Thursday, November 15, 2012

How less is more


In one of those interesting conversations about life and its great nuggets of wisdom, a friend of mine casually asked me one day - how much more is less when it comes to measure the happiness? While I try in my best capacity to answer this interesting question I find it much fulfilling to answer it the other way around - how much less is more?

Honestly it is 'too little' that proves to be 'a lot' to keep ones life on top of the world. I bet all of us would have come across or will come across that bit at least once in our lives.
The discovery might ask you to take a walk down the memory lane or look around wide enough in your present or in your vision of the future. Worth a walk though!

Keeping the greater number (which most of us fall into) aside, there are people for whom a shared smile served with a cup of tea/coffee is just sufficient to call it a fulfilled life. For some others, their innate anxieties fuming out off the kitchen chimney is just sufficient to make it an easy life. For some chatting it away with a great friend, for some taking a stroll with a loved one. There are some who wake up to watch the sun rising in glory, setting in serenity and traversing a much secretive trajectory of dews and droughts in between....makes it an absorbed reading, called life.

The last set of people are unspoken observers who have given most to the world and the generation that follows and expect the least when it comes to see the blossoms on their own planted trees. They live in old age homes because the children raised by them are ‘grown big’ with beliefs such as - it takes a lot to care for aged, and this very belief raises the need for outsourcing. The outsourced responsibilities along with the less resourced elderly, then lands into a home-to-be place away from the home. A paid service on a moral exchange?

Their journey of rising as adults to raising adults take a halt to a deserted territory where there are no children no adults, no grooming no advising, only the like fated and looking-alike group of senior citizens gazing at horizon trying to give meaning to this blanket of blankness… attempt could ever justify the irony. I think of a time when these parents would have held little fingers and walked them up to school. Those little fingers have grown bigger now to walk them down to an old age home so thoughtfully crafted for the ‘elderly in need’.

Some make it an even stranger definition of needs - they just need a piece of cotton in the fist and they hold it tight to say that's all they ever need from the world to make it a happy life. On our side of their world we have grossly perceived their needs as special needs and at their side they call it the bare needs. We call them special because they are a lot in dissimilarity with most of us, they may look challenged to the common eyes but stand unchallenged when it comes to humanism – they are true, real and righteous much developed human than most of us. They are indeed special but their needs are smaller than the smallest needs that anyone of us could think of.

It’s been a continuous debate within me if the last need is more important than the first need. I feel the first set of needs that we define as fundamental needs develops a person and the last need also known as the self actualization, defines him. As I love dwelling in my last need these days, I feel all of us must try to bridge the distance between the first and the last needs. Most of us though, walk a spiral path when it comes to the first and the last needs, expanding the distance between the two by every passing day. The sun-set dwellers walk a small step everyday that bridges the distance between their first and last needs and then they stop and reflect, waiting for a new day with zero new wants. 

The special folks on the other hand, make it a point to demonstrate everyday that the first and the last needs are same, they begin and end at the very point of being want-less.

So where is the question of how much more is less, or how much less is more……looks like it’s just sufficient, apt, ample and adequate, what we are and what we have. Can we take the next and final step of enjoying it please? That's the message of a every special heart beating inside a special child.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Beautiful Necklace

We were on a ferry from Gateway of India to Elephanta Caves, the sea was sounding solemn like the lines "miles to go before I sleep.....". My elder sister Swati, her husband Harish. our mom and I, all four of us were busy weaving a massive net of thoughts interlocking with each other at some place or the other, consciously avoiding to exchange glances and failing in attempt multiple times, followed by an instantly baked smile that said “darn! I just missed a knot in my net”. There was more in our collective minds than the waves of the ocean we were now part of…..hoping not to see a droplet in anyone’s eyes was the abrupt wish we were constantly making in tandem. I witnessed for the first time that an ocean could reflect so deep on our lives, until this time I always thought ocean is either about the pleasure of sailing through or the fear of drowning down, there is so much in between the two that I was unaware of– a thrilling ride of hopes, negations, affirmations, wishes, introspection and retrospection, peacemaking and prayers to call the most identified emotions.

