Author's Posts

Education in India: There's Still Hope

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 15, 2013

As I waited to meet the principal, the teacher’s voice drifted out from the open classroom window. It was a dark room with the children on the floor. I couldn’t make out more from the outside. The voice was repeating “Kanha is a national park. It is open till 6 pm in the summers and 4 pm in the winters.” After 3 repetitions, he instructed the children to repeat after him, which they did.

Education system should have ideal, not practical, goals

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 19, 2013

Articulating practical goals for a system only deepens inequity in an already iniquitous structure A month ago I wrote about the problems that teachers are having in using continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE). A friend who read it wrote back to me with a simple question.

Seeking philosophers

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 02, 2013

Since education has a deep impact on the next generation, it is important that teachers become reflective practitioners Whichever university I go to speak at, I make it a point to say that we are recruiting philosophers, especially those interested in school education.

Expectations and understanding of education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | August 26, 2013

There is a wide gap between the average person’s expectations and understanding of education, and our policies and curricula There is a 600 sq. km area with 24 villages, called Bhakhar, in Sirohi district. It’s all low hillocks, with scores of streams crisscrossing at the foot. Living conditions are tougher than adjoining areas. Getting around is more difficult, and there is hardly any cultivable land.

Ending regressive ideas

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 04, 2013

The onus is with all those who can change our system, not just with the teachers The young woman looked like a school girl. She was a teacher, who had recently joined a government primary school. Her cheeks reddened and voice quivered. She was responding to a preposterous statement by a man with more experience as a teacher than her age.

An average week in a school

Posted by: Anurag Behar | May 31, 2013

It is good to meet people who are not hanging around waiting for the system to change, but are trying to change it The school was painted canary yellow. I haven’t seen another school of that colour. It was perched at one end of the village far away from the houses, where the steep slope began. The village of 1,000 people was on a mountain top higher than most, with the endless Kumaon on all sides. Almora was visible about 30km away. The startling yellow, and its dramatic perch, probably makes the school visible from very long distances, like a lighthouse. The village is called Satyun.

Cost of privatized education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | May 07, 2013

Even countries completely committed to free markets and a dominant role for the private sector, have a public system for schooling Sometime in January this year, Mint displayed a graphics about good and bad things that have occurred in India in the past decade. The increase in the number of private schools was depicted prominently as a good development. This is not a valid claim. The increase in the percentage of private schools, i.e., the effective privatization of school education, is not a positive development. It will not help solve India’s education problem.

RTE and the activity trap

Posted by: Anurag Behar | May 03, 2013

There is a huge gap between our policies and their implementation on the ground. And that’s where the problem lies As I travel across the country, usually I drop in tThere is a huge gap between our policies and their implementation on the ground. And that’s where the problem lies As I travel across the country, usually I drop in to schools unannounced or my colleagues informally coordinate a visit. Very few school visits are “officially” scheduled. Let me narrate the typical script of one such “official” visit.o schools unannounced or my colleagues informally coordinate a visit. Very few school visits are “officially” scheduled. Let me narrate the typical script of one such “official” visit.

Schools and sand dunes

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 25, 2013

Film-makers and scientists thrive on intellectual and social connectedness. Teachers need this in equal measure

Whose responsibility?

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 11, 2013

In reality, teachers are responsible in very limited ways, because the rot is in the system that prepares them as teachersWherever we were in the world, the tragedy at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown stopped us.

The School on the River Tons

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 01, 2013

It is heartening to note that in this last mile of India, a government school is functioning well. If I could do it, the only temple I'll build will be for Karna (one of the central characters in the epic Mahabharata). I think there is no one more worthy than him for a country that is in short supply of heroes. When my friend Jagmohan heard this from me, he was convinced that it was Karna who pulled us to Mori.

Wipro Leaders

Redemption of Faith

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 31, 2013

Education needs fundamental change at all levels: teaching, curriculum, assessment and school administrationSardar "Pinder" Singh Bhangra was an adventurer. Even he had a tingling sensation when he saw the spectacular sight of the 6,316mt high Bandarpunch Peak. This was somewhere on the long, winding and climbing road to Uttarkashi. In an exercise of local myth-making, that spot is now called Tingling Point.

The Education Battle Cry

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 30, 2013

Sifting teachers on the basis of their performance as reflected in student learning will not lead to a positive change. Let me present two proposals for your endorsement, advocacy, and in case you are in a seat of power for immediate implementation. Both are about improvement.

