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November 9, 2017

Science Exhibition

Filed under: education, governance, India, Uncategorized — neosurya @ 16:03

I was invited to judge a science exhibition today. I never realized that this innocent participation on my behalf would be a Pretoria moment. Students had to prepare mock ups on one of the following topics: Software development life cycle, Innovation in computer science, Different types of software systems, eGovernance, IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Networking, Real life uses of computers, Innovation using computers, evolution of operating systems. The students had to prepare posters describing the topic, speak about it, and then demonstrate any working prototype, if they had one. The posters were very colorful and meticulously prepared. Barring few, all the students had parroted a script and were repeating whatever was written on their respective posters. However, many students did not even know the meanings of the terms they had used.

The very first team I had spoken to was from Andhra Pradesh. There were two children manning the poster. I asked the name of one girl. “Sharada (name changed) sir, from ABC school.” I asked the other girl for her name. She showed a shy smile and took a step back. Sharada said: “Sir, she is just there to hold the poster”. I said: “It is OK, let her give the name”. Mahita, it was. Sharada started with her demonstration on the evolution of operating systems. She got stuck several times in between. For a student of class 8, it was a bit odd that she had not tried to learn the basics of what she was presenting. A lot of effort had gone into designing cardboard models of computers, paper mache models of an RTOS, several Android phones, and even the scale model of a city. But she clearly lacked knowledge of the topic. Unfortunately for her, the poster holder Mahita also ended up answering a question. Sharada was peeved, not at her own lack of depth but at the ignominy of a “helper” answering her question.

Raj, a student of class 9 was presenting on eGovernance. His presentation covered a slew of ideas: eBanking, eHospitals, eRegistration, eLearning, eEverything. I asked him: “Are there any disadvantages of eGovernance”. Raj: “People are losing jobs due to eGovernance and Govt has to provide replacement jobs. Govt cannot provide jobs anymore. Google is doing a project along with TCS to replace education systems. They will covert everything to a e-Sysytem, and provide jobs”. Clearly surprised, I asked: “Son, who gave you such information?”. Raj: “Sir, you may not know everything. My father is a professor in the computer science department at AU in Vizag. He told me all this”. I asked: “What is his name?”. “Sai Bhaskar” came the reply. I asked: “Dr Sai Bhaskar?”. Raj replied: “No sir, only Sai Bhaskar. He was a professor, now he is not a professor”. After we left his table, he came up walking towards us and said – “Sir, how do we prevent hacking? What can be done to prevent people from taking money from ATM machines after hacking them? I heard that hackers can use ultrasound to break into computers. Flipkart once crashed because of this.”

Sukesh from Bangalore, participating in the innovation section spoke about “LiFi”. In his demo, the audio out of an android phone and a 2.5v battery was connected to an LED. The LED was shining brightly, likely from the 2.5 v battery. The audio out was also connected to a small computer speaker. The speaker was getting power from the mains, and also had a solar panel taped to it. His claim was that when the LED was on, and placed close to the solar panel, the speakers were having more amplitude. I asked Sukesh: “How do you know this is due to LiFi.” Sukesh hold the speaker up, close to his ear and says: “Hear it sir, it is louder”. I did not have the heart to even correct him.

There were other bloopers in the science meet, but Sukesh was the most jarring. I could not comprehend how the school teachers could allow such shallow presentations to come to a regional competition. I dont know if it is a failure of the system, parents, or some strange phenomena within children. I am seriously terrified of the future prospects of my nation.

This is the first school exhibition I attended. Over the next few weeks, I will try to attend other science meets. I hope there will be some succour to be found.

PS: All names and location details have been changed.


October 27, 2014

A few articles about education

Filed under: education, kindergarten — Tags: — neosurya @ 07:38

My family knows I do not agree with how education happens. I have not yet done anything concrete about it, other than visit several schools that support alternative modes of teaching. I have learnt about some of these techniques. Often, I have doubted my own observations, tending to ask myself: “Even though these systems exist, majority are not following them. They must be doing something right.” But honestly, my belief is not that they are doing right. I am scared to experiment, play with something as fundamental as schooling. I have seen too much proof that the current education system needs to be modified in some form. A few links:

Why children should move. Main article here:

Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.

Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

This lack of movement and having to sit through the day effects grown up children as well. A UK teacher attended classes being taken by two students in class 10 and 12. She found out how tiresome it was to sit around only absorbing the classes. (Original article here, parts of article posted here:

I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.

