Government School with a difference – part 1

 

Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Boys School, Lajpat Nagar is one of schools that has witnessed a metamorphosis in the last 3-4 years. Shaheed Hemu Kalani was one of youngest freedom fighters who participated in Quit India movement and was killed by British raj before he completed 20 years.

In this school, old, dilapidated buildings have changed to renovated structures with proper flooring and nice furniture. The school has a lot of greenery and trees and a nice playground. It now looks like any good school that parents would be happy to send their kids.

Besides visible improvement in infrastructure, the school has also been active in enabling children to develop their talents and skills. I was told the story of two boys who were mostly absent and hardly attended any classes. They lived in the nearby basti that had a cluster of jhuggis. The family earned their livelihood by making large size stuffed toys – horses, elephants, camels etc. and the children helped by selling the same at traffic signals.

When this was found by the school authorities, instead of punishing the boys for not attending the school, they had a novel idea. It was agreed that the boys would come to school and make these stuffed toys and they will be allowed to sell it. They also agreed in turn to teach interested children how to make these toys and attend classes.

Unsurprisingly, this win-win initiative not only helped these boys to complete their studies but also helped in developing budding artistic talents in the school. Now this kind of teaching-learning and talent/skill development has been institutionalized and children and teacher learn from one another.

It was a treat to visit the arts lab! One could see the making of the stuffed toys in its various stages. The students have also made a number of drawings, paintings, collages, sculptures etc. Now the school has become known as ‘Ghodewala’ school to many people for the most popular stuffed toy made by its students is the horse.

While we were in the drawing lab, there were melodious sounds from the next door. To our raised eyebrows, the answer was – music room. The school has full-fledged music room. Both music room and arts lab encourage multi-grade learning and interaction. Our curiosity took us to the music room and within no time, a small group assembled and treated us to some lovely bhajans sung by the students.

It was heartening to see the deep interest, care and pride of the school authorities including head of the school and the teachers who have encouraged innovative and entrepreneurial thinking and actively support students to develop their talents.

Enlightened educators believe that education is not limited to books and academics but is about all round development of children. It is heartening see that some schools do believe in it.

Saajha Sharenet 2018: An evening with Saajha family

Most public (govt) schools in India are more or less synonymous with poorer infrastructure, shortage of teachers, and students who come from lower socio-economic strata. This is evident when one looks at these schools that are in the

outskirts of Delhi. In most of these cases, parents are uneducated and do not fully appreciate the importance of education. Consequently, parental involvement in children’s education is either very low or non-existent.

Saajha (http://saajha.org/) works in strengthening the parent-community-teacher-school interfaces using school management committee (SMC) as the vehicle.

I attended ‘Saajha Sharenet 2018’ yesterday and what an invigorating experience it was! It was ‘Saajhedaari’ in action!

It was evident while talking to the parents (most of them were mothers & members of SMC of the school in which their children were studying), that there is a growing awareness of the importance of education and their rights as well responsibilities as a parent and a citizen.

Ladies who had almost never ventured out of the house, who had obediently and dutifully followed the dictates of their in-laws and husbands are now asserting and confidently demanding good quality education from teachers, school and govt. authorities. They are also the driving force in mobilizing community and collaborating with school to improve attendance, reduce truancy and making the school as ‘Swachh Shala’. On occasions, SMC members are pitching in teaching students when there is a temporary shortage of teachers!

While Indian constitution says that it is ‘of’ the people, in case of a govt. school, it is a refreshing and heartening change that parents and community have started believing and practicing that govt school is ‘our’ school and ‘we’ shall actively partner with the school to deliver quality education to our children.

Kudos to Saajha and to Delhi government!

School education in Delhi is finally getting the due importance after decades of neglect. While, ‘abhi bhi Delhi door hai’, each of these empowered parents are the new catalysts that will continue the transformation in coming years and the so-called ‘demographic dividend’ will not be a liability but an asset!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sudhirjee, you made my day!

The day did not start well. The Uber I booked kept me waiting for 10 minutes and when I phoned, he said that some urgent work calls him and he cannot pick me up.

I then boarded the autorickshaw from which a passenger had just alighted after checking with the driver whether he is willing to take me to my destination in Vasant Kunj. He said yes and told me that his meter is not working and could I pay whatever is the just fare. He had had bad experience earlier that day with a customer and he was being careful.

When I asked him why doesn’t he get the meter repaired, he mentioned that he will get it done from his regular mechanic at the end of his day at 5 pm. His choice of English words and phrases and accent made me curious. On further querying, he shared his story.

He retired from defense services some six months back. His wife also works in defense ministry and will retire after a year. His two children – daughter is doing Ph D in Maths and son is doing LLM.

