Thursday, 28 February 2013

A plea for Inclusion of Autistic children in mainstream Education in India

Aspergers concept  Stock Photo - 10333869

The modern concept of Inclusive Education presupposes the idea of including students not only from different sections of the society but also differing abilities and capabilities. When we talk about the right to education today, we should think  of not only of the rights of economically underprivileged children, but also the rights of special children who are differently abled. A lot more needs to be done  to integrate children suffering from Autism  into the mainstream education at the school level.This can, to some extent be observed in the board papers of the C.B.S.E. that include separate questions for the visually impaired students. These can be read by the scribe and easily followed by the differently abled child. The board however needs to address the issue of allowing Autistic children to appear in the board exams according to their capabilities. While some pioneering schools have done a lot to include autistic children into the  regular school program, (and I have observed that some of these Autistic Children are highly motivated and intelligent learners, with a good memory and understanding of abstract concepts,) a lot more needs to be done by other schools! Exams at all grade levels should be engineered to cater to Autistic children and others with special needs. Looking at the existing trends, it is high time the education boards in the country did more about incorporating changes in the regular board exams at the class tenth and twelfth levels to include a wider range of students with special needs. Separate sections could be included within the blue prints of the existing question papers which would be addressed specifically to these students!

A few possible suggestions (as told to me by one of my colleagues) for incorporating reforms in the examination system for autistic children are listed as follows:

1. Adult prompters (special educators or counselor or Para-educators) should be appointed as scribes instead of a junior student (including board exam etc)

2.  Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) testing at least to the tune of seventy per cent with the rest being made up of fill up the blanks/match the following / true - false etc, could be incorporated. These could be taken up from the lower grades, going all the way till they exit the school.

3.  The presence of a prompter even for practical exams due to sensory and sensory issues would be a welcome step towards making the examination system more inclusive to differently-abled students.

4. There could be a relaxation in the upper age limit for Autistic students appearing for the tenth grade C.B.S.E. exams.

6. Flexibility should be given to students with special need with reference to the timings     
    and dates for appearing for the exams.

7. A modification and adaptation in the syllabus of each grade to include students with
    special needs will go a long way in including them in our examination system.

8. A modification and adaptation will have to be made in the existing examination system
    including the weight age of the formative and summative assessments till class tenth.

9. Modifications in all papers sent from the Education Boards.

10. Concessions for checking of papers of differently-abled children.

While it is true, that these steps will go a long way towards including students with special needs more effectively in our formal educational system, much more needs to be done. This would entail appointing special education teachers, having a separate facility for differently abled children, (although the idea would be to integrate them into the mainstream curriculum) and of course sensitizing the general public and other students towards our special students. I was prompted to write this article by Mrs. Ridhi Lodha, a special education instructor who accompanied one of our special students a brilliant and intelligent student appearing for the class eighth summative assessment paper. He will be the first student with special needs to who would be joining the mainstream in class ninth, and, hopefully, he would be appearing in the C.B.S.E’s class tenth exams after two years! I have had the opportunity of observing him at close quarters and could never tell that he was differently abled! I always saw him as a remarkably intelligent and well informed student of the school. His confidence while writing the paper, incidentally English amazed me, and what is more, he even filled up a supplementary answer sheet! Looking at him answering the questions with great confidence, one wonders why he shouldn’t attempt even the class twelfth board exams in a few years from now!

