As citizens of this ever-changing world, many of us go to India amazed at its growth, and after returning to our native or adopted countries (whatever the case for each individual), we are even more amazed by what we observed. India, like many other countries, is a country of contradictions. On the one hand, we have a flourishing economy. On the other hand, we have an exceptionally large population working despite dire poverty. The massive poverty can feel so depressing that although you feel like doing something about it, you feel helpless—until you try.
One way, though not the only way, is to try through education. For the past few years, I went to India for just a month in any given year. Each time, I discovered many factors that divide the population in India. As a result of that, I made a decision to teach English in India in a Gujarati medium school for just over a year.
During my time as a teacher in India, one divide I noticed in school was between the students, teachers, and administrators.
Administrator: When teaching English, speak and write only in English.
Administrator: This is because if you speak a single word of Gujarati, the students will not have any incentive to learn English.
Teacher: I see where you are coming from, but what if they don't understand what I'm saying?
Administrator: They understand English, but they have trouble responding in English.
Teacher: I understand. I will try my best.
The teacher proceeds to speak in English for a few days, and students respond with blank stares.
The teacher feels he must ask a student for feedback. (This conversation takes place privately between a student and teacher—but in Gujarati.)
Teacher: Why isn't anyone responding in class?
Student: You're speaking entirely in English, and no one understands anything you're saying.
Teacher: So what do you think I should do?
Student: Speak in Gujarati.
The teacher tries that approach. But still keeps getting blank stares. Thus,
Teacher: What's going on now?
Student: No one understands your Gujarati.
Student: Your Gujarati is too pure.
Teacher: So what now?
Student: Speak in Gujlish.
As you might have noticed, this is a paraphrased interaction between administrators, a student, and myself. When the administrator mentioned that the students had trouble responding to a language they “understood,” I somehow felt that there was more to it than just trouble responding. I quickly realized that students were not encouraged to respond and the Indian education system often places emphasis on correcting mistakes rather than learning from mistakes—two very different concepts. Correcting mistakes frequently ends up placing emphasis on humiliating the student whereas learning from mistakes (i.e., no question is stupid) can often motivate a student and propel creativity and analysis.
This brings us to one of the media we can use in today’s world: technology. We can use technology, notably another divide, to help motivate students, and encourage creativity and analysis. While I was teaching, I chose to open up the school’s computer lab soon after we received some new computer equipment. (I should note here that there are still many who believe that if a school in India is lucky enough to have a computer, it doesn’t matter if it is old or new. It just matters that “it works.” But in today’s day and age, it matters that the computer is, as far as possible, not more than 5 years old. If it is, then chances of the student being prepared for a technologically fast-paced world decrease rapidly by the day.)
A student who had a very analytical mind, and had a tremendous interest in technology and computer graphics came to these lab sessions and I went up to him during an after-school computer lab session I ran. I directly asked him what it was he wanted to learn. Like most students in India, his first response was “whatever you are willing to teach.” As I insisted, he eventually told me that he would tell me in a day or two. He came back saying that he wanted to learn graphical design on the computer. I didn’t have the software he wanted, but we started until the point when we obtained the software he wanted. Even after finding out that I was unable to teach the software; he started learning the software and teaching it to himself. Within 20 minutes, he was teaching me how to use this software. But there is an issue here. Many teachers are less familiar with technology than their own students, and often cannot bear the thought of students knowing more than them in any particular field because, after all, “the teacher knows everything.” So what to do? Either we can take this issue, and throw it to the wind. Or, we can say that we are going to use this wind as our strength and instead allow our students to learn from each other or even better: allow our students to be our teachers. The strength of the student is persistent and perpetual curiosity. Therefore, once out of school, the individual will be able to compete on a global level, if given the best set of tools at our disposal.
We always keep asking, “Is it possible? Is it possible?” Change is definitely possible, if we stop talking and start doing. To do that, we must go to local colleges and universities both in India and around the world. The best way to ignite change is to mobilize the youth. I feel that once you persuade the youth of India, especially those in higher education courses to volunteer, you can come up with results worthy of a standing ovation. Non-governmental organizations, including Share and Care, can help in this effort by doing things like providing quality education to administrators, teachers, students and their families alike.
About the author, Nikhil Dhruv, BA: After earning his bachelor’s degree from Temple University, he performed local community service in and near his hometown. As a youngster his hobbies were swimming and playing tennis. Today enjoys volunteering and helping individuals in their future endeavors.