Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review : The Case of the Secretive Sister

Title : The Case of the Secretive Sister
Author : Nilanjan P. Choudhury
No. of Pages : 162
ISBN : 978-9383098552

Mr. Chatterjee is a middle aged man whose long experience in claims settlement for an insurance company has made him a confident candidate to open his own detective agency. His investigation skills do not get tested appropriately as the cases that he gets to work on range from lost documents, missing pets or runaway drivers. Not just that, the number of clients requiring his services have been 'as elusive as Dr. Manmohan Singh in a chatty mood'.

One fine day, Mr. Chatterjee gets a new client in an over-zealous mother, Mrs. Pammi Chaddha who does not want to give up after her four year old daughter Aisharadhya aka Pinky Chaddha (her 'home' name) has been denied admission in one of the most sought-after schools of Bangalore. She wants Mr. Chatterjee to make this daunting task of securing admission for Pinky in the same school, possible.

Though Mr. Chatterjee does not see any hope of succeeding in this case, he wants to give it a fair try. In order to do that he would have to confront the no-nonsense Sister D'Souza who is at the helm of her school as the headmistress. He devices his plans methodically which his smart secretary interprets as his approach to rectify his piles problem. What follow are, action packed pages high on cat and mouse, stalking, drama, comedy and much more. Well, what is a detective novel without any of these elements?

'The Case of the Secretive Sister' is the second book by the author Nilanjan Choudhury but he comes across as a seasoned author especially when it comes to the tautness of the narrative and the finesse in the language. Once the narrative takes a fast-paced turn, at no moment does the tempo slacken. His choice of characters is commendable, whether it is Mr. Chatterjee's secretary Ms. Jolly or Inspector Gowda. From the accented voices of characters, one can actually hear their respective 'native' (place) speaking. A true Kannadiga and Bangalorean, Inspector Gowda takes it personally upon himself to sanitize his beloved city of all - Chatterjees, Choudhurys, Chaddhas and Chaturvedis. 

When we are witnessing almost a dearth of true-to-genre books in the market, this book comes as a whiff of fresh air where intelligent comedy is served in its full glory. We are fast becoming a society where we seek maximum value for money which is exactly the case with books as well. We are being offered medley - comprising of various elements all together - comedy, romance, adventure, et al. 'The Case of the Secretive Sister' reminds one of the humour of the order that is penned by Bill Cosby, Bill Bryson and P.G.Wodehouse. It is a pleasant change from the comedies that have inundated the mainstream television and movies these days. If you are looking for a small, light and a hilarious read, don't miss this one. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Article : When Play Becomes Work (published in Spectrum, The Tribune : 16-11-2014)

ADULTS of today are a part of perhaps the last fortunate generation that can relate to the feeling of ‘playing with abandon’. When they talk about their childhood play days, a lot is laden with the feelings of freedom, the touch of verdant grass, the feel of mud, the rustling sound of dry leaves under bare feet, the feel of first rain on the face and much more. It was the combination of these that made the childhood play, a pleasure and a complete experience which the new generation may never get to experience.

‘Simplicity’ and ‘relaxed’ are two terms which have become extinct when it comes to the pace and nature of life now. Seeing the children of these days, it feels as if they are constantly on a treadmill running to meet some deadlines. Their schedules are much tighter than that of a person who is working full-time in a highly demanding job. A dance class on Monday, tennis classes on Tuesday and Thursday, art-and-craft class on Wednesday, music class on Friday, swimming class on Saturday, plus the regular tuition classes on all days or alternate days — yes, this could be a typical after-school schedule of a child these days. Whatever limited free hours are there, these get spent in front of one screen or the other.

We, as parents, are a generation who want value for everything — whether it is time, money or resources. We do want children to enjoy various activities for an all-round personality development but then the unstructured play has fewer takers now. Since the benefits of free-form play cannot really be quantified as such, so it gets side stepped easily in favour of scheduled times for everything, even play.

Innumerable stadiums, clubs and sports complexes are haven for people who, earlier, could not find any place to hone their skills in any sport but these same centres are now seeing beelines of parents with their children in tow right from the toddling stage. In the hope to see their wards grow up to become another Sachin Tendular, Saina Nehwal or Abhinav Bindra, parents want to start early. There may be some child prodigies who could get benefit at some level by early coaching and training but such children form only a small percentage of the whole lot. For the rest it is testing, judging, evaluating, appraising, comparing and training all the way with no foreseeable respite.

Playtime that should have been easygoing and carefree is losing its charm under regimented version of the same that rests on strict time schedules and evaluation-based promotion. Hobby/after-school classes is one of the most discussed topic among parents soon after they are out of discussing the sleeping-and-eating patterns of their infants. Number of classes that a child goes to and his/her performance in these become a sort of status symbol among many parents. Unaware of this, the tender minds of children get overwhelmed by trying to meet innumerable expectations at countless fronts.

With nuclear family system and surplus income on the rise, hobby classes have become a good way to keep the children positively engaged. This apparently solves security concern of many parents as well, who are more comfortable sending or carting their wards for guided playing than unguarded and unsupervised street play.

It is a proven fact that play nourishes every aspect of a child’s development from physical, emotional, social, intellectual to creative. Child psychologists believe that playing in the absence of any adult supervision is the best environment in which children learn to interact with each other on their own. They gradually figure out the nuances of social skills rather than being taught every step of the way in the fast-evolving ‘play-dates’ settings and instructions-driven coaching classes. By interpreting and trying to fill the gaps between children’s interaction, they are not being helped in anyway, rather their natural ability to understand and make sense of the world, get snubbed, overshadowed and overpowered.

