Tuesday, September 6, 2016

'Internet, a Boon or a Curse'

Academic integrity is the moral code of academia
By Rema MenonSpecial to Gulf News
17:33 August 29, 2016


It was an impressive read through the Report produced by the esteemed Rema Menon with its well-rounded focus on a wide spectrum of issues pertaining to the present day ‘Education’.  

There was a time just a few decades ago when any Board Exam Student would prepare for the topic, “Television, a boon or a curse?” Today there is a slight yet at the same time, a mammoth shift in the focus- “The Internet, a boon or a curse?”

As observed in the above mentioned Report, we have come a long way through the path of technology;  the cyberspace, the internet , Google, Wikipedia are tools which have made knowledge ever so easily accessible. No going to Libraries, looking through the Catalogues of Books, getting desperate and frustrated over the inability to find a required Journal or an Article! Or boarding a train to travel all the way from Punjab to Osmania University, Hyderabad to research for material for a Dissertation!

The academic life for the students of today has become much more simplified, even though the pressures of competitiveness and deadlines may far out weigh all that ever existed before.

Yet, how bright is the prospective of the easy availability of Study Matter for our students? Are the innumerable sites that provide well- researched Notes on any and every Topic aimed at robbing the students of their originality, independent thinking and novel critical insights?

No certainly not! It is for us to decide whether or not to swallow the bitter pill. Living in the midst of a plethora of advantages of the technological aids available to enhance knowledge, it is the basic foundation of Education that needs a reconsideration. The criteria of judging potential and ability needs a regurgitation so that the chances for cheating, plagiarism, fabrication or misrepresentation etc. are minimised.

I fully agree with Rema Menon that students tend to resort to grabbing what they can get easily by way of the ‘cut and paste tool’, under the pressure of meeting deadlines, getting top marks and pleasing Teachers and Parents. The temptation of the easy availability of reading material, leads them to neglect the reality of the blunder that in order to aim for good marks and the top positions, they may be compromising honesty, originality and integrity.
  
New Systems

Thus new systems of evaluation such as ‘Internal Assessments’, which have already been incorporated into some curriculums, need to be followed more  stringently. New methods of  ranking evaluations need be introduced which aim at assessing the students’ individual capability.

Some suggestions:

·      Originality Tests ( in addition to the Aptitude Tests)

·      A Regular ‘Assessment’ based on:

·      The meeting of Work Pressure
·      Innovative Thinking
·      Deadlines

The students’ free access to the ready-made knowledge available must be given the chance to be used in a manner so that students feel enthused to be able to put the Net-based learning to original work in the school environment under Observation and Supervision while working on their Projects and Thesis. Their mind-sets need to be convinced that as there is total freedom to the boundaries of knowledge, so also there is total freedom to the limits of originality. They may read anything from anywhere, but then leave it at that, not think of producing a rehash to be served on a new platter! The whole concept of ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ has undergone a sea-change through the involvement of the Space! 

A Refurbishing!

The whole system of Classroom Teaching needs undergo a refurbishing. With the students’ requirement of making 70% or so  contribution to a Class Lesson, what is normally taught in the Classroom should be the ‘Homework’ which should encompass reading and research carried out at home, wherein, the students read and grasp the matter available on their own in their own time and space. School and College hours should be devoted to work written and produced by the students, so that the chances of Plagiarism are minimised. The students need to feel encouraged to ‘make use of the material available’ to produce their own writings, and works, and gradually be weaned out of Supervised work to entirely self- motivated performance.

Thus we may be looking at a triple course learning:

1.     The net- based and text-based learning at home
2.      Teacher Guidance in School/College
3.     Final work submission under Supervision

In short, the students do ample reading through different sources at home, followed by a reinforcement of their knowledge through Class Interaction and minimal of Teacher Guidance leading on to the creation of student work under supervision. Gradually, the idea of plagiarism shall automatically be replaced by the urge for being original. We must remember that we cannot guide our future Leaders ‘by the rod’, we, the adults need to be very innovative and original as well! Above all, we need to convince  and earn the trust of the youngsters by leading them on to trust their own potential.

