Monday, February 15, 2016

Stories are told from the position of Power

Story from different perspectives

"Until the Lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter" - an African proverb

Last week, the most talked about news in Bangalore was a leopard entering into a posh school campus in suburban Bangalore (Varthur, Thubrahalli). Fortunately the incident happened on a Sunday early morning while the school was off. By afternoon, every news channel was flashing the news & the school campus was hounded by media personnel, police & bystanders. By late night, the news of capturing the leopard successfully was flashed in the media.

A leopard entering into residential area is obviously a cause of concern & it does generate sentiments of man-animal conflicts. But events which followed after Sunday, were nothing short of hyper-reaction & lop-sided outcry. Narrating few of them, to elaborate this point: Over the next day couple of days, there were unprecedented reports of leopard citing in Varthur, Thubrahalli. These reports started doing rounds on whatsapp & other social media, newspapers, news channels. Many parents voluntarily kept their children indoors & didn't send them to school. State Government declared closure of 135 schools, mid-week. One must ask one's self, will a leopard selectively enter only school premises while rejecting other buildings like offices, malls etc. On Sunday, the leopard probably might have accidentally jumped into an empty school premise, & in a knee jerk reaction we (intelligent human beings) shut down schools & keep the children indoors. I wonder had the leopard entered a sprawling IT park instead of a school, in reaction would the state administration close down all the offices in that area :-).

The leopard did attack a wildlife conservationist (fortunately it was not fatal) & it took an entire day's effort with 3 shots of tranquilizers before the leopard could be captured. The leopard was finally send off to Bannerghatta National Park, in captivity. . 

Glimpses of the stories on popular newspapers
Barring a negligible few, the tone & reporting of the news all over the place was all about human concerns & panic: reminders of similar incidents from the past, do's & don'ts. In short, the deeper angle of Man Animal conflict, the unbrazen speed of deforestation, wild animals being pushed to the brink of extinction, the responsibility of we humans in triggering such incidences, were conveniently ignored.

This reminded me of an African proverb, I had read somewhere, which has always stayed along with me for it's deep meaning: Until the Lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter.

Had the leopard learned to write, his version of story may have been:

My forefathers used to inhabit the woods of Varthur, Thubrahalli. Life was good, with lush greenery, lake & ponds in abundance, a self-sustaining eco-system. Human beings started causing havoc in our paradise & adversely impacted every animal's life. We were being hunted down for pleasure, our forest were being bulldozed to give way for farming, we were caught & put in cages as an exhibit for circus & zoos.

In our losing fight for survival, we started to move deeper into the forest land but in no time human activities would spread their tentacles & reach deeper into the jungles. Today, in my generation only a handful of us are left. I live in a small stretch of wood, in & around this globally renowned IT city Bangalore. Through out the day, I am so scared with all the hustle bustle of human activities around me, that I live in hiding & only at nights I venture out for food.

But things are getting increasingly challenging for me. The forest areas are no more in continuity, it is interjected with human development & we are forced to trespass the human habitat. The human beings do not keep their localities clean & they dump food waste, which brings in stray dogs & pigs, & these attract us & we give in to our hunger pangs.

On one such fatal night, close to the break of dawn I was returning back to my home, I mean forest. Somehow, I lost my way & I jumped into an empty school building. By the time, I could figure out my way out, I was spotted by the security guard & soon it seemed like the entire hell had broken lose. There were so many media personnel, TV cameras, police, forest officers & crowd all around the building.

Things seemed to go just out of control, the sound decibel was unbearable, random shots were being fired at me, nets & traps being laid all around the place. Had I been left alone, I myself would have ran away, after all we hate contacts with human beings.

All day long, I was running from post to pillar, trying to find an exist to my freedom....without food, without water, fear was running through my spine & in self defense I attacked one of the wildlife conservationist. Believe me, my intention was not to harm & kill anyone, I reacted out of my own fear & insecurity. I was fired thrice with tranquilizer, eventually I fell down unconscious, only to regain consciousness in a small iron cage.

