Our delegation enters our 5th day as we head from (New) Delhi to Bangalore. Like the rest of our delegation, I’ve learned more about India, it’s people and culture in the past few days than I have in my previous 55 years plus. I’m trying so hard to not make snap judgements. Every evening at dinner we go around the table and each delegate is asked to talk about their “big take-away” from the day. Each day I struggle with mentioning one thing. From the abject poverty and squalor of parts of old Delhi to the majesty of the Taj Mahal and to the orderly streets of British-designed New Delhi and the excitement and respect of every school we’ve visited, this county is a place that offers so many perspectives. It’s like a gemstone with dozens of different cuts offering a different view and with each a beauty of its own.
In my initial blog many days ago, I mentioned how I expected to find some things quite familiar, yet others quite different, particularly when it comes to schools. That has definitely been the case. Students are working hard to learn math, reading, problem solving, values and a range of other things that you would find in nearly every school in the US. As I watched the high school students socialize in an outdoor common area I could see the teenage insecurities we would find in any US middle of high schools. And every student who talked about their projects and work products were proud of their accomplishments.
As for differences, and maybe this is unfair, but there was little focus on actual technology. Don’t get me wrong, they’re using technology, although it was well worn and would see old by US standards. The emphasis seems to be more on the learning process and the outcomes. As I listened to 4 grade 12 girls talk about their entrepreneurship project, they talked about all of the research they did, explained their business case and even their start-up plan. (They say they plan to start a health club/gym after graduation.) But, they never talked about the technology tools they used to accomplish work. That was refreshing, as we in the US often focus so much on the tech tools that we can sometimes lose sight of the work itself.
Next stop Bangalore.
Rabea Girls Public School is in Old Delhi. Where the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. When the school opened it had 12 students, today there are 2000 students. This is an achievement but it gets better.
The Principal said something that had a real impact on how they perform in school. She said girls don’t have other distractions at home, they don’t have many outside activities. Outside of school they are mostly home.
So the reality is that school becomes of a lifeline. The silver lining for this lack of opportunity is that it gives them time to work more on their studies. So perhaps for these kids the greatest opportunity lies in empowering them with digital devices that they can take home. Access to school lessons and collaboration outside of the school day through ICT could be the leverage they need to propel them forward.
As we begin our visits on the first day, we emerge from the hotel to find a dense layer of fog/smog covering Delhi. The Sun is a bright orange ball and everything seems soft and eerie. It turns out that Delhi is in a weather inversion, warm air is trapped below a layer of cold air that has rolled in from the cool mountains trapping the warm air (and pollution near the ground). This is very much like Denver during certain times of year. But on a much bigger scale, since Delhi is a city if 17 million and the Denver area is about 2 million.
Our travel from Delhi to small city of Agra (only 2 million says our guide) takes across the countryside. We learn from our guide that more than 70% of the population live in the country. It strikes me as a much different mix of rural and urban living than in Colorado where 75% of the people live in 25% of the land. In Colorado people primarily live along the Front Range, while in India, a country roughly 1/3 the size of the US with 1.25 billion people and almost 800 million of those are in the rural areas.
Our visit is primarily focused on visiting schools and studying the effective use of technology in schools across India. While our visits will begin on Monday, we see school buildings in cities, towns and rural areas as we travel from Delhi to Agra and back. One thing strikes me this weekend, even before we see the inside of one school building, I get the impression that People in this country value education. Why? We have observed that the biggest building in a village is the school. There are new buildings- schools, out in the country dotting the landscape and they are schools.
For a country where rural people live in grass huts and urban people live in shanties or on the streets with no shelter, they have managed to fund and support schools for their children. In contrast, in Colorado there are still school buildings that are 100 + years old, have leaking roofs and floors with holes in them. We have a lot to learn and this trip will give us a lot to think about.
Over the last two days our delegation visited three different schools to understand how technology is being used to further the educational experience. Some facts for context are helpful:
- 400 million students – larger than America’s total population
- 1% of all schools have internet – 99% do not
- 1.1 m public schools; 3m private schools
- 40,000 new schools are need today to meet educational demand
The first school we visited was the Ramjas School in New Delhi which serves a more affluent population. They have an HP partnership and are piloting a 1:1 initiative. The conversation was rich and like many similar discussions I’ve had with my Ed Tech team in Colorado. Training for teachers, common processes to follow, and students ahead of teachers all sounded familiar. Great experience with the administrators making us feel welcome.
Our second school, Government Senior Secondary School in Haryana, was serving primarily first generation learners. It was in a relatively poor section of India. But I did not feel that was a hinderance and the students spoke to us in Hindi with
their passion coming through strongly. I could not have felt more welcome to learn from them. They also have internet all
owing coding in HTML and Scratch to be taught.They moved from Microsoft products to Google for collaboration on team projects. Very powerful and emotional. Their tech team is showing other schools in the area how to make the digital leap.
Our last meeting on Monday was with a private non-profit foundation called Learning Links Foundation. They explained the challenges of the 99% without internet and shared the statistics above. Tools like the Smart suite are used heavily which makes sense if you don’t have internet. The digital divide is obviously much greater in India, but for any one student not connected to the vast educational resources the internet provides, be it in America or India, it is a hinderance to their learning and being productive in the 21st century economy.
This morning we visited Rabea Girls Public School which is an all girls Muslin school in Old Delhi. The 2000 student school serves middle class families. It was enlightening to learn from these ladies how online safety, values, and technology including Java and C++ were all part of there curriculum. I felt welcomed by the principal, teachers and students and I’m appreciative of the opportunity to go into a Muslim area of India and learn how the education of women has evolved. The journey to get there is a story in itself but for now, I’ll only share it through a picture.
I am beyond humbled by my experience in the schools so far.
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:
- School Website – first school to have its own website. Updated regularly to keep parents and community informed
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
We embarked on the short drive to the Taj Mahal this morning. Leaving our nearly new hotel the first thing I noticed was the rubble across the street highlighting the dichotomy of what I was about to see with want was staring at me. We were back on the narrow roads until the bus could no longer get through. Onto rickshaws, 3-4 in each was an adventure in itself. Monkeys, camels and dogs lined the roads. Security was tight but not overbearing as we made our way to gates. Once getting into the complex my first thought was it’s sheer size and beauty made it look like a painting set on a canvas outlined by the morning haze in the air. Stunning for sure. To think this is a marble mausoleum built in the 17th century, without the help of modern day construction, makes the impact that much more impressive. I will never forget this day as I carry forward what the human spirit can achieve when one’s will overcomes hurdles, no matter how large.
As we transition from the physical beauties of India to visiting schools on Monday, I am excited to start my learning about the education system in this fascinating country.
PS. I was asked about the pictures in my last blog. All of the pictures I am sharing on this site are taken with a Canon 70D/18-135mm lens.
Many years ago I visited the Grand Canyon in the US. That was a majestic experience. At the time I thought I would never see anything man-made that would make me feel the same way. That was until I saw what Shah Jahan had built for his wife.