(Indrajit Laurence Panjabi, or ILP, is the latest addition to the Shishuvan family. As the Librateur (ILP prefers this word than ‘librarian’) of the Middle and High School library, he wants to share his love for books with students, staff, parents and alumnni alike. His self-introduction is a must-read followed by the main article.)

This be Indrajit Laurence Panjabi aka Indrajit / Laurence / Mr P / IP / ILP ~ But Most Certainly Not Never IPL !!

A Librateur since 1984; A Zodiacal Cusp on Winter Solstice; and My Credo is ~
The Difference between Information & Intelligence is The Ability to Select / When in Doubt, Always Refer to A Book / If it’s Not in The Dictionary, It’s Not in My Vocabulary.

Born in London (UK) but breathed English Air only for the 1st Six Weeks of My Life; and the only other Foreign Countries visited are Bhutan (1993) & Sri Lanka (2011). ILP has visited the following Indian States & Union Territories (Clock – wise from Maharashtra) ~ Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, NCR / New Delhi, Punjab, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kasmir &Ladakh, Uttarakhand / Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Andaman Islands, Kerala, Lakshadweep Islands, Karnataka, & Goa.

My One Dream Destination is Hyderabad, Sindh in Pakistan (Land of My Ancestors).

ILP does NOT keep a TV at Home; ILPrefers to Read & Listen to Music.

ILP is affiliated to BNHS & IAYP & YMCA.



A Library can help You in at least two ways. It’s a good place to find an interesting story – book to read. It’s also a useful place to find information.

Library Books are divided into two basic groups , Fiction & Non-Fiction. Books of Fiction are arranged alphabetically by the Surname of The Author. The Book LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel would be shelved under the letter M .

Non – Fiction Books are arranged by their Subjects and are given a Subject Number as per The Dewey Decimal Classification System .

The Only Subject ( Author ) to have An Exclusive Number is WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (822.33); where 800 represents Literature , 820 is Literature in The English Language, 822 Drama in The English Language & finally 822.33 .

The Number for Indian History is 954 (Ancient India 934), and Geography & Travel in India is 915.4; with extended digits for the different States, Union Territories, and even important Cities of India.

The DDC System divides All Knowledge into 10 Main Classes, which are further divided into 100 Divisions and 1000 Sections.

Given below is An Outline of The 10 Main Classes ~

000 / Computers & The Internet, Libraries & Encyclopedias, Newspapers & Magazines.
100 / Philosophy & Psychology (Astrology, Dreams, & Ghosts)
200 / Religion; with Emphasis given to The Bible, Christianity & Roman Catholics, and Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, & Other World Religions all pooled together in 290.
300 / Social Sciences; which includes The Environment, Politics & Governments, Economics, Law, War & Peace, Education, Trade & Commerce, Transportation, Folk & Fairy Tales with Myths & Legends
400 / Languages & Dictionaries, Thesauruses, Glossaries, Etc
500 / Pure Science; Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Botany & Zoology / Flora & Fauna, including Avi – fauna.
600 / Technology, or Applied Science; The Human Body, Inventions, Etc.
700 / Arts & Crafts, Architecture, Movies, Music, Sports & Games
800 / Poetry, Drama, Prose Lierature, Essays, Quotations, and Humour
900 / History & Biography, Geography & Travel

The Number assigned to Any Non–Fiction Book is known as its Call Number.

The new “Talk” you need to have with your kid TODAY – talking to kids about social media and internet

By Archana Nataraj

(Archana is a Shishuvan parent who believes that communicating with your child is the one of the most important aspects of parenting. In this article, she talks about how parents can help their children have a safe internet experience. She wrote this article for her blog, which you can visit by clicking here.)

Happy Birthday Internet. As per today’s First post article , on 1 January, 1983, the computer network officially began its technological revolution when it fully substituted previous networking systems and began using data “packet-switching”, the new method of linking computers which then paved the way for the arrival of the World Wide Web. (Click here to read the First post article). Thirty years down the line, our responsibilities as parents are suddenly growing at an exponential pace as the internet technology scales new heights.

Why? Everything is just a GOOGLE search away. Sitting here in Mumbai, I know exactly what my friends in every part of the globe are doing..Vacationing in Brazil, checking in at the airport or sipping a coffee at the Starbucks outlet in San Jose… a Facebook update tells me all that I never even wanted to know. Even the thoughts in my mind are not mine anymore, an urging prompt on Facebook tells me to update my status or may be just a 2 line Tweet? Done with that?.. let me post some more on My Whatsapp messenger..

