Friday, 30 December 2016

Opening a world full of possibilities on Karnataka Rajyotsava

To anyone staying in Karnataka, November 1st is a day of celebration. It’s Karnataka Rayotsava, i.e. Karnataka Formation Day.
On November 1st 2016, the same fervour could be felt at one of our partner schools. The crisp morning air, the children lined up with almost military precision and the stage all set for the day added to the anticipation and excitement that was palpable in the air. There were a line of speakers and along the sides, there were children dressed in traditional clothes ready to perform the traditional art forms. Amongst all this, there was a considerably large group comprising of parents and children crowded around team Mantra4Change and a couple of other people, clutching forms and pens. This was the day, chosen to provide scholarships to the students who excelled in their studies, but did not have the financial backing to continue their higher secondary schooling.  

Mantra4Change has found a wonderful partner in Vidya Poshak, an organisation that believes that poverty should not be a barrier to education. They provide 5-year scholarship and mentorship support to selected students till completion of their graduation. Their process of choosing students for scholarship has been meticulously designed and is two-fold.
Once the potential candidates were chosen by Mantra4Change based on merit, the process started off with a written test to assess the academic prowess that the children possessed. This was followed by a home visit to ensure that the scholarship went to financially disadvantaged families who were committed to let their children study further.
This scholarship support by Vidya Poshak plays a major role by enabling our children to pursue their studies to create a better future for themselves. Thus, this Karnataka Rayotsava marked the beginning of a partnership that completes the cycle of our quest for providing quality education to children irrespective of their socio-economic background.
This year, 38 of our students across three of our partner schools got the scholarship support. The school had graciously invited students from other partner schools of ours and they set aside a slot just to give away the scholarships amidst the celebrations, inspiring more students to work harder because they had to know that there is always help for those who work sincerely.

As the state celebrated its formation day, the kids celebrated a new world full of interesting possibilities for their future and we were the happy spectators.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Lighting up the temple of knowledge on Diwali

Diwali is the celebration of good over evil. But it is more popularly the festival of joy and that of light. It is symbolic of fighting off darkness. What could be a better way to celebrate Diwali than by building a temple of knowledge that could fight off the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy..! What could be a better way to celebrate Diwali than by creating a space for the tiny human beings- the students of the Kindergarten section- of my school to learn by exploring in an 'adapted' Montessori Method..! 

This beautiful space would have only remained a dream, but for the Principal of the school. The Principal's belief in the changes that Mantra had been bringing into the school and his trust on the process of transformation made this possible. This huge shift of mindset from garnering the little profits earned from the school to spending most of it on development of school is very heart-warming and is an achievement worth being proud of.

Read our previous blog on how we introduced the ‘adapted’ Montessori to our pre-primary classrooms.  

Gradually as the principal of the school started realising how kids were excited about this new way of learning and how this is benefiting them, he went out of his way to ensure that his kids get the best environment he could offer. The dirty-looking corner that used to store all the junk and discarded materials suddenly got transformed into a shining and bright ‘Activity Room’.  At Mantra, we reached out to our partner, Let's Do Some Good Foundation (LDSG) for monetary support. They contributed part of the funds for building this space, and so did the extremely invested principal of the school. Now that is how magic happens..!  

Usually these kids in the pre-primary section are live wires, full of so much energy that they can't always seem to contain it. Turns out that the activity space is their Zen-zone, a place as envisioned by Maria Montessori; a place where the child is a dedicated worker and explorer.
Every day, we (adults) stand around the kids watching them in awe as they labour in pure bliss and concentration. The teachers look on proudly at the children and why should they not. It is their handiwork, indeed. They imbibed the training, meticulously implemented it and even created a few activities to add on to the already existing Montessori activities. Such was the dedication of the staff and the management of the school.
Nobody could have come up with a better way to celebrate Diwali. It was the day a dump yard in the school got transformed into a beautiful activity space for children.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Samarasya - The Knowledge Fair

Someone once said –“A mind when stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.”
One of Mantra’s partner schools took the words literally.  Apart from the usual, they decided to celebrate Children’s day in a fashion that gave children the opportunity to expand not only theirs, but others’ mental horizons. They decided to host “Samarasya” – a knowledge fair – for the children (and parents), by the children.

