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Posts Tagged ‘education’

Wait and See

I don’t think many Indians will be offended if I say that they have a very loose relationship with time. For Westerners used to deadlines and punctuality it can be a bit frustrating to realize that if you live in India, you will never again have a meeting start on time or see almost anything completed when it originally was supposed to be.

Most people here would just say, “that’s how it is here. You decided to live here. Deal with it.” And I do. Most of the time it drives me a bit crazy. Other times it leads to incredible amusement.

I bring all this up because in the time that I have been working on my film with the domestic violence prevention center in Dharavi, nothing has happened on time. The women I am following are incredible, hard-working, defiant, and always — always — late. When they’re not late they are re-scheduling or pushing things back. It’s not laziness or avoidance or procrastination. It’s just the way things are done. But when you’re making a film it can get a little bit tiresome. For every day we’ve planned to film, at least half have been rescheduled. All have started at least half an hour or an hour late. But, as everyone reminds me, this is how it is here. You can’t change the system you chose to work in.

I bring all this up because we are finally done filming. After two months of discussions, two months of shadowing and research, one broken hard drive and three months of filming (whenever we could), we were ready to finish up with one last meeting before starting to edit. I needed video of a game the women sometimes use as a tool for discussion so we had set up a meeting to film it. And I should have known that for my last foray I would get to go out with a bang.

I arrived in Dharavi by myself because my translator couldn’t make it – after all, this was the third time this particular meeting had been rescheduled and she had another work commitment. But since it was just a meeting (ie: no interviews) I figured I could watch and film on my own, and S, the woman I was following that day, has an English-speaking husband. The meeting was supposed to start at 3:30.

When I got there I called S’s husband. He said they were running half an hour late and to just go their house. I’d been there before for the interviews so I made my way into the winding lanes of their neighborhood. Normally when I go into residential Dharavi I’m with my translator or one of the women we’re following. Going alone makes me a little bit like a circus freak. Everyone stops and stares and wonders what this odd white person is doing making her way through the narrow passages and thin sidewalks. I imagine most assume I’m lost. But eventually I make it to S’s house and climb the rickety vertical ladder that leads up to her one-room home.

My head popped up through the entry-way and I saw four little faces staring back at me. S’s children, hanging out at home alone, were suddenly very interested in the person coming through their trap-door.

“You are aware my mother is not here?” I looked over at S’s eldest daughter N. The last time we met, when I was interviewing S, she hadn’t let on that she knew English. I tilted my head and looked at this tiny ten year old with two white bows on either side of her head. She was clearly responsible for watching all her younger siblings in their small 6 foot by 8 foot house with just a small television to entertain them.

“I know she’s not here,” I finally responded. “She’s on her way and asked me to wait. I didn’t realize you spoke English so well.”
“I’m learning it in government school. I’m good at it,” she said, while looking me up and down. She didn’t say anything else, she just continued to watch me, as though she was wondering what I’d do next. I decided to start setting up my camera since she didn’t have any more questions.

After a minute, she asked, “your phone is very expensive, yes?” I looked down at the iPhone in my hand. It’s hard to explain to people here that you can get it cheaply in the US – in India it costs around $800. But then, even spending $99 on a phone would be expensive here. I didn’t know how to respond so I just handed it over to her, so she could play with it. She pushed the button and looked intently at the screen.

“Who is this?” she asked, about the picture that comes up when you first turn on my phone.
“Those are my parents. They live far away so I keep a picture of them on my phone.”
“Your mother has very yellow hair. Why don’t you have yellow hair?” I didn’t really know how to answer, but it didn’t seem to matter. N had already figured out how to slide the phone to show the main screen and she was scrolling through my apps, clicking on different games. I turned back to the camera.

I hadn’t noticed that N’s siblings were fascinated with the camera sitting on its tripod. N indicated that they wanted to take photos so I switched the camera into photo mode and showed them what button to press. I sat back and watched. N was absorbed in a card game on my phone while her siblings giggled away taking photos. Most of the time they were standing too close to the camera, but the flash and the resulting blurry picture usually made them laugh more.

