Lessons from India: Is your reality based on myth?

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The problem with assumptions is that they always come with blindspots.                                                        Oliver Blanchard

I had the pleasure of hearing a poignant address by Dr. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham Education Association, to an audience of 700 delegates at an Australian Research conference this week. Dr Banerji shared the outcomes of a project in Jehandabad, a district in India, and how they improved attendance rates by focusing on what they were teaching and ensuring the teaching was of value to students.  Through this project she challenged education officials to explore educational assumptions and realities. While her address was moving and inspiring on educational and humanitarian fronts her message, I realised, has implications for our lives as well.

To give a brief summary; the education system in India, like in many other countries, utilises an industrial model where students are grouped by age, promoted to the next grade each year and are taught a curriculum for that grade level.  This systemic structure in India, Dr Banerji argues, is built on a number of assumptions.  I’ll share four with you.

That high enrolment means children are in school. The reality is that attendance varies a lot across the country. Various studies have shown that attendance, on an average day, can range from 60 – 90% depending on the district.

Children are in school from age six onwards. Indian law “guarantees” education from the age of six to the age of fourteen. The assumption that children enter school at the age of six is far from the reality. According to a 2011 study it was discovered that in rural India, around 60% of all five year olds are enrolled in school with many younger children also attending.  Why? Schools offer incentives to encourage attendance, such as a free lunch, which sees a good many 3, 4, and 5 year olds attending school.  This has implications for the next assumption.

Children in a given grade are of a similar age/ ability.  Again the reality is very different.  Indian classrooms, as many around the world, are very diverse. Data from the 2011 ASER review from Bihar tells the story:   Based on the assumption that children enter school at age six, the ‘right age’ for Grade 4 should be about nine or ten.  In Bihar 51% of children in Grade 4 are the ‘right age’ but the rest of the children, half the class, are younger or older. If we reflect, the current model of education implies that a child in Grade 4 is homogeneously grouped with other students who are in Grade 4, are taught by a ‘Grade 4 teacher’, and can demonstrate learning  at a year 4 standard, it is clear the reality is very different and misguided.

Interestingly, studies of grade 5 students showed, on a simple year 2 test, that 48% of children could read the text fluently.  Of the other half, not yet reading at a year 2 level, 15% of children could recognise letters, another 13% could read simple words but not effectively read simple sentences, while 24% of children could read simple sentences but not fluently read at Grade 2 level.

The fourth assumption in the system is that textbooks are at appropriate age/grade level. For the reasons given above you can see that the textbook level for a specific grade is too difficult for most children.

So, what’s the takeaway? How can assumptions by Indian education officials guide us in our own lives?  I’m not sure I have the answers yet but I do have a lot of questions.

How attached are we to our own reality?  Are we seeing our ‘reality’ clearly or is it based on a set of assumptions?  Do we recognise the assumptions?  If so, why do we persist with them or alternatively, how do we change them? What is the impact of unexamined assumptions on our lives?

I’m no expert but I sense that if we don’t look hard at our own ‘reality’ we have more than likely set parameters for ourselves, boxes from within which we function and relate and ultimately stagnate. If we don’t look hard at our own ‘reality’ and the underlying assumptions can we set ourselves reasonable goals? Can we thrive and grow through the blurr assumptions create?

If we don’t look at our own reality do we realise that every interaction, reaction and thought is based on a set of values, assumptions and beliefs that may not be obvious to us.  These values, assumptions and beliefs shape who we are, they are based on where we have come from and they can cause us to be selective by ignoring information and perspectives that conflict with them, thus limiting our view of the world.

Our assumptions, values and beliefs are often so ingrained in us we are unconscious of their existence but they can, with identification and work, be changed if they are not serving us well; just as assumptions were revealed and addressed in rural classrooms in India after hundreds of years without change.

Thanks to the witty, intelligent, inspirational Dr Banerji I now turn inward to identify the myths I have created.  Can you identify yours?

