Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Thinking Out of the Box Contd...

Another simple strategy to spark your little one’s creativity and the ability to think out of the box is to encourage her to give different endings to stories. It can be done as soon as children begin to understand the stories and the sequence of events in them. Fairy tales like Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood are the best to start with as the children are familiar with them due to repetition. Start out by saying ‘Let’s end the story in a different way’. You can do the same with nursery rhymes. You will find them fully engaged in this process. You may want to enact it out later with them and introduce a prop (simple dress-up clothes or objects) or two! Again follow the same principle - do not discard the children’s ideas no matter how unreal, unworkable or silly they are but help them give shape to them.

If at all they are not able to come up with anything, don’t be discouraged. You can give your own idea; it will definitely get them thinking for next time. Remember as a parent you will have to support much learning and provoke many skills especially in their early years. It may seem like a very demanding activity, but once you get started, they take on to it themselves. You will see them playing with their ideas by themselves or over play-dates when they pretend play with their friends. The idea is to equip them with a tool that will make them think differently.

Relating to my previous post - Jaideep and I have been playing Monopoly with our daughter on Sundays.  Before the start of each game, we decide on 'house rules', i.e. rules that we apply to our game that is not necessarily in the rule book. For example, if you land on GO, as per the house rule, you get 2x the amount of money compared to what you get if you pass GO.  After she had played the game 3-4 times, we allowed her to define her own house rules.  While some of her rules may have seemed bizarre, it created a new sense of excitement for her while playing the game every Sunday.  She recalled some of the rules on subsequent weekends, and even discarded some rules she had defined in her next game.  This has increased her creative thinking and reasoning skills.

Thinking out of the box can happen in many ways.  Hope you can share some instances with us.  

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Thinking Out of the Box

We all want our children to be creative, don’t we? It’s also to say that it’s the need of the hour. We don’t want children to follow the crowd anymore, we want them to lead and come up with novel ideas. Unfortunately, many schools don’t leave scope for children’s creativity and the ability to think differently for several reasons - be it a faulty and outdated curriculum or the sheer ignorance of the child’s brainpower.

Not leaving anything to chance or hoping that your school will take care of it at some point or the other, I am going to relate simple strategies that will help you make your children thinkers and creators and make it their habit from early on. This will go a long way in contributing to successes in adult life.

When you play a board game with your child, think what you do. You simply follow the rules of the game, don’t you? Yes it’s also an important skill to follow the specified rules and enjoy a game like Battleship, Jenga, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo etc. and you should do it. But if you want to take it up another level and open up your child’s mind and make her think out of the box, encourage her to make up her own version of the game. You will be pleasantly surprised how you would trigger her to think in completely different lines. Here you are not only making her think differently but also showing her that she has the power to change things around which furthers her self-confidence and self-esteem.

I would like to relate an example from my classroom experiences. Once a child and I were playing the game of Jenga. We enjoyed the game the way it was supposed to be played. Then later, I asked him if we could make up our own game using the same material. He instantly started thinking. Then he said, let’s distribute the blocks equally between us and try to build a tower. The person who builds the tallest standing tower gets a point. It was such a brilliant idea and challenging too because you had to build a taller tower than your opponent and figure out how to balance it at the same time. I have also had children going backwards in the game of Snakes and Ladders (by starting at 100 and ending at 1) and making the snakes take you ahead and ladders bring you down! Sky is the limit!

Don’t be discouraged if the ideas they have are not practical or simply too silly to adapt. Don’t discard their ideas by saying that it’s silly, it doesn’t make sense and it won’t work but help them to think through it and help them device their plan. Give them a chance. Focus on the ‘process’ (creative thinking) and not the ‘product’ (a fancy idea or game that you aspire them to come up with).

Do share some wonderful and awe-inspiring experiences when you give this strategy a shot! Stay tuned for more ideas to help you spark your little wonder’s creativity.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Other Considerations while Selecting an International School Program

In my previous post on International Boards offered by some popular schools in Mumbai, I had mentioned that I would share a link to a Google Sheet on the programs offered by International Schools in Mumbai.  Please follow this link to the data, and this link to a map of International Schools in Mumbai, and another map of ICSE CBSE schools in Mumbai.

What are some of the similarities between these international boards?  One thing that both Cambridge and IB boards offer in common is the methodology of teaching.  Both the programs believe in the same philosophy of developing creativity, thinking skills, research skills, language fluency, independence and they teach with an international perspective. Both boards are very rigorous in their preparation of the students. Both boards are more progressive than Indian boards, where curriculum and subjects are revised every year. Both boards are recognized by most universities overseas.  

On the negative side, neither of the international boards prepare your child for the common entrance exams for engineering or medical colleges in India.  Acceptance of students from these boards (at grade 13) at most colleges in India varies, and a large percentage of students (not all) do pursue their college overseas. Both boards require a lot more involvement from the parents in their children’s work than Indian boards. Cambridge is approximately 3x ICSE fees, and IB is approximately 3x Cambridge fees, so many parents grapple with understanding how school fees have increased so much from their time.