Students from grades 5th to 10th showcased their individual ideas through projects in streams of Science, Math, Social Sciences, English, Hindi and Kannada. They put up an elaborate showcase of three hundred projects. Anyone who walked in was awed by the sheer variety and concepts of the projects put up. From Robotics to Magic of Cards to Kuvempu to drip Irrigation models – they had it all! Along with these, children gave talk shows on Formation of the Solar System and on The Seven Wonders of the World.  This one beat all records known to the region. Receiving a heavy foot fall, the show went “house full” from 10am in the morning to 4pm in the evening. It almost challenged Bahubali’s popularity! In a different location, they also held talks that showcased their primary research in geography (courtesy TIGS-IGYS 2016), their views on Education and the lives of the Jnanapeetha Prashasthi.

When not presenting projects, many students were found volunteering and just helping out. From organizing to directing visitors, controlling the queues and giving tickets for the house full talk show, assisting the presenting friends, they did it all. Teachers witnessed a lot of student leadership at play. This made them truly proud.
The event received a heavy footfall of the students and teachers of neighboring institutions and parents alike. Students were found to steal time and take rounds to see their peers’ works. Each and every visitor was enthralled by the projects; many teachers also commented how they were pleasantly surprised by their own child's capabilities.   
At this school, 14th November 2016 was one of those days that will be remembered for a while. It was a children’s day where each child literally shone like a star. This was a day for the children and by the children. 

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Shikha Bohra, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

A Step in the right direction: Giving new meaning to Women empowerment

As I narrate this, I do so with pride: Proud at having been able to witness the events of change unfold before me. I had always imagined "important meetings" to take place in high profile offices. After having been a part of the social sector, I have realised that it is the willingness to work and an undefeatable sense of purpose that is essential; and an "important meeting" can take place in a room, a shack or as in this case, in a government school.

At MANTRA, one of the key elements of our project is working on enabling community. To this end, we keep exploring meaningful partnerships that can bring (economic) opportunities to the doorsteps of these people in the community. Today’s is a story from one of such communities that we work very closely with.

It is a community like any other low-income community that has blended so seamlessly with the more affluent part of the city that nobody gives a second thought about its being, purpose or reason. The agenda for the day's meeting was to create self sufficiency amongst the women in the community. These women work at the local ‘beedi’-rolling and ‘agarbathi’-making factories in order to supplement the meagre income that their husbands bring. The wages that the men in the family receive often reduces before they reach home due to many habits, they have inculcated over the years. 
Along with Mantra came the rather influential benefactor of the community and Mr. Venkat Raman Iyer and the other people in attendance were the women in the community. Having turned myself into the photographer for the event, I happened to notice how raptly everybody listened to Mr. Iyer as he spoke of how in a similar community, he along with the women in the community formed a self- sustaining group. They make cloth bags that are sold to nearby shops. While the women earn some amount of financial independence, an environment-friendly alternative is being provided. What a brilliant example of killing two birds with one stone..! Thus, the meeting set the wheels of change in motion.

About a week later, I visited the community in Koramangala with my colleague, Pallav and the ladies from our community. We met the group of ladies who successfully run the cloth bag enterprise. As we entered the house of the 'aunty' who manages the entire process, we witnessed piles of cloth bags and cloth material, covering every inch of the floor. We seated ourselves on one of those piles and 'aunty' dove straight into business. She opened by explaining different kinds of materials used for making the bags and followed it up by demonstrating how to measure and cut each kind of material. Once she felt that sufficient practice time had been provided to the ‘visiting’ ladies, she moved on to explaining how to maintain and tally accounts effectively. It was impressive to watch how she articulated her experiences as manager and shared them with the audience. She went onto say that it is imperative that the accounts manager make each tailor sign in a separate book mentioning the number of bags submitted, once they have been counted in front of the tailor, in order to avoid misunderstandings later on. She then let the ladies use the sewing machine in her house, so that each of them can practice sewing a bag. As the machine whirred on and each lady got to work, they started sharing their experiences in their community. They disclosed that they don't feel valued and often are at a disadvantage of being a woman. This meant that they don't get paid regularly for the work they do. The work being rolling 'beedis' and 'agarbathis' in the nearby factory.
As they each flourished a cloth bag proudly, I overheard one of the ladies, Gulnaz promise Pallav that she will stand by us for the good of the people.