My worst fear had come true, I had lost my freedom forever. Memories of my family, my friends, my home, came rushing to me, I was choked with deep anguish & my eyes were tearful. But no human being, understood my state of being & I was sentenced to live in captivity for the rest of my life for just one mistake, trespassing into the human territory in error. But who will listen to my story? After all, stories are told from the position of power!    


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Change Agent series (1/3): Anna & Little ArKidtects - the LEGO Educator

Lego experiential learning - Transport system

In the by-lanes of Hazra road & Townshed road crossing in Kolkata, I was standing in-front of a non-descriptive building. On it's second floor, Anna Butenko an educator of Ukrainian origin is experimenting with a BIG IDEA - teaching young children through play, build & discovery.

Anna Butenko a passionate educator with international exposure in teaching, who has worked extensively in practicing novel concepts of teaching for young children. She wears several hats, graduate in Mandarin (Chinese language), practicised Helen Doron concept of teaching in Shanghai, China & now settled in Kolkata, she is trying to introduce contemporary international teaching methodology by partnering with LEGO Education.

Little ArKidtects, is one & only such educational institution for young children, in whole of Kolkata. Though Lego Education, is a very well established teaching methodology in Europe & US, it is in it's early days in India. Currently, there are few centers in Chennai, Bangalore & New Delhi.

I had set an appointment with Anna during the schooling hours, so that I could have a first hand experience of teaching with LEGO Bricks. When I arrived the class was in progress, I took a corner seat  in the visually appealing, bright & colourful classroom.

What caught my immediate attention, was Anna & her fellow teacher Sukanya's, undivided attention towards the children. They were so engrossed all through out the session - bringing up flashcards, engaging the children in dialogue, exchanging ideas, involving them in reflection, allowing space & time for experiential learning, building on the child's self-esteem & self-confidence, pacing their instructions to match the child's skill level.

What was even more heartwarming to see, was the level of engagement in the children. All through the one hour long session, they were equally engrossed with a spark in their innocent eyes. It was a testimonial for me, to observe how teaching through play, transforms the entire educational experience. There was not an iota of stress on the children's faces, they were gleefully engaged, intrinsically motivated, exploring & experiencing by themselves, they lost track of time & were in a flow.

The class decor was thoughtfully done - colourful bright walls, minimal furniture to leave enough space for the child to explore & build concept LEGO models, placards & pictures elaborating new concepts all over the place to be appealing for the curious minds. The space greets the children with so much of freshness, positivism & it provides them the much needed opportunity to step out of the daily grind of books & theories, into the world of play, build & discover.

We had set aside time for detailed conversation, during Anna's one hour break before getting into the next session. Over the course of this one hour conversation, she passionately shared with me her thoughts on education, her affinity towards Lego Education as a teaching methodology, her experience as an educator over these years across geographic locations - Ukraine, China & presently India.

She got introduced to LEGO Education during her teaching years in Shanghai, China. Her school used to cooperate with LEGO Education centre in organising workshops for children. These workshops gave Anna first hand exposure to the trans-formative power of LEGO educational resources, which transformed the traditional learning process into innovative hands on experience for children. She has also observed this phenomenon in close quarters in her own family. Back in her hometown Kiev, Ukraine, her nephew, who is just four & half years of age exhibits creativity, problem solving ability, conceptual understanding & perseverance, comparatively much higher than her niece, ten years of age. Her sister-in-law, attributes this phenomenon to his exposure to Lego education since an early age, which wasn't the case with her elder sister. These personal experiences, got her deeply curious about Lego Education. She went on to do a thorough online search for materials related to LEGO education, got connected to practicing LEGO educators & she ordered a Lego tool kit for herself, all the way from Denmark. She experimented with LEGO tool kit over a period in time, to evaluate it's merits by herself.
"It was very important for me to get convinced about this teaching methodology, as I won't do justice by recommending something which I haven't tried out myself".

With a twinkle in her eyes, Anna was recollecting her childhood days in Ukraine. She still vividly remembers, the Kinder Joy chocolates inside which there would be few building blocks. It used to be one of her favourite play time, she & her sister would build models with them. She says, "how I wish there was something like Lego bricks during my childhood days, I would have spend hours together in this conceptual & imaginative play".