After awhile I looked up at the clock. It was 4:15, already 45 minutes had gone by and no one was here.

“What is this picture?” N asked, snapping me out of my thoughts. I looked over. She had opened the folder that contained all the photos I’d taken with my camera. She was holding up a picture of Phoebe.

“That’s my dog,” I replied.
“She is cute,” she said, while laughing a little bit at the picture.

N proceeded to go through all my pictures. She wanted to know why I had taken every one. Why do I take so many photos of flowers? (I like to email them to my mom). Why does my dog look different in these pictures? (she had a haircut). Who is that person and where are you? (I’m on a beach with my brother). Is that a picture of your mother when she was younger? (No, that’s my sister). Is that what snow looks like? (Yes, it is).

She got the most amusement out of a video of my friend’s dog I had taken at Christmas. The dog is a french bulldog and N seemed to think she resembled a cat. She had all sorts of questions about the size of the dog, why its ears were like a cat, why it was jumping around so much. I tried to answer every one but I just kept thinking that this girl was really something. I’ve been in enough schools to know that she probably sits in a class with crumbling walls and 40 students packed in with one teacher. And yet she’s managed to learn almost perfect English by an age when a lot of girls have already been taken out of school. Here she was, wanting to understand every photo of this strange life of a person entirely foreign to her. I couldn’t help feeling like it all wasn’t fair – an inquisitive young girl in the US would have every chance in the world. I wondered whether she’d even be allowed to grow up and avoid getting married so young like her mother and perhaps even go to college. Maybe since her mother works with a progressive organization she’ll be able to push her daughter out of the cycle.

But of course, all the dramatic thoughts going on in my head were once again interrupted by a question.

“I like this camera on your phone. Can I take a picture of you and my sister?” I agreed and her four year old sister sidled up next to me on the table where I was perched. N snapped the photo and both she and her sister giggled with delight.

“Do you have email?” I asked. “I can send it to you?” N shook her head.
“Not yet. I do not have it yet.”

I was liking her optimism.

By now it was almost 5pm and I was about to call S again. But a few women started arriving and filling up the room. Within a few minutes the small room was holding eighteen women and seven children. When they started the meeting I knew I needed to begin filming, so I lifted a child off my lap and uncrossed my legs. Two women had been sitting next to me on top of the table and their legs were crossed and over mine, so I had to extricate myself. There was no personal space and I had to sort of smash myself up against the wall in order to try and get the camera to see the whole room. N still had my phone and when I looked over she was showing the video of my friend’s dog to one of the women.

It was 5:30pm by the time we started filming, two hours late. But at least on this occasion, I’d certainly had an interesting time waiting.

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I’ve been really lucky — through my various film projects and Book of My Own- to be able to spend time in many different kinds of schools in India. But few stand out like the one I went to today.

A friend of mine works for an organization called Mumbai Mobile Creches, and she suggested that Book of My Own do a donation at one of their schools (If you didn’t read about Book of My Own before, click here for a previous blog about it). Mumbai Mobile Creches is a particularly special organization because they are looking out for the children who probably have one of the hardest upbringings imaginable – in slums on construction sites.

When you drive around Mumbai you can’t miss the shells of empty, growing buildings around you.  Everywhere you look another skyscraper is rising from the ground, aided by giant cranes that take over the skyline. The city is expanding as quickly as could be imagined and it seems like the construction is never-ending.

One of the untold stories of all this construction is the slums that pop up around the building in order to accommodate the influx of migrant laborers that work on-site. 30 million Indians live like this. They move from site to site, shifting their homes every few years after they’ve built homes or offices for someone else.  And it’s often entire families that are along for the ride.

