Saturday, May 5, 2007

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast"

Soon I’ll be leaving India. I have a packed schedule till May 12, when I fly out of Tirupati bound for Hyderabad and Frankfurt en route to the United States. Yesterday, though, was very special. I finally got to see what I had been looking for—an elementary/secondary school where modern computer-based technology is sensibly incorporated into teaching and learning.

Granted I’ve seen only the tiniest fraction of India’s schools. I’ve visited some 15 universities and half a dozen elementary or secondary schools in 7 southern states. Not much of a sample on which to make a judgment or draw any conclusions. For this reason, I’ve been careful to reserve judgment, for the most part. Yesterday, however, was a bright spot in my Fulbright experience, giving me further grounds for hope that India is moving in the right direction to implement its long-range goal of free and compulsory education for all children.

I spent the morning at one of the Bright Day Schools situated in Gujarat. Dr. Pushpanadham of M.S. University in Baroda, brought me to the school, located on the outskirts of Baroda (Vadodara), and introduced me to the principal, Ms. Rupa Sharma. Rupa took us all around the school and I was able to interact with the students and see everything that was involved with the school’s day-to-day running. It was quite a tonic after what I had seen elsewhere.

First of all, the whole school was well-maintained, brightly and freshly painted, airy and clean. Then, to my surprise, every classroom has a computer system installed in such a way as to make it easy for integration into teaching and learning. I’d never seen a setup like it. The flat panel display was fixed on the wall right beside the chalk board in front of the class. Speakers on either side of the display provided good quality audio. The system was wired to the internet. I asked one teacher to bring up my home page on the Web. The access speed was not bad at all, though the teacher said she usually downloads ahead of time any pages she planned on using in class.

What I liked was that the display was visually aligned with the chalkboard. I’d never seen an arrangement such as this and it struck me as very practical and ergonomic. The screens need to be bigger (the ones I saw were only about 17” displays), but a screen can be easily upgraded when money becomes available. It also would be easy enough to connect a projector to the system for display on a larger screen. If you only have one computer in the classroom, this, it seems to me, would be a good way to go.

The teacher-pupil ratio at the school is 1:27. There also are 120 uniformed “maids,” two assigned full time to each class. Their job it is to keep the school clean, fetch-and-carry for the teachers, cook and serve meals, and so forth.

I met, and chatted with, many of the teachers. I was treated to delightful impromptu singing and dance performances in the music department. I spent quite a bit of time in upper level classes. I discovered, to my surprise, that almost all the students had computers at home! When I asked them how much time they spent using their computers, the answers ranged from half an hour to three hours a day. This is in India! This is in Baroda, an out-of-the-way town in Gujarat! I never saw anything like this in Mumbai or Bangalore, where they’re supposed to be so ahead of the times.

I also stopped off in the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes where I was entertained with whole group song and finger play recitals. In one classroom, a three year old boy came running up to me as soon as I walked in, his arms out, inviting a hug. I bent down and scooped him up into my arms where he immediately clamped onto me like a limpet.

I have 34 nephews and nieces and 48 grand nephews and nieces, so I’ve scooped up many, many children in my time. I’ve never before been held like this child held me. After a minute or so, the two teachers in the class came up to take him off my hands, but this kid was having nothing of it. He held me tighter than ever and wrapped his legs around me, too. I could feel the heels of his shoes digging into my sides. It was incredible; it was also very, very moving. I’d have been quite happy for him to stay stuck to me for the rest of the day. He weighed no more than a feather and it felt great to be so wanted and loved.

Turns out the kid thought I was his grandfather, who’s also bald as a coot! Eventually the teachers prized him off me limb by limb and we were able to proceed on our way.

What a great school! It’s all happening in India. I predict great change in the infrastructure of education over the next 20 years, with technology being more and more integrated into what goes on in the classroom. India’s already taking its place amongst the leading nations on the economic front. Watch out when India eventually implements its goal of 100% free and compulsory education for all.

1 comment:

AM I A HINDU? said...

Namasthe Bernie: It is so nice to read your blogs. It is so nice to note the developments that are happening in India.

When India became independent, many were critical of Pandit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, for spending all the money India had on educational institutions like IIT's of India.

Nehru concentrated on education and less on industries. Nehru said "A well educated India will rule the world." Today Nehru alone can say "I TOLD YOU SO."

Today, those same IITS are literally manufacturing tens of thousands "GREAT THINKING HUMAN MACHINES" who can change the world.