Monday, March 29, 2010

Premji foundation's audacious goals

Education sector is experiencing interesting changes. Several NGOs are putting in efforts to bring about change in the education sector by approaching the problem in ways they deem appropriate. Some of these efforts have potential to be scaled up while some others may not be able to run too far.

As the country meets the challenge of poor quality education posed by the 21st century economic growth of the country, we realize that the solutions sought would need to come from BHAG (big hairy audacious goals) the way Jim Collins puts in his book- Good to Great.

Amongst the players in NGOs who are really trying to make an impact at a large level, the Azim Premji foundation comes across as a clear player to be taken really seriously. Check this out.

This group is starting a university to develop teachers who can take the challenge of educating the less privileged who pose a unique plethora of issues to grapple with both for the educators and also for the administrators. This foundation which consciously avoided getting into the implementation mode of NGOs and focussed more on trying to influence policy at the State level. This decision of starting an education university is a distillation of the efforts gone in research and deliberation with various experts both from the government and outside it.Their understanding (which looks fairly appropriate) is that without good teachers we can't move much further in this direction.

It is getting more and more evident that the solution will not come from the HRD Ministry till we don't have the requisite political will (though Kapil Sibal is trying really hard) across all levels of education delivery. The challenge comes mainly from the fact that education policy unlike infrastructure development doesn't get translated in the same vein in which it is planned out mainly because of the nature of this service. Its not like you budget for 10 million vaccinations and you role it out and get polio eradicated. Making a person think and act responsibly is a far too complex a challenge. A paucity of funds at either the state or center level can downrail the best of the plans drafted at the Yojna Bhavan.

Thus projects which are really ambitious and which are backed by really able people can probably bring about impact much faster than the pace that we are otherwise used to.

Best wishes to this foundation for its audacity.

For further views on education you can check out my other blog

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ardh Satya- Half truths of our existence

Existence for human being is all about contradictions. The concept of death doesn't exist till we don't accept life. The moment a person takes birth, the end of his life is termed death. Various contradictions affect the way we connect with the world around us. Some of the prominent ones are

  1. Life Vs Death - two sides of the same coin
  2. Leading a life of Conformity Vs Individualism
  3. Outer loud noises Vs the inner garden ('buy this buy that' of Material life Vs Spiritual life)
  4. What I am personally inclined to do Vs what will help me survive on this planet successfully 
  5. The feeling after having a wonderful meal in a restaurant and the sight of the first hungry child whom one meets on the first traffic junction (Haven't you experienced that?)
  6. The freedom of childhood and the responsibilities expected from adulthood (remember the song -' bachpan ke din bhi kya din the, udte phirte titli ban ke')
  7. What I am Vs How I want others to perceive me as (my vulnerabilities Vs my persona or image) - Tiger Woods got caught in this contradiction
  8. The readings on the all powerful and formless God and the questions on how does he allow injustice to happen unabated? - Should I be an atheist to be on the safe side?
  9. The need to be loved by known and unknown people Vs one's own limitation of feelings towards others beyond family members
  10. The world I live in Vs the world I would love to live in 
  11. The ruthlessness of competition Vs the merit in competition
  12. Leap frogging into modernity Vs clinging to what got changed
  13. And so on.......
There might be other contradictions that one may encounter on a give day like seeing someone injured in an accident and then wondering whether to attend to him or to rush to one's office.

The more I try to be observant about these contradictions, I experience a sense of capacity to take away one's positive energies unless one is clear about one's own perspectives. I also realize that my happiness lies in understanding the limitation of the human self as it tries to grapple in the midst of choices that are thrown up as a result of these dichotomies of life. The other step is to see what best we can do to alleviate the impact of these tensions as they get created by circumstances.  For example the person who finds himself in a strong position can reach out to the needy at times. Be in a profession that suits one's heart and mind. Similarly if I am able to create the small world around me( which I would ideally aspire to see be all pervasive), I feel better and thus manage that contradiction better. Or when one tries to expand one's own horizon of inclusiveness and tries to be more compassionate towards known and unknown people. The need for that behavior from others fades away when one starts assuming that same quality in oneself that one seeks in others. 