Friday, 22 February 2013

An Alien Encounter-A Short Story

The final stand did not take place in the mountains after all. The Cyborg-Arachnids, both, type one and two did not follow the remnants of the human population to the mountains. We had finally run out of food and were forced to return to the town of Gondar in spite of fears that we would be confronted by the aliens. I sat on top of the hillock overlooking the town, and somehow everything seemed rather peaceful. I was lost in the music of birdsong, when suddenly from a little beyond came the sound of voices. “Greg, where are you?” called out Guenet, a strapping woman in her thirties, a pulse gun held by the strap slung across her shoulders. She was accompanied by Meseret, a girl in her late teens, and her sister, Almaz, a girl still a baby, at twelve years old. The kids carried the more conventional pulse guns. I stirred from my perch and waved my hand in silent acknowledgement. “Well, what have you found out? Any activity in the town?” To which Guenet answered in a cautious tone, “ no, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the aliens, the town seems to have been abandoned by the Cyborgs!” Meseret added, “ I don’t think the aliens have gone very far, they are just hiding and waiting for us to return!” It the peacefulness of the town below us seemed so deceptive, “ No, I guess not, Meseret, we need to proceed with great caution towards the town. We will first proceed to the Super Mart and see what we can gather from there and then proceed to the Hospital and gather whatever medicines we can!” Almaz who had been so quiet till now, could not hold herself, and rather wistfully she said, “ can I have some chocolates and Marshmallows  from the SuperMart ?”  To this Guenet reprimanded her rather crossly,  “ you think we have come for Chocolates, Almaz?” “Let her be, Guenet!” I countered, the baby in our group of four had always been addicted to chocolates and marshmallows, which we had run out long ago! I had been taken up as the acknowledged mentor and leader by this mother and daughters trio, and they had always looked up to me as the father they had lost in the initial contact with the aliens before fleeing to the mountains.
We were part of an advance scout group of twenty men women and children, children because we had run out of able men and women who could handle the few weapons we had. After a brief respite in which we had some soup and biscuits, we proceeded towards the town in a single file. There was a slight chill in the morning but otherwise it was quite pleasant. We all walked in a single file and spoke in hushed voices, I lead the group with Guenet, Meseret and Almaz following suit. Sixteen others followed us. We finally reached the Quantex Super Mart but realised that the steel doors were locked! I called up Stephen who was our electronics expert on the two way handset and told him to brings his bag of tricks. Stephen inserted two prongs into the electronic panel and grunted, “ well open sesame.” There a few beeps from the instrument he was holding, and then with a click and a tired grind, the steel doors of the Super Mart rolled back. I patted him on the back, “ good job Stephen,” and indicated to the others to enter the Super Mart, while Stephen, Guenet and I stayed at the entrance to form the rear guard while the others foraged for necessary provisions. The hand held scanner in Stephen’s hands beeped steadily suggesting that there was no Cyborg in the vicinity, but then I was not really convinced, so I said to Guenet, “ It somehow doesn’t feel right! This  absence of the aliens is too unnatural!” “True,” mused Stephen,”what do you think we should do?” I looked at the rest of the group foraging in the Mart and called out to them to hurry up. I felt somehow uncomfortable, as if we were being watched by unseen eyes. “Guenet,” I said, “ I am taking Stephen to that ridge where the slightly elevated position might help extend the range of the scanner. You take care of the group. In case of any emergency proceed to the hospital and barricade the Northern gate. Leave the East facing gate open so that you can escape from it.” Sure,” she answered. “And make sure you proceed straight to higher ground, preferably towards the hill from which we came!” I said. “Yes. Sir!” she exclaimed and saluted. I however wanted to make sure she remembered everything although we had gone over the scenario repeatedly. With this, Stephen and I proceeded to the ridge just before the Super Mart.
We climbed the ridge and reached the top which overlooked the town. The birds sang, and the insects buzzed. It looked like any other normal morning  the moon still to be seen in the blue sky with the sun looking down with a rather benign expression. The lazy beep of the scanner suddenly increased in intensity and became rather urgent. “What…?” I urged! Stephen looked with alarm towards the South, “Type two Cyborgs approaching from there,” he said pointing. “How far?” I shot back. “About hundred klicks and closing in fast!” he exclaimed. Without missing a beat, I called Guenet on the two-way and got a terse, “Yes, Greg?” “Guenet, herd all the people towards the Hospital and hold fort till we come. The cyborgs are approaching from the South. Don’t, I repeat, don’t take high ground, we will be sitting ducks!” I turned to Stephen and nodded towards the Hospital building and he nodded in acknowledgement as we rushed down towards the Hospital. Down below we could see that the rest of the group had begun to file towards the Hospital building. They were going to reach the building much before Stephen and me.
