Category Archives: educational reform

Student voice in Bangalore! Totally inspiring!


Today I attended an event that was so close to my heart that I got a bit weepy as I was watching the events. The Concern for Working Children (see my previous blog entry) coordinated an event in which the local children of the city ward came to share their concerns with the chief government officials.

In the words of the official invitation for the event:

“For the first time in India, Children’s Ward Sabha will be conducted by a Metropolitan City, Bangalore,at Ward 81, Vijnana Nagar. Children from migrant Community, school children, childrenfrom marginalised community, children representative of the ward and children’s union will take part in the event.

Main objectives of Children Ward Sabha:
1. To strengthen the child participation in democracy and to provide
practical knowledge and information for them during their childhood
so that they can actively take part democratically in process when they
become adult.
2. To provide a platform to children for their active participation in metropolitan
city system.
3. Local government to listen to information from children regarding
their concerns and issues related to them. To show the accountability
towards children and to create supportive environment for children
uphold their rights.
4. To provide awareness, experience for children to get united and to
know and use their rights.
5. For children to discuss their issues with adults to get solutions, and to give opportunity for children
to express their opinions regarding developments and environment.”

When I entered the event, the children had already marched in and were sitting with their schools on the floor of the grand tent that had been erected on the grounds of a local school. I sat next to a woman who offered to help to translate the events as the entire process occurred in Kanada. The children were holding signs that said, “Information is our right” and “Participation is everyone’s right.” Over 500 children were present.


They also carried ballot boxes that physically demonstrated the data collection that occurred within their schools as the children consolidated the main concerns of each group.

The crowd contained the “mainstream school”—which is the local private school where you send your kids if you can afford to pay.


The government schools, or free schools where you send your kid if you can’t afford the mainstream school

Tent schools—tents erected to school migrant children/children of construction workers.


The group also contained groups representing working children—Beema Sannya

The actual guts of the event did not start for an hour and a half. First they were waiting for the mayor who never showed. Then a child sang a prayer, and then many announcements and introductions were made. Then all of the big government officials present had to receive flower bouquets and shawls placed on shoulders.

Then a song was sung about progress and not taking a step back but always moving forward (click to hear the kids singing the song). This speaker also spoke about this being “one day when adults will listen to the children; children are not tomorrow—they are today’s citizens.”

Then a person spoke to the children with a mini civics lesson of how the democracy works in India, from the federal, to the state level, and all the way down to the local ward level where this sabha is taking place.

Then a lamp was lit to officially begin the program with much fanfare.


After the lamp was lit, then balloons were released much to the delight of the children.

Finally, the child representatives from each school/organization and government officials were seated in a circle on the stage (on the ground—as is custom here, shoes are left off the stage).  Three children spoke initially about their concerns.

First a child from a government school spoke about the concerns raised in her school.  The girl spoke from her heart so deeply that she was sobbing by the end. She raised the following issues:

-A drain exists along the school property (I am assuming a sewage drain). Balls get lost regularly when the fall into the drain. The drain needs to be covered.

-The roads are dirty and smelly because people urinate on the roads. The government needs to build a public bathroom for the construction workers and other local workers to use so that they don’t urinate on the road.

-The lake is being dumped with raw sewage and the drains lead into the lake. The lake needs to be cleared so that it can be used for swimming and drinking.

Two boys then spoke passionately about their experiences as working children from the organization Beema Sanga. They presented a large map of their community that they developed. They noted in red the dangerous areas in the community. In these areas, they have no protection for girls living in the tents. They need information on how to protect themselves. (I love how in the photo below, this kiddo is a working child. Doesn’t go to school anymore. Lives in a slum. He is very powerfully sharing the problems of his community and the government officials are writing down his words).

The boys also spoke about being taken from their homes to children’s homes because they are working and not in school. They stressed that they would like to attend school but they already have homes and should not be taken from their homes because they need to earn money for their family.  The child argued that the burden of education currently lies on families—the families are punished if their children do not attend school. Instead the burden should be on the government to provide quality schools where the children live.

The boys also raised concern about the sewage in the lake. They also spoke of as lack of drinking water and the need to prevent others from dumping their garbage in their community. They also raised the issue that this ward is the only ward with a sabha and that all wards should have a similar process.