Other than exact Source References, the use of available guides should be minimised by reversing the concept of ‘Home-work’ and ‘Classwork’, the latter being the final criteria of assessment. Rather than the regular time- table, there may be full day allotments or hourly distribution for the Completion of Assignments in the respective subjects in school. The Classrooms could be converted into Workshops, so that students learn the advantages of Group and Team Work, Camaraderie, Time Management and Leadership, and they apply the Net -based learning through individual and original execution.

Examination System mandatory!

There have been innumerable debates over the issue- ‘Whether or not to have the Examination System’. To my mind, the Examination System is mandatory as there has to be world- wide standardisation od knowledge and the criteria of assessment. Thus students across the Globe need to be measured by the same yardstick, so it is doubtful whether the Examination System can be done away with. Nevertheless, it must need be supported through such essential modes of Assessment such as ‘Internal Assessment’ wherein partiality and favouritism need be dumped below the ground by the teaching faculty. It is we the Teachers and the Parents, together, who have to uphold the Torch of Integrity; it cannot be bought at any Mall!

Regular Teacher Tutoring needs be replaced with Teacher Guidance and enhancement of the ‘individual reading as home task’, having been accomplished by the students, individually and independently at home. Much of the regular home-work being done by the students means nothing, as it has sometimes been done half- heartedly or through ‘Tutor Guidance’ or ‘Google Guidance’.

There may be some students, who do not have access to as many resources as the others, their needs may be fulfilled by the necessary provisions in school. We should not forget that some of the Great Men and Women were self- tutored under the street lamp-post! Thus an equal opportunity must be promised to all.

Teacher Correction

The present system of Teaching in Schools loads the teachers with Correction Work beyond imagination, sometimes making the teachers work more than the students, as they have not only to prepare Lessons Plans, but actually prepare for the actual Lesson in addition to the Heavy Loads of Corrections of Homework, Tests, Projects and the list is endless. All this means that the ‘Carry home’ baggage for a Teacher is heavier than what it is for a student. There are Teachers who actually tag along with them a trolley bag to save their backs and the shoulders! There is serious need of some reconsideration.

Now that the Tablets have been allowed in Schools, the free Wi-Fi availability, must lead to the cultivation of self- discipline engineered and timed between focused perusal of the ready- made research material  and the rendering of the original work of the student.

Teacher Correction should be largely replaced by ‘Peer Correction’ which must be strictly observed by all tutors and School Authorities within the Institute. More important than a Class test, for which a student may mug up and take the test, the knowledge thus being gained as soon forgotten, major part of the teaching needs to be devoted to the understanding of concepts, wherein the expert teacher guidance is necessary. This must be followed by further ‘Home reading’ of the available material on the Net, finally, to be transformed into a weekly submission, produced over a couple of hours in School, so that there is little if no doubt at all  of plagiarism.

Wi-Fi Discipline

Unless, the ‘Wi-Fi’ discipline is incorporated and adapted by our new generation convincedly and logically, students may be misusing both their time and the freedom of the free access to Net by chatting, or twittering and surfing Facebook pages when they are expected to be studying.

I feel that an abundance of anything takes away the craving- so there is a hope! Our present generation, which is extremely intelligent, can be easily geared towards a more productive performance, which shall come out naturally through their genuine urge. The free access to the boundless ocean of the Internet shall ultimately show them the way how to keep safely afloat through self- discipline, how to use their resources to overcome and beat every oncoming challenge and how to master the waves.

Some of the System rehabilitation could lead to our young generation to find their own passion, which shall lead them to find their own dreams and thus furnish them full force to pursue those dreams.

Thus, the problems of lack of concentration, lack of motivation, low self – esteem, frustration, depression and a sense of general negativity shall automatically be minimised and the social milieu undergo a natural evolution and transformation.