The building out houses blocked our line of sight to the Northern gate of the Hospital. There was just then a terse hiss from Stephen who pointed towards the South, and there close to the horizon were rather strange looking aerial crafts heading in our direction! “Run!” I shouted to Stephen and rushed towards the Northern gate before Guenet and the others barricaded it. Somehow it was the more evident gate out in the open, and we were fairly sure that the East gate was fairly hidden. We reached just in time as Guenet and the others began to swing the doors shut. They looked apprehensively towards Stephen and me, and we just nodded. “Stephen and I put our shoulders to the door and when they clanged shut, we began to shift whatever furniture came to hand, gurneys, metal cabinets, and chairs. We had barely a minutes before the aliens landed along with the Cyborg-Arachnids. I could see Guenet and Meseret gesticulating to the stragglers down the corridors towards the exit we had decided on. Two of our group fell down to the floor extended the tripods of a couple of  automatic pulse guns aiming the snouts towards the gate we had just barricaded. Just then there were some loud, “thuds”, the aliens had landed and were attacking the door. It was a matter of time… all of a sudden, there was a loud screech and the top portion of the left steel door peeled back, and from the gap peered a monster with a spider’s head, the compound eyes looking in. “Back, back” I shouted to the boys with me. We grimly began to retreat down the corridor staying clear of the line of fire of the two pulse guns. We had hardly reached half way down the corridor when gates fell inwards with a crash! Two Spider aliens rushed in, the body oddly suspended from the air on six legs. One of them lashed at Boris grabbing him into its maw. We were helpless and couldn’t do anything as Boris looked helplessly towards us. Suddenly, the twin automatic pulse guns opened up, the bullets stitching up holes in the floor leading up to the monster. It was too late however and the monster retreated towards the exit and we heard a last hair raising scream as Boris was finally devoured whole. There was a trail of fresh blood leading to the exit. Of the other Cyborg, there was no sign. “Stop, stop!” I shouted at Mack and Shirley who were manning the automatic pulse guns. Needed to conserve maximum charge for the worst. The ammunition, molten silicon, would provide up to five thousand rounds. They would have expended a hundred rounds. The sudden stillness seemed to shock all of us. What had happened to Boris was yet to kick in. Suddenly, The spiders began to stream in from the broken down doors. It was a rout as we all rushed away. In the confusion two of our group fell down on to the floor just in the path of the advancing creatures. I grabbed the one nearest to me by the collar of her combat jacket, Ricky her name was. She had the presence of mind to aim her plasma pistol at the nearest creature knocking off one of its antenna. The cyborg let out a screech and a scream which spurred its companions on.While I was able to pull Ricky on to her feet, another of group, Martin was less lucky as he was pounced upon by the rest of the arachnids. While the arachnids were busy feeding on the hapless victim we all rushed towards the Eastern Gate. The corridor was by now a slippery passage with gore and blood all over. Just when the last of us reached the exit, I noticed that Guenet was pointing towards Mack who was bent over his haversack in the middle of the corridor. I beckoned to him to follow us, but then he had something on his mind. Glancing towards the giant Arachnids, he flicked a switch and tossed what seemed to be a rather heavy haversack towards the monsters. “Run,” he yelled, and then it filtered down that he had primed the entire sack of explosives which was powerful enough to bring down the entire building. We rushed out of the building with seconds to spare as the explosives went up with a massive blast which dazed a deafened us. The whole ground shook and the building collapsed like a castle of cards. Dazed and staggering we rushed to high ground. We reached the hill that we had descended from and looked at a dust cloud rising from where the Hospital once stood. Of the Alien arachnids there was no sign. The craft that had brought them had disappeared, it seems pulverised into bits by the blast. We had escaped the blast because it was deflected by the ridge which bounded the Hospital building from the East.
Looking back at the events, it appeared that the aliens had finally left the planet fazed by the stiff pockets of resistance offered to them by human beings all over the planet. Our team now down to eighteen filed on towards the camp we had left behind the previous day. We would return to the town and salvage what ever remained, and rebuild our lives in any way could. I looked towards the group now subdued by the loss of our dear friends. I looked towards Almaz who was clutching at an assortments of chocolates although with a rather thoughtful expression. Guenet came and sat next me and offered me a mug of Tea, and said, “Anyway, we did quite well, we have enough food for the whole week.” “I guess we won’t have to stay in the mountains any longer, we can go back to the town, the Cyborg-Arachnids won’t return any time soon!” “Yes, I guess they won’t!” she replied with a faraway look, perhaps remembering another  life with her husband.
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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

