Category Archives: Education

Cuddalore Chapter 1 – The nightmarish 8th Grade

School memories are special for everyone. Everyone at some point in their life when they look back, School forms major part of their lives. For me though I don’t remember much about my first 7 years in school. It just feels like a hazy blob without much structure, so let me directly skip to 8th grade of my school life. My parents both worked in a bank so transfer was a normal occurrence. This time they were posted to a rural branch close to Cuddalore. Since Cuddalore was a closest town/city to their branches we decided to make that our home for the next few years.

For me though moving wasn’t alien as we had already moved from Delhi to Chennai when I had completed my second grade. Cuddalore was a nice small town, it had 2-3 major schools, 4-5 theatres, some beaches and overall a good vibe. The biggest challenge for me was always adjusting to the new school. Even when I think about it now, 8th grade in that school X (Let’s call it that) in Cuddalore possibly was the reason I went in to my shell even more. I was never an extrovert but again the experience in that school in Cuddalore possibly pushed me over the edge.

I was never a brilliant student let me be very clear about the same, I did okay in my studies and probably sometimes punched above my weight. This is not to say I wasn’t interested in studies but I needed some good guidance and teaching to understand the concepts better when compared to others. I wasn’t in the top 20% of the class, nor was I in the bottom, I was somewhere in the middle. The Indian school system is brilliant for the students who are probably in the top 20% but have no proper method to deal with the rest.

Going to a new school that too in a place you are not familiar with was a daunting experience. I was new to the town, did not know many people and me being an introvert did not help either. Making friends in that school was tough. I don’t know for some reason the students in the class saw me like an alien and it was hard to gel with them. I had some terrible experiences in the class and I felt miserable throughout the year. Thanks for my one friend, let’s call him V who helped me to get through that nightmarish year. V was the typical top 20% student in the class but also was a great guy as he did not make friends only on the basis of marks and ranks. I also had my neighbour let’s call him JP, who became great friends with me when I moved in and we spent lots of time together and kind of shared similar problems at school.

There were some bullies in school and the fact that I wasn’t doing great in the class did not help matters either. The teachers in that school weren’t very helpful either. I wasn’t grasping the concepts and it became difficult to concentrate on anything without understanding what was going on. Maths became the toughest of all for me through the entire year and I really struggled. I still remember the one day when in the chemistry class, the teacher asked me a question and I did not know the answer. The guy practically humiliated me in front of the class by repeatedly asking me more questions, making fun of me along the way and also suggested something like I did not belong in 8th grade. That episode kind of left a deep scar in me and it made me to never ask any questions in the class even if I had a doubt.

The funny part is that the teachers in India do not realise that each student has different needs and all of them cannot grasp things at the same level. Scolding or hitting someone for not understanding something will not make them to understand it better. In such situations students do couple of things, one they try really hard to understand things on their own or resort to blindly mugging up the answers without understanding the concepts.

It is kind of inspirational for even me as to how I was able to turn a corner as the year progressed with all the subjects except for maths. I was able to improve through lots of hard work and dedication and was even appreciated by my class teacher in the class. That was one of the very few proud moments in that year. I should hand it to the math teacher though as she was the only person who actually thought she should do something about my troubles with her subject. She offered to spend some time after the school hours to teach me the concepts which she could not do in the class and it really helped me a lot. I really thank her for that. So the absolute nightmare which was the 8th grade was finally coming to an end and we were nearing the finals. My continued struggle with Math meant that I needed to do well in the finals to actually pass the year and my friend JP who had already failed a year had to pass this year to save some face with his family.

We both approached the final exams with lots of sincerity and thanks to my sister who spent a lot of time with me before the math exam, I think I did reasonably well and felt confident of the results. Exams were over and the summer break had started and I was extremely relieved to have gotten that break. Two months had passed after the exams and this was the time people get their results in the post. Those days it would be a post card from the school which will say either “PASS” or “FAIL” in it. Strangely both for JP and me the card never arrived. We spoke to some of our fellow students and realised that all of them had received them and my only friend V from the school had also received the same. Now both of us started panicking and did not know why we did not get the results. We decided to go to the school and check it out and since the school was closed for the summer break no one was in there.