What Mumbai Mobile Creches does is set up daycare, pre-school and primary school on the grounds of the construction site. Often they put the school in the building itself, as it is being built. The kids learn Hindi and English, they’re given three meals a day (a life-saver for many parents) and a doctor visits frequently to make sure the children have adequate medical attention. Essentially, they’re creating a life and a community for those who otherwise might have nothing.  I was excited that Book of My Own could give back a little bit to this organization and the kids they are serving.

Books in hand, we drove into the construction site that held one of the schools – on the site three thirty-story concrete buildings stood half-completed. The school was in its own stand-alone building. The classrooms were painted with charts similar to the kinds you would see hanging in a school at home, only these were more permanent. It was a good attempt to brighten up and liven the rooms.

Students picking out books

As soon as we walked in the kids were curious. But once we started laying out books a group crowded around to see. The floodgates burst when we finally let them in the room. They rushed over to the wide pile of books to start finding the one they wanted. They all carefully surveyed the books, walking around them and staring at covers before gingerly picking one up and flipping through. The students were different ages and different reading skills. Some were only mastering the English alphabet. Others could manage basic reading. But all were excitedly trying to decide which book to take.

 

Reading books

I love watching the kids pick out their books and seeing what they love about them. Some like the more tactile books – with pop-ups or different materials. Others are attracted to pictures. Some love the particular stories, if they can read that much. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to watching how excited these kids get over a book.

After the first round some of the kids went to swap and found new ones. Eventually they started putting them back in the original pile. I didn’t understand — but apparently they didn’t really grasp the concept of keeping the book. They thought they’d have to give them back. We explained that they each got one book to take home. One of the teachers started handing out books without looking at which ones they were, but I insisted that the kids pick the books out, again, themselves. One girl started searching and could not find the book she wanted. My friend who works for Mumbai Mobile Creches asked her which one she was looking for, and she started jumping up and down like Tigger. We immediately located the Winnie The Pooh book she had been looking for.

With a round of ‘goodbyes’ from the teachers and children we left, our box of books much lighter than when we began. I craned my neck to look up at the huge concrete buildings and really appreciated being able to be part of this incredible program for just a day.

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Let’s Discuss

There’s been so much talk about Obama’s upcoming trip to India. For people here, it’s both exciting and a nuisance – the same person who will marvel: “Did you hear that he’s staying in India longer than any other country he’s visited?”, will turn around and scoff “Doesn’t he have enough cultural sensitivity to not come during Diwali? Did you hear no one can use fireworks?”. At any rate, it’s certainly a topic on everyone’s minds – and as an American I definitely hear all the opinions in the peanut gallery.

So when a friend asked me if I would be willing to sit on a panel about youth opinions on Indo-US relations, I agreed. After all: I had lived in Britain when George Bush was president. How much more hatred could I receive as an American than I had during that time? Wouldn’t it be fun to get back to the roots of my International Relations degree?

The panel was being held by Gateway House, a think tank in Mumbai. As the time of the panel got closer I started to worry that maybe I’d agreed to something a bit larger than I had expected. I found out that the content of the panel’s discussion would be used to frame a paper on what the new generation of Indian and US professionals feel should be discussed by Prime Minister Singh and President Obama. The paper would then be presented to the US Consul General to pass along to President Obama. No pressure there.

Then in the run up to the panel the Times of India ran a promotional piece. I just hoped that I wouldn’t make our American side look completely inferior.

The panel

But the day arrived and the discussion got underway. We had three Americans, including myself, and three Indians. The discussion was moderated by the head of the American School here. The questions ranged from nuclear relations to climate change to education to the UN. I tried to keep in mind advice Daniel had given me the night before: “no one likes the person on the panel who talks too much. Just say something when you know what you’re talking about and keep it brief.”

 

And overall, I actually think it all went pretty well – by the time the audience question time had arrived they were all raring to jump in and ask us our opinions and the dialogue felt real and genuine. I think everyone on the panel had gotten over their initial nerves and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak about the issues facing the US and India.

