School and Me

School – How it shaped me?

Having gone to a traditional school, that insisted on exams being key and that science was the only stream of market worth, one of its major influence on me as a learner has been the discipline of learning. There was homework everyday, handwriting was crucial, monthly tests added to your term-end scores and ranks at the end of the year decided your learning. So, there was an inbuilt rigor to learn and stay ahead, to catch up with the masses. This is something that has definitely that I see now as an adult learner as well, where any learning comes with a sense of disciplined rigor.

While this next influence is not necessarily true to my K-12 schooling years, days in under-graduate and graduate courses have definitely made me an independent learner, one who is able to drive one’s own learning. I believe that we learn the best from bad teachers and, sad enough for me, both the Bachelor’s and the Master’s programs had a decent number of these. That resulted in me taking more control of my learning, using varied resources and learning means to educate myself, not depending on the set curriculum and prescribed teaching.

School would have been better if…

  • it didn’t brand students as academic or sports-inclined early on. I definitely feel like a lot of non-curricular activities were kept from me because I fell into the ‘academic’ lot. I was subtly handed fliers to the next olympiad or Science exhibition, while the trials for volleyball team were scheduled and didn’t even reach my ears.
  • it had more career-focused counselling. During my schooling, your career choices were driven by the elders in the family, whose choices were driven by their societal group. I wasn’t even presented choices of a career outside of engineering or medicine, in that specific order. What if I would have made a good lawyer? How does one become an environmental activist? What did one need to study to become a firefighter? Schools should have been the place to find these answers. Schools should have presented all available career choices, pros and cons, and the academic needs of these, instead of herding us into very canned career options. Audiologist, my swimming instructor was an audiologist!
  • it addressed the social and mental needs of children. I do not remember ever seeing a counselor in school, no one that was your point if you were feeling lonely or had trouble at home worrying you. The schools definitely treated us as placid resources, with no internal whims, fancies and conflicts. The mental, emotional and the social aspects of growing up were never addressed.

Schools of today

My top priority for the schools of today is to help children find their true calling, again and again. Schools should provide sufficient resources and support for children to explore as many avenues as possible, and to go become the best audiologist that is out there.

Schools should be safe spaces where children’s confusions about the world, family, relationships, sexuality, politics, finance, and everything under the sun are discussed. It should be a haven that doesn’t necessarily have all the answers but definitely acts as a forum for children to voice their questions and benefit from the communal know-how.

The third important priority that I would place on schools of today is to help children become earth-conscious global citizens. In a capitalistic, selfish and profits-driven world, children need to bring back the humane, collaborative and earth-friendly side of man. Schools should challenge children to find solutions to the growing impact of humankind on the planet. Schools should encourage children to look beyond borders of country, race, language or religion for the greater good of our planet as a whole.

Good school?

Week 4 starts with a reflective prompt on one’s own school. Would you consider it a ‘good school’? What residuals did you take away and how have they affected you?

Not considering the schools that I went to in pre- and primary, since I don’t remember much of them anyway, I will reflect on the two that I spent the most years in, to graduate from grades 10 and 12. I would consider them to be good schools. Some reasons that allow me to define them as such are, they:

  • Had a rigorous academic regime – Subjects taught were handled thoroughly
  • Had sufficient opportunities for extra curricular activities like Dance, Music, Theater, Sports
  • Supported some alternate learning experiences like tree plantation drives, exhibitions, nature camps
  • Presented a safe and hygienic environment for learning
  • Had some good, role-model teachers.


Quite often in my life, especially during days in under-graduate studies and the initial days at work, I realized how privileged I had been to receive the kind of education that I had. One definite residual that has helped me immensely over the years, and continues to excite me, is the school’s drive for the English language. Following through on the aristocracy left behind by the British, both these schools lauded the English language as the solution to all of society’s problems. All aspects of the system were insistent on using only English, the board of studies maintained a high quality of English content selected for study, and the socio-cultural setup of the schools was also such that children hailed from backgrounds that appreciated the language more than even their local tongue.

This takeaway left me with a huge love for the language, of course. But also gave me opportunities in the form of college clubs, roles and interview wins, and work appreciations purely because of my ability to communicate better in English. One may argue that someone from chiefly a local language environment might also have been successful in all these situations that I have quoted. Absolutely no denying that, but the struggle to communicate in the language has never been an issue.