I was very moved by the words of these boys. They were forceful and articulate and very moving. I was then very saddened by what happened next. The highest profile official present (in the darker shirt below) then took the microphone, saying that he had to leave early so he needed to share his remarks. He talked for 10 minutes without saying anything of substance. Then finally, his main response to the children’s concerns? He called on the children to encourage the squatters living along the lake to leave. He asked the children to support their efforts to remove these very poor people from their tents and the children cheered. That was the only promise made. No promises about the sewage, the drains, the drinking water or the garbage. Just that they would displace the poor people living along the lake.

Then the man walked off the stage and the press swarmed around him so greatly that the event had to be paused. He could have at least addressed the press off to the side so that the children could continue. I had to leave at this time to get back home. The remaining children spoke on unavailability of drinking water, dumped garbage, lack of electricity and toilets and the need for a better healthcare system.



Addressing teacher shortages and curriculum quality through DVD-based instruction


On Monday I had a fascinating visiting with the non-profit project 1947  I found the organization through my friend Tay. I had no idea what I was going to learn and I ended up finding a kindred spirit in the funder, Naresh Bala. He started out in business and even had a start up in the Silicon Valley at one point. He developed a passion for increasing the value of life skills/soft skills in the India educational system. This initial passion has translated into a wealth of valuable projects.

I started my day by meeting the deputy director, Murali.  I picked him up at a local mall and we headed off to visit a local government school.  Government schools are the U.S. “public” school equivalent (and “public schools” in India are private schools!). This school was a “commission” school-funded by the city of Bangalore.  All of the children at this school were below the poverty line. It was secondary school, so grades 7, 8 and 9, 10 (there is no middle school) and as I mentioned in previous blogs, school in the state of Karnataka only goes to grade 10.

Project 1947 has developed an initiative seeking to address issues of poor curricula and teacher shortages in the government schools. Their strategy is to develop DVD based curricula that is highly integrated with state standards and exams. When I first heard of this strategy I admit I was extremely skeptical. Yet, as is the case with educational policy, HOW something is implemented matters much more than what it is. And these folks “get it.” The goals underlying the development of this strategy are actually the opposite of what I had thought. Naresh wanted to devise strategies that would encourage peer to peer learning, creative and cognitive thinking, a decentralization of authority from a teacher-centered classroom, and greater personalization of skills. To get a foothold in the door, he needed to market this program as improving results on the state exams. And it does that for sure, but his main goals are not exam prep but all these other soft skills emphases.

Naresh and Murali were inspired by Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences models. The goal of the content is to provide visual and kinesthetic learns a way to access the content as much as auditory learners. 99% of content delivery in secondary schools in India is through large lectures. These DVDs chosen over computer based formats since they would be easier to implement in poor schools. They provide a way to give quality content on subjects, especially in math and science that is the greatest area of teacher shortage.

The cheaper model involves showing the videos to the entire class on a TV.  The students are expected to sit together in groups while watching the video, and the video has built in times for the students to collaborate with one another to answer questions posed on the video. Students also must teach one another components of the lesson as a part of the video instruction. Teachers work through this curriculum and they have control over it, unlike Skype or something that is not flexible and able to be integrated into a teacher’s own repertoire.

In 20% of the schools, they have a more inventive approach. They have a separate classroom of portable DVD players–much cheaper than laptops. Students work in small groups on modules that are adaptable to the areas of the curriculum.


Each group can work on a different topic, or at a different level—remedial (red), extra practice (green), or basic content  (yellow) .The poster on the left below shows the three levels. The guidebook on the left shows exactly how the content aligns with the state exams, including sample questions from previous exams about that content.


With the portable DVD model, they hire a paraprofessional to run the technology. The paraprofessional does not have content knowledge and instead is trained mainly to operate the equipment. Students fill out query cards that are sent back to their teacher when they fail to solve an issue collaboratively in their peer groups. The teacher then addresses the issues in the group lecture.  The photo shows the query card area in the room.

This strategy therefore provides supports to schools with a shortage of teachers in specific subjects, but the equipment and the paraprofessionals make it difficult to spread to many more schools.