The little-one who is the fifth count of us, exclaims oh! for how long?! and rest four of us look into each others eyes (intentionally this time) echoing her anxiety, for how long?
While we temporarily had no answer to the child as to how long it would take to finish the journey (we were contemplative of) and not the excursion we were on, a co-passenger replied 45 minutes. At 45th minute the steamer anchored at the island and the little-one hopped off the boat first to hop on the toy train.

Wish the life was this easy, smooth and sailing in harmony forever. But life, the fairer half of it, is never so. There are choppy waters, rough rides, jerky drives, mystifying deserts and wearing walks. One of these or sum of these was already running in all four minds and of many more back home. She among us and very much a part of us is diagnosed with an ailment called Cancer and we are in Mumbai to fight this off or rather to be able to find peace in it.
It’s in some stage that we don’t really care about as someone has brutally said its’ the emperor of all maladies. How I wish it could be unproven, denied and dismissed. We have an ambition of making a great holiday, a day before the treatment procedure is scheduled to start in Tata Memorial Centre which we don’t know when to expect ending. On our holiday walk together, she as usual preferred to keep the little-one in the center but we denied and kept her in the center instead, making a star formation with the 2.5-year-old angel as one arm, a very strong arm that promises to keep the star shining even when the rest three stop radiating.

Like any other beautiful day it was a bright sunny day with small cloud paying a sober visit on and off. We were clicking pictures and feeding monkeys while making a not so obvious attempt to pull the drifting center to the center. Never realized joy-making could be this challenging. As an educated reader of human emotions, I could clearly read what was going in her mind and as the sun goes over the head, merging the shadow with the sole, I thought of standing as her shadow and having that candid conversation with her. My voice echoed as her voice – not sure if this day is the last day of certain things, not sure if my eyes would respond to the rising sun, to those doorbells and phone calls, in the same awaken way, not sure if this artist would again be able to paint the picture of a woman wrapped in the colors of dawn, a content village girl working in paddy fields, a potter shaping his best creation in absolute bliss. I told her in my own voice, Your sketches and brush strokes have always spelled it bright and beautifully and suddenly today you look lost in the shades of grey, I hear you saying you don’t know how to cut this messy thought off, while you have cut them a hundred times to give that classy curve to the fabulous dresses you designed.Your finest art has been your identity and you want to give it up to a shady illness the longevity of which I want to dispute badly, I heard myself screaming.
Conflicting within and reflecting as calm as the sea around, she walked to a shop and I followed her. There were prolific displays of antique and countrified ornaments that I felt were just the right things for the moment as I knew they have been her favorite fantasies under the sun for ages, however I noticed the sun taking a directional shift, changing the color of the world its been shining upon. While the shopkeeper kept asking me if we liked their collection, I continued to count on her eyes and so wished if she picks up something and I proclaim yes! We like this. I took a necklace in hand and thought how jewelries for me have always meant her. When it comes to me making a selection, I create in my mind her first likely reaction - a charming yes, a critical no or a pesky well…lets see more.

While I was still on with my one on one with her shadow, she claims the control of the shadow back and declares “I don’t think I’d ever be seeing such pieces of beauty again because I am no more entitled for them.” It clinched all the patience out from me as I said in speechlessness “Beauty means you to me and all the jewelries I have ever been able to appreciate have deserved being so because it’s you who define their beauty” As she walked away I was left behind with the scattering beads of necklace in hand.

Series of surgeries and chemotherapy on their way were gradually dragging the beads of patience away, ruthlessly mixing the colors on her pallet splashing and making gloomy and grossing images, no matter how hard we tried to alter it for better. I had personally gone artless in correcting the sketches and undoing the cuts that time had registered in her brilliant art gallery. Sitting next to her I could see the world from her side, there were loud returning echoes of all the 'Whys' and there was a large wall replacing her favorite painting with blankness. She loves mirror but didn't allow it on the wall this time, for the fear of meeting a face she wasn’t familiar with. I saw her staring at the flashing constant question “what would I do now”.