The second major residual from these schools is definitely the technology orientation. Learning a programming language early on instilled the joy for order and processes. Continuing this into higher secondary, the programming skills from school eventually landed me a job after college, considering how little I learnt there. So, the introduction to technology, and the associated facilities in both schools definitely caused a huge impact on my life to come.

An evaluation of my “Good Teacher”

Reflecting back to Nalini madam, the teacher that I had written about during the first reflection task, I think she was a traditional teacher that simply worked on her competencies. Being a competent crafts person, she was a master of her subject content and that was probably the one factor that piqued my interest. In a day and age without the internet and where the information explosion was still a decade away, she played the role of the Most Knowledgeable Other, someone that we sought out for subject matter expertise. That definitely prompted me to consider her a good teacher.

For others to have considered her a good teacher too, they would have to look past her social and interpersonal follies and evaluate her teaching purely based on the competency discourse as well. Like I mention in my initial post, she was very distant from most children, was often short-tempered and a majority of the children did not approach her out of sheer fear. So, if not for her subject matter expertise, she would have been quite likely termed a bad teacher.

Reflective teaching

I do not know if two decades earlier, the concept of a reflective teacher or the power of reflection was as well known as it is today. But I do believe that she was one teacher that would have benefited extensively through the reflexivity.

If she had sat down at the end of her day and evaluated her class proceedings based on realistic learning indicators like the number of questions asked or the quality of discussions in the classroom, she would have definitely identified something amiss in her teaching style. With consistent evaluation of her own teaching effectiveness, she might have reached the points about being more available to students’ queries and identifying alternate study experiences to encourage children further. 

Another strong input to her evaluating her own learning efficiency, or her being a good teacher, would have been feedback. Being the most senior teacher in her department, and one of the most experienced ones in the entire school itself, it is highly unlikely that she would have had a ‘mentor figure’ that would have evaluated her teaching objectively and given her feedback in its true form. So, as a reflective teacher, she could have used other tools to obtain feedback directly from her students, anonymously considering her notoriety, and corroborated them with other data points.

Good Teacher or Good Teaching?

In the end, I enjoyed the overall premise of this week’s course: There is no easy answer to what makes a good teacher, but you can define good teaching contextually based on your audience. Like professor Moore summarizes wonderfully, the idea that there are ‘teacher competencies’ indicates that anybody could become a teacher by simply running through this checklist of items. Unfortunately, there are too many examples in real life, of teachers with decades of experience under their belt, who are still unable to foster good learning in their classroom.

So, good teaching, and hence a good teacher, is a culmination of various attributes of being a humane individual combined with effective practices like reflection and self-evaluation.

A good teacher

Do you remember having a good teacher? Or a particularly bad one? Reflect on your memory, what was about it about this teacher that makes them stand out for you?

As soon as the prompt appeared for this week’s reflection on the What Future for Education course, the image of Nalini madam from NHPS immediately popped into my mind. So, I had to use her to reflect further; was she the good one? Was she the bad one? What made her stand out from the other teachers I’ve had over the years?

Nalini madam taught us Computer Science from Grade 8 until 10. She was also the head of the Computer Science department, which was a post of great reverence back in the late 90s, when the tech world was beginning to flourish in India. She was in her late 50s, wore a pixie cut, had natural streaks of grey, black and white (even before the salt n pepper trend caught on), and always wore sleeveless blouses to match her crisp sarees. Her reputation preceded her and we knew about her being a cleanliness freak even before we hit Grade 8. A number of my classmates had been left in tears after a powerful dressing down from for not washing their hands after a restroom break or letting that nose drip over in class.

She was always good to me and is one of the few teachers through my life whom I’ve been friends with. We had fun trips to her home, where she made lemongrass tea for us, from grass picked fresh from her garden. I think her genial behavior was a reflection of the kind of student that I was back then – did well in her subject, often aced her tests and quizzes, was respectful of her for her age, and was obsessive about cleanliness in my own weird way. In all honesty, I was an avid people-pleaser back then and would do wheelies if you asked me to, just to get on your good books. In the end, she and I were in good terms always.