When we started to reminisce what could be the problem we realised that couple of months ago we had a small tiff with the local post man. I don’t remember the exact reason though now but that was the reason for our cards not getting delivered. Both of us immediately reached the local post office and stood outside and spoke to few post men there and they advised us to apologise to our post man. We went in apologised to him and he finally handed over the card to us. The guy got a sadistic pleasure which we could see on his face when we came in all panicky looking for the results. We just gave what he wanted and he handed over the cards. All this was happening while we both still had no clue what that card said. When we finally got our cards, we saw the four letters we wanted to see “PASS”. The year was a total nightmare and possibly one of my worst school year and it rightly ended with equally stressful week or two.

Even though I felt happy for myself and JP I was dreading the fact that I need to go to school again in few weeks and have to spend another year with the same bunch of guys who made my life miserable the year before. I was just hoping for a better school year ahead and probably some new faces and friends when I start my 9th grade. All in that I was happy that I at least had V who would be with me in the year to follow as well. With that thought in mind I continued to enjoy the rest of the break with JP and rest of my neighbour friends who were fantastic by the way while waiting for another year in School X.

The joy of giving

I came to the US in 2003 for my studies and it was not until 2007 did I visit India for my vacation. Four years might not sound too long but it felt like it was an eternity when I landed in Chennai. It was a complete change and the development was alarming. In spite of everything good that was going around one thing I noticed during my visit is that poverty was still the same. There were still kids without proper clothing or food. There were still kids running behind cars and coming out to watch a train pass by.

I thought to myself things haven’t changed much as I had imagined. While some of my friends thought that it was the mistake of the parents of those kids but my argument was what did the kid do to deserve this? With that thought I came back to US after a month’s visit and I saw a mail which my roommate had gotten and it had a charity organization (Don’t want to mention the name as I am not writing this to promote any organization) name on the top. I went online and checked it out and found that they help underprivileged kids for their studies and food.

That gave me an inspiration and started a research on my own, found a credible organization and started to contribute for the studies, food, and clothing for one child for an entire year. It has been 4 years since I started the contribution and I feel great. I also contribute whenever I can for other social causes, like some natural disasters etc. in any part of the world. I just feel that such things can actually make a difference. I am not writing this to boast about myself or to prove I am great but this is something I wanted to serve as inspiration to at least couple of people like my roommate did for me 4 years back.

I never wanted to share this with people and wanted these things to be discrete but I thought sometimes such thing coming to open is a good thing. We are always ready to jump on rich people and say they don’t contribute enough. We lambast the politicians for not doing enough to the society but when it comes to ourselves we get defensive. Contributions need not be high, small ones work too. My Indian colleagues come here to US and involve themselves in various charity works. Some people even adopted US soldiers; yes it is very good cause but again none for the country we grew up in. I am not saying that no one contributes, like I said there are lots of them who do but we surely can be better. Again I hope this hits the right chord with the people and does not come out as a preachy article.

A lot of people do excellent work in India and I really salute them for their efforts. In comparison to them I feel that I don’t do enough but I am happy with the start. Whenever I get the child report sent to me by the organization it just brings a smile on my face.

If I could have any job

My Thoughts

Everyone has a dream job. There are the jobs you want to do and there are the jobs which you have to do for living. There is a huge difference. Most of them grow to love the jobs they are already doing over the course of time. When you are a kid and people come up to you and ask “What do you want to become when you grow older?” the most common answers are Doctor, Engineer etc. Believe me most of the times the kid has no clue what he/she is saying.

Most of these are parents/relatives infused dream career at a very young age. When we grow up a little bit and start getting some sort of perspective about life our interests change. Whatever may be our interests, most of us take the safe option and rightfully so. Chasing your dream is not that easy. There are a…

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Who killed Gandhiji?