And who knows- maybe the paper will make it into some important hands. Or not – either way, I at least enjoyed a chance to be part of the dialogue in a small way.

(Also: If anyone is interested, Gateway house has posted portions of the discussion online (I’ve included Part 1 below)).

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One of my favorite – and simultaneously least favorite – elements of living in India is that I’m constantly being forced out of my comfort zone. And after living here a while my comfort zone now includes dirt and poverty and sweat and chaos. But yes, even after getting used to the glaring differences between the US and Mumbai there’s still a plethora of minor divergences that challenge me to let them get in the way – or conquer them and feel victorious.

I mention this because, as I wrote about previously, I agreed to do some video work for a group of non-profits and educators who were holding a conference on innovation, called InspirED. Unlike some of the other projects I’ve agreed to, this one seemed easy: I had a budget, they were overseen by great organizations, we eventually had top-notch equipment donated and, frankly, they were inside a real building (not something I ever would have considered a factor before moving here).

Of course the ‘what could go wrong’ attitude probably doomed me from the start.

After months of planning for and shooting in schools, my emergency trip home was needed right as the conference was happening. I missed the whole thing.

I tried to mitigate the circumstances by writing a long email to the people who were going to take over filming that detailed what every camera should be doing at every moment.

But when I got back, the challenges stood in front of me like a solid brick wall: the film school that had donated the equipment couldn’t figure out how to get the tapes onto a hard drive into a format that was readable. After a month of back and forth, once I got the material I realized that 90% of what I had asked to be filmed wasn’t. I had wanted to do multiple videos, one especially that followed some of the teachers I had interviewed before the conference. But they hadn’t been interviewed. The only interviews anyone had done were a series of two minute “how did you like the conference” interviews.

Let’s just say it wasn’t what I had in mind.

To make matters more complex, practically everyone in India uses Final Cut Pro (the Mac editing software). I was only used to Avid – but there wasn’t one to be found here (it’s MUCH more expensive than Final Cut). This was the ultimate wrenching from my comfort zone. On an Avid I could edit the video together in a second. In Final Cut, I’d barely know where to find my video. However, for this project and almost all future ones I’ll have to use Final Cut, so I knew I’d have to suck it up and learn it.

But this was the hand I had been dealt. It was such an India-type problem: you don’t have exactly what you want, everything’s a little broken, but we’re going to pull it all together anyway.

I wrote a script around the interviews that we had. When I got to Film City to edit, I had a 10-minute crash tutorial in the differences between Final Cut and Avid. I got to work.

It was slow goings at first. The computer shortcuts I knew in my sleep were no longer guiding me. Every few minutes I’d come on a problem that my short tutorial hadn’t covered and I’d have to test out a few theories or go to the help manual.

But eventually, I got the hang of it. It wasn’t so different to Avid once you learned the keyboard differences. And even though it took six hours to make a three-minute video (very slow for me), I did it. I did it.

I felt like jumping for joy when my draft was finished. It looked good. I had done it in Final Cut. I had a legitimate draft that I could send out.

I’ll have to get comments and go back and finish up the editing. But it was a moment of victory in a world where nothing is ever as easy as you expect. I’m used to working in a realm of professional equipment, with people to guide me and someone there to fix any malfunction or difficulty. But here, when you do figure it out on your own, you get the feeling you can do anything. This was not my comfort zone. But man, am I glad I was pushed out of it.

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Book of My Own

Yesterday was one of my proudest days since moving to India.

As I’ve written about before, I recently went back to the US for family reasons.  It was jarring. To go from a place where poverty is in your face and most people around you have very little, into the crisp clean wealthy world of American life was fairly overwhelming.

And it made me really look at what we own in a different light. While I was sitting at home in Charleston, I was especially drawn to all the books that were sitting unused on our bookshelves.  I couldn’t help but think of all the time I’ve been spending in Dharavi. Wouldn’t just one of these books be an inspiration for a child who has so little to call their own? Didn’t we all as children read the same book over and over again anyway? (I certainly read Goodnight Moon more times than I can count).