But when I think of her as a teacher objectively, she was not great at teaching. She was often unapproachable to most children; no one dared to go to her after class to clarify their doubts. She was extremely short-tempered and often used fear tactics to get her class to behave. Her teaching methods were mostly lecture-based and there was little to instill curiosity in the subject except for its innate nature of being novel during those times.

I feel that this difference in images of one person as a teacher is what made her stand out among all others. Most teachers were universally genial or strict. She was one that very evidently had different behaviors and left different students with different opinions.

How does this image of a teacher relate to other images you have of a “good” teacher?

With that evalution, I think there are a few attributes that come to mind when I think of a good teacher

  • She should be approachable – available for the students
  • A friendly teacher enables students to relate to her better, and overcome the fear of authority
  • Should employ teaching methods that allow students to think
  • Should trigger discussions and debates in class; should never be the first one to give the answer out
  • She should be a lifelong learner – the know-it-all never motivates children to learning.

All that humdrum about Intelligence – Part 2

At the end of week 2 in What future for education, the one focused on intelligence, I was left ruminating about the differences in teaching styles and learning objectives across institutions, countries and cultures.

I did a quick review of my notes from university on this chapter to re-validate what I remembered. There were extensive notes on the various intelligence test types including Stanford-Binet, Raven’s Progressive matrices and Cattell’s test. There was a huge chapter on differential abilities of learning and how to deal with these differences, everything from exceptional to low ability children. We did extensive practice on preparing lesson plans to cater to multiple intelligences. In the last two years at school, I had not used a single one of these intelligence tests, I had participated in various discussions that segregated children based on abilities, and had prepared many lessons to cater to various intelligence types.

And what did the WFE do? Have a lecture that simply focused on squashing most of these traditional interpretations of intelligence. Professor Stobart wove in various examples of successful people from our lives to prove that factors like opportunities, family drive, teacher willingness and societal culture affect our intelligence extensively. He spoke about an expert learner, and how deliberate practice distinguishes children’s learning more than inherent abilities. Most importantly, he spoke about how customizing our teaching by catering to specific ‘learning abilities’ boxes children and gives them very little scope to move to an zone of higher ability.

What I perceived was for their good

This last aspect was alive for me in school; children admitted through the Right to Education scheme came from socio-economic backgrounds that stripped the context of learning from them entirely. The language and the topics of conversations at home left them feeling alien to the discussions in school. Most of them sat in class staring vacantly back at us, copying copious (yet meaningless) notes from their peers, or looking out the window at the tree, with eyes that yearned for freedom from this cage.

And our solution to this major concern was to give them ability-focused, special education. While the rest of the class learnt identification of continuous and perfect tenses, this class (of ‘low ability children’) learnt spellings for basic 4 letter words. We just conveniently demoted them down two levels because they were not learning at the current level, eventually forcing them down a path that gave them fewer opportunities, lesser learning and a life-long brand.

Tests, Ranks and Exams

My own education over the years has been flooded with tests, exams and ranks. Like the weekly class tests and monthly tests and term-end exams were not sufficient, I even wrote olympiads to see how my learning compared against children in my zone, city, and the country.

Since I managed to stay in the top 3% of the class in most grades, I feel like I wasn’t pressured too much, performance-wise. Of course, the crux of ranks is their relativity and there was always some loophole in them to make you feel miserable and incompetent. If I was a little too ecstatic about a second or a third rank in class, a visit to the ancestral home was sufficient to burst one’s bubble; uncles and cousins would flaunt their perfect records of first rank, right from when they started teething. If I was joyfully dragged my parents in to meet the teacher, fully aware of my second rank ‘victory’, the teacher would highlight the huge marks difference between the first rank child and me, imploring me to study harder the next time.

In the end, I believe that the person that I am today is purely because of that judgement of intelligence over the years of schooling. The final ranks in grade 10 decided where I went to study higher secondary, final marks in grade 12 combined with the ominous rank from the entrance exams decided which university I went to for my under-graduate studies. Which branch I selected was also driven by this, automatically putting my engineering degree below the more worthy ones.

The person that I am today is a culmination of all the experiences over all these years. So, my life, in fact, has been driven by the educational opportunities presented, which were driven by the system’s gauge of my intelligence.