While the therapists and counselors talked about distress-turned-stress as one of the root causes and frequented their insistence on the need of believing in life and the person’s own attempt to restore it, there was hardly much being talked convincingly about how to do that. It was the time when I discovered the need to DO it differently, instead of trying to undo or redo things. Living the ‘To whom so ever it may concern’ life in a different way by making it ‘To me it does concern’, by not trying to change the circumstances but changing the perspective, asking hard for what it takes to make it complete and completing it to make it happen, walking out from what claims to be capable of turning it around without giving you a choice. I told her never to give up and she taught me how not to, I told her what integrity is all about and we together learned how to stand for it. I was imagining what an alternatively beautiful life could be and she discovered it herself without asking for assistance. We agreed that life is too short to count on problems and long enough to clinch on a dream and wake up everyday to make it happen. A little about the ailment and more about the rare vivacity emerging from the experience and this article together - is a testimony to it. I from her eyes and she from mine started seeing the life together, closer and clearer.

After 18 months of all that takes to treat the malady, she stepped into the old world of normalcy, fully clad in her pristine self-belief with a brand new outlook that she otherwise was  totally unaware of. The new birth of hers in a jet black curly hair makes her stand out and stand tall with a beautiful smile that celebrates the discovery of a new life and her two little children with the entire family celebrate the come back of a fighter Swati. Swati means the first drop from the sky that falls on the seashell and turns into a pearl. Always wondered why they said that Cancer can make someone what all the distress of the world cannot. I have come to realize now that it sure does because it gives birth to a new mind, body and soul that makes many more lives stronger, fearless, momentous and memorable. After the years of finding the life’s answers together we still attempt to answer the challenge “what would I do now” everyday, with that unconquerable spirit born in the hospital room.

I am so proud she is my beautiful necklace.

I sign off with an appeal to do everything possible to keep the distress away from you and from those around you, at home, at work and on streets…..because most maladies caused by distress take more of it to get cured, leaving the scars nonetheless.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Egghead to Godhead

As the iron wheels of my favorite transport modality gains momentum, vibrating both the material surroundings and the immaterial me, I get caught by a conversation about God and his existence. Some said he is a belief, some said there is no God, some said I am God and some comments for God’s sake!

I was listening to the masses and their views as I have always loved to. I have no Brahma Gyaana to help finding the truth either, but I have an aware mind that likes to attempt understanding what it may mean having it. A person wrapped in a thick safari suit scoring high on breaking betel nuts sounded sorry to give up on God stating “It’s an utter waste of life living in a country that only makes a man suffer on the name of human values. If god was existent he wouldn’t have let the men suffer, so all that matters is the survival of the fittest in a world of burglary, corruption, power, politics, dishonor and diseases. God has probably taken a shift to a much cooler place.” Another gentleman interrupted saying God is omnipresent constantly carving his creations. I imagined myself being part of this conversation (which the transient me were already) and heard a voice adding, for those who believe in God and wonder about his whereabouts, he has no nationality in case if some believe a country as the God’s only country, God is right here without a passport and visa and in all probability smiling at our discussion. 

It takes me on a tour of remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness to help outline this conversation. God for who and what he is, gives us a chance - if we want god he gives us a chance to have him, if we don’t want to believe in him, he gives us a chance to un acknowledge his existence, if we want to lead a life forgetting God he gives us a chance to forget him. So it’s all about what you want to call before getting a chance to hear ‘be it so’. (Reference from Matchless Gift by ISKCON Center)

Among the different mental and behavioral patterns, there’s a commonality that keeps all human entities in either of two groups. The line of differentiator is the effort of proving a point that says I don’t care and another that says I still care for those who don’t care. I call the first group as Egghead and the second as Godhead. IQ is the mantra for the first and actually for the second as well, except for what translates to Intelligence Quotient for first becomes Integrity Quotient for latter.

