Confronting Stereotypes

“Messy, raucous, democratic India is growing fast, and now may partner up with the world’s richest democracy—America.”

– Fareed Zakaria  Newsweek (March 6, 2006)

I have never been to India but I have an active imagination and a mental map fueled by literature, film, personal friendships, and an appreciation of Indian food and music. However narrow  this perspective these connections have enabled me to create my own personal India – a place of rich history, great beauty, poverty and wealth, full of chaos and contrasts, and linguistic and cultural diversity of all kind. One thing that mental map did not show me was an India as the home of vibrant educational progress and focus on active learning for all children.

The President of the ASCD recently visited India together with his colleagues. He reports:

“Despite a great diversity of approaches, the theme of learning for every child was first and foremost in every school we visited and among the educators with whom we met. Achievement of high test scores is seen by most as secondary to learning. Rather than stressing out about test scores, Indian educators are most concerned with developing students who are able to face future challenges as active learners.”

Government schooling in India is guided by a National Curriculum Framework. Learning it states: “… has become a source of burden and stress on children and their parents is an evidence of a deep distortion in educational aims and quality.” It offers five guiding principles:

  • Connecting knowledge to life outside school.
  • Ensuring that learning doesn’t rely on rote methods.
  • Enriching the curriculum to  provide for children’s overall development rather than remaining textbook-centric.
  • Making examinations more flexible and integrated with classroom life.
  • Nurturing an overriding  identity informed by caring concern within the democratic polity of the  country.

It adds “teaching should aim at enhancing children’s natural desire and strategies to learn. . . . Knowledge needs to be distinguished from information and teaching needs to be seen as a professional activity, not as coaching for memorization or as transmission of facts”.

The Indian framework is all about enhancing children’s natural love of, and strategies for, learning. It is all about respecting each learner as an individual. It is about and meaningful and inclusive learning. Social justice and the importance of the Arts are highlighted. They are emphasized as vital as a means to help children respond to problems with flexibility and creativity and to help them become participants in a democratic society.

As the imperatives of NCLB lead to more testing, India it seems is headed in the other direction.

This framework challenges my false stereotypes and bodes well for the future of India and the education of its children.

Photo: Jayakumar Ananthan

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