The DVD program is also connecting to a range of needs in the Indian schooling system. Sick children who cannot attend school for long periods of time, for example, are finding the DVDs a way to keep on track academically. Thus Naresh is networking with the hemophiliac society. He is also looking at the “deaf and dumb” population since the content is accessible to this population.

I had a chance to ask some questions to the children before I left.  I asked what they like best about the school. They replied their Maths teacher. I asked what they would change about their DVD program. They said that for some of the tougher units, they wanted a larger screen to see the information than just the small handheld players. An advantage of the handheld, though, is that the kids can take the player home with them to continue studying even if they have no DVD player or television.  Murali also showed me student-self assessments where they indicate their scores on a pre-assessment and how they will improve their learning (left photo below).


I also saw profiles of the most at-risk kids that included plans for improving achievement, which most often included a meeting with the parents to ensure agreement on schoolwork having a value  (right photo above). All the kids work before or after school, mainly as housecleaners, in garages, delivering newspapers and bills. As is the case in U.S. secondary schools, often poor kids are working so many hours that they have no time to study.

I also met with the headmaster and some teachers. I mainly talked with the English teacher since the headmaster did not speak English (an indication of his own education). I learned that the school is only at 80% occupancy. Much like in poor urban schools in the U.S., the entering class is twice the size of the graduating class. Plus in India, private schools are preferred even if the quality is no better. Families prefer private schools in part because of the “illusion of English” since the schools have English names, they expect the children will learn English better in these locales.  So government schools often have space. You can see in the photos below that the classes aren’t full.  Also note the gender segregation–boys on one side, girls on the other.

After our school visit, we took a long drive through traffic to the south of town to the Project 1947 office where I met Naresh. I could have talked to this man four hours. We share similar interests related to schooling, voice, the value of life skills/civic skills as a focus of the curriculum. We talked about the difficulties of funding ongoing reform work–issues of scale and measurement. They are planning on moving from 250 schools to over 500 schools next year but want to do so in a way that does not dilute the curriculum.

The scaling up issue incudes how to hire paraprofessionals and train them for so many new schools versus  with the TV based model in which the whole class watches a DVD as one, the teachers need to be rained to integrate and make the best use out of the content.  Measurement is yet another issue. The Dell Foundation is their biggest founder and they demand an eternal evaluation of the results. But how do you motivate secondary students to take an assessment that has no stakes for them, especially when they are already taking 4 sets of exams a year? The state exam measurements are also problematic because of the amount of cheating and corruption that occurs in government schools. The pass rate can fluctuate from 40% to 80% in a year based on the amount of copying, cheating and other forms of abuse that occur in exam administration.

I also learned of other Project 1947 initiatives, including the introduction of M.Psych students into high schools to teach life skills. An especial focus of the organization is trying to get more government school children into math and science. While we in the US think of India as very math and science focus, that is only the case for privileged students in the very best private schools. Hardly any government school children enter the sciences, and the rare ones that do will not go into math or science teacher training. Thus there is an extreme math and science teacher shortage in the schools/ although the government offers free education through engineering for very poor children, they will rarely choose sciences.

The story of two India’s 750,000 to 8,000 Less than 1% of government school children go on to get a degree in science.  Naresh divides the school children in government schools into three cat4egories: Less than 1% are scholars in the traditional sense. 20-25 % are literacy challenged–unable to read or write at a basic level. 75% are literate but struggling to pass and to ma the state board exams, called the SSLC (learning certificate). The word “diploma” is saved for advanced training.

And for most of the girls, they rarely get to move beyond the 10th grade. The parents fear for their safety living at home in small huts at an older age and they try to marry them off right after the 10th grade. Plus since the female parents must pay the costs/dowry they worry that an over educated daughter will be much more expensive to marry off since she will seek out a more highly educated spouse. The perception is that more education does not translate into greater opportunity but it does translate into a higher dowry.

Concern for Working Children


I had a great site visit yesterday to Concern for Working Children   This organization was such an amazing place to visit–a true inspiration for anyone interested in ways in which the voices of youth can change the world.

The organization got started by labor activists in the 1970s when they noticed that children were coming to the labor organizing meetings and sitting in the front row, but no one was working with them. They formed children’s labor unions, separate from adults because they have different needs. unions of working children used to be slums as a focus by now migrant children are a greater focus worked on flex schooling for these kids in the early years and improving life quality.