Understanding the quotients, what promises to help you through a mentally exhausting day is Intelligence quotient but what concludes the day is the integrity quotient that helps you taking a stand and surviving the storms of ever changing norms. So while the egghead is most commonly available, it’s the sparse godhead that is balancing the terms of our existence. 
In the world of egghead people not for the loss of hair but for the loss of sanity-integrity-simplicity and abundance of borrowed complexity, it becomes unavoidable to hear ‘what the hell’ every time the egg crashes in boil or breaks to have the chickens celebrate their liberation. While a part of human race keep denying the God and his world, the godhead people like following their good 'Vaishnav dharma', keep trying to deploy the seeds of sanity in eggheads. Be it intellect or super select, the law of nature advocates continuous evolution and no natural existence could defy that. So sooner they understand the need to evolve, the better is that for the world we live in, eggs must be allowed to evolve in chicken and Godhead are made to vouch for this evolution.

Egghead commands the rain in vain, damn! stop the cats & dogs falling off the roof, I want to reach home safe in time, while the godhead says....I am safe everywhere it rains a pound of bliss, so continue raining, I enjoy walking with you.

Standing at the horizon the egghead says, alas! it’s the end of the world while the godhead smiles welcoming the beginning of a new world, a beautiful extension of the one he belongs to. 

As to the question of transition from egg to god head, it is in dear subject to the liberation of chicken and the willingness of egg to allow this liberation.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Across the glass wall

It was a usual corporate conference room I was asked to wait in. Looking much familiar it had a white board scrapped with a lot of curly lines and figures, supposedly some important notes....hopefully understandable to those they were written for, my favorite markers, a big rectangular table surrounded by a dozen movable chairs, a phone that has hardly experienced ringing as half its life has passed dialing other phones over the walls and overseas. I widened my glance to a full square view and fitting to my mental frame was a glass wall.....a wall that I could see through. Though the view was mundane the different thing about that was the spot it was being looked from, this spot is the place I am standing at the glass wall that echos a lot about the place it surrounds and can barely hear the world outside.

I walk up to the wall and look through it, branches and leaves of the mango tree were as closely reachable as the thickness of the glass wall, I attempted to touch them and no wonder the wall came on my way. Since my fingers were already on the wall, I tried to draw a figure and no wonder failed to justify my attempt. Then I thought of the school and children I were working last weeks with and imagined painting the transparent glass wall with all beautiful colors of the nature but my previous attempt disapproved my latter thought. By this time I started feeling anxious, I was thinking of the wall of my school and home where no attempt of writing, painting, scrapping was a fail ever. To my restlessly investigating mind the the wall resembled with a corporate job that lures someone with an spectacular heaven-like view of the horizon, overwhelming, stirring and motivating till core. The aspirant rushes to glass wall focusing at the take-off point, abandoning all his senses (but the vision of a glass wall) behind....only to bang with the wall, calling a crash and realizing what a glass wall could do to a naive aspiration?! 

It feels like a stolen brevity, a drafted calamity and a given upon serenity. The crashed soul feels heartless and attempts to make those sketches on the glass wall again, scratches the wall with a hope to see some movements in the falling flakes, bangs it hard to feel an impact....but all in vain, it’s a glass wall!. He looks at the branch of the mango tree and green carries hanging off it, recalls the childhood that had the pride of grabbing them down, no matter how and now all of a sudden it feels deeply sorry about standing so close to them yet unable to touch the fruits (did you say of your own hard work?) He feels suspended in the plasma that he aspired for, not long ago....Irony speaks for itself, as he can see things much clearer than ever but can’t move things across the walls.....what could we call it - hypnotism, or an alarming coma effect? 

I opt to think further, my thoughts take a sprint from doors to desks through walls to carpets. Everyone is working hard, overtime, dedicated, committed and demanded...with a distinct flair to win, and wins who? They say it’s the smart who wins. Smart is the one who takes the last seat in a square table conference room while the smarter have already seated. The closest to white board the smartest you are and not the one who stands leaning against the wall-the perfect glass wall, pondering over the scope of building a window on it. I make a silent wish "May the individuals be acknowledged over intellect, may the integrity be regarded over superficiality...every time there is an intellectual discussion in this conference room."

