Sunday, 4 March 2012

In defense of technology

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had simply stuck to the good-old days of Gurukool where space under a banyan tree was not confined to walls, where children were encouraged to explore nature, to experiment with smells, to learn from noises and to assimilate it all in the most powerful weapon that Man possesses: the mind?
Of course such classrooms still do exist in certain forsaken parts of India, though the scenario is certainly not as romantic as this sounds. Classes held under a tree today owe much more to the lack of adequate funding and are not exactly a designed choice. 
Let's imagine we had that choice. Let's imagine that I were going to teach under a majestic Banyan tree. My students, just as I have them today, freshers at university. All the coolest dudes and the prettiest gals of the city gathered around, sitting on the ground, upright, waiting for their 'lecture' to start. One boy with purple-coloured spiked hair looks around for his study partner who has his notes and doesn't see him there. The lecture is to start in five minutes and the 'Guru' doesn't tolerate late-comers. What would he do? Living in today's world gives me the inclination to believe that he would whisk out his cell phone and send a text message to his friend asking him to hurry up.
And I contemplate, how long before my students crack up and ask for a chair to sit on, a table to write on and pens to write with? How long would they be able to contain themselves without the use of their cell phones or computers or any other digital equipment that they take for granted today? An hour, two hours? I'm not certain they'd last even that long. 
My question is this: When we and our students have moved beyond the ancient era of studying under trees amidst God's creatures, why are we so determined to stick to age-old teaching techniques? Why are we most unwilling to embrace the technology of today? Why the reticence in adopting social-networking websites and mobile learning? 
We are no longer part of that golden period when teachers could intuitively transfer their thoughts to students. Neither are our students the obedient disciples of that era. Our students need more, more attention, more understanding. They need to be more driven, more interested, more motivated, and ultimately, more defied. They challenge their teachers to enter their psyche, their universe and to speak to them in their own language. How are we as teachers going to do this if we don't learn their ways and try to understand how they function?
Several people, including my generation of colleagues and even the ones following it, believe, and so most erroneously, that in order to use technology in teaching, you need to be a techno-whizz. I wouldn't exactly qualify my school teachers as techno-whizzes just because they used a black-board and a piece of chalk to show us how a mathematical sum could be solved or when they started using the radio and later, the television to broadcast an important piece of information. 
Wasn't that the technology of their time?
And we, are we using the technology of our time?

                                                       Courtesy: hollyclarksd on YouTube

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Finding similarities

It's not all that different a language after all.
I admit being stumped when asked whether I would be interested in teaching Hindi to continuing education students at the university I currently teach English. 
But once over the beginner's fright, I reasoned with myself.
I'm supposed to be a foreign language teacher.
I should be able to do this. 
I know the rules of the game.
I have studied the ropes.
I can do it. 

Mission accepted. 
Level 2: Introspection
How was I to teach Hindi to the French?
It isn't a language that that can be understood easily by a European.
Everything from the script to the phonetics is far from being transparent.
But recognising a few Hindi words could make the task a bit easier. 
Aren't they all of Indian origin?
Then my students added to the list
Courtesy stereotypes and supermarkets
There is 'basmati', said one, synonymous with rice.
We know the word 'sari',
That elegant piece of cloth all Indian women wear 
ALL Indian women, I asked curious
Of course!
'Tchae' of Lipton tea sachets fame, isn't that Indian too? 
Um, no, but 'Chai' sure is.
We also know 'Guru'. He teaches 'Yoga'
Exotic movements we don't really understand.
Seems to be a good beginning.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Hindi, a new language?

Teach Hindi to the French,
Shrill voices. Deafening roar. 
Followed by thought
Why do you want to teach it, they enquired
To survive perhaps?
Me, tongue-tied,
Sure, it's a new language, I tried,
For you?
No, for them
I'll teach them basics,
to read it, to write it, to speak it
I know the language, 
It's mine too.
Of course,
but can you teach it, the concerned voices again.
And then laughter. 
Hearty and jovial.
Don't we like a good joke, they quipped.
And wiped their eyes
And laughed some more.
A Parsi teaching Hindi to the French
That one we've got to see.
It must have seemed funny to them, I'm sure.
Why didn't it seem funny to me?