Monday, March 31, 2008

The Mahatma's Marksheets

[This article, authored by Ramachandra Guha, was email to me by Arvind Gupta recently. I later found it on the internet as an article that appeared in the Hindu a few years ago. With the stress on grades and exams these days, it is refreshing to read that one of the most influential men of the 20th century was a very mediocre student in school. A lesson for all of us, or have times just changed too much?]

The Mahatma's Marksheets

Ramachandra Guha

Once, while I was in college, I picked up the autobiography of a man who, at various points in his career, had served as vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi, governor of the Reserve Bank, and finance minister of the Government of India. Curiously, his memoirs had as many pages on his achievements in school and college as on his experiences running central banks and devising union budgets. He first reproduced his matriculation re­sults: the marks listed by subject, never less than 96 per cent. We then learnt of how, in his intermediate examination, he set a record that stood for years in the Bombay Presidency. As if this was not enough, a statistical proof of his gold medals in the B.A. and M.A, followed. Later, as I read more such works, I came to regard this as characteristic rather than curious. When they came to write their memoirs, famous professors of sociology and high officials of the Indian Civil Service alike seemed to single out, above all other high-water marks, success in school examinations. Then I came across an exception: the autobiography of Mohandas K. Gandhi. The Mahatma claimed: 'I was not regarded as a dunce in high school', before—in the spirit of truth with which the work was conceived— speaking of the difficulty he once had with Sanskrit and, for a time, with Euclidean geometry.

Gandhi spoke in general terms, but his somewhat vague recollec­tions of life at school were to be given a devastating specificity in a book published in 1965. It is called Mahatma Gandhi as a Student, and its author, J.M. Upadhyaya, had been principal at the high school in Rajkot where the Mahatma had spent seven years.

Upadhyaya's book packs a great deal into its seventy-four pages. The boy Gandhi, we learn, changed several schools before he reached the age often. At times his attendance was noticeably lax: a mere 110 days out of 238 in standard III, for example. His marks at the annual examinations normally averaged between 45 per cent and 55 per cent. In junior school he was always comfortably beaten by one Tribhuvan Bhatt, who in the manner of 'coppers' of the time ended as a babu, albeit an elevated one. (His last job was as chief minister of Rajkot state.) The one early sign of the young Mohandas's superiority to his fellows was that his elder brother Karsandas was a less distinguished student still. Karsandas lost two years, and ended up in the same class as his sibling, where he usually logged lower marks.

Things turned worse in middle school. Mohandas's attendance slipped again, as he attended on a sick father and a newly wedded wife. Asked to repeat a year, he bucked up and for once 'grew quite serious in studies'. He achieved 8th rank in class, with a (for him) remarkably high overall score of 66.5 per cent. The momentum carried over into high school. Outside the classroom, his life was rich in incident—he played the 'lustful husband', experimented with meat, and tried un­successfully to sell some of the family gold to payoff a debt incurred by brother Karsandas. Yet, despite this, his attendance at school was 125 days out of 125, and he came fourth in class, with an average in excess of 60 per cent. In Upadhyaya's words, 'he could no longer be described as a mediocre student.'

This judgement was put sternly to the test in the third week of November 1887, when Gandhi travelled by train to Ahmedabad to take the matriculation examination of Bombay University. This was his first visit to a city he was to later make his own. In a lovely detail, Upadhyaya notes that Gandhi's examination number was 2275. There were 3067 candidates in all. Of these, 799 were success­ful. Gandhi's rank was 404th, and his marksheet was as follows:

English 89/200

Gujarati 45-5/100

Mathematics 59/175

General Knowledge 54/150

The total, 247.5 marks out of 625, comes to an average of about 40 per cent. Mohandas K. Gandhi could once again be described as a mediocre student.

Mahatma Gandhi as a Student is a work that bears testimony both to the author's industry and to the Gujarati respect for old records. And it contains much more than marksheets. We learn here that despite his rather ordinary performance in examinations, Gandhi's middle-school teacher marked his conduct as 'very good', whereas the best any other student achieved was 'good'. Upadhyaya's reproduction of the English paper that Gandhi answered in his matric exam seems to give certain clues to his later development. For 45 marks, he was asked to 'write an essay of about forty lines on the advantages of a cheerful disposition.' Could not this answer have helped encourage him to become that rara avis, a politician who was never known to have lost his temper? For 25 marks, he was asked to paraphrase a poem which described how Jesus would reveal himself only to the poor peasant, not to the rich men whose chariots went contemptuously 'whirling past'. Might not this exercise have stoked a precocious awareness of exploitation and injustice?

