Curriculum

Reporter Sees Contradictions in Her Native Land

By Vaishali Honawar — September 22, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Bombay is a city of paradoxes.

It is a place where wealthy executives driving expensive sport-utility vehicles plod to work over potholed roads no faster than the poor and middle-class people crammed into open door trains that run up and down the length of the city. It is a city where skyscrapers and slums stand side-by-side; and where a visitor always feels the past mingling with the present.

Returning to the city where I was born and grew up is always an adventure. In the nearly nine years I have spent as a resident of the United States, India has been experiencing historic changes. Pricey cars on unpaved roads honk impatiently at pedestrians accustomed to a slower pace of life. The golden arches of McDonald’s with their Maharaja Macs have replaced traditional restaurants run by families of Persian descent that served cardamom-flavored cakes and hot, buttered buns for breakfast. And, of course, there are the technology whiz kids and computer call-center technicians talking on cell phones as they walk the same streets as 4-year-old children begging for money.

(Requires Macromedia Flash Player.)

India’s paradoxes are particularly noticeable in its education system. Ironically, the country that has been lauded by everyone from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to former President Bill Clinton for producing some of the world’s most impressive minds in science and mathematics also has one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates. According to India’s latest census, the illiteracy rate hovers around 65 percent, and the rate for women is just below 50 percent.

India lacks a strong public education system for its elementary and secondary grades, and schools run by the state governments and city municipalities are viewed as so badly run that only the poorest students attend them. Bathrooms at such schools are unheard of, solid walls and roofs are considered luxuries, and teacher absenteeism is rampant.

At the other extreme, the wealthiest people in India go to elite private schools nestled in exotic hill stations where they get an education modeled on British “public schools,” as top boarding schools such as Eton and Harrow are called. The Indian schools come complete with the English grade levels, and their students play rugby and learn Western etiquette.

New Ways of Thinking

That leaves the ubiquitous private schools of India, which educate most of India’s middle class at a price that is just barely affordable. Those schools receive substantial subsidies from both federal and state governments.

That was the type of school I attended in the 1970’s and 80’s in Bombay. Like most Indian private schools, my school had the primary and secondary sections under one roof and instruction was primarily in English, a British legacy that has helped India’s economic growth.

Back when I was in school, rote learning was not just popular, it was encouraged. Our teachers were predominantly women, usually young or early middle-aged, and they had no qualms about taking a wooden foot ruler to our hands. We crammed not just multiplication tables but whole math equations and scientific formulas into our heads, because you never knew when the teacher would call on you to solve a complicated problem. If you didn’t know the answer not only were your knuckles beaten raw, but you were eternally shamed before your class-mates.

But India’s growing economic status has sparked new ways of thinking about how children should be educated here. Over the next few weeks I will be observing those changes.

For instance, there is a new sense of hope in India as the country moves quickly on several initiatives to enroll all children, particularly girls, in school. It is a goal everyone here appears to be taking seriously, even the driver of the tiny, three-wheeled autorickshaw whose rickety vehicle was recently plodding through Bombay’s rain-drenched streets, in front of the one I was riding in. Painted on the back of his rickshaw, in Marathi, were these words: “When a girl learns, she teaches the world.”

Editor’s Note: Education Week staff writer Vaishali Honawar is on assignment in India to report on the country’s education system. During her visit, she is also filing occasional reports for edweek.org.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Teaching in the 'Metaverse'? Roblox Looks to Make It a Reality
Gaming company Roblox will give $10 million to support development of immersive virtual STEM curriculum for its metaverse platform.
7 min read
A young person reaches out from behind a virtual reality headset
Natasa Adzic/iStock
Curriculum Opinion Media Coverage of Critical Race Theory Misses the Mark
News accounts of critical race theory focus on topics that are not particularly controversial, while neglecting those that are.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum A 'War on Books': Conservatives Push for Audits of School Libraries
After Texas banned critical race theory in schools, battles grew heated in the conservative suburbs surrounding the state's largest cities.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
12 min read
Image of books.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Texas Lawmaker Demands Districts Provide Lists of Books on Racism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ
The Texas attorney general candidate's request has received criticism from educator groups who say the inquiry is politically motivated.
Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
iStock/Getty