Rooting out discrimination

Posted by: Anurag Behar | December 13, 2012

Kailash was once told by a government primary school teacher that there were just two children in his school. He happened to drop in at the school and saw 20 children. He asked the teacher why had he claimed that there were only two children at school. The teacher stood his ground. He said: "Look carefully. There are only two children, the other 18 are Nepali."

A weak support system

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 19, 2012

Mujhe administrative me khinch lijiye, I heard this often as a kid. "Pull me in to the administrative side." The translation loses the sense of urgency that it conveys in Hindi.

Elemental tensions in education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 19, 2012

The origins of schools lie largely in the folds of religious institutions. This goes back a few thousand years, for example in India, to the Buddhist monasteries, church established schools and universities in Europe and madrassas in the Arabic world.

Good people, hard places

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 10, 2012

To make change happen where it is needed most, the central question is: how will good people move to those places?Hoshangabad is 60km south of Bhopal. Many paths in Indian education lead there, because that is where they started. You may know of the city only as a train station on the Delhi-Chennai line.

How to lose, slowly

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 10, 2012

We are losing our monsoon, few of our children will feel it. We are gaining a kind of civilization, and losing our earthThe local legend is fascinating. Pandit Nehru in one of his grand nehruvian moments decided to green Rajasthan. He had seeds of Australian Babool sprayed all over the state from helicopters. He had been advised that this was an extraordinarily hardy species, and could endurance very well. I heard of this apocryphal story from Abhishek in Tonk. As I stood in the flatland outside Tonk, the success of his measure is visible all around. The invasive hardy species has crowded out most local flora, including its own cousin the Indian Babool.

Beyond 25 percent reservation

Posted by: Anurag Behar | August 09, 2012

Educational issues usually attract headlines when a controversy emerges. Controversies have differing levels of substance, ranging from the truly important to the totally irrelevant. There has been a clutch of such issues that have grabbed headlines in the past months. These include, poor learning levels in our schools, cartoons boiling the feelings of a few and getting expunged, and a list of holidays in a school book determinedly ignoring all holidays other than the ones related to religious festivals of the "majority" community, among other issues.

Surpur ke Sholay

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 12, 2012

A Teacher Learning Centre shows how to create a local and vibrant community of intellectual exchange and social support It was in Kembavi that it started. A discussion of a group of teachers had just got over at the Teacher Learning Centre (TLC) and some of them were complaining about the sole computer not working reliably. I was amused to hear that their real interest in the computer was to do with the standard movie-making software. Some of them had been trying to make movies, edit it, and give voice-over, etc., on the computer.

Other Sphere l RTE and some realities

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 23, 2012

Good intentions are accelerating the ghettoization and the withering of the public education system Disbelief is the common sentiment in the government schooling system. The disbelief is about that specific part of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which mandates private schools to admit 25% students from disadvantaged and underprivileged groups.

Other Sphere l Is there a reason for hope?

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 13, 2012

Is there a reason for hope?The fact is that our education system is depressing, but we cannot lose hope. Improvement could take long, but it will happenThe last 70km to Barmer, driving from Sirohi, was through the desert. This is not the romantic sand dunes of our imagination, but a landscape of clumpy shrubs across sandy undulating plains, with the occasional hillock.

Other Sphere l Alike in incompetence

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 27, 2012

Education in India is in a pathetic state; it does not matter where children study as government and private schools are alike This sort of embarrassed silence is common across India. One can encounter it often in a room in a school, almost anywhere in India. The room has a group of 20 to 50 sitting on the floor, almost all rural government school teachers. This is a meeting of a voluntary learning group of teachers. They usually meet after school hours or on Sundays. They discuss academic issues, read out papers and try to solve each other’s pedagogical challenges. These are capable and committed teachers.This sort of embarrassed silence is common across India. One can encounter it often in a room in a school, almost anywhere in India. The room has a group of 20 to 50 sitting on the floor, almost all rural government school teachers. This is a meeting of a voluntary learning group of teachers. They usually meet after school hours or on Sundays. They discuss academic issues, read out papers and try to solve each other’s pedagogical challenges. These are capable and committed teachers.

Other Sphere | The Finnish Wonderland

Posted by: Anurag Behar | December 05, 2011

We cannot transplant anything from Finland. But emulating some ideas and some fundamentals will helpDuring 2006-10, I spent a lot of time in Sweden and Finland. I must have made about 30-35 trips to the two countries and spent, cumulatively, over a year there. This familiarity was very helpful when I started trying to understand the reasons for the stellar performance of the Finnish school system in many ways, including in cross-country comparative assessments of learning levels in children.