So the thought marinated for a bit. Why couldn’t we somehow get these unused books to people here in India?

Children with their new books!

From that initial germ of a thought came the concept for Book of My Own, a project a few friends and I have started to encourage expats and travelers to bring old books from the US for kids in need here. We believe that book ownership is empowering – by having a book that is theirs these children can remain inspired even when school lets out for the day.

The idea has spread more quickly than we imagined. Within a few weeks we already had two travelers bring books. And yesterday, we really got started. We gave out books to 30 students in a kindergarten classroom in Dharavi.

A child holding onto his new book

It was amazing to watch the kids’ faces as they picked out the book that they wanted to keep. Some of them clutched to their books once they got one. Others immediately plopped down and started reading and pointing pictures out to their friends.

When we had story time their enthusiasm was even clearer – every page was a question. Why is that lion there? What is happening next? Why does that tree look like that? Will it all turn out ok in the end? These are kids that are engaged, excited and ready to learn, in spite of all the difficulties that surround them in their daily life. They only spend four hours in their classroom each day. Now they get to keep learning and thinking at home.

Reading to the kids

I hadn’t written about this before because I didn’t want to get my hopes up that the kids would care about it as much as I thought they would. I didn’t want to seem self-congratulatory when we hadn’t really done anything.  But I’m going to go out on a limb now and say I think we really did make a small change in each of those 30 kids lives. Maybe it’ll be nothing; maybe the excitement will have vanished by today. But I get the sense that those books are going to get well worn from being read over and over again, just like my copies of Where the Wild Things Are or Eloise eventually did. And in a place like Dharavi where the small things count, I’m suspecting this will have a large impact.

We’re just getting started. I’m hoping that within a few months 30 kids will become 300 kids. But no matter what, yesterday was a great day.

(And, as a plug, if you’re at all interested in donating or bringing books or you just want to know more you can always go to our website: http://www.bookofmyown.com)

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The Choices We Make

When I was in high school we took a class called ‘life issues’, which was essentially meant to be a sex-ed class coupled with self-esteem and health issues. Everyone joked about it and laughed off the content (what teenager isn’t uncomfortable in a glorified sexual health class?) but the school made it very clear that these were important issues that we needed to understand.

I mention this now because I was thinking about ‘life issues’ quite a lot as I sat in a small room with no windows in Dharavi, sweating through my long sleeved cotton kurta and long linen pants, watching a field worker explain sexual education and health to a group of Muslim teenagers – most of whom were married and many of whom already had children.

At this particular meeting (I’ve now been to so many I’m starting to get the hang of it), the field worker was fearless. Here was a Hindu woman in a sari trying to explain female anatomy to a group of women whose only visible anatomy was their face and hands. She had started on the topic of periods. Did anyone in the room want to open the discussion by relaying when they got their first period?

Silence.

My translator piped up, telling her story to try and break the ice. It seemed to make the girls less uncomfortable as they laughed and giggled at her trials and tribulations. They started sharing more about themselves.

But then the conversation took a more somber tone: “How many of you feel that your periods make you dirty?” they were all asked. Everyone raised their hands. I was really surprised – how can you have given birth to a child and still feel ashamed about your body’s natural reproductive cycles?

But the field worker was not at all surprised by this response. She began a very stern tirade – she explained that this was a beautiful and natural part of our humanity. She was adamant that they not let their religious views lead to unsanitary practices.

Apparently, in their religion (or their practice of their religion within their particular culture), when a woman has her period she is considered unclean. Anything that she touches becomes impure and she cannot go near her mosque. I had seen similar signs relating to Hindu temples in Indonesia, instructing menstruating women to stay away, but it was amazing to me that this practice is so widespread across varying religions.

