Archive | June, 2010

Day 2 : Things getting Better

17 Jun

Things changed a little bit for me today. We started with a new activity called Yellow Hat inspired by Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats. The Yellow epitomizes Positive thinking.

The Yellow Hat:

The activity started with dividing the entire group into three smaller groups and each of the groups were assigned different tasks. One of the groups had to earn Rs.25(each member) the second group had to feed ten people and the third had to clean a garbage dump and do an art installation our of it. There were various constraints for example one of them was that u can’t spend money, second was that two people our of the group were blindfolded and two weren’t allowed to speak. Moreover we were given 5 minutes to think of 50 things that we could require to do the tasks and out of that 50 almost 35 were struck out so we were left with limited resources that we had to find ourselves.

anyways I was in the third group and we had to find a dump first of all then borrow stuff like water and sticks and whatever we could get to somehow come up with something that would look good in the end(remember art installation)…anyways and all we had were 3 hours to finish it off.

I dont want to give away everything in the post but to tell u a little…it was frustrating, fun, awesome, eyeopening and mindblasting all at the same time. And yeah we did a great job. But then the other groups were like awesome they just pushed themselves to an entirely different of the groups actually got 2 ppl employed at a restaurant(permanent job). So now there are two employed ppl who were unemployed until a few TFI fellows went out for a small activity(I wonder what all will the fellows achieve in the next two years.) The third group earned INR 450 by washing cars and showing card tricks to people around Hinjewadi.

The insights that we got into the mindsets of others and more importantly our own during the debrief are immense.

After the activity all I can say is that I am in awe..I am in awe of the creativity, resilience and persistence that everyone around me shows here. People push themselves into their uncomfortable job…achieve great results and then make it sound like nothing at all..(a lesson in humility has to be learned here)

After a few other awesome activities and a talent show I think even I have started pushing myself to do things I never ever ever did before..for example I chose to sing infront of everyone when I never ever ever ever sing…I even wrote the song myself(not absolutely true I sort of killed another song to make up mine). 🙂

First Day at Teach For India

14 Jun

Have just arrived from the opening ceremony after a loong 1.5 hour commute from symbiosis to I2IT. Want to update on my very first day at Teach For India.

It was looong and tiring…

It started with a small introductory session regarding the mission and vision of Teach For India at 8 am which went on till arnd 9:30. We had a small ORANGE activity. Pretty simple..personally I didn’t enjoy it though. Probably it could have been a lot better. Was a little vague. We were all handed out one orange and were asked to think of it as an orange and try to look at it as an object and then the activity went on in steps of peeling the layers, tasting the peel and then the inner layer and then the fruit. Just to make ppl aware of how u get to know things not by the first glance but you discover them in steps.

The second activity was for around three hours..that was FUN!! actually awesome!!

we were asked to go out into the community find any kid and try to connect as much as possible in just two hours. Now again it was a little vague as the objective wasn’t known but this time we actually had to go and do something so I enjoyed it. Anyways initially I was a little apprehensive to go and just start randomly talking to a kid (awkward). for the first 20 minutes or so I couldn’t find anybody to talk to…later I found kids who were just not interested in talking or even caring to answer anything I asked..but then somehow I found this vegetable shop which was run by a kid(pretty awesome girl Arippa). She studies in std. VI. showed me her std V report card with all As..although I sort of bored her with sooo many of my questions she was pretty considerate and answered them well…told me stuff abt her school and classes and friends..and everyday she helps her mother..u knw that sort of stuff. It was all fine after an hour and half I left..came back.

2 o’clock we started with a session where we were supposed to reflect over the previous activity: DEVASTATING it was.

That’s when I realized I am an engineer I do things but I dont really  feel a lot of the things ppl were actually talking of..and I dont really understand those touchy feely stuff..and I dont ever care to actually think of everyday things soo deeply..come on it was an activity..I enjoyed. its done..No but they asked me to talk of I felt…what could hv been better and stuff..OMG…that was like some therapeutic sessions they show in Psycho movies (remember fightclub) where ppl share experiences(this wasn’t creepy though)..anyways I came out of it in low spirit.

But then again had an awesome and Funfilled evening at Symbiosis..met 09 fellows, staff and ’10 insti1 fellows. It was sort of a nice session. Again Awesome People are here. Seriously Awesome.

So the first day came with its surprises and had those moments when the pendulum shifted between extremes.