Other Sphere | Empower the teacher

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 03, 2011

We have a shoddy teacher education system,and unless we improve that dramatically, our education won’t improve.An earthquake in 1991 flattened Ganeshpur. Twenty years after the event, you can still see the devastation that was caused by the quake. The village is 7km from Uttarkashi. Its population is nearly a thousand and it has a government primary school. The school is still run from the temporary “relief” structure constructed after the earthquake. It has two teachers and 54 students.

Other Sphere | India’s vocational future

Posted by: Anurag Behar | October 21, 2011

A vocational education system built on an iniquitous foundation will only harden class boundariesVocational education is the poor cousin of what the urban middle class in this country hopes for its children. This is largely because it is directly linked to the perceived low-status manual work. As it exists today, vocational education perpetuates the iniquitous social hierarchy in the country.

Other Sphere | Profit and higher education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 22, 2011

For our problems of quality and equity in education, the government has to invest more money and improve its performancePick up any list of the world’s best universities and go through those names. You can go through the top 500—not just top 10 or 20. You will not find a single for-profit university.It’s useful to remind ourselves of what most of us already know: the Harvard and Yales of the world are all not-for-profit organizations. They won’t survive a year in the absence of their large endowments, and substantial annual grants.

The making of a rote nation

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 09, 2011

Our examinations reflect our notion of learning. We tend to equate mechanical procedural skills and memorization to learning What we want from our children is better “marks” in exams. That’s the wish of an overwhelming majority in this country. In reality we have an examination, not an education, system. In Hindi, the resonance of the two words makes this reality more emphatic, we have a pareeksha tantra, not a shiksha tantra.

Other Sphere l Some truths about teachers

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 28, 2011

We need a functioning system for the average teacher, because the fate of our education will always be determined by the average teacher. In many a twilight have I sat with government schoolteachers, discussing education. Discussion over, they gather their bags and lunch boxes, having come straight from school, and head home. Some ride back on two-wheelers, some take the bus. Their homes are often 10-20km away, not an easy commute in rural and small-town India. Next morning they will open their schools, often another 10-20km from their homes, and get back to work: teaching with passion, managing with care and dealing with the vagaries of life, with determination

Other Sphere l Mystery of Nagala

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 14, 2011

We must not underestimate the power of individuals to take initiative and improve our school systems We walked in to the government primary school at Nagala, 15km from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, at 8.30am. There was no one to receive us. We entered the first class room that we saw. There were 43 children. They were all engrossed in their work. There was no teacher in the class

Other Sphere : Profits and Schools

Posted by: Anurag Behar | June 16, 2011

Profit is not a legitimate pursuit in a social relationship of trusteeship such as education.The six-ft-three-inch frame, and a boxer’s build, suggests that Prabhu can handle whatever may be required to be handled in Bellary. Although, what Prabhu handles is altogether more innocuous and a lot more meaningful than what is usually handled in Bellary. He runs a well-regarded school.

Other Sphere : Limits of small successes

Posted by: Anurag Behar | June 02, 2011

What can only be discovered in a test tube and lab requires rigorous method and investment. We need to do that in education as well.They had worked with 17 schools. After 18 months of working with these inner schools, they were seeing improvement with the learning outcomes. With confidence that comes from conviction of success, the consultant who had led the project was coolly dismissive of the idea that India’s scale, diversity and complexity, limited the value of his methods.

Other Sphere : Education for employment

Posted by: Anurag Behar | March 26, 2011

Let me paint caricatures at two extremes.The “liberal educationist” believes in education for its own sake: That only learning anchored in deep thoughts and broad perspectives can be called education; that stoking the thirst for knowledge is sufficient to handle life. To him, thinking of how education can prepare someone for a vocation is somewhere between ludicrous and sacrilegious.

Sustainability

Other Sphere

Posted by: Anurag Behar | March 11, 2011

Land and livelihoodThe two are inextricably connected in rural India, a fact seldom recognized by development policies and their implementation.Through the flawless, unbroken white of February snow, driving for hours at a stretch, I would cross silent villages of a dozen or so houses every 20-odd miles. I was blessed to have a job, which let me drive around the stunningly beautiful landscapes of Sweden.

