Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
A cow wearing a necklace hanging out in the bike lane. We have places to lock up bikes, I think this might be a place to tie up your cow!
A slum we drove by right next to some luxury apartment buildings. India is so interesting!
These aren't tied up and they are just chillin'. Oh, the holy cows!
A green parrot at Ghandi's ashram. This is where Ghandi lived for 12 years and did a lot of his thinking, writing, and activism!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
This is one of 30 satellite dishes that works by sending meter long radio waves out and triangulating them (or the 30 word equivalent to triangulation) to see the outer reaches of the galaxy. There are only three in the world, one is in New Mexico.
Village on the way to the telescope. Women do fieldwork in saris.
This is another reminder that India is a developing nation. Traffic is stopped by major herds of livestock on the highway.
This is a semi-truck and they are all decorated like this. Today I bent over a few times to kiss my butt goodbye because the ride up to the telescope was absolutely frightening.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
The other night we decided we wanted to see an Indian movie. These are referred to as "Bollywood" and it is a HUGE industry here. I have heard of them before and knew that they were usually cheesy musicals and maintained very innocent standards, nobody even actually kisses on screen, and there is definitely no sex, nudity, etc. So, we found a movie called "Jaane tu...ya jaane na" which means "Whether you know or not." There were nine of us who went to the movie and two of the nine included Indian women who work for the Fulbright office in Delhi and are coordinating our Pune portion of the trip. They are staying at our hotel too and they wanted to go to a movie also.
One of the many people who work at a fort. There are a lot of people working in every place we go!
We saw camels running down the street today and a girl in my group rode one! She is a Colorado girl too!
We went to the place today where Gandhi was imprisoned and some ashes are.
Another cute Indian kid!
This school operated under the philosophy that a nation’s most intelligent should eventually become the future leaders and so there is a huge curriculum in leadership, social service, and what seemed to me like empathy building. Students are encouraged to be free thinkers and are given many opportunities to work in the community or in villages to help others. Because these are such gifted kids, the basic curriculum is a snap, so they then spend their time doing projects and other self-directed and self-motivated investigations. It was quite similar to pull-out Gifted & Talented programs in the US where the kids are given opportunities to do a lot of self-guided learning.
They also had a university affiliated psychological research center on the grounds and often the students are involved in the studies of the center. They are trying to investigate how gifted kids learn differently and they are doing a lot of publishing in international journals. The kids all seemed extra, super happy in this place compared to any other school we have been in. They were not required to wear uniforms and they seemed to have a lot more freedom than kids in other schools. We have been in schools for “smart” kids but this was different because this school was for the truly “gifted” like the kids at our school who are only about the top ½% or so.
Today we visited the Center for Learning Resources, a nonprofit organization where they are developing instructional materials for rural and village schools. Teacher content competency and teacher quality are huge issues in these village schools and so they are working to train teachers on how to teach and also they have developed a very innovative program in the teaching of English. On public Radio India, this organization has constructed English lessons that are interactive for the kids and are broadcast three times per week during the day. They distributed hundreds of free radios and so children in classrooms throughout rural India are able to have English instruction from someone who actually knows English, since many of their teachers do not even have a basic level of proficiency.
The radio programs focus on spoken English because the school curriculums focus on writing basic sentences and choral repetition of what the teacher says. In a longitudinal study of the effectiveness of the radio programs, they found that students were able to communicate significantly better after having three years of the program in school followed by a fifteen minute follow-up in the classroom by the teacher. Interestingly, families in the villages and many adults started listening to the broadcasts because they wanted to learn English as well.
In our modern world, knowing English is paramount to the ability to join the global economy. In India, knowing English and having a small amount of education could mean the difference between subsistence existences as a farmer and having a job where you might even be able to help the rest of your family. Many village schools are so low quality that they are unable to properly instruct kids in any subject, let alone their mother tongue, Hindi, and then English. In villages, language is an especially difficult issue for students because their mother tongue is usually a dialect of the regional language and then once they get to school, the instruction is in the regional language that they don’t know and then they also have to add English and Hindi to that! It is mind-boggling to think about it!
Today I kind of had an “a-ha” moment about instruction here in India. I had begun to have it a few times before but today really cemented it for me when I was looking at the instructional materials this organization had developed for rural schools. These materials were authentically interactive, discovery-based, fun, engaging, and hands-on. I have seen VERY little of this kind of thing in any other schools that I have been in. But, for the most part, I have only been in schools for the smart and the wealthy. My “a-ha” was that OF COURSE the materials they developed for kids who do not come from a culture of educated backgrounds, supportive families, societal pressure for academic achievement, and monetary resources are great! They HAVE to be, otherwise kids are not motivated and engaged enough to even bother coming to school, which is something we face in the US also. Why would you want to come to school if someone is just going to talk AT you with a fast pace when you are only catching maybe 1/3 of what is being said?
I have been thinking all along about how we educate everyone. In India, you are not likely to find a child who is living in poverty sitting next to a wealthy kid in class like you are in the US. Wealthy schools that cater to the aforementioned “smart” kids do not have to have innovative teaching methods, the kids will learn in spite of crappy teaching. When I think of my high-level students, I could just talk at them for an hour and they would learn it despite whatever I was doing because they are smart and usually have the same things going on as the Indian kids. But, kids who do not have those intrinsic and extrinsic resources are the ones who really need solid instructional practices in order to actually become educated.