Things took a turn for the worse for working kids in India when the country passed its 1986 child labor policy which banned child labor. By banning child labor, it did not eliminate child labor, but instead criminalized it. “Rid and Rescue” operations would raid hotels and other locations to round up and “save” the child workers. As such, the kids moved to invisible work sites in much more dangerous settings, such as firecracker factories.  No one asked why the children were working and not in school–often because they were kicked out of school or beaten in school such that they were afraid to return. Other kids WERE in school, but also working.

It goes back to a central point in my research–ask the kids what they need and you’ll get some powerful results. Assume you know what’s best for kids and you often will make it worse. It also  caused me to think of all of the college protests that I see back in the U.S. pressuring Nike and similar organizations to close sweatshops abroad and how that might be misguided. While we want better working conditions for kids, it needs to be done in a way that ensures that the policies will improve the lives of kids. Top down policies like universal bans often don’t achieve what we think they might.

This organization set to empower working kids by giving them information and helping them to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. It provides capacity building and information and the children then make choices to work, to go to school, or most often, they are doing both–going to school and going to work, as is the case in many families in the United States.  The problem has also shifted in the past 20 years to mainly kids 14 years and older–younger kids are almost always in school now. The population is also shifting from slums, where situations are improving in most areas, to migrant children who are coming down from northern Karnataka where the agricultural businesses aren’t thriving. They are living in tents in the cities and working on construction sites, building roads, drains, buildings. The  kids are picking rags and recycling garbage. They  are hiding and lying about their age. And their families will pick up and move again to the next job shortly. This population is a challenging one without a geographic home and the main focus of CRC work.

The CRC also emphasizes that work policies must be local and contextually based. They have also been working with children to define what types of work settings are appropriate for children, which are very locally specific. For example cow herding may be appropriate in one locale because it happens right on the same road as where a child lives, but not appropriate in another locale if the cows need to be walked several miles away.

The CRC organizes opportunities for children to be heard by local village councils and was even successful in making that a state law for all 5600 local governments. They have developed manuals for local leaders and other NGOs to work with children to present their needs to the local governments. Often issues of transportation are of great concern to children–especially getting to school and work during the monsoon seasons. Girls ride buses where they are sexually harrassed. Boats won’t cross the river unless a certain number of children have arrived and thus kids are late for school. Vehicles run children off the road and sometimes injure them.

One of the most powerful stories was a village where the kids wanted the liquor store closed because of what it was doing to their fathers and uncles. They first asked the local officials to close it and they refused. They then provided case studies of how their family members act from drinking and again the officials refused. The children then hid outside the liquor store and counted the number of purchases for a month. They showed that the village was spending 10 lacks rupees (that’s about 10,000) on liquor. The entire village received only 5 lacks in government funding in a year, so this was a huge amount of resources going to alcohol. Those numbers forced the closure of the liquor store!

I asked my colleague what she would do if she could wave a magic wand and improve India. She said first, we need to politicize the citizenry to demand change and end corruption. Second, if the government increased its GDP spending on education (and on health) from 2% to 5% respectively. That increase in funding  would make it possible to achieve a standard of common schooling that would be of a high enough quality to reduce the demand for private schooling and to achieve a range of classes and castes to attend the same schools.

I look forward to working further with the CRW!

Amazing, amazing school.


The Ananya Sikshandra Trust operates a school on the outskirts of town for 45 children who otherwise would not attend school a tall. Admission is based on this criteria—if the child can be admitted and remain successful in any other school then they should not be attending Ananya. Rather, this school is a place for children who do not or cannot fit into the traditional mold of Indian schooling. As a result, they have a very negative opinion of schooling—often as a place where they are beaten.  In fact, for the first cohort of students, the teachers explicitly told them that it was not a school but rather a place where they could come and have some fun and maybe learn some things. The entire concept of “schooling” was too frightening.

