Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Understanding Your learners: All things that you can do wrong

Jai and Prachi live in Bangalore with their 2 year and 2 month-old son, Druv. Druv is an active kid. He loves watching Hanuman and Jungle Book. He repeats words as soon as he hears them. He stays at home with his grandparents and parents. They typically converse in their mother tongue. He is the darling of the house. Thinking it is time, the parents start looking for a school for their son. They research the best schools in the area. They visit a few and select one. They approach the faculty for admissions. A faculty member mentions that the kid is a little younger and therefore, the parents will have to meet the headmistress. An appointment is made with the headmistress. The parents and Druv finally meet the headmistress. The headmistress takes a few plastic fruits and asks Druv to name them. Druv gets Apple and Banana right. She then shows him a watermelon. Druv has never seen a watermelon before and therefore, refuses to answer her. She continues to ask him the name of the fruit. Finally, Druv gives in an says "Stop it!" and talks in his own language (child talk). The headmistress says, "Your son does not know English. How will he fit in class?" She asks Druv's mother to ask a few questions in their mother tongue. Druv promptly answers all these questions. The headmistress watched him closely. She then tells the parents that their son may have a speech problem. She says that she has been in this industry for a long time and has seen several 2 year olds. Children of his age should be able to speak a complete sentence. The fact that Druv was unable to do so and was blabbering shows that Druv has a speech problem. She suggests that they take him to a spastic society and get some tests done. She also suggests that they come back with the test results. She mentioned that this school also took in special student and therefore, she can help them. The parents were shocked and quite stunned to react. The parents were later extremely angry and offended. They checked with Druv's pediatrician. She was equally angry. She explained that kids at the age of two connect a few words together and cannot be expected to talk fluently.

VIBGYOR High is the name of this school. This is a real incident. The parents discussed here are people very close to me. Druv is like my very own son. I also have a two year old son. He does not talk in English and cannot talk complete sentences. He only connects two or three words together. So what was my reaction to this? Why am I sharing this here? I am absolutely appalled by the headmistresses behavior. Why?

1. You do not judge kids based on their behavior the very first time you meet them:
Children are different at home and extremely different in front of new people. The headmistress who has seen several 2 year olds should have known this. Before you reach such conclusion, you must spend some time with the child.

In our realm: Do you make rash judgments about your learners based on their behavior the very first time you meet them? There is always more that what meets the eye and it is your duty to understand the complete picture before you describe a learner. Remember how offended the parents were. If you jump to the wrong conclusions about your learners, you are going to offend the company.

2. Stress interviews are not for learners: At home, you may teach your kid names of cars rather than fruits. How can the headmistress expect the kid to name the fruits without understanding what he already knows? Is it a crime for the kid to not know what a watermelon is? She should have made the kid feel comfortable, rather than forcing him to answer. Is a stress interview really necessary for kid?

In our realm: Do you make your learners feel comfortable when asking them questions about their work? Do they feel like they are being 'tested' or judged. There is no doubt that it is exactly was this headmistress was doing. Judging the kid...

3. Do not expect the learner to 'know': Any kids goes to school to learn languages, numbers, shapes, colors, etc. The headmistress had no right expecting the kid to know English and names of fruits.

In our realm: Do you assume that your learners must know certain things? When you meet your learners, you must be free of preconceived notions of how they must behave, they must know, and what they need to learn.

4. Handle learners with kid gloves: The headmistress should have been more sensitive to the parent's feelings. She should have shared her thoughts on the kid's speech in a very tactful and sensitive manner. You cannot just declare such things out loud. If you want the parents to take you seriously and not get offended, you must ensure that you have enough facts and that you consider their feeling before giving them that information. This headmistress was hardly professional. She neither took the time to understand the kid better, nor did she handle the parents well.

In our realm: Do you identify learning gaps after a detailed analysis and backed by research? Or do you general push a list of courses that you think may solve a surface level issues? Be sensitive to your learner's and client's needs. Treat them with care and more importantly, with respect.

Please do not put your kid in VIBGYOR High. If the headmistress is like this, imagine how the staff would be. All children (learners) are different. Each has a different learning curve. Some kids start walking earlier, some starts talking later, and so on. It would be wrong to pass judgments without really understanding them. Someone I know started talking only when he was 5, does this mean he that he had a speech problem? I don't think so. He speaks fine. If headmistresses and teachers don't understand that each child is different, I dread the day when I have to put my son in school! Finally, I really don't understand why schools want to take only the so called 'smart' children. What is great in taking the cream and showing to the world that you get the best grades? Take all children and do the same and that would be truly great! Do we have the option of making just the smart learners take the course? No. This would be crazy! Infact, our focus is on the so called low performers. At this point, I must warn you: When you request your client to share names and numbers of learner who you can talk to, they may give you their best performers. Ensure that this is not the case. You want to talk to all 'types' of learners and not just the management favorites.

