Friday, August 22, 2008

Why do I need to go to school - II

Last night my daughter told me that I should tell her when my lipstick runs out. "We will make it at home".


"See, first you take some oil. Then you add beetroot juice. And then some wax."

Ah. And where did she learn this cool formula? Backyard Science on Disney TV. This is one of the shows she watches religiously, even the repeats. It airs every weekday at 4.30 pm, right after she gets home from school.

The show features a lot of simple experiments which kids can do at home to understand basic principles of science. Apart from making lipstick!

I share this story in connection with Ambuj commenting that:

If your kid drops out of school now, she runs the risk on not knowing the importance of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Indian History, our Fundamental Rights, the monsoon phenomenon, and even her own body!

School syllabus does give you all of the above but so do many other sources. Including television.

However most parents including me have mixed feelings about TV. When I was working full time the only thing I was paranoid about was:"Is my child watching too much TV?"

I do have the option of not having cable TV at all but I think anything you deny becomes more attractive to kids. And they will simply go to the neighnour's house and indulge.

Neither do I think we can force kids to watch only Discovery channel and History Channel because they are 'educational'.

Of late I have watched some of her favourite shows with her (Shararat, Suite Life of Zack & Cody) and I think they are very imaginative. And in their own way teach kids how to deal with a variety of social and emotional situations.

The one show I don't know what to make of is Shin Chan. But then it is a phase I guess she will grow out of (I hope :)

The point is that we label certain things as 'educational' (school) and others as recreational (TV, video games). Whereas all these things really make up the dots Steve Jobs refers to (and which not one but two of you brought up in comments to my last post).

Most of what I remember of history and almost all of my Indian mythology is courtesy Amar Chitra Katha. Not what I was taught in school!

The issue is, when school takes so much of our children's time and energy, is there enough time to paint more dots on the canvas of their minds? And is school itself really adding enough dots or just a dry paintbrush which leaves no mark?

Well, the debate can go on an on. One thing I do know is we as parents can do our bit. The question is, after a hard day @ work, do we really have any bright and happy paint in our own palettes?


  1. Dear Rashmi, I have been reading your posts regularly and honestly, you confront very basic issues. I love it.

    What is required is education, not schooling. Well, schooling is one way to get/impart education and most common also. But, if schooling doesn't serve the full purpose, one should look for alternative sources too. TV, games, books etc are good sources.

    How I would answer Nivedita's question is: One needs to go to school to get exposed to many other aspects of life. Each one of them may not seem to be useful today, but they might be tomorrow. It also might so happen that the passion you are having today changes and you may pick up something new that you find more in tune with what you want to do in life. School provides a seasoning environment.

    Another questions we should confront are: one, what should be tought/learned; two, how should it be facilitated to be learned.

    Two points I am leaving here with you:

    1. Visit the school MET Rishikul Vidyalaya, Bandra(W) (Besides Lilavati Hospital.

    2. I have sent a soft copy of the book: Tottochan - The little girl at the window.

  2. Why does one need to go to school when one can learn everything which one needs to any atleast on discovery channel? ...... well I would like to take this question as why does one need to go to coleges like IIT, IIM, BITS , Stepehens , Xaviers ..... finally they too teach the same science maths which your next door college teaches? Well the answer which i can give is .... the kind of people you meet. I maynot remeber as much of the stuff which i learned in my 7 schools or college but i do remember the discussions i have had the people i met. My teachers. Discovery or net or for that matter book is a passive medium .... they throw stuff at you ..... your schools and college ...discuss about it ..... you find people with whom you discuss the issues ...debate etc. The analogy which i have used of elite colleges to not so elite colleges may not be so perfect ...but it was the only thing which i can think of. School lets you meet with people of your age having same concerns , problems, ambitions as you ..... it helps you study but also acts as your support group.