Keeping our kids safe online now has become supremely important. But unfortunately many parents are not tech savvy enough to even be aware of what are the dimensions of danger here. Predators of a different breed lurk here ..Child molesters, identity thieves and even cyber bullies lurk in these woods. Here are some simple starters:

  1. Talk to your kids about privacy setting on Facebook or anything they post online. Unless explicitly set to a custom list, your friends’ friend and the rest of the world will be seeing it.
  2. Teach them to ask: Would I show this picture to my family? Would I speak like this with my close friends? Often children who would never utter such words find it perfectly ok to type it away to an inert computer screen. Explain to them that portraying something you are not will attract an audience you would not like to be seen with.
  3. Stop checking in at every place and giving away where you are or going to be at what time. Revealing your location on Facebook is meaningless and totally unsafe. Always think in terms of “Will I scream this loudly standing in front of my house?” .. posting online is just that!
  4. Be your child’s friend : literally and figuratively..Add a child friendly name without a photo and add yourself to your child’s friends list (the idea is not to embarrass him but to be aware). Be a cool parent.. it means not freaking out and losing control but to slowly and steadily be a true best friend to your child. Like a good cop, bad cop routine, it is very important that the child has at least one parent he can go to without fear of being punished without being even heard out. Emphasise “Families are forever, no matter what”
  5. Tell your child not to respond to anyone they haven’t met in your presence. Tell them not to respond to any messages that are mean or that in any way make you feel uncomfortable. Explicitly tell them it is not their fault, no matter what they were browsing.
  6. Most important, if they decide to meet a friend they met online, they need to inform you and go with a friend to a known public location or ideally just call him home in your presence for snacks! That should automatically weed out those with vested interests.
  7. If you are walking on the road, don’t be compelled to listen to music or chat on your phone or tweet or check your email… just walk…being aware will help you realise if someone is following you and the alertness will help you respond.

Finally, last but not the least… teach them the beauty of being offline, unplugged. This may mean a huge change in our own routines as an adult. With the influx of internet on mobile phones, no one is actually present where they physically are. Whether seated at the dining table, we are constantly replying to emails on their blackberries or reading the latest ezine on the iPods or just chatting away on the mobile phone while walking the child home…PLEASE STOP.

Talk to your kids everyday and at every opportunity about everything. If you are reading the morning paper at the breakfast table, share it with your child according to the child’s age. If you see a news item on a boy who went missing, tell your child what he needs to watch out for . If you see a rape victim ensuing from Facebook friendship, point it out to your child. As you drive, if you see cell phone towers on the side of the bridge, point it out to your child and explain what they are. If you watch a movie together, have a debate about the characters and their decisions. As a dinner routine or a night walk post dinner every single day, check in to your child’s day.

Once while I was feverishly cooking and packing three lunches in the morning ,my three-year old asked me “Amma, are you too busy now?’’ ..I stopped. I realised those were my words..I had dismissed him away at some time when he was pestering me in the kitchen. And at the age of three.. he had noted it in his mind..that I did not have time for him when I was in the kitchen. I paused and turned off the gas and sat down on my knees. I looked in to his eyes and said “Amma is never too busy for you”

Let us be there for those that are so precious to us, so that we are not the last to learn what is happening in their lives.


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Women Deserve Better

By Sini Santosh Nair

(Sini teaches English to eighth and tenth graders at Shishuvan. She was acutely disturbed by the gangrape and murder of the young woman in Delhi whose tragedy is inspiring people all over India to take a stand against  all forms of violence against women.)

Around a fortnight ago, I was attending a language workshop in ‘Parle International’, a hotel in suburban Mumbai. The workshop was for teachers and there was a clear majority (females). I met an ex-colleague there and started speaking about work and other things. We were chatting and the conversation drifted to the home-front and that is when I enquired about his family. He said his wife is happily managing his house and kids and very sarcastically added that he would not like his wife to be out of his house. I was not surprised because I have encountered such conversations even before. I had to respond though. I was upset but put a smile on my face and said I felt sorry for the way he thought.

Two years ago, one such afternoon I was having lunch in our staffroom along with my ex-fellow teachers. I happened to taste food from an ex-colleague’s lunch box. I loved the food and asked him to pass on my compliments to his wife. He smiled and very proudly said that females are best at cooking due to which he has asked his wife to do his duties at home. He also said that he does not like having females around him even in his workplace. Another incident still etched in my mind is when two colleagues at my previous workplace were celebrating the birth of their children. They treated us and happily announced that it was a boy and their worst fears had not come true.

All the examples have only teachers involved. If teachers can have such belief systems, what can we expect from others? We all belong to families where at some point of time we have felt the invisible divide based on gender. When children are born, the first question is about the gender and the celebrations depend on the answer.

When my beloved niece was born, I reached the hospital with a boxful of mithai as promised to my sister. While I was beaming with joy and distributing sweets, her father-in-law asked me why was I so happy? I have always heard my elders saying that an experienced person speaks wisely but on that day I found him lacking sense. I simply walked out of his sight. Every girl is welcomed with worries about her future; she is always considered as a responsibility; she is always told to learn skills which would help her in the home she would live in after getting married.