But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. In every class for four long blocks, the expectation was for us to come in, take our seats, and sit down for the duration of the time. By the end of the day, I could not stop yawning and I was desperate to move or stretch. I couldn’t believe how alert my host student was, because it took a lot of conscious effort for me not to get up and start doing jumping jacks in the middle of Science just to keep my mind and body from slipping into oblivion after so many hours of sitting passively.
In addition, there was a good deal of sarcasm and snark directed at students and I recognized, uncomfortably, how much I myself have engaged in this kind of communication. I would become near apoplectic last year whenever a very challenging class of mine would take a test, and without fail, several students in a row would ask the same question about the test. Each time I would stop the class and address it so everyone could hear it. Nevertheless, a few minutes later a student who had clearly been working his way through the test and not attentive to my announcement would ask the same question again. A few students would laugh along as I made a big show of rolling my eyes and drily stating, “OK, once again, let me explain…”

Of course it feels ridiculous to have to explain the same thing five times, but suddenly, when I was the one taking the tests, I was stressed. I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again. I feel a great deal more empathy for students after shadowing, and I realize that sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier between me and them. They do not help learning.

Ah yes, there is this nice Ted Video from Ken Robinson about how education kills creativity. Link to article here, excerpts from his talk below:

But something strikes you when you move to America and when you travel around the world: Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think math is very important, but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they’re allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don’t we?


Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason. The whole system was invented — around the world, there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas. Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.

When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn’t have a job it’s because you didn’t want one. And I didn’t want one, frankly. (Laughter) But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. It’s a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.

It’s really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of; she’s called Gillian Lynne — have you heard of her? Some have. She’s a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” She’s wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet in England, as you can see. Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, “Gillian, how’d you get to be a dancer?” And she said it was interesting; when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the ’30s, wrote to her parents and said, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.” She couldn’t concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD. Wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn’t been invented at this point.

Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother, and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it — because she was disturbing people; her homework was always late; and so on, little kid of eight — in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, “Gillian, I’ve listened to all these things that your mother’s told me, and I need to speak to her privately.” He said, “Wait here. We’ll be back; we won’t be very long,” and they went and left her. But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company — the Gillian Lynne Dance Company — met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she’s given pleasure to millions; and she’s a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

September 5, 2013

Death by Plastic

Filed under: education — Tags: , , — neosurya @ 17:42

Imagine someone were to feed you small doses of plastic with your daily lunch. And then, over a period of a few months, you suffer from a dull ache in the stomach. The sensation grows into an agonizing pain. One day, you are unable to bear it any longer, and settle down in a quite corner, awaiting for death to relieve you of the suffering. The buffalo you see in the pictures below went through the same phenomenon.

Buffalo dead by the roadside, plastic in its stomach.

Buffalo dead by the roadside, plastic in its stomach. Not far from Aparna Sarovar near Gachibowli, Hyderabad

Buffalo with plastic in its belly

Buffalo with plastic in its belly

The head of a fully grown Buffalo, killed by the plastic in its belly.

The head of a fully grown Buffalo, killed by the plastic in its belly.

On my daily commute yesterday (4th Sept), I took a detour to ride through some of the back alleys near Aparna Sarovar. I rode past the empty HUDA layouts of Nanakramguda, past a spacious temple that was rendering a recorded Sri Suktam. Crossing a pack of dogs, I came upon a large mass of plastic by the roadside. At first sight, this would have been your friendly roadside dump; A product of the many colonies that want the convenience of a plastic lifestyle, but do not want the nuisance of its disposal. But there was a different stench coming from this pile, and the plastic was too tightly wrapped for a roadside dump. When I saw the characteristic placement of the pile, the series of ribs, and the smell of rotting flesh, I realized that this pile was different. The horns told me that it was a Buffalo, and the size of the pile meant that it had a very painful death. Going by the size, the plastic could have been easily about 40-50 kilos. And given that there was almost no skin or flesh on the bones, the death happened at least a couple of months ago.

I had known this for a very long time that Plastic kills animals (See these links: Harmful Effect of Plastic in Animals, you tube video, Plastic Bags & Animals: Making the Wild Safe for Wildlife, Pacific Ocean trash patch mystery: How many fish eat plastic?). Even sea fish, and wildlife are affected by eating trash. The toxins in plastic ultimately make it into our food chain as well. But for the first time, I was seeing the carcass of an animal that died of acute plastic poisoning. A few months ago, had vehemently asked my family to be completely plastic free. I could not get my family to comply fully, but made some partial progress. I should try harder.

April 1, 2011

Johnny be a good boy….

Filed under: education — neosurya @ 17:43

Johhny be a good boy, and drink your milk.

Johhny be a good boy, and grow to be strong.

Johhny learn that your alphabets are ABC,

Johhny don’t say A and C….

Johhny be a good boy and say thank you.

Johhny be a good boy and say sorry.

