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Education in India

2 June 2013

We are getting closer and closer to departure: getting shots, filling out and waiting for paperwork, trying to get a handle on a project that seems more and more immense with each day (especially each day I put it off, trying to finish my school year, complete college teaching assignments on the side, and spend time and not money with my family).

I have found out a little bit about education in India, yesterday and today. I know we will be getting an orientation in Bangalore, but the snippets of background knowledge I’ve been collecting are quite interesting.

Educating such a large multi-ethnic populace, you might think, would be something we in the States could understand. More on those complexities later. In India, there is the added history of colonialism. Under the theories of Thomas Babington Macaulay, implemented in the 19th century, the best way to deal with the subcontinent’s existing systems and products of learning was to deny them entirely so that a western system could be imposed. As a result, the terms “Macaulayism” and “Macaulay’s children” have very strong negative connotations in India today. One blogger decries the effect of Macaulayism continuing today with a mindset of “intellectual subordination.” I could find only one supporter of Macaulay’s work: a book with a positive review from The Economist.

Reading some of Macaulay’s writings, I find it very hard to be sympathetic toward him. His attitude toward India is condescending, at best.

I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. … I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.”

That said, the veracity of some of his commonly attributed quotes are being questioned–see here.

From this history, one could understand if Indian education sought now to focus on nationalistic ideals, and I’m sure there are some who support this. But I also found evidence of a welcoming of foreign teachers as well as an interest in online education, both for core curriculum and for performance arts and humanities.

The biggest topic in Indian education today is the Right to Education Act, passed three years ago, giving all Indian children aged 6-14 the right to a free and compulsory education. Included in the bill are rules for public-private partnerships and means of evaluating teachers. In a country as populous and diverse as India, implementing the RTE Act has hit quite a few bumps. One of the main criticisms has been that it hasn’t increased the number of students in schools, and its teacher testing programs have found only a small percentage of current teachers to be qualified, as indicated at a recent conference. A recent opinion article published in the Times of India blasts the law as ineffective, if not counterproductive.

One of the biggest differences we saw at the February symposium in Washington between education in the States and in India was the attitude toward what we call “special needs” children. Here, unless there is a significant reason to deviate, the general approach is to mainstream the special child as much as possible. But in India, as I remember from the visiting Indian teacher introducing us to the country’s system(s), the special needs child is generally sent to a school designed for such children. The problem, as with apparently many of the applications of federal policy, has been finding teachers qualified to handle children’s special needs.

Finally, a major issue–not just educationally but probably socially as well–is the huge number of impoverished Indians. One shop owner has even taken it upon himself to set up a school for indigent children under a bridge. It’s not exactly legal, but so far no one’s stopped him.

What have you found out so far about education in India? How do reform efforts in India compare/contrast with those in the United States? Let me know your thoughts!



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