Eloquently she quoted, Benjamin Franklin - "Tell me & I forget, teach me & I may remember, involve me & I learn". This is what Lego Education, is all about, it involves the child in this playful learning activities, it's hands on, it's experiential, it's is stepping out of bookish learning into the real world practical learning.

Anna & her team, picks up an exciting themes ranging from animals to transport, space to super heroes & involves the children in constructing models. Little ArKidtects teaching methodology is as follows:

  • Lego Brick Building, 
  • Story Telling,
  • Role Play, 
  • Props & Songs, 
  • Experimentation & Exploration.  

"When children construct things with hands - they simultaneously construct knowledge in head".
Anna, passionately explained Why hands-on learning matters?
  1. Hands-on learning is real learning - When students building a bridge with LEGO bricks, they are dealing with concepts in the real world rather than in a book or a pencil & paper problem. They are acquiring knowledge through experience rather than abstraction. 
  2. Hands-on learning fosters creativity - Creativity has been named a 21st century skill & a key contributor to workplace success. Unsurprisingly, research confirms a direct link between hands-on learning & creativity. Drawing, building, sewing & other forms of hands-on activity give children endless opportunities to discover their own creativity. 
  3. Hands-on learning keeps children focused - Reading a book or listening to a lecture can be a challenge even for the most focused student. Building with bricks is one of the most engaging, effective techniques that can help students stay focused & learn better.
  4. Hands-on learning encourages failure - We are raising generation who doesn't know how it's like to fall. Failure teaches the importance of perseverance & hard work. When students build an unsuccessful model of pulley, for example, they not only see engineering principles in action, but also learn the failure plays the central role in the design process. They learn to ask questions like 'what went wrong?', 'what can I do differently next time?' & 'how can I make it better?'.
  5. Hands-on learning supports common core - The common core is about creating, testing & refining knowledge & there's no better way than hands-on learning to do it.
  6. Hands-on learning inspires teamwork - Collaboration another one of crucial 21st century skills. Whether children are completing a group projects or an individual task, they are asking questions of one another, sharing thoughts & ideas. This kind of communication leads to natural conversations about team work & the best way to collaborate. They learn how to work together & understand the roles best played on a team.
  7. Hands-on learning is fun - Learning by doing starts with a few basic supplies & a question that invites exploration. "What would happen if...?" "How can we solve this problem?" All these questions trigger children's curiosity & desire to explore, all while having heaps of fun. 
  8. Hands-on learning develops logical & critical thinking - When the children are working conceptually, they encounter real time problems which challenges their problem solving abilities.Through this process, their logical & critical thinking skills are harnessed & it undergoes progressive development.
Anna, also emphasised on how LEGO Education can help educate the whole child:
  1. Creative development: Children plan & design projects, create models, structures, mosaics based on their imagination.
  2. Social development: Speaking, listening, team work, role play, story telling.
  3. Cognitive development: Developing problem solving, logical & critical thinking skills through maths & science activities.
  4. Physical development: Gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination. 
  5. Understanding the world: Children explore how things work in the world through experimentation. Bricks, figures & other resources allow children to think creatively & express their views as they work together to construct their world.

   Currently, Little ArKidtects  are offering programs for children 2 to 7 years of age:
  • 2-3 years old - My World
  • 3-4 years old - Little Explorers
  • 4-5 years old - Young Learners
  • 5 -7 years old - Creative Architects
All these programs, encompasses key learning areas such as Math & Science, Creativity & Imagination, Story Telling, Early Engineering & Social studies. 

She is thinking of introducing Robotics as a program for older children. But she does not want to rush through it, as she would like to experiment it first, experience it by herself before introducing it for the students.