  3. Dear Rashmi,
    I agree with Prabhat in that Toto Chan is a must read for everbody.

    About your statement on tv being good for children, some of it is brilliant. Like the show your daughter watches, or even art attack and MAD for that matter. Even cartoons sometimes help (apart from shin chan which should be banned) since they are in hindi, which sadly is becoming a language our children are not conversant in. The hindi versio of Sesame Street (Galli Galli Sim Sim) is so good. Unfortunately parents do not see how helpful it could be for their children, and channels airing it dont show it enough since it isnt as TRP friendly as shin chan or pokemon.

    What you say about remembering your history from Amar Chitra Katha is extremely relevant. It links directly to the concept of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner. Everyone learns best in different ways - by seeing, by listening, by doing etc. Schools need to follow this method of integrated learning and teaching so that all children learn.
    For example, a history class can be done through role playing/acting, a song, drawing it out, writing an essay on it, making a model and doing a presentation etc.

    Why do you think your daughter remembers how to make lipstick? Because she saw it being done instead of reading it in a text book. Schools could do the same for science class and even math class.

    Its all about taking a little time out and investing it in thinking differently - this, i assure you will bring colour to palattes all across for children and adults!

  4. hey... nice posts... really thought provoking...

    well.. i don't have a ready answer to why we need to go to schools or college for that matter...

    we have examples of so many gr8 ppl who either never went to schools or dropped out in early stages... and these examples for from across fields / disciplines... take for example dhiru bhai ambani... or sachin tendulkar...

    having said that not everybody of us can become one of those icons... also we lack the guts (both as individuals as well as parents) to take such a leap... moreover... my feeling is that education gives you a better chances of getting that first chance... after that most often u r on ur own... its like a degree from a good b-school gives u an easy entry to interviews... but after that u need to score on ur own...

    and i would agree with some of ppl here on that steve jobs dots theory... u never know what will become useful in life...

    at last... wanted to post a youtube video link here...

    if it doesn't work... just search for lingo kid in youtube...

  5. cool kid :)

    have you heard about the montessori system of learning...

    well as long as your gonna send her to a school.this seems like a better option.

  6. It also helps her mingle with people her own age which is probably very important to her developing as a person. She wont be confined to a set of people whom she would think is pretty much the whole opens her up to a whole different world.
    And I think the conditioning a proper trained teacher can give a kid is something very difficult for a parent to give.
    Of course the above two points are wholly dependent on the quality of the school

  7. I guess kids have to be taught the practical application of subjects when they are taught a subject. But in our education system, where those who are the best don't get into teaching, and the teachers get very low salaries, this doesnt happen.

    For instancee, even though i am an engineer, I sometimes feel I should have
    learnt more of
    1) biology. When doctor gives me some medicine, I feel I should have learnt Gray's anatomy and medical sciences (at least the basics).

    2) When I read about some chemicals and their everyday use, I feel I should have learnt more chemistry.

    3) When I see some wierd looking trees when going abroad to some cold countries, I feel I should have learnt
    more of geography and geology.

    And so on and so forth. In fact, so many times I have regretted not taking school seriously. But then, it may be that the atmosphere there was not very conducive to learning or that only now as I see practical applications, I recall that some aspects of these subjects were taught to me some time in school.

    In fact, I would learn much more if I go back to school all over again.

    So, I think schooling is important. Surely, one can replicate the stuff in a different environment or in a new school or home school, but it may be quite difficult, if not impossible.

    Also, it doesnt mean that if you have to be a singer, you got to just learn singing. It always helps to learn many things. In fact, I feel that one should have multiple skills of making a living;
    it certainly gives one a wider perspective on life.


  8. I think you nailed it quite well by saying that if we use alternate means of education (like TV), then controlling the content becomes nearly impossible. If she has interest in science, she will watch science shows all day. Sam_the_ram has written quite well what might happen to her if she solely uses alternate means of education. Howsoever outdated and inefficient our educational system is, it at least forces us to learn many things, which we may or may not use in life, but are nonetheless considered standard for people to know. Also, as I said before, you learn many more things in addition to course stuff like value of discipline and tolerance.