The school was founded by Shashi Rao, a Ph.D. graduate of the Educational Leadership program at Penn State. She returned to Bangalore after her degree wanting to make a difference. Her school is based on the premise that the traditional Indian model of schooling colonizes children and creates boundaries rather than opportunities. The Ananya School has no set curriculum—rather the children choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn. As they explore issues of interest to them, they learn how to embrace academics and gain the skills that they need. Subjects taught at Ananya include Maths, Kanada, Hindi, English, Science, Social Skills and Computers. The teachers have been trained by Shashi Rao herself in alternative schooling methods. In Shashi’s opinion, an Indian B. Ed. Is one of the worst degrees that one can receive to become a teacher. This English class below was taught by George. The boy closest to him had just started at the school a month ago.

The school’s website provides the example of a boy who turned cartwheels about the campus. He was unable to sit still. So the staff let him turn cartwheels and taught him as he was spinning by. Over time, he slowed his body down long enough to sit traditionally in his subjects and to begin to learn more deeply. Shashi’s philosophy is if the student aren’t paying attention then the teaching is wrong, not the kids. The curriculum must change to engage the children in learning.

I observed classes focused on Kannada, English and Hindi.  The classes are mixed ages and grouped based on the pace at which kids learn.


In the lesson above, the kids were looking at common spices. They knew the names of the spices in their local languages and they were practicing learning the Hindi names.  Most of the spices were not familiar to me!

Based on the alternative curriculum and alternative teacher certifications, Ananya cannot be considered a “school” officially by the government. This lack of conformity to tradition is a growing problem because of the Right to Education Act that mandates that all children must be in a school. Since she cannot certify her school without giving up the fundamental premises that make it special, Anaya is facing a dilemma. The paradox is that the government requires that all children must be in school and therefore cannot be at Ananya Parents must produce a letter from their children’s school to receive their governmental identity card (equivalent to a driver’s license in the U.S. and necessary for basic business transactions). Yet, governmental schools do not follow up on why children are not attending schools and just mark them absent. Thus, by mandating that the children attend school, the Anaya kids would in fact not be in school. So the law made with great intentions is actually prohibiting the best/only schooling experience available to these children. Also as part of the requirements of RTE, ALL schools are expected and required to host a certain percentage of poor children—even the wealthiest schools such as the CIS where my kids attend. It is suspected, however, that these schools will never take on poor children and will get out of this requirement via bribes or other disregard for the laws. (IN fact that happens already given that most international schools do not teach class in Kannada through grade 5 but that is a law as well!) .  One potential hope is for Ananya to partner with schools who do not want to fulfill their obligation to poor children. Take them on officially but allow Ananya to provide the actual schooling.  The politics of this situation are fascinating but also worrisome for the Ananya kids.

The campus of the school itself is magical. I stepped out of my car and felt a sense of calm and peace spread over me. Most of the classrooms are merely thatched roofs with a concrete floor underneath. The children themselves built the classrooms and they are very cozy spaces. The one fully enclosed building hosts the computers and science lab. This building was donated by GE and the computers were donated by Adobe.

I received a tour of the facilities by Lakshmi.

She is the daughter of a maid of one of the donors to Ananya. She had been held back from school until she was 10 by her mother take care of the two smaller children in the family. AT the urging of the donor, she only recently enrolled Lakshmi in school. The girl was super bright. I watched her in Hindi class. The teacher had cups of common Indian spices. The kids new the Kanada names for all of the spices but not the Hindi names. The children were taking turns learning the Hindi names for the spices. Lakshmi memorized them almost instantly and had to be hushed from giving the answers to other students. The worry with Lakshmi is whether she could “catch up” given that she is starting schooling five years late.

Originally the school offered not exams at all, but the children started to ask for them, so the teachers agreed to let them sit for the governmental exams. They performed terribly on these exams initially because the experimental  learning experiences that they had did not align with the bounds of a standardized test. As such, Ananya has included test taking skills as a part of what it teachers to students interested in learning this information. Test taking skills will be necessary for students planning on moving onto higher education.

The small campus also includes boys and girls dormitories that look much like the summer camp bunks. The children come to this school from all over Bangalore and live at the school during the week. International volunteers serve as supervisors of the dormitories. The children must go home on the weekends to give these counselors a rest, even though the conditions in their homes is often very troublesome. The campus also has a kitchen, outdoor showers, bathroom facilities, and a place for the children to wash their own clothes. Lakshmi proudly showed me an SUV that had been donated to the school. “That is the car of our school!” she beamed.

