Monthly Archives: July 2013

Those who shape our minds

Together they covered six of the thirteen States of east and north-eastern India: Orissa, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam, Bihar and West Bengal. They were principals and International Coordinators of fifteen schools getting together in Kolkata for a common cause: as British Council School Ambassadors they connect their own classrooms and guide new schools to connect with far flung corners of the world http://www.britishcouncil.in/programmes/schools/connecting-classrooms.
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The British Council-led International School Award is a recognition scheme for schools but there is hard work involved. To get awarded teachers and pupils have to work on specific projects for nearly a year and provide quality evidence through a dossier. There is always resistance to begin with but the journey usually converts sceptics into followers. “The international dimension really helps the school”, says Anjana Saha, principal of Mahadevi Birla World Academy, a school that is reinventing itself. “We worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company for the Shakespeare in Schools project, met these wonderful people from Hong Kong in Stratford-on-Avon, and have now been invited to perform in HK funded by the government there.”
For Binati Mishra from Sai International School in Bhubaneswar the ISA journey enabled 60 teachers from the school to join the online courses: https://connectingclassrooms-learning.britishcouncil.org/.  Subrata Chattopadhyay from Guru Tegh Bahadur School in Durgapur, collected 15,000 kgs of paper for recycling through the Grand Banyan Project, an initiative of the British Council in collaboration with the NGO I Love My Mother Earth (ILMME) Foundation. “There was not a scrap of paper to be found in any student’s house”, says Chattopadhayay. “Even the parents joined in and came to school with paper for recycling!”
Connecting a remote school in Kansbahal, Orissa to other parts of the world was what Rashmi Mishra managed to do. Technology was the great leveller. “The teachers resisted it at first because they felt that the ISA project was an extra something they didn’t need. When they found out that this could contribute to the now compulsory CCE (Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation) under the CBSE system, they signed up readily”, says Rashmi Mishra.  Lorraine Mirza is just back from a trip to the UK. “ISA stimulated us, it is so progressive and takes you one step beyond your present thinking,” feels Lorraine.
Each of them had a story to tell which reaffirms your faith in our teachers. They were pushing boundaries for themselves and their students and helping create a better world.  They were enjoying themselves too.
Later this year Kolkata hosts the British Council School Award Ceremony 2013 where over 200 schools from across India will receive recognition for their work in different areas.  

 

         

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THE REAL AND VIRTUAL SELVES: WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA DOING TO BOTH?

I don’t know about you, but scrolling down my news feeds, I sometimes feel I’m reading about people and lives I have absolutely no idea about. These are definitely not the same people I met socially or went to school with. They didn’t talk this way. In fact, from what I remember, a lot of them didn’t talk at all. Have they only discovered their fiery, opinionated, demonstrative selves after the advent of social media? I often wonder.
I think social media has done a lot for the aspirations we all nurtured, somewhere within ourselves. Either knowingly or unknowingly. We all wanted to ‘take a stand’ on issues, ‘voice our opinions’ or sometimes just crib. It could be the most relevant or those highly trivial issues in life. But Facebook and Twitter have thrown open their doors for us to pour our hearts out.
It could be the rape of the 23 year old girl in Delhi the nation was incensed by. I truly believe it gave all of us a chance to express and spread the angst. Nobody escaped the furore. A lot of us who weren’t in the city or couldn’t make it to the protests gave reason for those protests to happen. And for the authorities to come out and try to give an answer.
At the same time, it could also be something as banal as a family event. But it gives you the opportunity to share your joy with the world. It helps you keep in touch with people whom you’d otherwise have no chance of ever knowing anything about.
Social media has therefore made life a lot easier and a lot more complicated. Easier by transcending barriers of geography, caste, class, age, sex and financial status to bring us all together on issues that matter and in not losing touch with the world.
But also complicated because, in fostering these different meanings online, we don’t really see that social media tends to eclipse our real selves. We often end up talking, behaving in ways, doing things, we don’t, otherwise in life. It’s like a split personality. You meet these strange people each time you log into your account. Social media has given us both the reason and the platform to be the people we aren’t or cannot be in life. There are things that are done only online. And it’s something we all accept. But do we wonder if it contrasts starkly with how we are once we look up from the computer screen?
It’s fine if we’re weaving dreams. But do we at least realise we’re doing so? Also, these are not just ‘different’ people we’re creating out of ourselves on the Internet. Very often, they are people who are nothing like us, and if you met them somewhere, they would probably tell you they can’t imagine that other, ‘real’ side to you. It’s that much of a contrast.
Which is why our social awkwardness and incompetence in our daily lives are even scarier. It’s like we’ve chosen to live for and invest our energies into only the online world. One actually begins to wonder if we’ve chosen the virtual world to escape the real, or if we find it difficult to come back to the real after being in the confines of the virtual for so long. Because clearly, there is some part of us that we leave in one when we travel to the other. And that is the part that makes all the difference.