As my eyes moved and took a tour of the room, the moving chairs in a meeting room did not quite make a sense to me, I could not reason why should the chairs in a meeting room be rotating and moving in a world we are taught to take a stand when it comes to bipolar discussions. Or does it indicate to some sort of a higher realization that taking a stand is synonymous to taking a position and pretending to be team until the ‘ROI of that stand’ is met, triggering a smooth shift to the next standing investment? They call it standing-up to situation or transitioning-in to situation and give it a name to remember - Situational Intelligence, while I still wonder if stands are meant to change across tables, frames and walls....and where does ones integrity stand in the room, if you say yes.

Back to the glass wall separating the two worlds with great distinction, I am standing at the illusional meeting point of those worlds. I continue to look out and look far with least awareness of the world behind me. I am at a transcendental spot from where I  can clearly see both worlds and I quietly dismiss the one behind me for I am struck by the view I have been searching long for. I refuse stare in haze with an accepted disability to touch and feel the beauty of free thoughts, I deny to stay insulated and frozen behind glass walls, I am breaking the hypnotism of granted asks because I don't I never wanted be coffined. I want to make a way out while leaving a window for the rest, this walk out is probably what it takes to make the glass walls believe in the human resource working behind them....I am amazed intrinsically for the first time after stepping in the glass building which is named a corporate office. Standing by a glass wall meant so much to me all of a sudden as I got my vision and my sense of present clarified for the better.

I hear a knock on the door and without turning back I recognized the voice same as that of the person who left me in the room an hour back, I heard him welcoming me to follow him for a tour of the building, in other words for signing a contract of staying imprisoned in the glass walls, stationed and eying for the next available moving chair. 
I am reluctant to look back and accept his offer, as I am looking out....through the glass wall. For the first time in the day there is absolutely nothing interrupting my views and thoughts.....I have decided to take up a marathon to the horizon and explore what happens when there is no glass wall between the two worlds.
Good Bye Glass Wall.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Find your TEE at your Workplace

TEE as I call it, expands for Transactional and Emotional Engagement of employees in an organization.

I recently got a chance to read the Employee Engagement 2.0 by Kevin Kruse, author of NY Times bestseller, WE: HOW TO INCREASE PERFORMANCE AND PROFITS THROUGH FULL ENGAGEMENT. I have to sincerely thank Kevin for being extremely kind and personally sending me the PDF copy of this book to me. 

While I highly recommend all the managers, those who report to them and those in the lines of becoming managers, to read this book as the first check item before stepping into your people management career, for those who want to chew it quick I am glad to point you to What is Employee Engagement and for those who are curious to know what makes me so highly appreciate this read - It’s the following five lines of thoughts I take the liberty to do a ctrlC+ctrlV from the book,
  1. A simpler way to think about Employee Engagement is this: Culture always trumps strategy.
  2. To win in the marketplace…you must first win in the workplace.
  3. Strategic options or Happier People? Engaged People!
  4. To lead, you have to care. You can’t fake it.
  5. You are responsible for the engagement of your team. Don‘t look Elsewhere
As Kevin puts it much beautifully,
‘If you care, you can drive engagement. But you do have to care’
When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. They go the extra mile, they give 110%, they go above and beyond which leads to more Satisfied Customers more Sales, more Profit, Higher Stock Share price and so on and so forth....
But what as a manager you do when you say (and if you say) you care? You probably put discretionary effort to engage them at work, do you?

Your employees are your assets, do invest in them. The phrase buzzes long way in Business and Corporate parlance. Investing in this context doesn’t mean moving from Web2.0 to Employee Engagement 2.0, it only means monetizing on team capital and the team capital is built by thoughtful investments in employees and their emotional involvement/commitment to their jobs.

Going by the House and Home analogy, house is what you live in to support an existence or co-existence and home is what you make it by laying the emotional bricks or painting the walls with your favorite colors. While employees feel quite impressed with corporate houses building corporate villages & cities, it’s possibly time for us to think of Corporate Homes. What does it take to build a corporate simply takes transactionally and emotionally engaged employees (read it as Teed employees).