The school welcomes children up until age 14 in its traditional format. Sometimes the children enter 8 or younger. These children tend to gain sufficient time in schooling that they can sit for the 10th grade governmental exams and receive acceptance into higher education. Children who do not arrive at Ananya until age 10 or older often lack the time to develop the sufficient academic skills to move forward in the traditional educational system. For these children, Anaya is developing a project-based curriculum. If the cannot pass their exams, they cannot receive a basic certificate/diploma that is the ticket to even the most basic of jobs. Given this struggle, Ananya is choosing to help to foster entrepreneurial skills in these youth so that they can learn of ways to earn their own funds.

This boy was taking an exam, but often interrupted by young boys giving him hugs.

I watched two teams of children present their projects today. One team was planning on making bamboo key chains, sandwiches, beaded jewelry and badam milk and selling it at local colleges. The second team planned on selling three types of sandwiches (simple-cucumber and tomato, potatoes; lemonade, and painted pots made out of coconuts. Their presentations included PowerPoint slides. Each student spoke of their personal strengths and weaknesses, the business plan for their team, and a cost analysis of the raw materials versus potential profit of their ideas.  The teachers provided feedback on their presentations. The students will be presenting these concepts to donors/investors next week who will come to the campus.

Please consider donating to this AMAZING school!   DONATIONS can be given at the following link:

My first school visit!


I visited a school today that is very near my home.  My visit was arranged through a friend and I came just as myself, and not as a representative of Penn State thus far. Although the proximity is so close, that I may ask this school if it could be a site for conducting  field work based on convenience alone.

The school is very traditional, and serves kids who come from “average to low average” income families.I found the language on the website to be intriguing. I found the language on the website to be intriguing: “We do admit that our school does not compete with the so called “elite schools” which offer state of the art facilities. But we do impart quality education which will meet today’s needs at an affordable cost. We value qualities like sincerity, dedication and honesty and help children grow into matured individuals who are ready to face life with confidence. This is not a “teaching shop” where student is treated like a customer and education is imparted according to the size of his/her parent’s purse. Here we meet the mental, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs of the children irrespective of what they can afford. “Quality education comes at a cost”, claim our the supporters of the so called ‘elite institution”. But does cost really indicate quality?”  In U.S. schools in the worst of conditions, they would never admit on a website to be less than other schools. This website seemed to be a lot more honest to me.

The school has elementary on the first two floors and the high school on the top two floors. I got some cute photos of the little kids. The high school kids were not there today because they had exams that finished at lunch time.


I made my way to the main office of the high school and was brought into the principal’s office. Her desk is located at the end of a very long conference table. She asked me to sit at the nearest seat to her desk.

I find out later that the principal has been the head of the school for almost 20 years. She started out teaching at a college for two years. Then she had to get married and take care of her in-laws and had some kids. For financial reasons, she told me that her husband “gave his permission for her to return to the classroom.” She taught for three years and then had to return home to nurse her ailing father-in-law. After he passed away a year later, she returned back to the classroom and eventually became promoted to principal. Her field of study in college was botany. She did not training  to become a teacher, and learned the job through experience. She did not receive any special training to become a principal , but was promoted from within.

So I talked with the principal for over an hour and a half. We talked about a range of educational issues, including:

  • In the state of Karnataka, schooling only goes to 10th grade, unlike other states in India that go to 12th grade. In Karnataka, students go to pre-university for 11 and 12th grades. She said that 95% of her school goes on to more schooling.
  • She emphasized that parental care is much higher in Indian schools than in U.S. This  care is demonstrated in parent’s emphasis on school, across economic boundaries. She emphasized parental care in two ways. One is by allowing corporals punishment in schools and parents encouraging it. She even had a column in the annual yearbook that she showed me in which she emphasized that each child is different. She said, “some children learn by compulsion and some by pressure. For kids who are poor academically we force them to learn. And our alumni come back and thank us because otherwise they would not get jobs.” Some children respond better to encouragement and some children respond better to the rod, she says. Force is a literal concept.
  • Another way that she emphasized parental care is by the willingness to pay for education. She described that there are several kinds of schools in India. I may not get this exactly correct.

