Greetings from Jaipur! For the past several weeks I have been getting settled into the vibrant city as well as my organization, Digantar. Everyone has been very welcoming and helpful. My first project was to assess government school teacher trainings being conducted through the Quality Education Program (QEP) in Baran District, Rajasthan. QEP is a collaborative effort of which Digantar is a member. One of the main aims of the QEP program is to improve the quality of teaching in government schools. This is based on the idea that quality of education can be improved through classroom processes, the learning environment, and support from the community. In order to help achieve its goals, QEP conducts trainings for government school teachers every year. These trainings include discussion of particular subject material and methodology, such as math and science, as well as educational perspective. This year, 5,000 government school teachers participated in the ten-day trainings.
My assessment was particularly focused on the educational perspective training. The goals of the education perspective training are to empower teachers to be critical thinkers and to instill a sense of purpose and conviction in the teaching profession.
For a week, I spent each day visiting different training camps to observe what was happening and interview participants, trainers and QEP team members. The educational perspective trainings have been running for the past three years, with each year having a different theme. This year was focused on discussion of the Right to Education Action (RTE)— landmark legislation making primary education in India free and compulsory. RTE also includes provisions for teacher responsibilities, curriculum and pedagogy, school facilities, and community involvement.
The training modules incorporate the ways in which teaching and learning should be occurring in government school classrooms—trainers as facilitators, group discussion, small group work, and opportunities to think critically and learn from each other. During the trainings, teachers were not shy to express opinions and ask questions! Common questions and concerns surrounding RTE included: • Doubt that RTE will be implemented due to government/educational system corruption • Concern about how to manage multiple learning levels in one class and what to do when students enter in the middle of the year • Doubt regarding the ability of parents to participate in education • Unclear what they will do to encourage school attendance among children who have not attended school in the past • Concerned RTE means more work for them
Teacher participants were eager to speak with me and answer my questions, and they had quite a few questions for me as well! The barrage of questioning included: Why are you here? How much is your salary? Do you like Michael Jackson? How much does a cup of chai cost in America? When I come to America, can I stay with you? Are you married? Do you have dowry in America? Do teachers in the U.S. have to go through trainings?
My metal water bottle also created quite a stir in one of the sessions. The teachers were finding it quite fascinating. After passing it around, opening it to smell and stick their fingers inside, there were many questions that required answers. What is in it? What is it made of? What does it cost? Can you find it in India? Can you keep chai in there? Can you keep water in there? Where do you get your water from? My water bottle ended up being quite a consuming topic.
While in Baran, we stayed at the QEP guest house, a pleasant place in which you can almost always find team members and visitors coming and going. One of the biggest draws, I think, is Rajesh ji’s fantastic cooking. Rajesh ji takes care of the guest house and prepares delicious vegetarian meals for whoever is staying at or visiting the guest house. He also came to my rescue when one evening there were an uncommonly high number of chuhas (or rats) scurrying about my room. Despite what I am sure were their friendly intentions (I tried to give them Disney’s Cinderella-like personas in my mind), I was quite squeamish about it, much to everyone’s entertainment. When one particularly bold fellow dashed towards me, I feebly called for Rajesh ji as I watched it disappear into the next room. Moments later, I heard a loud THWAP and peaked out the door to see Rajesh ji, chuppal (sandal) in hand, and the poor chuha victim lifeless on the floor. While that was completely unnecessary, I appreciate his gallant efforts.