Saturday, 30 December 2017

Why is no one talking about what makes schools safe?

Everyone will agree that policemen, especially traffic police should wear body-cams that too in times when offenders often threaten to use clout in order to go scot free. Ironically enough, body-cams have often proved useful in cases where policemen have used too much force on the victim, or the perpetrator has retaliated by gunning down the policemen. In today’s world, no one is really safe, and that includes the keepers of the law or even those whom the law is supposed to protect. So, one might wonder what connection body-cams could have with respect to schools, after all, the heading mentions the term, ‘Safe Schools’! An article I recently scooped on, mentioned how authorities in Britain were thinking of equipping teachers with body-cams. Surprising though it may seem, it has come to this, first it was C.C.T.V. cameras, and now body-cams! The very idea of equipping teachers with body-cams points out the fact that schools today are not really safe areas!
I have often come across teachers, often young teachers break down in tears because they have been literally harassed by students. One teacher, a maths teacher flung down her spectacles while in class and broke down in tears! The class simply wouldn’t keep quiet! To make matters worse was that they were sitting in groups and were busy talking. They did not want to learn, they only wanted to have a good time! The discipline file was no longer a deterrent, and they simply had no regard for the teacher! Yet another teacher narrated how the students were in the habit of making comments on her appearance and how they would greet her by a rather typical nickname they had given her because of her appearance! In yet another instance, an English teacher told me how while returning checked test answer scripts, one of his students had called out to him that there was a totalling error. The teacher told him to wait till he had handed over all the test papers. After a little while, the little fellow called out once again and threatened to report the matter to the management of the school. The teacher then encouraged him to go and do as he wished! Later while going through the boy’s test paper it became clear that there was no totalling error at all, in his enthusiasm, or because he thought he was too smart, the student had tried to threaten or blackmail the teacher into giving him an extra mark! It became clear that the student[s] must have tried the same thing in their previous class. The teacher told the student that he would talk to the boy’s parents. The student did not come the next day!
While we do need to protect teachers as well as students from such painful instances taking place in our classrooms today, it should not be with the help of body-cams as this would a last-ditch effort to solve a serious problem. It is important for policymakers to first understand the problem, its causes, and ways to address it. Creating a culture of respect, building a grievance alleviation system, promoting silence times, meditation, building on values, and making teachers, parents and students understand that one’s  duties and responsibilities are as important as one’s  rights! These are the softer options for promoting a sense of security in school. The harder options are more of policing options rather than those of parenting and nurturing students. The steps include installing C.C.T.Vs., body-cams, and other surveillance equipment, maintaining discipline files, online trackers, and detailed observation sheets.
The creation of safe environments in schools can only happen when the focus is on values. A value-based education needs to be provided and there should be a strong agreement between the parents, teachers, students and to a great extent, the school leadership. The common values which make social interaction pleasant and smooth include respect for each other, punctuality, patience, etiquette, deportment, and manners. One area in which we have begun to fail miserably is respect for teachers. A very small percent of students will greet a teacher outside of the class. Often it is the teachers who greet the students and not the other way round. We have somehow forgotten the respect that a student had for his teacher in our own culture. The Guru-Shishya tradition describes how much students did for their teachers, mainly because they had a hunger for learning, they had a hunger for education. True, students today will not be able to give away their thumbs to their teachers, but at least they should express respect for their teachers by at least greeting them outside the class! Teacher’s Day should be observed and students should take over the teaching duties for the whole day-the students taking up teaching duties should be from different grades, not just grades eleven and twelve. Let students experience what teaching is. We talk about experiential learning so be it! Just having a cultural event is not enough! Make it a point to give teachers gratitude letters on Teacher’s Day. To make schools safer, we need to teach students to be grateful. Gratitude is an important value as well as a soft-skill.
Teachers too need to be tolerant, patient, and they should never confront students in the class. Teachers need to accept answers that vary from theirs and they should learn to appreciate divergent thinking. When a teacher goes to the class to teach, he should do so with the expectation that he will learn new things and that the learning experience will be a joyful sharing of ideas and thoughts. It is amazing how creative and unique students can be! They will often come up with answers that one never thought existed!
The size of the class in terms of the number of students is an important factor too. The more students you have in the class the lesson one on one interaction the teacher has with each student. The ideal class should not have more than twenty-five students irrespective of the grade level. Added to this, the amount of time per class should never exceed one hour in a day. Teaching any class for a continuous period of more than one hour will drain the teacher of energy, patience and joy. Students too are hard hit when a continuous class exceeds fifty minutes. They get restless; they zone out and lose their focus. Very few schools focus on the work-life balance of their teachers. This has led to teachers becoming frustrated with their work; they are like a live fuse waiting to blow up the bomb. That is when they break down in front of a difficult class, or they scream at students and even become violent. It is very important for schools not to be after the lives of their teachers, imposing deadlines and then constantly nagging them for submissions. Good teachers are had to come, and they are assets for the school. When there is too much of attrition and too many teachers leave the school, then it affects the student. Schools should not be treated as corporate business organizations where attrition is normal. Students form a working relationship with their teachers, they adjusted to the teaching styles of their teachers, they begin to respect their teachers, and just when things seem to be going on well, their favourite teacher leaves. A new teacher comes in, and the students need to start the whole process of getting used to their teacher all over again. Excess attrition levels of teachers in schools can have a very traumatic experience for not only students but also their parents! The greatest fear that students and their parents have is to have a teacher leave mid-session!
Unfortunately, school education has become prone to commercial considerations. Teachers like to shift to schools that offer a better salary and one can’t blame them for changing so many schools because ultimately it is the salary they get that matters in these stressful times. It is only a privileged few teachers who teach because it is a passion for them. Happily, for them, they are already well settled and have enough money in the form of savings, property and so on. Parents too need to differentiate between a tutor and a teacher. A teacher cannot be bought, although a tutor can be hired. The trend of hiring tutors has eaten into the respect that students and their parents have for teachers because they believe that teacher can be bought two a penny. The harsh fact is that good teachers cannot be bought; you can only win their allegiance by giving them some respect. I have heard of a story in which a child’s parent had gone and thrashed a tutor because the child had failed in the subject that the tutor had been teaching him. It is clear that the culture of tuitions has demeaned teaching as an honourable calling.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Exploring Lesser Known Places in Gurgaon