To Catch a Shooting Star - A Poem

shooting stars

A star blazes across the clear sky,

Trailing a long tail that  gathers those

That follow its wake for fame and clout!

 Few are they that can match its speedy

Exit, and fall into a void ne'er seen again!

Rare are those who match its swift progress!

 I watch the shooting star blaze across,

And see those that try to catch it so. Futile

 Attempts to catch  one that won't be caught!

But who'd match the progress of

A shooting star? It crosses the firmament in

The blink of an eye, so swift so so fast!

A shooting star, sure would I catch if

I had a net so large but, I'd prefer to paint few

In words  so rare and rich that'd bring out their glory!

So, while others attempt to catch a shooting star,

I sit me down to paint  in words one

That would be mine, to play and share!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Victoria Girls Primary School-A Visit to the Pratapgarh Farms, Jajhar

The Victory Girls Primary school, Delhi organised a one day trip to the Pratapgarh farms on the 16th of February, which was a fun-filled moment for everyone. What made the visit even more interesting and exciting was the ethnic atmosphere, the village rude food, the makki ki roti, bajre kie khichri and, the lassi, and the greenery all around! Needles to say everyone had great fun that day. The activities were fun, the students enjoyed playing at the potter’s wheel, they enjoyed turning the hand-mill, and of course they enjoyed  getting mehndi (Henna) applied on their hands! What makes Eco-Tourism farms a great hit today is the fact that they offer a slice of rural life to those coming from the more urbanised city backgrounds. With the divide between city life and rural life increasing, it has become important to show our children how interesting and vibrant life on a rural farm can be! Eco-tourism can also help children and even grown ups learn more about rural culture, folk art, rural food, which is healthy, and rural games. The children also enjoyed playing long forgotten games like hop-scotch, marble, tug of war and even sack-race. The camel ride was great fun.

Sure, the Camel ride was great fun, especially for those who dared to!

And of course, turning the wheel of the grass-cutter was great fun!
Feeding the Mannequin required some effort!

Drawing water from the well, the traditional way has its benefits!
That Chai was very good, instead of sugar, they had used jaggery!
A moment of rest after all that organic food was well deserved!
Well they say that scratching is infectious isn’t it?
Sure, the kids too had fun posing before the Mannequins!

Ah! That head-gear-regal and ethnic to the extreme!

Heavy lies the weight of the Matkas on your shoulders!
Seen through the veiled smoke of the smokeless chulah, the makki ki roti and the sarson ka sag was too good!
When all else tired them, the children had fun at the Dance Stage!
Sure it’s real! Organic farming has its benefits!
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Thursday, 14 February 2013

What does it mean to “abstain” during the Lent season?

