So, when I got home from DC, I had a huge stack of books in the mail to read about India sent to me by the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Texas-Austin. This is where I have my training and meet all the other Fulbrighters. (I am not just inventing this title to brag, all of the emails that I have gotten from UT-A are addressed to the "Fulbrighters.")
Yesterday, I read all day and finished a book entitled, "In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India" by Edward Luce. It was ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING!!! It traced India from the time it gained independence from Britain in 1947. (Again, remember, I am a teacher and must do some teaching here!) The remarkable thing about India's independence is that it did not come through a bloody revolt as most former colonies of European powers did (i.e. the Revolutionary War here in America). India had peaceful protests led by Mahatma Gandhi and the British basically just packed it in and went home. So, when they were setting up their post-colonial government and constitution, they weren't dealing with the aftermath of a huge war. Those setting up the Indian government were adamant about keeping it secular and democratic.
This fact is especially remarkable when you think about the variety of religions and belief systems in India. India is populated by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jainists, Sikhs, Christians, and even some Jews and though there are occasional conflicts between them, they have largely been able to peacefully coexist. According to Luce, there is actually more violence between different castes than different religions.
When discussing India, it is imperative to discuss the caste system. In the caste system, whatever caste (level) of society you are born into, that is the one you will stay in until perhaps your "next life." There was (and still is to some degree if you are poor) huge amounts of discrimination against people of the lower castes. In fact, they used to be referred to as "Untouchables" although this has now changed to a slightly nicer word. Only people in higher castes had access to any education or jobs and there was not any social mobility for people. Luce discussed that this is changing in the urban areas but is still quite evident in the rural parts of India, of which there are still a lot.
One of the other really interesting pieces of information in this book was how India is developing today in the world market. Traditionally, societies go from agriculturally-based societies to industrial/factory production societies to finally a service based economy like we have here in the United States. (To all my social studies teacher friends, please let me know if I am not getting this correct!) As we all know, China is in a HUGE manufacturing boom and we can see that they are in the midst of their industrial/factory production step in economic development. There are a large amount of low-skill requirement jobs available in China and people can raise their standard of living without a great deal of education. The interesting part is that in India, they are kind of skipping the industrialization step and jumping straight to being a society based on the "service industry." This fact can be seen in all of the software development, call centers, pharmaceutical research, etc.
So, in order to raise your standard of living significantly in India, you cannot just get a low-skilled manufacturing job, you have to have an education, and a pretty extensive one at that. However, access to education is still rather limited to people who have monetary resources and so the very poor have much less of a shot at being able to get out of their situations. Interestingly, China put their educational money into elementary education while India put their money into universities. So, as you can imagine, China has much higher basic literacy rates than does India though India probably produces a lot more PhD's.
So, as I am going to India with teachers to meet other teachers and study their educational system, this is a really interesting dichotomy to examine. I have three more books to read before I leave (fat chance!) and I cannot wait to keep sharing all of the interesting things that I am learning. I will close with an interesting quote from the book that as an educator who is constantly thinking about ways to motivate seventh graders, really struck me. There are always reports about how the US is falling behind in world education, markets, etc. Well, read this quote and I have a feeling we can start to see why...
"To the majority of Indian villagers, a government job is in the first place, an instant leapfrog into a much higher standard of living. One might say that it is the difference between a rickety hut built with buffalo dung and a house that is furnished with the finest marble from Rajasthan." (Luce, 62).
How's that for motivation to do well in school?