All I can say is its too early for me to say anything abt the insti yet and probably tomorrow it will be even more fun. Hope is a good thing my friend.:)

Innovating for a Sustainable World: The Moral Challenge for Young Leaders

6 Jun

The following is an excerpt from my entry to the Mindful Leadership Competition 2010 held at LIBA Chennai in collaboration with University of Dayton US.

This is the first age that’s paid so much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we may not have one.                                                                                                   –Arthur C. Clarke

Today, when drastic increase in temperature year after year over a specific region can be measured, when glaciers are continuously melting, flooding the valleys fed by rivers originating from these glaciers followed by diminished flows, when we can see the inequity in social and economic status of people around ourselves and in the light of the facts showcasing depletion of fossil fuels at an extremely fast pace presented by modern day researchers and scientists, the 17th century philosopher John Locke’s words that my expropriation of natural resources does you no harm as there is enough for you don’t hold true anymore.

We as stakeholders in this ecosystem are now aware of the limitation of the existing natural resources.

Though environmentalists had started a slow movement by the late 1960s towards bringing environmental considerations to the mainstream decision making which widely comprises of Economics, it was only in the 1980s when for the first time Sustainable Development was quoted in the report called Our Common Future commonly known as The Brundtland report submitted to United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development[1] stating that it is development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’ It was also stated that sustainable development was about both equity between generations and equity within generations.

Development is not about ‘the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest time’ but ‘the greatest good for everyone for ever’, hence, to integrate the conservation and development to ensure that modifications to the planet do indeed secure the survival and well-being of everyone we need to renovate our existing world with newer ideas leading to efficient and effective handling of our current resources so that when we move into the tomorrow the resources not just help us pave our path into that but continue to exist there too and the only thing that can ensure our arrival and existence into such a world is – Innovation.

Renovation of the world we live in, with ideas applied successfully in practice is Innovation. Innovation sometimes could be a radical or revolutionary idea that challenges and changes the current thinking, processes or products and leads to a new way of living for example Muhammad Yunus’s[2] Grameen Bank in Bangladesh started giving loans to women in a country where they have been in subjugation and seclusion for centuries and this radically new and different belief in the trustworthiness of women transformed the lives of millions, helping them break the shackles of poverty and march into a new world which had food for them, which had opportunities for them and where lied the promise of livelihood for them.

At the same time innovation could appear to be an insignificant change in our way of doing things but has the potential to change our world upside down. Internet Banking is nothing more than using the same banks but on a different platform. Two guys at Stanford downloaded the web and indexed it for fun and the idea developed into one of the biggest companies of all times-Google. One man wanted to work with minimum number of chips at a time. He is Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and the engineer behind the Apple-1 and Apple-2 computers.

Innovation is not just the end product but it involves changes in thinking and implementation of techniques right from the conceptualization of an idea to its transformation into something that adds value and brings a positive change to the society we live in. While we can see the processes involved in the development of an end product which is both economically viable and socially acceptable, there is a lot going on in the backdrop simultaneously which involves an orbit shifting challenge to start with which puts the innovator in an all together new orbit, need aroused due to limitation of resources or an ambitious dare taken by an individual or a group and their determination as well as dedication to the cause. Dr. G Venkataswamy’s dedication to see a world free of unwanted blindness persuaded and led him to start Aravind Eye Hospital which is now the largest and most productive eye care facility in the world. He not only started the project but also made it a self sustainable initiative by conquering challenges or sustainability speed bumps. The clinic started manufacturing its own ocular lenses to bring down the costs of operations and came up with more than one innovation in the process.

Though Innovation and technology bring a counter weight to business and livelihood, not every new technology is an innovation towards sustainability as it might bring greater downside risk than upside benefit. This can be easily substantiated by the recent advances in the nuclear sciences and stem cell researches[3]. When nuclear scientists have been successful in providing energy solutions for the world where we can no longer rely on fossil fuels at the same time nuclear warfare presents a critical and dangerous situation for the humanity to exist. At this critical juncture the roles of young leaders come into the limelight because tomorrow’s world scenario will be determined by the decisions taken by today’s leaders.

One day we may not have any of the lush green forests to cut down and set up our factories, there may not be any trees to lie down under and rest during the summers, the rivers may be either flooded or could turn into thin streams of water, our children may not be able to see the blue sky during the day, we may not be able to share our joys during the rains with them and all that may remain could be the stories filled with environmental bliss. And this is what provides the young leaders of today with an orbit shifting challenge which could be the origin of a world based on innovation towards sustainability of our current world. It’s our ecosystem, our social setup and our very existence which is in danger and it’s our moral duty which has challenged us to save our today in order to showcase it to our future.

