We started with a talk by Ashwini Singh. She has spent 9 years as a counsellor in Kalmadi High School, Kothrud. We asked her to share her counselling experiences. Ashwini talked about a girl, who was in 7th standard when she first met Ashwini. The girl was an adopted kid, who had decided that she did not want to come to school anymore. After visits with her parents, it was decided that the school will allow this girl to come in only for exams. Counselling helped her become a regular student in 8th standard. She started enjoying school. But tragedy happened again in 9th standard. She flunked her science and math exams. In both cases her score was in the single digits. The plus point of the girl however, what that she was good in languages.

There is an interesting policy at Kalmadi School. The papers of the difficult children are checked earlier. And then a meeting is held between counselors and teachers to decide which kids get promoted. This was in the era before the automatic promotion till 8th. There was a lot of objection by the teaching team to this girl getting promoted. But the counsellor put her foot down. The solution that they arrived at was that the girl would be promoted, but would appear for her SSC board exams as an external student. This was to ensure that Kalmadi schools record of SSC pass would be as unblemished as possible.

The story had a good ending. The girl passed with 66%. We asked Ashwini, was she confident about this girl’s passing? Ashwini believes that 10th standard science and Math papers can be passed with pure mugging. And the teaching team was convinced that compared to the ninth standard exams, 10th would be easier. Interestingly, this girl went on to do her BA (Psychology) and now is doing her MA (Psychology). She has also picked up German and French as additional languages. And plans to go abroad for further studies.

We then asked Ashwini to discuss her failures. One of the Lila Poonawalla Foundation girls failed in English in her 12th standard. This girl, who had been sponsored in her education by the foundation right from 7th standard, wanted to do her MBBS. But Ashwini was clear, that she didn’t have the aptitude for that. On the other hand, this girl was good in arts. Today, this girl has dropped out of the educational system. And she doesn’t goes go to college, although she has cleared her 12th standard.

We had our usual question and answer round after her talk. One of the teachers wanted to know if there was a lower age limit for counselling? Ashwini felt that for younger kids play therapy works better. Ashwini has a lot of games lying in her counselling room. So kids come in and they immediately start playing. Children have to be in a good mood in order for counselling to happen. The aim is to motivate, not demotivate.

Another discussion that a teacher had was about Dheeraj. Should we be sending him to a special school? Ashwini is of the point of view that such kids are better off in integrated schools. Anyway, Dheeraj is dyslexic, not autistic. He does not have control over his eye muscles. We need to acknowledge the problem in reading that this creates for him. The philosophy should be to educate him as much as we can, even ensuring that the milestones for Dheeraj are different compared to the rest of the students. We should use as much of peer learning as possible. So let’s not bother him and more importantly let’s not humiliate him.

Next, Ashwini did an activity. She used her handkerchief. After throwing it to the ground, she asked teachers to guess what number, between 1 and 10, it stood for. With everyone’s attention focused on the handkerchief and the act of throwing, very few noticed that the number was being indicated by her fingers. After 10 minutes, when some of the teachers still did not get the trick, she revealed it. The message was that words are not the only thing that can communicate. Connecting is as important. And so are observations.

Kalpalata had just come back from a visit to the house of Ayush Yadav, our nursery student. The family is basically from Banaras. They have been staying in Pune for the last 8 years. Mother is a housewife, and sadly the kids don’t respect her too much for it. They stay in a two room set on the fourth floor of a building in Kranti Nagar. Ayush has an elder brother, who is in junior KG. He is studying at Dhaniraj school, Wakad. The fees in that school is 25,000 per year.

Both siblings seem to be getting computer literate prematurely. They ended up taking out all the keys of their dad’s laptop to form the alphabet. As a result, their generous forgiving father, a tiling contractor, has gifted them a toy laptop. You press the button and it tells you the sound. Kalpalata recorded a video of them doing it, and has shared it with us on the WhatsApp group.

Ashwini’s observation was that home visits help you connect with the whole family. She likens it to the difference between social work and psychology. Social Work believes in a holistic approach, whereas psychology favours the individual.

We ended the meet with a discussion on themes for annual day. We decided on 3.

  • Walking to school
  • Spending time with children
  • Giving equal importance to the girls children in the family

Teachers have been split into 3 groups and have been asked to come up with activities, which will reinforce these themes.

Some suggestions from Ashwini’s side. Make them understand the importance of sharing by playing a game where spoons are tied to the end of scales. Parents have to taste sugar kept in a plate in front of them.

Another activity is to have threads of different colours and thickness to be tied in a knot. Untangling the knot requires a lot of attention. And also a realisation that not all things in life are alike.



Careers after 10th – Talk by Sanjay Kulkarni at BVB – Nov 2016

There are two doctors practicing on the same lane. Both have the same degree. From the same college. Yet, there is a long queue of patients at one’s place – and the other guy has only his compounder waiting outside his door. So why the difference? The answer that makes sense – personality. Something that no school teaches you – it can only be learnt oneself. So what is personality. In the Indian context, it is being able to speak the connecting language of the nation – English. It means knowing what is happening in the world around you – and having your opinions about the events. It means being able to work in a team – both as a follower and a leader. It means the ability to listen – as the Hindi word for communication says – Samvaad. Most of the times we indulge in arguments – Vaad. And this is not true just of the kids – parents are equally guilty. How many times have we heard a parent say: ‘Ab moo band.’ Or in Marathi: ‘Kahi boloo nakos’.

In the middle of the session, a scenario was put forth to students. 8 years have passed. You are facing an interview panel for your first job. And you have just been asked the question: ‘Why select you?’ He then invited students of class 10 who were attending to try to answer this question. No one ventured a reply. The point about lack of goal clarity was made. Now what needs to be done about it?

