to make things worse by being too forceful.

According to Dr Rajan Bhosle (MD), a renowned counsellor, "Parents need to be as tolerant and supportive as they can at this difficult time. It is essential that parents repeatedly reassure their children that the love and treasure them and whatever their performance at the exams, this fact will not change."

There are countless examples of people without formal education who’ve achieved heights of success and parents must help heir children realise that doing poorly in a particular exam does not translate into doing poorly in life. They need to be reminded that just because someone else is better in their course, it does not mean that person is a superior being.

Another issue is that of forcing career choices onto children. Studies suggest that parents often view their children’s career accomplishments as a reflection on themselves and as a material for the construction of meaning in their own lives. This is often where conflict between parents and children may arise.  

Lighthouse Foundation is organizing free seminars for parents titled "You and Your Children" on November 15 and 16 in Thane and Mumbai. The seminars are an attempt to create an understanding between parents and their kids to help them deal with the exam pressures.

The Mother of Camps

The Mother of Camps

A typical Indian mother follows a rather predictable routine. From the time she wakes up in the morning to when she winds up for the day, her life revolves around her family which comprises of her husband, her children and, if living in a joint family, her in-laws too. Most mothers, whether working or housewives, hardly find any leisure time for themselves, let alone opportunities to learn new things.

Thanks to a two-day camp at Yeoor last week, several mothers from Thane took a much need break from their routines. The camp was organised specially for mothers by a city-based organisation called Renaissance, run by Tushar Pitale. Pitale, who’s a Thane resident, believes that mothers deserve a few days off from the everyday grind.

15 ladies mostly in the age group of 30-50 participated in what was called a Mummy’s camp. The two-day camp, held at a picturesque bungalow at Yeoor, was filled with informative sessions and training programmes on a variety of topics.

To start with, there was a session on Art of Living. Then they were taught ‘How to look impressive.’ Sessions on vegetable carvings, handicraft and cookery followed.   The demonstration of the technique of Ikebana left many women rather pleased. Ikebana, for the uninitiated, is the art of beautifully arranging cut stems, leaves, and flowers in vases and other containers that evolved in Japan over seven centuries

To address health related issues, there was a discourse on yoga and ergonomics. Issues like dental health, gynaecology, child psychology were also dealt with in separate conclaves. Self defence was taught using demonstration.

At night the women gazed at stars, an experience that many participants described as a return to childhood. Most of them said they had forgotten how heavenly beautiful the skies look at night, adorned with millions of shining dots. A high-quality telescope made star gazing even more delightful as many of them star-gazed late into the night.

A nature trail in the morning was perhaps the most adventurous few hours they had spent in years. Along with interesting information on flora and fauna that they received from the guide, they experienced several moments of sheer excitement.   At one time, the guide caught a chameleon in his hand, as the astounded women screamed. While they explored the dense forests of Yeoor, a few women expressed apprehensions over losing their way back.

Away from their families, the participants learnt a lot, enjoyed a lot and had a great time. But at the end of two days, they yearned to get back to their families and into their roles as mothers and housewives. Return they did, albeit emotionally recharged and armed with loads of useful knowledge.

Teacher’s Day Out

Teacher’s Day Out

Science education plays an important role in the area of technological development. Unfortunately, most schools and colleges in our country are highly apathetic towards teaching science. There is no dearth of talent in India. We have many bright and intellectual kids who, given the right guidance and opportunities, can achieve unimagined progress in the field of science and technology.

Perhaps the problem lies in the excessive bent towards theoretical approach to teaching science. Science can be effectively taught only through practical methods such as experimentation, demonstration and exploration. Without these, science becomes just another school subject, to be learnt by rote and forgotten after the exams. Taught in the right manner, science develops the curiosity of children, enhances their creativity and develops in them a propensity to innovate and to excel.