Teamwork

In full support of the points of attention raised in the Article under reference, I would like to reinforce the close collaboration needed between the Teachers, Parents and the Students. They need to work as a Team, the Roles overlapping and changing at times- the teachers playing the parental role and vice-versa; at times, the student being the teacher, likewise. It is a very sensitive yet a volatile relationship which can either make or mar a strong and resilient social system.

By taking a few new steps onto the path of transformation, we may be getting closer to producing more scientists, more writers… more Creators than Followers.


Mrs. Pushpinder Kaur
A GCSE Teacher      


Saturday, July 30, 2016

TEACHERS: 'The Caretakers of today are the Makers of tomorrow’s Leaders'

TEACHERS: The Caretakers of today are the Makers of tomorrow’s Leaders

If the architects erect buildings and alter the face of a city, teachers sketch out the map of the future generation by shaping their perceptions, moulding their personalities and chipping off the rough edges to present to the world well –cultivated individuals. But is their contribution to the society duly rewarded? Perhaps this question might have boggled many a minds and triggers off many queries.

Need for an amendment

If there is one thing that is as consistent in the life of a teacher alongside the daily load of hard work, it is the sighs over low salaries, and the never ending loads of correction work- to say the least. There is always a time for necessary amendments; it may be considered imperative to focus the honourable attention of every sane mind on  the pressing issue with regard to the  teachers’ salaries.

Cogs in a machine

Every now and then, the issue concerning the teachers’ salaries is raised, but unfortunately not followed with full force and vigour, perhaps because the teachers themselves, being little short of becoming ‘cogs in a machine’ barely get time to create a liveable balance between teaching assignments, homework assignments, examination corrections, coursework, projects and the list may extend endlessly. Though all feel the utter meagreness of their service reward- a service that requires quality, dedication, commitment, honesty, hard work, sacrifice and above all, time, they can only give a barely audible expression to their woes. It is not that their cause falls short of recognition by themselves, or the public, or the concerned authorities, but as I said, the cause has not been made more than being ‘barely audible’ even though it is an issue that lies at the forefront of every society.

Why among the lowest paid?

Time and again, a very simple and basic question, raises itself in my mind, sometimes, very forcefully, namely, that why is the teaching profession among the lowest paid professions all over the world? With the exception of a very few countries such as Switzerland, to name at least one, where the teachers are among the high salaried professionals, teachers in the rest of the world are among the lowest paid.

The pillars of tomorrow’s world

Are the teachers not doing the most important job of cultivating the young minds in their state of infancy, grooming them through the most formidable stages of their young lives? Are the teachers not responsible for the character formation and the personality development of the young generation? Are the teachers not responsible for strengthening the conscience and morality of the young minds who are the leaders of tomorrow? Are the teachers not the saviours of the young minds which need to be carefully and safely steered through a lot of mirk in our modern lives? Are they not the builders of the “pillars of tomorrow”? If they are, then why such a low reward for them?

The basics

The minimum salary of teachers in the UAE is set close to Dh. 2000, and such is the case world over. With the ongoing inflation, the economic crunch and all other kinds of economic strains, how are the teachers expected to provide quality education and produce strong leaders and citizens when their own quality of life is far from ensured and insured? Within the Dh. 2000 or over bracket, they are not only expected to feed their own mind and body, but also raise  their families, as the vocation of being a teacher does not call for a state of singleness! Are they expected to live all their life below levels of decency, in sharing accommodation? How are they expected to provide a good education to their own children? A class of people who are devoted to providing education to the society’s children do have a right to give a decent education to their own children. How can the teachers have a fair chance of sending their children to expensive and the best places of learning with their meagre salaries?

High Time

I would suggest that it is high time that some respectability be granted to our teachers. It cannot be denied that social prestige automatically follows the economic status. How can the teaching profession gain respect and prestige when teaching is among the lowest paid professions?