Sustainability

Other Sphere

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 01, 2011

India’s roads to prosperity? Symbolic of where India is going is the way we’ve been building roads to prosperity which are also our roads to perditionEvery day that I am in Bangalore, at around 5.45am, I cross the NH7. The traffic routinely zips past as I try to cross the road. This highway starts in Varanasi, ends in Kanyakumari, stretching and alive, almost like a modern Ganga. I cross it every morning because I live on one side of it, and the other side is the 1,600-acre University of Agricultural Sciences campus, where I go to run.

Elephant in the room

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 04, 2011

The policy of having a school near every habitation has built in a difficult challenge for our schools and teachers. I am writing this from Shorapur, a 10-hour drive from Bangalore, and I am admiring India’s achievement in the past couple of decades of having schools at accessible distances from habitations. In this truly remote block, every village that I have visited has a government school with a decent building.

A great Indian merger

Posted by: Anurag Behar | December 03, 2010

Yoking social schemes for education and health will not only have economies of scale, but also lead to holistic child development

Mind of a social business

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 08, 2010

The conflict between social and commercial purpose defines the nature of the business. But is this dichotomy necessary? Commenting on microfinance is the flavor of the season. I will resist that temptation, but I will talk about “social business and social entrepreneurs” (SBEs), broad labels with which microfinance has been associated. I have been intrigued by a human angle in SBEs. Over the years, Muhammad Yunus has held on to his original notion of SBE. In his words: “Social business is a cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.” You can’t find fault with him; he has lived and built Grameen by that notion.

Stopping a mass extinction

Posted by: Anurag Behar | October 08, 2010

With good reason, the United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity, but global attention has been inadequate.

The storm in agriculture

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 24, 2010

We will have to make sustainable agriculture as big a global priority as countering terrorism or driving economic growth.Whether Thomas Malthus will have the last laugh will be known in around 50 years. For most of the past few decades, powered by the confidence of the Green Revolution, we have been laughing at the Malthusian paranoia of population growth outstripping food production. World population has grown from around three billion in 1960 to around 6.8 billion today. But food production has kept pace.

Light in August

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 13, 2010

In a nation of 1.3 million schools, mostly in places where electricity finds it difficult to reach, reform has to be locally owned. Kanivekoppalu is a small village in the Pandavapura taluk of Karnataka’s Mandya district. To reach it, you have to turn off the Bangalore-Mysore highway around 10km from Mandya, and drive north-west for 19km more. The daylight was fading when we reached this village of 1,475 people, and we went straight to our destination — the sole government school that, with six teachers for 142 students, has a better pupil-teacher ratio than the national average of 39, and even the 30 prescribed by the Right to Education Act.

The crisis in higher education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | August 30, 2010

The fig leaf of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and a few other decent institutions is woefully insufficient to hide the state of India’s higher education. The crisis is perhaps worse than the one in our school system. We may not admit it, nor talk about it as much, but we know it. It may be illustrative to look at the IITs themselves: Are they truly outstanding, or are they just mediocre? No Indian institution figures in any “top 100 universities of the world” list, not even the IITs. They (and the Indian Institute of Science) start appearing around the 150 mark.

A difficult valuation

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 28, 2010

The Deepwater Horizon is off the headlines, even though it continues to spew huge amounts of oil into the sea every day. Estimates of this amount have only been rising. One such estimate is that Deepwater is leaking the equivalent of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill every four days. The Exxon Valdez incident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, and Exxon spent over $3 billion to manage and compensate for it.

Story of another Eklavya

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 08, 2010

Eklavya learnt archery by himself. He looked like he could become the greatest archer in the land. Then Drona took his right thumb. Not much is known of the life of Eklavya after he gave his right thumb to Drona as “guru dakshina”. But I am confident, in most earthly and non-earthly terms he must have grown to be a successful man. He knew “how to learn” and had the tenacity to pursue his ideas. What else do you need? Learning how to learn, is perhaps the essence of good education. Tautologically, good education is that which facilitates the growth of an individual’s ability to learn.

Groundwater and equality

Posted by: Anurag Behar | June 25, 2010

As a schoolboy I spent many of my summer vacations in the searing heat of Sarangarh. In this small town (“kasba” describes it best) in Chhattisgarh, bordering Orissa, I saw multiple instances of the practice of “untouchability”. Not perhaps in its most heinous form, but visible and clear to a child’s eyes; for example, someone merely touching the water pot made the water immediately undrinkable, impure. This was the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Education in India: There's Still Hope

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 15, 2013

As I waited to meet the principal, the teacher’s voice drifted out from the open classroom window. It was a dark room with the children on the floor. I couldn’t make out more from the outside. The voice was repeating “Kanha is a national park. It is open till 6 pm in the summers and 4 pm in the winters.” After 3 repetitions, he instructed the children to repeat after him, which they did.

