Pre-Trip Orientation: Niswarth Seminar #2

This week’s focus was to discuss our approach to working in schools in India.  We viewed two videos documenting the state of primary education in India.  Based on those, we discussed two questions:

  1. How would we approach our work within Indian schools?
  2. What are some forces that influence a child's schooling experience in India?

The discussion focused around the complexity and context of schooling, which lead to another question: How can we understand this complexity?

Ideas included visiting communities where students live, interviewing teachers, parents and other students, reading more about the state of education in India, making careful observations while in the classroom and within schools.

Finally, we watched a Teach for India view describing their philosophy and approach in the classroom.  We left energized, excited and in a better frame of mind about how we could learn more about Indian schooling when we get there.

Student reflections on the meeting:

Madeline: At our first meeting, we discussed the purpose of schooling and education in the abstract.  This week, we focused on the current state of the primary school system in India, discussing the ways in which we could help make it better.  We watched three brief videos about the issue, and while they were largely helpful, the tone of one was extremely condescending, seeming to simplify more complex issues in Indian education.  It asked for the viewers, or more precisely, “people like us,” to help by making donations to struggling schools, creating a barrier by making wealthy Americans seem superior to those in other countries.  While giving money and resources to schools is helpful, doing so merely skims the surface of true generosity.  What is truly necessary (and what we are striving to accomplish through the Niswarth program) is an increased understanding of the true problems, gained through interaction with and observation of Indian teachers, students, and parents.  We hope to discover what help is needed by reflecting upon what we learn through being perceptive and interested.

Saloni: Our second Niswarth meeting was informative, communicative, and all in all great! We began by watching two short videos on primary education in India (the links are posted below), which showed the more extreme, yet nonetheless common, cases of undeveloped and inadequate schooling methods in and around Mumbai. As we discussed these somewhat dismal videos, we began to brainstorm ways in which we wanted to get started in Mumbai. Among other things, we decided we would observe the goings-on of the classroom, conduct a series of interviews at the schools we visit to hear about the teachers’ perspectives on the education system, delve into the aspect of parental involvement, devise a system to regulate rigorous testing, and maybe even implement an afterschool enrichment program. But what struck me the most at the meeting was the final, and much more optimistic, video on Teach For India that we watched. Teach For India is an organization that strives to overcome the challenges of inequity in Indian education. This inspiring video features three outstanding teachers or “fellows” who each work with a certain group of kids for two years and help them develop into educated and flourishing individuals. The video also touched on the difference between Paulo Freire’s two pedagogies: banking education, in which the teacher acts as a depositor who ‘teaches’ the students who are simply passive receptacles, and problem-posing education, which takes into account the students’ questions along with a reflection on human society, so that we can act upon what we learn. Teach For India emphasizes the importance of problem-posing education as the teachers attempt to realize the drawbacks of Indian schooling and act upon them to create a better learning environment for new generations. I am so excited to work with this developing organization to further my knowledge of the present issues, and work toward changing them. The video, as well as our productive session, ended with a poignant song whose ending lyrics translate to the uplifting phrase, “wherever your heart is happy, there lies your goal.” I know we all can’t wait to get to Mumbai bearing this optimistic spirit in mind!