It's been quite an achievement, she being the only LEGO Educator & Little ArKidtects being the only LEGO educational center in whole of Kolkata. In fact, she & her institute are among the very few pioneering educators & institute in whole of India. But it hasn't been an easy ride & the road ahead through the educational landscape, continues to be a challenging one. In Anna's words, "For elders (parents/guardians) to see value in learning through play, is a mind shift change". In all her demonstration sessions, she & her team puts on the hat of an educational counselor, counseling the elders on the merits & long lasting value of learning through play & experiential learning. Since the concept is new, it requires sustained efforts in reaching out to the larger community, which resides outside the classroom. For now, she is all set wearing the hat of an Change Agent, on this exciting journey of bringing about a change in the teaching methodology from route learning to playful experiential learning for children.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Counseling - a self introduction

Hello friends :)
I am Counseling!

Yes, you read it right :-), "I am Counseling", the protagonist of this blog-post. 

I have noticed in your society, mental health is still a matter of taboo. What a shame!
Moreover, there is prevailing ignorance about what is counseling all about. Due to this ignorance, people fail to opt for this helpful remedy, during their period of crisis.

Hence I am here to provide my self introduction to all of you, so that you can know me better & I can be your 'friend in need'.

My name originates from a Latin word Consilium, which means consultation or advice.

The way I describe myself is as follows: 
Counselling is a therapeutic relationship between counselee and the counselor, wherein the counselee shares their issues, thoughts, feelings or goals with the counselor. The counselor empowers the counselee to overcome or to effectively cope with their difficulties; helps the counselee in their goal setting or enables the counselee in effective self-management of emotions & feelings.

I take pride, in my universality, i.e. counselling is for everyone & everyone benefits through counselling. Let me list down the key benefits of counseling, from the counselee's point of view:
  • Enhancement of self-awareness
  • Effective self-management of emotions & feelings
  • Enhances well-being & happiness.
  • Improves the quality of interpersonal relationship
  • Builds life skills
  • Restores healthy self-esteem
  • Facilitates personality development
  • Gaining new perspective, paradigm shift & key insights
  • Better decision making (well informed & critical thinking)
  • Re-discovering the lost meaning of life 
  • Re-kindling the long lost passion/hobby/skills
Since I (counseling) offer so many benefits, I find applicability in several areas such as:
  • Rebuilding relationships or in coping up with a failed relationship
  • Informed decision making
  • Career counselling (students & working professionals)
  • Enhancement of well-being (mind, body & soul)
  • Rebuilding defense mechanism (coping skills)
  • Better life management
  • Rebuilding & maintaining healthy self-esteem
  • Developing & sustaining desirable behavior over the undesirable ones
  • Coping & overcoming grief, bereavement & loss
  • Quitting addition/dependencies
  • Enhancement of well-being & happiness
For individuals who could be suffering from acute mental health issues, may require medication from a psychiatrist doctor & I (Counseling) as an adjunct therapy exponentially increase the treatment effectiveness. (i.e. medication + counseling).

I (counseling) take enormous pride in mentioning counseling is based on strong principles, ethics, compassion & scientific knowledge. Let me briefly elaborate on some of these key aspects:

  • I (counseling) have evolved over the years & there are many school of thoughts regarding counseling. 
  • The Humanistic school of thought, which takes the approach of non-directive Counseling is predominantly practiced, in today's time. In this approach, the counselor & the counselee are considered equals, the counselor refrains from offering direct advice, rather he guides the counselee towards rational thinking & informed decision making. 
  • Counseling is based on the following key principles:
  1. Confidentiality - non-disclosure of counselee's identity & information
  2. Non-judgmental - no prejudices & non-interference of counselor's value systems 
  3. Active listening - undivided attention for the counselee
  4. Empathy - counselor puts himself into counselee's shoes
  5. Genuine positive strokes - praises & compliments
  6. Empowerment - enabling the counselee with life skills, healthy self-esteem & well-being 
  7. Goal setting & facilitating the plan of actions - enabling the counselee for progressive growth
  8. Withdrawal (ensuring non-dependency) - ensuring the counselee is self-reliant 

I hope by now, I have been able to destroy several myths in your mind regarding counseling.

Hopefully with this increased awareness, the perceived taboo has been shaken a bit & should a need arise you will be at ease to seek counseling. Wishing all a life full of well-being & happiness!

Dr Sarah Ahmed 

Co-authored with Dr. Sarah Ahmed - Practicing Counselor & Psychotherapist