80% of all schools are government schools (no fees are charged , but 27% of Indian children are privately educated, says Wikipedia. Separate from government schools, unaided schools receive no assistance from the government; aided schools have some government assistance, such as paying for teacher salaries. But fees are still assessed. The principal tells me that  even ‘class one laborers’ will pay to send their child to school so that “my children will learn.” The perception if one doesn’t pay at all is that the school is not very good. Plus, if parents pay even a small amount they are more invested in their child’s education, she says. I will be interested in comparing her perspectives to other schools that I visit.

  • I asked her if parents are involved in the school, if there is a parent organization or anything (huge at CIS). She said, “They identify “resourceful parents who can give lectures and workshops”
  • I asked her about the student body. She stressed that 99.5% of children in her school and at that age are not sexually active. Comparing this statement to numbers that I saw online, a recent report raised great concerns to learn that nationally, 21 percent of males and 4 percent of females in rural areas admitted to pre-marital sex as compared to 11 percent of males and 2 percent of females. Quite a difference from the United States even at those numbers!
  • Teacher quality is an issue at her school because of the school’s inability to pay as high of a salary as other schools that are better funded and charge greater fees. Also most classes in her school have a 50 to One student/teacher ratio. However, since they are an unaided school and the teacher salaries are paid by tuition fee and the Trust, they have less accountability to government rules and restrictions. “We are accountable solely to the Trust and the parents.”
  • As in all Indian schools, exams are a huge focus. The kids have five sets of exams a year, and they receive great preparation for both open and closed book exams. This yearbook also had the top exam scorers on their own page, but it was more toward the back of the yearbook.
  • She shared many yearbooks with me. The book are given at the end of the year. They begin with a message from the principal (in addition to the ones that I mentioned, one message was on the importance of balancing learning English and preserving local language and customs; another message was on the importance of math). Another was a direct quote of the Sweet Honey on the Rock song. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for themselves….” She quoted the entire poem but gave no attribution. It reads as if she wrote it. I know in my graduate classes we have conversations about the rules of Eastern scholarship being very different related to plagiarism but this is the first time I saw it in practice I guess.
  • I of course asked about the Student Council photos in the yearbooks. They are prefects here. She said, “Their portfolio is discipline based—“assembly management, conflict management, problem solving; all about discipline, cleanliness of premises; pencil shavings in the dust bin, monitor.”
  • She was also proud of the NCC students–the National Cadet Corp. I think it is like the AJFROTC in the United States. She said the school has to pay a fee to have their students participate in the program. They were the only students in the school, practicing for the Republic Day parades that would take place the next day. They were dressed in khaki green uniforms.
  • After showing me the yearbooks, she pulled out piles of student work. Here’s some of the work that was most intriguing to me. It says, “Before independence, poor people served British. After independence, poor people serve rich Indians.”

By the middle of our visit, the principal was so incredibly generous with me—even sharing her lunch!  About halfway into our conversation she rang this bell, like you would find at the front desk of a hotel if no one was there. When she rang the bell one of the people in the main office would come running. In the U.S. this would be perceived as rude, but not here. She sent someone out for coffee and biscuits, which took over an hour to acquire. I was ready to leave and they had not arrived. “Surely you will stay for the coffee and biscuits?”  Okay, sure. (I am realizing now that etiquette books say that you should refuse food or drink twice and accept on the third and I didn’t do that at all. I wonder if I was rude).

In comes the coffee and cookies, served on a tray. The coffee is filled with milk and sugar as is typical in India. And great for me because I don’t really like coffee, so when it is all dressed up like a candy bar, that makes me very happy. Because of my gluten issues, I really shouldn’t eat too many cookies. But she said, “Surely you would like some more biscuits?” It was clear that SHE wanted more biscuits, so I said, “Of course” and when she was looking I hid cookie in my purse. Then again later she said, “you must finish your biscuits!” and again I hid one what she wasn’t looking.

Then she pulled out her lunch/snack. The word sounded like “ooh-padma” but I must be spelling it wrong because I can’t find it on the internet.  It is ground wheat that is baked and roasted. It has a nutty flavor and although it was wheat again, I liked it very much. She served it with a bit of “pickle” which in India is a very spicy, tangy, vinegary sort of garnish. You take very little of it and it adds some heat to the dish. I liked that very much as well and it was so kind of her to share with me! In the midst of sharing I think she rang that bell three times for extra spoons, extra plates, napkins.

