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A School That Challenged The Claustrophobic Orthodoxy of Purdah System For Women

Archana S. Mankotia, Principal of the school, says: "With a huge historical legacy, the principals from time to time have tried to infuse modernity and progressive attitude among girls which the erstwhile queen had once dreamed."

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A school that challenged the claustrophobic orthodoxy of 'purdah'.

By Archana Sharma

Located in the heart of the capital of Rajasthan, this all-girls school, started by an erstwhile queen, began a silent revolution in 1943 when the region was steeped in the claustrophobic orthodoxy of the ‘purdah’ system for women.

With an objective to liberate girls from the clutches of purdah system (the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a veil or curtain), the Maharani Gayatri Devi School has been able to realise the dream of the queen after whom the school was named.

The school, which has now completed 75 years of its existence, helped its students become financially independent and step out into the mainstream world with confidence.

Not only has the school liberated girls from the purdah system, graduates of Maharani Gayatri Devi School have made a mark in all streams be it politics, Army, administration services, sports and even art and culture, says Colonel S.S. Sangwan (Retd.), Administrative Officer of the Maharani Gayatri Devi School.

A student of this very school, Meira Kumar, served as MP five times and also served as Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 2009-14. Rajnigandha Shekhawat has been a well-known sufi singer; Savitri Candy from 1959 batch became the first lady from Rajasthan to join the Indian Foreign Service in 1967.

Apurvi Chandela (2003 batch) won gold medal in Commonwealth Games while Shagun Chaudhary became the first woman to qualify for Olympics trap shooting event.

Even today, the school stands tall when it comes to grooming talent. Manashvi Katta, Yashasvi Katta and Manvi Gargoti were selected for Juniors IPL Cricket and Vasundra Chandrawat has been selected for International Karate Tournament to be held in 2019 in Bangladesh, Sangwan says.

Started by Rajmata Gayatra Devi, the seeds of the idea of the school were sown when Jaipur’s king Sawai Man Singh brought home Princess Ayesha (formally Gayatri Devi) of Cooch Behar as his bride. The well-educated queen, with her global outlook and exposure, was sad to see girls spending their lives in purdah.

When the king, who was concerned that Jaipur was far behind other states and provinces when it came to girl education, sought advice from her queen to find a solution, she suggested a school for girls. The idea was that once girls go to a school, there will be no purdah in a few years.

The queen herself made door to door visits asking the elites to send their daughters to school since at that time education for girls in the desert state was an unheard of idea. Initially, there were 24 girls on its rolls.

“The parents were apprehensive of sending girls to schools. Hence the queen promised a �purdah’ bus for their girls. This highly curtained bus had a teacher escorting each girl into the waiting bus. The curtains were immediately fastened to the windows,” says Jane Himmeth Singh, a first-batch graduate of the school.

A school girl crossing over the hurdle.

“There was also a curtain between the driver’s cabin and the rest of the bus where the girls, teacher and the maid sat,” she said.

Going down memory lane, Singh said: “We were introduced to a uniform. The senior girls’ uniform was a blue saree with maroon pallu (veil) and blue blouses. The juniors’ uniform was maroon pleated skirts with buttoned down straps, blue blouses, white socks, black buckled shoes and maroon ribbons.

“While taking measurements, the tailor used to stand on other side of the curtain while our teachers took our measurements and called out the inches. Also, the fathers and brothers were not allowed in the school till 1950,” she said.

Till 1976, Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls School was the only girls public school in India.

Eventually its uniform evolved to a chic tunic, replete with tie and belt; sports were played in divided skirts which soon became shorts. In winters, there were blazers.

The first principal, Miss Lutter, brought in first Rajasthan Olympics for girls and started literary and debating activities, and drama and photography competitions which exposed girls to the new world.

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“Even after 75 years, the school maintains its rich legacy, perfectly blending the progressive approach and traditional values to ensure the girls have a strong foundation,” Sangwan says.

“Following cosmopolitan approach, our girls sing Christmas carols and learn to celebrate each and every festival without getting biased or inclined to any particular creed. The discipline is yet another perceptive which we focus upon,” he adds.

Laxmi Singh, MGD’s most loved teacher, says: “What makes this school different is the family system being followed here among students. Everyone calls their elders as �jija’, meaning elder sister, which binds the students in a value system.”