We as parents are going overboard on various accounts — over protective, over indulgent, over paranoid…. Since children do not have anything else to compare their situation with, they take it as the norm of this world. They will not ask for their space and time but we as responsible and compassionate parents need to realise this basic requirement, which is a fundamental right of every human.

Sadly, the children of today when grow up will never be able to reminisce thus — Woh kaagaz ki kashti woh baarish ka paani... (that paper boat...and that rain water...)

Article published here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Article : Schooling at Home (published in Spectrum, The Tribune : 2-11-2014

Homeschooling : Parent led, home based education 

"What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world." - John Holt

Schooling routine begins early for children these days, almost as soon as they are out of their cradles. Queues for the admissions outside the prestigious schools of the city keep getting longer every year. Anxious parents find the succour only when they pay a handsome amount as school fees to the school where their children as young as 2 years, are ensured admission. Expectations of parents from schools soar sky high when their ward(s) secure the coveted seat in pre-primary. In the race and competition to provide more, better and early education to the new generation, parents as caregivers do not leave any stone unturned when it comes to preparation, application and payment of fees. Post admission, the education of the child becomes a shared responsibility of teachers as well as parents. Endless routine of rushed mornings, time-bound periods of teaching-studying, homework, assignments, evaluations and much more, ensues. Besides these, many other things come along with schooling - some good while some not that positive. While getting acquainted with a mini-world in a regulated environment of school, a child learns basic nuances of social interaction with peers, elders and the ones who are younger to him/her. The benefits of the same cannot be ignored, however there are parents who are opting out of the grind of the school system. They are passionate enough to take up the challenge of schooling their own children, allowing them to learn as they explore the world themselves.

Self Learning - Swashikshan

Homeschooling is a parallel methodology of imparting education to children. Parents choose to educate their children at home instead of sending them to a traditional public or private school. 'Families may choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, including dissatisfaction with the educational options available, different religious beliefs or educational philosophies and the belief that children progress better when they learn at the pace that they set for themselves rather than being dictated by external impetus.' The homeschooling movement began in the 1970s when some authors and researchers such as John Holt and Dorothy and Raymond Moore started writing about educational reforms. Homeschooling as an alternative educational option was being suggested by these educational reformists. In Raymond S. Moore's words, "[Homeschooling]…recipe for genius : More of family and less of school, more of parents and less of peers, more creative freedom and less formal lessons." The trend of homeschooling is on the rise all over the world and in India, the Association of Homeschoolers is known by the name Swashikshan. It was formally launched in July, 2012 and is a community which takes pride in celebrating learning and growing without school. While minds of most of us are attuned to only one style of education - the traditional system, there are many other educational philosophies as well. Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, classical, interest-led learning, unit study, leadership education - are just a few. Homeschoolers have the flexibility to pick and choose the mix that best suit their children's needs.

Praba Ram along with her husband began homeschooling her two children when they decided to break free from the limiting school experience. They are contented that they 'are able to provide an environment free from teacher triggered pressure and other unnecessary negativities. We also believe family values can be better incorporated and a child's natural learning methods can be nurtured and not squelched.'

When it comes to giving structure to education at home, parents use a good mix of unstructured studies and structured curriculum that follows either NCERT, CBSE or IGSCE. Institutes like National Institute of Open School (NIOS) offer plenty of flexible options to suit the requirements of learners of different streams.

Learning the art to learn
Homeschoolers at home adopt different strategies, some parents choose to give preference to only those subjects in which the child shows more interest while some introduce all subjects regularly encouraging the child to freely make his/her own curriculum. However there are some who do not adhere to any structure whatsoever.  Praba says, 'We determine a schedule around our needs and priorities, set the pace according to the child's unique interest, giving a balance of curricular and non-curricular activities with adequate time outside for them to interact with children in their age-group.' A homeschooling parent Sangeetha when asked - don’t you feel incapable of being the sole education provider, answered - 'I don't teach my children, I teach them to learn themselves. I provide material and expose them to different ways of learning, it is up to them to pick the one that suits them.' After having homeschooled her three children, she is one satisfied parent.

As the community of homeschooling families is growing rapidly, there is plethora of resources, curricula and social networks that are accessible to the desirables. The key objective of adopting the parallel means of education is to personalize and customize the education as per the individual talent and capability of the child and to let the students discover their passion and desire to learn in a conducive environment.  A parent-teacher gets the luxury to make it a reality which is unimaginable in formal school system with class strength of 40 to 60 students. Often homeschoolers say and believe that when you homeschool, all in the family learn rather than one teaching another.

When talking about this alternative form of education, lack of socialization is often mentioned as one major downside of homeschooling. But Dr. Mary Kay Clark, Director of Seton Home Study School for 25 years has an answer for this, 'don't worry about socialization. Wherever people congregate, there is going to be interaction, socialization. Where is it written that it needs to be in schools? ' Nonetheless, homeschoolers make sure that field trips, travel to see the places that one reads about, experiment based learning, play-dates, hobby classes, group outings and many other activities are included in this parent-directed education process.

Customized learning solution
When every individual is unique in so many ways, it is hard to find one method suiting all. If one goes by this logic then homeschooling is a great way which can be tailor made keeping in mind the needs and preferences of the learner. It may seem like an overwhelming proposition for the parents but then 'the only prerequisite of homeschooling is the desire to do so, along with a dedication to the educational process.' The idea of freedom from deadlines and strict time schedules sound very liberating. Moreover, the number of variables which can limit or interfere with the child's desired learning process can be reduced significantly. One gets the freedom from peer pressure, hobbies do not get ignored, family values are not compromised and as parents one can completely take control of the child's education.
 In Mahatma Gandhi's words, 'There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.'

Complete article here
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