Most of these women could not afford sanitary pads (and tampons don’t even exist here for anyone) so they used rags. And when the rags were dirty they would often clean them and then hide them away for drying. This apparently can lead to infections when the rag is used the next time, because without sufficient space to dry, the wet rag can become a hotbed for bacteria.

I’m going to pause here for a moment to acknowledge that this is a very uncomfortable and graphic blog post. But it is astounding the things we take for granted – I rarely consider my period because the modern marvel of tampons makes it as insignificant as possible. These women are getting infections in large numbers because they do not have access to something as simple and cheap as sanitary pads, and their shame about having their period stops them from drying their rags in the sun or out above a flame or even on a drying rack. It’s just astounding to me the number of hardships these women face every day.

I watched as the field worker continued to encourage and explain sanitary habits. The women listened, uncomfortably but attentively. Some of the women began to open up and ask questions.

One woman, who is 15 and has been married for 6 months, had not yet gotten her period. She had not met her husband because apparently in her tradition you don’t meet for one full year. She was worried that if she didn’t get her period soon that she wouldn’t be able to continue being married.

The field worker kindly explained that if she never got her period it would not mean she couldn’t stay married, but it would unfortunately mean that she could not have children. The woman looked stricken – apparently she wasn’t confident that she could stay married without the ability to have children.

Again, as with most of the other meetings I have been to with this particular group, the discussion had nothing to do with it’s stated goal of reducing domestic violence – it was just another way to bring people into the organization. Little by little, person by person, they just try to help in the many many places where help is needed.

As the discussion came to a close and most of the women (girls? How do your characterize young teenagers with such adult responsibilities?) said goodbye, we were left with the girl who had hosted us in her home. She was 15 and her mother had ‘chaperoned’ the discussion.

She had stayed behind to ask the field worker about computer classes- she wanted learn but she only could read and write in Urdu, and all of the classes were in Hindi or English.

I asked why she had chosen to go to an Urdu-only school.

She laughed and started talking. My translator said she was explaining that it wasn’t a choice. The only school she could go to was a madrassa, and the only thing they learned was the Koran.

“You mean that’s what you learn most of the time?” I asked.
“No,” my translator translated. “It’s the only thing we ever study.”
“Can’t you go to another school?”
“There is no other school available. And the men in my family wouldn’t let me go to another school anyway.”

This is the point at which I started to get angry. She and her mother and I then began a thirty-minute discussion where I kept asking why and they kept laughing at me and answering that, “This is just the way it is.”

She couldn’t go to a different school because there wasn’t one that would take her.
She couldn’t take lessons in English because she wouldn’t have time for that and the men in the family wouldn’t allow it.
She couldn’t wait to get married because that would bring shame to her family.
Her school couldn’t teach anything other than Urdu because they could only spend time reading the Koran.
She couldn’t get a job because the men wouldn’t allow it.

I just kept sitting there stunned, trying to find some alternative. Could these women really just allow themselves to be subjugated in this way when they understood what was happening? I asked what kept them from just leaving.

“This is our home. This is our life. Would you want to start completely over and never be allowed to see your family or anyone in your community again?”

I answered that no, I would not want that. That seemed to settle it for them. I was starting to wonder if I had overstepped, so I apologized for asking so many questions. They, again, just laughed at me.

“It’s ok. We understand that you live your life differently.”

I nodded, thinking we were having a moment. But then the mother started saying something that my translator wasn’t translating. I asked her what they were saying.

“You don’t want me to tell you – now they’re asking if you can help them in any way. They want you to maybe help the men in their family find better jobs or for you to give them some money.”

I guess our moment was over. I tried to respond that I was going to be helping by making the film about the organization. They didn’t seem moved.

I walked out still feeling angry. It’s one thing to not understand that there was another world out there. It was another to know that other people are free and to just calculate that it’s not worth it for you.

