July 14- Birla Boys High School (Kolkata)
Today we visited an exclusive private school in Kolkata for boys. It is one of the top rated schools in the city and is very expensive by Indian standards. Guess what? They were much more like an American school. They had smaller classes, more lab equipment, real books in their library, and teachers are chosen specifically to be there instead of placed in a government school wherever there happens to be an opening. Money makes a big difference! The atmosphere of the school was totally different and you got the feeling that teachers actually know the students more personally and I saw some actual personal interactions going on between the teachers and the kids.
Okay, so I saw what I consider to be a school with solid practices and now I must mention that there is a giant waiting list to get into this school and so they have to have an entrance exam. Furthermore, because the numbers of applicants are so high, they only take the highest scoring kids. So basically I spent the morning in a school for wealthy, smart kids. They do have some remediation if it is needed but the principal discussed with us that she thinks India is severely lacking in resources and acknowledgement of kids with special needs. We kind of needed to hear this because every other time we asked about it, nobody really understood the questions.
The whole time I have been here talking to professionals and visiting schools, I have not heard one person mention literacy or even anything related to it. It is a major focus in the US in the classroom, in teacher preparation programs, etc. and so I was really wondering if it was ever brought up here. I mean the kids all do have three languages in Kolkata; English, Hindi, and Bengali, which is the regional language of this area. The principal of this school (an all female administration team just like at my school but these were women running a boys’ school-WOO HOO) mentioned that they will have a consultant coming in to work with the teachers in the areas of improving reading comprehension. She couldn’t really talk much about it yet because it hadn’t happened yet but to me it sounded really encouraging compared to everything I have heard.
The principal also talked about how in India, even if kids are not even close to being qualified, parents and students want the kid to at least try to get into the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology—similar to MIT for us). The entrance exams to get into IITs are not correlated to the school curriculum so if you want to go to an IIT, you have to go to a coaching center for the rest of your learning. We have heard that IITs require kids to have knowledge of statics, which I think that engineering majors in the US take in their 2nd or 3rd year, and they know it before they even begin undergraduate degrees.
Today while we were talking to kids at the boys’ school, all of the kids in the science stream (there are three streams after grade 10 exams; science, commerce/business, or humanities and the brightest kids tend to go into the science steam then commerce, then humanities) were attending coaching schools everyday after school. The competition level is just so high that in order to even have a shot at getting a spot at a prestigious university, it is absolutely necessary to have more hours in than the next guy. The competition is tough for our kids in the US to get into good schools, but I have to remember that when I am talking about the middle/upper class here, that is a much larger raw number just based purely on the fact that the population is like 1.3 billion!