Contradictions to me are intrinsically a nature of life (its property) and the biggest one of this contradiction (Life Vs Death) will consume us all one day.The rest of the contradictions that take birth in the light of this biggest contradiction would keep on challenging our wisdom thereby encouraging us to be better and better with each step into complexities of life. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Report on Higher Education issues in India

A very incisive report on higher education woes in the country. Must read for anyone interested in understanding the space better.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The problem with Thalis

I had the opportunity to go and check out a restaurant which offers a Thali system of meal- quite a famous chain of restaurant by the name - Rajdhani. A 'thali' by restaurant lexicon stands for a meal which provides you a plethora of options. You start with three deserts and that is followed by atleast 4 to 5 curries, some yoghurt and then a range of two to three sweets. By the time the entire thali is served you realize that there is so much on it to eat that it gets difficult to choose. You feel like having everything because everything looks tasty :). So after i had tried most of the dishes in small quantities, i found it difficult to state which particular curry i liked more than the rest. So when the person came to ask if I needed more of some particular curry, i just randomly indicated my finger. Does that happen with you too? :)
I wondered if i had gone ahead with only one single curry (the way i normally do) and just enjoyed that to the utmost, would I have relished my meal better?
At the end of it all came the dessert- that too the choice to choose one amongst three. Again after having couple of spoons of one, i realized that i really didn't have the capacity to enjoy it any more !

May be in the middle of two meals if I would have had the same dessert, it would have tasted better.

I wonder if I face the same 'thali' phenomenon when i have to choose to read a particular book from amongst plethora of choices or check out a certain blog or a movie or any product- say a cell phone or a pen. Does the 'thali' phenomenon rob me of the joy of not having too much choice at hand. Is a state of moderation better for me? A state where i am provided few simple alternatives with each being good in a certain way and i am required to just relish to the very core, the option that i go ahead with.

I get reminded of the saying 'Less is More'

Monday, March 8, 2010

The poem in search of its poet

Came across this beautiful poem at the entrance of Research and Development facility of Nicholas Piramal at Mumbai day before yesterday as we went to take kids for a science trip to the facility.

The poet's name was not mentioned. Did some search on the internet and got an indirect reference of this poem by Tagore who stated that this poem was translated from a peom written by a woman from medieval India.  Now to me its like a poem which is unconcerned about the search for its creator.

I salute the Life which is like a sprouting seed,
With its one arm upraised in the air, and the other down in the soil;
The Life which is one in its outer form and its inner sap;
The Life that ever appears yet ever eludes.
The Life that comes I salute; and the Life that goes;
I salute the Life that is revealed and that is hidden;
I salute the Life in suspense, standing still like a mountain, And the Life of the surging sea of fire;
The Life that is tender like a lotus, and hard like a thunderbolt.
I salute the Life which is of the mind, with its one side in the dark and the other in the light;
I salute the Life in the house and the Life abroad in the unknown,
The Life full of joy and the Life weary with its pains,
The Life eternally moving, rocking the world into stillness,
The Life deep and silent, breaking out into roaring waves.

Life has continued to mesmerise people since ages and it will continue to do that for ever. Love the way this mystery envelopes us and also defines our journey on this planet.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Language and us

Took an auto-rickshaw for a local travel within the city of Mumbai. Its important to name the city as thats important to understand the relevance of this light anecdote.

The route that we took was diverted as people from the Islam faith were doing their namaz (prayer) near the mosque and that being small, some portion of the road gets used for it. The driver without any complaint diverted the vehicle. For me it was not new since i am familiar with this practice. Its like a tacit understanding where some persons would gently ask you to use the adjoining road as this road is being used for prayers.

Then we took the main road from an alternate route (without any hassle) and travelled along. We met some traffic at a distance. The auto brushed past one person and he started shouting at him in the local Marathi language. The driver very politely used the same language in responding and admitting that he didn't do it intentionally. After some grumbling that person left.

With his fluency I felt that he was also a Maharashtrian. In this city politicians are trying tooth and nail to assert their muscle on who is going to be the better safe guard of the local population (Marathi speaking) who according to them have a threat on 'culture' and more importantly jobs which are getting diverted to the outsiders. The issue is more complex than that but will park it for perspectives on some other day.

In this context, autorickshaw drivers in the city are majorly from the states of UP and Bihar and they have faced the brunt of this linguistic politics and it seems that their travail is only going to become worse with time.

After the person (who had the brush with the auto) left, the driver explained to me how he had learnt the tact of using the local language to appease such people though he knew that he himself was not completely at fault.  He also stated that response in any other language would have inflamed the person further on the name of someone from outside coming and literally pushing him.
I asked him 'So aren't you a Maharashtrian ?'. He stated with a smile no 'my mother tongue is Telugu' though I was born here and hence know this language quite fluently.

I acknowledged the driver for his sense of secularism in terms of agreeing to take a different route by showing respect to the sentiments of  another section of society (without any element of not being happy doing so), his willingness to pick up both his native language and also the local language. The humorous aspect was how a particular act becomes relatively less abominable when the person who has committed it can speak your own language.

I guess people learn to position themselves in whichever context you put them in. As much as this can be termed street smartness, it is also about recognizing the divides, acknowledging their presence and abiding by that.

Thats where it leaves a doubt in the mind.