Letter from India…

Series on Learning in Different Contexts #3

I often blog about how excited I am at flattening classroom walls and creating opportunities for meaningful global learning. I wrote recently about my mentor group for our PYP exhibition unit and their Skype conversation with Raj in India. Max, one of the students in the group, emailed Raj afterwards with a couple of final questions to round off his understanding of education in India. He wondered if Raj could tell him about his own school experiences and compare them to his son’s education.

Within a couple of days, we received 12 emails with different perspectives on schooling in India! Raj had asked friends and colleagues of varied ages and backgrounds to describe their schooldays and compare them with education in India today. What an interesting collection of primary sources to enrich learning for the students and bring their inquiry to life! This post is one of  them…

Guest post by Jaya, a user experience designer at Zoho Corp, Chennai

I went to school in the rural parts of  Tamil Nadu – my native village, until my 5th standard. It was a typical government school, classes under the tree and small rooms. My class teacher was a tenant in my house, so imagine my freedom at school. I could go when I wanted to and rest otherwise – No questions asked. It went on this way till I was in first standard.

When we moved to the nearby town, I joined a new school – a private one but still in Tamil medium. English medium schools were then definitely for people with educated parents.  The school that I joined was supposedly a premium school, running for more than 40 years in the same place, managed by an elderly couple. We had the school food (government provides free food) every day, did all teacher house work,  sweeping and folding their clothes. But it was not imposed on us, we did it as fun! It was a privilege to know that teacher would drink water which I fetched for her. No restrooms, only the school compound wall for your natural calls – one side of it for boys and other for girls!!

I knew c-a-t in my third standard and knew that there existing vowels in English in 5th standard. But we wereintroduced to a lot of Tamil reading. We even had a small playground. Near our compound, an old lady would be selling all exciting eatables like raw mangoes and amlas  as per the seasons. No pressure, no homework, no ranks systems, not much of tests, no failures even. We used to have a reading session after meal everyday, and I still remember how mesmerized we would be listening to the other person reading the book. We would wait for our chance! One teacher handled two classes and almost every subject, don’t ask me how and worse still, two classes shared the same room too.  It reminds me of J.Krishnamurti’s  school philosophy where they do not divide classes based on the kid’s age, it is like varied age groups sitting in the same classes, for at least a few sessions. I am proud we were doing this in our village itself, even if it was due to space and people constraint.

After fifth we moved to Chennai and joined an English medium school. It took some time to adjust to the new area, new friends, new school… Wearing shoes and carrying a huge bag were few of our shocks. We me and my sister) rather took it as a challenge. We used to get very low marks, handwriting so poor, and I remember kneeling outside the class too. I used to fail in English till my 8th standard and obviously get the first mark in Tamil. After 9th, I think something changed, not sure what, it was probably our attitude that paid us. We were improving in all levels. No more failures in English, no more shy and timid person. I became the third rank holder and somewhat identified as an intelligent girl.

Education in India now is so different, urban schools compete with one another for name and fame, students and money. I think we have moved to a complex mode of education. There is lot of competition, lot of expectation from parents. I do not think that my father even knew how much I was scoring in school, but nowadays parents are expected to memorize the child’s syllabus. I actually want my child to enjoy school rather than study. I want him to have pleasant experience! I do not pester him to study or put pressure to excel, which my parents never did to me.

My education was not just with books and classes but everything other than that.  I am glad that I had it this way, because I realize that without it I would not be what I am today!


4 thoughts on “Letter from India…

  1. Thank you so much Jaya. I have such a thirst to learn about other people’s experiences.. and you painted yours so clearly. It was a new window into a way of schooling so different from the one I went through. Much appreciated.


  2. What a very neat learning experience. Good for Max for taking initiative in his own learning and expanding it by expanding his inquiry. This was a wonderful partnership for learning! Thank you for sharing it with us.


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