We must also consider the significance of the sociological snippets that Upadhyaya so casually throws our way. Consider this: Mohandas's best friend in high school was a Muslim, while their headmaster was a Parsi. The school building was constructed with a gift of Rs 63, 000 from the Nawab of Junagadh. In his last years in school, as Mohandas's marks percentage climbed into the upper fifties, he was given a scholarship of Rs 10 per month, this award being in the names of two Kathiawad nobles, one Hindu, one Muslim. Should we not consider this as part of an early training in multiculturalism, as essential pre­paration for the making of the inter-religious Mahatma?

But, the cynic will say, we can't finally gel away from the mark sheets. Byway of apology and, indeed, justification, let me then remind the reader of the career of one Albert Einstein. Nothing, writes one biographer, 'Nothing in Einstein's early history suggests dormant genius'. The boy was able to speak fluently only at the age of nine. When Albert's father asked the headmaster of his elementary school what profession he thought his son should prepare himself for, he got the answer: 'h doesn't matter; he'll never make a success of anything.' Later, at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich, Einstein was 'still slightly backward' and failed to complete his diploma. Later still, after he had moved to Zurich, Einstein failed the entrance examination to the university. 'The accepted reason for his failure is that although his knowledge of mathematics was exceptional he did not reach the necessary standard in modern languages or in zoology and botany.'

Such, in summary, were the academic records of the two men commonly regarded as the best, the wisest, and the most influential indi­viduals of the twentieth century. Long ago, in the 1930s, the Bombay journalist D.F. Karaka wrote a biography of Gandhi entitled Out of Dust, He Made Us into Men. The reference was to the countless nationalists whose heroism and self-sacrifice was a direct consequence of the Mahatma's influence. Without him, these Indians would have been content being ordinary lawyers, teachers, brokers, and clerks or, perhaps, even black-marketeers. One knows what Karaka meant. So did J.M. Upadhyaya, except that he added a meaningful caveat: 'Gandhiji, it has been well said, could fashion heroes out of common clay. His first and, undoubtedly, his most successful experiment was with himself.'

[Cross-posted on]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Indian Edubloggers Directory

OK, so I'm getting serious about this. To gather data that will back my claims (made in the previous post), or prove me wrong, I have created a wiki in an effort to compile a list of all edubloggers in India, who blog on individual blogs or group blogs/forums.

edublogger n. A person who writes entries in, adds material to, or maintains a weblog on education

So if you are an Indian edublogger i.e. a blogger in India who blogs about education -- any level, and of any kind - where you express your views/opinions on education, share experiences as teacher/educator, raise concerns about education, suggest teaching ideas and resources, head this way, please, and add your name and other relevant details (like your blog URL). Thank you!

Helpful Hints:
  • If you have not edited a wiki page before, now is as good a time as any to start. Clicking on 'edit this page' at the top of the content on a wiki page is usually a good place to start :)
  • Please read the instructions on the wiki home page as well.

  • If you don't want to go through the trouble of going to the wiki and doing the needful, please add a comment to this post, with your name, blog name, blog URL, and how long you have been actively blogging. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Indian Edu-blogger - Wither Art Thou?

Indian educators are conspicuous by their absence in the blogosphere! It struck me about a year or so ago when I was going through the wiki for a blogger meet (barcamp or some such) somewhere in India (Delhi/Chennai/Bangalore), and 'education' did not even exist as a category for Indian bloggers! Several moons, and millions more new blogs in the blogosphere later, the India edu-blogger still remains a non-existent entity in the blogosphere.