Education system should have ideal, not practical, goals

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 19, 2013

Articulating practical goals for a system only deepens inequity in an already iniquitous structure A month ago I wrote about the problems that teachers are having in using continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE). A friend who read it wrote back to me with a simple question.

Seeking philosophers

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 02, 2013

Since education has a deep impact on the next generation, it is important that teachers become reflective practitioners Whichever university I go to speak at, I make it a point to say that we are recruiting philosophers, especially those interested in school education.

Expectations and understanding of education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | August 26, 2013

There is a wide gap between the average person’s expectations and understanding of education, and our policies and curricula There is a 600 sq. km area with 24 villages, called Bhakhar, in Sirohi district. It’s all low hillocks, with scores of streams crisscrossing at the foot. Living conditions are tougher than adjoining areas. Getting around is more difficult, and there is hardly any cultivable land.

Ending regressive ideas

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 04, 2013

The onus is with all those who can change our system, not just with the teachers The young woman looked like a school girl. She was a teacher, who had recently joined a government primary school. Her cheeks reddened and voice quivered. She was responding to a preposterous statement by a man with more experience as a teacher than her age.

An average week in a school

Posted by: Anurag Behar | May 31, 2013

It is good to meet people who are not hanging around waiting for the system to change, but are trying to change it The school was painted canary yellow. I haven’t seen another school of that colour. It was perched at one end of the village far away from the houses, where the steep slope began. The village of 1,000 people was on a mountain top higher than most, with the endless Kumaon on all sides. Almora was visible about 30km away. The startling yellow, and its dramatic perch, probably makes the school visible from very long distances, like a lighthouse. The village is called Satyun.

Cost of privatized education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | May 07, 2013

Even countries completely committed to free markets and a dominant role for the private sector, have a public system for schooling Sometime in January this year, Mint displayed a graphics about good and bad things that have occurred in India in the past decade. The increase in the number of private schools was depicted prominently as a good development. This is not a valid claim. The increase in the percentage of private schools, i.e., the effective privatization of school education, is not a positive development. It will not help solve India’s education problem.

RTE and the activity trap

Posted by: Anurag Behar | May 03, 2013

There is a huge gap between our policies and their implementation on the ground. And that’s where the problem lies As I travel across the country, usually I drop in tThere is a huge gap between our policies and their implementation on the ground. And that’s where the problem lies As I travel across the country, usually I drop in to schools unannounced or my colleagues informally coordinate a visit. Very few school visits are “officially” scheduled. Let me narrate the typical script of one such “official” visit.o schools unannounced or my colleagues informally coordinate a visit. Very few school visits are “officially” scheduled. Let me narrate the typical script of one such “official” visit.

Schools and sand dunes

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 25, 2013

Film-makers and scientists thrive on intellectual and social connectedness. Teachers need this in equal measure

Whose responsibility?

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 11, 2013

In reality, teachers are responsible in very limited ways, because the rot is in the system that prepares them as teachersWherever we were in the world, the tragedy at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown stopped us.

The School on the River Tons

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 01, 2013

It is heartening to note that in this last mile of India, a government school is functioning well. If I could do it, the only temple I'll build will be for Karna (one of the central characters in the epic Mahabharata). I think there is no one more worthy than him for a country that is in short supply of heroes. When my friend Jagmohan heard this from me, he was convinced that it was Karna who pulled us to Mori.

Wipro Leaders

Redemption of Faith

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 31, 2013

Education needs fundamental change at all levels: teaching, curriculum, assessment and school administrationSardar "Pinder" Singh Bhangra was an adventurer. Even he had a tingling sensation when he saw the spectacular sight of the 6,316mt high Bandarpunch Peak. This was somewhere on the long, winding and climbing road to Uttarkashi. In an exercise of local myth-making, that spot is now called Tingling Point.

The Education Battle Cry

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 30, 2013

Sifting teachers on the basis of their performance as reflected in student learning will not lead to a positive change. Let me present two proposals for your endorsement, advocacy, and in case you are in a seat of power for immediate implementation. Both are about improvement.

