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.
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.
farmland on the way to Fatehpur Sikiri
Our first full day in India was a road trip to Fatehpur Sikiri in Agra. The route we took is a four hour hop from Delhi. The landscape changes to farmland as we traveled toward Agra. Seeing scenery like this is bittersweet, its comforting to see it has not changed much. The Slow Food movement and Farm to Table people would love it. Then again, about two hours into the trip I saw a farmer plowing the land with a plow and one ox. Then two or three fields later I see another farmer doing the same job with a fairly modern tracker. Literally a distance of thousands of years in farming technology.
Poverty takes many shapes.
For me this is a homecoming of sorts. I left India with my family when I was a child. That last time I visited was almost 15 years ago. But,that was to a different part of the country. So while much is familiar to me, its all first impressions.
That being said. People tend to remember smells more vividly than things they see. And for me I could tell I was in India when I came out of the plane at the Delhi airport.
On the first full day in this beautiful country with some of the most friendly people I’ve ever encountered, I felt overwhelmed with the sights and sounds that surrounded me. The blast of warm, humid air as it hit me. The constant cacophony of car horns and bustling people. The vibrant, beautiful saris that drape the Indian women. The green parrots, roaming cows, wild dogs and camels. The constant smell of smoke and the haze-filled views. The endless traffic with cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicyclists, pedestrians and more. But most of all, the beautiful smiles of Indians who are proud to share their country, life and heritage with others.
Today was a perfect first day to spend time getting grounded in some of the realities of life in this country. I look forward to learning more about policies and goals for the education system in a country that has a very different culture than our own.
Day 1 in India exceeded my expectations in many ways as we made our way by bus form New Delhi to Agra to visit Fatehpur Sikri. The ride took us through many miles of farmland where cows, goats, and camels captured our view intermixed with traffic, honking horns, and vibrantly colored sarees draped on the women riding on the back of countless motorcycles. The smog was thick making the the sunrise and sunset both glow and beautiful reminding me of a Denver inversion, only 100 times more intense.
The people are beyond friendly and those that work tourists for Rupees are cunning and
friendly. My empathy for those on the streets working to make a dime arose to levels I’ve not felt before. I knew giving any money to one would only invite more, but I gave all my American coin to 3-4 boys creating a larger group looking for more. Another worked a colleague until she wascomfortable getting 4 bracelets for less than a 1/4 of the initial price.
Fatehpur Sikri was stunning as a 16th century Imperial complex. The city was sprawling giving us a glimpse into a time past with stray dogs, parakeets, and locals sharing our space. This one picture does not come close to expressing this wonderful glimpse to the past.
My eyes were wide open as I experienced the day – a day like no other I’ve lived. I’m grateful for this opportunity and look forward to day 2 at the Taj Mahal.