Johhny those toys do not belong to you,

Johhny don’t…….

I found the above lines as part of a rant written some years ago in my diary. The rant was about how children are being straight jacketed. I am not sure if the above lines were written by me, or if I took them from somewhere.

August 12, 2010

Plagiarized work – honest work is dead???

Filed under: common man, education, research, science — neosurya @ 23:11

As part of my professional duties, I review research papers that are submitted to conferences. I have been reviewing some papers that were submitted to an international conference. For those unfamiliar with the research arena, conferences are places where researchers submit articles that discuss their recent projects. These articles would typically be 6-8 pages in length, usually with description of the problem, the method used to solve the problem (algorithm, math formulae, code etc), and results of testing the algorithms.

Most researchers are supposed to submit “original work” at conferences, i.e. the algorithms or code should be their own, and should not be taken from someone else. If they do take it from someone else, they are supposed to mention where they took the algorithms from. Even if part of the algorithm is from the researcher’s own work that he had submitted in a previous conference, he is supposed to mention that this part of the paper was submitted earlier.

So, there is this paper by author “X” in front of me – the complete paper has been copied from page 2 to page 5 from another paper written by author “B” in 2005. Author “X” has submitted a paper written by someone lese in 2005 as his own paper in 2010. Author “X” cannot even claim that they did not see the 2005 paper. The 2005 paper is quite reputed. If the university of author “X” has even a half-way decent policy on ethics, X would be removed from college. I can only wonder what the professor who guided this student “X” was doing.

So, here are a few ground rules when it comes to writing honest articles:

  1. Never, ever copy work from somewhere else. There was this wise-crack student in college who once asked me “how would I reference the bubble sort algorithm, it is known to every CS student”. I told him he should mention the MIT white book as reference for that. Jokes apart, unless something is as common knowledge as E=MC2, one is supposed to mention a reference. (Even for E= MC2, one is supposed to cite Einstein [1])
  2. If you need to write from someone else’s article word-for-word, please put it in quotes. If it is more than a paragraph or so, clearly indicate the start and end of such copying.

However, not everyone has their head screwed on in the right way when it comes to plagiarism. Even regular authors have plagiarized; case in point is Kaavya Viswanathan [1, 2]. If one goes by this article, she does seem to be getting more successful now. But she had to move away from writing as a career. Good for her, it was still early in her life and she was able to change to a different profession. But not everyone has similar luck. Cheating in the academia can kill one’s career. You may get that pat on the back from your boss, but when it will hit you in the future you will not be able to get back on two feet.

While I am saying all this, I also feel these days that the pressure is too great to perform. We are shifting from a society that expects well-thought out ideas, to a society that expects quick results and cool ideas. I am reminded of a video that I saw long back on “Vignyan Ashram” [YouTube]; I had blogged about it here. The founder of the school “Dr. Kalbag” says at one point (Translation is mine):

I had visited a school in the city, the principal of the school said that students in the city school were better at mathematics and science. I asked him – yes, your students are better at Math, but if my students are writing an exam, I can leave the classroom even while they are writing the test. I will be confident that my students will want to trust their own knowledge and not depend on the crutches of cheating.

July 3, 2009

Taarein Zameen Par?

Filed under: education, nature, personal, social change, times of india — neosurya @ 09:39

Our media is weird – on one end, it says that failure to succeed should not be considered as failure in life. At the other end, it encourages lack of responsibility. I will use a movie and a news article as an example, though my rant is about media in general.

Many folks consider the movie Taarein Zameen Par to have opened the eyes of parents towards  proper rearing of children, and in general how society should be tolerant in its measure of skill. But even in this movie, the boy Ishaan had to “win” a painting competition to become truly accepted by everyone. Some of my friends tell me “This is a movie.”,  “The masala has to be there for the message to go across”, “The movie has to run”. Unfortunately, this is the problem. If a movie would not succeed if it showed a failing hero, a real life individual has no chance. Fact remains that in India, every real-life individual has to win to survive.

And, this expectation of society for successful people is not wrong. Each society defines a guiding standard in order to distribute its resources. For example, there is a price for every product – the good items are expensive and the ordinary ones are cheap. This is not just true of our times, it is true across history. History never had a time where lack of hard work kept you materially rich.

A problem arises when sections of the same society insist on largesse. I recently saw this article in the Times of India (3rd page, Bangalore edition, July 3 2009) about a student who had consumed poison because he was to appear before a disciplinary committee. The article headline says: “a scared and sensitive youth, had been warned earlier, but continued with his reckless ways“. This fellow was a student leader and accused of drinking alcohol on the college campus thrice. I fail to understand how he could be sensitive and scared. Adamant would be a better word. Drinking on campus is also encouraged by most movies I have seen recently, including the incredibly successful “3 Idiots”.