In my search for more points of comparison, I came across this site in Malaysia which does (1) A side by side comparison between IB and IGCSE by compiling “the thoughts of educators, policy makers, parents and students1.”  While I don’t completely agree with some of the statements related to IGCSE which makes it sound more like the ICSE examination, the site is definitely worth a read. Finally, which program is ‘better’ is relative.  Each program prepares your child slightly differently from the other.  But more importantly, in line with my previous post, “enthusiastic, skilled and committed teachers matter far more than the program1.” Does the school of your choice have them?

Parents must think about what they want their child to do after the 10th grade, and subsequently the 12th grade.  If there is a high probability you want them to continue in India, then selecting a school that provides Cambridge (IGCSE) in the middle years gives you the option to either shift to an Indian board for 11-12th grades (commonly referred to as 'junior college' in India), or continue with international boards at the same or another school. If you pick the international board path but prefer they pursue their undergraduate studies in engineering or medicine in India, you need to find out how students who are currently studying at international boards for 11-12th grades are preparing for their common entrance exams, and the challenges they face in preparation of the same.

I hope these posts have been informative, and have cleared some of your doubts about how to think about the two international programs.  I do look forward to hearing back from you.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Evaluating the Readiness of International Schools in India

When we talk about our schools, most of us love to recall incidents with our teachers.  They have played a huge role in our development at school, and so it only becomes obvious that today's teachers need to be prepared to teach by the Cambridge and/or IB philosophy.  But are they?

It’s important for parents to ask and understand what investment the school is making every year to ensure that teachers are trained and ready to teach by the philosophy of Cambridge and/or IB.  The teaching curriculum in India is outdated and does not prepare teachers in any way for these boards.  Most new teachers have only 1-2 years of teaching experience before they join international schools.  Most experienced teachers who come from Indian boards continue to teach in their traditional ways.  Very few schools recognize teachers who have completed a more elaborate Master’s program in education and are exposed to child psychology, which enables them to better understand how children think and how they should adapt their teaching styles to each child.  “Differentiation” is a buzzword schools love to throw out at parents, but are their teachers ready to differentiate in their classroom?  For example, how many teachers can teach a class of 20 children where half that number have different learning needs, and thereby different lesson plans and worksheets of different level of difficulty?

Ask your Principal how many of his/her teachers have gone through something similar to the Cambridge Professional Development Qualification, especially if they offer Cambridge in the 6-10 grade blocks. Many Principals will claim that their teachers participate in several workshops each year, but how many of them can confidently say that the learning from these workshops are internalized and sustainable at their schools?  How are they measuring the effectiveness of such workshops?  Or are teachers going back to the old ways one week later?

More importantly, it is the leadership at the school that must drive this change in culture and approach to education to match the philosophy of Cambridge and/or IB.  The change has to be driven top-down.  Many schools hire Principals from overseas who have Cambridge and/or IB experience, so that they can drive this change down through their deep understanding of these boards.  Talk to your Principal about his/her belief and commitment to both international programs, and how he/she thinks these boards will make children better prepared for tomorrow.  If you are not convinced with what they say, then that is not the right school for you.  

In my post next week, I’ll share my views on some other differences between the IB and Cambridge programs.  In the meantime, what are some of the questions that are on your mind as you evaluate international schools?  What are some of the questions you have been asking your school Principal and/or teachers?  Do share your thoughts in the blog.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

International Boards offered by some popular Schools in Mumbai

Hi all, this is Jaideep again. In my previous post, I presented a very basic definition and key differentiating point between IB and Cambridge programs being offered by schools.  Now let’s see how this is actually being applied at some of the popular schools in Mumbai.  Based on my research from the schools’ websites, the table below outlines the programs offered by the schools (as of August 2015):

School Name
KG - Grade 5
Grades 6 - 10
Grades 11 - 12
Aditya Birla World Academy
B.D. Somani
Dhirubhai Ambani International School
Cambridge (8-10)
D.Y Patil
Ecole Mondiale World School
NSS Hillspring International School
Oberoi International School
Singapore International School
Singapore board
Disclaimer: If any of the information in this table is outdated or has changed, do let me know so that I can update this blog post with the correct information.  

So why are schools switching from one program to the other?  It is because they are allowed to, and it makes business sense for them to do so.  And why are most schools offering the Cambridge (IGCSE) program in the middle years and not the IB-MYP program?  The jury on this varies.  My research points to 3 main reasons
  1. The MYP program is stringent and very difficult for schools to administer.  The certification requirements are difficult and there is a lot of preparation that needs to be done by both the school and the teachers to ensure that the school meets the requirements of the IB board and does not lose its accreditation.  
  2. You do not get a degree certificate at the end of your IB-MYP term, and must proceed on to the IB-DP program to get a certificate that will be valid for college applications.  Cambridge on the other hand offers the IGCSE degree certificate at the 10th grade which allows students to switch to the local board (ex. HSC in Mumbai) for the 11-12th grades.  
  3. Cambridge affiliation fee is relatively cheaper than IB affiliation fee.  This enables schools to charge a higher tuition fee in the middle years even though it may be cheaper for the school to administer the Cambridge program compared to the IB-PYP program (a.k.a. the business sense of doing this).