As I took leave of the group, I walked away light-hearted, yet excited.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Aims of History and Social Sciences Education

In my previous post, we explored “What kind of Social Sciences is worth teaching.”
Will there be any contention if it is stated that travelling to see places, armchair politics and stories concerning people- famous and ordinary, are among the top topics of non-work discussion for ordinary people in India (and elsewhere as well)? I do not think so. Ask any tour operator and he/she would confirm that our local tourism industry is thriving; Check any discussion forum, be it an informal gathering or a formal, one will find that politics is the most discussed topic; and a glance at the daily supplements of our newspapers and general magazines confirm the marketability of stories concerning people. If we strip the subject of social science down to the bare minimum, one can see that it is all about stories of people, places and institutions and we see all around us people tuning into stories, be it on the television, movie screens or newspapers.
However, survey of people, in general, on how interested they were in any of the social science subjects during their school days will indicate that either they were bored and hence completely switched off or disinterested because they saw no value add from these subjects to the practicalities of living life. And this when the subjects are all about living life!
In 1964, the Kothari commission said that one of the aims of teaching social (studies) science is to help students acquire certain values and attitudes which are critical for participation in the affairs of the world other than the acquisition of knowledge of the environment and understanding the human relationships.

The subjects that make up social science in school connect us to the past to understand, appreciate and learn how we have reached to where we are now; they also connect us to the present through the study of institutions that govern us; and contextualise the past and present by providing us with an understanding of the larger ecosystem that we are a part of.
Social science helps us to dream of building a better world. Practical questions related to human development such as ‘How to make our cities better, improve standards of living, reduce crime rates, overcome discrimination, provide better governance, improve productivity’ are what social science is made of.
The social sciences are sometimes described as the policy sciences, although the contribution of disciplines such as sociology and political science to the making of policy is indirect and limited. In any case, it would be unrealistic to aim to make school students into policy makers or even policy advisers. At the same time, a general awareness of how economy, polity and society work can help them in later life to understand the role of policy in public life. It can provide them with a basis for taking an informed view as to why some policies and not others are adopted, and, among those that are adopted, why some succeed and others fail. My view is that the more significant contribution of the social sciences is not in the training for policy making, but in the education for citizenship. An educated citizenry is indispensable for the proper working of a democracy. One does not pluck the qualities that make a good citizen out of the air; one needs a certain kind of education to acquire and promote them. To be a good citizen, it is not enough to be well informed about physical and biological phenomena; the good citizen must also have an informed understanding of the social world of which s/he is a part.
In 2005, in its position paper on social science, the NCF said that it is important to ‘reinstate the significance of the social sciences by not only highlighting its increasing relevance for a job in the rapidly expanding service sector, but by pointing to its indispensability in laying the foundations for an analytical and creative mindset’.
Educating students for citizenship, for example, requires encouraging them to think clearly, systematically and objectively about the social as well as the natural world. Beyond that, in the social sciences, it is important to give them some knowledge and understanding about the varieties of economic, political and social arrangements in such a way that the description and analysis of facts is not subordinated to the preferences and prejudices of teachers and writers of text-books.

In the next part of this blogpost, we’ll explore how teaching of the social sciences to school children is complicated by what may be called the ‘value problem’ in these disciplines.
The blog piece has been written by Ms. Vasundhara, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

One Day, Many Stories!

 -The blog piece has been reproduced from StoryWeaver's Blog, posted on September 23rd by Menaka Raman.

Every year, the entire Pratham Books family (including our lovely community) gears up for the biggest celebration of the year – our ‘One Day, One Story' campaign. Celebrated on the occasion of International Literacy Day every year, the campaign aims to take stories to as many children possible on a single day throughout the country (and beyond!)

