Education, here and there.

There is a reason I don’t write on topics close to my heart, these days. Once I start, I don’t seem to stop. Or so says the husband, and can’t really blame him. I do tend to go on and on.

So I was talking about teachers and schools yesterday. I’ve been asked many a time about how the schools in India and abroad compare. I can’t talk about other places, the only place I have some experience in is the UK. So here is what I found. It might be limited to the circle I moved in, or even the city, probably. Education is one area where I do feel, quite definitely, that we are better off in the UK. Here is why.

1. Focus on Reading – In India, I found that the focus was far more on the writing than reading. Children in daughter’s class(Grade 1), were still struggling with reading. Apparently during the tests, the teachers would read out the questions so that the children knew what to write. In the UK, I found that the focus was mainly on the reading. They get library books, reading books, and there is a systematic program that measures what level each child is at, and the minimum levels for each year. So most children at the same age in the UK, would be reading at a far more comfortable level. And I think it makes sense. Unless the child can read, how can he/she understand? And despite the fact that so many children couldn’t read, there was no focus on that in the school in India. My friend was trying hard at home to teach her six year old to read, when really, this should have been the first target of a school.

2. Methodology of teaching – In most of the subjects, what I found was that the teachers of my daughter’s school in India still followed the old method of writing on the blackboard and getting the children to take it down. Here it is very different. It is a lot more interactive and children seem to remember their lessons better. I’ve had several instances of daughter coming home and telling in great detail of the things she learnt. Learning was/is fun for her.

3. Student teacher ratio. There is a government specified teacher-student ratio here that all schools have to follow. I wish it were there in India.

4. Different learner levels. I really like this concept in schools here. Children are grouped together based on their abilities and then pushed and encouraged in a way that suits their abilities. This is of course possible only because of small class sizes and teaching assistants to help.

5. Interactive learning. There is a lot of interaction between the children and the teachers. There is also a lot of opportunities for parents to see how classes are conducted and for us to understand how concepts are introduced to the children and for us to teach them at home.

6. Accessible Management. Daughter’s school in India had a very accessible management. And from what I heard that was not common. Here on the other hand, all the schools, that she has been to, have had really accessible management. In her old school, the head teacher would be dusting snow off children’s boots when it snowed. Her head teacher here, was acting as the lollipop man, because the lollipop lady was late. We can go and talk to them anytime. And they do seem to know most of students by name. Of course, the fact that the schools are smaller, must help.

7. Exams. There are no exams here. Daughter had exams on India and she did fine. I’m not sure yet of the merits and demerits of exams. I guess, you do need some form of progress tracker. Are the exams necessarily the right kind, I don’t really know. What do you guys think?

How do you feel about the education system in India?

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 1st – 7th September 2013. Hop over to see more Day 6 posts.

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Educating ourselves…

.. is such a huge part of being a parent. There are so many things that I have learnt in the last five years of being a mother. Usha’s post on Perspectives reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine.

She has a daughter a year younger than mine, and she goes to a private school. Before I go further, let me explain the schooling system here. Most children in the primary level go to state schools. Only around 8% or so go to private schools. There are several very good state schools, and if you are in a good state school, the education is quite good, and comparable to private schools.

So this friend of mine sends her child to a private school, and is not very impressed by ‘what they are teaching her’, in her words. Just to put things into perspective, she has been quite worried about her child’s education(or the lack of it) since the time the child was just 3. At that time she was concerned that her daughter did not know how to write. Here, they do not pressurize the children to write, they encourage, and the child picks up when they are ready for it. For some reason, she keeps comparing the education standards with that in India – whether it makes sense or not.

So coming back to her worries, she is worried because the school does not send back daily feedback – no homework, and nothing for the parent to work upon. So I explained to her that it is quite similar in Poohi’s school as well. They don’t really send back much work. They only ask us to spend around 10 minutes a day reading with a child. But that did not satisfy her – it is fine for Poohi’s school to send back no work, because it is a state school(free), but in a private school, where they are paying for an education, they should get the child to do more..

Now this is something I find difficult to get my head around. Paid or not, surely what matters is how well they ensure that the child picks up things. Given the fact that the education system is quite different from what we are used to, back in India, I think we really ought to approach it differently. We cannot after all expect the same sort of studying pattern, curriculum or teaching styles from two very different systems.

