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On the National Education Policy

2019-06-08         Shukla Bose

New Education Policy

Ever since the draft National Education Policy, 2019, was released on May 31, we have read many comments in the media by erudite scholars. What has been discussed is the framework and the structure of the policy, but not its spirit.

Educators with great experience, some of whom I know personally, have crafted this policy. It is sad that some regions have objected to the introduction of Hindi as the third language in schools and have not appreciated the entire plot to develop a contemporary education system that will concentrate on 21st century skills. It is even sadder that the HRD ministry quickly backtracked and took a safe position by saying that this policy is just a draft. The draft will now be open to political interventions.

Maulana Azad, India’s first education minister, had in 1947 envisaged a uniform education system throughout the country under strict control of the Centre. The objective of the first document on education was the same as the objective of the New Education Policy, 2019. It was to create accessibility, affordability, equity and quality. The only addition this year has been the accountability factor.

The Jawaharlal Nehru government sponsored the development of high-quality scientific education institutions such as the IITs. Then came the Kothari Commission (1964–66) to develop proposals to modernise India’s education system. The NEP 2019 has referred to many clauses in the Kothari Commission report because that has laid the foundation of our country’s education policy.

The NEP, 1968, talked of equal education in order to achieve national integration and greater cultural and economic development. It was then that the ‘three-language formula’ was introduced. It gave as much importance to the official language of the state, the official language of the country, Hindi, and the instructional language for business and higher education, English. It was understood as early as the sixties that language education is essential to bridge the gap between the intelligentsia and the masses. So, there is no point blaming the BJP government for introducing the three-language policy.

If the states want national recognition and integration, then giving the students all the languages that helps them learn well and connect equally to the national and the global should be their priority. This should not take on any political hue.

Having said that, I disagree with the NEP 2019’s observation that “English has not become the international language that it was expected to become back in the 1960s”. Without taking away the importance of studying our own rich traditional languages, we cannot deny that English is actually gaining more importance. Why else would China, which spends $700 billion annually on education, begin to allocate more money to promote English education?

Chinese companies like VIPKid and Magic Ears have become enormously profitable just by hiring English teachers from the US (more than 60,000 teachers a year) and running online English classes that impact millions. And all this is to just promote trade and commerce and employability. Beijing has realised that for countries like India and China, the real challenge is people, not commerce. 

The NEP 2019 addresses remarkably well that the purpose of education is to prepare students for living as well as for life. For the first time, we have a policy that recognises that education should be integrated and there should not be any hard separation between subjects and domains of the Science and the Arts.

For the first time, we have a policy that has given importance to physical education and the reduction of curricular burden. It has been astute in its research on why poor children drop out of school and has recommended both breakfast and mid-day meals in schools. It has also recommended school transportation. It has proposed an interesting National Tutors Program, which is to get senior students to help slower kids to catch up. For the first time, this policy actually addresses remedial teaching and the establishment of ‘foundational literacy’, which pays more attention to output rather than input.

The proposal to restructure school curriculum and pedagogy is well thought through and very doable. The design is of 5+3+3+4, which is five years of foundational stage (pre-primary, grade 1 and 2), three years of preparatory (grade 3, 4 and 5), three years of middle stage (grade 6, 7 and 8) and four years of high stage (grade 9, 10, 11 and 12).

The authors of NEP 2019 have faced some of the challenges in education head on — challenges that have not allowed the earlier education policies of 1986 and 1992 to see fruition of the vision. It is the problem of implementation. This 2019 policy seeks to address corruption at the grassroots and at the decision-making levels and has recommended how governance can be increased.

It also admits that teachers play a significant role in raising the quality of learning and yet “there are severe shortcomings and suboptimal practices in the deployment of teachers.” I’m however disappointed that while the policy has discussed at length the skills and training that the teachers will be exposed to, not much attention has been given to teaching them social skills and personal growth. Only that, and not oodles of leadership training, will stop education officers humiliating the teachers in front of their students and the teachers humiliating their students in front of the class.

It is our responsibility to transform our country by implementing an ambitious education plan that is progressive and inclusive. This is not the time to get caught in political battles over languages and risk paralysing the policy itself. Let us leave it to our children, and they will be happy to learn all the languages, so long as they do not have to sit for those onerous examinations!

 

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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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