When are we going to learn to call her and treat her as a bundle of joy, as someone who can light up the darkness with her unconditional love and her ability to give? Why is it so difficult to look at her as an individual? Why is it that she has to learn to live under the male security shield? When would humanity understand that if she has been bestowed with the strength and ability to bear a life and give birth to it, she can very well live a life of her own? Why should she be told that only under the protection of a male, be it her father, brother or husband can she have an identity? Are these notions not injected into the boys in every household?

The culmination of all this is the belief system that boys have at a very young age. A female is always shown and proved to be inferior in every way possible. Even Hindu festivals don’t give an egalitarian view of the society. Raksha Bandhan inculcates the value in males that they have to protect their sisters. Protection from what and whom? Aren’t we teaching our youngsters that their sisters cannot protect themselves thus lending them the thought that they are superior? Every single ritual is presided over by males.

Hindu mythology too propagates that women have always been the victim and hero-worship always belongs to the male class. Males are always venerated as they are always the saviours. I do not disagree that the female form is worshipped too but how many of us find the divinity of the same female form when a girl walks by? How do the manifestations of Goddesses whom we worship become objects of lust? Why isn’t it noted that during Navratri it is the same form that we bow down to? When I was a young girl, my Punjabi neighbours used to call young virgins on the ‘Ashtami’ day as we were the forms of the Goddesses but once puberty sets in the same Goddesses are sidelined. I asked my teacher one day – Why was it so? Because in all the pictures of goddesses, they looked like grown up women and not like girls.

Rituals have always confused me because they all have conditions applied. I always wanted to know what is the Shiv Ling all about? I approched my elders as usual but got no response. I set on a quest to know and found out that it is the erected penis of Lord Shiva and the base is the opening of the uterus of Goddess Parvati. Our rituals never teach children about the fact that the union of a male and a female is not the act alone as it is the creation of a positive energy and it is this that we worship in temples.
When this day marks the end of a year and the beginning of another one, let us all reflect and snuff out those actions and thoughts from our beings which knowingly or unknowingly have resulted in the creation of so many mental blocks in each one of us.


That Heaven of Freedom, My Mother

By Dilip D’Souza

(Dilip D’Souza is a writer and journalist, and father to two wonderful young people, one of whom studies at Shishuvan – Sahir D’Souza of Std. VIII. We are grateful to Dilip for his help in securing permission to post this article on our blog soon after it was published in Mid-Day on December 30.)

My daughter is nearly nine years old, and I think about what lies ahead for her, over the next several years. I mean, everything is possible, on a spectrum from leering to making comments to groping and all the way to the horror the six scums inflicted on a young woman in a Delhi bus. Everything.

I think about that, and I feel almost physically ill. I know about some of those things, because … well, let’s look at it like this.

One question to ask in the wake of this Delhi atrocity is — is there a single Indian woman who has never had an unpleasant encounter with men, involving one or more entries on that spectrum I mentioned above? I don’t know any such woman. I challenge you to find one. But asking that question only gives us a second one to ask as well: is there a single Indian man who can honestly say he has never indulged in one or more entries on that spectrum above?

I know I can’t. And that’s why I know, very personally indeed, about some of the entries on that spectrum.

So if I want my daughter to be safe as and when she grows to womanhood, that’s either a hopeless fantasy or — I have to think if I live in this country — an ideal we can aim to reach. The greatest tribute we can pay to the young woman who suffered that nightmare in that bus is to work towards a time when, a place where, it will never ever happen again, to any other woman.

We may never arrive at that splendid promised land, but we can take the road that leads in that direction. The road, after all, is the point.

And we can start on that road right now, with a code of conduct each of us will follow, every day, all the time. Here are just five excerpts from my own such. You can use them yourself, or think of another code for yourself. It may be different, but here’s the thing: follow it.

> I will not pretend to “worship” women. I will treat them, simply, as my fellow human beings.

> I will not let my sense of masculinity be defined by how I “protect” women. But I will stand up to those who seek to intimidate anyone, women included.

> I will not think of women, or things they wear and use, as “weak”. I will not taunt a man for his weakness by calling him a woman.

> I will shun families who welcome a son with joy, but a daughter with sorrow, or at best, indifference.

> I will raise my son and daughter as equal in every respect; even more, and to the best of my ability, I will raise them to be strong, caring, thinking human beings in their own right.

There’s plenty more to say on those lines, but that’ll do for a start.

My dream, in following such a code, is that every woman in my country has the security and freedom that every man like me does, that every man like me assumes is simply the way things are. It’s what Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, in a speech that’s now viral on YouTube, called “bekhauf azaadi”: the freedom to live without fear. And in following such a code, I yearn as Rabindranath Tagore once did: Into that heaven of freedom, my father, but my mother too, let my country awake.

(Note: This article first appeared here:

An Elvish Story

By Jai Sonwalkar

(Jai is the ‘Communications In-charge’ at Shishuvan and handles the blog and website among other things. She likes to tell stories to children. Although she has been an adult for quite some time now, she is fond of telling people what she’d like to be when she grows up, and her list is never-ending! Currently, she wants to be a fantasy story writer, and this is what she wrote as an English assignment for the Empowering English Course, for an exercise in fantasy writing.)