During this trip I had begun to have doubts about what we are doing in the US when I see the extremely high level of science and math that Indian high schools students are able to do. But then today, I was proud, once again, of the great work that many American schools are doing. That is not to say that we don’t have room for improvement or important lessons we can take from India’s educated elite, they are really pushing kids to be high achievers. But, they would be high achievers no matter what was happening in the classroom because they have an entire culture of their family and their government behind them! This whole time I just couldn’t figure out how with all this rote memorization and little critical thinking in schools, these amazing amounts of engineers and doctors of the highest level were coming out of India. Well, now it is starting to make sense. All of that competition of a large population, the cultural pressure, the familial pressure, and the desire to make money and improve their life’s station can really work together to push someone right to the highest levels of achievement, especially if their family can pay to put them in the best schools with the best coaching centers after school.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
This has nothing to do with any of the educational or cultural visits from the past few days but it is a constant topic of conversation in our group so I thought that I must write about it. This would be the Indian “head bob.” If you ask someone a question, they kind of move their head like a bobble-head toy back and forth. It is not really possible to discern from the head bob if the answer given is affirmative or negative or just merely an acknowledgement of having said something. Everyone does this from the hotel people to teachers in schools to people on the street. It is definitely a cultural phenomenon and even guidebooks have mentioned it. We think that politeness is so important that even if the answer is no, they would not say it, and so the multi-directional nod allows for a variety of interpretations that always remain polite. I generally feel like an idiot because I have to ask questions a million times to make sure I actually understand the answer.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Yesterday we went to a science center at the university that is promoting hands-on science! It was kind of like the Little Shop of Physics at CSU where they take hands-on toys with minimal cost and materials into schools to show physics concepts. These people are trying to train teachers and show them that they can do cool whiz-band demos that don't have to be with expensive materials.
Last night we tried to have a "Bollywood Night" and watch an Indian movie at the hotel but we couldn't get it to work. There is a movie coming out tonight called "Singh is Kinng" featuring Snoop Dogg where it is a Sikh guy (they are the religion who wear turbans) rapping. Almost all of the Bollywood movies are musicals and quite campy and I can't wait to see one with a rapping Sikh featuring Snoop Dogg! It is really hard to get movie tickets in a country of over a billion! Everyone wants to see the same movies and so we are going to try tonight but still have three other cities if it doesn't work out.
We have a day off Sunday and I will have internet again then. Just wanted to let everyone know that I have made it safely to another city. Check the map, we are quite close to mountains and I can see them in the distance!!! I think they are called the Ghats! Ha!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
This afternoon we went to visit an IIT, an Indian Institute of Technology, which are a system of India’s Ivy Leagues which are basically free once you get in. These are the most prestigious universities in India and entry into one guarantees you a money making job abroad or more recently, in India if you want to stay. The difference in an IIT versus a regular university was apparent the minute we drove through the gate. The IIT-Madras (it was only changed from Madras to Chennai in 2001) is on the same grounds as a national park and there were deer and monkeys running around the banyan forests.
The professors live on campus and their children can attend one of two schools on campus, a private school or a public school. The campus is like an island of calm in a city of 10 million people’s chaos. The Indian government funds these universities fully and there are more than 300,000 who take the entrance exam to get into 6,000 seats at 13 different IITs around India. He gave us a copy of the entrance exam, which kids take after 12th grade, and there is second semester organic chemistry, calculus-based physics, and advanced calculus on the exam. They learn this prior to getting into college! Is there any wonder that they are putting out so many engineers to Silicon Valley?
Not only it the entrance exam extremely intense and competitive, once you are successful at scoring high enough to be offered a position, your score and rank determines what type of major you can have. More desirable fields are only available to those who score the highest because they get first priority of choice. Once you have a major, you are pretty much stuck with it. So really, Indian kids are deciding at about age 16 what they want to do with their lives. Some kids have mentioned to us here that kids in the US just have so many choices and that if one choice doesn’t work out, they choose something else. Here, the competition is so fierce that if your first choice doesn’t work out, you will have to fight and fight to get a chance at something else. I guess that is just a consequence of such a large population.
The chemistry professor/admissions director of the IIT who spoke to us today (by the way, there was a wasp flying around the whole time and landed on one of our guys’ heads while he just sat perfectly calm. I would have FREAKED out!) said that he attributes India’s rise in the world over the last 10 or so years to India’s extensive amount of rote learning, teachers’ ambition to teach huge amounts of information, and the competition between people. The people who get into the IITs are India’s best and brightest and I can’t help but wonder if the system is still just pushing through the rich because kids cannot really get into IITs without spending huge amounts of their time at coaching centers. Also, a huge portion of the society is getting no education at all and so the strict societal divisions are just being perpetuated.
But, they do have some affirmative action to propel people from lower castes/classes (they have used these words interchangeably and so I am kind of confused which one they mean) and people from tribes and they are given special dispensation if they are high achievers to get into the IITs. Women are also given special consideration and the female population of the IITs country-wide is about 15%. It is always important, I have now realized, to keep in mind scale in India. There are just so many more people than in the US or anywhere besides China and when you talk about India’s middle and upper class, it is just so many people. Their middle class probably equals our entire population so I think I just have to keep remembering that. I don’t know what I am really trying to say by writing that, but as we wonder how, with mediocre teaching practices, India has exported so many engineers and doctors, scale becomes a very important factor to consider.
We also went to a fishing village in the city when we got back from the IIT by autorickshaw. This is always an adventure. The fishermen we talked to were showing where the tsunami came up to in 2004. They said it was about 10 meters up the side of buildings and all of the huts close to the beach were wiped out. This is right in downtown Chennai we are talking about, not some tiny village in the middle of nowhere. It reeked of fish, my favorite smell, and we saw a woman was selling a small shark. She wouldn’t let us take her picture without giving her money so we didn’t but there were a bunch of tiny kittens running around too trying to get little bites of fish. About 30 minutes was all I could stand of the fish smell before we had to come back. Plus, it gets dark quite early here, around 7 pm. Once we get back north a little bit, our evenings will be a bit longer I hope. Tomorrow we are going to coastal temples and fishing villages with our tour guide who sounds exactly like Dr. Evil. Then, Thursday we are again on the move to a city called Pune, pronounced Poona.
