To Begin: Seven Questions
Before I came to India, I was teaching high school history in Providence, Rhode Island. Other educators and I often talked about how we wanted to help our students develop their ability to ask questions—to question the texts we read, the world around them, us (at least on our patient days!), themselves, each other. On my first day of work at the Central Square Foundation in Delhi—an education NGO that works through grantmaking, capacity building, research, and advocacy to create a system in which all students receive an excellent education—I was rapidly developing my own list of questions, some of which I jotted down with the intention of returning to them later.
The first day already feels quite far past of course, but I am sharing my top seven questions with the hope that they provide a glimpse into my experience:
1. Am I about to get hit by a car? This was really question 2, 3, 4, and 5 as well. Since then (mom, stop reading for a second), I have started doing my morning walk to the metro with the slow-moving but overwhelming traffic to my back rather than facing me head-on. I am leaving it up to the cars, motorcyclists, and bicycles not to hit me. Although I am still deciding whether this approach is a metaphor for a broader theme of learning to trust, I will say that the other morning I managed to get so caught up in daydreams that I walked right past the metro station.
2. What is PPP? I was seriously considering starting an acronym index by 11am on my first day, and I’ve been teasing my colleagues that I came to learn Hindi but instead am learning acronym. By the way, PPP stands for public-private partnerships, and CSF (did you get that one?) is interested in this model as a way to improve education, especially given that enrollment in government schools is currently declining. In Mumbai, for example, CSF is involved in a project in which independent operators run free schools in unused government school buildings.
3. Is PPP a long-term goal in and of itself or a tool that’s meant ultimately to bring innovation to the government system?
4. Why does Delhi feel so much more inviting, so much more quickly like home than it did last time I was here? I keep trying to find the answer in the city itself, but my grandmother reminded me that I am also significantly changed since I studied abroad in Delhi in college. This is a harder fact to grasp.
5. As the Right to Education Act, which requires private schools to give 25% of their seats to students from “economically weaker sections of society,” gets implemented, what will be done to ensure that these students have a positive experience in their new schools?
6. What should be done? And is there something I should do?
7. Since something is wrong with the women’s metro line today, what would happen if I were to get in the men’s line instead? Note: a separate ode to the Delhi metro, including a stanza on the woman who helped me sneak a mini tree aboard a couple weeks ago, will definitely be a blog post of its own later.
It has been a rich month of learning since my first day of work; my question list has probably only grown longer, and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to continue to wonder and wrestle in the months ahead. Although it’s unrelated, I also wanted to record that I had my proudest achievement of the first month the other day, when the Delhi police stopped me on the street and asked me for directions. A part of me thinks their question marked the end of the beginning; another that I could “be beginning” every day for the next nine months.