Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What is really going on?

Coaching Centers….India’s parallel school system?

Today we had a speaker who is from what is called a coaching center. Coaching centers are privately run businesses who provide supplemental education to students starting in grade 6. Coaching centers have only about 40 kids in a class instead of the 50-60 found in regular school classrooms and work to identify the individual learning needs of students. Students spend 3.5 hours per week/ per subject as needed at coaching centers and many students (90% according to our speaker) go there for multiple subjects. He said that the coaching centers work to build students’ personal confidence and agency for their own education. Teachers in coaching centers (who might be regular school teachers supplementing their income or might just be people who have an advanced degree in math or science) provide personal attention that students cannot get in their regular school. The school where I went had 9 periods of 35 minutes each and the teachers rotated classrooms instead of the students and so obviously, with 50 students in a class, there is NO WAY a teacher can personally assess each student with any sort of regularity.

To my American ears, it sounded like the coaching centers are essentially doing the actual teaching while the schools are actually just filling time. In the schools, it seemed to me, teachers just talked through their lessons and one teacher actually just picked up and walked out when the bell rang without saying a word of goodbye or anything. Kids go to coaching centers all during their summer vacation and learn the majority of the information they need to for the school year and then sitting through all of these fast –paced lectures in regular school is just review. Coaching centers are unofficially ranked and everyone in India knows that the really good coaching centers are in the state of Gujarat. Apparently, in extreme cases, parents will move their children to Gujarat to attend a good , but very expensive coaching center.

Teachers at coaching centers make significantly more money than regular teachers and the better the coaching center, the higher the tuition and the more money coaching center teachers get paid.

After listening to this guy talk, I started to think that everything we are learning about the educational system is moot because what really matters are these coaching centers. These places are where the real learning and real education is happening and only people who can afford them are going and thus getting into the good universities in India. These centers have a variety of teaching methodologies and go far beyond the fast lectures found in many schools. But of course, the picture is not that easy, and as with everything I have been learning here, there is another perspective.

It is so interesting because if you talk to a government schoolteacher or the curriculum development people, you would think that their teaching methods are varied. They use lecture, labs, technology-assisted lectures, and what they call the “interactive” method where teachers are posing questions to the students. From my brief experience, and my biased perspective, here it what seems to me is going on. Government schools do not have the resources (teachers, technology, supplies, etc.) to individualize education for students. They only places that might have the resources to do this (besides the parents at home) are the coaching centers. All of the responsibility for the learning appears to be on the students.

My brain literally hurts when thinking about all this because my scientist self wants to synthesize this down to a simple answer, but it is impossible. There are so many things going on here that I have contradicting ideas all within the same thought. If my writing seems incoherent that is because my thoughts are not coherent in the least regarding any aspects of the educational system here.

There is one thing that I am fairly clear on though. The American system educates EVERYONE! We do not allow kids to not go to school and there are legal consequences for those who do not have their kids in school or prove they are educating them. I have to remind myself that when we are talking about the achievers in India, we are talking about an elite group. However, the actual number of that elite group is a lot larger than the elite groups in the US because of sheer population. So, if you compare a GT kid in the US to a kid in an elite Indian school, you might see a similar picture. However, it is important to remember that the level of competition for all things here is increased hugely by the fact that there are just so many more people competing for everything.

I don’t know. I have to stop thinking about it for today. It is just so complicated. For now, I am just going to take a little break and relax. We have had a frenetic pace for the last week and I am just relieved to have time to sit here and write this to begin with! Tomorrow we fly to Kolkata (Calcutta) and our frenetic pace continues until Sunday when we have a day off.

One thing I can say, unrelated to the educational system, is that I am sweating my butt off here. I am probably drinking about 3 liters of water a day because it is so humid and hot that I am constantly sweating. It is worse because we go inside some places that are air conditioned and cool off and then we go outside and sweat all over again. The sweating barely ever stops until we get back to the hotel at night where I have to shower just to cool off enough to get in bed. The quick dry shirts I got are absolutely fantastic because even when soaked through, they at least look dry. It is seriously like being in a steam room, which I wouldn’t mind if I wasn’t trying to look presentable and professional when we go places. I look like I just left the gym all day and there is no hope of wearing my hair down or really bothering to wear makeup.  Sweating like that all day is also exhausting. Between having severe jetlag and a busy schedule, FINALLY last night I slept for a full 7 hours and felt relatively rested this morning when I woke up. Also, we were inside pretty much all day yesterday and so I didn’t sweat too much! Tonight I am just staying in because I have to pack to go to Kolkata and get up early tomorrow to get to the airport!

That is all for now! 


Megan said...

How interesting! Sounds like they are making you think a lot over there (between all the sweating). I wonder how expensive it is for families to send their children to 'coaching centers?' Maybe similar to private schooling here? I wonder how the teacher pay is compared to the government schools?

carolyn said...

Oh my gosh, that sounds EXHAUSTING!!! Don't worry, I'm holding down your fort in the Fort on Thursdays making sure your tv gets watched and your couch is sat on. I'll do all the relaxing, you keep on sweating and fighting rickshaw traffic. See how good of a friend I am? :))