Myself being from the same field, I know that providing quality education is a spiritual job. It takes the life out of people to guide a class to write correctly, to think openly and to feel diversely. The tediousness of making each student understand each and every concept, be it Maths or Science, Economics or Statistics, the labour involved, the energy drained and the stress undergone would be vouchsafed by any teacher- whether he or she teaches the primary or the secondary school.

Yes, no matter what the salary, but the satisfaction that a ‘good’, or ‘a hundred percent result’, or ‘a student distinction’ brings to a teacher, may find no match. In fact, a teacher’s satisfaction is no less than that of a doctor at the recovery of a patient. Both the professions are considered to be equally noble but why so much of disparity in the salaries? Without undermining the importance of any profession, it cannot be denied that a teacher’s contribution to the society is definitely very large.

A matter of distress

It appears to be a matter of great distress that such highly qualified professionals should be placed so low economically; even certain salesmen or semi-qualified people are seen to be fetching much higher salaries. It is true that to be a part of a business firm worth millions of turnover has the prerogative of being good paymasters- but what stops the social system and the education system to recognise the contribution of the teachers -but for whom the world would be doomed in darkness?

Teachers distribute the light of knowledge; surely they deserve a better deal!

It is not surprising that in order to compensate for their low income, many teachers resort to private coaching, which certainly offers the economic compensation but, at the same time, it begins another chain reaction that may not be totally supportive of a good education system. With three to four hours of private coaching and a heavy overload of teaching hours during the school hours, and the responsibilities of a family, how can a single human being be expected to do justice to one’s professional and personal demands? Very often, on account of private coaching, justice is not done to classroom teaching.

Yet at the same time, while Teachers work extremely hard in order to obtain the best KHDA grading for their respective schools, it is important that the ground reality about a decent sustenance level for the teaching community be sorted out.

A stigma

More than often there is a stigma attached to a teacher’s image. One hears people referring in near sarcastic tones, “Oh, she is merely a teacher!” Men, who opt for this profession, because of their passion for teaching may have to undergo huge financial distress, especially if they are the sole bread-winners; the economic returns in the chosen profession being so  meagre, most of them may have to resort to private coaching.

It is a pity that people with ‘Doctorate’ degrees and ‘Masters’ degrees fall into the lowest paid category. At times, it may be argued that with less than half a number of teaching days in a year and so many holidays, how is it justified to raise the salaries of the teachers? Well, here facts need a careful scrutiny. The amount of correction time put in by an average teacher at home, plus extra coaching and extra assistance in projects should provide a sufficient answer to any doubts whatsoever with regard to the requirements of the job and the much deserving rewards that the vocation calls for.

Looking on the brighter side

In fact, on behalf of being a resident of the UAE, one of the most upcoming countries of the world, I sincerely hope that this country shall honour the cause of expanding education to the furthest forefronts, and set up a unique example by providing positive solutions. To issues such as ‘Low Salaries’ for Teachers. Hopefully, it should appear as an accessible possibility to imagine the teachers’ salaries to start with a minimum range of Dh 8000, plus free education for their children, free bus facility, a decent accommodation and other regular perks. (Not to forget that the recent monthly bus fares per child soar up to Dhs 800!)

Providing the best quality

In order to improve the standard of education and to standardize education, it is imperative that good, inspiring and well qualified teachers should be attracted to this profession. Considering the external influences that operate on our present generation, after the parents and the home influence, it is the schools and teachers who can exert a strongly positive impact on our youth, guiding them towards firmer and higher goals.

A two-way communication

Any school counsellor would support the view that the students do look for positive guidance, inspiration and advice from the teachers, and once, their confidence is won over by their guides and supervisors, it may become a positive two-way communication, wherein both the students and teachers benefit from the interaction, the students from the correct guidance and the teachers, from the positive results.

