How to measure learning outcomes ? The learner and the Cynic

I have been having a series of strange dreams for few days now. I had seen a bollywood movie called Sui-Dhaaga few days back .

The story is an improbable, semi-plausible story of a person, couple, no a community’s search for self-respect and dignity in labor. While the clothes shown in the movie at the fashion show were shown to be made by them, the styles seemed pretty much reminiscent of the materials and styles used by National Institute of Design.

One of the first dreams I had were of being in some sort of bare foot Design school which is/was interdisciplinary in nature. I am the bored guy who is there because he has no other skills and have been pressured by parents and well-wishers to do the course and even failed in that. I have been observing a guy who is always cleaner than the rest of us, always has a smile on his face and is content and enjoys working with cloth, whether it is tailoring or anything and everything to do with cloth. The material used is organic handspun Khadi which is mixed with silk to lose the coarseness and harshness that handspun Khadi has but using the least of chemicals and additives and is being sold at very low prices so that even a poor person can afford it.

This in reality is still a distant dream.

Anyways, with that as a backgrounder to the story, one day there is a class picnic/short travel. Because the picnic is ‘free’ i.e. paid by the Institute , almost everybody else except the gentleman who is always smiling and content agrees and wants to go to the picnic. The gentleman asks that he would prefer to be there in the classroom, studying and working with the cloth.

The lone teacher/management is in a fix. While he knows the student and doesn’t question his sincerity he is in a fix because the whole class/school is going for the picnic and there are expensive machines, material lying around. Even the watchmen want to be on the picnic and the teacher/management doesn’t have the heart to say no to them.

He asks in a sort of dejected voice if somebody wants to stay behind with him. A part of me wants to go to the picnic, a part of me wants to stay behind and if possible learn about the person’s mystery of his smile and contentedness.

After awaiting appropriate time and teacher asking couple of times, I take on a bored, resigned tone and volunteer to stay behind, provided I get some of the sweets and any clothes or whatever is distributed.

The next day, I wear one of my lesser shabbier clothes and go to school and find him near the gates of the school, at a nearby chai shop/tapri. He asks me how I am and asks if I would like to eat and drink something. I quickly order 3-4 items and after a fullish breakfast ended by a sweet masala chai we go to the school.

The ‘school’ is nothing but a two rooms with two adjacent toilets, one for men, one for women. The school is probably 500 meters squarish spaced with one corner for embroidery works, one corner for dyeing works, one corner for handspunning khadi and one corner which has tailoring machines. Just last year we had painted the walls of the school using organic colors and the year before we had some students come in who helped us in having more natural light and air to the school.

We also had a new/old water pump which after a long fight with the local councillor we had been able to get and got running water of sorts. We went to the loo, washed our hands, faces, cracked a few jokes and then using the heavy iron key chain which had multiple keys, opened the front door and we went in. He going to his seat, while I going to mine. As always, he’s fully absorbed, immersed in his work.

After waiting for half an hour to an hour, I announced that I’m going to take a leak and have water. He agreed to join me and we had a short break. After coming back, I sat a little across him and asked if I could ask him a few questions. Without missing a beat, he said sure. I asked him a few probing questions as to who he was, who else was in his family, what he used to do before enrolling here.

Slowly but surely, he teased out the answers sharing that while he had been a successful person and had money (he actually said ‘entrepreneur’ but my dream self couldn’t make out what it was) and while he had money saved, his wife was supporting him in this venture as she was good at Maths (a ‘statistician’ which again my dream self was oblivious was all about) and apart from learning about clothes, how they are made etc. something which he always enjoyed but which was discouraged in his house. They were working on a book about ‘learning outcomes’ (which again my dream self knew nothing about, but when he said he would be sharing stories about me and my class-mates I was excited and apprehensive at the same time.) He assured it would be nothing bad.

