Friday, April 11, 2008

Going To School In India

J has always been curious about my childhood in India, specially my school and what I learned there. She finds the differences between her own experiences and mine fascinating. I expected her to love a documentary - Going to school in India which as the title suggests is about kids going to school in India. She took in what she saw with much surprise but not as much excitement as far as I could tell.

The movie covers some very unusual schools - on a boat, inside a bus, in a hut with a roof but no walls, in the middle of a desert and inside a monastery. It is heartwarming to see the efforts being made to bring the joy of learning to poor, underprivileged children around the country. Just like J, they love going to school and it probably has to do with the non-traditional, not to mention goal unoriented approach to education.

A school in Kashmir has the kids collecting leaves, flowers and vegetables from around the lake to discuss what they have found in class. For PE, they race their shikaras. In a small village in Orissa, music is integrated into learning. They learn counting with sticks and make their own abacuses using clay beads. The teacher takes the kids on a nature walk teaching them about their land. On market day, the children are allowed to buy and sell produce, poultry and even toys with real money and if they don't have any they can barter.

The pace of learning is relaxed and the only goal is to encourage the children to return to school to learn more. The enticements range from free meals to making funny hats using only newspapers, a doll face using a coconut or running a school parliament. All the kids in the movie look genuinely happy to be in school. That made an impression on J.

One way to look at this movie would be to say that it sought out some of the most unusual schools in India to convey a message that the joy of learning can be given to children even in midst of grinding poverty. It is a success story of creative thinking and innovation on a budget. The other way would be to call it tailored for a Western audience that views India as destitute, impoverished and backward. The two cities the movie covers are Bombay and Calcutta but the schools are those that cater to the very poor.


As someone who went to grew up in India, I would argue my school did not resemble any of the schools in the movie even by a long shot. To not show my school experience which is shared by millions of other kids is to take a huge chunk of India out while talking about India.

It would only be fair to show the other side of the coin - the Lawrence and Doon Schools of India along with the more tradition bound Heritage Schools and the like with a sampling of everything in between thrown in for good measure. I had hoped J would come to a better understanding of what it is to be a child growing up in India. Unfortunately, that did not happen. She has been mulling about what we saw and will probably tell me her thoughts in a few days. It may be interesting at that point to write about this movie from her perspective.

1 comment:

Vinod Khare said...

Yes, going to school in India is definitely a very different experience than what kids around the world have. A large part of our school culture is derived from the British and missionary schools at that. I don't know how old you are and what social strata you belong to. But most urban middle class kids of my generation (I'm 23) would identify most with english medium private schools which are a strange amalgamation of missionary schools of old and the more modern and liberal teaching methodologies.

Of course, the boarding schools have a culture of their own that we've only seen in films. :)

This is why I can never relate to school culture in America. High school, bullies, proms, drinking and sex, girlfriends, football, cheerleading. These just aren't part of India in any way. That is why I don't like stories set in schools in America. Just can't get them.