The challenge is not just to preserve the ecosystem and natural habitat but to come up with sustainable solutions to our modern day problems. Today’s youth needs to look for sustainability not just in environment but also our socio-political setup which in a way contributes to our economy.

This seemingly gigantic mission can be achieved by dividing the task into comparatively smaller domains or verticals mentioned below:

Sustainable Education System

Education will form the most critical tool, providing solutions to various problems such as corruption, caste and religious discrimination, human rights violation and terrorism which are detrimental to the human existence. To achieve educational equity in this world we must strive to bring a systemic divergence in the existing model towards sustenance. Leaders have to come up with innovative ideas that would help develop a self sustainable educational model with alternative revenue sources as an answer to the problems of schools running on grants or low economic backup by the government. This would help attract top-class talent to the non glamorous job of teaching hence improving the quality of education which in turn would not only retain the current students who tend to drop out of education at an early stage due to unavailability of role models in class and consecutive decrease in interest towards learning but would also increase the number of students attending classes.

Education sector is in dire need of strategic leadership towards integration of sports to education, empowerment of children from vulnerable backgrounds by developing life skills, removal of gender bias in educational opportunities especially in the developing countries and realization of the right to Education[4] for all which is beyond horizon, considering of our present state.

Taking Poverty to Museums through Innovation

At the UN conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, the then Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi said that ‘Poverty is the worst pollution’. While growing demands of the ever increasing population on the scarce resources creates Environmental Stress, those who are poor and hungry destroy their immediate environment in order to survive and this degradation of environment further affects these poorest groups in the worst possible ways, hence adding to the stress. This provides the young leaders of today with another orbit shifting challenge of pulling the millions of human inhabitants of our planet who are below poverty line to the other side of the line. This calls for Innovation.

While Professor Yunus has shown a way of eradicating this social evil by leading people towards livelihood through Microcredit, today’s leaders have to bear the responsibility of increasing the pace at which it is reaching the needy as well as its area of reach through creative ideas. Further newer and better ways can be found to help the poor get into self-employment, a highly undervalued sector by present day economists, and carve their way out of poverty.

Sustainability through Social-consciousness driven enterprises

Fritz Schumacher[5] in his book Small is Beautiful claims that conventional development strategies promoted islands of Western modernity in the cities, while doing nothing for the vast majority of population residing in the villages. He suggested that small scale technology which can be understood and controlled by common people can be the only tool for their survival as it would not require the presence of experts for everyday functioning. In our world where business enterprises as well as Non Profit – Non Government Organizations are thriving there is a niche sector occupied by For-Profit Social enterprises that are consciousness driven which means that while they are earning profit in order to sustain themselves, there motive towards business is social elevation which could be an even greater motivating factor than self interest or other financial wants.

Young leaders have to increase the bandwidth of these social enterprises so that every section of world population can benefit from them, for this they need to take an innovative approach towards this enterprise led development so that it would lead to an inclusive growth where defunct systems will have no place and a socio-economic equilibrium could be attained.

Building Sustainable Cities

“Our cities and towns are not an acceptable face of a rapidly modernizing and developing economy” was quoted by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh[6]. This statement itself dares the youth of today to take up the challenge of rethinking the approaches taken towards urban development and asks them to come up with imaginative solutions to problems of urbanization which are critical to the future of our planet where population is consistently increasing.

The concept of Sustainable cities is not just about the centrality of master plans of urban development or detailed implementation of critical reforms but a futuristic way of living in an entirely new habitat. It need not have the same kind of buildings we live in but buildings made of environment friendly materials which would be stronger, more durable, and capable of withholding natural disasters and would have the resources to provide shelter to thousands of families. These cities need not have the same transport or severe systems that we currently have moreover, the energy resources could be new as well. High levels of dedication and determination would be required for constructing and inhabiting these modern day cities which would reflect an acceptable face of humanity on our planet.

Rural Urban Integration

Uncertainty in the timing and amount of monsoon combined with poor irrigation facilities due to decline in the ground water levels affects a farmer’s choice of crops as well as the timing of plantation leading to lower yields and thus decreasing his earnings. Marginal farmers are being forced to sell their land adding to the economic inequality in the villages. The surplus rural labor when migrates to cities while trying to adapt to the severe situation caused by climate change adds to the unskilled labor population of these cities putting an extra pressure on the existing resources.