I asked him in my innocence as to why such a book was necessary because in my world-view we were doing nothing exciting about a school where most of us were learning in the hopes that with the skills we would somehow be able to eke out a living. Looking at the bleakness of the background of the people around me, I didn’t think there was anything worth writing about. I had learnt about writers who were given money to write about fairy tales and even had got a comic book or two with bright colors and pictures. When I asked him if it was going to be something similar to that book, he replied in the negative . He shared that they were in-fact were going to self-publish the book as the book was going to be ‘controversial’ in nature. While my dream self didn’t understand what ‘controversial was all about but was concerned when he explained that they would be putting up their own money to bring out the book. I felt this was foolishness as nobody I knew would spent money to print a book which didn’t have pictures and it was not also a fantasy like about a hero battling dragons and such.

At this moment, my dream ended. For those who had been working in the education sector I’m sure they would be having a laugh on almost all the aspects of the dream/story. ‘Learning outcomes’ has never been a serious consideration by either the Government of the day or previous Governments. Teachers are the most lowly paid staff in the Government machinery. Most of them who enter the profession, do it out of not being able to get a job any other way and are also not obsessed by the subject/s they teach. They somehow want to make ends meet. The less said of the ‘no detention’ policy of the Government, the better. Even the Government doesn’t believe the stats trouted by its own people but instead on ASER made by Pratham although the present Government has reversed it as it wants to show they have been doing the best job in field of education.

students, suicides, pressures and solutions.

Couple of days back, I heard of a student whose body was found hung from the ceiling in a college nearby. It felt a bit shocked as I had visited that college just sometime back. It is also possible that I may have run into him and even had a conversation with him. No names were shared and even if there were shared it’s doubtful I would remember him as during events you meet so many people, it’s difficult to parse and remember names 😦 . I do feel sort of stretched at events but that’s life I guess.

As no suicide note was found, the police are investigating from all angles as to the nature of the death. While it’s too early to come to conclusions whether the student decided to take his own life or someone else decided to end his life for some reason or the other, I saw that nobody whom I talked to felt perturbed even a tiny bit probably because it has become a new normal. The major reasons apart from those shared in a blog post are that the costs of the education is too high for today’s students.

There are also perceived career biases that people have, believing that Computer Science is better than being a lawyer, even though IT layoffs have become a new normal. In the above specific case, it was reported that apparently the student who killed himself wanted to be a lawyer while the family wanted him to do CS (Computer Science) .

Also the whole reskilling and STEM culture may be harder as at least Government syllabuses are 10-15 years too late. The same goes for the teachers who would have to change a lot and sadly, it is too common for teachers to be paid a pittance, even college professors.

I know of quite a few colleges in the city in different domains where suicides have taken place, the authorities have tried putting wellness rooms where students who feel depressed could share their feelings but probably due to feelings of shame or weaknesses, the ones who are most at risk do not allow the true feelings to surface. The eastern philosophy of ‘saving face’ is killing our young ones. There is one non-profit I know, Connecting NGO 18002094353 (toll-free) and 9922001122 (mobile) that students or whoever is in depression can call. The listeners don’t give any advice as they are not mental health experts but just give a patient hearing. Sometimes sharing or describing whatever you are facing may give enough either hope or a mini-solution that you can walk towards.

I hope people would use the resources listed above.

Update – 15/06/2018 – A friend/acquaintance recently passed a link which helped her and her near and dear ones to better support her throughout her facing depression. It pretty much seems like a yo-yo but that’s how people might feel in a given situation.

I was shared an email where I had asked the concerned non-profit to see if it needed any more addition to the blog post and this is what I heard from them –

Hello Shirish,

Warm Greetings from Connecting NGO

I read the blog link sent by you and the article looks good. I dont think anything needs to be added to that. Someday if you can come to the office, we can sit and talk about articles regarding emotional distress and suicides and how they need to be written. You have done a good job and thanks for sharing the link.
We will surely try to get in touch with X college sometime this month and talk with the teaching staff and authorities there along with the students. Thanks for the lead. Hoping to see you soon.

Regards,
Vikramsinh Pawar
Senior Programme Coordinator,

I was simply being cautious and short of words as words carelessly used could be a trigger as well.

On one of the groups I am a member of, I came to know of another institute where there have been quite a few suicides. A few of us have decided to visit the institute with a trained mental health professional and see if we can be of any assistance in anyway, in some ways sharing our tales of loss in the hopes that others are able to grieve their loss or at least come to terms with.