This has been borne out in recent weeks by a couple of other stark indicators. One, the International Edubloggers Directory which now has hundreds of edu-bloggers listed from around the world, has only 3 from India! Second - a google search on "Indian bloggers" took me to a list of the "Best Indian Blogs". The list, which has hundreds of bloggers divided into about 35 categories did not have an 'education' category (surprise, surprise!) until I suggested my blog and urged them to create this category. [This blog has now been listed - thanks Amit! - and more importantly, an 'education' category has been given its due place at the bottom of that long list!] Two other blogs, besides mine showed up in the education category, but my hopes were dashed when a cursory scan through both revealed that they concern themselves only with guiding students applying abroad for higher studies - helping them navigate issues like visas and financial aid! Not edu-bloggers per my definition.]

I enjoy reading and participating in discussions and debates that rage on issues of education, in general, and 21st century learning, in particular, on the blogs of edubloggers like Will Richardson, David Warlick, Karl Fisch, Wes Fryer, Ewan Macintosh and many others, most of who are based in the US. I believe such communication and discussion benefits any community that is working towards a common goal.

I reckon that there are several (read hundreds of thousands) educators - teachers, school leaders, policy makers - who surf the Internet, especially in urban centers in India. I reckon that many (read thousands) of them are fairly comfortable with written communication in English. I reckon, no, hope, that they have views and opinions that relate directly, or even tangentially, to education. What then is keeping them away from expressing and sharing their views with other educators?

My guess is that the answer lies somewhere in anthropology and HCI and information science.

More on this, and (an attempt to create an open group blog for educators in India), later...

[This issue has been bothering me for a while now, so even though this post is only half-baked, I decided to get it out there. I'm quite sure this is only the beginning of a lot of questioning/conjecturing/researching on the subject!]

Shikshantar & Udaipur As a Learning City

Many among us who are parents and teachers often wonder about the meaning of education and the purpose of schooling, and whether we can reconcile our philosophy of education with the current systems of formal education. Most of us (for various reasons) simply don't act on our instincts to step away from the mainstream to give our children a better, meaningful education.

An increasing number of parents, however, are opting for alternative schools or home schooling in order to better meet the needs of their children; and then there are those very few who are actually taking concrete steps to support their children in real shiksha or natural learning (not simply alternative schooling) which is in keeping with their philosophy of sustainable and just living. One such family and organization is that of Manish Jain, who with his wife, Vidhi, has decided to adopt a unique approach to the education of their daughter Kanku. Through their unique organization called Shikshantar: The People's Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, Manish, Vidhi and a band of "learning activists" are also transforming the face of education in the "learning city" of Udaipur. recently shone its 'spotlight' on Shikshantar and Udaipur As a Learning City (ULC).

Here's a youtube video on ULC that Manish shared with me recently --

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

[The links to the following 2 stories about the proliferation of technology in rural India were forwarded to me by my friend, Uma Chandru, a cultural anthropologist, environmental designer and educator, who recently concluded a fellowship at the Smithsonian where she researched democratic policies and practices that accord respect to and foreground the values and agency of indigenous visual artists and artisans in India with a view to safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage.]

The first was about FM radio stations in Bihar schools, and the second about 100% broadband connectivity to the Internet in Gujarat (every village is now connected!)

Here's the note she attached to the first story -
For those interested in educational technology and design in state
schools in India---

The Bihar government has some lofty aims in its plans to set up Frequency
Modulation (FM) radio stations in schools

- to make education more effective and user-friendly.

- use information technology in schools for easy access to knowledge

- to provide entertainment

- to educate and inform students about community development, health and
disaster management

what I find most interesting is the aim

-- to help revive local and folk music and art and provide opportunities
to local people to generate employment, particularly in the rural areas.

It is interesting how state policies in the education arena are getting so
technology centered-and also to see such ambitious plans on what can be
achieved through introducing FM technology in schools.

Not clear if they have the people trained for this in such schools and who
will generate the content and how govt school teachers will utilize this
in their teaching and whether this will do good or make things worse for
the children in such schools or the bearers of the "folk" art and music

While I am all for appropriate technology and content, given 4-5 hours of
such FM programming which will also include entertainment, to be aired
each day presumably during school hours, what will the govt school
teachers do during this time? Will they be capable of choosing and
integrating appropriate content in their classroom and facilitate new
and meaningful learning through this technology ?

Or will it merely become a substitute for the teacher who hardly comes to
the school anyway, at least in govt schools in rural areas.