Post By: Lata Jha 

 

 

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What if Kafka and Nietzsche were great Facebook friends?

I wonder what if Nietzsche and Kafka were around. And what if they had their own Facebook profiles? Interestingly, what if they were friends with each other on Facebook? I guess their friends would have a great lesson on philosophy every day!
Imagine a day which starts with Kafka’s status update: “It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.” You wonder what this chap is trying to say. Then suddenly Nietzsche replies, “There are no facts, only interpretations”, and you reach the level of infinite amazement. The conversation does not stop there! Kafka has more to add. He replies back with, “People are sewn into their skins for life and cannot alter any of the seams, at least not with their own hands.” You, the mutual friend of Kafka and Nietzsche, gets a notification because by this time you have liked the update, not because you understood a word of it, but because you did not! You read this and feel more excited about this chap, whom you have never met in real life. You added him because you saw 43 mutual friends and a very interesting profile picture of “infinite circles”! You find no relevance in Kafka’s reply, but you feel he must have some reason to write this. You stalk his profile and see more updates and conversations with his FB friend Nietzsche.
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired” writes Kafka two days ago, to which Nietzsche replies, “Hey dude, you know what, he who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Kafka likes the comment accompanied by a smiley! You are amazed to see how they are finding reasons to converse. You then rush to Nietzsche profile only to see his profile flooded with one liner, all with Kafka’s likes! He writes, “When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.” Kafka gives a reply to this, “Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable.” You start doubting your marriage!
In one conversation between the two you come across an update by Nietzsche where he is talking about God. “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” Like always, you are clueless! And you search for Kafka’s reply. He writes, “What is gayer than believing in a household god?” What does that even mean? Nothing! And you go back to your wall. You look at it, with finite eyes and think “A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die. But he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Post By:Nihal Parashar 

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A view from a school in Bihar

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They have no electricity but they have enthusiasm. They have no lunch during the seven hours that they are there but they have a thirst for knowledge. Thirty kilometers from Patna, the capital of the State of Bihar, a three-kilometre dirt track leads to Anugraha Narain Sarvodaya High School in the middle of paddy fields. A wide-angled view reveals little else in the surroundings.  A few bicycles are indicators that there is activity inside the building.

The school has been there for over 50 years and it is now being proposed as a “model school” for Bihar with increased funding allocation from the Government of Bihar. There are nine teachers but only two functional classrooms, so seven teachers sit around while two take classes. The Principal, Binita Richards, is one of the 170 Teacher Educators under the Bihar Language Initiative for Secondary Schools (BLISS), being run by the British Council in partnership with DFID and the Government of Bihar. She is keen to practice what she has learnt. She travels sixty kilometres every day to do that, ahead of time as the school bell rings, a ready reference point for the 500 students who clutch on to the little that they have in terms of access to education.

“Out of 300 students who take the school leaving exam every year, almost 50% succeed,” she says wiping her forehead with one hand and fanning herself with a palm leaf fan with the other. “Our alumni consist of doctors, engineers and bankers and that’s because they have a tremendous desire to learn”.  The two classrooms are full. Crowded benches, frayed tables. The girls and boys are poring over their books undistracted by our presence in the corridor.