A colleague of mine some time back expressed her curiosity about the meaning of “abstention” during the Lent season, and I, to make a rather brief comment  said that it meant leaving off voluntarily the things you like the most! This, I feel was a rather inconclusive answer, as abstention during the Lent season means much more than just foregoing your favourite food, or even just abstaining from meat, and drink! The Lent season is about introspecting and meditating, it is about trying to understand the ultimate sacrifice being more sober as opposed to being rather boisterous, it is about trying to look within and trying to understand how we have failed throughout the year, and somehow coming to terms with our failings.
A token fast, often done as a duty with a sad expression on our faces, and a loud announcement that we are fasting simply doesn’t count! The Book of Mathew, 6:16-17 reads, “Moreover when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”  Fasting or abstention as such is more like a moment of spiritual cleansing that will help make us worthy of receiving The Lord’s Grace, and in effect prepare us for the moment of the ultimate sacrifice marked by the observation of Good Friday which comes  before Easter Sunday.
Abstention or fasting is one way by which we can attempt to have a glimpse and a taste of  the pain and suffering of the Jews in Egypt at the will of God (Exodus 3:9-  “Now therefore, behold the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.”  and Genesis 15:13-14, “Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge;afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”). Jesus himself prophesied his suffering at the will of the Father and  went on to call his disciples to remain prepared to suffer for His sake in the book of Mark, 8: 34-35, “When He has called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever looses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Self denial, self abnegation and abstention lead us towards a greater understanding of the purpose of life which is to nurture and save the soul as opposed to the piling of riches and becoming bound to the materialistic world! It is through pain and suffering that we learn about about liberating the soul from the shackles that tie us to this earth. The idea that those who suffer and die for the sake of the Lord and His kingdom shall also live with Him eternally is present in the book of Timothy, 1:16, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long suffering , as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Thus it is that vicissitudes, tribulations and sufferings make us stronger in our faith, and in any case, it is exactly these things that form the cornerstone of our belief! The forty days of fasting and abstention should not, however be limited to this period before Good Friday. Moderation and sacrifice should be observed throughout our lives and this is what makes us strong and rugged like the acacia tree and the cactus plant that subsist in the harshest conditions on Earth. such a life will surely help us focus on the ultimate sacrifice on the cross, a sacrifice made so that we could have redemption and everlasting life in Christ! Who on this Earth doesn’t want life eternal? The Carpe Diem philosophy is in total opposition to the Christian way of life, and it should not be confused with a life of plenty as it is a life which is spiritually denuded and barren!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Life is but a Shadow! Virtual Musings (A Poem)

One Day I woke up and
Realised that life is but a dream!
What we see are shadows!
Someone is dreaming us.
Life is but a shadow of what
Might be the real world, so,
Who are we, what happens,
When the dream comes to an end?
God forbid, for so we die!
If dreams were shadows, and
Shadows dreams, what then,Is reality?
Is perception but A shadow of reality? What we
See is but a shadow of what’s real.
So, dreamer continue to dream
That I might be.
There is one out there who dreams.
So, dreamer, continue to dream me,
 That I might live! If life be a dream,
Then the best is yet to come!
Life is but a shadow, and a shadow
Of a dream is life!
What then, is  real life?
My dear, it is but what is beyond the
Shadow, a life after death!
A life which is infinite and not
Subject to time and rust.
Why then, do you run after things
Temporary? Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,
Then shall ye know what real life is!
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Can Happiness be had from a Leper’s cart? A Poem

Today, when I stepped out early before all woke, five-thirty in the morn,
A family of three passed me by-A leper on  wooden cart pushed
By a woman, trailed by a waif. They chatted merrily as they
Moved  fast apace to beg in the market-place!

I thought, “How can the lepers be so happy who go to beg?” Envying
Them their joy decided I to buy some happiness from them! Fishing in
    My pockets found I something to give and ran fast to catch
    Them, as  their joy carried them on wings so fleet!

I gave my money to the little waif who skipped with glee. But, the
   Leper did not acknowledge me, so happy in his talk was he!
     And, I like an intruder wanted to intrude in their joy, for if
   joy can be bought from  a leper’s cart, would I wait?

When another coming from the other direction stopped,
  And gave his share and  I, not to be left behind, ran again to tell him
   I wanted a prayer for me too! Anon, He turned with a smile so sweet and
Said, “sure have I prayed for you!” And with a joyful heart returned me home!

If joy can be had from a a leper’s cart, would you hesitate
to pay anything? Bountiful  joy does abound in those that go to beg, enough
To share with those that grieve  languish in spirits  dark! Thus, joy  happiness and
Good cheer reside not in plush surroundings, but in leper’s carts of those going to beg!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Valves, Transistors and Moore's law – Have we reached human limits?

