Archive for May, 2022

Chak De, Go for It!

Go for it!

“It would take three years to bring the learning standards of these kids to the pre-pandemic levels” laments the middle-school teacher as she abruptly stops explaining the concept of LCM and HCM to the non-responsive sixth grade class. Exasperated, she then resorts to writing down on the blackboard the step-by-step method of dividing a three digit number by a single digit one, the arithmetic that was taught to them three years back. If the children has lost the understanding of division during the long years of school closure, their lack of multiplication skills now also cannot be far behind. And the teacher, hence, decides to pull out exercises on rudimentary multiplication from the class three textbook for the students to complete them as homework!

The loss of learning for children in the absence of physical schooling was, till now, merely discussed among a few teachers and academicians, that too in passing and in lighter vein. But the scale and the magnitude of this education regression in India is dawning upon the nation only now, with the recent publication of the National Achievement Survey that poignantly captures the extent of the damage. In all the parameters of mathematical and language skills and in the conceptual understanding of environmental science on which the children were tested across the country, the exposed learning gap is astonishingly wide and disturbingly deep and is alarmingly way below the national average as recorded in the year 2017. This loss in learning is found even in states that are traditionally better off in school education and the rot seems to be spread nearly evenly across the nation with the surprising exception of Punjab and Rajasthan. Though both these states scored above the national average, it’s Punjab that tops the list, outdoing all other states in eleven of the fifteen subject areas that the children were assessed and also by bettering its previous performance of the year 2017 by miles!

This strikingly phenomenal performance of one state in education cannot have come without the underlying and compelling socio-economic conditions and it is not hard to seek those factors that play out in Punjab. The singular ambition of an overwhelming majority of the Punjabi young population today is to immigrate and study abroad and eventually settle there. And to secure an admission in universities located in countries like Canada, Australia or New Zealand an impressive academic record is an essential prerequisite. To add to that, a decent score in IELTS, that mandatory test in English language aptitude for university admissions abroad drives almost the entire young population in the state to take up their studies seriously, pandemic or no pandemic. This is vouched by the fact that when the entire nation is gripped by the onslaught of the Corona bringing to halt every activity, the number of students appearing for and clearing IELTS in Punjab did not abate. Thus ambition, when channelised at the right direction has the power to buck the negative trend and bring in impressive results which could turn out to be a role model and inspire others to emulate.

A classroom in a school in Punjab

But mere ambition of the population to study well without a robust support system in place would just remain a pipe dream and it is here the role and commitment of the schools and the teaching fraternity of Punjab needs special mention. The state opened its schools last year much before the neighbouring states did and once the schools began functioning physically, the entire teaching community drew up a comprehensive plan to cover the lost syllabus. Many schools added extra days to the academic calendar and bridge programs initiated to do the catching up. The internet penetration being very extensive and the digital divide somewhat blurred in the state, the participation in online classes were much more in Punjab. With teachers enthusiastically lapping up the myriad digital tools available for teaching, the online classes proved decently effective in accomplishing the learning objectives and also did prevent any major slide back in retention. While all these may have also tried out in other states, it is the scale and the commitment of the vast majority of the stakeholders to roll out these initiatives that made the critical difference! 

Serious little learners!

The findings of the National Assessment Survey though would be a shocker for many, also affords us the opportunity to approach the problem with a fresh perspective, and the experiment and success in Punjab could act as a guidepost in this effort. As suggested in another report, this time by the ADB, the learning loss if not corrected soon could adversely impact the GDP of the nation in the medium run.  It is upon all associated with the school education to take note of the enormity of the task in hand to reverse the trend and there isn’t a day to delay this process. The need of the hour is to be on a mission mode and the time to act is NOW! 

 Chak De, which in Punjabi means “Go for It”!



Also read the story of a pizza delivery boy….