In next week’s post, I’d like to share my views on some questions parents should ask while selecting an “international” school for their children. I’d also like to share a Google Sheet with the boards offered by as many schools as possible.  If your child’s school is not listed in the table above, do share the program offerings for all 3 grade blocks of their school in your comments in the blog for other readers to view.  

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Understanding International Boards at your Children’s Schools

This blog post has been written by my husband Jaideep. Having spent 2+ years in an initiative to set up an international school in Mumbai, he spent a lot of time studying this space in detail, and wanted to share his views on queries we repeatedly hear from friends and colleagues who are grappling with understanding the new boards being offered by schools in India.  

When many of us went to school in India, there were only 3 choices for school boards - 2 National boards (namely CBSE and ICSE) and 1 local state board (namely SSC or equivalent).  Today, there are more choices, and many of us don’t have enough information about the differences between them, and thereby find it hard to make the right choice.  In this post, I’m going to attempt to help you understand the 2 main international boards that are now prevalent in India.   

The Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) board is based out of Cambridge (England).  It offers a global curriculum right from  grades 1 through 12.  From Grades 1-5, it offers the Cambridge Primary program, from Grade 6-10 it offers the Cambridge Secondary programs (which includes the optional Cambridge Checkpoint examination at Grade 8, followed by the International General Certificate of Secondary Education or IGCSE examination at Grade 10), and for Grades 11-12, it offers the Cambridge Advanced program (which includes the AS and A Level examinations).  More information on the program offered by this board can be found here.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) board is based out of Geneva (Switzerland).  It offers a global curriculum right from KG through grade 12.  From KG - Grade 5, it offers the Primary Years Program (IB-PYP), from Grade 6-10 it offers the Middle Years Program (IB-MYP) , and for Grades 11-12, it offers the Diploma Program (IB-DP).  More information on the program offered by this board can be found here.

Schools in India adopting international boards are allowed to switch from one program to the other at Grade 6 and Grade 11, often leading to confusion about whether the school is an IGCSE school, IB school or a school offering an Indian curriculum.  For example, a school may be an ICSE school and offer only IB-DP (i.e. from 11-12th grade) but market itself as an IB school.  Most international schools in India offer the IB-PYP program, then the Cambridge Secondary programs (which include the optional Checkpoint and the mandatory IGCSE examination), followed by the IB-DP program.  It’s therefore important for parents to understand which program is being offered in the 3 grade blocks indicated above, namely KG - Grade 5, Grades 6 - 10, and Grades 11 - 12, and it doesn’t have to be the same!  

In my post next week, I will write about the programs some of the popular schools in Mumbai are offering.  In the meantime, do share your views on my article above, and what your concerns are while picking the right international school for your children.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Peace Corner

Right from the beginning, children need to be guided into reflecting on their behaviour with their siblings, peers, parents and caregivers. The process of identifying the cause that triggered a negative behaviour, her/his reaction to it, the effects it has on the others, the choices that are available and the changes that s/he is willing to make when a similar situation arises in future determines a reflective child who is able to take control of her/his emotions and be more peaceful and happy.

A simple strategy of setting up a ‘Peace Corner’ at home or in the classroom facilitates the above ideology. You can start out by involving your children to identify a space for it, decorate it with the things that are special to them or which might help them to calm down, for e.g., a favourite stuffed toy or a book. It need not be elaborate but an identified space for reflection and coming up with solutions makes the children use the skills more willingly.

When a child is in conflict with a person, ask the child to go to the peace corner and calm down. S/he may or may not want to take the person whom she had a conflict with; at these points, follow the child’s lead. You can suggest that s/he have the opponent in the peace corner, which could help to come up with a solution. Initially you will need to guide your child and ask questions like ‘what happened’, ‘why did he get upset with you’, ‘what could you have done differently’ and ‘what can we do now’ rather than providing ready answers and solutions. At this point don’t forget to empathize with the child in distress, try to understand her/his point of view too and always remember children are ego-centric and it takes its own time and much effort from the part of the child to start considering the others’ needs and emotions. Also, this dialogue should be viewed as a process of reflection rather than a conflict that gets resolved instantly by an adult.

I had set up a peace corner in a nursery classroom and I still cherish the memories of the children frequenting it with their friends, trying to talk each other into understanding their point of view and figuring out who was at fault and what could be done about it. Many a time they would invite a third child or the teacher to help them come up with solutions. It amazes me to think that a simple strategy such as this can empower children so much and go such a long way towards their social and emotional development.

Have any of you tried this with your children at home?  Do share your experiences especially if this has worked well for you.