India is a dichotomy on many issues especially women’s issues. There is a big push for female empowerment which was evident in the school. The young women we interacted with were very academically successful, well spoken, and aware of a variety of global issues. We had the privilege of attending a Women’s Empowerment Panel Discussion where 4 students had been asked to give speeches on the topic and then lead a question and answer session.
Indian culture is a patriarchy. Many students not only live with their parents but also their paternal grandparents and dad/grandfather generally have the final say on issues although many girls are starting to speak up more in the home. This is not the norm though. The two big things that I noticed were: most men that I saw in the 3 cities that we were in wear western style dress. In Bangalore and Kolkata, women wear saris or salwar kameez which is the more traditional dress. The few women wearing western business attire work for the multinational tech firms or were flight attendants in uniform. In Delhi, some women wore skinny jeans, shirts, and heels and I even saw a few women wearing shorts. I wonder why women wear traditional dress and the men don’t. Because we flew from Bangalore to Kolkata and then from Kolkata to Delhi, we had to go through airport security for domestic flights. There are “women only” lines for going through security and I was not allowed to go through the men’s line in Kolkata and had to walk over to the women’s line to be body scanned with the hand scanner by a female TSA type officer. If the country is pushing for more equality and empowerment, why are there still separate lines? We also experienced this going into different cultural attractions and restaurants. Apparently there are also female only train cars for train travel. How is the concept of “separate but equal” going to bring true equality to both genders in India?
Here are 2 articles that take the issue more in-depth.
Gender Equity Issues in India
Women’s Rights Issues in India: Problems and Prospects
Shri Shikshayatan School’s culture is strong. Students are proud to attend what is one of Kolkata’s best preK-12 private schools, they want to do well, and exhibited great respect for themselves, each other, and their teachers. We learned through a walk through of the primary grades that students learn early to stand when a teacher enters or leaves a room and to say “Good morning ma’am.” Leadership is stressed and students had a variety of opportunities to practice speaking in public, get involved with a variety of co-curricular activities, and engage in community service.
The young women with whom we interacted asked excellent questions and were so interested in talking with us and finding out how we liked their school and what our schools were like. Because students have to wear uniforms it was difficult to tell who the in and out groups were and with 4000 students in one school there must be a great number of cliques. Grouping patterns weren’t obvious to me during our 5 days there but human nature certainly says that they exist. I also wondered about the level of bullying and harassment and didn’t have the opportunity to ask that question.
I really enjoyed the time I had to talk with students in class, observe their learning and co-curricular activities, examine their student work, and see their smiling faces first thing in the morning. They are adolescent girls who want a good education so they can attend college, they care about global issues, have pride in their country, like Katy Perry and One Direction, and spend too much time at night on Facebook. These young women are one of India’s most vibrant and important resources.
Our host teacher Tansuree Ghosh asked my Social Studies partner Kim and I to each conduct a Social Studies professional development workshop for social studies teachers here at Shri Shikshayatan School. Kim modeled the Paideia Seminar with the workshop participants. I chose to focus on Social Studies Inquiry with Primary Source documents and used the set of documents I had put together about colonial reactions to the Stamp Act. This was a tried and true lesson that I taught to my 9th grade American Studies students and did as a quick professional development model for my colleagues at a faculty meeting last year.
Leading 20 Indian teachers through this lesson was really fun and engaging. Like my students, they were concerned that their responses to the prompts were correct and wanted to share their thinking with me. The follow up discussion focused on how to modify this activity in a variety of ways and how to assess student performance.
At the end of the workshop, teachers were talking amongst themselves and I heard some of the same comments I hear from US teachers, and have even said myself, at the end of PD sessions, “I don’t have time to do this, I already have so much to teach.” “My class size is too large” “My classroom doesn’t have enough space for this” “It takes too much time” and so forth. There are teaching challenges everywhere, there is never enough time, but we need to make the effort to try new things to benefit student learning.
Four students at Shri Shikshayatan School gave speeches on Women’s Empowerment at a formal panel discussion this afternoon. The speeches were incredible. See for yourself!
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.