I am sure nobody wants to hear another word from me today as these are pretty hefty entries. It was a very busy day!!! I’m so glad I brought my computer so that I can lay in bed and type because with all the sweating and trekking around, I am dead by the end of the day! J
Today we went to an agricultural research center and though that might sound boring, it was really interesting. This place is multi-purposed but community outreach from the neighborhood/village level is their primary intent. One of the ways in which they are doing this is through the restoration of mangrove forests (which have the same sponge-function as coastal wetlands) in villages in order to protect them from monsoons and tsunamis. They found that coastal villages that had already done mangrove forest restoration survived the tsunami in India whereas those who hadn’t were destroyed. Also, in an area where fresh water is in tight supply because the rivers are very polluted and there have been years of drought, having restored mangrove forests help hold water and work as filter for pollutants.
The other main function of this research center is to bio-engineer plant species for higher salinity tolerance and higher drought tolerance. In these coastal areas where fresh water is so limited, having salt-tolerant rice plants allow for coastal villagers to use seawater mixed with freshwater in order to grow rice. They are also collecting and cataloging folk knowledge on the medicinal value of local plants and working to protect endangered plant species in rural areas. They have created grain and seed storage caches in rural village so that the people can sustain themselves in times of shortage. This organization is very focused on sustainable agriculture in order to fight famine and hunger in a lot of India. They are also developing more nutrient rich crops that are more nutritious with less volume. So, we walked through their labs, their gardens, and met with their PR people.
They reminded me a lot of the function that CSU has in terms of research and outreach. Having been in the College of Natural Resources, I know that the CNR and the College of Agriculture do a huge amount of world-wide outreach regarding sustainability at the grassroots through the governmental levels. The organization we visited today takes a bottom-up approach and works at the small level with individual communities in order to help people make immediate and highly relevant improvements to their lives. It was so cool to see that those who have the resources here are working to help those who don’t. They also had an on-site outreach facility for rural kids to come to in order to learn about computers. They have weeklong computer courses where they teach kids how to use the whole Microsoft Office package so they won’t be at such a huge disadvantage compared to their urban counterparts.
One of the other really cool functions is through village outreach and education centers where they get weather reports to local fishermen through text messages on their cell phones. Before this, many fishermen were just at the mercy of their own luck and scanning of the skies, but now they are informed before they go out to fish. This has allowed many lives to be saved and I just found it so interesting that it was all through text messaging. Apparently, many people are getting cell phones who have never even had their own land phone because it is so much easier and more affordable.
But, most excitingly, I figured out that for my curriculum project I think I might do something about mangrove forests and wetlands in the US and how they are related. We already look at how humans impacted the removal of wetlands in the bayous of Louisiana and how that removal resulted in a higher storm surge during Katrina, thus destroying more of New Orleans than what would have happened with the wetlands still intact. So, I think that I can also have the kids look at the 2004 tsunami and how mangrove forests protected coastal areas. Or, I might just stick with my original plan and look at the school system in India on the whole. Although, as you have read, it has been difficult to a form a picture in a succinct way. I could probably do a weeklong presentation and never really make a dent in the complicated system.
Today the Indian government is having a trust vote to see if they want to vote out their current government. So far, it is look like the current government is going to stay in power but it is really close, like maybe 5 votes in the parliament. Interestingly, this whole thing started because the Indian Communist Party broke away from the coalition who is in power because they didn’t like how the nuclear talks with the US were being handled. A lot of the parties think that the prime minister’s party bowed down and gave into the US and there is constant TV news covering this today. TVs are on in all parts of the hotel, this is on all of the newspapers, and people are not talking about much else. The debate got so heated that parliament had to temporarily adjourn and now they have reconvened but everyone is yelling a lot.
India has many, many political parties, and unlike in the US, more than just two parties have a big impact on national politics. They all make coalitions with each other to get into power and so those relationships shift based on issues. Based on the nuclear talks, there has been shifting among the coalitions, thus causing this confidence vote in the current government. So, just like on American TV, pundits are all yelling at each other and they slip in and out of Hindi and English. Hindi is such an ancient language that they do not have many words needed in modern society. So, many times, they just say the English word and it is hard to tell unless you are carefully listening that they have slid between two languages!
In the end, India's current government won the confidence vote and will remain in power for now.
Yesterday we also visited a traditional arts university. It is the equivalent of an Indian Julliard for traditional dance, singing, and visual arts. Before the formation of this school, there was no formal way for the traditional arts to be passed on because they were just taught in informal settings in homes and communities. By formalizing the training, they can make sure that the traditional arts will not be lost to modern culture. It is now possible to get a bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree in traditional arts through this university and we watched students practicing dance and singing. Because the training for these mediums was done informally, the school tried to keep the feel of that and their classrooms are open-air bungalows. This allows for a beautiful setting but it sure was hot and I was glad I didn’t have to practice dance for hours on end!
Then, we came back to the hotel and two really amazing lectures on math or maths as they call it here! In the 1950s, an Indian mathematician revisited The Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, to see what they could offer in terms of mathematical understanding. Traditionally, they were only used for religious or spiritual guidance but this man found mathematical patterns that can be used in classrooms to make simple calculations easier. It was kind of mind boggling to see these “tricks” and I will definitely have to share them with math people when I get back.
Our next lecture was on using an abacus to improve calculation
speed, accuracy, and number sense. Though this seems very old-fashioned, there is a reason these have been used for thousands of years and are still in great use today in much of China. The calculations done on these take a mere fraction of the time. This woman was adding 7- 4 digit numbers in less than the amount of time it took to write them down. It was amazing. They said that kids who are four years old could do calculations like this because they are learning it as a fun game and not as math. I am going to try to learn how to use one so that I can bring back that knowledge. I know that kids in our schools struggle with number sense and it would be great if we could find a fun, nonthreatening way to help them!
