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  • Writer's pictureKirk

Classroom Teaching in India

On one of my many trips to India I was exposed to the classroom teaching situation in the rural area. This particular school taught in the English language, therefore it was highly sought out by the locals to send their children. Learning the international language is considered a huge bonus. During school hours they were only permitted to speak in English. After school they spoke their local dialect, which was not the Hindi language. Hindi, the official language of India, is also taught in school and is actually one of their most difficult subjects. So, in this school the children will know 3 languages when complete: their dialect. Hindi, and English.

Before classes began, the children lined up outside the school and sang their National song. They also recited a national pledge similar to the pledge of allegiance with which we are familiar.

Standing at attention prior to classes.

During this time of standing the children are also subject to a hygiene inspection. Inspections include finger nails, hair, hands, and face. I saw one young boy have his hair measured. It was too long and he was publicly disciplined.

Discipline can take many forms from corporal to more humiliatory. I once witnessed a student have to stand alone in a field for some period of time hanging his head while holding both ears. Not sure what that was about!

When it's class time the children are divided by learning level, not age. Children here may not all begin school at the same age, or they may have transferred from another school that was not as good. Some children are pulled from school to either work for awhile and then may return. There are many reasons (many I don't know) why children are not at the same learning level for their age. The age difference in a class can be quite diverse.

Inside the classroom

I was encouraged to join in the classes. Being an English speaking westerner I was given a place of prominence among the children and teachers alike. In fact, they were gracious enough to give me free reign to come and go as I liked. But, of course, I did this in a noninvasive manner.

The children are separated in the classroom by gender. The boys are on one side and the girls the other. I'm not sure if all schools do this or only this one:

Boys and girls are separated

The class buildings are made from local bamboo and other local materials. They are constructed with local labor who are paid very little. The rural areas are paid very low wages. At the time I was there, a laborer in the area only made about $500 per year!

Bamboo is a very strong material, but cannot withstand the mighty typhoons that may visit the area. A year after these photos were taken these buildings no longer existed and a new school was quickly built. It's amazing how fast a building can go up here.

The teachers I saw were exclusively women. It seems this is an occupation for the females in their country. I was curious what percent are female in the USA so I googled it. Turns out it's nearly 75% women here! I think you need the patience and nurturing characteristics of a woman to desire the profession. I hope I don't get labeled for making that comment. It was meant as a compliment.

Teacher in classroom

Teaching is certainly not for me. When in the classroom sitting at the back of the class, one of the teachers (not the one in photo above) became uncomfortable teaching in my presence. I'm not sure if it was because she was teaching in English and was self-conscious or simply thought I knew more about the subject (math).

She requested I take over the class! Well it was simple algebra so I was quite confident and took my place at the front of the class. However, when attempting to teach the first problem it turned out my math skills have deteriorated. I mistaught the example as a young student pointed out! The teacher said nothing to correct me but she knew my error. It was an obvious error I made and it was quite humiliating for me.

After that error I asked the teacher if I could change the subject to geography. She happily agreed. I spent the rest of my time teaching the children the places I'd traveled and what that area of the world was like. That went much better than the math and the children enjoyed it more.

Picture of children in classroom:

The students in India I encountered treated education as a privilege. They were eager to learn even from a substitute like me. My experience from my earlier years in school is a day with a substitute teacher is a day to goof off! Not these kids. They were very attentive and respectful. A real joy and privilege on my part to be before them.

Learning is difficult in India, at least the rural areas. How lucky we are to learn in the language we were taught from birth. We are also fortunate that school through high school is free. The locals had to pay a small amount (not small to them) to go to this English speaking school. Also, public schools are not free at the high school level, at least not this location. Transportation to school is not free either. As a result, most won't finish high school.

Additionally, most won't graduate because of demands at the home. They are required to work at a young age. Since this is farming country and that can be demanding, it is encumbant on the young with stronger backs. Older backs can easily give out after 25 - 40 years of hard labor in the fields.

We are a fortunate people in the western world. Free school, at least through high school, ensures everyone can get a good foundation of an education. Our social programs allow relief for the indigent elderly such that children are not required to quit school and care for their aged parents.

This was a unique and eye-opening experience for me. But it gave me a greater appreciation for the education system we take for granted here.

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