Arushi Sharma, a 2009 graduate serving as the Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, Mumbai, says: “When I had joined the school in 1996, I was a shy, withdrawn and an afraid young girl. When I left the school, I was a boisterous, forthright and fearless young woman being a successful swimmer, debater and a theater artist all at once.”

Captain Navita Kashyap, a 2012 graduate, says: “The education I got outside the classroom, in the sports fields, during the various debates and cultural fests made me realise my calling.”

Archana S. Mankotia, Principal of the school, says: “With a huge historical legacy, the principals from time to time have tried to infuse modernity and progressive attitude among girls which the erstwhile queen had once dreamed.” (IANS)

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Indian School in Dubai Provides Students Free Access to CBSE Learning Resources

Indian school in Dubai gives free access to CBSE textbooks

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CBSE textbooks
An Indian High School in Dubai has given its students free access to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) textbooks and learning resources online. (Representational Image). Pixabay

An Indian High School in Dubai has given its students free access to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) textbooks and learning resources online for the entire duration of this term amid the coronavirus pandemic,it was reported.

The school has offered to provide 100 per cent free access to CBSE textbooks and learning resources in digital form at no additional cost to all our students for the entire duration of this term, the Khaleej Times quoted the Indian High School group of schools’ CEO, Punit MK Vasu as saying on Thursday.

The term for Indian curriculum schools begins from end of March to June.

CBSE textbooks
The school has offered to provide 100 per cent free access to CBSE textbooks and learning resources in digital form at no additional cost. Flickr

In a letter to parents, Vasu said: “This will provide significant financial relief as no costs will need to be incurred on the physical purchase of any CBSE textbooks for this entire term.

“Our students will also benefit from a digital learning app developed by an international publisher and students will have complete free access to exciting digital content including activities, assessments, videos and so much more.”

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The school will take a decision on the physical purchase of text books and the continuation of digital text books in September, depending on the prevailing health situation, explained Vasu.

He urged parents not to purchase any physical text books from third-party vendors until further notice.

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“We are yet to confirm minor costs, if any, on e-text books for MoE related subjects such as Moral Education, Islamic Studies and Social Studies,” he was quoted as saying in the Khaleej Times report, reiterating that the Indian High School is a not-for-profit school.

The school has also aided families directly hit by the crisis by providing “need-based admissions” to those in need. (IANS)

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Talkative Children Perform Better at School: Study

Chatty kids do get good marks at school

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Children
Researchers have found that young children go on to achieve more academic success when their verbal skills are enhanced. Pixabay

Dear parents, if you want to boost your childs academic performance, let them chat more. Researchers have found that young children go on to achieve more academic success when their verbal skills are enhanced.

The study, by researchers at the University of York in the UK, looked at why children from wealthier and well-educated family backgrounds tend to do better at school.

The researchers found that children from families of higher socioeconomic status had better language abilities at nursery school age and that these verbal skills boosted their later academic performance throughout the school.

“Our findings show that a child’s learning at home, when they are under five, is really important to their chances of later academic success,” said study lead author Sophie von Stumm, Professor at the University of York.

Children
Children from high socioeconomic backgrounds were at an advantage when it came to their non-verbal skills – such as solving puzzles, drawing shapes and copying actions – before they started school, the researchers said. Pixabay

For the findings, published in the journal Child Development, the researchers looked at data from nearly 700 British children.

The children’s pre-school ability was tested at four-years-old and their educational outcomes were tracked throughout school up until the age of 16.

According to the researchers, differences in language skills between children explained around 50 per cent of the effect of family background on children’s achievement in the first year of school.

This achievement gap widened over the course of their education, the study suggests.

“Kids from more advantaged backgrounds are more familiar before starting school with the language patterns and linguistic codes that are used in formal educational settings and are expected by teachers,” Stumm said.

“Not all kids get the same start in life, but this study highlights the importance of helping parents of all backgrounds to engage with their children in activities which enhance verbal skills – such as reading bedtime stories and engaging the child in conversations,” Stumm added.

According to the researchers, activities designed to improve verbal skills boost cognitive, social and emotional development, in addition to benefitting parent-child bonding.

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The researchers also looked at non-verbal ability at nursery school age and found that it had a smaller, but never-the-less significant role in explaining the link between background inequalities and academic success.

