Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Education can transform an individual


I  recently  got  the opportunity to visit a school called Christel House Lavasa , district Pune , Maharashtra , India.It is a small school with about 280 students and 19 teachers. The students  come from the poorest  sections of society and are the children of  mostly illiterate,  agricultural labourers working near Lavasa.Most of them  belong to a scheduled tribe called Dhangarh.
                 I interacted with a few students of class Three and Four (10, 11 years old).They were extremely self- confident ,bright , curious and keen to learn .They asked me how I traveled to their school , and when I told them that I came by aeroplane , they wanted to know if they could sit in one and travel  around the world .They questioned me in detail about what kind of work I  actually did , when I told them that I worked as  a civil servant , for the government .When I asked  many students in different classes what (he or )she liked the best about the school , she would pause for a while to think , and then replied very spontaneously :"Our Teachers".I was amazed at the consistent but spontaneous  replies
                       The mission of the school is to break the cycle of poverty and  help children become  self sufficient contributing members of the society.   The school  mainly  works  at their self confidence and tells them that poverty cycle can be broken with the help of hard work and education. The advantage lies in becoming better in ones life by working hard to realise ones potential. Poor or rich , improvement is  in  their  hands.The teachers   have spoken to them a lot and  encouraged  them to ask questions.The school  has  specific periods allocated for public speaking.
                            The arrangements , hygiene, the quality of meals served was very  good .I was also  impressed by the quality and proficiency in music .They have systems in place, regular quality checks and regular audits, based on which  they compare  their performance against the  standards, strategise and improve accordingly.The  quality ,  commitment and team work  of teachers as well as other staff was impressive. On the whole , the school demonstrates   very clearly that  good education  has the power to transform an individual , irrespective of the social or economic background  , or place of birth.
                                    The school caters  specifically to the disadvantaged children .When I asked teachers whether the brand "disadvantaged" will not stick in the inner consciousness of these children when they grow up , the response was ambivalent .Perhaps  a more inclusive system , where they also admit "not-disadvantaged students" also on payment of fees, will prove to develop better citizens and leaders out of these children .And I also thought about the children with special needs , children who have part or full  visual or hearing impairment or some orthopedic disability .Not withstanding our educators, policy makers and international institutions talking endlessly about inclusive education for the disabled , it still remains a distant dream in our country .More enterprising educators with  hearts in the right place , right attitudes and determination , are needed to bring about real inclusive education in India.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

When literature becomes an escape into living

I like to read books .There was a time when I would  regularly  borrow books from  school library  and read them , often a book a day .It was generally a book of fiction .Over the years , I started reading books on philosophy , management, self help as well as fiction .Often ,there were  long gaps in reading books , so much so that my reading was confined to reading  official reports , magazines , self help books and newspapers .Only once in a while , I was inspired to read a novel or a  book on philosophy .My "to read" list became longer and longer .
           Recently , I read "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair  - My Year of Magical Reading" by  Nina Sankovitch.It is a memoir .It  vividly  reminded me that the literature is there "to connect us to our truest selves." I loved this book .It  brought me back to my habit of reading  books.But unlike Nina , I have decided to read and review one book in a week .And I intend to continue it for long .
        Nina Sankovitch could not cope with the loss of her sister , whom she loves very intensely .To overcome her grief, she decided to read one book a day for one full year .She  also decided to review every book that she read on the same day and post it on her blog ReadAllDay.org.She started reading a book a day from her Forty Sixth birth day .Her four  children and her husband agreed to give her this as a  birth day gift , by supporting her on this project.After the end of one year , Nina is fully back into life  with a better understanding of self and the world .In the process , she indirectly establishes the restorative power of literature .We read not to eascape from living , but to escape into living. (Cyril Connolly"The Unquiet Grave").The 365 books that she read in one year from October28,2008 to October 28,2009 are published alphabetically at the end of book.
              Nina chose books of 200-280 pages which she could finish in one day .These were fiction as well as non-fiction .She admired not only the message of the book she read but also its style and choice of words.In fact , her own style is very captivating and has a  spontaneous flow .Her speed of reading is about 70 pages an hour .Mine at present is 30 pages an hour .Perhaps , it is good to read slowly .
             I find that most of the books quoted by Nina are fiction . Fiction helps us to discover and help self more than the self help books .In fact , self-help books are based on generalizations , and are  therefore less  precise .In works of fiction , we have a better camaraderie with the author.Nina  also keeps a "Quotes Journal" where she notes the interesting and insightful quotes from the book she just read .Then she shares these with others through her reviews.
 I recommend you to read this beautiful book , written in an honest and emotional style .It has inspired me to revive my habit of reading books , which I had nearly lost in the humdrum  routine of life.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A life in learning , curiosity and leadership