  9. Loved both your post. The problem I have with schooling in India is that we don't learn to think, to evaluate or question. We memorise facts and figures and vomit them on an answer sheet without understanding concepts and ideas. No wonder we forget what we learnt in school.

    The thing I envy about people who did their schooling in places like Australia or US or UK is that they learn to think and are given a wide range of subjects to study.

    I can list a number of things that can be improved, from the very basic, like using calculators - do you really want to test an HSC student can do maths mentally or do you want to test if he understands the concepts.

    The best thing you could do is follow the practise of "Gap Year" some time after HSC or after the undergraduate degree. Give them one year to travel the world, may be as a volunteer for Medicine Sans Frontier or even privately in any country, need not be Europe or America, it can be India or Cambodia or Indonesia or South America. It widens their perspective on other people and cultures. It makes them independent and self sufficient; and will remove handicaps that growing up in upper-middle class India, with all your maid servants, drivers, dhobhis and home delivered groceries, has given them. Studying abroad can help too.

  10. Hi Rashmi,
    I read your post. nice posting. very interesing and informative. really today, children have so many sources of learning way. in our time it was not possible. Although by T.V.,games, books etc. are good sources, then also going school is very important.
    pls meet my site also.

  11. The real purposes of schooling :

    President Woodrow Wilson would echo these sentiments in a speech to businessmen:

    We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

    This system has to be completely redone . Industrial age is over .

  12. Gatto then shows us how systems developed explicitly to keep the masses stupid for social control in India and Prussia were eagerly imported by the new capitalists hoping to cement their oligarchy. But as soon as we are wanting to blame these greedy bastards for the present mess, Gatto reminds us that Utopianists are as much to blame for their own contributions:

    Utopian schooling is never about learning in the traditional sense; it's about the transformation of human nature.

    The catalyst that allowed these two groups to foist their unholy vision on an unsuspecting populace was coal. Cheap manufacturing and far-flung empire created a management class whose very existence depended on skilled but compliant functionaries. Schools were created to certify these new "professionals." Ordinary people were drawn to these unnatural training institutions because they wanted the jobs and prestige that came with being in management. It quickly became "obvious" that it was in society's interest to ensure a steady supply of such compliant skilled functionaries for the factories and offices which were the heart and lungs of this new beast, and so the argument was swallowed that schooling should be compulsory.

    Once the system was established of manufacturing, jobs, and schooling, the efficiency experts and "scientfic managers" moved in to fine-tune things. These people wanted to quantify the skills they were imparting to the new working and management classes, and they ruthlessly expanded upon the idea of people as interchangeable parts, tested and programmed to do exactly and only what they were required and expected to do. And the amazing thing is that, even though the whole idea is contrary to every shred of common sense and experience, it was lapped up and propped up and remains central dogma to this day even though, just like the whole-word method for reading, abundant evidence shows that it's wrong and stupid.

  13. Everyone who has used Steve jobs "dots " example have totally misunderstood it.

    What Steve jobs said that he left the college and took only course he "liked" and not taking courses he didn't wish(he had dropped out from the college). thus he implies that even thought the calligraphy course didn't seemed of any practical value then it turned out to be useful later thus he took the course not for its practical value but because he was interested in it. Thus the actual message of his talk is to do thing you wish to do rather than just
    following the convention.

    to quote him again
    Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

  14. well ..When i was a kid parents din allow me to watch TV for long time ..for many being a threat to our eyes ..!
    but as we ver growing up I started wtaching quiz contests and reality shows ..and i din ever see my parents stopping me to watch ....either of the shows which included a lil drama or some inteligence stuff coz they ver assured tht i was a lil matured and can distinguish betwn good and bad ...!!

    so parents really shud understnd wats gud and wats bad 4 their wards!!

    good nice post !

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  18. great debate... as a father of 7-year old twins, i can totally empthise with your dilemma. You'll find this talk from TED interesting - Sugata Mitra on his "Hole in the Wall" experiments.

  19. well.. i don't think i'd need to philosophize much more on the same subject.. learning still remains the same, but surely.. i guess people visiting the link below would surely be learning something..!!


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