Yesterday I was watching “Jackpot” on Jaya Tv and there was a video question which played Gandhi movie directed by Richard Attenborough. They showed the scene where Mahatma Gandhi was killed by Nathuram Godse and asked the question “Who killed Gandhiji?” Then the most hilarious thing happened. One of the teams said that they had “No Idea” and the other team said “Mussolini”. It was absolutely hilarious and Simran was shocked. Both the teams had kids studying in the 9th and 10th grades and the funny part was one of the teams History teacher was in the audience. You just had to see it to believe it. Not sure what the kids learn in School these days. I think I knew who killed our “Father of the Nation” by the time I was in 10th grade.

Catch the episode online if you can, it was absolutely hilarious. And we are thinking that the kids are getting great education in schools.

Education, marks and teachers

In 2012 we have seen a spate of movies in Tamil targeting the education system. What we have to keep in mind is even though these directors/movie makers have their heart in the right place movies can hardly provide a proper solution. In the end they need to make money and for that they need to be over dramatic and can hardly show reality after a certain point.

Suddenly people have started to take a good notice about our education system. The higher mark equals brilliance concept in our system is one of the most outdated concepts ever. Students (except for a few) hardly learn anything but get the required marks to get over the line. The interesting situation is when the teachers call the parents and complain that their kid isn’t doing well in studies. This is funny because the parents are paying a fortune to put the kid in that school and the fact that they are unable to educate him/her should be a warning signal.

The parents put their kids in a private tuition and voila he starts to pass. Now my question to all the parents is this, if a tuition teacher can make your kids pass (Even though he isn’t imparting any great knowledge) then why does he need the school? Why can’t he just go to 3-4 tuitions and just take his exams, doesn’t that make sense? To be frank the problem is that in a class of 40 about 20 will probably pass in all subjects, the rest will fail at least in one. The teachers are mostly worried about only the top 20 in the class and do not want to take the extra effort on the other 20.

The argument that we are teaching the same way to everyone and why isn’t your kid doing well does not hold water. Kids are different and not everyone is the same. Teachers don’t teach the concepts and just expect the kids to understand what they blabber in the class. Some kids need more than that. When you teach geometry or trigonometry, teach them how the solution comes and what’s the concept behind them. When you do that everyone will get the point not just the bright ones.

This happened to me when I was in standard X1th. That was the year we got introduced to Integral calculus. I had no clue how it worked. Whatever the teacher taught went way over my head, completely clueless I almost failed my exam. Then I went to the tuition, which I hated at that time but could not be thankful to the guy now. The guy who taught me was young and probably just out of college. He taught me the concepts, made me understand how integral calculus works and you know what in the very next exam where the entire paper was on integral calculus I managed to score 90%. The teacher was in absolute shock. Now the point is I am not dumb but the teacher has no clue how to teach. If a guy right out of college can bring out such a performance out of me in my very first exam since I went to him then there is surely something wrong with the school.

The stupid syllabus and 10 chapter’s thing should go and emphasis should be on making the kids understand the concepts better. In that way we aren’t memorizing but understanding what those things in the book mean. When I came to the US I felt that the things we are good at are actually miniscule as we are poor at actual practical implementation of concepts. We keep reading books and vomit it onto the paper and most of us don’t understand what we write. Parents should question the schools when they say your son/daughter don’t cut it as it is not true. The fact is that the teachers and school don’t have the patience to work on your kid. If the tuition teacher is able to get the desired result then you know where is problem is. If India needs to produce quality professionals and not just the quantity then this has to change.

Different kind of pressure on kids

This weekend we have yet another movie releasing on the kind of pressure the kids go through in our education system. We had “Nanban” already this year, Amir Khan’s “Tare Zameen par” couple of years back and now it is Prakash Raj’s second directorial venture “Dhoni”. While all these three movies tackle different issues as its premise, the message is the same.

But I am not going to talk about the school system but a different kind of pressures the kids face these days. I was watching the auditions for “Airtel Super Singer junior” couple of months back and the organizers (Someone absolutely brilliant) has decided to include 5-6 year old kid in the competition. It is unbelievable as these small kids will compete against 13-15 year old kids. No matter how talented you are it is almost impossible to compete and win in a competition with older kids over a period of a long season.