Every time I go to Poohi’s school, I can’t help be amazed at the amount of work the teachers put in. I really don’t find anything to complain about nor can I ask for anything more from them. The efforts that the teachers put in ensures that the children are motivated and excited by work. For instance, we got the overview of the curriculum for the next term, at the end of the last term. The children had been told of what they would learn too. One of the topics was ‘Dinosaurs’. Poohi came home excited, opened her book of dinosaurs( we just happened to have a book), and read through everything. Apparently,’When Mrs C asks the class, I can put my hand up!’ was the motivation behind it. She is so excited about learning, that she makes that extra effort without any prompting from anybody else. I can honestly say that this sort of excitement can only come from teachers who have made it all so exciting for them, that they look forward to learning more.

Yes, they might not send home books and books of homework, they might not force children to write or read, but they make it fun, they make it interesting, so much so that the children want to learn more. They are motivated, not pressurized. That is all I ask for! That happiness on daughter’s face when she learns, when she picks up new things, makes links of how dinosaurs dying out is similar to how people evolved from monkeys – what more can a parent ask for? We get to see the work that our children do at school during the Parent teachers evening, and it is amazing! They do a lot at school. They cover so much ground, that there is no real need to send home work. Children do get some work, but it is not a huge amount of stuff, and a lot of it involves a child using her creativity, thinking and understanding what needs to be done. When I see daughter working on her learning logs, I am amazed at how her mind works. It goes to show that young minds are so fresh, and innovative, that they can indeed come up with incredible stuff, if we let them be.

Usha also talks about the environment at home affecting the child. So many times when I hear mothers lamenting that their children show interest only in TV shows and would never pick up a book of their own, I can’t help asking how many times they pick up books instead of the TV remote? Not that being a reading parent guarantees a reading child, but being around books, does encourage a child to read(in my opinion). After all, we parents are the first role models that our children have. Taking a child to the library regularly for an outing will making him/her think of reading as a fun activity rather than a chore or a ‘homework’.

And yes, if you do have genuine grievances, talking to the teachers and understanding their point of view is far more useful isn’t it than worrying and complaining that the teachers are no good? And no matter what we think, children do pick up on what the parent thinks. If the parent is unhappy or dismissive of the teachers efforts, chances are that the child may not take the teacher seriously either..

Every time I hear a parent criticize teachers, I can’t help feel uneasy. While I am sure there are several uncommitted teachers, I am sure that there are plenty of wonderful teachers out there. At least I was lucky to have some great ones.. And Poohi has had wonderful teachers so far. As a parent, what I really want to do is be a team with my child’s teacher, to work along with them, to bring out the best in my child. Yes, there might be times when she might not have the best of teachers, but that is when I will need to step up and be there for her.. And hopefully, I will be able to give her what she needs to learn, to grow and to expand her horizons….

Edited to add: Do read Sheils post on how wonderfully creative learning can be! 

Corporal Punshiment – once again?

Another shocking incident of a child being punished (?) and grievously injured by a school teacher. I had written about some cases earlier this year too.. and now – one more, even more barbaric,even more cruel..

This little girl was apparently ‘hit’ by the teacher for not being able to recite the English alphabet.

‘The incident allegedly occurred on Wednesday when Shannoo failed to recite the English alphabet in class. Angered by this, the teacher allegedly hit Shannoo’s head against the table and made her stand in the sun for over two hours. Unable to stand the heat, Shannoo fainted and was found unconscious by her younger sister, who studies in the same school. The girl then informed their mother, Rihanna, who rushed Shannoo to Maharshi Valmiki Hospital. ‘ She is now in a coma and battling for her life..

It is difficult to digest that this sort of a thing happens.. and seems to happen all the time.. What has our education system come to? Why are we having such barbaric incidents of corporal punishments? And is it just a coincidence that these seem to happen to children from the lower economic strata..

Isn’t it time, we analyse to see why such incidents happen over and over again. In most of the private schools, things have changed, but these incidents keep cropping up.  Isn’t it shocking that the very people, we entrust our children’s education with, can actually almost kill them?

A lot has to do with the lack of awareness among teachers. Clearly, teachers who mete out such punishment are not really in the profession, because they really enjoy teaching or because they want to make a difference.. The sad thing is that in India, teaching has become the ‘last option’.. Of course, there are a lot of dedicated teachers, but even a few  bad apples make a lot of difference – to this little girl  – the difference between life and death!  It just goes to show that we have a long way to go , to try and ensure that good quality professionals enter the teaching  profession – instead of it being a ‘last resort’ , that it has become!

Edited to add – I just came across the news item here – that Shannoo Khan, has died. May she rest in peace. Lets just hope that we learn from her death and no more of this happens..