A certain professor V G Bhide, former vice-chancellor of the University of Pune, realised a need for improvement in the area of imparting science education. So he started a movement called the Children’s Science Movement and established a place known as Exploratory. Exploratory is a place where children can explore and discover, innovate and invent, design and fabricate. Exploratory is neither a school laboratory nor a museum. It is a place where children can explore and discover. Exploratory has been designed to excite curiosity, communicate a sense of excitement in doing science, impart computational and communication skills, nourish and nurture creativity and innovativeness. It is a place where children discover for themselves, without being formally taught the basic laws and the concepts underlying them and learn how these concepts underlie various technological innovations.

Exploratory believes that teachers play a critical role in the educational system. Last week, 21 city teachers from various schools and junior colleges grabbed the opportunity to visit Pune for an orientation programme in teaching science the Exploratory way. The visit was organised by Jidnyasa Trust with the objective of building the scientific temperament of teachers and students through encouraging the hands-on approach to scientific problems and challenges.

At the University of Pune’s Physics Department, the teachers learnt about various projects undertaken by the University such as non-conventional energy systems, solar energy systems and so on. Later the teachers were taken to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) where they were shown India’s PARAM series of super-computers developed by Dr. Vijay P. Bhatkar, chairman ETH (Education To Home) Research Labs.

The group was then escorted to the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), an autonomous institution set up by the University Grants Commission to promote nucleation and growth of active groups in Astronomy and Astrophysics in Indian universities. IUCAA aims at being a centre for excellence within the university sector for teaching, research and development in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

When asked about her feedback, Pranita Medhi from People’s Education Society School in Thane, who was one of the participants of the orientation programme, replied, "As most science teachers work in isolation, this was a great opportunity for science teachers from city to meet, interact and share ideas with each other – it doesn’t happen very often." She also found interacting with a distinguished Professor like Bhide highly motivating. She added, "Before teachers can motivate and inspire children, we have to be motivated ourselves. Meeting people like Prof. Bhide and learning about the advancement in the sphere of science and technology gave an added boost to my interest in the subject." Many other teachers shared this view and agreed that the orientation visit will help them teach more effectively.

Another participant, Suresh Jhangle from Saraswati Secondary High School, thinks that from this visit he learned how to develop a scientific perspective among his students. He particularly liked the many examples that Prof. Bhide gave while discussing Exploratory with them.

These teachers are now all set to lead our city students into becoming better at science by encouraging them to come up with practical solutions to everyday problems. And their first challenge is to propose a design for a non-polluting, fuel-efficient, cheap and easy to drive vehicle for travelling from the over-crowded Thane Railway Station into the city". Any takers?

The Reform of MTNL

The Reform of MTNL

MTNL’s pitiable customer service has been largely responsible for the notorious branding Mera Telephone Nahi Lagta associated with it. But if my experience is any indication, this label will dissolve soon – or so I reckon.

A few weeks ago, just a day before we were to shift into a new apartment, I visited MTNL’s office, anxiously of course, to submit the required application for shifting. But the feeling of discomfort did not last long. Right, from the time I submitted the application, my old view of MTNL began to disintegrate. To begin with, I was surprised at the smiling faces that greeted me in the reception area. Everyone there seemed ready to assist and facilitate. Upon meeting G B Wagh, the commercial officer in charge of Powai area, I was convinced that this once insensitive and inconsiderate PSU has undergone a massive personality transformation.

I have rarely seen a more helpful office holder anywhere, in any organisation, leave aside a PSU. While in the commercial department, I witnessed Wagh and his entire team serving people in the most courteous, efficient and accommodating manner I have seen. The numerous distressed subscribers who had come to the office with tricky problems – most of which had to do with surrendering the telephone – were all attended to, with equal consideration.

Market forces are forcing MTNL into becoming a customer-centric company. What else explains the major shift in the attitudes and behaviours of the once complacent office bearers of this monolithic, bloated PSU? But, whatever the basis of MTNL’s makeover, we subscribers have reason to smile; for we are its direct beneficiaries.