A Presentation to Remember

The topic was partial review of contents of Dennis Dalton’s book: Gandhi’s Power. Teams of 10 or more members had to present the content. There was no restriction on number of members involved in presentation from a group, though it was to be graded as a group assignment.

A group came to present on the idea of Satyagraha. Everyone from the group was involved in the presentation. Most of the members explained via dialogue with slides in the background. Meanwhile, one member kept making a painting on the side of the stage. At the end of the presentation, audience asked questions to the team. The painter person explained the expression of truth through his painting and also commented on the painting being a medium to make memory of that presentation.

Well, I was left to wonder the last time I had seen such a presentation. I’ve presented and also attended presentations in academics as well as corporate settings. Why a presentation has to be few slides explained in a certain way? In real world, we are often working with people than as individuals. We all are more than just a particular title or role. More often than not, we are a mixture of interests. For example, a person is a mathematician with interest in football or a person is a teacher with interest in music. And no matter how hard we try to act as machines, as if we care about one thing only, we tend to get affected by different things. So why not give space to people to bring all their colors into work?  Even if we account for time and focus, isn’t the aim of presentation an honest engagement of both the parties? Why do we force people to see things in a certain way? Why not see the concerned issue in the light of varied perspectives? Won’t it give a better idea? Won’t it actually include people? We often force kids and people to fit into a certain pattern and lens of expressing and looking at things. But it often kills people’s desire to contribute and also degrades their contribution quality. What if we include the diverse perspectives of people to solve our problems? What if we give space to people to bring the variety of ideas to the table – not only in the way we are used to?

Of course there may be scenarios where it’s not possible due to constraints of time as it often happens in work settings. But surprisingly a space for such presentations and engagement is absent in most of the times even in the academic settings.

What does your experience say? Have you ever tried or witnessed something like this in presentations?


Young India Fellowship selection experience

I applied for Young India Fellowship 2017-18 batch in the 1st round of admissions. First step was online application. It had questions regarding personal details, academics, work experience, extra curricular and family. It had three essays. Essays were about one thing that matters most to me, my biggest accomplishment so far and things that I want to accomplish from the fellowship. It asked for details of one referee who could either be my Professor or Manager with whom I worked earlier. I submitted my application on 19th Dec, the last date of submission for 1st round of admissions.
Six weeks later, I got an email informing my selection for the next stage which was telephonic interview. I received the call on the aforementioned date. The interviewer asked me questions related to the books I mentioned in my application. He gazed my knowledge about the fellowship program. It was followed by few general knowledge questions about my hometown. The call ended within 15 minutes. It felt more of a stress interview. I confirmed with my interviewer if my application was being considered in the 1st round of admissions or the 2nd round since I received the email from them past the deadline of 1st round. It turned out that this year they had received multitude of applications which caused the delay.
Three weeks from my telephonic interview, I received an email confirming my selection for the personal interview. I had my interview in Bangalore. I reached the venue, an Oyo flat, around 11 A.M. I was given a writing assignment. It had an argument on creativity. I had to analyze and write my opinion on the same in 30 minutes. Almost 1 hour post the writing task, I was called in for the interview. I had two interviewers. Professor Anunaya Chaubey who dons multiple hats – an artist, a teacher and Deputy Dean of Young India Fellowship. He was accompanied by a previous batch Young India Fellow. She was working as a curriculum designer for an organization. 🙂 My interview began with a long discussion over my writing assignment. It led to Professor Chaubey asking me to define creativity. Then we shifted to my work in Morgan Stanley. We also discussed topics around the books I had read. They wanted to know about things I was doing during my sabbatical from work. Few questions were asked related to the fellowship and my plans. My interview got over in less than 20 minutes. I felt comfortable about the interview except for its duration.
Anyway, 6 weeks from the interview, I received an email congratulating me for my selection for the 2017 batch of Young India Fellowship. Happiness 🙂

P.S.: I accepted the fellowship 🙂

Green Trails internship

Like most of us, I am not living a highly environment conscious life when it comes to my day-to-day activities. But the increasing heat in summers, experiencing water shortage when living in Jamnagar (Gujarat, India) for a year as a kid, the occasional readings and videos about the shrinking glaciers and the hazardous waste being dumped in India by the developed nations, has often brought my attention towards our environment (It also led me to find out about the Masters course in Wildlife and Conservation. Another interesting thing 🙂 ). So when one of my friend sent me a link to Green Trails internship, I explored the idea.

Green Trails internship is a one month internship program in the Himalayas by Indiahikes. Indiahikes is a trek documenting organization. They also organize treks. So what led Indiahikes to the Green Trails project?