This initiative is part of the Pratham Books' Champions program where we encourage our community of volunteers to conduct reading sessions. These sessions are conducted free of cost and mostly with children from under-served communities. The Pratham Books' Champions program is a one-of its kind volunteer program that has scaled to a national & international level with more and more volunteers joining in each year. For this year’s edition of ‘One Day One Story’, volunteers from Oracle Bangalore joined us to take stories into classrooms, thanks to our partners Mantra4Change.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

What kind of Social Sciences is worth teaching?

We have a subject called social science taught in some form or the other in schools across the world. Sometimes it goes by the name of Environment Studies (like in the present primary schools in India), sometimes as separate subjects – History, Geography, Civics (or the more Contemporary Citizenship Education in many countries today or social and political Life as in India) until middle school and then as History, Geography, Economics, Political Science and Sociology in high school. In some countries and at sometimes there has been a subject called Social Studies and some kinds of thinking excludes History and Geography from the Social Sciences and treats them as separate subjects while including Economics, Political Science and Sociology in the social sciences. For the purpose of this type of writing (Blogs), I will not enter into that discourse, however relevant. By social sciences, I mean all subjects dealing with the analysis of some or all aspects of society and social life seen through some lens or the other. Thus History is part of social science as it analyses continuity and change in different aspects of society and their interrelationships over time, Geography as it does the same across regions, Economics as it develops and applies the concepts and method to analyse economic aspects, Sociology as it does the same for the social aspects and Political Science for political aspects. Till the elementary level of schooling, the latter three are not taught as separate subjects, but are in some way integrated through the subject of civics, citizenship education or social and political life as the case may be.

At MANTRA, we have been striving hard to provide subject-content support to our teachers in whichever we can. We are looking for extending support to our partner schools in this discipline because this is the most commonly feared among the teachers and students.
How do I make it interesting? The content is just so dry! What is the content aiming — remembering dates?!”
These are some of the common statements that I have received and trust me, as a student of Social sciences I feel different now. However, I felt the same way when I was in school. So what kind of Social Sciences is worth teaching?

Irrespective of how we understand the social sciences, there is often a question in the minds of parents and society in general as to whether the social sciences are relevant at all to the lives of people in today’s technocratic world. The first question people ask is what will a child do if s/he takes up the study of any of the social sciences at the college level? What kind of ‘job prospects’ does s/he have- become a teacher in a school or college, a researcher or academic; join one of the services through the entrance exams? Take up a management field particularly Human Resource Management. All these options are open to a graduate of engineering or a medical student as well; so why take up social sciences if the option of the so called technical fields is open?
This attitude percolates to the primary and high school level as well where students (and parents) have the attitude of just wanting to pass in the social sciences. Seldom is it asked as to how the social sciences can contribute to make students better human beings or make them capable of contributing to the betterment of society or in fact, how can the teaching and learning of social sciences at school sustain and develop a democracy. Specialising in a social science at the college level needs to be looked at differently from the essential education in the social sciences at the school level.
Getting too much for one blog?
Stay tuned for the second part wherein I will write what according to me the aims of History and Social Science Education should be. You can agree and disagree, add or subtract, maybe implement it in your classrooms! For that, you have to read the second part :)
The blog piece has been written by Ms. Vasundhara, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Transforming the KG classrooms: Venturing into 'adapted' Montessori Methods

"Bacchon aise dheere se jakar yeh rakhna hai, or apni pasand ki cheez uthakar wapas apni ‘mat’ ke paas aana hai. Miss ko dekho!!!", (roughly translates to "children you have to walk noiselessly and keep it there and pick out something you would like and place it on your mat. Look how your teacher is doing!!!"). 
And I was pleasantly surprised, to see Rizwana ma'am tip-toeing dramatically in order to drive home the point that in the activity space everyone has to be quiet. For your information, the audience, consisted of a bunch of three feet tall tiny human beings, myself and my colleague, Pallav. This was the same teacher who often expressed displeasure earlier when students would not listen to her. As she and her co- teacher Afreen ma'am gushed on about the tiny success stories during their three days' stint at using the Montessori Method in the classrooms, my faith in the success of the programme was reaffirmed.