May 30, 2022 at 9:29 pm 16 comments

Musings from Kochi-III

The complex alphabets

If you were to Google for “the toughest Indian language”, the instant pop-up on the screen would invariably be Malayalam. With fifty-six letters and many ligatures (combination of two letters), Malayalam is easily the language with the largest number of alphabets and words formed with some of these are a near impossible for a non-native to pronounce. Try uttering ‘Mazha’(rain), that almost everyday weather occurrence in Kerala or ‘Thengya’ (coconut) that indispensable ingredient in every Malayali dish, you would get a sample of what a tongue-twister of a language Malayalam is!  You might find ‘Elluppamaaya’ such a hard word to sound out, but it just means “easy’ in the language.  And when hungry, you may want to say ‘Viśakkunnu’ signalling time for the meal but might end up uttering ‘Viyarkkunnu’ meaning that you are sweating profusely, a physical condition soon after having a sumptuous Malayali feast. But sweat you definitely will pronouncing ‘Vazhappazham‘, a gorgeous word for the humble banana while trying to utter ‘Khizhakku’, meaning east, your tongue might take a flight northwards. Your few brothers would collectively be called ‘Sahodarangal’ but each one needs to be addressed according to their order of precedence. Thus the one elder to you is a ‘Chettan’ and the other younger, a ‘Aniyen‘ though many refer to them as ‘Moothadu‘ and ‘Elayadu‘, meaning the matured and the tender. Overwhelmed by the burgeoning complexity of the language, you may just want to give up attempting to dabble with the tongue and might decide to say so in colloquial Malayalam…’Ennikku Vyya‘! 

Yet it is the tough Malayalam which produces a vast body of literature across genres and the ratio of its readership to the native speakers is indeed the highest among all Indian languages. When the numbers of books published is very impressive, it is its circulation and the sheer volume of their sales that reflect the standing of Malayalam as a very vibrant literary language. This status is only further confirmed by the top of the chart readership for Malayalam newspapers and magazines among all regional languages and the trend shows no signs of abetting even in the digital era. The literary movement is only strengthened by a strong network of libraries in Kerala, both small and big, that ensures deep penetration of all published works in the language. It’s no accident that the writers in the language have been the recipients of many prestigious international awards and of course, a large number of Gyanpeeth award winners are Malayalis!

Translations of Paulo Coulho in Malayalam

Three distinct aspects can be discerned to have contributed to this pre-eminent status of Malayalam as a literary language par excellence. First, it is the religious literature of high poetical and philosophical merit produced in the language that contributed to it’s early growth. The ‘Adhyathma Ramayanam‘ by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan written in a bird song format called the “Kilipattu” is considered a classic and continues to be a highly revered and narrated epic text. To that the works of sages like Poonthanam, inculcating a strong devotional fervour, popularised the poetic language among the masses. Also, the early translation of Bible, incidentally by two Hindus,  Chathu Menon and Vaidyanatha Iyer, did further carry the written language to a wider audience. Second, the reform movements and the new political ideas that came from the West unleashed an epoch literary activity and an avalanche of classical works in the language came into existence. The contributions of the Great Trio – Kumaran Asan, Ullur Parameswara Iyer, and Vallathol Narayana Menon, gave the language a literary tradition and a modern outlook that helped it to absorb and assimilate fresh ideas. The later writers could build on this grand foundation and develop the language that’s capable of communicating highly complex social and political thoughts with ease. Third, Malayalam has been the language in which all the major international works got translated early on. Not merely of Marx, Tolstoy, Shakespeare or other internationally acclaimed writers but also the works of many lesser known African and Latin American authors were made available in Malayalam, enriching the literary pool and variety of the language. French novelist Patrick Modiano for instance, who won the Nobel Prize for his book, ‘In the cafe of the lost youth’ was translated into Malayalam six months before it was translated to English! About a hundred plus works in other languages are translated into Malayalam every year and there would hardly be a Nobel laureate in literature or a Booker prize winner whose work is not published in Malayalam! 

And as the Malayali diaspora spreads its wings across the globe, the appetite for the language in its various literary and cultural forms is only bound to grow and thrive. So the next time you meet a Malayali, along with asking her ‘Nadu Evideyya’ do also check out ‘Enndha Vayikene?’ meaning “ What are you currently reading?”



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May 1, 2022 at 1:39 am 22 comments

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