These pictures are from the other night when we had another traditional dance program but they illustrate some of the things that the people were learning at the dance school.
Apparently Indian mosquitoes love me as much as Coloradan mosquitoes because we sat out by the pool last night having dinner and even though I was wrapped in towels to keep the bugs off, I got about 20 bites on my feet. Good times. I am certainly glad that I am taking malaria meds now even if they do cause hallucinations. It occurred to me that maybe I am not actually seeing cows in the road, it is just my malaria meds but considering I have now captured them on film, I think it might be real!
Yesterday yet another piece of the educational puzzle was revealed. We went to a school that was started by a woman in 1963 under a tree and now has more than 8,000 students on a variety of campuses. We were welcomed to her office and she sat voluminously behind her desk in her sari and informed us that she is 81 years old and still the director of this school. She completed her PhD at age 70 and she was obviously a really amazing person! This school was coed and had relatively small class sizes. A group of high school kids put on a great play for us that was kind of like an after school special about what happens when you don’t study and don’t listen to your parents. Hilariously, at the end, after doing drugs and dissing his friends and parents, the main character only ended up as a MBA student. Jeez, what a loser! J
We visited several science labs and they had about 15 kids in them! Asking the teacher, we found out that they actually didn’t know the supposed results before they completed the experiment as a lot of the labs have been, but they are asked to THINK! WOO HOO! The regular non-lab classes were still very heavy on lecture, but the principal stressed that they work at their school for real-world experience and take off regular instruction for a month while the whole school is involved in community projects and large festivals. She also believes in no standardized testing of the kids until grade 9. This is possible in India as the only required test (and it is only required if you are a school affiliated with the Central Board) is at the end of the 10th grade. But, this is not just a test for school accountability; this test determines what a student’s future path in life is going to be. If they score high enough, they can take the medical or engineering path, which is highly prized and sought after by many of India’s educated families.
These schools made me realize, again, the importance of good leadership in a school. The last two schools I have been in have had visionary principals who believe in real-life learning, and life experience, as well as the importance of academics. They have inspired their staffs, their students, and their communities with their beliefs and have seen great success for all of the stakeholders as a result of it. India is different from the US in that really anyone with an idea can start a school (although with the charter system or with enough money, I guess it could work in the US too) and if you are starting your own school, leadership is critical. These women have vision and charisma (and obviously are quite smart!) and despite having no great personal wealth, managed to convince others to invest in their dreams and have made a difference for thousands of children and families. It has been quite inspiring to be in these schools.
But then, I start thinking again. These schools are only educating those who can afford it. In order to have only 30 kids in a class in a country of 1.3 billion people, they have to have many, many schools. The public school system just does not have the resources to do this. Of course they are going to have to have fast-paced lectures when there are over 50 students crammed into a classroom and they only have 40-minute classes. What other methods would work under the circumstances? It is hard to say if these methods are “working” to begin with but at least all of those kids are getting an education at all. Here, it seems that anyone who can remotely afford it, would choose a private school education for his or her child.
The other thing I think about is that if I compare my top students to the students in classes in these private schools (where it is like an entire school of top students) I can see few differences. These kids are smart, highly motivated, have good parental support, and home environments conducive to academic success. Family expectations are such that they will succeed in school and there are consequences and support available when they don’t. I have to remind myself that in the US, EVERYONE has to go to school, regardless of their family background. The quality of education still likely differs depending on your family’s economic resources (i.e. moving into a neighborhood with “good schools” when you can) but in these private schools that I am visiting, they do not have the range of students that we have in American classrooms. The kids who do not have the resources are not sitting next to the kids who do, the extremes of disparity are not there.
So, my need to boil things down to form a picture in my mind is once again thwarted as I have another wrench thrown in. I am realizing that really, I cannot boil in down even though I want to, the situation is just too complicated and multi-faceted.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Oh my food coma! We just went to a restaurant for dinner that specializes in South Indian cuisine and we ordered a fixed price dinner with about a million courses. I think that I might explode. Everything is so delicious that you have to keep trying everything. Aaah! By the end, Lisa from Cali, exclaimed, "I should have stopped like three courses ago!" And, then she burped!
Saturday, July 19, 2008
July 19, 2008
Arrival in Chennai (Madras)
Today we flew from Hyderabad to Chennai. Chennai was called Madras under the British and I am guessing that Madras plaid is from here, I have seen a fair amount of plaid in the few minutes I have been here. Chennai is in the state of Tamil Nadu and they speak and write Tamil here instead of Hindi. It is on the southeast coast of India on the Bay of Bengal. Flying in we went out over the ocean and then turned around and landed in the city of over 10 million.
The Taj Hotel here is not quite as nice as the other Tajs but is still nice, don’t get me wrong. I have my own room here and there are hardwood floors and a giant king size bed. The other rooms we have had have two twin beds in them so this is going to be funny to sleep in such a huge bed. The food here (we always have breakfast and lunch in the hotel) is very extensive just like every other place and they have mango ice cream. It is delish!
Since Chennai is on the water we were really excited about possibly going to the beach tomorrow on our day off. (I need to mention at this point that the Lonely Planet guide said that it is hot as hell here, so when the guidebook uses those exact words, I was a little nervous since apparently I have acquired a sweating medical condition since getting here!) Well, we took an autorickshaw to the beach right after we got here, negotiated for us by the Indian-born American man in our group who speaks Tamil, so the hassle was minimal.