Dr. Maria Montessori was a true visionary who researched and created a whole different educational approach to child development- the Montessori system. This approach thrives by creating a match between the child's natural interests and the available activities. This approach intends to give the child his/ her space and encourages him/her to learn from the experiences created in a Montessori classroom.

Every day, as we passed by the Kindergarten classrooms, we were at loss as to how to bring quality education to these tiny kids who often smiled at us sweetly, beckoning us to play with them. We had neither experience nor expertise in the area of early childhood development. Luckily for us, we chanced upon Mrs. Nandini Prakash from the Indian Institute of Montessori Studies. Her extraordinary levels of knowledge about early childhood development and passion to reach the children who weren't privileged enough to experience this revolutionary educational space blew our minds. She kindly agreed to guide us through the process of setting up a Montessori space and training the teachers to conduct Montessori activity hours.

In their own words,
"The Indian Institute for Montessori Studies was started in 1996 with the main objective of providing quality Montessori teacher training from Bangalore, India. It also aimed to bring back the ideas and methodologies of Montessori as applied to Primary Education, long forgotten in our country. Keeping the basic principles the same, the training program was adapted to suit the needs of the children and teachers here, by adding elements of Indian languages, culture and History."

As I watched these little ones in my school crawl towards their teacher eagerly for approval for a work done well or folding up their mats and screwing up their eyes in concentration, my heart warmed at having such a venture piloted in two of our partner schools.

I am reminded of the fact that children are exceptional ‘workers’. They work till they get perfect at doing something. Have you ever noticed a child trying to climb stairs? S/he will do it once, fall, then try it again and again and again till finally, s/he is able to climb. And s/he would still not stop; rather would come down and climb again till s/he is satisfied and confident about doing it.

For those of you who have supported Mantra through its inception, thank you! We are grateful to you for keeping us in your prayers, for it is that and more, what keeps us going and continues helping us see the programme through its success; and in turn, bring this world class 'adapted Montessori' learning system to 19 other partner schools that we will be working with. 

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A Summer of Transformation

- This blog post is written by Ms. Megha Sreekanth - a high-school student from the US who spent the summer with us at MANTRA as an intern.

The Preparation
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go out and serve the under-privileged, but I always thought of it as something that I would do in the future when I had free time and some money. However in spring’16, when my cousin Aishwarya mentioned going to India to help “Mantra4Change” teach under-privileged kids, I jumped at the chance. For the next couple of months, I became engrossed in researching and preparing materials and lesson plans to use at the school. I prepped myself for the challenges of teaching kids, along with Aishwarya and Naina; we even learned a little Hindi to be able to communicate with the children. I landed in India feeling prepared, but I did not foresee the challenges, learning, experience and transformation in those three short weeks at Florida English School.

The experience
As we stepped into the colorful rooms of Florida English School, we were first greeted by the boisterous chanting of 80 plus lower-kindergarten (LKG) students. Their voices melting into each other until eventually the words became incomprehensible. As the weeks progressed the children opened up to us more and receptive to our new curriculum, particularly because it included coloring and playing with building blocks. We provided more hands-on activities so the children can develop their motor skills and learn to enjoy school. In addition, all of the children were taught how to introduce themselves in English, and in a couple of weeks the default way of introduction was in English. When we asked one child what his name was, instead of just saying his name as we expected, he fully stated “My name is ______”, gaining applause from all of the teachers around him. By the end of the three weeks the children were well versed in introduction, colors, numbers, and letters. Furthermore, the children became more independent and self-determined, as Aishwarya, Naina and I watched the seeds of transformation building roots in all of them. 

At the beginning of our internship the teachers did not understand the curriculum and regarded it as games instead of work. They also insisted that we alternate classrooms so the children can have one day of learning and one day of fun. The teachers tended to harshly punish the children if they were not behaving or if they did not understand the concepts. After 2 weeks, with the improvement seen in the children, teachers slowly started to believe in our new curriculum. We also requested that the teachers start encouraging the children instead, of punishing the children. It is from the teachers, who taught the children with their limited supplies and training, that we learnt how to make do with the finite supplies. From them we started to use colored backpacks to teach the students coloring and to use students to help the children to understand that numbers are values, and understood that it does not take fancy materials for the students to learn. Along the way we always had the support and guidance of Santosh, Khushboo, and Amrutha, our mentor at Florida English School, who gave us advice when asked and always encouraged our own growth. They encouraged us to use a trial and error approach to our teaching; if one method did not work we moved onto the next method of teaching.