 

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Transforming the meaning of struggle

Image courtesy of Tribesport

Image courtesy of Tribesport

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

Albert Einstein

I am excited. My skin is tingling. I feel like all the neurons and synapses in my brain are firing all at once. I feel like there are hundreds of tiny catherine wheels exploding all over my body. I have that ‘just stepped off a roller coaster rush’ (not that I do that too often).

I had the opportunity to hear Dr Carol Dweck speak this morning. Dr Dweck is a leading researcher in the field of personality, social and developmental psychologies. She is a professor at Stanford University and is well-known for her work on mindset.

In a nutshell, a very small nutshell, Dr Dweck’s work looks at two types of mindset, growth and fixed mindset. When we utilise a growth mindset we believe skill and intelligence can be developed through effort and practice. With a fixed mindset we believe intelligence or skill can’t be changed.

Today Dweck said something that really got me thinking. She challenged us to transform our meaning of effort and struggle. Our current value system associates making mistakes and errors as something negative, something to hide and shrink from. Whereas obtaining new skills and knowledge with ease is praised and respected. There is a widespread belief that if you are smart things should come naturally.

How often have you heard comments like “You did that quickly and easily. That’s impressive.” or ” Well done, you got them all right. You must be really smart”?

What if we changed our value system and easy meant boring? What if we thought that anything we could do with ease was really a waste of our time? What would that sound like?  We’d hear things like “You did that quickly and easily. You must not have been challenged. Would you like to work on something that helps you learn and grow?”

What if we changed our value system and struggling with something, making and then processing our mistakes meant we were working on something worthwhile? What would that look like?

What if we changed our value system to reflect that struggle means we are working hard on something we value?  How would that feel?

I believe this would change everything. We wouldn’t bemoan our areas of growth. We’d share them with enthusiasm, in a collegial way, to gain understanding, insight and momentum for change and improvement. Instead of deficit thinking we’d approach our life lessons with innovation. We’d start to love ourselves a little more. We’d become more confident that we could face any new challenge with effort and the right strategy.

This concept has so many implications, for all of us. It’s got me wanting to race outside and turn cartwheels. It’s also got me wanting to process it more and work out ways to enact it in my life.

What messages have you heard recently that resonated with you?

Shannyn

 

Strong foundations

When travelling in Europe I revel in the beauty of the built environment. The architecture is stunning but more than that I marvel at how long these buildngs have been standing.

Taking in the awesome sights of ancient structures such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and The Roman Forum as well as more ‘recent’ buildings like St Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of Santa Maria Minerva and a wealth of others has me thinking about the importance of strong foundations.

A great deal of work goes into the foundations of a building that will last the test of time and withstand the elements. If we hope to have rich and meaningful lives we have to consider on what foundations are we building. Do we have a set of moral values that guide us, do we focus on building strong and lasting relationships, have we considered what we want our legacy to the world to be?

values4

What will we leave behind? Certainly there won’t be any gorgeous edifice erected in my name and I’m pretty sure I won’t go down in any history books but if I can leave behind a legacy of love, of joy, of tolerance and acceptance. If I can leave behind a legacy of gratitude, of self belief, creativity and a willingness to seek the truth and beauty in the world, in those I love, I’d be happy with that.

What are the foundations you are building your life on?

values1

Strong foundations

When travelling in Europe I revel in the beauty of the built environment. The architecture is stunning but more than that I marvel at how long these buildngs have been standing.

Taking in the awesome sights of ancient structures such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and The Roman Forum as well as more ‘recent’ buildings like St Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of Santa Maria Minerva and a wealth of others has me thinking about the importance of strong foundations.

A great deal of work goes into the foundations of a building that will last the test of time and withstand the elements. If we hope to have rich and meaningful lives we have to consider on what foundations are we building. Do we have a set of moral values that guide us, do we focus on building strong and lasting relationships, have we considered what we want our legacy to the world to be?

values4

What will we leave behind? Certainly there won’t be any gorgeous edifice erected in my name and I’m pretty sure I won’t go down in any history books but if I can leave behind a legacy of love, of joy, of tolerance and acceptance. If I can leave behind a legacy of gratitude, of self belief, creativity and a willingness to seek the truth and beauty in the world, in those I love, I’d be happy with that.

What are the foundations you are building your life on?

values1