I was in a rickshaw with two teachers from California, Lisa and Chandra (all the Indian people think it is funny that her name is Chandra since that it an Indian name) and I think our rickshaw driver, who was a young guy, wanted to impress us with his insane driving. He was totally out of control and speeding everywhere as fast as he could go and I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming, which would then encourage him to drive even crazier! When we got to the beach, he turned into the parking lot and slammed right into a guy on a bike. They stood there and yelled at each other for a few minutes and then they shook hands and we drove on. I guess when you live in a place where there are constant fender benders, you can’t get too mad about a little one otherwise you might be mad all of the time. I took a video from inside the rickshaw as we were driving and I will try to upload it if it is not too big of a file. It is not working, I tried a bunch of times!
So, we got to the beach and walked the 1000 yards from the rickshaw to the water through some of the dirtiest sand I have ever seen. It was covered in shredded plastic bags
and other random trash. We got down to the water and it was the first beach I have ever been to where people are not laying all over the sand in swimsuits (except Oregon but the beach is freezing there)! Girls were splashing in the surf in their salwar kameez or saris and boys were running around in colored underwear. The current is super strong here and you can’t really swim, per se. We put our feet in and even then you can feel how strong the undertow (undertoad as my dad would say) is.
A puzzle piece I didn’t even know I was missing…
Just when I thought I had it all down and I was getting a solid picture formed in my head about what the Indian education system is all about,
another wrench was thrown in. It is seriously like you are doing a puzzle and you think that you have found a piece to make it fit together and then you realize that there is another entire part of the puzzle you can’t see. Today I visited another school in Hyderabad and it was totally NOT what I was expecting.
This school, called Meridian School, is a private school for preschool through grade 10 (the level where they take their first major board exams) and has about 1700 students. When we arrived, they had a group of about 10 girls in beautiful dresses waiting to give us a traditional welcome. They put a red bindi dot smudge on your forehead, an orange smudge of something on the side of your cheek and they sprinkle rice over your head. They sang us a song of welcome and then toured us around the school.
The principal was one of those people who you just know is a visionary leader. Her focus is on developing the emotional health and happiness of the students and the entire school community. Every Friday they have a meditation assembly and a discussion of topics like (these are my words, not hers) “how not to sweat the small stuff” and “how to find joy in the little things” and “how to take life one day at a time.” It was very interesting. The reason this was so shocking is because this is the first educator here whom I have heard really address that kids have social/emotional side that must be acknowledged. In the US, especially at the middle school level, this is a major focus for us and so I was wondering if I was ever going to hear anything about it.
Kids are divided into multi-age “houses” like in the British system (or the Harry Potter system for those who are more familiar with that!) and they have a house competition all year. But, her big thing is that she really doesn’t want kids to be competing with each other, she wants them to be competing with themselves and your house can be awarded points for achievements made by students outside of school as well as within school.
For example, if a student participates in a dance class, they can get points just the same as if they competed in a school debate or a sporting event. Each week they have a house meeting where students mingle with other students in their house and they work on figuring out what talents everyone has individually that could contribute to the group as a whole.
Interestingly, we also discussed child abuse in India and we asked her if teachers are mandated reporters like in the US. She said they would call the parents but they don’t have an obligation to call a social service agency. She explained that abuse is so stigmatizing here that people often do not report abuse on girls because later in their life, nobody would marry them and this would be a major problem because your family name would be at stake, etc.
I also asked her about ADD and ADHD because it is a common topic at home but I haven’t heard anyone mention it here. Well, she said that yes, kids have the diagnosis but not many of them are medicated. She said at her school (which I need to remind everyone is private and has very high tuition and is able to keep class sizes around 30) the teachers do not label the kids but work with the student and family to try to accommodate them via classroom management strategies, learning support, etc. However, I imagine in some of these public schools where they have 50-60 kids in a class, there is NO WAY they can be doing any type of individual accommodation of any needs whatsoever.
This principal has worked to develop a social conscience in her staff and students and they spend a lot of time doing a variety of community outreach projects. After the Tsunami in 2004, they collected over 175,000 rupees worth of recycling (about $4300 which is a huge sum here, more than a lot of people’s entire yearly salary) and traded it in and then donated it (in person) to many of the victims. Her staff members were even encouraged to volunteer their time at less fortunate schools a few hours to help develop teachers at government schools or to teach an extra class in a poor public school. Everywhere around the school kids had made posters about ways to be a better steward of the Earth.
She felt that if people were happy and healthy (they feed kids breakfast and lunch) then academic achievement naturally follows. I agree to a point, but without good instruction that can’t really happen. Or so I thought….
I still have not witnessed what I would consider solid instructional practices. Even at this school where the principal said that she encourages teachers to deviate from their lesson plans and go with teachable moments, I observed fast-paced lectures with fill-in-the-blank, choral response questioning techniques. I have said it before, I am really trying to not judge instruction through my American bias, but I have read research on instructional methods and just from observing the class, I can see that a limited number of students are participating in the constant choral response. There is obviously some hidden thing that I am not comprehending.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Sometimes I am just blown away by the amazing treatment that I am getting here by the Fulbright program. It is kind of overwhelming. Tonight we knew that we had a dance program in our hotel but we had no idea what kind of program it would actually be. When we got down there a whole troupe of folk dancers and musicians were waiting for us facilitated by two anchors from the local TV station. ALL teachers should apply for Fulbright programs!
Today I also suffered the effects of the American media. That is the only reason I can think of as to why I got so freaked out about walking around an area full of women in burkas and mosques. Well, that and the men were leering at us more than normally. Perhaps it was because in most areas we have been, there are a majority of women in saris and not completely covered from head to toe. So, I guess, we just seemed extra uncovered. I can’t believe that those women in burkas are cool and comfortable. They have a complete outfit on underneath it as sometimes you can see their brightly colored pants sticking out at the bottom and are wearing a mask on their face. It felt like wearing a ski mask to me in terms of heat when I was trying it on. I am going to try to buy one for Kendra, my team’s social studies teacher but I couldn’t find a store yesterday.
