Tuesday, May 29, 2012

India School Visit

Aaaahhhh, summer: time to relax and enjoy.  And if my husband's consulting business (Customer Centric Selling - Bosworth and Kenney) should take him to a distant country, I'm going too.  
Last July, I had the opportunity to travel along with him to New Delhi, India.  Because I teach my sixth-graders about ancient India, I was familiar with the country's history.  I could even sound somewhat knowledgeable about the Harappan civilization, but really my understanding was very superficial.  
July came, and I was finally going to see for myself what I had only read about in boring history books.  To add to the excitement, I had set up an appointment to visit an Indian school. Here is my journal entry of my visit.

July 6, 2011-

I have been told for the past several years that the Indian schools were light years ahead of the United States in science and math. Every time I heard this, I defended our educational system and made assurances that we taught critical thinking skills, as well as equally important subjects like writing, music, and art. I imagined the Indian children sitting properly at their desks, repeating the answers to algorithms.

It was with these expectations that I set off to visit Sachdeva Global School. I had chosen this school because of its flashy web page and commitment to technology-based learning. Prior to coming to India, I made a bold request via the Internet and asked them if I could drop by their school for a visit. To my surprise, after reviewing my resume, they agreed.

The school is located in a suburban area of Dehli. Sentinel high rise apartment buildings line the wide streets, which gives the neighborhood a sense of modernity coupled with orderliness. I entered Sachdeva Global School, located in a modern two-story brick building, and was checked in at the guard's station. Several people waited for me at the reception desk. They looked worried and whispered frantically to each other.

Finally, a woman came forth and asked me, "Didn't you get the director's email? She had to attend to a personal matter and is not able to be here. Is it possible for you to come back tomorrow?"

I assured her that I had checked my email before I left for the hour drive, and had not received any notices. I began to question whether I had overstepped my bounds. Who did I think I was? Did I think they would just except any stranger, willy-nilly?

I decided to be even bolder, and I asked the receptionist if it would still be possible to have a quick tour of the facilities. After more discussion between the staff, two women came out and said, but of course, they would show me the school. Thus, we set off, one math teacher, one preschool teacher, and myself, to walk through the pristine campus. I must have looked like the Cheshire cat; I was grinning from ear to ear with excitement.

The school services students from preschool to high school. Each classroom had twenty-five polite students. (I was told by another Indian that this private school had difficult entrance requirements and was quite expensive.) When I walked in to each class, the students all stood up and in greeted me in unison.

I was pleased to see that the children still had to be reminded to walk, just as our students do at my school. However, they were expected to walk with their hands clasped behind their backs and to greet the adults as they walked by, using the terms "Ma'am and Sir." They had impeccable manners.

In the classrooms, while they used green chalkboards, they also had Smart Boards. Several teachers gave me demonstrations of how they utilized this technology to instruct the students. The teacher would click on a learning topic, and the students would listen to the automated directions.

Although I did not see it presented, the math teacher told me that they also used a strategy called Vedic Math to help the students access the learning. It is somehow based on ancient Vedic schools of thought. She was shocked that I had never heard of it.

The school has two computer labs, but I did not see computers in the classrooms. One of the teachers told me that the students were not allowed to bring computers to school, nor cell phones. If they brought cell phones, they had to be checked in at the office.

During reading instruction, the students used textbooks. In fact, as I walked through the rooms, I noticed the teachers using textbooks for most subjects.

The teachers are required to post their monthly syllabus online. The parents can also access the homework worksheets, including the study guides, and any information about important events.

The teachers meet often, but not on a scheduled basis, to collaborate on instruction. They give many formative quizzes, in addition to summative tests (sorry for the teacher jargon.)

The school employs many ancillary staff members. They include two technology aides, one western dance instructor, a traditional Indian dance instructor, a piano and guitar teacher, an art teacher, a roller skating instructor, and a water play aide. I was awed by how the school encouraged the arts and creative expression. My initial assumptions were incorrect.

There is also a language component at the school. All of the students are instructed in English, although they may be given assistance in the early grades in Hindi. They also have an option of learning French, Hindi (written), or Sanskrit as a third language when they reach the secondary level. I saw children copying English sentences in journals in the primary grades. I was told that as they progress through the grades, they write answers to more open-ended questions in their journals.

The cafeteria looked like a deli. The children in the primary grades are expected to eat the school lunch, which is carefully crafted to include healthy foods. Signs are posted all over the school, reminding the students to avoid junk food.

After my tour, my gracious hosts directed me back to the reception area, where I was led into the headmistress's office. They brought me a lovely finger sandwich, along with some cold juice. I was stunned by their kindness and told them that they must let me reciprocate in the future.

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