But again I am not going to talk about the competition format either. This is about a single audition when a 6-7 year old kid came in and sang a song and the judges put him on waiting list. The kid suddenly stopped on his tracks and asked the judges “Appo enakku Veedu kadaikatha?” (Which translates to “Does that mean I will not get the house?) It was extremely funny and showed the innocence of the child. The competition offers the winner a flat worth 40 lakhs (roughly $80000) for kids. Isn’t that ridiculous? Obviously however smart a kid might be you wouldn’t expect a 5-7 year old kid telling their parents that there is a house on offer so I want to take part in the competition.

The fact that the kid mentioned that means that how much the parents have drilled that thought into the kids mind. This also shows the pressure the kid was facing when put on wait list. Was he nervous what his parents would say if he does not get selected? No one knows. I never followed the show after that and don’t know if the kid was ever selected. I can’t believe that the parents would want the kids to go through such rigorous competition at a very young age even though they know that the chances of winning are miniscule to impossible. The channel is at fault here too why you would invite such young kids to compete, knowing pretty well that an offer of house will make the parents to get the kids to compete at all costs.

Now with these reality television kids are facing different kinds of pressure from the parents. Not only they need to be brilliant and get rank 1 in the class but they need to compete in reality competitions and earn the parents a home? Let the kids be kids and have a nice childhood. They are going to be at the loggerheads throughout their life in the rat race of a schooling system we already have. We don’t want them to undergo the stress of competing in a reality show (A concept which even the adults have failed to master) at the age of 6. Parent’s ticket to stardom should not be through their young kids who hardly know what they are doing there and what the competition is meant to be. Apart from all this they are to compete with 14 year olds? Well I am not sure what Vijay TV is thinking. I will be surprised if a 6 year old would make it to the end of the show (Which roughly runs for 1 year) and win the competition beating a bunch of 13-14 year olds. Anyways that concludes my rant. Parents in India seems like they will never stop pressurizing their kids more and more.

Hard work always pays

I always believe in hard work. Working hard is always important in any field and once you do that success will always follow. I have been a pretty hard working individual through my life. Nothing comes easy in life which is something I realized a long back. I wasn’t a good student, studies was a struggle, getting work was a struggle but in all these things there was one common factor “Hard Work”.

There was an incident which further emphasized my belief. This happened in 2005 while I was doing my masters here in the US. I had graduated in December of 2004 and the only thing left to complete was my project documentation. I was involved in a research project which was tied to my final semester course. I did all my research and my document was ready. I submitted the same to my professor and left the town and went to Chicago for training. Chicago was 8-9 hour drive from the place I was studying.

I requested one of my friends to help me with the communication with my professor but I kept getting the document back. The professor wanted changes in the documentation and it was definitely becoming difficult to coordinate. I kept making the changes and the document kept coming back to me. It wasn’t pleasant as I had graduated in December and it was already the end of March. The grades were already in place, the only thing left was getting the document signed off.

This is where I decided to take the bull by the horns and took a break from my training. I left to my college and said to myself, I am not coming back until this document is signed off. I met my professor in college and requested him to spend some time with me in explaining the changes he needed. He pointed out the same and I noted down everything, made all the changes and came back the next day. Even though he said they were fine he did find another couple of errors/changes in the document and again I went and worked on the same. The next day when I met him he sat with me and reviewed the document and he was impressed. He said he already liked the content of my project and he enquired about what I was doing at that point.

He appreciated my hard work and was very impressed that I just drove down to get this thing done. He hugged me and wished me luck on my future endeavors and finally signed off my project document. I was absolutely thrilled and relieved to see the sign and the seal. I had already received the grade for the course which was A- and I just wanted to get my certificate. I left my college for one final time and was extremely happy with what I had achieved over the past couple of days. Few months later I received my degree certificate and also a corrected mark sheet. I checked why I received the mark sheet again as I already had it and I noticed that the professor changed my grade to A+ from A-. Even though it wasn’t a huge change and hardly contributed towards my GPA it was a change nevertheless.

I just felt that my professor rewarded me for the hard work I put into my project. It was further emphasis to the fact that even though luck plays a huge role in a person’s life hard work is the only thing you can control. If you do the work luck automatically follows. At that point the only goal for me was to get the document signed off, getting a better grade was not even on my agenda but that was a great bonus.