If you are trustworthy, dependable and sensitive to employees and their issues (at work/out of work) you are a good manager regardless of whether or not you help them solve their work problems.  If you live in a state where your employees feel easy and necessary to confide in you, congratulate yourself because you have already placed the foundation bricks of a corporate home. I can’t be more sure about industries having millions of employees who see or want to see their workplaces as second homes and the culture of Corporate Homes is essentially what they need to get more engaged than ever.

One of my employers I have been fortunate to work for, said ‘Your manager is your HR manager’. 
Honestly, the immediate thought curled in my mind was – ‘may be the HR manager is on vacation’. Subsequently I learned, by saying and believing so they not only helped the employees trust, respect and freely depend on their managers but also made the managers feel more responsible for their employee’s engagement levels. The results were clear, measurable and admirable that the employees shared a greater bond with their managers and vice-a-versa, managers who couldn’t play an HR manager for their employees moved on and I am sure they appreciated to do it somewhere else.

While the blueprint of a great TEE (Transactional and Emotional Engagement) must be woven in the head of the organization, it needs to actually get knitted in layers - from the strategy makers to strategy inspectors to execution specialists, i.e from tips to the roots of the organizational tree. 

On the other hand there could be a lot of engagement developing and dwelling in seashells - the bottom up engagement - the much engaging energy that comes from self-motivated, self-assured and self-engaged employees who do not need the time, lessons and resources of employers to make them engaged, I would say they mark a bonus to the organizations' Tee initiatives and must be regarded for it because they are the folks who not only sport their self-woven tee but also take pride in offering it in all sizes to the peer groups, making it a great cost-benefit impact as the organizations don't have to sponsor for it to those teed herds. I feel an organization really needs to be arming and audacious to this lot so that the self-managed engagements don’t end up getting mismanaged or lead to disengagements.
The crux (and fate) of the TEE lies in the fact, whether the tips of the tree truly care for it, because they are the ones who need to be much thoughtful, receptive and willingly owning the employee engagement, because they are the ones who apart from dealing with a growing bottom line essentially define good or bad, less or more, narrow or broader TEEs and they are indeed the first ones to tee up to prevent the healthy buds taking a fall.

While Kevin’s book would be an apple for thought that is sure to keep the doctor away, I am hoping my trailing thoughts to add as a bowl of cranberries in your breakfast, dear HR.

Attribution : Employee Engagement 2.0 by Kevin Kruse We: How To Increase Performance And Profits Through Full Engagement by Kevin Kruse

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Technology in Special Education – The CrossRoads

One of my favorite subjects for talk these days,
It is not this morning that the world woke up to the role of technology in education, yet it remains the matter of arguments, discussions and disagreements. Education paves the way for technology and then we wonder and worry about validating the payback role of technology in education. I came across a study published by the U.S. Department of Education on Technology’s Role in Education based on the Findings from a National Study of Innovating Schools’
While the study says that “Technology is not an easy route to transforming schools, but it definitely is an exciting one.” It also talks about how the use of technology in education is impacting the ecosystem that the educational institutions have built over the years,

· Adding to the students’ perception that their work is authentic and important.
· With a simple approach increasing the complexity with which students can deal successfully.
· Dramatically enhancing student’s motivation and self-esteem.
· Encouraging greater collaboration between teachers & students,
· An increase in their technology and pedagogical skills.
· Greater collaboration within their own school.
· Contact and collaboration with external school reform and research organizations.

While the increasing awareness of the use of technology in education is widely impacting both the context and content of the education, I have been curiously involved in thinking what could technology bring to the field of special education. My thoughts as usual have been beyond the basic cost-benefit analysis and more towards exploring the untried possibilities.