I wasn’t expecting that in India. I don’t know why, I knew they had a large Muslim population here, I guess I thought it would just be more liberal here, and I know that in many areas, it is. Hyderabad is just a “bundle of contradictions” as the lady said and here was another example. Near the hotel we have a huge, modern, Western mall, and if you drive a few minutes, you have women in burkas walking around a huge, old bazaar. I also saw two women in burkas on a motorcycle, which was surprising to me. But again, bundle of contradictions!
The bazaar where we were specialized in bangle bracelets and pearl necklaces. Although, it is hard to tell (without my mom’s expert eye) if they are real or if the guys are trying to take you for a ride. The strings of black pearls were much less expensive than I have seen at home so I just don’t know what to believe.
P.S. Achmach and I are registered at Burkas, Bath, & Beyond.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Hyderabad is a very Muslim city compared to Kolkata which had a lot more Hindus and Christians. We went to a mosque today. Will write more about that later.
So apparently like 90% of the world’s pearls come through Hyderabad. Who knew? Mom, have you heard of this? Everyone is going crazy and buying pearls, not me, don’t worry! Everyone is asking me what I think are fair prices but what do I know, I get them free! J We have a big pearl store in the bottom floor of the hotel and the fury has begun! They do have pretty Tahitian pearls there, which though from Tahiti, are processed here? Something like that, I don’t really get it!
This morning we visited a place (in my head when I type this I hear the word visited as “wisited” because Indians pronounce v’s as w’s!) called the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) and what they really are is a think tank on education and business who are contracted out to help with policy development and evaluation. Sounds boring? Actually, it was extremely interesting as they are able to take an objective look at the Indian educational system and not get mired in the feelings of being involved in it to give us a picture of what is actually happening. In other words, they are not in the trenches everyday, but are studying the trenches and have studied the trenches in other places as well.
Everything this woman was talking about was what a lot of the teachers in our group have been thinking about. The first thing she said is, “India is a bundle of contradictions!” This made us all laugh because we have all been talking about this constantly. Also, nobody gives you a straight answer to any question. Our favorite is the Indian nod. It is a cross between yes and no and so you can NEVER tell if someone is saying yes or no. I think they are trying to be ultra polite and nobody wants to flat out say no but the head bob is really difficult to read and has become a big joke with all of us because nobody can really read the answer.
So in regards to her statement about India being full of contradictions, she also said that even though there is abject poverty, there is also a thriving economy and middle class and really, neither can be ignored. This makes total sense, which makes us more able to understand how there can be a giant modern bridge in Kolkata with a slum under it. I am starting to get it a little more. She also said that in terms of curriculum development, India has done a really solid job, the problem lies with how the curriculum is actually taught.
This next part started to scare me, and you teachers who are CSAP proctors (HA! I said proctor!) will understand why this scared me. Her exact words were, “India is a performance oriented system instead of a learning oriented system.” Wow. Are we becoming this? The focus here is solely on WHAT you know and retention is low once the “big tests” are done. Yet India is churning out millions of engineers and doctors every year. Huh. Interesting.
I will write more later. Brain hurts.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
July 15- Arrival in Hyderabad
Today we arrived in Hyderabad (pronounced Hydra-bod) and it is like a different universe from Kolkata. I feel like I am on a different planet. First of all, the climate is completely different. Flying into Kolkata, you see water everywhere and lush, green landscapes. Here in Hyderabad, everything is brown. It kind of looks like Southern Cali around San Diego and that is a stark contrast to Kolkata. Secondly, there is a TON of new development and construction here and I just had dinner in a “mall” which could have seriously been about anywhere in the US. So weird!
After Kolkata, this feels like an alternate universe. Now, I will say that we are in a newer part of town here where our hotel is because it is a new-ish hotel. The weird part too is that there are SO many more Westerners here. At the restaurant where we had dinner, there was a table of like 20 just out of college aged guys who were here to teach people at call centers American accents! Isn’t that crazy? I didn’t even know that existed as a job and here before me sit like 20 guys from Arkansas and Oklahoma. It was really surreal!
I must also mention another aspect of the luxury hotel…they have a pillow menu! Have you ever heard of such a thing? I ordered the one called “tranquility” and this little pillow full of good smelling stuff comes right up to your room on a tray. This is all included in your hotel bill at no extra cost. It is kind of unreal! So, once I have explored Hyderabad a little more, I will write again, but just wanted to let everyone know that I have made it here and am suddenly on Mars!
PS- I saw a shirt in a mall store that was exactly like Forever 21 or Charlotte Russe that said, “You think your teacher is hard? Just wait until you have a boss!” I love it!
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!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
July 13, 2008- Hindu temple visit, Clay figure sculpting area, and botanical gardens
Today we went to a Hindu temple in Kolkata. It is Sunday and so eerily, the streets were deserted until we got to the temple where things were hopping! Hindu temples are dedicated to certain gods in the main temple but then this one had subsidiary small temples dedicated to other gods. There were many people and we were trying to figure out how to be the most respectful and so we took our shoes off since we saw everyone else was barefoot. There was a cow napping right in the midst of all these people. I know cows are sacred here but I just can’t get over seeing them just hanging out all over town.
We were in a taxi and suddenly there was a traffic jam where everyone came to a screeching halt. I thought that there was an accident or something, but no, it was just a cow and a calf hanging out right in the middle of the street. I could probably live here my whole life and not get used to that! I also saw a herd of goats in the street being herded by several people. We have been told that if the goats are tagged red, they are on their way to slaughter. It is just so incongruous that in this modern city with modern commerce happening, livestock is in the streets.