Looking at my puzzled face in the rear view mirror, he clarified that he got bored doing nothing after retirement and his love for driving and travel prompted him to do auto driving. All three family members are totally against this adventure and have prohibited him from parking the auto in front of the house or driving in the neighbourhood. He therefore parks the auto at a petrol pump and drives home in his car which is exchanged for the auto at the petrol pump.

He works for 4-5 hours a day which says is sufficient exercise for the body and ensures sound sleep at night! He is planning to start coaching of Physics, Chemistry & Maths for AIEEE soon for 2-3 hours a day to keep his mind occupied.

Meeting you Sudheerjee wiped away my frustration with Uber driver! You made my day! Whenever my 61-year old bones feel tired, I shall think of you!

My encounter with Income Tax

IT

Amongst the various topics, very few evoke a more universal negative emotion than taxes. Even the renowned scientist Albert Einstein had apparently remarked in exasperation that the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.

I have been singularly lucky so far that I have not had any major problems with income tax guys in the last so many years. But, law of averages finally caught with me. Benjamin Franklin was not wrong when he said that nothing in this world is certain other than death and taxes.

I was following up with tax authorities to allow me close a bank account opened u/s 54. I must have sent about 6 letters to the tax authorities at Hyderabad where my earlier income tax assessments were done. But, it was that classic, “apply, apply, no reply”.

A close friend suggested that I use e-nivaran, a new portal opened to register and resolve grievances of tax payers. I wrote to them expecting nothing much. But, shock & awe was in store. I received a call from income tax officer asking me to visit their office at my earliest convenience with necessary documents so that they can issue the requested clearance.

This was my maiden visit to any income tax office. While I have seen many govt. offices at various parts of India, I was pleasantly surprised to see the income tax office located at civic centre in Delhi – lifts were clean and work noiselessly like any large corporate office. In the waiting area outside officers’ cabins, plush sofas are provided for those who wait for their turn. The whole office is centrally air-conditioned. Each desk had a computer that was working and was being used by people. It did not look like any govt. office I had seen and I have seen many.

The income tax officer was very polite and went through my papers carefully and thoroughly. He had some doubts about the earlier assessment orders passed and consulted his boss, the ACIT. I was called and informed that earlier assessment was incorrect and I need to pay some additional tax which they will calculate and inform.

While on one hand, I was shocked that I am being asked to pay additional tax for an earlier year, I was also surprised that how the earlier assessment did not identify the mistake. Anyway, when I consulted my CA, he agreed that I need to pay additional tax.

To cut the long story short, I paid the additional demand and was promptly handed over the clearance letter.

The interactions with each member of the income tax department was fully professional and courteous. I had heard of many horror stories and have personally experienced apathy and neglect in many govt. offices across the country. So, this experience was like a breath of fresh air. I sincerely hope that my experience is not an exception and govt. departments and staff in other offices also become more responsive to public and live up to what they are – public servants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLU (People like us) and PLT (People like them)

Jug Suraiya used to write about Taploo and Paploo from Lajpat Nagar(LPN) in TOI while writing about People like us (PLU) – the so-called middle class and People like them (PLT) who are not like us/others.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous story “Silver Blaze”, the key clue is that the dog did not bark helps to solve the mystery. Sherlock Holmes refers to this as a negative fact, a fact that did not occur.

The recent murder of public-spirited Ravinder Kumar, very clearly a part of PLT, being a not-so-well-to-do e-rickshaw driver brought home a similar ‘negative fact’.

While there was widespread outrage including candle marches and vigils when a model was shot dead some years back, there were almost no such protests by PLU to express their indignation in case of Ravinder.

Why?

Was it because he was a part of hoi polloi and was not a part of more privileged / prosperous PLU?

Was it because the incident happened in some backwaters of North Delhi and not in fashionable parts of South/Central Delhi?

Or was it because Ravinder objected to some people urinating in public areas which is not a ‘cause’ PLU would like to be associated?

In any case, this apathy is sad. An often heard phrase ‘Saanu ki’ appears to be gaining ground!

Will the PLU pay heed?

My innings with TIME/T.I.M.E.

T.I.M.E. (Triumphant Institute of Management Education) will complete 25 successful years next week.

My association with T.I.M.E. started in early 2001 as the ‘managing partner’ at T.I.M.E. Delhi-NCR.

The beginning was slow with only 127 students in the first year. While we contemplated many alternate strategies to grow faster, I must confess that the strategy that we finally adopted was not original but was an adaptation of a competitor. Mrs Sujata Khanna – Career Forum’s boss was the spark behind our new low price-high quality strategy. Thank you, Mrs Khanna! ‘Supported’ by ‘large’ 3x4cm size newspaper advertisements, enrolments took off and crossed 1000 students in the year 2. Third year saw the volumes grow by 100%+. And, TIME had arrived in Delhi.

