22 June, 2011

3 days, 4 schools, 6 cities, 0 internet

We just returned from a whirlwind trip that had us riding in a car for well over 15 hours total. Our lack of internet access, which was expected, has resulted in a few oddities.

First, you'll notice our entries are a bit out of order and feature the date they were published. When possible, we've listed the dates the entries were written. We encourage you to read all posts by one author in order if you're looking for that real time feel.

Second, we added Kat. Her arrival definitely boosted morale as she's been nothing but exuberantly happy (and full). Having another person enabled us to do much more in the classroom, and having a female perspective is definitely appreciated. Plus having the eyes and ears of another teacher is continuing to pay off.

Third, we've had a lot of time to sit around and think about what we've been doing. This means more developed views, but it also means that some things have faded to the background. I strongly suggest readers ask any questions they have based on pictures, videos, posts, etc. Each question seems to remind us of something we had completely forgotten about (or at least deemed not blog worthy when trying to recount our travels).

We saw an incredible variety of rural education. From a school that just started with one room to a program that has been in place for over 30 years, and just about everything in between. Here are the major takeaways, to be investigated and discussed further when we decide which places to visit again:

There is a lot going on. I was well aware that numerous efforts were being made to address education, but the sheer amount happening on the local level surprised me. From government programs, to NGOs, to good old fashioned Christian charity, there is no shortage of people that want to help (although still well below the number of people needed). This has helped us reframe the question from "How can we help the students?" to "How can we help those helping the students?" The recurring theme that we've encountered so far is a need for teacher training. Particularly in English, but I believe they also need training in creative ways of fostering student's talents. The government curriculum has a lot of strengths, but the ability to adapt to the endlessly different needs of rural areas is not one of them.

Kids want to learn. It's easy to imagine that a kid whose parents are working on a farm would love some guidance and attention, but the extent to which these students are eager to participate shocked us all. We saw students fighting with each other for the chance to answer math questions. We saw a classroom of 50 students operate flawlessly because every student desperately wanted to understand the material. And we saw kids teaching other kids, because there was some kind of communal satisfaction in accomplishing what was being asked. I was asked the biggest difference between American and Indian education, and my clunky response was that "the poorest students back home have given up on education, and the poorest ones here have a blind faith in it." I think the latter has plenty of problems associated with it, but they sure are nice problems to have.

The language barrier is serious. Everyone was prepared for the students to have no idea what we were saying. But there is a language barrier even among local English speakers. Tony and Kat had communication issues with even the best speakers that we found. I did too, but my exposure to my family over the years helped me filter what I was trying to convey. From syntax to vocabulary to pronunciation, there was a lot to decipher for all parties involved. This drives the need for the English training mentioned above. But it also began to reveal the limitations of education by studying. At some point, you have to be able to practice what you're learning. No matter how many resources these rural areas are provided, they're going to need real interaction and communication to be able to enter the global economy.

Nobody has websites. Understandable given how many other things need to be done, but also hard to believe. If all we do is set up websites like this one for these organizations, they should be able to make some serious strides in terms of exposure.

Plenty of fun pictures, videos, and anecdotes are on the way. Stay tuned.


  1. Great article and some really good take aways...any ideas about how to help those helping the students, or about how to start making websites for the organizations? Do they have internet access?

  2. Great observations! Another factor that could affect the way you target this would be the different educational boards in India (state board, CBSE, ICSE, etc.) I know Karnataka generally follows the state education system; but in most cases the board impacts the level of English education in schools (urban school have a "A" syllabus, rural schools have a "B" syllabus).

    To make English training effective, you would need to stratify and focus on a specific level of education, and then on which English skills are most applicable for those students.

    I don't know if this would work, but involving large BPOs in Bangalore to provide accent-neutral English training (as part of their CSR initiatives) to students with some level of fluency could be a step ahead.