It was an imposing radio, a wooden cabinet with circuitry built on a chassis, and it was a valve radio. My grandmother kept it going till finally it became difficult to thread the string to the huge pulley of the gang-condenser! When you turned it on, the valve glowed red indicating that the set was on. Then came my grandmother's Weston Black and White T.V.set. It also ran on valves and frequently kept breaking down what with the valves failing constantly. Finally the T.V.Mechanic offered to convert the circuitry to a Solid State one, which meant replacing the entire circuit board with one based on transistors.The switch from valves to transistors meant better performance, better life, and lower power consumption. My father boasted about his National RF-4000 radio saying that it had twenty-four Transistors and so was one of the best!  The use of transistors instead of valves meant better performance, reliability and compactness.  The amount of heat produced by the valves, limited output, large size limiting portability of the gadget, and the fact that they consumed a lot of power spelled their doom!
The transistor came in different types and shapes, NPN, PNP, and the larger power transistors. The power transistors were often found at the rear of the amplifier where they were attached in clear view. The late seventies and early eighties were all about transistors and then came the switch to Integrated Chips, ICs. These were diminutive chips which contained a large number of transistors all inside a tiny oblong or square chip with legs protruding which could be soldered on the circuit board. That these tiny chips contained so many transistors was mind boggling. What followed was a process of miniaturization which was mind boggling! Smaller and smaller audio systems began to come on the the market,  and even the tiniest audio systems could pump out those magical PMPO Watts which was boldly advertised by colorful stickers pasted on the front.
It is surprising to know that most of  our mobile phones have more computing power than the computers that handled the Apollo space missions in the seventies. The degree of miniaturization has reached a stage where the number of transistors on a particular chip continues to double almost every two years. This unrelenting pace has been going for some time now resulting in products becoming obsolete very fast. That mobile you bought six months back is obsolete today! I guess now we have entered the use and throw age where things are meant to be kept only for a brief period of time. The sentimental value of things you buy is a thing of the past because today you don’t keep your gadgets long enough to form a sentimental attachment with it!
This pace of development in electronics might however pose serious problems for all of us human beings. It is a matter of fact that we as human beings cannot keep pace with advancements taking place in the electronic industry. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on an integrated board will double every two years (approximately 18 months). This in itself points towards the doubling of processing power, doubling of memory space, and of course computing power. My first computer had a hard disk with a memory  of 760 megabytes and today we are talking about terabytes! It is frightening, isn’t it? The information surfeit is so great that we can’t  handle it, this is because as human beings we have limitations in filtering the amount of information that we can process. The result is a generation exposed to stress resulting from the daunting task of filtering and processing a large amount of data, most of which is of no use! While no doubt it took us human beings millennia to evolve, for transistors however this is not the case. While the computing power of computers and hand-held devices is doubling every two years, we however are not able to keep pace with the computers and mobile phones. The advent of artificial intelligence ( I.E.) and electronic intelligence are a possibility that may soon become a reality.
Researchers however believe that Moore’s Law might work only till 2015-2020 when the doubling of the number of transistors will slow down to once in three years. To keep up with Moore’s Law, engineers have to keep shrinking the size of the transistor and a time could come when it would no longer be physically possible to continue doing so! Faced by physical constraints, engineers did manage to introduce tri-gate transistors. It seems, therefore that engineers might soon be reaching the limits of Moore’s Laws due to physical constraints and the lack of predictability with regard to determining the exact position of the electron. Quantum Physics stresses this lack of determinism at the sub-atomic level. The limits of Silicon will soon be reached forcing scientists to find alternative materials which will allow smaller transistors, gates and switches to be in place.
Of course it means that soon we will reach the end of an era which began with valves, moved on to individual transistors soldered on to circuit boards and finally ends in  printed transistors on a microscopic chip. This all means that we as human beings should be prepared for yet another electronic revolution ushering an era of even more computing power in an age when silicon chip becomes obsolete. The introduction of nano-technology based on the principles of Quantum Physics will pose various challenges to us as human beings. Does it mean that that soon machines will be too powerful to handle and we will require a human interface to handle them or else be burned by the powerful electronics? This in itself would herald the era of virtual life such as that shown in the film, The Matrix. A Matrix type of life would rob human beings of their essential humanity, turning them into mere bricks in the wall of a large, powerful electronic computer!