Four of us decided to hire a car for the day since it was our day off. It was only $10 per person and that way we wouldn’t have to haggle over prices with cab drivers all day and also, it was air-conditioned. I read back through some of my blog entries and I noticed that I talk about sweating a lot. I will try to stop doing that because there really isn’t ever a time where I am not sweating so you can just assume that anything I am writing about, I was sweating profusely, copiously, dehydrationally the whole time. But the last thing I will say about it is that while at the temple, my brown pants were completely soaked through except for on the pockets so it either looked like I had water thrown on me or that I had peed myself. People were definitely staring at the icky American!
As we were going back to the taxi from the temple, we were absolutely bombarded by beggars. They were pulling at our clothes, tugging our arms, and yelling things in our faces to give them money. I feel so sad for them but it is super scary to have random street people pulling on you in every direction from little kids to old ladies with no teeth. We got in the taxi and they were beating on the windows and trying to pull the windows down with their hands. The driver was yelling at them but they just kept banging on the car over and over. As we started moving, they eventually started fading away. I have said this in other entries but I really just don’t know what to do in this situation. They are obviously in complete poverty but you cannot just get out your wallet and start passing out money. They were pulling on us without our wallets out, I can’t imagine what it would be like if our wallets were in front of them.
Next we went to an area of Kolkata where they make sculptures for a festival that will be in October. After the festival is over, they throw the sculptures (made first from straw, then covered in clay, and then painted) into the river. These semi-naked people were absolutely amazing artists and you could even look at the straw bases and see which god it would be. They were all sculpting the same gods but everyone on the street was doing different sizes of them. My favorite is Ganesha, he is the god who has the head of an elephant and is there to remove obstacles. Their sculpturing areas were super small and I am not sure how they can stand to be in these tight spaces with itchy straw and clay mud. There were people of all ages as artists too and there of course, were still many motorcycles buzzing by us honking constantly while we walked down this tiny alleyway.
The botanical garden was on the other side of a huge river, not the Ganges but I can’t remember what it was called. It reminded me of the Ohio River running next to Louisville, it was that big. The bridge over it is a very modern, new looking tension bridge that looks exactly like the bridge in Charleston, SC or the Bay Bridge over the Chesapeake. Again, it is so bizarre to see this giant, modern bridge here where you also might see livestock being herded across it. The botanical garden was definitely off the beaten path (actually we have seen very few Western tourists at all except for at the Mother Teresa house) and so we got to see some different areas of Kolkata. More than once on this taxi ride I saw my life flash before my eyes as we zoomed head on toward buses and other cars. Our driver had been Patrick Swayze’s personal driver in the early 80s when he was here filming the movie “City of Joy.” He had pictures of himself with Patrick Swayze, which was hilarious.
At the botanical garden we saw the world’s largest Banyan tree. This sounded exciting at first since we were told it was almost a kilometer around, but Banyan trees are like Aspen trees and they are all one connected organism even if they look like hundreds of trees. So really, it was a grove of Banyan trees, which was still cool looking because they went their roots down from their branches instead of roots coming from the ground up.
After that we went back to the hotel (I am still pretty sick with a cold and got the chills on the way back which should tell you that something is definitely wrong with me!) and sat out by the pool at a table. Suddenly, it got very dark (it is monsoon season here) and we had to rush to a covered table where the sky commenced dumping rain like I have never seen. This was my first tropical shower (except for in Florida) and this wasn’t just a shower, it was buckets and buckets of water and I am pretty sure that our hotel was struck by lightning because it was the loudest crack I have ever heard, especially since we were sitting outside on a covered patio.
Obviously, Kolkata has had more cultural visits than Delhi and we have gotten to see more of the city. Tomorrow we go to a boy’s private school so it will be interesting to see if their teaching methods are more of the same or more innovative since they might have fewer students. One thing that I have definitely noticed here is that they are VERY un-PC about discussing people with special needs. First of all, there is no law that people with special needs must be educated to the same degree as anyone else. I heard someone say that they have “spastic schools” but I am not sure what that really means. We have a special education teacher in my group and she asks every group we talk to about what they do with kids who have “special needs” and nobody really even understands the question because it is outside their realm of comprehension that these people can learn too.
I kind of feel like in terms of SpEd, India is where we were like 75 years ago or something. My principal roommate went to a seminar conducted by the American Consulate for principals yesterday where a person was there trying to convince principals that people with vision or hearing impairments can still learn. It is just so interesting. The last few days though I have gotten to forget that I am hear for educational reasons because we have had so many cultural events, which I suppose, are educational too. I am starting to think that one of the main reasons that India is turning out so many engineers, scientists, and doctors is that they are really only education the elite who have money or resources to get themselves to school.
Last night, the group (I didn’t go because I felt like crap and I am so sad I missed it) went to a free school in a slum area where teachers are volunteers and if they weren’t there, none of these slum kids would get any education. I know that there are huge discrepancies of wealth in the American system and that we have a huge dropout rate in urban areas, but everyone at least has access. It might not be equal but there is still access to an education, even if it is a crappy one. If we were only educating the middle class and above, we would probably be churning out amazing kids constantly too, more than we already are. I have to remember that the students in the US who go to MIT from our schools are just as amazing as the kids who are going to the prestigious universities here, and those are mostly the kids we are meeting.
Well, I better end this post before people’s eyes fall out. It is pouring rain, I am sick, and it is our day off, so I have had time to write more!
Sorry so long!
Saturday, July 12, 2008
July 12- Old Kolkata Walking Tour
Today the head of the American Institute, an offshoot of the consular office here, took us on a walking/tram tour of the old part of Kolkata. I am becoming more adjusted to the number of people out everywhere but NOT the traffic. The air is so polluted that it feels like you are sucking on a tailpipe of a car all the time. I have a chest cold already, so not being able to breathe clean air is not really helping. The traffic is nothing like I have ever seen. I don’t really even have the words to describe it. There is literally one inch (or less probably) between things. Here in Kolkata they also have rickshaws pulled by people, barefoot people at that. I saw a girl talking on her cell phone and riding in a pedi-cab pulled by a barefoot man, how’s that for a juxtaposition!?!
