Thanksgiving Thoughts on Incredible India

As I met with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday there were always questions about my recent trip to India as a member of the CoSN Senior Delegation. Many times I felt that the slogan on our tour bus – “Incredible India” – gave a good broad-brush description of a wonderfully diverse country.

Bus

However, I found that whenever I really got down to telling the story of what we learned and experienced my comments usually revolved around three “P’s”: People, Passion, and Purpose.

PEOPLE – There is no question that the people of India are truly its greatest asset. Their graciousness and sense of hospitality cannot be overstated. We experienced sincere warm welcomes wherever we went. It did not matter if we were simply chatting with people we met in the street, shops and hotels, or if we were conversing with our hosts – both adults and students – at the schools and non-profit organizations we were fortunate enough to visit. Everyone expressed an eagerness to share their stories as well as a curiosity about us, why we were visiting their community, and what we might share with them.

PASSION – The people of India are passionate about their families, their history and their culture. Whether visiting with people living in the crowded cities or those in the more affluent communities, dedication to family is a strong priority. That sense of family extends to their neighborhoods and community at large. The historic temples and shrines as well as the magnificent colors in the fabrics of saris worn by women throughout India conveyed the rich sense of culture that permeates so much of India’s way of life. As magnificent as the historic treasures are, it is the eyes and smiles of the children that illuminate the passion of the people of India and give a glimpse of what the future holds.

PURPOSE – It is a given that India faces enormous challenges in multiple arenas including basic infrastructure for housing, refuse, water, transportation, technology, education and more. The school directors and non-profit leaders we met with never shied away from the struggles they face. Rather they meet them head-on with a determination to invest in the people of India as a way to solve India’s current problems. Whether looking at teacher education as a way to reach more students, as demonstrated by the Learning Links Foundation and the Agastya Center, or emphasizing the importance of STEM education for both boys and girls at every school we visited, the unifying trend is to invest in human capital as a means for growing India into a strong, self-reliant, powerhouse nation. Other common threads inherent in the sense of purpose is an emphasis on educating the whole child, an infusion of the arts along with STEM curricula, and a laser like focus on student learning projects that support the “greater good”.

In my conversations with students at each school we visited I always asked what they hope to do when they finish with their schooling. A young 8th grade girl told me she aspired to be an aeronautical engineer. I responded by telling her that I live in Southern California which is home to several aerospace industries and said that perhaps she might end up working at one of them. She did not miss a beat when she asked me if she might share another of her aspirations with me. I said, “Certainly”. Her reply: “I was born in India, I live in India, and I want to stay in India”. With that sense of determination, pride and purpose it will be a thrill for the rest of the world to watch “Incredible India” grow and develop over the next few decades.

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Two Amazing Schools

The CoSN Senior Delegation to India met with school administrators, teachers and students on Monday, November 16, 2015 at two schools in and around New Delhi. Both schools receive support and guidance from the Learning Links Foundation (http://www.learninglinksindia.org/) a Not-for-Profit Trust established in 2002 whose vision is a future where education is optimally delivered and learning is truly inspired. Learning Links provides consulting and management services to improve learning, promote innovation, foster 21st century skills and enable systemic changes in education ecosystems across India and the Asia region.

The first stop for the CoSN delegation was the Ramjas School in New Delhi. Principal Dr. Rachna Pant welcomed the group and presented an overview of the school’s participation in the HP National Education Technology Assessment (HP NETA) Pilot Project. Dr. Pant shared how technology tools and professional development are used to innovate and transform learning for both teachers and students. The HP NETA program provided the Ramjas School learners with their initial experiences in one-to-one computing with mobile devices. Now in its second year (the program began in September 2014) the impact on teaching and learning has already been profound. Key findings from the program to date include increased student engagement and interest, higher motivation levels, increase confidence levels and ever growing use of technology by teachers and students. Dr. Pant gave the group an overview of 40 specific initiatives at Ramjas School.

Building a culture of community and understanding is a key focus for all at the Ramjas School. During their morning assembly on Monday, November 16, the student leader who was facilitating the assembly asked all students and adults in the room to participate in two minutes of silence for those who were killed in Paris last week during multiple attacks throughout the city. The notion that “peace is required” is a core belief at the Ramjas School. Students are taught that is critical that each one of them do their part to bring peace in their own community. Many of the projects the students engage in as a result of their access to technology empower the students to enable services to the community to support the notion of peace and well-being for everyone in their community.

One way that the Ramjas School seeks to cultivate deeper learning and greater good for the whole community is through a formalized debate process where students from each of the four houses in the school must defend an assigned point of view. The goal is to teach students how to make their perspectives known without resorting to shouting and screaming. Next year the process will expand to ask each student to articulate both sides of the same topic.

The second school visit site for the CoSN Senior Delegation was the Government Senior Secondary School in the Village of Carterpuri (named after President Jimmy Carter who with First Lady Roslyn Carter visited the community in 1978) in Haryana, just outside Delhi. The focus of the presentation was the Gyan Shakti Program – a knowledge enhancement program. Learning Links supports the effort by providing technology and teacher support during the school day as well as a community outreach program that operates after school hours each day. The school serves students from low income families, many of whom are “first generation learners”. The key emphasis is on leveraging technology to impact student learning success. That effort was specifically recognized when the school was named “Best in State” for the number of initiatives the school has implemented to impact student learning.

Students from the Government Senior Secondary School shared multiple examples of how they are leveraging their access to technology to advance their own learning and the well-being of their community. The theme of doing social good ran through each of the projects shared by the students. The following is a list of some of the student produced products shared with the CoSN group:

  1. School Website – first school to have its own website. Updated regularly to keep parents and community informed
  2. Dengue Warriors 008 – Collaborative project between students in Haryana and students in Delhi who tackled a common problem of dengue fever. The students’ ideology is based on the concept, “We have a common problem…let’s work on it together”.
  3. Development of Interactive Apps – Students built an interactive app to help the students who miss lessons in school so they can stay current with what is being taught in the classrooms. The example they shared was a lesson on the human skeleton.
  4. When students realized that the Mid-day Meal Program – provided for all students – required teachers to track and report multiple information statistics, they designed an online data reporting system for their teachers that has greatly simplified the effort for their teachers. Their online reporting program for teachers has since been adopted by other schools as well.

Members of the CoSN Senior Delegation left both schools with an understanding of the common challenges shared by schools in India and in the United States when it comes to meeting the learning needs of today’s students. All members of the delegation were inspired by the heroic work of the professional educators and the enthusiasm and passion of the students at both school sites. We were honored to be in their presence and learn from them.

student created game

Learning from our colleagues in India

As we get ready to travel to India and meet with educators, students, parents and policy makers the CoSN Senior Delegation is grateful to have the opportunity to learn how India is meeting the needs of its 21st century learners. We look forward to great conversations, inspiring cultural experiences and lessons learned to bring back home to the United States.