I may be wrong on this, but the state officials also seem to be over
estimating the costs of the equipment etc-I thought I had read somewhere
that they cost much less these days.

Big Question is - Will the ministers and the technology company that is providing these FM radios and some mega content generation company benefit more from this more than the teachers, students or the culture bearers?
Good questions, Uma. Unfortunately, one cannot help being skeptical, given Bihar's poor track record in development. One also wonders about how Gujarat villages and schools will leverage broadband connectivity, what with so much electricity shortage!

That said, such stories make my heart soar. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and one looks forward to an India - and not just urban India, but rural India as well - that has truly turned a corner with respect to access and connectivity, and subsequently leveraging the Internet and other technologies to better the lot of the average Indian, not just with respect to education, but quality of life in general as well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

U.S. Wants YOU! (If you're a Hindi teacher, that is)

Hindi is the new Mandarin. Just as Mandarin is being learnt by youngsters all over the world to give them a strategic advantage with the emerging China, Hindi too is being sought after as the language of the other Asian tiger.

Some schools in the US have decided to introduce Hindi as a foreign language with staples like French, Spanish and German.

"We're going to teach our kids how to speak important languages. We will welcome teachers here to help teach our kids how to speak languages," US President George Bush had said during a National Security Language Initiative in New York"

This excerpt from an article titled India Shining: US Headhunts Hindi Teachers.

Hindi is considered a "critical foreign language" in the US, hence this need to hire Hindi teachers and teach Hindi as a foreign language in schools.

Unfortunately the remark above - about Mandarin being learned by children all over the world to prepare them for China - does not apply to India. No school in India that I know of is offering Mandarin as a foreign language. Why do Indians not consider it important to prepare their kids to compete globally in the decades to come? Are we too smug in the knowledge that the world is "preparing itself for India" - like in the series of TV ads being aired these days?

With this kind of thinking and attitude, India won't be "shining" for too long.

[Cross-posted on]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke & Wiki - pedia & phobia

Another insightful look at the Wikipedia culture on Ewan Macintosh's blog post - Arthur C. Clarke - proud of his Wikipedia legacy or late to his own party?

While on the subject of wikipedia, check out reviews of 3 books that analyze the web 2.0 wiki culture - Wikiphobia and Web 2.0

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Remember the pre-Google days?

Lest we forget what web 0.5 or web 1.0 looked like - what with the speed with which the Internet has burgeoned over the last decade, and the growing clamor around web 2.0 (and web 3.0 seemingly around the corner), here's a video that takes you back to the early-mid 1990s. Great piece of history that we were witness to - usenet, newsgroups, IRC, gopher, mosaic, lycos...

Imagine a world today without the Internet! Enjoy (courtesy

Saturday, March 15, 2008, Slideshare & Web 2.0 for education

A good slideshow on slideshare - W(e) e(ducate) b(etter) 2(gether).0 - talks about several specific tools available in the web 2.0 arena that can be used (appropriated?) by educators...and guess what! in slide # 23 titled "Global Network Connections", has been listed (along with Classroom 2.0 and Wikieducator)!

The slideshow has been created by Cheryl Capozzoli, an Instructional Technology Specialist in the US. Thank you, Cheryl!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Custom Searches for Educational Content

I've been playing around with Google's Custom Search Engine tool, and am currently experimenting with CSEs for Math resources on the internet. I've created a couple of them - one for elementary and middle school level Math and another for high school math. You may follow the links or use the boxes on the top right of this blog.

These are still works in progress, so please do try them out and let me know how well they work (or not).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

History Comes Alive in the Classroom! (Courtesy YouTube)

If I were a History teacher today, I would probably be spending every spare moment on YouTube scouring the collections for videos relevant to my curriculum, to make History truly come alive in the classroom. I would probably teach history through watching those videos and discussions before and after.

[In case you don't have (convenient) access to the Internet in your school or classroom or if your school has blocked youtube, see my post here on Anytime, Anywhere Access to YouTube Videos so you can download & burn the videos for sharing with your students.]