It is important for the students to respect their teachers and the key point in furthering this cause is getting our teachers the well-deserved social prestige, which fortunately or unfortunately, directly or indirectly, is connected with how much ‘dough’ does one make at the end of the day. Money does make the world go round! And ironically, there seems to be a subtle link between the salary that one earns and the respect that one earns! A matter of misfortune though, but there does seem to be a set ratio- proportion between the salary and respect! The more the salary, the more the respect! Woof!

The society has to give the teachers a higher social prestige, which follows a better economic status.  

No doubt the economic crunch is having its impact world over but just as the Dubai government is trying to create a balance in its economic planning; it can show more generosity in the field of education. 

It is about time that no time is wasted in putting the student community on the right track and in consolidating the confidence of the teaching community by safeguarding their interests. All of us, the residents of this wonderful country have full faith in the goodwill and effective planning of the rulers and cherish the dream that Dubai is still a place that can work wonders, create miracles and set an example for the world by taking the first step in doing the long overdue justice to the builders of tomorrow’s leaders- namely, the ‘Reverend Teachers’ by granting them a respectable pay scale.


Mrs. Pushpinder Kaur

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Sonnet

A Lull…


Ma, when the din becomes
a lull
at the day’s end-
When I put my head on the pillow,
your prayer book
resting next to my head-

Wrapped…

In the scarf you wore for years-
as you sat down to pray for us all
gives me repose, succor and subterfuge-
very serene...

Is it the calm of the womb? I wonder-
and feel-

Yes, it is.


Pushpinder Kaur                                   May 26, 2016



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Take the Plunge!

                                                         
 
                                                            Take the Plunge!


Thanks to Facebook, it has been wonderful to get connected with old friends and colleagues- who one might think to be lost to oneself forever! There being no hope of ever getting connected with them- but no, there you are- one fine day, out of nowhere, you may get a 'friend request' which may open a plethora of innumerable precious memories, adding an unexpected fragrance into your lives.

Having received a similar friend request yesterday, I invited this old colleague and friend, who happens to be placed in Singapore presently, to come on Skype- but prompt came the reply, "I am not so Computer savvy, Pushpinder- can only send and receive emails- am totally dependent on others to set up stuff for me!"

I so understood what she meant- could well empathize and absorb the frustration, anger and disappointment as I was in much the same situation a little more than two years ago! But getting back to my teaching career after a long gap of 10 years...it was time to rediscover that 'there is nothing such as being a good teacher'- learning and teaching are ongoing and never- ending processes. It is all the more important to be a 'good learner' than to be a 'good teacher' and the former is all the more important for the latter.

Having the advantage of being a fast typist and typed a number of essays on criticism, the chapter of 'Improving one's Computer Skills' did not appear an impossible one. So thereon started my new crusade- determined to be a success at my new teaching relocation, and undergoing the several harrowing experiences of not being as proficient in the Computer skills as teachers of today are expected to be, I knew I had to embark on a challenging journey.

My students were my best guides, sharing a mutually good rapport they knew my limitation and were generous enough to cooperate, willing to assist me during Break time, after school or even before the Registration time to "help out Miss." There was no shame in learning and being absolutely honest with the students. As long as there is an honest urge, it is respected.

So alongside the moments of cold sweat, there were more positive learning moments when each skill was duly comprehended, accepted as a part of the complete teaching and learning experience and there was no looking back! Waking up at 3 am to prepare Lessons for each class 'on the Computer' was a rewarding experience indeed!

Hail my friend! We have been connected after a long gap of 15 years- yes, the world has changed. Let us take longer leaps and wider strides and catch up! You may be surprised, like myself, one day- to have your own youtube Channel and a Blog!

It is exciting! Today, my new platform, the 'Online Teaching' is my new vocation- which I have dedicated myself to wholeheartedly and trust me, it is a new satisfaction. My next target- soon to be achieved- the setting of my Website, which shall be a valuable channel to merge into the ever going stream of knowledge, is solely indebted to the intense feeling of insufficiency about the techno skills of the day.

It's never too late- harness yourselves and take the plunge!    

Hello there!