Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two Stories for the Teacher's day

Here are two stories about teachers. One picked from the Internet and the other is a story my father told me.

The Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson

“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”
I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.” 

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society”. Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced - equal parts ignorance and arrogance.
As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant – she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.
She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”
I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.” 

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?” 

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.
“I send them back.”

“That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!” 

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!” 

And so began my long transformation. 

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night. 

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

A student visits a teacher in the Hospital

My father was a high school teacher. In one of his classes, he observed a student. He was not attentive. He was gossiping with other students. My father warned him a couple of times. But, the student continued to disturb. In a fit of rage, he threw the duster at him. It hit his fore head. He started bleeding profusely. My father dismissed to class and went to see the headmaster to report what happened. The head master was alarmed. He said the student is son of a local politician and the incident is sure to cause trouble for the school and my father. He advised my father to take leave and disappear for a while. My father followed his advice.
Many years later, my father was admitted to the hospital for a surgery. Many people visited him. An young man visited him with a bouquet of flowers and wished quick recovery. My father told him that he could not recognize him. The young man told him that he is a bank manager. He was a student in the school where my father worked. It was he who was subjected the duster missile and that that incident had changed his life. He became a serious student and eventually did well in his career.

I was amazed to see that being hit by a duster made him grateful enough to visit my father in the hospital when he heard about his illness.

Happy teachers' day!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Enforceable Rules and Courage to Enforce them

The faculty members spent a week for a retreat in last week of June.

We discussed various aspects of the Institute's function. In particular, we discussed regarding the academic regulations for the B.Tech. programme.

The view was that we should have a rigorous regulations. I always asked the following questions
  • Is the rule enforceable. It is a very fundamental questions. We translate a principle into a rule. We may agree with the principle. However, when we try to enforce it, we encounter difficulties in the form of a. too much administrative work, b. difficult to measure the act or c. unfair consequences.
  • Does the rule work fine in the boundary conditions. This is the programmer in me asking the question: have we exhausted all the possibilities in a if-then-else statement. Often the rules we make fail in the boundary conditions.
  • Is the rule fair to the people on whom it is being applied.
These questions often result near perfection and refinement of the rules.

The people who violate the rules often think that the authorities will not have the courage to implement for emotional, humanitarian and other such reasons.
Among many decision taken in the Institute the most difficult ones were to detain some students for a year, asking some students to leave the hostel and non renewal of contract of some staff members. These were emotionally tough decisions to make but necessary to bring some discipline and sanity into the Institute's functioning. I hope we will never have take such decisions but if the situation demands we should not shirk our responsibility to take the decision.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

IIIT - a National Institute

The IIIT Bhubaneswar act passed by the Odisha Legislative Assembly gives the Institute status of a University and autonomy in many respects.

When the Institute started in 2007, we were affiliated to BPUT. BPUT gave autonomy for M.Tech programme but there was no autonomy for B.Tech Programme.

The admission to the M.Tech. programme was through the counselling process conducted by the Institute. However, the admission to the B.Tech was through Odisha JEE.

As per the norms of the Odisha JEE, all the seats in Government Institutes were allotted to the Odisha Domicile Students. IIIT being a Government Institute also got all its seats filled up by Odisha Domicile Students.

IIIT Bhubaneswar like its peers in Hyderabad and Bangalore was conceived as a National Institute. The National nature of the Institute requires that curriculum be at par with the National Institutes, the composition of the students be national. The Act provided this feature by reserving 50% seats for the Odisha Domicile Students and rest for the students from other states.

The National character of the Institute will help in enhancing recognition, placement, industry relations of the Institute. This will help the Institute to be competitive among the other peer Institute.

Odisha JEE has a few constraints. For example, it is not possible for a participating Institute to impose a specific minimum standard for its students. To get better students, the Institute may like to enhance the minimum requirements. However, the structure of OJEE will not permit that.

Hence, the Institute has decided to have its own counselling process. The Institute will endeavour to make this process efficient, transparent and student friendly. Watch the website for details which will be published soon.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

University Now. What Next

At long last the Government of Odisha has notified giving University Status to IIIT Bhubaneswar.

What does this mean in academic terms. Now the Institute has the powers
  • to award degree
  • to float new programmes
  • to create own curriculum
  • to follow its own admission procedure
The powers invested with the Institute will be used to improve the curriculum, rigour of delivery. To start with, Doctoral Programme will be introduced.

The act empowers every one including the faculty, staff, students and the administration and demands higher quality output.