Kids from high socioeconomic backgrounds were at an advantage when it came to their non-verbal skills – such as solving puzzles, drawing shapes and copying actions – before they started school, the researchers said. (IANS)

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Cameroon Starts a Program to Save Its Native Languages

Here's How Cameroon Plans to Save Disappearing Languages

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Native languages
A teacher writes in Ewondo, one of Cameroon's native languages, at a school in Yaounde. VOA

Cameroon is commemorating International Mother Language Day, February 21, by launching what it calls an ambitious program to save its endangered national languages.

The central African state has over 260 national languages, but only 40 are taught in schools.  Cameroonians speak mostly French and English, which are foreign but official languages and part of an entrenched separatist conflict that has cost about 3,000 lives since 2017.

At the multilingual and inclusive government primary school Yaounde, 150 children between the ages of five and 11 years old learn how to count in Ewondo, a Cameroon national language spoken in the country’s central and southern regions. The students are also taught the national anthem and patriotic songs in Cameroon national languages.

Businessman Emmanuel Mbom, 31 years old, says he is satisfied at the progress made by his six-year old son at the school.

Native languages
Fabienne Freeland, director general of the nongovernmental organization Summer Institute of Linguistics, helps Cameroon in promoting the teaching of its native languages. VOA

“In my situation, my wife and I speak two different languages, native languages so my children try to pick what they can pick,” Mbom said.

Mbom says he is confused about which language to teach his children because his language is Sawa, spoken in the Littoral and Southwest regions of Cameroon, and his wife is from the Northwestern town of Nkambe, where the Limbum language is spoken.

Cameroon’s secretary of state in the ministry of basic education, Asheri Kilo, says she is satisfied with the level of interest the children display at speaking their national language.

“It is very impressive the way the children are taken into learning their languages, and I decided to check how many children are from other regions rather than Yaounde and I figured that there were children from all the 10 regions in Cameroon,” she said.

Cameroon has 260 national languages spoken by an estimated 25 million people in the 10 regions of the country. It is one of the countries the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) classifies as a distinctive cultural density on the linguistic map of the world.

However, the central African state inherited two foreign languages from its French and English colonial masters as official languages, with 80 percent of the population speaking French and 20 percent English.

Fabienne Freeland, director general of the nongovernmental organization Summer Institute of Linguistics that helps Cameroon in promoting the teaching and learning of its national languages, says the official languages have not been effective tools of communication.

“French and English has its limits on development in this country,” Freeland said. “When there was a cholera outbreak in the far north, it is only when the information started coming in Fufulde that people started changing behavior and the cholera was stopped.”

Native languages
Asheri Kilo, secretary of state in Cameroon’s ministry of basic education, is encouraged by students’ interests in learning their native languages. VOA

Cameroon’s national institute of statistics reports that four percent of the central African states’ local languages — including the Mbiame language spoken in the country’s English-speaking Northwest Region and the Ekung language in the South — have disappeared since 1950. Ten percent of the 260 languages are neglected and seven percent are threatened.

Seraphine Ben Boli, who heads the program to promote the use of Cameroon national languages, says a pilot program that is being implemented in the 10 regions of the country to save the remaining mother tongues from disappearing.

She says the ministry of basic or elementary education is experimenting with the teaching of five national languages in 43 schools throughout Cameroon. The languages chosen, for now, are Ewondo, Bassa, Douala, Womala and Fufulde, because of their national popularity. She says apart from the experimental schools, teachers in all educational establishments have received instructions and training to teach Cameroon national languages spoken in the areas where their schools are found.

Boli said Cameroon will decide by 2030 on which of the languages can be used as an official language, added to English and French. She said by so doing, they intend to solve the separatist crisis that has within the past four years claimed at least 3,000 lives just because people are divided as a result of two inherited colonial languages.

Separatists have been fighting to create an English-speaking state out of the French-speaking majority. The separatists say the education, legal system and cultural practices they inherited from their British colonial masters are different from those left by the French, who colonized the French-speaking regions of the country. Cameroon believes by having its own national language as an official language, many of its citizens will feel like Cameroonians, unlike in the past when they considered themselves either French or English.

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UNESCO says it celebrates mother tongue day because it believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies and it is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others. (VOA)