The meeting and my conversation swam in my mind as I walked out. These women can’t even stand up for themselves by demanding that their rags dry out in the open, let alone demand for education or the ability to work. It was the first time I had left a meeting where I didn’t feel inspired or empowered. So now they knew about their reproductive systems and proper menstrual hygiene – so what? Would they even use the information they would be given? Or would they just continue to be under-educated child brides with no ability to break their own cycle?

I said this to the field worker. I asked her how she keeps going every single day when there are so many battles to fight and change comes in such small incremental steps?

“Because it needs to be done,” she replied. Yes it most certainly does.

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(This post is dedicated to my grandmother – who reads this blog every day and loves seeing the world.)

In India, ‘the right to education’ has become a catch phrase. In a country with startling levels of illiteracy and poverty it’s hard to think of something more imperative than giving every child some kind of education. The UN Population Fund estimates that only 77% of men and 54% of women in India are literate (let’s not get started on that gender gap…).   But youth literacy is the key to the future; and UNICEF estimates that 87% of 15-24 year olds are literate – a better start than their parents and grandparents.

So when India’s ‘Right to Education Act’ came into force this past April, requiring compulsory education for every child ages 6-14, you’d think most people would jump for joy. But like ‘No Child Left Behind’, it seems that results are more difficult than just passing a law.

If you ask most people in India about education you’ll hear the same stories – the schools are crumbling, kids in poorer areas can’t even get in to a school. But it doesn’t matter if kids get into a ‘Municipal School’ because the teachers are so poorly trained they barely learn anything (ie: becoming literate may be the only thing they achieve in many years of schooling). There are no resources.

It’s not a pretty picture I’ve been painted.

So when I was asked to help out with InspirED, the innovation in education conference, I was interested to see what all the talk was about. How can you possibly even begin to solve these problems with a conference? I didn’t know – I still don’t know. But at least now I’ve seen some positives of Indian schooling.

One thing I wanted to do before the conference was go into schools, shoot some video, talk to teachers that were attending the conference.  And in this vein, I was inspired by what I saw.

A classroom wall

I went to the class of a teacher who is doing ‘Teach for India’ (the same basic model as Teach for America). And when I walked into the school, all the negatives I’d heard rang in my ear – the building was falling apart. Paint came off the walls in chunks. Children played in a courtyard made of cement. They were sharing desks and books.

But when I went into the class (a 3rd grade equivalent), the children were listening. They were writing letters to pen pals in London (adorable) –  they were supposed to be practicing proper grammar.  There were 35 kids in the class and they all wanted desperately to get their teacher’s attention. They were raising hands, participating, writing silently when asked to and (somewhat most astonishingly) not distracted by the large camera filming them.

It was one bright glimmer in a sea of classrooms I had clearly never seen or experienced. I haven’t been to the schools where the children are supposed to learn in English from a teacher who barely speaks English themselves. I haven’t been to the classrooms with no paper or pencils to write with. I certainly have seen, from my time in Dharavi, a lot of young people (women especially) who are taken out of school early or prevented from going altogether so they can work.

A photo of me in the class - now up on the 'Wall of Professional Visitors' for the kids to see!

So maybe it was naive to think that the solution is just good teachers. But (and this is a gross generalization), from everything I’ve heard, India doesn’t have our difficulties with unruly students and no desire to learn. The kids here are starving to learn. They behave in class. They just need a teacher who engages them even if the room is crumbling and even if their books look so worn you can barely the read the covers. Perhaps the right to education act can only come true when India gets serious about having teachers that live up to the quality of the student’s desires, even if the infrastructure isn’t there yet.

And that’s why having the conference is a good start- hopefully it can inspire a few more teachers to bring about change little by little in a country that wants to badly to make education a right that people actually receive.

I’m clearly talking about an issue where I know very little and have barely even begun to skim the surface.  But I wanted to share that moment because it gave me a bit of hope after hearing all the bad. I’m hoping for India’s sake that there can be more classes like that.

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