In my current recent stint of working with Asha, I figured a few things:
  1. With the special children who are often identified to have some distinguished abilities, the use of technology might give them an array of possibilities with no compromise, depending on an institution’s specialization in different aspects of technology.
  2. Technology unfolds a wide range of potential specialties that can be leveraged in special education, ranging from click controlled elementary learning - to drag n drop match making - to creatively painting an imagination on a computer  screen - to typing - to navigating the world of internet - to photo/video editing - to computer graphics and the list goes on...
  3. Between the regular schools and technology we often see a transmitter– receiver relationship, the technology teaches/demonstrates and the students learn. However between the special school and technology I noticed a mentor-researcher relationship, where every child is a special researcher of technology, offering the latter a spectrum of new possibilities wider than the spectrum(ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorder) they biologically belong to.
  4. Given the evolving waves of technological capabilities, the trainers and educators not only get the challenge and opportunity of learning and investigating these methods of education but also contributing to the ongoing research in this area.
To name a few technologies that probably all of us have grown to take on its face value, but it takes an effort from us to reveal their values to the special education groups, are:
  • Microsoft Office: You might say it is the most value-making and handiest piece of software on the MS earth, which is probably right and so is that for the teachers making special efforts to train these children on basic skills. While the tools like MS Word and Excel shortens their lesson preparation assessment and reporting time, PowerPoint can help them build easy-to-deliver interactive lessons on the most difficult portions of their academic curricula. While I was talking about the capabilities of this suite of handy software to the group of teachers in my training sessions, I was not surprised to see their applications explored within a small computer lab, let alone the real field they operate in! 
  •  Apple iPads, the oomph of this magical device is not just in its impressive gadget-status, but also in its applicability and sheer relevance to what fwe could possibly do with it in special education. The touch that is defined as the first known sense to these children, is what makes the genesis of these devices and no wonder goes beyond fun, speech, phonetics, emotions, behaviors, teaching, learning to create design arts. The tiny icons on the home screen representing the apps housed in this magical device, indicate towards the seamless possibilities of invention to their border less developers around the globe. 
  • Design tools like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDRAW or even the more advanced AutoDesk 3D Max. As someone observed in a workshop, the so called normal people like us can’t use the magic wand or lasso tools with the same precision and accuracy as some of these kids.
  • SMART Technologies bring a series of smart learning options, some of which have potentials to become fundamental to the area of special education. Some appealing products from SMART that I particularly like are interactive whiteboards, Smart slates, Smart IRS, Smart tables and so on. I couldn’t help imagining their massive role in the line of special education. 
Schools and organizations have witnessed the spirits of innovation as a tool to bring students and people together, the same applies on the educators, the teachers & trainers. The real win of technology would be if the elementary educators could reap a good portion of what technology has to offer to the world today. If the technology which is originally brewed by their own science, maths and social lessons, could come back to schools serving the educators, the spirit of innovation would go a much longer and glorious way in transforming our lives.

On the other hand the technical demands posed by technology use are just the tip of the iceberg. Teachers must be able to select, adapt, or design technology-enhanced materials that meet the needs of their special students.
With that I would say, every reform takes time for full manifestation. In the mean time it requires patience, collaboration, individual contributions and answers to all the basic questions that come as "things to do" for that reform to take place. That's where we need technology barons, enthusiasts and volunteers like you and me to intervene and play our part. How can we do that one step at a time, please read my post on Asha - A hope to fly.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Asha – A Hope to Fly

I was taking strides to my mission of this year, I am a technology volunteer for ASHA - Academy for Severe Handicaps & Autistic. I am working with Bhavna, Shashank, Sunny, Vamsi, Jansi, Tanu, Raju, Emil, Satwik, Manav and Vedas and 80+ other students who make this school a home of their imaginations.

These children are as normal human beings as you and me are. They have got their share of excitement, love, pleasure, inquisitiveness, agreements and disagreements like you and me. So what if they don’t communicate like us, they have their own unique ways of expressing themselves which is often termed and perceived as ‘difficult’. I beg to differ though. These children exhibit a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can exhibit. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely affected. ASHA is helping and training children diagnosed and placed across the spectrum.**

First and foremost fact to learn about Autism is - Each individual with Autism is unique and what makes them furthermore special is their extra ordinary abilities which could range from exceptional visual, academic or creative skills to great sense of humor – amazing skills that have gifted the world with some of the most renowned scientists, artists, advocates, writers, linguists, painters, sculptors, poets, educators and we would never miss to mention the creator of Pokémon - Satoshi Tajiri!