I thought the traffic in Delhi was bad but here it is much worse! The population density is higher here than in Delhi so it feels even more congested. I know I keep talking about this, but really, when you go anywhere, crossing the street is extremely scary! Not to mention the noise! Everyone honks their horn constantly, and it is not to be rude, but there are people darting in an out of traffic on a variety of modes, even legs, so they have to honk. The backs of auto-rickshaws and busses actually have signs that say, “Please honk!” Remember also that sometimes there are cows right in the middle of the street too, just hanging out!
We walked through some really crowded markets and if you’ve ever had an image of what India looks like in your head, this is it! There are masses of people from all walks of life from dirty street people to businessmen in suits (though how they are not soaked completely through with sweat I do not understand) to school children in droves wearing uniforms. There is so much visual stimulation, one is not really quite sure where to look and if you show too much interest in something you are looking at then you will be bombarded with the sellers. If you think sales clerks in the US are pushy, you ain’t seen nothin’!
Three of us girls (there are seven girls and nine guys in our group) were wearing our Indian outfits and I literally had to peel mine off when we got back to the hotel because it was so sweaty and also I felt SO dirty from all the beggars touching my arms trying to get money. I hope I am not sounding mean about the beggar situation but truly it is filthy dirty here and it is a bit overwhelming to see this many street people and to see them picking through piles of trash on the street. We talk about poverty in the US but it is nothing like this. There are shanty villages right on the side of the road where thousands of people are living, but next to them there are also luxury apartment buildings being built. It is a very dichotomous society, even more so than ours. Although, I must admit, my views are somewhat skewed at home because I don’t live in a big urban area. But even in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, it is not like this.
I am definitely going to by some stuff but I just have to be brave about the haggling! The one outfit I did buy was from a fixed price store so I didn’t have to haggle over the price. Another girl here is pretty good at it so I need to watch her. It is hard because I don’t really know what a reasonable price for stuff even is!
July 11- Science City, Dumping Grounds, & City Tour
Today we went to our second Indian science museum (we went to another in Delhi but I didn’t ever write about it) at this place in Kolkata called “Science City.” If you can picture what Disneyland must have looked like 50 years ago (or Wally World from the Vacation movies) and then let 50 years go by but don’t make any improvements to almost everything, this is what Science City looked liked. It is a hands-on science museum, but as a person who has a degree in Interpretation and studied museums, there is a key piece of interpretation missing. The one really cool exhibit was on powers of ten and it had pictures and examples (math teachers pay attention) of the same thing at 1 and then 10, 100,1000, 10,000, etc. all the way to really large (like maybe about 1X105 .)
We all wore our Indian outfits today and despite the fact that they are loose fitting, it was just so hot while we were at Science City that I was a disgusting, sweaty mess, as was everyone else. It is so humid that you really just can’t wait to get back on the bus or into an air-conditioned part of the museum. While we were inside though, it poured rain and so after that it was actually a tolerable temperature outside. The hardest part of the heat/humidity is that you are trying to look presentable this whole time because you are going to professional places but you just stand there and sweat and sweat and sweat.
Then, we went to the Kolkata city dump. WHAT? WHY? It was actually very interesting, although the people living and working there were completely confounded to have a tour bus drive in. The city of Kolkata has managed to deal with their waste in a very innovative way. When it arrives, it is separated into organic vs. inorganic waste. All of the inorganic waste is put in a landfill, but all of the organic waste is composted to use as fertilizer. This fertilizer is then used all over the dumping grounds where they have acres and acres of every imaginable crop growing. People living there can sell the crops in the markets and make some money. The officials there wouldn’t let us take pictures nor would they really let us get off the bus but it was very cool to see anyway.
The hotel where we are staying here doesn’t have a regular lunch set up like our hotel in Delhi did, so everyday they are making a private luncheon for us in a beautiful banquet room. I don’t know how I am going to go back to living my normal life after being here where I have been staying in ridiculous luxury. I can tell you right now, that is not what I expected when I applied for this program. “Thanks, Uncle Sam!!” I have had to stop eating dinner because our lunches are so extensive and rich that dinner has become unnecessary. That also gives me more money for souvenirs and gifts because they give us money everyday for our dinner stipend. I am for sure going to have to pay for another bag on the way home which is also okay because they gave us $500 to buy curriculum supplies and I bought 6 textbooks for less than $10!
In the afternoon we had a bus tour with an Indian tour guide. He is a native to Kolkata and he was hilarious. We went to the giant Protestant cathedral and to a memorial for Queen Victoria. Since Kolkata was the capital during British rule, they tried to bring Britain to India. There are a lot of Christian churches here and many grand houses that are built in a Victorian style. I said before it kind of looks like shabby Cuba. It also looks like super-shabby (not to be confused with shabby-chic—there is nothing chic about Kolkata) New Orleans because of the architecture.
Our last stop on the tour was at Mother Teresa’s Mission of Charity. There were white dressed nuns everywhere and this was the place we saw the most white people on the whole trip. We saw her tomb, her bedroom, her chapel, and a museum dedicated to her. She was Albanian and not Indian, which I didn’t know. If any place needs a mission for poor people it is Kolkata. Walking down the street, little kids tap your arm and follow you with their hands out. I kind of don’t know what to do. It was cool to see all of that stuff since she did a lot of good things for many people, but you know how I get freaked out about Jesus stuff and there was a lot of that! Plus, we had to take our shoes off which also skeeved me out!
I basically went to bed right when we got back because I am getting a cold and do not feel that great. Basically we are sweating profusely at all times unless in the hotel and when you are not feeling well and sweating like an absolutely disgusting pig, it doesn’t feel that great. I slept for 12 hours and still don’t feel that much better but I am plugging away!