Rooting out discrimination

Posted by: Anurag Behar | December 13, 2012

Kailash was once told by a government primary school teacher that there were just two children in his school. He happened to drop in at the school and saw 20 children. He asked the teacher why had he claimed that there were only two children at school. The teacher stood his ground. He said: "Look carefully. There are only two children, the other 18 are Nepali."

A weak support system

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 19, 2012

Mujhe administrative me khinch lijiye, I heard this often as a kid. "Pull me in to the administrative side." The translation loses the sense of urgency that it conveys in Hindi.

Elemental tensions in education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 19, 2012

The origins of schools lie largely in the folds of religious institutions. This goes back a few thousand years, for example in India, to the Buddhist monasteries, church established schools and universities in Europe and madrassas in the Arabic world.

Good people, hard places

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 10, 2012

To make change happen where it is needed most, the central question is: how will good people move to those places?Hoshangabad is 60km south of Bhopal. Many paths in Indian education lead there, because that is where they started. You may know of the city only as a train station on the Delhi-Chennai line.

How to lose, slowly

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 10, 2012

We are losing our monsoon, few of our children will feel it. We are gaining a kind of civilization, and losing our earthThe local legend is fascinating. Pandit Nehru in one of his grand nehruvian moments decided to green Rajasthan. He had seeds of Australian Babool sprayed all over the state from helicopters. He had been advised that this was an extraordinarily hardy species, and could endurance very well. I heard of this apocryphal story from Abhishek in Tonk. As I stood in the flatland outside Tonk, the success of his measure is visible all around. The invasive hardy species has crowded out most local flora, including its own cousin the Indian Babool.

Beyond 25 percent reservation

Posted by: Anurag Behar | August 09, 2012

Educational issues usually attract headlines when a controversy emerges. Controversies have differing levels of substance, ranging from the truly important to the totally irrelevant. There has been a clutch of such issues that have grabbed headlines in the past months. These include, poor learning levels in our schools, cartoons boiling the feelings of a few and getting expunged, and a list of holidays in a school book determinedly ignoring all holidays other than the ones related to religious festivals of the "majority" community, among other issues.

Surpur ke Sholay

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 12, 2012

A Teacher Learning Centre shows how to create a local and vibrant community of intellectual exchange and social support It was in Kembavi that it started. A discussion of a group of teachers had just got over at the Teacher Learning Centre (TLC) and some of them were complaining about the sole computer not working reliably. I was amused to hear that their real interest in the computer was to do with the standard movie-making software. Some of them had been trying to make movies, edit it, and give voice-over, etc., on the computer.

Other Sphere l RTE and some realities

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 23, 2012

Good intentions are accelerating the ghettoization and the withering of the public education system Disbelief is the common sentiment in the government schooling system. The disbelief is about that specific part of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which mandates private schools to admit 25% students from disadvantaged and underprivileged groups.

Other Sphere l Is there a reason for hope?

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 13, 2012

Is there a reason for hope?The fact is that our education system is depressing, but we cannot lose hope. Improvement could take long, but it will happenThe last 70km to Barmer, driving from Sirohi, was through the desert. This is not the romantic sand dunes of our imagination, but a landscape of clumpy shrubs across sandy undulating plains, with the occasional hillock.

Other Sphere l Alike in incompetence

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 27, 2012

Education in India is in a pathetic state; it does not matter where children study as government and private schools are alike This sort of embarrassed silence is common across India. One can encounter it often in a room in a school, almost anywhere in India. The room has a group of 20 to 50 sitting on the floor, almost all rural government school teachers. This is a meeting of a voluntary learning group of teachers. They usually meet after school hours or on Sundays. They discuss academic issues, read out papers and try to solve each other’s pedagogical challenges. These are capable and committed teachers.This sort of embarrassed silence is common across India. One can encounter it often in a room in a school, almost anywhere in India. The room has a group of 20 to 50 sitting on the floor, almost all rural government school teachers. This is a meeting of a voluntary learning group of teachers. They usually meet after school hours or on Sundays. They discuss academic issues, read out papers and try to solve each other’s pedagogical challenges. These are capable and committed teachers.

Other Sphere | The Finnish Wonderland

Posted by: Anurag Behar | December 05, 2011

We cannot transplant anything from Finland. But emulating some ideas and some fundamentals will helpDuring 2006-10, I spent a lot of time in Sweden and Finland. I must have made about 30-35 trips to the two countries and spent, cumulatively, over a year there. This familiarity was very helpful when I started trying to understand the reasons for the stellar performance of the Finnish school system in many ways, including in cross-country comparative assessments of learning levels in children.