Learner for life?

I definitely consider myself a learner, albeit not an expert learner. I catch myself being curious about a lot of things and with the urge to keep myself appraised with things that excite me. I find myself learning through various mediums and methods, and more often driven by the joy of learning than the outcome or benefits of learning.

All that humdrum about Intelligence

What is intelligence?

There is the traditional reference to intelligence, which denotes one’s cognitive abilities. Additionally, with advanced research into the aspects of learning and cognitive abilities, the idea of multiple intelligence came up. First proposed by Howard Gardner, the multiple intelligence theory purports that one’s intelligence cannot be gauged purely based on one dimension (most often linguistic or mathematical). Intelligence, in fact, can be based on eight or possibly nine different modalities.

So, when looking at someone’s intelligence, you can identify facets of linguistic, visual-spatial, mathematical-logical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic and existentialistic intelligence.

What also comes to my mind as I recap all my know-how about intelligence is the further research that went on top of Gardner’s, and at last count, there are about 120 odd types of intelligence that have been identified.

How do you know intelligence?

I believe that a good way to know if someone is intelligent or not is by identifying the application of that particular intelligence. Outside of standardized tools and tests, if someone displays a strong ear to identify musical notes or differentiate tones, then they have a high musical intelligence quotient. This could be true despite them fairing very poorly at a music entrance exam because success in a standardized test is affected by various internal and external factors.

Am I intelligent? Where’s the evidence?

That is definitely a difficult prompt to work with purely because it deals with the I.

If you asked me to gauge if another was intelligent or not, I would use my aforesaid principle of checking application, interest or keenness and tend towards the side of leniency in calling them intelligent. In the last few years with the middle schoolers, this strategy has found more footing within, because I’ve learnt from children with extremely poor grades overall but who have demonstrated their learning daily through various other outlets. In that sense, I’ve called a number of my students intelligent. The evidence was available in plain sight.

But am I intelligent? Where’s the evidence?

While I display some innate abilities with many of the intelligence types, I have not achieved mastery in any of these. I feel that this difference between awareness and mastery is where the confusion lies. Should I consider myself intelligent simply because I’m able to quickly catch a new language or should I wait for a certification by an accredited agency to validate my knowledge (intelligence) in that language? When it comes to gauging my own intelligence level, I am drawn to be over-critical and tend towards the latter of the choices.

My kinda future of education

After spending four years in university, getting a degree in engineering that I related the least with, I spent ten years in a technology services company, progressively getting disinterested in the ways of this field. I hit the decade mark and I knew I had to get out to learn something that stimulates me or risk getting complacent in this field. That is largely what moved me out of my previous job profile and into an academic, interested in the past, present and future of education.

Little prepared me for the shock that I received when I went to university, again, to realize that although the subject of study interested me immensely this time around, the faculty and the peers did not share that enthusiasm. Teachers of education, the prospective pioneers in progressive methods of teaching, were still using the sage-on-the-stage methods, with an air of “I know it all, how dare you question me?” In that literal sense, my two years in university were a mirror of the one from the past.

Of course, I had grown as a person, had quite a few experiences under my belt and therefore found my own means of learning and staying motivated. But, formal education for me was a repeat telecast of poor teaching methods and demotivated instructors.

What will the WFE course hold for me

With that background, a novel teaching-learning experience is what I would like to experience in this course titled What future for education. Week 1 has already been a change from ‘classes’ that I am used to so far. The topic has been delivered by interviewing two academicians, both experts in their respective areas of educational interest with years of practical experience behind them. By having them each address the same set of questions, I, as a learner, have understood that most of what comes in education doesn’t have a standard right or wrong answer. Things have varied hues and intricacies in them.

Aside from the interviews, the supplemental reading, with its own additional reading, transferred the onus of learning, and equipping myself with more know-how, completely on me. Discussing the learning and sharing perspectives is also something that I dearly missed in my traditional class.