Well, trekking in Indian Himalayas was a rare sight in the 1990s. But it has gained significant momentum in the last decade. Nowadays we can identify quite a number of people around us going for treks in the mountains. Why do we go on treks? For the love of nature, the beauty, the serenity that those few days offer us away from the hustle of our city lives. But while we engage ourselves in this fun activity, we often neglect one important aspect of it. The waste we generate on these treks can potentially ruin the beauty and the nature of these places in the mountains in the decades to come.

Folks at Indiahikes realized the gravity of this early on. It led them to start the Green Trails project to make trekking in Himalayas a sustainable pursuit. Read here to know more about the Green Trails project.

The process to become a Green Trails intern is quite simple. First, send an email as mentioned on the website. In response to the email, you receive a questionnaire. It includes questions regarding your basic details as well as your common understanding of the cause. Next step is a Skype interview which informs you more about nature of the work and the project. Once selected, you get to know the location of the internship. It’s usually a remote Himalayan village. Your accommodation and meals are taken care of. If you finish the one month successfully, you get Rs. 2500 per week as stipend. You may also get a chance to go on one of the beautiful Himalayan treks organized by Indiahikes during your stay.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t join the internship due to my recent LASIK eye surgery. But I think one can make anything out of this one month. It can serve as an opportunity to learn about the ground level issues, to contribute by driving a project all alone and to experience the mountains with free food and stay.

Recently I also came across someone who studied environmental studies and made changes in her lifestyle to reduce the wastes that she puts out. Watch it in this video.

It’s a relief to come across people who are still doing whatever small contribution they are able to make towards the greater good. (And then we have world leaders who think Global warming is a myth. Sigh!)

Anyways, still optimistic 🙂

Teach For India fellowship selection experience

The first step of the selection involved completing the online application form. The online application was a holistic and prolix questionnaire. It had questions about my educational qualifications, professional experience and the basic info. The most intriguing and interesting part of the application was writing the three essays. The essays encouraged me to ponder over my leadership and commitment qualities, my understanding of excellent education and my motivation to join the fellowship. As I got to know further in the process, Teach For India places a lot of emphasis on leadership. Immediately after submitting my application, I received an email briefing about the next step. I had to take a one and half hour long test within next 4 days. The test had basic aptitude questions and situational questions a fellow can face as a teacher. After the test, I received an email that I will be informed about the status of my application within next two weeks.

As mentioned I was intimated about the timing and the interviewer for the next round which was a telephonic interview. The purpose of the call was to gain more understanding about some of the things that I mentioned in my application. It went for around 20 minutes.

Within few days from my telephonic interview, I was informed about my selection for the last stage which was a full day assessment event. My assessment center was a public school in Vasant Kunj, Delhi. A weekend prior to the assessment day, I attended a webinar with 10 of the other applicants and one of the lead from the Teach For India team. It was held to address our queries and brief us about the activities scheduled.

On the assessment day, I reached the venue around 8 in the morning. I met other participants. We were close to 40 people. What piqued my attention was our diverse backgrounds. I met students, professionals – teachers, engineers, marketing managers, I.A.S. aspirants. Everyone had a different story. Soon the Teach For India staff arrived. Most of them were City Managers who had previously completed the fellowship.

The day began with an introduction round, followed by a doubt clarifying session. After this, we were divided into different groups of 5-6 for the rest of the activities. Each group was assigned a Staff Member to evaluate the members.

The first activity was a five minute teaching demo. I tried to explain evaporation by practically demonstrating the evaporation of acetone (although not so conspicuously visible in the stipulated time frame in the Delhi winter). I really liked the demo of one of my group member who explained addition by making us play a game which involved each one of us (As easy as it sounds to know to add, it is not easy to teach a nescient kid for the first time).  It was a fun activity. Later I came to know that one of the member who was teaching water cycle was questioned by the Staff Member acting as a kid ‘Teacher, Meri mummy to kehti hai ki barish Bhagvan karta hai.’ (But my mom says God brings the rain ). 😀

The next activity was group discussion. We were given a situation where we had limited hours and had to decide the student development activities we would like to include in those hours. Each one of us had to defend a different activity which required a fixed number of hours. In the last 5 minutes, the evaluating person exacerbated the conditions by reducing the number of hours available to us. It was important to reach a consensus. It was a great exercise.

