Here in Bangalore, our in-country education consultants are Maya Menon and Indira Subramanian. Maya is the Founding Director and Indira is the Head of Content Development for the Teacher Foundation. The Teacher Foundation’s vision is “To make schools enabling environments for all students by empowering educators to become energetic, effective, reflective practitioners and life-long learners.” (The Teacher Foundation)The Foundation works with teachers and schools to expand professional development opportunities so that teachers are “enabled and inspired” in changing their instructional practice from the traditional to the exceptional.
Before we headed out to visit schools, Maya gave an excellent overview of the Indian Education system so we could better understand why schools are the way they are.
Important points from Maya’s presentation to consider:
- India is complex, multiple realities exist.
- India is grappling with many challenges.
- India is a land of tremendous potential and opportunity.
- 2 billion people with the world’s youngest population with 450 million children under the age of 18 who want to learn.
- 22 Modern Indian languages coexist; 1576 mother tongues.
- Schools teach in 70 languages
- India does not have a stand alone Department of Education. It is part of the Ministry of Human Resources.
- Each Indian state also has ministries that oversee education.
- Parents can choose between government schools and private schools.
- Right to Education Act that states education is a fundamental right and that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 must be in school.
- Teacher shortage. Many teachers are untrained or poorly trained and it is a “noble” profession with little status and is female dominated.
- Administrators and Teacher Educators don’t know what is happening in the classrooms.
- Large class sizes that go beyond the 1 to 30 teacher/student ratio as stated by law.
- Teaching & learning English is the highest priority.
In both schools we observed, like in the US, that teachers do the best they can with the system they are in. Indian teachers must teach from the required textbooks and that doesn’t leave much room or support for creativity. Much of the teaching and learning was rote in nature and the students respectfully complied and were eager to show us their books and materials. One English teacher at the Vasanthnagar School used additional flash cards that she created herself, modeled the definitions of action verbs connected to the text, and engaged in a short discussion with the students. Her lesson was enthusiastic and fun which engaged the students. The English class that I observed at the Shastry School was taught straight out of the text with the teacher as the expert with students following along. Students were very compliant and excited that we were in class but this lesson was more indicative of the standard teaching and learning in Indian classrooms. The Vasanthnagar classrooms were small and dark with fixed benches, few materials but had beautifully painted alphabets in multiple languages, multiplication tables, and so forth on the walls. At Shastry, all of the classroom walls were bare and the interactive space was the chalkboard and teacher platform at the front of the room. I look forward to my week of observations at the Shri Shikshayatan School in Kolkata to learn more about day to day teaching and learning.