The second major learning outcome that I would like to take from this course is exploring the medium of reflection as a way of learning. I intend to learn, through repeated practice and feedback, how to direct my reflections to be more informed. In his article on Learning: Theory, Models, Product and Process, Mark Smith quotes Gopnik by saying “Children learn by watching and imitating the people around them. Psychologists call this observational learning. And they learn by listening to what other people say about how the world works—what psychologists call learning from testimony. (Gopnik 2016: 89)”. I intend to use this extensively in learning about reflective practices as well. Through the discussion forum entries and inputs, I am confident that I will be presented with various opportunities for observational and incidental learning.

My kinda future for education

From the interviews, I gather that there is no one size fits all solution to the future for education. It will be a mix of traditional teaching methods and progressive techniques; it will combine the behavioral and cognitive and social aspects of learning. It will be task conscious and learning conscious.

Having said that, I do envision that the future will bring more democracy to the learner. She will be presented with a variety of learning content, available through a gamut of learning medium, with the luxury of picking the few that fits her learning needs. I already see us heading this direction, where a number of children have picked homeschooling as their preferred medium of ‘formal education’. Now they are no longer restricted to a campus-prescribed timetable, faculty group or learning mode. Online, on-demand, courses, like the WFE have shifted the onus of learning immensely, giving more power to the learner.

I also anticipate more experiential learning opportunities, where the learner is presented with situations that leave the learning open-ended. As was mentioned in Mark’s article on learning, “as Lynda Kelly put it, something we just do, without ever thinking too much about it.” There will be more of such learning environments where the student drives the learning; the learner decides whether the learning affects her cognitive, affective, social or psycho-motor needs.

The future for education will definitely have the learner thinking extensively on the act of learning. Through extensive reflection, the learner will “recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it”. Reflection becomes a key foundation to democratic learning, since it is a powerful tool to become a meta-learner.


Smith, M. K. (1999-2020). ‘Learning theory’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [ Retrieved: 15 July, 2020.].

How do I learn?

Over the years, I realize, I have had both positive and negative learning experiences. Irrespective of the nature of the course content, there have been some external and internal factors that drive the outcome of the learning. And this applies to everything from studying Educational Psychology, to playing the guitar to learning a new diet lifestyle. So, how do I learn?

What works?

Something that recently surprised me immediately pops to my mind when I try to recall a learning experience from the past that worked. I’d consider my upbringing pretty traditional, growing up with frequent shloka chanting and singing, and having vacations centered around temple visits. Some time around the early teens, amma signed me up to a class to learn how to chant the Vishnu Sahasranamam. What would a twelve/thirteen year old understand from all the mumbling in Sanskrit, or what impact that would have on her popularity quotient, is a topic for another day. But, I remember diligently going to class, twice a week, for almost a year.

The effect of those classes, from almost two decades ago, was evident to me recently, when the same Vishnu Sahasranamam played on the TV. I was busy reading a book, or doodling, I forget; I might have not even been in the same room, but only a ear-shot away. My mouth, sub-consciously started chanting and when I became aware of the happening, I realized that I was on-point for most of the entire chanting. Here I was, mouthing the 1000 names or references to the deity, with minimal understanding of what I was chanting, but complete recollection of the words.

As I question how I learn effectively, I try to use this experience as a case study to identify what might have worked in that learning. I wonder if it will point me to some techniques that enable me.

  • The teacher chunked the verses into sets of 10 or 15 lines.
  • She wrote, by hand, the verses, while asking us to repeat after her; not chant, but just repeat; no print outs from the internet, but hand written.
  • We chanted the previous verses, from memory, before starting the new verses.
  • Amma frequently exposed me to Vishnu sahasranamam chanting, either by their bhajan group, or on TV/tape.

A few things that might have been deterrents to learning were:

  • I did not chose to go to the class; I was asked to go.
  • Socially, it was definitely not on the cool-list for kids my age.
  • The teacher wrote the lyrics down, I didn’t.

What doesn’t work?

In comparable fashion, when I look at a learning that did not work, one that surprised me by how it failed utterly, it would be some of my theoretical learning during the recent Master’s program. During a number of discussions, I’ve stumped myself trying to remember the name of a particular psychologist, or a learning method, or a theory, all from courses that I aced.

On paper, I should have remembered as much of the two years in the Master’s program, because:

  • I chose the field of study willingly. I, in fact, quit a field of disinterest, to spend time in this one.
  • There was nil pressure to perform from the external factors.
  • The field evoked a high sense of curiosity in me to explore and learn.
  • It was definitely ‘cool’ to quit a stable paying job of ten years to do something like this.