An excerpt from the article:

Education has become a commercial commodity. Neither the giver or receiver of the information is emotionally attached to each. It has become very robotic how we relate to each other in an educational institution. What we need is emotional attachment. Teachers should make an effort to get emotionally attached to the student and vice-versa. Otherwise, it becomes very mechanical. Teachers would think, he is just there because he is paid and student because he has paid for the education, so he can get away with anything. When it comes to suicide, it must be triggered by an over-arching reason. Besides the stress faced in college, the student may have also been going through family problems, and all his pent-up emotions may have triggered the chain of events.


He should have been counselled first. It should not have gone to the extent where he committed suicide. Maybe he had the impression he was going to be dismissed, that’s why the extreme step. What happened was inhuman and too big a price to pay for such a petty offence.

So, if education should not be a commodity, will you be OK if one is not guaranteed to get a job after the education? If education should be also responsible for handling family problems, who would pay for such education? These are questions the popular media chooses to conveniently ignore. A few salient aspects:

  1. Education has been diluted to such an extent that almost every tom, dick and harry can get a degree without batting an eye.
  2. It is becoming very popular to demand guarantees for everything without taking responsibilities: jobs for everyone without hard work, education for everyone without fee, security for everyone but no sense of discipline.
  3. Dilution of individual capacity to work hard and succeed. A “system” should not provide anything beyond allowing you to work to the best of your potential.

April 19, 2009

Schooling… Sucks !!! Problems with modern schools.

Filed under: education, perils of modern schooling, social change — neosurya @ 20:54

I looked up a friend’s podcast, a talk by the writer, Paul Goodman. The podcast can be heard here. At about 26:30 (time remaining), he talks about the compulsory system of education as he had observed in Puerto Rico.

(I was) Sickened to ask myself – what do schools do about their claim to educate. It was quite evident, that after 10 years of intensive development – students who came from poor families to compound the native poverty – schools produced dropouts, more drop outs… Their life was stigmatized as inferior. Why was this counter-productive effect being overlooked. They could not learn on their own – promoted a new kind of self-inflicted injustice.

Creating a requirement for a society based on consumerism. For example, making you believe that learning could be quantified, it can be sliced up to pieces, for which you need a process where you are the consumer and someone else determines the organization.

Jyostna and I were reminded of our visit to the Center For Learning a few weeks back. A few related documentaries are: Vignyan Ashram (YouTube has a nice video on Vignyan Ashram at this URL), Schooling the World. Vignyan Ashram was started in 1983 by Dr. Shrinath Kalbag at Pabal in the Pune District of Maharashtra. He had a PhD in Food Technology from Univ. of Illinois, Chicago and came back to India to work for the Central Food Technological Research Institute till 1963. He also worked in Hindustan Lever Research Center till 1982, and later retired to start Vignyan Ashram. In his own words:

We want our students to start their own enterprises in their villages and thus reduce the migration to cities. There are many, who have done that, and are running their industries successfully. But these are not my success stories, they are their own. My success story will be when the system runs without me.

Schooling the world is a very interesting documentary that echoes some of the sentiments expressed in Paul Goodman’s radio interview. It is about how the modern schooling has bred a specific type of consumerism among children. One of the poignant lines that I remember from the documentary is a statement given by the founder of a popular NGO that works in the area of education. Cant recall the exact words, but the message was:

When I go to these villages, and talk to some of the elders there, they tell me –बेटा, हमें तो कुच मालूम नहीं है, आप हमारे बडे बेटे से बात करें. य़े पढा लिखा है. (Son, I do not know anything, please talk to my elder boy, he has studied in a big school). Somehow, education has instilled into people that someone who has not been inside the four walls of a classroom is incapable of any thought. People also introduce themselves as fourth fail, seventh fail and so on, and it has made more losers out of people than any other system.

The documentary also had these interesting interviews with Ladhaki parents, who lamented that their children are growing without an identity, and are being lured into a consumerist society. This section of the documentary showcased a prestigious school in Ladakh that focuses on English education, and forbids students from speaking in Ladhaki on campus. What was surprising is that several of the interviewed students (both teenagers and kids) also agreed that they cannot speak their own language and seemed extremely concerned about that aspect.

In reality, almost every system produces failures and successes. Schooling the world does not offer any solutions, but it does outline some of the ill-effects observed by people. I also feel that while the schooling system we have right now is not perfect, it was a good start; It has successfully allowed several people to break free of societal dogmas. As alternative schooling (vignyan ashram, CFL, Valley School etc) grows and improves, society will embrace the new and better.

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