This presents a unique challenge which calls for rural urban integration so that the rural youth can avail opportunities in their own lands and need not migrate to cities in search of employment. Further the urban population should also be made aware of the rural lifestyle as this would not only bring them closure to nature but would also help them make informed decisions in their everyday lives with environmental considerations in mind. This could be done by creation of a common platform where both the urban and rural population can come together.

Sustainable agriculture and Water Management

When food and water form the most basic needs for the survival of any species on planet earth that is for the sustenance of life itself, special efforts are required to maintain the availability of both of these resources in their pure form and adequate amounts. This calls for saving the biodiversity through practicing sustainable agriculture which would include Non-Violent farming or growing different crops together to maintain the fertility of soil, using plant genetic resources and putting extra emphasis on seed diversity. In most of the areas where chemical fertilizers are being used to increase the fertility of soil over years, the soil has been eroded of its ability to contain and store minerals and at the same time the farmers have lost faith on their ability to farm without chemicals, hence, while the fertilizers have increased the fertility to some extent it has created bigger problems in terms of the morale of farmers and nutrient content of soil. Therefore, young leaders are required to come up with ways to make sure that farmers are re-introduced to their abilities and a direct marketing space is created where the crops produced could be directly sold to consumers, increasing the profit margins and elevating the lives of people engaged in agriculture.

Similarly, water management is another area which requires immediate attention as not only the ground water level is dropping; the purity of available water for consumption is also in question.

Conquering sustainability speed bumps through Bio mimicry

Nature has been engaged in research and development towards sustainability for the past 3.8 billion years. There are about 10 to 20 million species who have found and adapted to solutions in order to sustain and exist through ages. We need to get inspired from the organisms around us and imitate and integrate their knowledge and our skills to form a better world for our future generations. While we are using bio assisted technologies or domestication to solve some of our problems such as bacteria is being used for water purification we need to get to the second level which would be taking an idea from an organism and applying it to conquer our design challenges and sustainability speed bumps. Various organisms have lived through years by adapting to the changing world and finding answers to problems of sensing and responding, cleaning without detergents, solar transformation and total degradation which could be of great help to man. . There is no lack of information but a lack of integration which is to be done by the young leaders in order to understand the solutions that nature have come up with, for our existing problems ranging from energy crisis to water purification to waste management

Thinking towards a ‘New Realm’

We need to get ahead of what we know and need to think towards creation of a ‘New Realm of Existence’ where everything could be new, the technologies, the materials, the processes, the civilizations, the resources, all these things could be unheard of in this newer world. In order to attain this we need to give our creative geniuses a free ground to play in, where they can create, model and remodel everything until it satisfies the sustainability parameters. We need to get over our limitations and strive to attain the target of making the human race exist beyond time. This would be one of the targets of our Young Leaders.

For this we must get down to the task of rethinking our virtues while living in this age of blindly followed consumerism and social inequality and should work together to find our way into creative evolution. And it’s not just our duty or a matter of ethical utilization of resources but an obligation that we have towards our future generations. This is what presents innovation for sustainability as a moral challenge to the young leaders.

[1] The commission was chaired by former and later Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland hence, the name to the report.

[2] Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, set up the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to lend tiny sums to the poorest of the poor, who were shunned by ordinary banks.

[3] Advancements in stem cell researches have put forward many questions concerning bio-ethics and have been a matter of general concern in the bio world.

[4] The right to education is recognized as a human right by the United Nations and is understood to establish an entitlement to free, compulsory primary education for all children, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all children, as well as equitable access to higher education, and a responsibility to provide basic education for individuals who have not completed primary education.

[5] Dr. E.F. Schumacher was a well known economist, journalist and progressive entrepreneur who is considered the guru of the appropriate technology movement which combined the idea of eco-development with ‘appropriate technology’ in the 1970s.

