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Posts Tagged ‘gender gaps’

(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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