Then as I was going to leave again she told me to stay because she was going to conduct an admissions test. She said that she needs to be sure that kids who want to enter the school have the basics. A nervous boy in a neighboring school’s uniform entered with his mother. He looks like he’s seven, but he’s actually about 12 or so. Kids just look younger here to me, especially since they are smaller. He had a traditional red mark on his forehead, which suggested that he had visited a Hindu temple that morning, perhaps for prayers that he would get in to the school.


The conversation went like this:

Principal: “Why do you want to come to this school?”

Mother translates into Kannada for the boy.

Kid: “My father thinks this is a better school”

Principal: “Do you read storybooks at home?”


“Which books?

(He answers).

“Tell me about this story.”

He can’t. The poor thing looks absolutely terrified.

She turns to me, “I need to be sure he has his basics.”

She draws a triangle to see what he knows about the sums of the angles, asks him about percentage, has him read some sentences that she writes and then has him write some sentences about why he likes Karnataka. She asks the mother to leave the room and we return to our conversation.

The boy stops working and looks up at us. She tells the boy that he must learn to continue his work with concentration even with distractions.

The boy writes three lines about Karnataka “I like Karnataka because my father is from here…”

He doesn’t get all the math answers correct, but he verbally understands more than his written exam.

She calls his mother in and says that academically he is “average” and that is sufficient. She then told the mother that she was worried about his smells coming from his mouth. He needs to clean his tongue and brush his teeth

When he left, she told me that she felt he did fine and understood the basics enough to change schools.

We then needed to wrap things up so that I could go and pick up the kids. But first we discussed the possibility of her students having conversations with students back in the States, which would be fun to help arrange for her. The barriers are the 12 hour time difference and also that these kiddos basically have exams through April and then are off until June.

The Dehli Public School


While visiting our Bangalore family,  I perused through Skipper’s high school year book. He attends called the Dehli Public School (not public by U.S. standards–all kids pay tuition in India unless it is a charity school for slum kids).

It is a school that is highly regarded in Bangalore and has three locations–one north of the city, one east of the city  and one south of the city. All schools are required to move out of the city center and to the outskirts due to traffic problems in the city.

It was really interesting the differences in high school in India and the United States. For example, the FIRST page of the yearbook listed the top exam scores for each subject, including the student name and the score.

Given my interest in student voice and participation, I found the house system fascinating. As with my kids’ school, each kiddo is assigned to a house, and there are student officers assigned to each house, including prefects which provide a student-run discipline structure.

It seems that field day at CIS and this school as well, field day is in part a competition between the houses. It looks like at Skipper’s school, the Field Day is quite elaborate.


I also thought it was interesting to see the graduation attire—saris for the girls and suit and tie for the boys. No Harry Potter robes, here, despite the British legacy. Interesting to me that the girls continue to wear traditional Indian clothes and the boys wear Western clothes.


Also all of the teachers seem to wear saris every day, or at least on the photo day. This was interesting to me since in Bangalore, saris are not so very common day to day. I’d say maybe just 30-40 percent of women wear saris. Others wear salwar kameese or similar outfits, or Western clothes.

Also, the sports offered was interesting—basketball , soccer,  swimming, tennis,  and track (athletics) like in the U.S., but also cricket, table tennis, roller skating, and badminton.Sports are not such a big focus in Indian schools, as you can see by the small number of options and small number of participants.


I also found it interesting to see how Mamoni was addressed by her students. She is a famous singer in India and she is a music teacher at the school that Skipper attends. They prepared her birthday cards and wrote, Happy Birthday Mam! Or M’am Sromona (her given name, or her “good name” as they say here). Kaden says that she calls her teacher “Miss.”


I also find it interesting that the teachers take the same school buses as the students. This is true across the board for these schools. The advantage for Skipper now that his mom is a teacher at the school is that the bus will wait if teachers are late arriving to the stop. So he knows he won’t miss the bus with his mom coming as well.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dehli public school with Mamoni and Skipper during my time here.