After the group discussion, we had lunch break. Post the lunch, the shortlisted candidates were scheduled for the Personal Interview round. We were about 15 left. I had my one hour interview with two of the City Managers. The interview was mostly about understanding my plans and commitment for the fellowship. The highlight of the interview was the role play where the interviewer played the role of a reluctant Principal and I had to convince her, as a fellow, for an idea that she found trivial. My feedback for the role play from the interviewer helped me discover that though I was very solution oriented in my approach, I was not very comfortable in getting out of my comfort zone to find out the reason of the ‘No’ from the Principal. That was a hard hitting epiphany. The day ended with the interview.

Within a week from the interview, I received a call from one of my interviewer informing me about my selection. Overall, Teach For India fellowship process was very smooth and a self-learning experience.

Hope this helps. 🙂


Excellent Education

“Every child deserves an excellent education.”  -Vision of Teach For India

As I was writing my application for Teach For India Fellowship 2017, I began to ponder what this phrase excellent education really stands for. It reminded me of all those times when I cribbed about everything that, I felt, is wrong with our education system.

Born in an Indian Air Force family, I completed my twelve years of schooling in Kendriya Vidyalayas. These years spanned across four different Kendriya Vidyalayas situated in – Hasimara (West Bengal), Jamnagar (Gujarat), Gwaliar (Madhya Pradesh) and Hindon (Uttar Pradesh). Over the course of years, I met people from different schools and boards – Army Schools, Sainik School, Private Schools, I.C.S.E. board, State boards (though yet to meet someone from International Baccalaureate 🙂 ). One thing that I found common among majority of us was our apprehensions about the practical relevance of our education system.

The National Curriculum Framework, 2005 puts tremendous emphasis on the need to bridge the gap between what children are taught in school and their world outside the school that they live in. As mentioned by the curriculum writers in many of the N.C.E.R.T. textbooks, the biggest challenge faced by them is to understand who is the child they are addressing. In a nation as diverse as India, the answer can be any of this –  a child in big cities of the metro, or the schools in the slums, a small town child, one in the village-shala or one in the remote mountains and many more. On similar grounds, it won’t be hyperbolic to say that its not easy to define what an excellent education would look like. Since it can mean different things for children growing in different sections of society. Yet in this post, I have tried my best to envisage what an excellent education would look like in my utopian ideology; keeping in mind the differences that diversity brings in.

The purpose of education is to create individuals who can take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and financially and also take care of each other as well as of the other species and our planet Earth. An excellent education would empower individuals to lead their life to happiness – wherever it lies for them.

Education should serve as a tool to cultivate values which help individuals to seek a happy life in the world they live in. There are four values that I find essential in seeking a fulfilling life.

Curiosity – You must have noticed how kids often keep bombarding the adults around them with their questions? Curiosity is one of the differentiating trait in children and adults. As we grow old, we stop questioning, hence, in turn, stop learning and find life around us quite monotonous. We should nurture curiosity. We might not always have the answers to all the questions asked. But that should not be a reason to discourage questions. In fact, we need to teach that its okay to be ignorant of something as long as we are willing to seek out. Kristen Hadeed explains the role curiosity plays in our lives quite vividly  in this Ted Talk.

Leadership – Leadership is not only about guiding others. But its about being able to make choices in your life with the best of your abilities and then taking accountability for the consequences. Thus, every individual can lead his/her own life. As adults we often find ourselves hesitant to take decisions in our lives even if we are unhappy with the current state of affairs. Leadership is for everyone.

Resilience – We need to raise individuals comfortable in failing and trying again. Learning is a complex and repetitive process. We don’t get the right solutions for every problem in the first attempt. We need to master the ability to try, fail, learn and bounce back to try again in order to achieve whatever we want to. More often than not, our biggest fear to not try our ideas and hence, not reach our full potential is the fear of failure.

Interdependence – Compassion is what we need to teach since the beginning. We have been given this wonderful opportunity to experience life on this fascinating planet Earth. And what makes us even more fortunate is that we, as human beings, are far more intelligent than other species inhabiting the planet. We need to develop the conscience to think how our actions affect not only us but the other species and the Earth. Its more likely for a civil engineer to take into account sustainability if he/she has grown aware of the importance of our ecosystem. Also we need to remember always that we are here to grow together and share love and happiness. We need to learn to help others around us as well as be comfortable in asking for help when we need it.

These values play a crucial role throughout our lives. But it takes time to program our minds to  these values and the sooner we plant these seeds, the better position we are in to make the best of our lives. We can come up with different ways to include these values in our education but that’s another topic.

This is my understanding of excellent education. I would love to hear any suggestions, insights from your experience on what an excellent education would look like.

P.S.: I got selected for the Teach For India Fellowship 2017. To know about the details of the selection process/experience, read this.