Research says that about 40 percent of autistic children have average to above average intellectual abilities. No wonder, many people on the spectrum take deserved pride in their characteristic abilities. That is probably the most important realization and reflection that we - as a society owe them.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in acknowledging that a lot (if not all) of the mundane usability or functional testing work that I have come across in the software world could be brilliantly done by some of these students, with much higher precision, because these kids grow sharpening the edges of perfection and precision like none of us. A special child in my computer class makes it a point to remind me every time he passes by, that the right place for the spectacles clenched over my head is actually on my nose and the piece of dupatta (a shawl) is better suited around my head than wrapped around my neck! I have been surprised and touched by such non verbal and non-eye-contacting interventions registered by them to the minutest (often ignorable) details, while we are still wondering about the early intervention therapies to diagnose their social and communication disabilities! I couldn’t help but to ask myself - do we really need to intervene the natural developmental path they are up to? As I explored further, I learned that all of us have actually gone through a natural yet humanly intervened model of evolution that was devised to keep track of our developmental milestones. For these children since the developmental milestones are usually forced and hard-to-meet, the early intervention techniques help speeding calculated steps towards these mileposts.

While Asha and many such organizations do their best to embrace Autism, it’s the time for us to put our best foot forward by staying aware, then acknowledge and accept Autism: 

As Parents: Most crucial part is to understand and acknowledge that your child has no limits of learning and excelling, so arresting him/her in the boundaries of your perception of their skills would be unfair on your part. Introduce them to colors while allowing them to hold the pair of paint n brush and you will find them filling never-seen-before colors to everything which otherwise looked drab and achromatic to the other spectators like you and me. Please notice the color of the butterfly and elephant in these pictures.
As a Society: I honestly feel we have a clear and better space for these children in the mainstream of social existence. It’s only the matter of finding & including them in. If we as a society could remove the obstacles of unawareness, lack of education, myths and negligence, new opportunities will emerge reflexively.

As a School: Regular schools must collaborate with special education centers and participate in improving the behavioral learning patterns and abilities of the special children. This could help find the possibilities of mainstreaming the special children to regular schools, fostering a broader sense of acceptance and action.  Seclusion could never be a solution, it’s often a choice imposed on these children and their families which we need to strike off. Like any other children in your vicinity, they like a creative company, a learning fair, a reader rabbit and a master Sam. What does it indicate - a need of collaborative & synergistic education. Children are better explained to and best understood by their peers in the group and nothing should deprive them of this synergy. A common child has a lot to learn by a special one and a special one is always at a giving end. Schools are the best places to nurture & celebrate this synergy. So bring them together, make them feel equal and complemented.
As You & Me: Most of us have taken pride in being socialites, friends, employees, engineers, bosses, businessmen and women, bureaucrats (and the list goes on…). Can we not now consider it a time to be volunteers, or possibly we already are without a realization! So let’s join the two ends of You and Me and make a Tech-Volunteer club that offers help in understanding and implementing technology for special education. Anyone who knows what Information technology means to the global development, should be a potential evangelist in special education. If you know what Apple iPad is to you or your kid and browsing restlessly to know how Windows 8 surfaces for us by the end of this year, take a moment to imagine what the fundamental technology of a touch pad could bring to these children of special skills & tremendous potentials. 

If we can shift our focus from in-born disabilities to the nurtured capabilities, we will introduce to this generation a new world of possibilities that we are not yet aware of. As someone says, if they don’t learn the way we teach them, let’s teach them the way they learn. (more... my next blog)

By the way, the second picture  in the first collage is a portrait of mine drawn by a very special child and the smiley is drawn on an iPad by another special child who was asked to express how did he like coming to the school. I wish to become this special to the world.

** Attributions: