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A truly fulfilling experience

2018-04-09         Shukla Bose

A new beginning for 60 kids & a highly fulfilling personal experience

Friday was a truly fulfilling day. It was also a day of new learning and many heart wrenches.

We have been approached by some government school teachers that we have trained in our Education Transformation Centre, to help them save their school. Their school is a very one but is at the risk of closing down because most of their students have gone to other private schools. This is a Telugu school and there aren't any Telugu families in the slums nearby. The highly dedicated government school teachers together with their Principal have been sourcing out slums with Telugu speaking families and wanted us to visit them. When anyone in Parikrma hears of students not going to school, we are compelled to respond. That is in the Parikrma DNA and that is the very reason we were born.

So, I went to visit this slum several kilometers away with a few of my colleagues. We whispered quietly that everything there reminded us exactly of how Parikrma began 15 years ago. We visited 320 slums in the city then, walked through little lanes, walked past swelling drains and met up with families under trees in a temple yard or a room in a church. Yesterday we met in a community hall. We had to wait a bit because the women were busy filling water from the common taps that supplied water every alternate day. We saw lines of colourful plastic water pots lined up for their turn in the queue. This is such a common sight in most slums. What is also common is the expression of despair in many faces when the water does not come or clearly is not enough. So the mothers were torn between two important things in their lives...water for the family and the education of their children. There were many men there either taking a nap inside the 100 sq feet house or loitering around with other men.

The meeting began at 6pm. We somehow crammed in around 80 mothers and fathers in this small room, the largest in the entire slum. We explained to them what we were there for, and shared with them our story. By the end we had enrolled 60 children for the government school. We promised to organise transport to ferry the kids to the school. And all the time I kept wondering how we could garner support to make that happen. Sixty children's future had to be decided there and then.

So, there is a new beginning for these children, their families, this government school and new relationships for Parikrma.

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Gems beneath the rot

2018-04-10         Shukla Bose

There are some days in your life that re-ignite belief in what you do. Yesterday was one such day. It will stay etched in my memory to revisit whenever I feel low. And in my kind of work such days are not rare.

After 15 years of successfully running 4 schools and college for marginalized children, Parikrma began training teachers from 330 government schools. Seeing the impact of such training in the government schools we have now started adopting government schools where we not only train the teachers but take the responsibility of influencing the processes and systems in the school as well.

This June, we will have four government schools that will have the Parikrma blue and green colours and will follow the “Parikrma Way”. In these schools we will conduct Parents Teachers meetings, probably for the first time. We will execute what we call the Class Readiness Test to know for sure what concepts each child in a class knows. Our School Improvement Plan will be based on the learning level of each child in each class. We will also conduct Sports Day and Annual Day, events that all children love but unfortunately most government schools pay scant attention to such things.

There are many other things we need to do to bring in change and most have to begin with the teachers. Now talking about teachers or talking to teachers of government schools conjures up images of resistance, apathy, belligerence and bureaucracy.

So, when my colleague Sandhya took me to visit the Government Higher Primary School in Shivajinagar, I accompanied her expecting all this in action. This school was in the heart of busy Shivajinagar, the only Telugu and Kannada medium school surrounded by clusters of Urdu medium schools. This was also a 110-year school with an abandoned building declared as a heritage site. I walked into this school and could only see great promise and potential. There is a lovely playground, large classes, toilets that need repair and blackboards that need a fresh coat of paint.

We have got used to talking about infrastructure any time we refer to a government school. The Education Department has made us aware that in such schools, toilets need to be built. There is a government school in Yelahanka where there is not a single toilet and the children are sent home during break and most children never return. But today I don’t want to talk about infrastructure because I have always maintained that brick and motor does not make a good school. It is the human element in the school that determines the personality of the school.

I was then introduced to Ravindra Reddy and Chiranjivi, both teachers in the school. Ravindra teaches Social Sciences for all the classes and is a senior member of the Teacher Association. Chiranjivi is a Math teacher. Their enthusiasm to learn, to improve and raise the quality of their school was palpable. I have not seen that kind of willingness and energy even in some of the best schools. They expressed their sadness because there were many slums far away where there were Telugu speaking children who had no school to go to. They pleaded with me to organize a bus to transport those kids to their school. In fact, these two teachers visit the slums during the weekends to encourage them to go to school. They guaranteed that they would increase the enrollment by 100% and ensure that there would be no drop out. They knew how important these two factors were for Parikrma. No one ever before in either government offices or schools have ever given us such sincere guarantees. No one ever before has managed to convince me so quickly to visit the slums just two days later and actually start thinking of organizing transport so that no child is left out of school.

So, from the looks of it, it seems that this small school will soon become a Parikrma Way school. And it is not because of the quaint building or any promised grant but because of the determination of these two young teachers who want to improve their school.

When we criticize teachers of government schools, we must pause and look for gems under the rot. Thank goodness, there are still a few.

