For 60 week-ends, starting May, 2001, batches of 25 teachers from Bangalore's government schools will be ferried -- all expenses paid -- for 2-day workshops where they will learn first aid and quality in education. In all about 1550 teachers are to be covered. Each of Bangalore's 501 government schools will send 3 teachers, of which atleast one will be a female.
It is a project being implemented by social worker Suparna Diwakar. The exercise will cost Rs.20 lakhs. Contributions are coming from the Rotary and the industry. But the programme didn't wait for the money to be raised. Because, Narsim Shenoy chose to underwrite it.
It all began when Shenoy at the height of a very successful career, was seeking to give something back to India. He was a country boy after all, who had climbed all the heights with nothing but education. He is the very epitome of the Indian Dream.
When Shenoy met Suparna, she told him: "Teachers in Banglaore's state schools have no clue or means to handle even minor incidents of scrapes, bites, epilepsy and burns. And yet these happen all the time and children are left to neglect. Less said about issues like drownings and fractures, the better." It is common for state-run schools to be without the most basic facilities. Most them sleep-walk through with vague notions of education.
That started Shenoy thinking. "Why must the rewards of care and quality be restricted to only the industry," he mused.
Shenoy's response was the family -funded, 'First Response'. It had for long been germinating in the Shenoy family. Now it found the soil to grow in. To Suparna's concerns Narsim Shenoy added another point of view that has the potential of taking education to newer realms. "Create in the teachers an awareness about 'quality' and things begin to change," he believes.
He should know. As the Chairman of Asea Brown Boveri [ABB] he set up the state of the art, CII-ABB Institute of Quality, in association with the Confederation of Indian Industries [CII]. To its stylish and soulful centre, just outside Bangalore, come Indian industy's managers to attend tailored courses. To the same centre go Bangalore's teachers, to attend a course on quality specially designed by the Institute.
"Who are your customers?":
It's a two day workshop. On the first, teachers go to the Bangalore Kidney Foundation and attend a course in first-aid designed by Dr. K.Venkatesh. It is quite amazing how most of us have no response to even minor cases of injury and accident. The teachers are no different. The course at the Foundation is hands-on and every teacher must 'do and learn'. At the end of the day each school is given a first-aid kit, a manual in Kannada [specially prepared by First Response] and instruction on how to insitutionalise the concern for basic care in their school.
The second day the teachers are in for a delightful -- if slightly unnerving -- session at the Institute of Quality. After they get over the strange experience of being let into an architectural classic, treated with the same deference that attends industry executives, seated in a modern auditorium, they are confronted by this poser: "You all have a job. The Government is your master and pays your salaries. You render a service. Now, have you considered who your customers are and whether you serve them well?"
Thus begins the cunning little adventure arranged by Narsim Shenoy. "It invariably shakes them and changes them," he says with a broad smile, "And they get animated and want to know how they can change things."
The presentation that follows and lasts the whole day, stresses how the concept of 'the teacher and the taught' is obsolete. Teachers and students should in fact be collaborators and learn together. All students can excel-- all they need is the means and the platform to express their diffrenet intelligences. Teachers are told to value variations, special skills, encouragement, ideas and aids like music and theatre. "Instead of being a policeman waiting to catch the students 'doing wrong', become eager to catch them 'doing right'," they are told. 'Learning' cannot be restricted to the class room. Take them out on trips of discovery. Students create best when they are formed into teams.Invite into your classrooms, the modest tradesmen of India -- like cobblers, tailors and carpenters -- to demonstrate their skills. Invite people from all walks of life, even just parents.
All these messages are given to teachers of no new-age, elite school, but to the much ignored workers in India's public education system. Suparna says the effect is electric. Teachers excitedly return to their schools to experiment with their new found knowledge. The Karnataka Government is alert to the potential of this programme too. After all its chief minister S. M. Krishna had inaugurated the series. Mr. Vijaya Bhaskar, the Commissioner of Public Education wants to take it to rural Karnataka.
The Indian way:
Narsim Shenoy represents a tradition not many Indians are aware of, or sufficiently appreciate. It is about being grateful for what the land had offered and paying back at least in some measure.
He was born in Kasargod -- then a part of the Madras Presidency -- in the family of a modest country lawyer. He went to state schools and consistently excelled. In 1950 when he passed high school, caste politics would not give him admission into the professional colleges. He had to consider going to the far Banaras Hindu University.
"My parents were eager for my future but sending me to Banaras was far beyond their means. But send me, they did. My mother started and ran a small dairy business throughout the time I was in college. She laboured hard," he says with glazed eyes.
Once out of college bright, young Shenoy joined Brown Boveri -- and never left it! In a long career spanning over 40 years he rose to dizzy heights and today is the non-executive chairman, who is constantly consulted by the multi-national corporation.
But he retains the modesty of the country boy. "The idea of taking quality awareness to education excites me," he says. And adds with a mischievous smile: "Maybe someday, I will run a series of similar courses for our politicians."
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