On the contrary: Planting the XSeed

Ah well, Dennis went on to become a ballet dancer, so maybe some good came of Manuel's manual.

Many moons have passed since I set foot in a classroom but a chance meeting with Bidisha Banerjee, GM of the XSeed Foundation for Life, brought back a flood of memories. Here’s a scary statistic: as per the Pratham Annual Status of Education Report 2005, more than 50 million school-going children in India cannot read a simple text. Some of us went to English medium convent schools which work up to a point, but are hopelessly inadequate in terms of preparing one for the school of hard knocks known as life. I remember an Algebra teacher, Manuel, who used a “watered milk” story to demystify equations while savagely pinching the earlobes of slow learners who stood on tiptoe to lessen the agony. Ah well, Dennis went on to become a ballet dancer, so maybe some good came of Manuel’s manual.

Patenting a revolutionary teaching method like XSeed is not the first career choice in a Sindhi household where interest rates, usury and Hong Kong customized tailoring are more likely to feature as hot topics of conversation but Ashish Rajpal had his Eureka moment after a brief stint with an MNC in the Far East. Abandoning his cushy corporate career he completed a Master’s in Education at Harvard before teaming up with Anushtop Nayak to tackle the root of the education problem: teachers.

There is a certain amount of truth in the clichéd expression, “underpaid and overworked” used to describe teachers which tends to overlook the boring and frustrating moments that make up their dull day. As a nation of hypocrites we pay lip service to the nobility of the profession but few of us have actually spent quality time with them at a PTA or invited them home on social occasions. Witness the pride with which we introduce our doctors, lawyers and MLA’s and the withering scorn we reserve for those who spend a lifetime in the obscurity of teaching.

XSeed uses the 5A method: Aim, Assessment, Application, Analysis and Action to create a new blueprint for transforming the classroom from dreary drudgery to a beehive of fun-based learning. Lesson plans are based on higher order thinking skills and children who formerly crept like snails unwillingly to school now race like cheetahs imbued with a sense of purpose. Instead of dry lectures on the square on the side of the hypotenuse, they understand concepts and the practical application of geometry in a future career as an architect or a civil engineer. How does water flow from a tap leads to fascinating insights and light-bulb moments from children on water conservation. A leaking tap has the capacity to waste as much as 15 litres of water a day while a shower consumes 60 litres of water as opposed to a bucket bath which is just 15 litres. A faucet aerator is the new go-to tech for water conservation.

Rajpal, XSeed’s founder is a strong believer in Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence which debunks traditional IQ testing as flawed since it does not provide for different kinds of intelligence. Gardner proposed that there are eight intelligences even going so far as to suggest a ninth known as “existentialist intelligence.” In order to capture the full spectrum of a person’s ability and talent, he theorized evaluating musical, inter-personal, spatial-visual and linguistic skills in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of people.

XSeed now runs an annual competition called the Super Teacher Award where 1000 applicants are whittled down to 3 winners who get an expense free foreign holiday where they are exposed to evolved teaching methods. Designed on the principle that learning can be fun, the curriculum is broken up into a series of classes where communication skills, critical thinking, problem solving through collaboration and discussion replaces the droning lecture method. Think of Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society and imagine your boring Math teacher inspired by his mojo. That is XSeed’s mantra and they have created an entire educational eco-system around it generating revenues of 150 cr last fiscal. According to the Principal of MSMV, Jaipur, “The XSEED curriculum provides a hands-on approach to students, ensures opportunities for creative expression and develop skills of reflective thinking, observation and experimentation.” Instead of re-writing history, it would be far more beneficial if our Education department took a closer look at the XSeed method.

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