We were up there on the glowing Mystree, jumping from one luminescent bough to another – engaged in combat. The emerald moss on the boughs had made them slippery; one had to be adept to even stand on one of these babies. One slip and down you go – to the chasm of no return. Our spells and counter-spells to upend each other were ricocheting off the branches all around us. We were moving at hyper-speed to dodge them.

I sized him up for the umpteenth time – Drazah – my arch-nemesis. He was 2 elf-fingers taller and his pointed ears were bare while I wore elf-rings in mine. His slanting eyes had deep scarlet irises and I stared back with indigo. He had slimed his hair green while my mane looked and smelled like treacle. We were both wearing dark robes – mine decorated with the squadron badge.

I had been successfully foiling his devious plans since aeons and he was sorely mad at me. We Elves are an egoistic race. We never forget and seldom forgive.

“Be prepared to die, mortal” he hissed baring a row of pointed teeth. “No more than you” I snarled. I took a deep breath and spelled the first incantation –

“Durell-us and Wilde-ous,
let me speak,
turn this elf blind,
never can he peek”.

By Zork, I missed!

He cackled deafeningly. “Ythrow… spare me your nursery rhymes. I am much beyond your childish spells. Dodge this:

King and Gaiman,
Pray, take his life.
Let him bleed dry,
cut him like a knife”.

“NO!” I screamed. “We aren’t allowed to use death-spells, vile creature.” I whirled to duck his spell. “Aha! But I am an outlaw thanks to you, and an outlaw obeys no laws” and Drazah’s mirthless laughter echoed as I lost balance and plunged to the inky depths.

Representative democracy – a success or a farce?

By Prachi Ranadive

(Prachi teaches Geography to students of Std. IX and X. She also heads the subject department of Social Studies, and works with teachers of History and Geography across the school to help strengthen their curriculum planning, pedagogy and assessment practices.)

Who said dynasties were a feature of the past?  We often criticize the monarchy system of governance.  Practising heredity as a method of selecting people to power has especially come under the ire of political thinkers.

After independence, our political thinkers chose to follow representative democracy.  The essence of this system was in having effective and efficient leaders to run our government.  If they would have been alive, they would have deeply regretted the way how representative democracy functions today.  Politicians seem to have misunderstood democracy and consider politics as a hereditary affair.  There is an increasing trend of family members and, quite often, either the son or the daughter finally lands up in politics.

There seem to be three categories of members in political parties.  One set of members are people who are loyal to it for years and continue their allegiance to the party.  The second set of members are those who have some godfather or godmother to uplift their position in the party.  The third and the luckiest are the wards of existing politicians who get a direct entry at higher positions.  When elections approach, the card of heredity is the final trump!   I question all thinkers – Are we practising representative democracy in the true sense?  As a citizen, my choice of representative is often restrained.

I do understand that on no grounds can we challenge their candidature as they fulfill formal eligibility criteria.  I am also not denying the fact that they may be efficient and really deserving.  What I object to is the status and privileges they get at entry level as against a normal party member.  To a certain extent, the media also directly or indirectly give publicity to them.  Open ended discussions and debate on this concern will probably help to keep a check on misuse of power and create political awareness in the citizens.

Nature So Bizarre – 1

In ‘Nature So Bizarre’, our new series on Biodiversity, Katie Bagli introduces us to the wonderful world of flora and fauna – believing that the more we know them the more we’d want to protect them. Here is the first post in this series.

(Katie has many hats that she dons at various times. When she is not leading nature trails as a BNHS Volunteer (since 9 years), she is reading books (authored and illustrated by her) to children at major book stores. She is also one of the founders of the NGO ‘Save Rani Baugh’ where she has gathered many supporters to save many precious trees from being axed in the name of re-development. She loves children and is always ready to visit Shishuvan as a resource person, author and nature lover.)


The Weaver Ants make their nests by attaching two or more leaves together with silk.  But these ants do not have silk glands.  How, then do they manage it?  They take the help of their own young ones who have silk glands.  While several worker ants hold the edges of two leaves together, one of the other workers holds a young larva in her mouth and moves it to and fro along the leaf edges, which get zipped together with silk threads produced by the larva.  Even ants make use of child labour!


Birds relish figs and after eating them they often fly a short distance and perch themselves on other trees.  Here they pass out the seeds through their droppings.  The seeds readily germinate on the tree itself as the birds’ digestive juices have softened up the seed coats.  Soon the roots of the new fig tree embrace the trunk and branches of its host tree preventing sunlight from reaching it.  Moreover, once the fig tree’s branches reach the ground they draw nutrients from the soil. Thus the host tree, deprived of the much needed sunlight and nutrients, soon dies and its trunk rots away.

The Strangler fig, having taken the life of its host tree, continues to stand without its victim, appearing like a cylindrical lattice work of branches hollowed out inside.


