Sunday, November 25, 2012

Do we want our child to rejoice death?

Since Kasab was hanged last week, i have been hearing various interviews of the victims, police officers, and other social activist. One of the common response has been 'We are satisfied that he was hanged. Although there has been a delay in the court sentence, the justice has been done'. Some of the comments on the net, on the other hand, generously took a long term view of hanging, when they said " We should not be satisfied with Kasab's hanging. We should catch the other perpetrators of crime."

Therefore, i was pleasantly surprised when i read this response of Ashish Chowdhry, an actor, who lost his sister and brother-in-law in the 26/11 terror attack. He said

" I do not see any point in rejoicing any body's death. Justice is done to small part of the problem. I am a father, i don't want to set that as an example for my children"

Such incidents, which happen less frequently in our society, are the perfect instances that we can use to help our child learn about life. Because if we try to tell our child about death and life, he will ignore us because death is not a salient context for him at his age. If we try to share a universal principle that ' criminals are produced by the society', he may not agree with us. In short, if we do not help our child learn from these socially poignant and emotionally intense situations, how do we prepare our child to face the challenges of life

It is in these situations that we can help our child understand that Kasab may have been an innocent child like him, but because he was born around wrong people, imbibed wrong teachings and was taught to hate. Kasab did not plan his future, his future was created for him by the people around him. And more importantly, if one Kasab is hanged, there are more than hundreds of Kasabs being produced every month and year. In other words, we can help our child understand the difference of terrorists and terrorism, which he otherwise is not just interested in knowing.

We can help our child understand how educated people are pulled into terrorism. We can also teach our child, that though we may not be able to fight terrorists, we can fight terrorism. We can share with him the stories of heroic people who are fighting terrorism. For instance, how Greg Mortenson is fighting terrorism by opening schools in Afghanistan. Or how an Orissa Collector managed to bring together people to fight terrorism, not terrorists.  And why it it is better to fight terrorism, instead of fighting terrorists.

Instead of letting child rejoice in a death of terrorist, it will help him if he understands how to prevent the emergence of terrorism, because his future lies in stopping terrorism. In tomorrow's society, we will not be able to stop terrorists because they will be amongst us, not around us. Our children therefore have to learn to stop terrorism. As Ashish Chowdhury said it succintly 'I will rejoice when killing in the name of God will stop". We should also rejoice at the death of terrorism, not for the death of terrorist. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Are you really learning a subject?

If you see the Learning plan ( LP) of a student, one important component of planning is 'learning' the core and complementary subjects. Unfortunately, the concept of learning is not fully understood. We confuse learning with many other similar words. We think that learning is being able to recite the 'learnt answers' in the same sequential manner. Or we think that learning is applying the algorithmic solution of moving from x to y on a predetermined path such as in Geometry or Algebra to another similar problem. Because marks in a test only captures 'rote' recitation, marks also do not capture the learning that has happened in a student. So what is learning? 

Stage I of learning

When we listen to someone for the first time, we hear the 'data' that is being given to us. For instance,when a student hears the history of the Jallianwalla Bagh's tragedy of 1919 in a history class, he absorbs it as a data. However, when he absorbs this data in the context of freedom struggle, his understanding of Jallianwalla Bag becomes deeper. Now, the student understands 'fuller' meaning and significance of Jallianwalla Bagh incident. The student has converted 'data' (raw bits of data structured by the 'instructor') into 'information' ( same bits of data restructured by the 'student').  In other words, Learning "does not take place in the act of listening to (or viewing) information explained, but rather in the moments when we are asked to make sense of that information, to wrestle with ideas." When, the student's  learning remains at the the level of 'data', he is stuck up and his understanding is shallow. This data may be useful in answering the question on Jallianwalla bagh in the exam, but it does not halp him deepen his understanding of subject he is trying to understand.

Stage II of learning

But learning can also happen at a even more deeper level. Deepening may happen in various forms.  For instance, when the student compares 'Salt march of 1930'  with 'Jallianwala bag' incident , he or she understands that not 'all incidents' have similar impact on freedom struggle movement. He starts 'building relationship of data with outcomes' newly. He starts gaining 'better picture' of the overall freedom struggle movement by connecting individual pieces of historical events. This is descriptive knowledge. At this stage, he is using anamolies, inconsistencies in the 'data' to get better knowledge of the events ( such as Jallianwalla bag ) and how they are correlated with the outcome ( freedom struggle). 

Stage III of learning

Learning can deepen further. A student may start understanding 'causes' of different events. For instance, why and how different elements of Jallianwalla bagh incident exactly 'caused or helped' freedom movement.  This is called converting 'correlation' into 'causation'. Not just understanding how x is related to y, but understanding why x causes y. (Not just understanding how flu is related to fever, but why flu causes fever.) This deepening enables the student to understand the conditions when x can cause y. At this stage, the student starts developing the 'predictive knowledge'. Here learning is "to apply, synthesize and use what we have learned to create something.” This kind of learning is facilitated when a student learns to develop 'experiements and prototypes' that 'mimic' the cause-effect loop of thinking in real life. 


Typically, a student will deepen the learning of a subject or chapter for which the teacher is good, or deepen the learning of the subject he or she likes. Learning becomes automatic and unconscious.

However, in order to excel in his life, a student has to guide his learning consciously. He cannot spend time on learning non-important subjects. If, in his Academic-excellence plan, he decides to learn 'physics' or 'english', he has to consciously deepen the understanding of those subjects. Irrespective of the poor teacher of physics, or the difficulties of the school, he has to find options to deepen the understanding of physics. He has to use multiple methods to deepen the understanding of a given subject that he has planned in his AEP. For instance, he may have to e-learning tools on internet to deepen his understanding of physics. Or he may find expert teachers in physics who are in different schools. Or he has may use Physics Olympiad to gain deeper understanding. Or he may find friends who are equally interested in 'physics '. Excellence is not possible without a deliberate plan. 

Excellence also happens when one uses the limited time effectively. An LP enables student to prioritise his time judiciously. Deeper the learning, the longer it takes. And because there is limited time in a day, a student has to 'prioritise' the subjects he has to learn. He cannot learn all the subjects to the same depth of learning. With LP, a student learns to prioritise his time carefully, so that he can achieve excellence in given subject.