My last and final point: During learner analysis, please do not be this headmistress! Acting as she has, you will only damage the learner and the learning. Understanding your learner requires higher EQ. Be human...


Rupa said...

Great Post! I wish more people read this.

I have a problem with this whole Indian education system. Schools take in only bright students so that they produce outstanding results in the board exams.

Such schools discourage budding talent. They do no good to kids. Instead you can teach your kid yourself.

What say?

ripul said...

Might be interesting to link your blog to this place;

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks Rupa. :) Experience make people. I dread thinking about the day when I have to expose my little one to school. I am hoping I make the right choice.

Thanks Rips! :) I have linked there.

Nagasena Gautam said...

Eye opener! Either the teacher is MR or the world isn't right on it's own!

My nephew was 2 y 3 months when he went to playgroup and he kept on telling the world that he was going to school!

Archana, put Vidur to a playgroup, I am sure he will love it! The interaction with kids and understanding teachers will make it a pleasant experience for him..

Archana Narayan said...

G, this is exactly what I have been telling my cousin. I want Vidur's first experience to learning to be a positive one. I wish schools were more like play schools. There is no pressure on the kid to learn but learning truly happens.

Don't worry G! I have plans of putting V in a playschool. :)

Atul said...

Nice post. Thankfully a number of schools are not thinking like this. :-)

On another point, the very fact that someone is a learner (and i dont mean children only) means they dont know something thats why they would learn. Which means that the question of testing them before, and taking decisions based on that doesnt mean much.

VS said...

Good One! Right time to think about homeschooling :-)
I liked the way you compared the incident with our arena.

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Atul. You are right. Initial discussions with the learner should be to 'understand' them. The WORST way to do this would be to test them.

Glad you like it, VS. :)

Rashmi said...

I agree with Rupa, I wish the Indian education system would just let kids be, instead of stressing them out with learning by rote all the time.

The pressure in our system just seems to keep building up, as time goes by. No time for sports, extra curricular activities etc, where's the time after homework and studies? I wish we could just produce more all-rounders than academic geniuses!

Rashmi said...

Btw, excellent post Archie, and so true. Have heard similar such stories from so many parents during admissions.

Shwetal said...

Hi Archana,

I happened to come across your blog - while I am not an active blogger I am an active blog reader - hence it was a pleasant surprise. I like the variety of topics you write on :-)
I had to comment on this post because my son goes to Vibgyor High Haralur Road (he is in LKG). We are very happy with the school - the teachers, the curriculum, the staff, the methodology. Hence this post has me very surprised. It is indeed a shocking incident - and a huge anomaly from what I have come to expect from the school!

Anonymous said...

i have been planning to work in this school as i have completed my
Bed.Dropped the idea.

Archana Narayan said...

Shwetal, it was great running into you in Bangalore! I am sure every individuals have different experiences. You know the person whose experience I have captured here. Will tell you in detail next time I meet you. In the meantime, I am sure you will figure it out. :)

Anonymous, good for you! :) However, it may be nicer if you could join and change the system (just kidding).

Anonymous said...

My son is studying in this school for past 3 yrs and never had any experience like this right from the day of admission.

Even when my son had problem in learning phonics they took spl attention and each day they used to write the words introduced in his dairy which was possible due to students teacher ratio.

Srinivas Chintamani said...

Hi Archana,
I was researching on VIBGYOR to get my son admitted. Having looked at your post, I kind of am taken aback.

I wonder how these schools are able to mint money like that for such kind of shabby treatment. I agree with the fact - why would I need to send my kid to a school, if he already knows what they are teaching in the school?

It would be great, if you can share a potential list of good schools which try to develop the kids over-all personality without putting them down.

Anonymous said...

Hi Archana,

My son is in nursary this year. I am very much satisfied that I put my son in this school. I still don't believe this incident ... though it might be true.

I like the way they teach... 'logical approach' and planty of activities. They do surprise test sometimes. When me and my wife ask during PTM, she said 'If we tell your son has exam on Monday, you will not let him play as usual. You might force him to sit and study byheart, which will be good only for interim ...'

Archana Narayan said...

@Anonymous (both): I think school experiences are also very subjective. A single incident/experience does not make a school good or bad. I for one will not consider this school mainly because this incident happened with my cousin's kid. I am glad both of you have had positive experiences and are happy with this school. It is important for you child that the school is good. Therefore, it works for you.

@Srinivas, I moved recently back to Bangalore and have no idea which schools are great and am honestly no authority on then. I hear good and bad about popular schools such as NPS, etc from other parents. I have heard that Kumarans is good. But again, I have really not done the research yet for my own son. Do let us know if you have a good school :)

Anonymous said...