Other Sphere | Empower the teacher

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 03, 2011

We have a shoddy teacher education system,and unless we improve that dramatically, our education won’t improve.An earthquake in 1991 flattened Ganeshpur. Twenty years after the event, you can still see the devastation that was caused by the quake. The village is 7km from Uttarkashi. Its population is nearly a thousand and it has a government primary school. The school is still run from the temporary “relief” structure constructed after the earthquake. It has two teachers and 54 students.

Other Sphere | India’s vocational future

Posted by: Anurag Behar | October 21, 2011

A vocational education system built on an iniquitous foundation will only harden class boundariesVocational education is the poor cousin of what the urban middle class in this country hopes for its children. This is largely because it is directly linked to the perceived low-status manual work. As it exists today, vocational education perpetuates the iniquitous social hierarchy in the country.

Other Sphere | Profit and higher education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 22, 2011

For our problems of quality and equity in education, the government has to invest more money and improve its performancePick up any list of the world’s best universities and go through those names. You can go through the top 500—not just top 10 or 20. You will not find a single for-profit university.It’s useful to remind ourselves of what most of us already know: the Harvard and Yales of the world are all not-for-profit organizations. They won’t survive a year in the absence of their large endowments, and substantial annual grants.

The making of a rote nation

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 09, 2011

Our examinations reflect our notion of learning. We tend to equate mechanical procedural skills and memorization to learning What we want from our children is better “marks” in exams. That’s the wish of an overwhelming majority in this country. In reality we have an examination, not an education, system. In Hindi, the resonance of the two words makes this reality more emphatic, we have a pareeksha tantra, not a shiksha tantra.

Other Sphere l Some truths about teachers

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 28, 2011

We need a functioning system for the average teacher, because the fate of our education will always be determined by the average teacher. In many a twilight have I sat with government schoolteachers, discussing education. Discussion over, they gather their bags and lunch boxes, having come straight from school, and head home. Some ride back on two-wheelers, some take the bus. Their homes are often 10-20km away, not an easy commute in rural and small-town India. Next morning they will open their schools, often another 10-20km from their homes, and get back to work: teaching with passion, managing with care and dealing with the vagaries of life, with determination

Other Sphere l Mystery of Nagala

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 14, 2011

We must not underestimate the power of individuals to take initiative and improve our school systems We walked in to the government primary school at Nagala, 15km from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, at 8.30am. There was no one to receive us. We entered the first class room that we saw. There were 43 children. They were all engrossed in their work. There was no teacher in the class

Other Sphere : Profits and Schools

Posted by: Anurag Behar | June 16, 2011

Profit is not a legitimate pursuit in a social relationship of trusteeship such as education.The six-ft-three-inch frame, and a boxer’s build, suggests that Prabhu can handle whatever may be required to be handled in Bellary. Although, what Prabhu handles is altogether more innocuous and a lot more meaningful than what is usually handled in Bellary. He runs a well-regarded school.

Other Sphere : Limits of small successes

Posted by: Anurag Behar | June 02, 2011

What can only be discovered in a test tube and lab requires rigorous method and investment. We need to do that in education as well.They had worked with 17 schools. After 18 months of working with these inner schools, they were seeing improvement with the learning outcomes. With confidence that comes from conviction of success, the consultant who had led the project was coolly dismissive of the idea that India’s scale, diversity and complexity, limited the value of his methods.

Other Sphere : Education for employment

Posted by: Anurag Behar | March 26, 2011

Let me paint caricatures at two extremes.The “liberal educationist” believes in education for its own sake: That only learning anchored in deep thoughts and broad perspectives can be called education; that stoking the thirst for knowledge is sufficient to handle life. To him, thinking of how education can prepare someone for a vocation is somewhere between ludicrous and sacrilegious.

Sustainability

Other Sphere

Posted by: Anurag Behar | March 11, 2011

Land and livelihoodThe two are inextricably connected in rural India, a fact seldom recognized by development policies and their implementation.Through the flawless, unbroken white of February snow, driving for hours at a stretch, I would cross silent villages of a dozen or so houses every 20-odd miles. I was blessed to have a job, which let me drive around the stunningly beautiful landscapes of Sweden.