Year 4 brought a new challenge. TIME magazine decided that the institute is taking an unfair advantage of their brand equity and filed a case against us in Delhi high court. We were fortunate to have a brilliant lawyer – Mrs Prathiba Singh who convinced the court that it is we who were promoting TIME magazine in India for our advertising expenditure was far higher than their revenues in India! As a consolation prize to them, dots were added to the acronym and TIME became T.I.M.E.

The focus on student service and superior classroom teaching backed by excellent study material and AIMACT test series helped T.I.M.E. Delhi-NCR to soon cross 10,000 classroom course students and become the largest CAT coaching institute in Delhi pushing the erstwhile leader Career Launcher to no. 2 position. I am told that this ranking remains unchanged as on date.

It was also a matter of great satisfaction that more than 1000 students trained at T.I.M.E. Delhi secured final admission into IIMs during the thirteen years I was with T.I.M.E. What I really enjoyed in this period was the interaction with students and what a tremendous learning experience it was!

Viswanath, Manek Daruvala and Pramod Kumar, the founders of T.I.M.E. and my ex-partners remain dear friends and so do Tanuja and Ritesh who manage Gurugram and Ghaziabad respectively. My wife Smita who was also as closely associated with T.I.M.E. and I do miss and often remember our time at T.I.M.E.

Hearty congratulations everybody at T.I.M.E.!

I confess..

I confess that I have done many bad deeds in my life and shall find difficult to prove that I am a good man. However, it is a mystery to me how Air Asia discovered the hidden depths of my badness.

When I recently travelled to Guwahati from Delhi by Air Asia, occupied my seat and glanced at the back of seat in front of me. It proclaimed in bold, ‘CALLING ALL SINNERS’. I was travelling with two friends and when I checked with them whether they also have been subjected to similar ‘callings’, both claimed to be good men and no such callings!

Thank you Air Asia! I am responding to your ‘calling’ and planning a visit to Haridwar, Kashi, Gaya, Dwaraka and Rameshwaram to hopefully wash away these accumulated sins!

But I have a question to Air Asia. Are you offering to wash away my sins for Rs 50% and also get me a nice ice-cream while you are doing the washing! I think I confused the pretty air hostess while disembarking from the aircraft when I asked her how many sinners were on board today.

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A Government school with a difference

When you mention Government school and a principal who has strong ownership, motivated teachers, beautiful garden and lawns, disciplined students and clean loos in the same breath, to most of the people, it is an oxymoron.

There will be disbelief and likely query would be, does any such school exist?

I went with high expectations when I visited Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Deendarpur located in the outskirts of South-west Delhi for I was told that this school is different.

When I entered the school, I was struck by the aesthetics and beauty of the garden, landscaping and the lawn. It could rival any of the highly rated private school.  When I was ushered in the principal’s cabin, she was busy monitoring the school premises for errant children out of the class if any, on the CCTV.  Her table was uncluttered and the room was nicely decorated with numerous trophies won by the school and salient milestones in the history of the school.

The school that was considered a so-so school not very long back, is now considered as one of the best schools in all respects in South-West Delhi.

So, what caused this transformation?

Based on the discussions with various persons associated with the school, my takeaways are:

  1. If head of the school takes keen interest in all round development of the school with strong ownership, there are very few things that may not be achieved. When you have a strong sense of pride and high level of involvement, it works wonders.
  2. It is not just the head of the school, who would have to have this strong sense of ownership, but excellent ‘man management’ skills are a must to instill similar sense of ownership and a keen sense of belonging in each and every member of the school team. I saw some ‘tough love’ in action. A good leader-manager having strong leadership that involved leading from the front and excellent management skills in making best use of available resources are equally important will raise the organization above mediocrity.
  1. Lastly, a relevant question related to the Government schools. Who does the Government school belong to? It is not sufficient that the head of school and school staff believes that it is ‘my’ school but a multiplier effect comes in when community is closely involved and acts as if it is ‘our’ school. It is to the credit of school management as well as the community that both have worked together synergistically to make this school reach its current status.
  1. Finally, in the government system, the higher authorities play a crucial role. In this case, a large part of the credit should go to immediate supervisors, i.e., Deputy Director, Education who provided a strong support to the initiatives taken by the head of the school.

So, what stops all government schools to be like Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya,  Deendarpur?

I guess that answer lies in leadership. Wherever, head of the school has strong leadership and managerial qualities, the school is likely to be better than those where leadership is not as strong.

It is not my case that the strong leadership alone will be sufficient but it is the most important ingredient in imparting quality education at government schools and running these efficiently.