Take the Social Studies curriculum in middle/high school in India, for example. The broad themes deal with -
  • Indian History - Ancient (Indus Valley, Guptas, Mauryas, Alexander), Medieval (Muslim & Mughal Empires) & Modern (British Rule & post-independence)

  • European History - Ancient (Roman & Greek empires), Medieval (France, Byzantine, Crusades, Renaissance), Modern (Nationalism in Europe, and the world wars

  • (Rest of the World) History - Asia (Mongols, Indochina, Vietnam War, China, Russia), America (Discovery, colonies, Independence, Civil War)

For almost each of these topics, YouTube has a wealth of videos made from credible sources (although that may be open to debate, perhaps in a Social Studies class itself!) such as BBC, History Channel, Discovery Channel, and others.

I've been building a pretty comprehensive database, and will share it as a Youtube playlist sometime in the not-too-distant future. For now, here's a sampling of topics on which I have found great material on youtube -

* Indus Valley (Harappa, Mohen-jo-daro)
* Mughal Empire (including separate episodes on Babur, Akbar & Shah Jehan)
* The last Days of the Raj & Partition
* Real footage from the days of the British Rule (including 15th August 1947)
* Alexander in India
* Ancient Eygpt
* Huns & Mongols
* South Indian Temples
* American Civil War
* The Crusades
* Byzantium
* The French Revolution
* World War I & II

Thursday, March 06, 2008

21st Century Teachers & "Technological Literacy" (or as I would prefer it - "Technological Fluency")

John Norton's Are Teachers Ready for 21st Century Learning? and Karl Fisch's question in what was voted the "Most Influential Blog Post" in the 2007 EduBlog awards - "Is It Okay To Be A Technologically Illiterate Teacher?" raise some questions that are obviously very near and dear to my heart. These are questions that are being raised and discussed, in the context of India, on as well.

My stand on all of this is pretty categorical, and obvious, but I see a link - and perhaps it's only a tangential one - to this issue of technological (or digital) "literacy", (as opposed to "digital fluency"), and fundamental questions that are being raised even today about the role of technology in improving education!

I have long maintained that digital "fluency" is what is needed for teachers to use technology meaningfully and effectively in the classroom. While digital "literacy" is a necessary step on the road to digital "fluency", mere"literacy" will never cut it, if the goal is to leverage new technologies meaningfully for better learning.

Here's what I mean by "digital fluency" and why questions about technology's impact in learning will continue to be raised if teachers who are trying to integrate technology in education are simply digitally "literate" (lifted from my response to the 2 aforementioned questions) -

"Just as fluency with a language takes one beyond mere literacy and helps one understand the nuances of a language, digital fluency also helps one handle the unexpected when it comes to technology – which, as it turns out, is quite often the case. This does not mean that teachers need to be trained computer professionals. It does mean, however, that teachers should move beyond viewing the computer or any other piece of hardware as a mysterious object that only the very exalted can handle. They should be able to playfully explore a piece of technology (be it a digital camera or a new piece of software) without fear or intimidation. Unless they achieve this comfort level with technology, they will constantly be faced with situations where they have to abort a technology-based lesson due to a problem that they could have handled with some fearless ‘poking around’.

Mere digital literacy will also keep teachers from moving beyond naive (or even gimmicky) uses of technology in their classrooms - (powerpoint presentations, superficial use of the Internet for topical research and such). In today’s networked world, digital fluency also means teachers harness the power of technology (the internet in particular) for communications and collaboration through the many, varied, mostly free tools of the new web (blogs, wikis, podcasts, in addition to good ole' email and e-groups).

A good teacher who is also technologically savvy will know when good old fashioned teaching techniques will work, and when a tech tool will serve the teaching and learning process better. She will always use technology as a means to an end, and not and end in itself. She will appreciate the value that pedagogies like Waldorf bring to a learning environment, but she will also be aware of tools like Scratch that aid problem-solving, creativity and collaboration and sharing.

It is not necessary to use every new tool out there, and not all the time either. A technologically "fluent" teacher will be able to strike the balance and mix it up and design the learning experiences effectively with appropriate technology tools, or without any technology tool at all, depending on the particular learning situation and need. I doubt that a teacher who is only digitally "literate" will be able to do that. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the teachers who use technology in their classrooms, probably all over the world, fall in the latter category.

I believe that that is a big reason why questions are still being raised about whether technology can truly impact learning!