Gurgaon continues to be a place with many surprises. Take, for example, the Basai Wetland which is accessible from the Gurgaon-Jajhar highway and is barely fifteen minutes drive from New Railway Road. The Wetland is teeming with migratory birds some of which are rare! A good spot for birders and photography experts, the Basai Wetland is a veritable treasure trove of experiences and shocks! The bottom-most photograph is evocative of the Conundrum that is Gurgaon. Though a millennium city, Gurgaon continues to be a rather interesting mixture of Rural and Urban Culture! Don't be surprised if you see the road being shared by a costly Bentley and a Bullock cart at the same time! But then enough of bullock carts, and let us have a glimpse of some of the amazing birds that frequent the Basai Wetland!

I was caught unawares by the flock of Flamingos flying overhead. The only warning was the sound of thousands of wings beating in unison, and the sound was a muted whirring sound. It was a wonderful moment to see the huge flock of birds suddenly emerge out of the horizon, heading straight towards you. You stand there, stupefied and amazed till they are right overhead!

Don't be surprised if you come across a herd of buffalos vying for a share of the road. In the photo posted below, the two men are birders who had come with telephoto lenses, and the man at the rear is the herder driving the herd to graze.  

I guess there are a few things that a camera cannot and will not capture; they are best described in words. I would like to urge birders, naturalists and all those nature lovers to rush to the Basai Wetland and revel in the beauty of nature, all before developers drain out the water and build residential and office complexes on what was once a wetland!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Celebrating the Advent Season with a Bonfire and Carols

The Advent season is a time for caroling and meeting people. The twenty-second of December, the last working day at school was also the day when we came together at the Church of the Epiphany for the Bonfire, carols, and the customary peanuts and ghazak.

All those present for the Bonfire night were enthralled by the lively numbers sung by the Youth Band.Revd.Ghazan too appeared to be in awe of the performance!

The Nativity scene displayed close to the entrance of the church was particularly impressive and I asked Nidhi to take a snap of me sitting next to it.

The involvement of the gathering and the enthusiasm is evident from these snaps. It was no small feat, braving the cold, although no doubt mitigated by the warmth provided by the Bonfire and the nice hot coffee that was served!

A word of acknowledgment is due to the young members of the youth band who played lively numbers and shared Christmas cheer with everyone.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Flight of the Titans

These are a few snaps of migratory birds flying over the Basai Wetland in Gurgaon. Dedicated to the amazing migration of birds from faraway corners of the world, their feat in navigation is simply beyond words. In the snaps, one can see a mix of ducks, and herons.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Celebrating the Advent Season at The Church of the Epiphany, Gurgaon

Like all times, the advent season started with the putting up of a nativity play by the tiny tots of the Sunday school and then this was followed by the celebration of sports day on the tenth of December. Perhaps the youngest attendee of that event was my Cousin, Sumit's new-born daughter! It was the day of her blessing!

Besides children playing all sorts of games after service, grown-ups too played all sorts of games.

The aroma of the puris being deep fried and the accompanying alloo ki subzui surely drove everyone mad with hunger!

The next most important event was the Candle-light service that took place on the 13th of December, 2017. Pastor Ghazan impressed upon the gathering to proceed outside the church at the end of the service holding lighted candles even as the lights were switched off. The event was marked by the singing of Carols by different groups. My Niece and nephew also sang a song.

Of course to wind up, we were served a most filling warming and satisfying chicken soup courtesy Mrs Rani Ingty ans Mrs Gurjeet. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Painted Storks arrive at the Basai Wetland

Finally, today I was able to spot a few Painted Storks at the Basai Wetland in Gurgaon. Strangely enough, the birds had arrived at the nearby  Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary way back in the month of October itself.

The Painted Storks, however, seem to be struggling for space with other species of birds, like the Purple Heron, which is another large bird. On my visit to the Wetland, I was able to spot a Brown Shrike too.

Besides, the resident White-throated Kingfisher entertained me with some of its aerial aerobatic skills, seen only in modern-day fighter jets!

I was mildly surprised to see more airborne Purple Swamphen than ever before. One of them was being chased by others of the same species, for it seemed as if they did not want him in their area. Strangely enough, Purple Swamphen might be territorial in nature, and they just don't allow outsiders into their fold!

Interestingly enough, I spotted a few fist-sized birds skimming the surface of the water, fishing for food, which I guess must be small fry and perhaps fresh-water shrimps.The birds are also known as swallows and they eat insects. Please note that the lower ones are reflections!

The spot-billed ducks stayed at a distance as it seems as if they had been disturbed by the frequent movement of people in the area. I saw a couple of men wading in the shallows with nets in their hands. It looked like they had been looking for small fish and fresh-water shrimps.