Touring through all of the elementary aged classrooms was super fun mostly because seeing a bunch of tiny students in their shirt and tie uniforms was so completely adorable. A few periods a week, kids have “games” class which is like physical education and the elementary school kids were doing roller skating when we walked by. Not all of the students were roller-skating because two would go while the others sat in a line waiting while the two went around in a circle. It was extremely endearing.
I still just cannot get over how they just sit crammed into a classroom while the teacher talks and they call out responses. I saw this at every level of instruction. One of my program-mates saw a lesson on “The Three Little Pigs” where the teacher was drilling them on the details on the story over and over and they would call out responses. I just cannot see how India has become a “world leader” in education through these methods. How is this actually happening? Is it their home life? Is it the societal pressure for success? I also have to keep reminding myself that really only people with money and access are going to school. There is still a large percentage of kids who get no education in the whole country. In the classroom there was no individual interaction between the teachers and the students and there was definitely a very minimal amount of checks for understanding. The teacher paused for a very small amount of time and said “any questions?” and then moved on with no wait time.
I was trying to observe whether or not they were engaged in the lesson and it was really hard to tell because mostly they were staring at me! One thing that I did notice and many of the experts have told us is that kids here are exceptionally good at mental math. Kids know their times tables up to 20 but also know them by ½ and 1/3 and a variety of other fractions. It is easy to see why they have to know them mentally because they have no resources except for a piece of chalk and a blackboard and very little paper even. Every kid has a textbook (they are not hard back and cost about 75 cents each) and they can write in them. Families are responsible for purchasing the text but they can get a scholarship if needed. They also have two comp books, one for notes and one for HW. One of the teachers had me look through a comp notebook to see the HW and mostly they were just recopying words over and over or labeling a picture and this was at the seventh grade level. There was absolutely no thinking involved, it was full rote memorization.
I should also mention that I went into the school library while we were touring the school and all of their nonfiction books were textbooks and reference books for different subject areas. They had no fiction books and no picture books or storybooks for students to check out. There are no computers in the library but the school does have an air-conditioned computer lab and a projector.
I think that I need to mention again also that this is a free school run by the government and that many students in India go to private schools that have more resources than these government schools. When we complain about not having technology in our school, we should shut up because they had very old computers, no overhead projectors, and old, hard to read black boards with chalk. Also, the lab equipment is virtually nonexistent, although they do have a set of microscopes which were not electric.
Teachers would come up to me and show me what they were doing and say things like “see, I am not teaching just by rote, I have a resource from the newspaper too.” This resource was a small piece of newspaper cut out and taped to the board. I am not sure how it is used but it is definitely a much different way than I would use them. I am really trying hard not to judge the school system through my American perspective, but it really is difficult because I cannot see with my educational/pedagogical/methodological background how this “awesome” educational system is actually happening. I am going to take a temporary break from talking about my school experience and move on to later in the day yesterday when we tried to take an autorickshaw to a market. Oh so funny!