Binita enters a classroom and begins an activity-based lesson. There is no space for group work, so she opts for pair work instead. There’s a buzz and she gets a quick response whenever she asks a question. She moves around the class and supports a pair that looks a bit lost.  The sound of a Kohler portable generator next to the classroom drowns her voice so she has to double her effort to be heard.

The generator supports the computer room, the only place that has electricity, and internet connectivity, in the premises. There are a dozen computer terminals and a brand new plasma screen. Bijayendra Kumar Dubey, the computer teacher, has a Masters Degree in Computers Applications from the Indira Gandhi National Open University. He teaches them how to write emails, do spreadsheets and prepare documents. The students have two computer classes per week and they adapt to it like duck to water.      

“All high schools students are given Rs 2500 by the Government to buy a bicycle”, says Binita. “Some of them were enrolling in two schools to get two bicycles but the new rule is that you have to have 75% attendance in a school to get one,” she adds.  Priya Kumari, a student of class nine, still doesn’t have a bicycle as the required attendance is still a few months away, so she walks ten kilometres through the paddy fields, where her father tills the land, to attend class. Her six siblings go to primary school and she’s hopeful of making it to college. My colleague hands her a tablet pre-loaded with British Council English lessons. Her classmates crowd around and it takes them only a few minutes to figure out how to use it.

“What if all them had a tablet?” my colleague thinks aloud. What if…? We leave with that vision of India in our minds, battered by heat and dust but inspired by those young people who believe that their only hope in life is through education.

 

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Alienated and disillusioned: When will our Youth get rid of it’s Political Apathy?

If not totally disgusting, I think it would be safe to say that the youth today find politics extremely tiresome. Political apathy characteristic of our times stems not being witness to countless tenures known only for fake promises and unfulfilled dreams, to the extent that it has become a joke.

From having watched self-absorbed people take centre stage to give a performance the fact that a lot of us don’t see a future at all for this country anymore.

An average minister today is 65-year-old. A 25-year-old doesn’t just feel a lack of connect, but complete absurdity in most things he says or does. The foggy head probably doesn’t know his times, or the issues of his times. He’s chosen to hobnob the spotlight years after he should’ve made a graceful exit. The relatively young in the Parliament make up an embarrassing fraction. It seems as if ours is a country run only for those who witnessed partition.

The 25-year-old also doesn’t see why someone born with the golden spoon who has never had to think about looking for a job should be talking of unemployment, or hunger or per capita income. He’s never had to go through the grind. Which degree or lineage in the world gives him the right to formulate policies for people whose lives he knows nothing of? For that matter, how seriously can we take a woman who walks around with half a dozen bodyguards and talks of a rape victim who was forced to take a bus at night after waiting for an auto for hours?

They have nothing to do with us. They hardly even get us. But what saddens each one of us is that the sense of alienation and disconnect has led to absolute disillusionment among the brightest of us. A democracy can’t really function this way. It needs its people to wake up, not give up. We’ve already faced the worst of dictatorship, corruption and deprivation. We can’t take worse apathy now.

Issues that bother us, which we feel strongly about should be addressed, not scoffed at. Also, political apathy need not be redressed by directly forming a party or wearing the khadi kurta. That is not everybody’s cup of tea, but raising one’s voice is; being active and conscious is. We just need to redefine our notions of political participation. We need to realise how much our voice and initiative matter. We can’t change the country, but we can let people know how much scope there is for change, why and how.

It was one young man who unleashed the first revolt of independence against the British Raj. He didn’t quite get all he wanted, but did create a desired impact. Maybe it is time for another round of revolutionary activism, for people  to realise that taking all of it in your stride is not the key to change.

Post By -LATA JHA 

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British Council marks Social Media Day with five golden rules for staying safe online

The British Council is marking Social Media Day 2013 with a set of five golden rules to help parents and carers keep their children safe on social media.

Every year the British Council engages directly with up to two million children globally, and seven million indirectly through teaching, exams, programmes, and projects. The organisation is committed to keeping children safe and protecting them from all forms of harm and abuse.

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