 "Love in the time of Cholera" by  Gabriel Garcia Marquez  tells us about  the enduring power of true love, that the need to love and be loved stays with human beings till they die .Now Warren Bennis, 85,  tells that  wonder and  curiosity stays with us  till we die ."I see the world with the same wide eyed  wonder because every thing is different than it was 25 years ago.Or 50.Or 75.I can't wait to find out what happens next .Every day I look around , and I'm still surprised." The most fortunate old people don't lose the curiosity , energy , playfulness and joy they had when they were young .
I first  knew about Warren Bennis  when Stephen Covey quoted  him in the "Seven Habits of Effective People".I quote:"In the words of both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis,"Management is doing things right;leadership is doing the right things"(Page 101;The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:Simon & Schuster, Great Britain , 1992 edition).If you dont know who Warren Bennis is and why he is famous , this book "Still Surprised:A Memoir of a Life in Leadership" by Warren Bennis with Patricia Ward Biederman,will tell you .It tells how a leader grows and struggles , continues to learn and maintains optimism .His memoir is uplifting .The book was published by Jossey- Bass, a Wiley Imprint in 2010 and has 236 pages and 9 chapters.                   
                     Reading Still Surprised, you learn not only about leadership but also about yourself.You will admire and respect him .
  Warren Bennis  had a good stay in India:"In 1964 , I was asked to become co-director of Indian Institute of Management , Calcutta. . . . That year Erik Erikson was in India on sabbatical from Harvard, working on his "Gandhi's Truth", which later won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award.Erik spent a good deal of time at IIM Ahmadabad which is close to Gandhi's birth place  of Porbandar."
               If Peter Drucker was the father of management , Warren Bennis is the father of leadership."In my bones, I knew how important leadership was and is.The very quality of our lives depends on it .We need and seek honest , competent leaders in every area of our lives-government , the work place, social organizations , schools."Leaders are needed in all fields -social , cultural , business as well as political .
Bennis was born on March 5, 1925 and grew up in Westwood ,NJ.Douglas McGregor(of The Human Side of Enterprise fame) was his mentor till McGregor's early and sudden death in 1964 .Bennis  says about mentors:"The mentor puts his or her reputation on line with every good word dropped about the mentored to people in power, every recommendation made..In that sense , mentoring is an act of faith."Doug was 44 and Bennis was 23 when Doug became his mentor.He remained his mentor for about 14 years till his sudden death in 1964...Bennis has a great quality of mentoring others."Today I urge students to identify great teachers , with great minds and sign up their courses.But at Antioch , I tended to choose courses in which I was certain to get an A".This remind us how we chose our subjects of study at university level.Bennis gives us a glimpse of how other great minds worked ."As he(Doug) said in his fairwell speech, he had tried to be non-authoritarian adviser to his campus constituents but had discovered in the end that the leader must lead:"I finally began to realize that a leader cannot avoid the exercise of authority any more than he can avoid responsibility for what happens to his organization."
                     Bennis worked with NTL(National Training Laboratory) founder Kurt Levin and Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Human Needs).  Bennis worked as the president of The state University of New York at Buffalo , the University of Cincinnati , the University of Southern California.He also worked at IIM, Calcutta (India) , Boston and Harvard.
               At the age of 55, as a professor of business administration and chairman of Leadership Institute at the university of California in Los Angeles , he wrote a  number of landmark books.The themes were"the nature of leadership , the importance of creative collaboration , how organizations and other groups work, how to effect change, the need to reinvent oneself periodically and how to create cultures of candor ."His first book "The Planning of Change" was published in 1961 and is remembered for popularizing the term"change agent"."Leaders:Strategies for Taking charge" was coauthored by Burt Nanus and was published in 1985."On Becoming Leader" was published in 1989 ande became a best-seller ."Organizing Genius:The Secrets of Creative Collaboration" was coauthored by Pat Ward Briederman., "Geeks and Geezers"(2002) coauthored by Robert Thomas, "In Judgment(2007) , coauthored by Noel Tichy,"Transparency:How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor"(2008) coauthored by  Jim O' Toole, Dan Goleman , "The Essential Bennis:Essays on Leadership(2009)  coauthored by  Patricia Ward  Biederman."Still Surprised" is his 30th book.
                   Bennis attributes his success to hard work:"And all you did was work hard , get lucky and stay alive."
                   Bennis had a series of not so happy relationships and marriages , which indicates that he is an imperfect human being .
               The book explains how Bennis chose to be a writer."It was heady stuff that convinced me writing was something I would be doing more of."
Bennis stresses the importance of his habit of reflection ."Analysis (psycho-analysis) had changed me in a fundamental way .It had given me a great gift , the habit of reflection ."
                     He points out  the bias against women in management world:"MIT's Sloan School of Management didn't accept its first woman student until 1966.Columbia didn't accept women undergraduates until 1982."
              He feels that there is a strong relationship between proximity and power.;"Proximity leads to access, which leads to power.To have a seat at the table, you first have to be in the room ."(I have my strong doubts on this , from my experience.)
                      As President of the University of Cincinnati, "I decided to open my office for three hours every Wednesday afternoon to anyone on campus who wanted to see . . .I decided after a few years to end them.They were a fascinating but inefficient way to get things done."
                     "We know something about time that younger people don't.It is finite.That makes every good moment that much more precious.And we are no longer the driven strivers  we once were." "I resist the urge to advise others on how to manage their lives , including coping with age."'Because my workplace is a campus, I spend time almost every day with students young enough to be my grand children".
               Warren Bennis is a self made leader who redefined leadership and made it a house hold word and concept .His memoir  tells us  that life is full of insights , inspiration , hard work and pure wonder .I have enjoyed reading this book .It has reconfirmed many of my beliefs and impressions about life and leadership .I recommend you to read it .