For kids of class 10, 29-March is the beginning of what would unarguably be the longest vacation in pre-retirement life for anybody. Exams get over on that day. Most parents would be curious to know what scores their wards are expecting. Sanjay had an interesting recommendation for students as to how to answer that question. Think of a number which will satisfy the parent. That is the answer that needs to be given. Of course, in June, reality check will happen. But then estimates can always go wrong – and at least the family had a collective peace of mind in April and May!

The vacation will end in Aug, when admissions to junior colleges would happen. So what does the 15 year old do during this time? Most of them would sleep through it. Some of them would spend time trying to get some goal clarity in place. I remember, Guneet mentioning to me that institutes like Allen are taking 15 day workshops during this time to make students familiar with the nitty-gritties of aptitude tests. An idea that we at Bulls Eye also need to be taking up! Along with our usual English-Math stuff, we also need to put students through a battery of activities, where we can judge their skills: Some of the skills that Sanjay discussed which we have not paid enough attention to: Service orientation, Inquisitiveness, Managing things.

We then moved on to – What stream after Class 10? The discussion began with an option – which was outside of Arts, Science and Commerce. Sanjay labeled that ‘Others’. Sanjay’s 25-year old daughter is a classical singer. She travels 6 months a year – all over the world – giving performances. She decided to switch to becoming a full time music student immediately after her Class 10. He also mentioned a very interesting anecdote related to music. He is a trustee of a school, which had decided to do a concert of Zakir Hussain. As part of the organizing committee, Sanjay had been given the task of rate-negotiation. The figure quoted, and accepted, was Rs. 5 lakh for a 2 hour show. The question is – which engineer or doctor is ever going to get that rate of remuneration? As part of the performance, Zakir was asked about his own education. Zakir’s guru has been his Abbaji – Ustad Allah Rakha Khan. He remembers that when he was 2 years old and had just started standing up on his feet – Abbaji called him – ‘Zakir, aao table bajate hain.’ So young Zakir would play the tabla – till he got hungry. Then Abbaji would send him off for food, and when Zakir would come back he asked him if he was done with eating. On being told that the stomach was full – ‘Zakir, aao table bajate hain.’ After some time, Zakir would feel sleepy. No problem, he was advised – go take a nap. On waking up, Abbaji asked – had a sound sleep? On confirming that the sleep was indeed sound – ‘Zakir, aao table bajate hain.’ So that was the education of Zakir Bhai!

Knowing the typical middle class parent that formed the audience, Sanjay tailored his talk to what every second parent expected their kids to be doing – science. He explained his bias towards science, saying that it was a default field for a very simple reason. You can procrastinate for two more years – as a science education allows you the luxury of switching over to Arts or Commerce in your graduation. The vice-versa is not possible. He also pointed out that Science students would come up with a peer group which would be ambitious and more interested in problem solving. He then went on to discuss education in the pure sciences – There are 4500 BSc / MSc seat in all the 23 IITs put together. IISc also offers 6 Bachelors programs. Then of course, there are the 7 IISERs. And to top it up there are also 2 NISERs – at Mumbai and Bhubaneshwar. These NISERs take in about 145 students every year – with 100% scholarships.

Architecture is a rare branch, which allows students from all backgrounds to apply. Just ensure that there is Math in Class 12. (IIT Roorkee and Kharagpur offer B.Arch programs. Entrance is through JEE followed by an additional Architecture Aptitude test.)

For the Life Science enthusiasts, he cautioned them to do the NEET – only if they are seriously keen about an MBBS or BDS. There are only 1600 seats for MBBS in government colleges in Maharashtra. Add another 3000 more in private colleges – if you can afford the 50 lakh fee! The MH-CET is a good option – as it is also used for entrance to Physiology, Ayurved, Pharma programs.

He then switched on to engineering. There are 362 engineering colleges in Maharashtra – offering you a choice of 73 branches to do your engineering from. He advised to go in for general branches over specialized ones. They are relatively recession proof – as you can switch industry relatively easily. On the subject of the JEE – he had interesting statistics. The overall pass percentage for the JEE Mains is about 12%. (The state with the highest pass percentage is Andhra – at 17%) In Maharashtra, the pass percentage is about 6%, ranking it at the bottom of the percentage table. (About 2.35 lakh people sit for JEE in Maharashtra, putting it into the top 3 – as far as number of test takers are concerned.) We had an interesting discussion about what could be the reasons. Complacency was an important one. In most of the other states, the JEE was taken up much more seriously – because it was the key to unlock the unemployment gateways of their states – and move out and up. The Maharashtra kids are more than happy being where they are – so no hurry, no worry. Another factor why they don’t do well is the lower educational standards of the State board vs CBSE. And finally – in a lot of other states – JEE is used for admission to the state engineering institutes, unlike Maharashtra, where the MH-CET is used now for admission to COEP and private engineering colleges.

After rounding up a discussion on careers, he came down on decision making about junior colleges. His advise was quite practical here – of the 3 institutions that your life will revolve around in 11th and 12th – your coaching class, your junior college and your home – ensure that ideally all 3 are close to each other – and make sure that at least two of the three are. Methinks that in Maharashtra at least not too many people bother with the junior college anymore. The 10th marks and Junior college have become more of resume ornamentation nowadays. But Sanjay was on the concluding note of his talk at this time. And he did a brilliant sales pitch for a HOTS test that he was conducting. (HOTS stands for Higher Order Thinking Skills. About 10-15% of questions in the SSC nowadays come at a higher difficulty level. Sanjay has created a paper that comprises entirely of such questions. He charges Rs. 350 per student for this – and packages it with the Prelim papers of the top 7 schools in Pune. Here is his brochure:

He can be contacted @ 97666 26040