The Coconut Crabs or Robber Crabs are enormous, having a length of 30 cm, a width of 20 cm and weigh about 5 kg.  They are so called because they are known to climb up Coconut trees to ‘rob’ coconut s.  They manage to break open the shell by thrusting their large front claws into one of the three ‘eye holes’ and then extracting the tender kernel using their hind claws.  Besides coconuts, they also relish other fruits like chikoo, sago palm, jackfruit, etc.

These crabs are nocturnal and during the day they take shelter under the buttress roots of trees and inside the hollows of logs.


The Lammergier Vulture, whose habitat is the high altitudes of the Himalayas, has a very long wing span.  But what makes it stand out from other vultures is its black ‘beard’ just below its beak, for which reason it is commonly called Bearded Vulture.

While other vultures are feeding on carrion, the Lammergier waits by the side for them to finish.  He then carries off the bones to a great height and drops them on a rock so that they break open, and feasts on the marrow.  Thus, the Lammergier is also called ‘Bone Breaker’. 


Visitors to the seashore are often puzzled to hear a loud ‘pop’ rather like a pistol shot, accompanied by a jet of water.  This sound is actually produced by the Pistol Shrimp.  One of its claws is distinctly larger than the other.  This claw has a knob on the finger and a corresponding socket on the thumb.  Two smooth patches of skin on this claw which act as suckers hold the finger and thumb wide apart.  But sometimes when the shrimp exerts a great deal of force and thrusts the knob into the socket a gunshot -like sound is produced and a jet of water is ejected at great speed.  The shrimps use this sound to communicate with each other and frighten away enemies.


My experience as Tetra Pak Ambassador 2012-13

By Tanay Patel

(Tanay is a student of Std. VIII. He serves as a Minister of IT and Communications in the Shishuvan Parliament.)

As part of project SEARCH (TERI and Tetra Pak) each school is asked to nominate  students for the role of the Tetra Pak Ambassador, while satisfying the criteria developed by TERI. TERI was formally established in 1974 with the purpose of tackling and dealing with the immense and acute problems that mankind is likely to face in the years ahead.

I am one of the 29 students from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad chosen to be Tetra Pak ambassadors. I took part in the competition organised by TERI  and Tetra Pak in which we had to make a movie on how to make recycling tetra paks fun and how we preserve Antarctica. I made a movie and got selected as a Tetra Pak ambassador.

We were invited to Pune from the 9th to the 11th of September 2012. We went to a factory in Pune that makes tetra paks. We saw the whole process and the factory from inside. I was very lucky to get such an opportunity. We got to know the whole process of the making of the tetra paks. We also went for the T.R.A.S.H. festival in one of the schools in Pune where we had an interactive session with Sir Robert Swan, who is the first man in history to have walked the North and the South pole. He told us a lot about Antarctica and what he had done in order to preserve Antarctica. He told us that we are a part of the Antarctica treaty and we will be present during the signing of the treaty.

I had a lot of fun in Pune and made a lot of new friends from all over India. I am very happy to be one of the 29 Tetra Pak ambassadors and do something for Antarctica.

Failure is not a full stop

By Chintan Girish Modi

(Chintan works as a resource person with high school students at Shishuvan. He conducts English and Personal Development sessions, enjoys bantering with students at lunchtime, and eagerly awaits field visits. He is a bit squeamish about posting his articles on the school blog but is posting this one at the insistence of a parent of a tenth grader. She feels that this one must reach to out as many parents as possible.)

A few weeks ago, I watched Nagesh Kukunoor’s film Rockford with my eighth graders at Shishuvan and friend-colleague Sini Nair who has close to a decade of experience in teaching and counselling, and joined our school recently to teach English. During the open-ended discussion after the film, it was apparent that one of the themes which had resonated strongly with our students was that of overcoming failure.

A poster of the film ‘Rockford’

The chief protagonist in the film is a boy named Rajesh at a boarding school. Soon after he fails his first Physical Education test at the school, he meets Johnny Mathew, a friendly and helpful assistant gym teacher who tells him that he too had failed the same test when he was a student. Rajesh is surprised, and says, “You now have muscles, Sir.” Johnny replies, “Time and hardwork!”

At the end of this conversation, Johnny invites Rajesh to his house, and shares a list of exercises and his special regimen. While Rajesh does feel encouraged, he still has some doubts regarding his own abilities. Johnny does not want to hear any of Rajesh’s whining. He says, “Don’t recognize failure. It’s simple. Then there’s no failure. Just treat it as a minor setback, a mere hurdle that you are going to jump over.”

Stills from ‘Rockford’ courtesy

I wonder how many schools have such conversations, how many Rajeshs are able to find such a Johnny to talk to. I am reminded instead of parents who tell their children, “Why did you score only 99 on 100 in that math test? You could have got full marks. Where did you lose that one mark? You need to focus on your studies and avoid making such silly mistakes!” I am reminded of teachers who tell their students, “You are good for nothing. All you do is sit in my class, talk endlessly with your friends and write rubbish in your papers. You deserve what you’ve got!”