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Oh, what a year it has been

2018-01-25         Shukla Bose

As the chapter of one year is being set aside and preparation for another chapter of 365 pages begins, I need to reflect on what counts and what does not.

What counts are some lessons learnt, a few painfully and others somewhat gainfully. I learnt that change is not easy however much I may desire it and whatever passion I may pump into it. It is easy to excite people but it is another thing to ignite them into action. But we cannot give up, so grit is most important for anyone in the development sector. We keep hearing of how important it is to stay positive. I have learnt that in this kind of work, if I am not positive, I cannot survive. I am just too small, too insignificant to matter in the course of life and yet I have to be a giant in my self-belief to keep going irrespective of the road bends.

What counts is when people begin to trust us. We have had times when we could not do what we had promised, exactly when we said we would. But if the people we work with trusts us then they will wait for us to deliver. The trust that people have in us, be it our beneficiaries, our employees, our donors, our partners, is the most vital lifeline in our kind of work. On no account can that trust ever be violated. It is quite possible for us to make errors of judgment and pay the price for it, but if any time we betray the trust reposed on us then that is committing hara-kiri.

What counts is the humility to acknowledge that we know very little. This humility allows us to listen and that listening shows us what to do. After having been in the social sector for about eighteen years there have been times when I felt I knew how the poor community would think and react. And what a fallacy that has been! It is impossible for anyone who has been born in a different social and economic background to ever totally understand what is going through the mind of someone from the slums. There are of course some emotions that are universal, emotions like love for one’s child, desire to be loved and cared for. But how one prioritises love and need, is very personal and yet influenced by the social background. Therefore it is impossible to predict responses with hundred percent certainty.. We have therefore learnt that it is not just experience but sensitivity that counts.

What definitely does not count is what others think of me. The faster that I learnt that we have to live for oneself and for people that matter, the quicker did I stop playing for the galleries. It does not count to do anything where our heart is not present because it is then that we buy misery for ourselves. It definitely does not count to get lost in the myriad of trees and lose sight of the forest. I have found it is necessary sometimes to take a backseat and look at the situation in a very detached manner to take the best rational decision.

What counts is to love and the ability to show your love. That has worked for me every time, with my students, their parents, my teachers and everyone around.

So in the year of 2018. I want to continue to work for what counts and avoid all that does not.

So here I begin….I would like to thank you for your caring and support. I seek your friendship to jointly serve those that have not been given a voice so far. Lets together make the next 365 days count.

 

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Authority vs Power

2017-01-07         Shukla Bose

Last week I had an interesting discussion with my school leadership team about the difference between authority and power. We call these informal discussions in my office, at the end of the day, our “Chats for Clarity”. There is no agenda, no time hard stops, and lots of coffee, fair amount of giggles and intense discussions on issues that may have cropped up recently and our take on that. These issues could range from school affairs to personal matters but what is most important about these chats is the analysis we do to check if we are all on the same page. I find it useful for bonding, reviewing where we are, and what we have learnt recently. 

So, as we chatted this particular evening, we realized that although power and authority stem from the same concept, they are both very different as they contain deeper meanings.

The main difference between power and authority is the degree of control and influence they have for individuals. While authority is the sanctioned right given to a person to get things done in an official capacity, power is the ownership of authority and control to influence the opinions, movements and behavior of others. Traditionally and technically, authority is the right given to a person to give orders to subordinates; power has a wider scope and enables one to do what they want. Again as per the textbook, authority can be taken away as it is official, whereas power cannot be taken away because it is personal and linked with the individual’s personality, wealth and not designation.

As we continued chatting that evening, we realized that in Parikrma we experience the concepts of power and authority very  differently. We realized that here is another way Parikrma is so different. Right from the day we started our organisation, our education philosophy discouraged any hierarchy and bureaucratic processes. So, while we have some teachers who have more responsibilities and are made more accountable, they are in no way more formidable and definitely never, above questioning. Our open-door policy of dealing with issues leads to transparency in decision-making and greater degree of ownership of the outcomes by everybody. I remember that in the early days of our operation there was a great deal of discomfort amongst the newly hired senior and experienced teachers because they felt that they had no power and authority and would not be taken seriously by their colleagues. It has taken us several years to define the norm that power comes from designation but authority comes from attitude. Our approach to the concepts of “order and discipline” is a total antithesis to the textbook and tradition. We believe that leaders need to author their own style and processes, which gives them the authority, that comes from within and not from any designation or label. In Parikrma we believe that power comes from external factors and is prone to corruption and artificiality. In our schools, we believe that each one of us needs to author our vision for the organization and that is what gives us the authority that has little power but high degree of will.

 

It is with these beliefs that we have survived the last fourteen years and shown impact that has been unprecedented. We are now poised to take these beliefs to a larger number of state-run schools and see how we can influence change in a greater scale.

 

Each one of us in Parikrma has immense authority but very little power. And, with this we are empowering our students, our agents of change to bring a difference in the quality of life of their family and community. And that change is on….

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