We have also asked the non-profit so maybe they would also do an intervention on their own.

Sex, death and nature

Yin-Yang-Balance
Yin-Yang-Balance

There is/was a somewhat controversial book by Osho which I read long back ‘Sambhog se Samadhi Ki Aur‘ or the English version ‘From Sex to Superconsciousness

While I can’t say I understand or understood it all, read it about a decade back, the main point shared in the book was that if you are able to achieve bliss/orgasm during sex, you might be able to have a glimpse of super-consciousness.

I had to share the above context as I had gone to a meetup couple of weeks back had gone to a meetup where a friend, Dr. Swati Shome is attempting to write an educational book for teenagers to talk about sex. I did help her a bit in the past I tried to share some of the concerns I had as my generation didn’t have any guidance from parents or teachers. Most of us were left to our own devices which is similar to today’s children as well with the exception that they have the web. You look at both the books, both written in Pune (my home-town) and both talking about the same subject but from so different a view-point. If you see the comments on the meetup page, it really pains to see people’s concerns. I don’t know if there is any solution to the widespread ignorance, myth-making etc. and hence felt a bit sad 😦 . Sharing a small clip I had seen few months back.

Just to give a bit of context, the law as has been shared as passed in 2015 has happened after the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape. A part of it is also that the Indian society still frowns upon live-in relationships so in part it may also be a push-back from the conservatives. After all the BJP, a right of the center party has been in power for 2.5 years now so it’s possible that they were part of it. As I don’t have enough knowledge of what the actual case was, who were the litigants and the defendants, the lawyers and the judge involved, I cannot further speculate. If somebody has more info. or link please pass it on. It would be interesting to know if it was a single bench ruling or 3-5 judge bench.

The yin-yan symbol I had shared becomes a bit more apt as in quite a few cultures, including Indian and Japanese, the two are seen as parts of the same coin. One life-giving, the other life-taking or not even taking but converting into something else.

Death
Death

That came few days later when I was reading an article about sleep. The purpose of sleep, is to forget . It was slightly strange and yet interesting article. What disturbed me though, was the bit about the mouse being killed and his brain being sliced. I tried to find many a justification for it, but none I could have peace with. And the crux of that is because the being, the creature’s wilful consent hasn’t been taken. In nature’s eyes humans and mice are one and the same. We don’t get any special passes due to the fact that we are human. A natural disaster doesn’t care whether you are small or big, fat or strong, mouse or wo/man, coward or brave. It’s sheer luck and after disaster preparedness that people and animals get saved or not.

I thought quite a bit that instead of animals being used for scientific experiments, why don’t we use actual humans. While I’m sure PETA supporters probably may have spear-headed this idea for a long time, but it doesn’t mean I can’t come to this realization by myself. After all, it’s not about pandering to a group but rather what I think is right.

Passing the baton to humans does have its own knotty problems though. For any such kind of endeavour, people’s participation and wilful consent would be needed.

While humans can and do give wilful consent, it is difficult problem as you don’t know the situation in which that consent has been taken. We all know about Organ trafficking . Many people especially from lower economic background may be enticed and cheated with the whole economics for science. In most Indian middle and higher-middle classes religion plays a part even though with ‘death’ the body is cremated and is supposed to scatter among the Pancha Mahaboota, the five elements.

I, for one have no hang-ups if some scientist were to slice my brain to find something, provided I’m dead πŸ™‚ or for that matter any part of the body. If more people thought like that, probably we wouldn’t have to specially grow and then kill lab mice and guinea-pigs to test out theories. Possibly medical innovations would probably be a lot faster than now. Ironically, most medical innovations have happened during wars and continues to do so till date.

Comments, ideas, suggestions and criticisms all are welcome.

The OLPC Meet at Hermitage, DAKC August 5th 2008

Hi all,

This blog post talks about my first-hand experience of seeing and using the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) device, seeing the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City as well as meeting one of the persons who’s spear-heading the project Dr. David Cavallo

Continue reading “The OLPC Meet at Hermitage, DAKC August 5th 2008”