While this may appear to be an exaggeration, the snatches of conversation quoted above are all too common in India. There is a huge amount of hype around academic performance measured in the form of marks or grades.

Zachary LeClair who teaches at an international School in Mumbai, remarks, “Cultures all over the world have come to rely on assessments and tests as the primary marker of a student’s worth and achievement. We don’t have assessments that score you on how good a friend you are, or how good at working in a team you are, but we’re certainly good at assessing a student’s grip on trigonometry. Until we loosen ourselves from this ‘culture of assessment’, both failure and success will be viewed through this narrow and very academic lens.”

Unfortunately, students and parents do lose sleep over these markers of success, and the situation gets worse as children grow older. The competition only gets tougher, and with college admissions, every single mark matters a great deal. In such a situation, it is important to reflect on how we tend to view failure and the people we think of as having failed. While grading test papers, when we come across one that gets a very low grade, what are the thoughts that bubble up in our minds?

Here are a few comments that I recall from my interactions in the staffroom — “I feel sorry for her. She has a learning disability. This is the best she can do.” Or “He is always distracted in class. He has lost all interest in studying. I am fed up with him.” Or “She can do much better than this. She is just too lazy. I don’t know what to do with her.” Or “I feel sad when I read a paper like this. It’s a personal thing for me. I wonder what they are learning in my class. I don’t know if I’m teaching them well enough.”

I am merely listing comments here, not analyzing or judging them. I feel each one comes from a place of genuine care and concern, also from a sense of importance attached to academic performance in determining how well a student is doing.

We as teachers feel bad when students do not meet expectations. Some of us are disappointed; some of us feel implicated in the student’s failure. It is important to state here that we are discussing failure not only in terms of getting an F grade or a mark that is below the minimum required to ‘pass’ a test, but also in terms of performing at a level that the teacher feels is much lower than what the student seems capable of. In addition to the teacher, the student feels bad, the parents too. Let’s say, in most cases.

What after this? Does this ‘feeling bad’ lead to any meaningful reflection on our part or conversation with the student that might help him/her? How many of us think about the various reasons that might be responsible for the student losing interest in a particular subject? Could his/her sagging interest levels be related to our teaching methods? Why does the student seem distracted all the time? Is he/she struggling with personal problems that we are unaware of? Why is the student being lazy and not performing up to his/her capacity? Could this be related to the fact that we as teachers are not challenging him/her enough to think outside his/her comfort zone? Is it really the student’s fault when the curriculum and the test favours assimilation and reproduction of facts instead of applying concepts learnt to real-life situations that are meaningful to the student?

These are very important questions to think about. Perhaps the most unsettling and significant one is – Is it alright if the student and his/her parents do not place much importance on academic performance, and are more interested in his/her enjoying whatever he/she participates in particularly extracurricular activities? This is a tantalizing one to answer. Yes, I think it is alright. Who am I to decide for that child and that family what their priorities ought to be? They may not want to raise their child keeping a future IITian or IIM graduate in mind. Fair enough! In fact, if I had a child, I most probably would have made the same parenting choice.

Failure, then, is not an absolute. It is clearly a matter of perception. Academic expectations and cut-offs, however objective they might seem, are based on a prioritization of skills, knowledge and values. If a student gets a ‘D’ grade on an English test, and gets the same grade over three consecutive tests, one would tend to assume that the student is terrible at English. However, that may not necessarily be true.

Most school examinations in India require students to answer in writing. The situation gets even more complex when we ask open-ended questions that require them to think beyond familiar texts and exercise their critical thinking skills. When a student writes an answer that we think of as unsatisfactory, we rarely consider the fact that he/she may have a rich imaginative response to offer but his/her written expression may not be able to match the depth of his/her imagination. It may not even be a case of being limited by one’s vocabulary in English. The student may have dyslexia, or simply feel more at home expressing those thoughts in speech rather than in writing.

If all written examinations were scrapped, and students were tested on conceptual understanding and application only through oral examinations and personal interviews, would there be a marked difference in the academic performance of students? This is worth thinking about.

If we take the case of a literature paper instead of a language skills paper, and find a student scoring 90 on 100, we may want to study the questions to gain an understanding of what the student is being tested on. Usually, the student is being asked to state which character in a prescribed play uttered a particular line, whom it was addressed to, and in what context. Else, the student may be asked to explain the significance of a specific word and its implications in a given scene, or the use of literary devices and the writer’s intention behind employing them. Banks of such questions, accompanied by model answers, are easily available for rote-learning.

It is no secret that students usually fetch more marks in papers on literary appreciation of prescribed texts than in papers that test their ability to write essays, or comprehend prose and poetry excerpts that are unfamiliar to them. Success in a literature paper at the school level involves, to a great extent, being prepared to spout expected answers to anticipated questions. Failure may not really mean an inability to make sense of Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage’ in the context of the student’s own life and relationships. Failure may simply mean an inability to offer what the ‘answer key’ demanded as a response to a particular question. This, to my mind, is most arbitrary and undesirable.

Why do teachers set such question papers? Don’t they want students to think rather than memorize? For one, they are limited by the format of the test determined by the education board they are affiliated to. Even if the students are not required to appear for public exams to be taken by all schools affiliated to a particular board, it is widely observed that schools start preparing their students for public exams at least two or three years in advance. Most schools want to boast of high achievers and merit rankers. This is brand-building.

As Zachary recalls from his experiences in the United States, “If a student is ‘failing’ in a certain teacher’s class, oftentimes some of this ‘failure’ will be transferred onto the teacher. Why couldn’t the teacher serve them better, the parents, administration or other teachers might ask. Also, a teacher is responsible for the culture of their classroom, as well as test scores. If the social dynamic of the room is chaotic, or if test scores suffer across the board for the students in the room, oftentimes it is the teacher that bears the blame for ‘failing’ these students as well.”

If we applied this logic to the Indian situation, it is clear why schools love to have students score insanely high marks. It gives them a good name. Many schools ask under-performing students to leave before they appear for public exams in order to eliminate any threat to their possibility of securing a cent-percent result, which means that all students pass, and the school has no ‘failures’. Clearly, schools themselves are afraid of failure. How will they offer any succour to students? How will they grow Johnnys to support Rajeshs?

Sushree Mishra

Sushree Mishra, a California-based educator, shares, “The No Child Left Behind Act defines success in most of the elementary schools I have worked with in the US. If the students perform well on the standardized tests at the end of the year, then the school has achieved success. If not, it is perceived as a failure. The funding of the school depends heavily on the school’s success. In some of the teachers’ opinion, no or less funding has vast ripple effects, a risk schools cannot afford. Hence even if they don’t want to, they define success in terms of marks and grades students secure in the annual standardized tests.”

Zachary testifies to this experience. He says, “By using students’ test scores as the single metric that assures teachers their continued employment at the school, teachers have little reason to focus on areas external to the strictly academic realm. With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States, public school classrooms became more and more focused on ‘teaching to the test’, as teacher friends of mine in the States call it. Teachers would receive the year’s summative tests at the beginning of their school year and construct their syllabuses completely around aiding their students in scoring as high as possible on this singular exam, with the carrots of further benefits, higher salaries, and extra money for the classroom promised to them if their students performed well.”

He adds, “If administrations provide no incentive for teachers to take risks, to try new strategies, to expand their sense of the curricula that they have been handed, then there should be no expectations that teachers themselves would try to expand the already very rigid boundaries they work within.”

Sushree has also worked briefly with The Teacher Foundation (TTF) in Bangalore. She shares, “In addition to test scores, TTF views success in schools in terms of qualitative rather than quantitative factors. For instance, factors like the rise in confidence of students, the ease of interaction with teachers, comparison of a child’s learning as compared to his/her previous performance (rather than comparing it with others), the improvement in the quality of teaching, rise in teachers’ confidence, and an ethic of caring were some of the qualitative factors used to evaluate the performance of schools.”

Now this certainly appears to be a more holistic set of parameters. When the success of a school is measured on these counts, it is inevitable that students too begin to be assessed more holistically, not on academic performance alone. While the good news is that one does come across schools that send home qualitative report cards describing the student’s interests, strengths, achievements and areas for further work, such schools are few and far between. Even such schools often face flak from parents for not focusing on what they think is most important in today’s cut-throat competitive scenario – marks and grades.

              Sini Nair

As Sini states, “Knowingly or unknowingly parents try to live and fulfill their unfulfilled desires and dreams through their children. This has an impact on children. Peers and their achievements are always looked upon as a threat and make children insecure because they see insecurity in various ways at home and around themselves all the time. There are set parameters in everybody’s mind which decide whether one is a success or not. Individual latent abilities are hardly tapped, and everybody has a herd mentality. All parents need to train their children to dissociate from numbers which act as benchmarks of success and pay attention to sharpen their skills.”

Vidushi Chaudhry, a special educator and partner at Mindsprings Enrichment Centre in Mumbai, shares a powerful story. In a recent article titled ‘Managing or Exploring Possibilities’ (, she writes about a child she calls R who she first began working with when he was eight. She says, “School was a huge struggle for him. He hated writing, it was hard for him and his work was covered with smudges. His best effort would produce illegible writing. He would willingly trade his soul with the devil to avoid reading. His report card was littered with Fs and everyone loved to complain about R. He couldn’t sit still; he distracted others, he was impossible to manage.”

I think Vidushi might agree with what Sini says about tapping the latent abilities of individuals, and helping them blossom instead of being miserable about not measuring up to the usual standards. Vidushi writes, “What R’s critics failed to see (often) were his skills. R has a wealth of thoughts and ideas that are indicative of his curious, seeking spirit. He can express himself more clearly and cogently than most of his peers orally. He is a standup comic and often has the rest of my students in splits with his antics. Socially, he is a leader. And spiritually, he is an inspiration. His resilience is extraordinary. He will work harder than everyone else without complaint.”

Vidushi Chaudhry

Such respect for a child, and such deep faith in his potential, is difficult to come by though I would like to believe that the teaching profession does have its share of Johnnys and Vidushis. In fact, such Johnnys and Vidushis might not even make a big deal of what they are doing. They may simply say, “I am just doing my job.” She writes about how ‘failing’ day after day in his academics had made R averse to taking risks. He needed to build confidence in himself. Vidushi and her colleagues worked with R, and praised all his attempts.

Using R as an example of children who struggle with serious learning issues, she writes, “As parents and educators, we often become so engrossed in the problems of the child and managing and coping. We become engrossed in learning the sum or spelling or grades that we forget that this child has the ability to create value in the world. He has something to offer. When the paradigm shifted for me, as a special educator, I realized I was operating from a limited approach. When we think of managing a disease or problem, we are on the defensive whereas expecting great health/things is a positive approach. A world of potential is lost in those who don’t perform to their capabilities and this is true of both learning difficulties and life.”

It is going to be increasingly difficult yet absolutely important for us to rethink notions of success and failure, especially since schools in India will see a massive change in the composition of their classrooms post the Right to Education Act. Not only would we have children from varying socio-economic groups sit together in the same classroom but also children with different kinds of disabilities such as visual impairment, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, autism. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is working to implement this, and is being supported by organizations that specialize in working with children having different disabilities. Will it be possible to have uniform expectations of everyone? Will the education system be fair to everyone when the current curriculum and assessment practices clearly favour certain kinds of skills, knowledge and abilities? These questions merit serious thinking and research.

I find great value in what Zachary says, “As the adults in charge of the system, we like to think that students are the ones who are responsible for most of the ‘failing’, of the missing of the marks we’ve set for them, but more often than not the missing of these marks is a shared responsibility, and does not rest solely on the shoulders of the student. Classroom teachers, the administration, and parents all play a vital role in the ‘success’of a student, so why do we separate them out from the conversation when a student begins to ‘fail’? This is not to put the microscope on any one party but rather to impress that when a student is struggling, it should be the responsibility of all parties involved to think about what they can do.”

(This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Teacher Plus, a magazine for educators. It can be read here:

Learning and growing as a Shishuvan teacher

By Anahita Dhalla

(Anahita teaches Senior KG students at Shishuvan. She can be easily spotted by her smile even in a large crowd.)

Shishuvan believes in the holistic development of all the students. It also believes that every student as an individual is different thus, each one counts. I am proud to be an integral part of this educational institution that extends its motto without any discrimination even for us as educators helping each one of us to grow professionally.

As a part of this effort we were introduced to an Empowering English Course (E.E.C) customized for teachers having three levels spearheaded by Usha and Vidushi. I am very happy to share that I have successfully entered the third year (intermediate level) of the course.

This journey of mine has been extremely fruitful and full of learning. Apart from revising similes, metaphors, alliteration, the course has extended itself and has helped me to learn a lot which I have also incorporated in my class. Through the assignments, I have learnt the skills of discussions, debates, fantasy writing, and have also developed a liking for reading books.

The course has strengthened my knowledge about the different teaching methods to be used innovatively with my children. For instance, as a part of our assignment, I vividly remember reading and researching for the different songs, comics, pictures and word walls which could be used in the class to enhance our teaching and making it more student-friendly. Usha had also shared how to teach poetry in the class, and the different strategies to introduce grammar, which was interesting.

The TED video exposure given to us through the assignments was also an amazing experience. We not only had to do the task of listening to the speakers as a listening comprehension but also had to understand the deeper meaning and draw out the underlined message. The most inspirational movies so far were Mona Lisa Smile and Dead Poets Society; a must to be watched by all educators. After watching these movies, I am very happy to have taken up the teaching profession to bring a change in the lives of my students.

Another thing that I would like to highlight about this course is the effort grade on our assignments which acknowledges our hard work. There is no age for beaming in glee due to appreciation, is there? These effort grades have really given a boost to my morale; like all tiny tots , I too wait to receive the smileys and stars on my assignment papers! The contact sessions taken by Usha and Vidushi help in reviewing our assignments, and a lot of ideas are shared during the sessions.

I truly agree with what Usha and Vidushi had once shared with us. It is important to customize the lessons for the children and give them the best by allowing them to explore, have fun and learn which is also a part of our school philosophy. Another valid point shared by them was passing on our high level of energy to our children in the class.

The Writing With Ease book is wonderful, and I often use it as a guide to pick out words to write the descriptive reports of my students.

I wish to thank my Shishuvan family members who initiated the programme for all of us. I feel that to make the best use of what is given to us is totally in our hands. So, here I am super excited, eagerly looking forward to complete my intermediate level of E.E.C. with lots of enthusiasm and aspirations.