Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Choices in school subjects

Am currently sitting in my daughter's school, J. B. petit, Mumbai, where the school is presenting options for subjects students to take in the 9th and 10th standard.  i am amazed at the marketing effort the teachers are taking to market their course to the students and their parents.  Reminded me of shopping week at Harvard, when great professors including Michael Porter etc marketed their courses to students, to encourage them to take their course.  

We will try and see that Somaiya Vidyavihar institutions also start presenting options for students to choose.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

On Varli Art, Literature, and the IPad

On a visit to the Frankfurt Bookfair last year, I came across a delightful application - http://www.appgeneration.com/publi/kids

As soon as I saw this, I thought of connecting it to school children from our Nareshwadi School (run by the Girivanvasi Education Trust - http://www.nareshwadi.org/).  The schoolchildren are primarily from the Varli Community, and have their own art, language and culture.  In fact, they have written their stories, and wanted them published.  And I thought that this would be a delightful way of bringing in new technology, tribal art, culture, and preservation.

Have asked my nephew Siddharth to help make this happen, along with the Teachers and students from Nareshwadi.  This should be done and ready by next month.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

On reading, and also knowing Indian languages

The other day, I was at किताबख़ाना, our bookstore in south Mumbai, and was speaking to a few students.  I was surprised to learn, that in spite of having born and raised in India, one of them could not read the Kabir दोहा, that we had put on the wall.

Just last week, I met two socially motivated graduates, who wanted to help make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged.  In conversation, when I asked one of them, if she had ever visited किताबख़ाना, she said that she had never been to a bookstore, and had read only a couple of books in her life.  But that she was a 'topper'.  

I think that we have to rethink our education, if it does not cultivate the appreciation and habit of reading, and secondly, if it graduates students who are illiterate in their national tongue.  Even in the Netherlands, where all speak fluent English,mother students and graduates are also proficient in their mother tongue.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Learning from USC

Visiting the University of Southern California was also interesting, because it provided a great sense of encouragement for me, in terms of what we can try to do at Somaiya Vidyavihar.  USC has two locations in urban Los Angeles (http://visit.usc.edu/).  The 229 acre University Park campus, and a few miles away, the 79 acre Health campus.  I kept thinking about the parallels of what we do in Mumbai, having 2 campuses in an urban area.

What members of the USC faculty said to me, was that USC has changed dramatically over the last two decades, based on strong leadership, a well articulated strategic plan, and with strong alumni engagement.  See here for their strategic plan of 1994:http://about.usc.edu/files/2011/07/1994_USC_Strategic_Plan_optimized2.pdf
and the one for 2011:

USC has steadily built infrastructure, quality and climbed the US and global rankings.  I believe we have much to learn from their example.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

At the University of Southern California - Part 1.

While preparing for my talk at the I was asked to speak as the University of Southern California, on the occasion of their starting the program on Indic Civilizations and Dharma Studies, I was wondering why in Indian Universities, we do not have a embedded curriculum of Indian culture, or a more active place for our languages in our academia.

I do think that in this day and age, the knowledge of English is necessary and useful, and should be taught to one and all.  But I have often wondered, why we as a nation, do not give our own languages or our own philosophy, or our own literature and poetry, the importance that other nations do in their own systems.

I firmly believe, that any language, is a storehouse of its own culture and heritage.  And to preserve culture and knowledge, the study, development and growth of one's languages are necessary.  And this must find place in our academic institutions, and not just as a subject.  I see many of my friends and their children today, who are uncomfortable with reading a book in Hindi, or other Indian languages. In a truly Indian education, we must provide such a space for our literature.

For example, if we teach a course in Political Science, we could teach Chanakya and Machiavelli simultaneously, and could have Sanskrit quotes from Chanakya in there, for those who understand it.
For those who do not understand Sanskrit, they would have the translation anyway.  A course that speaks of social oppression, and that has Dalit Marathi literature, would be significantly more powerful than simply talking about it

I was discussing this with a friend in LA, and I mentioned that a course that if in a course of Californian history, primary sources from English and Spanish literature are used, students (who are often bilingual), could read literature from both perspectives.  He said that he had never thought about it in this respect, and thought that the course would be very powerful.

I read Macaulay's 'Minute on Education', written in 1835, in which he states (referenced from http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html):

    [8] All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.  It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them.
        [9] What then shall that language be? One-half of the committee maintain that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommend the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be-- which language is the best worth knowing?

        [10] I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.

[12] How then stands the case? We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West. 

[34] In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  --a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. 

I wonder if this policy, that was used by the English when we were colonized, has become internalized by us, and whether we need to be freed of this legacy.  That we must learn and appreciate English, and that proficiency in English is to be taught, but so is the need for us to be literate in our own language, knowledge, and literature.

And so in my talk, I mentioned that we would try to create such an environment.

Samir Somaiya

Friday, 1 November 2013

Somaiya Alumni all over the world

I visited Cornell University last week, to attend the Annual University Council Meeting.  I was delighted to meet +Shaheen Mashraqui, our alumna from Somaiya Vidyavihar.  She is studying her Master's in Engineering there, and it was amazing for me to see our own student, studying and walking the streets of Cornell, as I once had so many years ago.  She mentioned that she would be helping to build an alumni database for us.

On the flight back to India, I was sitting next to Kamlesh Vora, who works for Brenntag, one of the world's large chemical distributors.  He is also a Somaiya Alumni, from the K J Somaiya College of Science and Commerce.  He did his Master's degree at the persuasion of Professor Dave, from our college.

Finally, I was invited to The University of Southern California, to speak at an event, where they were opening a Center for Indic Civilizations and Dharma Studies (http://www.indiajournal.com/archives/43476). After my talk, 2 members (one of them was Akshaya Sheth) of the 80 member audience came and said hello, and also introduced themselves as Somaiya Alumni.  Felt so wonderful to have an extended family in all parts of the world.

Samir Somaiya