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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Race To The Top"!

Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well – Aristotle

Aristotle's above quote cannot be appreciated enough unless we emphasize the urgency and importance of remarkably effective reforms in the education system. It is ironical that the U.S. academic achievement has stagnated or declined for almost a hundred years while virtually every other area of human endeavor has advanced tremendously. This year marks 25 years since the publication of the U.S. Department of Education's explosive report "A Nation at Risk." Its powerful indictment of American education launched the largest education-reform movement in the nation's history, paving the way for strategies as different as charter schools and the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. But even after a vast political and financial investment spanning two and a half decades, America is far from achieving the report's ambitious aims. In such a scenario, when students of the most developed country cannot compete with those from other developed countries of the West or even from the emerging economies like China and India, it will be worthwhile for the U.S. to emulate the example of Japan, the most developed country of the East, which did not find it below its dignity to learn a lesson or two from India's education system, considered amongst the best in the world.

India has the third largest higher secondary education system in the world. States control the school system, though the central government provides financial assistance and planning. Primary school is free and officially compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14. For women, education is free up to the undergraduate level. Schooling in India is considered amongst the best in the world. What better proof can be there than provided by the present elementary education scenario in Japan. Despite an improved economy, Japan is suffering a crisis of confidence these days about its ability to compete with its emerging Asian rivals, China and India. One result has been a growing craze for Indian education in this fad-obsessed nation. Many are looking for lessons from India, a country seen by many in Japan as the world's ascendant education superpower. Bookstores are filled with titles like "Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills" and "The Unknown Secrets of the Indians." Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan. And the few Indian international schools in Japan are reporting a surge in applications from Japanese families. Indian education is a frequent topic in public forums, from talk shows to conferences on education. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers.

Improving teacher quality is the educational mantra of the Indian education system. The well-established tradition of teaching and learning in India has retained its inherent strength ever since the Gurukul system of ancient India. The post-independence period was characterized by major efforts being made to nurture and transform teacher education, to adapt and up-date the teacher education curriculum to local needs, to make it more context based, responsive and dynamic with regard to best meeting the particular needs of India. The current system of teacher education is supported by a network of national, provincial and district level resource institutions working together to enhance the quality and effectiveness of teacher preparation programs at the pre-service level and also through in-service programs for serving teachers throughout the country. The current focus of researchers, policy makers and practitioners with regard to teacher education is on the development of professional competence, and on the most effective ways of achieving higher levels of commitment and motivation for performance on the part of teachers. The teacher performance pay program is highly effective in improving student learning. School-level group incentives and teacher-level individual incentives perform equally well. Performance-based bonus payments to teachers proved a significantly more cost effective way of increasing student test scores compared to spending a similar amount of money unconditionally on additional schooling inputs. The bottom line is, the teachers must be most qualified and best paid, to attract the best brains and retain them in the profession of teaching to turn out brilliant students, amongst the best in the world.

President Obama sure has shown he is a fast learner as far as adopting India's mantra for education reform to conditions in his country is considered. The Obama administration's "Race to the Top" initiative is the first shot fired by the administration in reforming public K-12 schools across the nation, with $4.35 billion in initial funds allocated from the 2009 stimulus package. "Race to the Top" was recently described in the Washington Post as "the crown jewel of the Obama administration's education reform agenda and the largest-ever discretionary federal grant program for public schools." And per his 2011 budget plan, the President wants to add $1.35 billion more for "Race to the Top" grant funding for the 2010-2011 school year. Briefly, "Race to the Top" pushes public school systems to improve by creating competition between states for school funding. Obama has advocated merit pay for teachers, and that states and school districts should take steps "to move bad teachers out of the classroom." Race to the Top (RttT) has affected more positive change in state and local education laws and policies than any other federal education program in history. It has mobilized policy-makers, principals and teachers to create the conditions that are needed to help schools meet high standards of excellence. Each state has taken its own unique route, yet the objective is common. Race to the Top has put wind in the sails of the education reform movement and, in just a year and a half, has accelerated the pace of change more than any other past federal effort and much more than most dreamed possible. The enthusiastic response of most states to President Obama's mantra for education reform clearly demonstrates the country is ready to break away from the status-quo and work to truly improve education for students – as envisioned by President Obama’s initiative - “Race to the Top”!

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