The learnings
Throughout our time in Florida English School, we began to understand the challenges of a teacher and learnt to be more patient and persistent, in addition to learning many useful skills. As the weeks progressed, we earned the confidence in our methods and respect and this resulted in small and sure transformation of teaching methods and delivery in the teachers.  

At times, it was distressing when the progress in the children was slow and the teachers were resorting to old methods of punishments and rote learning. We learnt that it took an outstanding amount of patience to teach the students, as there were always students who were slow learners, were trouble makers, or were always crying for their parents and we had to keep our calm and continue to teach all of the students. Throughout our time with Mantra and Florida English School, we learnt that you have to be steadfast in your efforts and if you want something you have to go get it. We wanted to change the way the students were being taught, and we soon figured out to change anything we had to do it with our own persistence. We used hands-on methods, encouragement and continued to teach the students even if they were not showing drastic improvement. To be steadfast and patience is the key to success - We understood this from Amrutha, teachers, principal and the Mantra team who worked tirelessly to improve the standard of education in spite of numerous challenges.


All in all, this experience grounded me and I am very thankful to all of them for teaching me so much in those three short weeks and for allowing me to be a part of the efforts to help India’s education equity. I set out to have an experience in volunteering in an under-privileged neighborhood, but in the end it was I who was transformed and inspired after witnessing the triumph of human spirit to educate and uplift with limited resources, challenges and true sense of sacrifice. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

"There is much to celebrate": An afternoon with Mr. Avinash Kumar

Have you ever stepped out of a meeting/session with a feeling of being liberated and thanking the stars and the people who helped you be in that place at that moment?!
That was exactly what transpired in my head when I came out from a meeting with Mr. Avinash Kumar, a software engineer turned educationist, currently heading the WIPRO Fellowship Program at WATIS. How and why?! Let’s find out!
There are usually two kinds of responses from people when they find out that I am a software engineer turned ‘person working in education sector with an NGO’. 
The responses being:
(a) “BUT WHY?!” (b) “Such a NOBLE THING! The country needs more youngsters like you”. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of the responses, it is definitely overwhelming and not to mention confusing, when one is seen as a saviour, especially that of a wicked problem such as the state of education in our country.
So here comes a person who starts off the talk by saying that what we are all doing is honest work that might not be astoundingly successful (I could feel a brick being lifted off my chest at that point). He then goes on to talk about what is and can be perceived as success in an education intervention and how we are generally harsh on ourselves about such things.
He flips my thoughts on how probably nothing worthwhile has happened so far (exceptions being RTE, Rishi Valley and other widely known endeavours) by mentioning that the enrolment rate in schools was just ~12% in 1947, whereas now, it is almost 100%! It makes me realise that I and quite a few of us weren’t really appreciating the stupendous work that happened! The numbers written above indicate a cultural shift that took place and it isn’t a small thing by any measure! He goes on to talk about the status of gender disparity then and now. About how people who couldn’t think of sending their girls outside the four walls are now sending them to schools, and the way civil society played a major role in these phenomenal transformations.
We go onto speak about what Education means to each one of us and the tricky topic of expansion in this sector. He mentions how the experimentation at Hoshangabad (popular as HSPT), started in 1972 by Eklavya was the seed for Science Curriculum in NCF in the year of 2005. In the same breath, he tells us the story of David Horsburgh, a British-born educationist who first came to India in 1943 while serving with the Royal Air Force. This man eventually founded ‘Neel Bagh’, a school in Madanapalle district of Andhra Pradesh in 1972 and lived there till his death in 1984. During his years spent at this school, he trained far less than 100 people. Would you term it successful?

Probably no. But what if we tell you that out of those whom he trained were Malathi, Amrutha Mahapatra, Rohit Dhankar and many more who went on to contribute to education by setting up schools such as Digantar, Sumavanam, Vikasana and more importantly in helping state and central governments in programs such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.
By mentioning how the direct impact of this school was probably not scalable and yet its long term impact is something that was mammoth, (Mr. Avinash Kumar) gave us food for thought about what exactly we are aiming at when we talk about scaling and expansion in this sector. Made me think of how even a number such as ten or five or even 1 school is meaningful, important and unignorable!
Before signing off, Mr. Avinash Kumar mentions how there’s a tipping point for visible change to happen and if we haven’t reached that tipping point yet, it doesn’t mean that there was no work done. Something to keep in mind and also something that leaves us free to experiment within reasonable limits, right?
By the end of this interaction, I felt visibly light- so light that I could feel a spring in my feet. It gave voice to my thoughts on how what I and many others are doing is not just about changing the current poor state, but also, and probably more about continuing the good work that has gone in so far.
It turned out to be one of those very rare interactions that showed me the possibility of how some simple observations when presented in the right way helps one look at things with a fresh lens even when he/she isn't ready for it. Something that I should be conscious of while working with my set of teachers.
P.S. Elisha, if you are reading this, please know that as soon as I stepped out, you were amongst the first who I thought led me to him. Thank you!

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Veda Veeravalli, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Celebrating the teachers..!

It is almost a cliché that teaching happens to be one of the most thankless jobs in the world. Why would you thank a person who is trying to make the world a better place; why would you thank a person who is crazy to pull an all-nighter just to make a class of half-grown homo-sapiens make sense of something that could probably help them throughout their lives; why would you thank a person who smiles through all the chaos and has the patience to answer a million questions; and most importantly, why would you ever thank a person who never expects to be thanked..!

Turns out, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan found a solution to this. When a group of individuals approached him to celebrate his birthday, he in turn requested them to celebrate his birthday as teachers’ day and thus, a day was born to celebrate those individuals who are never thanked enough - A day when teachers are showered with gratitude that they truly deserve and love from all the students.

The students at Citizens high school (a partner school with MANTRA) had been planning teachers’ day for a long time. They took it upon themselves to make this day a grand success (which it was). Past two weeks looked very normal to the teachers - they were teaching and the students were learning, but what they missed to notice were the secret hushes, the small group meetings and the hidden smiles among their students. As a spectator to all the happenings in the school, it gave me an immense sense of pride to witness the amount of energy, effort and enthusiasm that these tiny people were putting in to make their teachers feel special.

The plan was skilfully crafted out, the tasks were divided equally and everyone held each other accountable for their jobs. It surprised me to see the amount of maturity and professionalism with which these children took up their jobs. There was a decoration committee, an arts and craft committee, a logistics committee a performance committee and obviously, the fun committee. I was also given a task to take pictures of their teachers in class as they wanted to create a photo gallery of their teachers as part of the surprise package.

As the “D-day” started approaching, the intensity of their work also started increasing; of course, there were many glitches in the way, but this did not dampen the spirit of these children. They planned and they rehearsed until it was perfect. They ran, they jumped, they skipped and they danced but not once did they run out of energy. They happily did their jobs and kept nagging for more.

Finally the day had arrived and you could sense a weird mix of nervousness and pride in the air. The school ground got a makeover with a splash of colours in the form of balloons and streamers and the beautiful teacher gallery. Students were busy making the day perfect. The teachers started entering one by one and each one of them had a big wide smile on their faces. They stared in disbelief at the work their children had put up. The program they had put up was splendid and the teachers participated with a lot of enthusiasm. The school vibrated with fun and energy.

This day made me realize something - teaching might not be the most rewarding job in the world but it is definitely the most satisfying one.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Revathi Menon, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. It captures the moments from teachers' day preparations and celebrations at a partner school.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Joy of Research

‘Yesterday, my view of geography and how to teach it changed. It is actually so interesting and relevant every day.’ 
Imagine the goose-bumps you would get when a social sciences teacher comes up to tell you this..! When a teacher’s view of the subject improvises, the impact can be seen on literally hundreds of students in the years to come. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Chandra Shekhar Balachandran (Founder & Director, TIGS) for conducting a workshop on ‘How to Conduct Research in Geography’ at one of our partner schools. Though the target audience for the workshop was the students and the idea was to present them with the opportunity of “International Geography Youth Summit” (IGYS), this is the mindset shift that happened in one of the four teachers, who attended. 

Moving on to the students now, during the workshop itself, I witnessed the passion for research shine into students’ eyes. They were seeing what they could do, the things they could find; more importantly it was one of the rare occasions when they were told to put efforts in things that really mattered to them. I clearly remember Sai Mahima from that day and how she spoke about the problem of garbage in her community. She saw it everywhere, she said. She actually went ahead to think if her research could create an impact.  When 15 year olds of a community start thinking this way, something good is bound to happen there.

A few days later, students started coming to me with the general problem of being unable to ‘choose their topics’. These extremely bright and interested students were genuinely struggling with choosing what they wanted to study. I feel, in our Indian Education System, the liberty to choose comes too late. Even when it comes, the impact of the decision is usually huge due to a plethora of ‘reasons’ like the economic condition etc. and hence, students don’t end up being the completely independent decision makers. Hence, it wasn’t exactly surprising when the students struggled at this point. We had a discussion and a round of elimination of topics with the teams and viola, there has been no looking back. 

One team has chosen to study the drainage system in their team mate’s community. There are open drains in Headmaster’s Layout and he faces frequent problems; another decided to study how an industry is interacting with the environment in the Bommasandra Industrial area and Sai Mahima’s group is obviously working on the effects that garbage has on the people in her community.

Each day these 9 students (from the 3 teams) come to me with new findings, struggles and ideas. Their resolve to conduct and find solutions to their research problems is intensifying with each passing day. Sometimes, their faces now reflect the ‘joy of finding things out’. After all, it is the insatiable curiosity that bells the learning cat. I feel extremely privileged to be able to witness this in these nine souls. As for the teacher, I can only imagine the magnitude of positive impact that she is now going to create for generations of students to come.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Shikha Bohra, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.  

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Meet the Power Couple..!

‘Power couple’ was the first phrase that came to my mind as I read the brief about them - Janhvi Maheshwari Kanoria and Samvit Kanoria.
Janhvi is currently serving the Ministry of Qatar as their education expert. Samvit, on the other hand, is a partner to Mckinsey. Did anyone let out a low whistle like I did? They were here in Bangalore to volunteer for MANTRA. Wow.

My current hurdle was to make small talk and engage people who were clearly extremely knowledgeable and sensible. For someone who has feared conversations with strangers in the past, you can only imagine the thoughts flitting past my mind. However, the car ride with Janhvi and Samvit turned out to be pleasant as opposed to the hard work I had thought it would be. As we traversed the Bangalore traffic to reach our partner school in Goripalya, they were visiting, I was humbled by the kind of work Janhvi had done and the perspective that Samvit brought to our conversations.

Just to let you in on a bit of our conversation, this July, Janhvi worked with a low income school in Kolkata where she discovered that a kindergarten class room had close to sixty students, one teacher and a helper (a very typical scenario in our partner schools as well). This often resulted in an extremely tired teacher, an agitated helper and a bunch of chaotic kids with little or no learning happening in the classrooms. A visibly excited Janhvi gushed about how she created various domains in the classrooms and divided the kids into each domain/ group while each of the adults handled the domain that they were comfortable with. The domains ranged from developing motor skills in children to literacy and math. Her logic was, and I completely agree, that why should the teacher handle all the kids alone, when there are so many skills to be taught to these early learners and some of it can be delegated to low-skilled people as well.

Samvit opined that certain corporate practices may help people in the social sector to be more organised and that his interaction with MANTRA would be fruitful only if he can show us structures and systems that can be put in place for a budding organisation to work smoothly.

Well, it's true what they say, everyday you learn a little something. That day I learned more than just a 'little' and little did I know that I would be learning a lot more the next day.

Janhvi and Samvit, during their stay with us at MANTRA, conducted an interesting workshop for the team on topics relevant to our work, e.g. feedback, problem-solving, time management, Mindset & Behaviors etc.

We will ensure that we share the nuggets of wisdom with all of you out there. So make sure that you grab your note pad, pen and a bottle of water to wash it all down as you read our next blog in this series.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.