Archana,I highly appreciate you for taking time in exposing VIBGYOR high unlike many others who ignore such things..VIBGYOR High is one of the worst school...My request to all parents..Please don't join your kids in this school.

Nikhilesh said...


Thank you for your Post on Vibgyor. I have been searching for honest reviews on Vibgyor Haralur road, Bangalore. We are shifting to our permanent residence this year, and this school is just a stone's throw from my house. Thought of admitting my 4 yr old child here.

Disappointing and well as disgusting... I have dropped the idea.



Anonymous said...

Hi ,after reading this i cancelled my kid's admission .He had got in to Vibgyor.After wards i put him in a very famous (brandname wise)cbse school .But i had the worst experience with this school.Every other day they find some thing or the other wrong with my kid ..He's a normal kid bt they are trying their best to make him abnormal..Cant believe that a teacher could actually do and say such things about a 4 yr old..If they expect a 4 year 9old to know everything before coming to school why are they charging 1 lakh plus as fees and donation..Like Rupa said Its high time to reconstruct the whole education system..Its become a big business now .You should pray that ur child should get a good teacher ,not so called reputed schools who produce bright students after chucking out all the slowlearners starting the process (of chucking ot)from nursery onwards.

Anonymous said...

Archana which VIBGYOR High Branch did you refer to pls ??? Haralur, Marathhalli , Whitefield??

Anonymous said...

Archana, and all the readers,

Go to any school in Bangalore, they have a round of interaction (actually interview) with the kid.
We had applied in NPS, New Horizon and NCFE some time back for LKG admission.

NPS - Didnt even receive a call. P.S. Both of us are professional degree post graduates working in IT, but with only around 5 years of experience and thus not very high positions or salaries - because we got married and got a kid while we were comparatively young! :) We believe NPS admissions are based on parent salary and job position, and also recommendations. This, we feel, is even worse than assessing the kid. The intention here is much worse than aiming good results for the school. Isn't this a more money-minting attitude?

New Horizon - They told to go on a particular date. Asked to send my 3.5 year old kid along with the Aaya for interview, and my daughter refused to go. I tried to persuade her, with no success. In the end I was allowed to accompany her, by that time she got into a fighting mood. And in the interview, she was asked to identify almost everything on this planet, including shapes, colours, fruits, vegetables, animals, and I don't remember what else. She did many of them correctly, except vegetables, which we had never taught her. In between I felt the interviewer madam was not happy with my presence, thus I told my kid I will go out and wait there, for which she responded by walking out herself, and I had to go out and bring her back. And then she was asked to count from 1 to 20, And then - to WRITE ANYTHING SHE KNOWS!!! I could not believe that a 3.5 year old kid was expected to write. And I could actually see some other kids in the interview hall(seemed actually smaller) writing alphabets. My kid made some random drawings on the paper she was given. I was exasperated by the time the ordeal was over.

NCFE - We were told to go for interview, and there too the kid was asked to go with the aaya, but she refused. Luckily they agreed to allow me inside without much worry, and there she was asked to fix some board puzzles, identify some shapes, colours, family members etc. Most of them she did correctly, and couple of which she was doubtful - the teacher smiled and helped her. And my daughter is studying there now, and she is one of the top academic performers in her class, and the teacher is always so happy and impressed by her performance.

About Vibgyor - we had applied for nursery admission in Marathahalli branch the previous year and they told it is first come first serve basis. They called us for an interaction with the kid where the principal had a short talk with us. And we got admission.
But later my husband had to go to another city for a year for some assignment and thus we cancelled that admission. When we came back, we settled down near Indiranagar and did not try Vibgyor again.
We have some friends kids studying there in the Haralur road branch and they are happy with the teaching.
A friend applied for 1st standard next year due to transfer to that area, and got admission without any interview or test or even an interaction with the kid.


Anonymous said...

Continuing previous comment:

Now, the experience you mentioned in this blog is scary, demoralizing and offending. And it is definitely best for that parent to avoid that school in future.
But this could be an isolated incident, where the head mistress probably was not thinking in her right senses, or could not understand the kid's feelings at that time.
For other parents to take a decision based on this, does not make much sense to me.
Just because, go to some other school and you will find something else which disturbs you.
Best thing is to put the kid in a school where you get reasonably good environment and reasonably well qualified teachers and class mates who come from a somewhat similar family back ground.
Then keep in touch with what he learns at school and give the necessary support and help at home.

My point is, screenings are done in almost all schools.
So, practically, one thing a parent can do is to keep the kid in a good mood on the D-day and keep him a little prepared for interactions with strangers, and go through the process.
Else, avoid the system and do something out of the ordinary, like send to an off-beat or govt school, or teach at home.


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