Now, in all honesty, I wouldn’t brand this entire learning experience as unsuccessful, because I did grow extensively as a person through this entire period. Moreover, success of learning should not be gauged by merely testing oneself on the ability to recall. And yet, referring back to the previously quoted instance, this one leaves me lacking.

So, a few things that might have led to this not being a successful learning episode are:

  • Faculty that did not instill the joy of learning in me.
  • The learning environment was flooded with social issues like biases, favoritism, religious intolerance and patriarchy.
  • The peers were extremely demotivated with the learning.
  • There were negligible instances of debating, defending and arguing about ideologies. Everything was given and expected to be taken hearsay.
  • The learning content was dated and antique.

So, How do I learn?

This little exercise has helped me identify a few things that definitely affect my learning efficiency. The learning environment, content relevance, peer influence and motivational teachers definitely foster better learning.

Dark Circles

Lil M is a 3rd grader in my bus who is the most notorious of the lot. She audaciously complained about the bus support staff and me to her mother, when we chided her for trying to squeeze under the seat of a moving bus. The mother, truly doting, confronted us at the bus stop, while ten pairs of pre-teen eyes from the bus watched in amazement, not to mention the strange mob that gathers anywhere in this country and serves no real purpose. When I explained the scene to the mother, and we asked Lil M if it was true, she answered in all innocence “But I’ve done it only like five times, aunty!”

The pink-faced mother walked away, after asking me for my entire biography.

Anyway, Lil M has been testing me and my boundaries since that little episode. After a very tiring Independence Day Celebration in school, I sat in my seat, on the way back home. The following conversation ensued in the bus.

Lil M: Aunty, (pointing under her eyes), your eye liner.

S: (quickly tries to rub it off, while wondering if it has been this bad all day)

Lil M: Not above, Aunty. Below. Here.

S: (tries a little more, with no luck again)

Lil M: Aunty, I think you have dark eyelashes.

S: Awwh! Thank you, dear! (That is a compliment I’d never gotten before)

Lil M: No, No! Not eyelashes. Aunty, you have dark circles. That’s what you have.

S: (Sniff! Too soon!) Hmm! I know. I’ve had it for some time now.

Lil M: You know you should drink a lot of water every day, Aunty.

S: I doooo! I drink about 3 litres a day.

Lil M: Do you sleep enough? I think if you sleep well, they will go away.

S: You’re right! I haven’t been sleeping well enough, I guess. I should try that. (Mental Note of Bucket List items: Get beauty tips from a 7 year old – Check)

Aunty, There’s a bad word in the dictation

Day over day, I am surprised by children and their intelligence. Especially when working with the little ones, the ten year olds; I always walk in assuming they know a certain something and nothing more. And then they go out and surprise me.

The following happened today.

VSing, after correcting his partner’s dictation answers: Aunty, That’s a bad word in her dictation answers.

S: How can that be? We aren’t doing bad words here, are we?

VSing, moving closer and whispering his softest: Aunty, You asked us to spell ‘prone’. She’s written ‘porn’.

I do not remember when I first learnt that word, or when I truly understood the meaning of it. But, I am definitely sure it wasn’t in 5th grade, when I was ten.

It got us talking in the staff room about how children these days have too many sources for information, resulting in their innocence being snatched away earlier than normal. I can imagine a situation where this child read the word in a book that he was reading, or heard it in a movie/series that he was watching, and got curious about what it meant. A truly progressive family would have parents that are approachable enough for this child to ask them about it. In which case, he wouldn’t have associated the term ‘bad word’ with it. Which makes me think that the child resorted to other means of identifying the meaning of the word – the mighty dictionary, or better yet, a more knowledgeable sibling or friend.

And that second alternative worries me.

What worries me more is my acting casual about his observation, and moving on to the next ‘good’ word in the dictation. Should I have used that time to address the taboo associated with the word? But would it have been too early for these young minds? As teachers, we always talk about how the best time to give children sex education is when it comes up naturally in the class discussions. Was today one of those natural ways? Did I miss an opportunity to tell them about sex in the right way?