Sustainability

Other Sphere

Posted by: Anurag Behar | February 01, 2011

India’s roads to prosperity? Symbolic of where India is going is the way we’ve been building roads to prosperity which are also our roads to perditionEvery day that I am in Bangalore, at around 5.45am, I cross the NH7. The traffic routinely zips past as I try to cross the road. This highway starts in Varanasi, ends in Kanyakumari, stretching and alive, almost like a modern Ganga. I cross it every morning because I live on one side of it, and the other side is the 1,600-acre University of Agricultural Sciences campus, where I go to run.

Elephant in the room

Posted by: Anurag Behar | January 04, 2011

The policy of having a school near every habitation has built in a difficult challenge for our schools and teachers. I am writing this from Shorapur, a 10-hour drive from Bangalore, and I am admiring India’s achievement in the past couple of decades of having schools at accessible distances from habitations. In this truly remote block, every village that I have visited has a government school with a decent building.

A great Indian merger

Posted by: Anurag Behar | December 03, 2010

Yoking social schemes for education and health will not only have economies of scale, but also lead to holistic child development

Mind of a social business

Posted by: Anurag Behar | November 08, 2010

The conflict between social and commercial purpose defines the nature of the business. But is this dichotomy necessary? Commenting on microfinance is the flavor of the season. I will resist that temptation, but I will talk about “social business and social entrepreneurs” (SBEs), broad labels with which microfinance has been associated. I have been intrigued by a human angle in SBEs. Over the years, Muhammad Yunus has held on to his original notion of SBE. In his words: “Social business is a cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.” You can’t find fault with him; he has lived and built Grameen by that notion.

Stopping a mass extinction

Posted by: Anurag Behar | October 08, 2010

With good reason, the United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity, but global attention has been inadequate.

The storm in agriculture

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 24, 2010

We will have to make sustainable agriculture as big a global priority as countering terrorism or driving economic growth.Whether Thomas Malthus will have the last laugh will be known in around 50 years. For most of the past few decades, powered by the confidence of the Green Revolution, we have been laughing at the Malthusian paranoia of population growth outstripping food production. World population has grown from around three billion in 1960 to around 6.8 billion today. But food production has kept pace.

Light in August

Posted by: Anurag Behar | September 13, 2010

In a nation of 1.3 million schools, mostly in places where electricity finds it difficult to reach, reform has to be locally owned. Kanivekoppalu is a small village in the Pandavapura taluk of Karnataka’s Mandya district. To reach it, you have to turn off the Bangalore-Mysore highway around 10km from Mandya, and drive north-west for 19km more. The daylight was fading when we reached this village of 1,475 people, and we went straight to our destination — the sole government school that, with six teachers for 142 students, has a better pupil-teacher ratio than the national average of 39, and even the 30 prescribed by the Right to Education Act.

The crisis in higher education

Posted by: Anurag Behar | August 30, 2010

The fig leaf of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and a few other decent institutions is woefully insufficient to hide the state of India’s higher education. The crisis is perhaps worse than the one in our school system. We may not admit it, nor talk about it as much, but we know it. It may be illustrative to look at the IITs themselves: Are they truly outstanding, or are they just mediocre? No Indian institution figures in any “top 100 universities of the world” list, not even the IITs. They (and the Indian Institute of Science) start appearing around the 150 mark.

A difficult valuation

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 28, 2010

The Deepwater Horizon is off the headlines, even though it continues to spew huge amounts of oil into the sea every day. Estimates of this amount have only been rising. One such estimate is that Deepwater is leaking the equivalent of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill every four days. The Exxon Valdez incident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, and Exxon spent over $3 billion to manage and compensate for it.

Story of another Eklavya

Posted by: Anurag Behar | July 08, 2010

Eklavya learnt archery by himself. He looked like he could become the greatest archer in the land. Then Drona took his right thumb. Not much is known of the life of Eklavya after he gave his right thumb to Drona as “guru dakshina”. But I am confident, in most earthly and non-earthly terms he must have grown to be a successful man. He knew “how to learn” and had the tenacity to pursue his ideas. What else do you need? Learning how to learn, is perhaps the essence of good education. Tautologically, good education is that which facilitates the growth of an individual’s ability to learn.

Groundwater and equality

Posted by: Anurag Behar | June 25, 2010

As a schoolboy I spent many of my summer vacations in the searing heat of Sarangarh. In this small town (“kasba” describes it best) in Chhattisgarh, bordering Orissa, I saw multiple instances of the practice of “untouchability”. Not perhaps in its most heinous form, but visible and clear to a child’s eyes; for example, someone merely touching the water pot made the water immediately undrinkable, impure. This was the late 1970s and early 1980s.