[6] This was quoted by Mr. Singh in his address at the National Conference on Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

Classroom Management and Culture

5 Jun

Many think ‘Classroom Management’ as the process of creating an environment where students raise their hands before answering questions or contributing to a class discussion; where students don’t whisper to their neighbors, or run around the classroom; and where students use only respectful language towards their classmates and teacher – in sum, where students are well behaved. Teach For India aims at classroom environments that are all this and more. It enables and supports fellows to build a classroom culture of achievement-a culture in which students are inspired to work hard to attain success; are motivated to learn; and collaborate with their peers to bring the whole class to higher levels of achievement. So that ultimately, creating this powerful classroom culture will make it easier to ensure that students meet the ambitious goals for behavior and academic performance set by the fellows

This culture is built on six principles:

  • Maintaining high expectations for student behavior and fellow’s own ability to assert authority in the classroom
  • Establishing rules and procedures
  • Establishing classroom procedures and routies
  • Responding to misbehavior
  • Creating a classroom community and
  • Value academic success, hard work and team effort.

Now when I am aware of them I look forward to learning and adapting to these principles.

Source: TFI 2010 Classroom Management and Culture Guidebook

Teaching As Leadership

4 Jun

Over 20 years, Teach For America has studied the common strategies and methods of teachers who lead their students to phenomenal academic gains. They call the resulting principles of action the Teaching As Leadership Framework. Since the end goal at Teach For India is the same which is student achievement, TFI has been following the same framework in design of their program-from recruitment and selection to training and support-in an attempt to increase the number of teachers who embody these principles.

Teaching As Leadership framework has six principles:

  • Setting Big Goals for Students’ Academic Achievement
  • Investing Students(and their influencer) in working Hard to Reach the Big Goals
  • Planning Purposefully
  • Executing Effectively
  • Continuously Increasing Effectiveness
  • Working Relentlessly

I will be learning these principles over the next one month at Institute and would be applying them into practice over the next two years in my class. 🙂

Thinking About Thinking and Learning

3 Jun

TFI has sent a few documents to read as part of pre-institute preparation and now since my exams are over and I am finally at home just 11 days away from joining the institute I am trying to devote some time to prepare myself for the challenge.

I started with LEARNING THEORY. It’s an introduction to ‘How to Teach’. Though its just a 30 pages document I can say its concise and intense.

Simply put teaching is a form of communication. It’s very similar to what I have been reading for the past few semesters. Of course I read it in Communication systems which mostly dealt in the language of bits and transmitters and protocols. But the content I shall say is similar. There is a sender(Teacher), There is a reciever(student) and there is a message sent over a medium. The message here is the subject matter which the teacher wants to convey to the student. Now what if the transmitter can send msgs to the receiver at a rate which supersedes the capacity of the reciever. True, the receiver just can’t comprehend the msg and all that it receives is plain noise. So what do we do? we try to model the mechanism and the rate of transmission based on the receiving capacity of the receiver. Well this is precisely a ‘learner-driven’ model. The text explains four different concepts that fall under the umbrella of ‘learning theory’.

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain: It explains six different levels of Cognitive understanding i.e. Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. Knowledge is generally evaluated by questions like write, list, label, name, state or define, Comprehension by explain, summarize, paraphrase, describe or illustrate which checks the interpreting and translating concepts and ideas from someone else’s definitions to your own. Application is evaluated by use, compute, solve, demonstrate, apply or construct. While the higher levels of understanding i.e. analysis, synthesis and evaluation are evaluated by questions asking to categorize, compare, contrast, design, develop, recommend or critique.
  • Multiple Intelligence Theory: In the 1980’s Harvard Researcher Howard Gardner made permanent impression on pedagogical theory by asserting that the concept of ‘intelligence’ is actually a conglomeration of a number of intellectual aptitudes such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal and interpersonal. This countered the traditional measures of intelligence(IQ tests etc. )that focused primarily on linguistic and logical modes of thought and processing.
  • Learning Modalities: A learning modality is one of three senses through which students readily input information i.e. visual, auditory and tactile modality.
  • Memory Theory: It emphasizes on ‘short term’ and ‘long term’ memory concepts and how through practice, building connection to prior knowledge and organization of materials concepts can be transferred to a student’s long term memory.

The concepts are pretty simple and something that we use in our everyday lives too like when you talk to different people you try to direct the conversation towards contexts that interest them, they can link to and find intersting, so when you talk to students try and talk to them in their language based on there comprehension and try to simplify things, connect them, organize them and its good to use a lot of elaboration.

Institute Schedule

2 Jun

From 14th of June to 18th of July I will be attending Institute 2 at Teach For India in Pune. This is what my daily schedule would look like:

Looks scary but I think I am up for the challenge. Fingers Crossed.