Rajesh Rengan, who stays in Boston, visited the school and interacted with teachers and students of 1st to 4th. Made valiant efforts to speak in his American accented Hindi. Rajesh talked about the differences in the education system in the US and in India. Most students enter schooling late in the US. As a result, his son will finish college at the age of 22. Whereas Rajesh had finished his college by the age of 20. The focus in academics is more on understanding and less on memorization, to the extent that students are not even expected to know their tables. However, as a parent, Rajesh has ensured that both his kids are good with tables. Grades are not given too much importance. There is a lot more that happens in extracurricular. Music is compulsory. Aditi, Rajesh’s daughter, plays the piano. Sports in India is usually something that you play on the road and in the gully. In the US, it’s more organised, possibly why they end up with more Olympic medals. Individual sports are given a little bit more importance. Aditi is a good athlete – she is on the State running team. His son Rohan, rows for Purdue University. There is not too much homework from grades 1 to 4. Even the homework that is given is more conceptual, something related to building stuff. Or an interview with parents. Or a comment on the politics that is happening in the US presidential elections. Students are also asked to make a lot of presentations in class. All of these result in good communication skills. An average US student is much better in communicating than an average Indian student.
Komal talked about the activity based learning that is practiced at Peepal Tree. Rajesh wanted to know from Nishi what activities we are doing which involve teamwork. Nishi talked about games. Rajesh’s suggestion was that we need to get more project work done. This inculcates a good team spirit. Nisha talked about the challenges the school faces. Homework is always an issue. Parents often consider it to be too less or too much. We still have to find a Goldilocks territory for HW. Another issue is about participation of kids in activities like drama. Every parent wants every kid to be on stage. Logistically, not possible. Rajesh’s suggestion was that we should plan for multiple events. And some kind of rotation. One more idea that he gave was to have a school choir. So that the entire class can sing together. Nisha would have had some experience in her church about these things. And it may be a good idea to have a choir on our annual day. Another suggestion from Rajesh was to have a standardized format for a PTA meet.
Edwin, Sangeeta and Aldrin visited the school. Edwin is my chaddi-buddy from my school days. Aldrin is his younger brother, also from my school. Sangeeta and Edwin were together in the B.Sc Electronics program at Wadia college. After his BSc, Edwin went on to do an IT course from Aptech and DSRF. After a few years of working in Pune based IT companies, he shifted base to Canada. After a 15 month stint in Canada, he got his next assignment in the US – in Milwaukee, not too far from the Canadian border. He has stayed put there since then.
Sangeeta talked about her work with her local church, which is about 1.5 miles from her house. She feels that distance is a major factor in volunteerism, as if you want to donate your time, then better not to do that to commuting. When she joined the church, most of the volunteers worked in areas like cleaning up, meals etc. But Sangeeta asked a question to herself: can my talents be better utilised? So she started an employment readiness program for the local underprivileged youth. She worked with them to get their resumes in place. Walked with them to the local thrift stores to get appropriate wardrobes in place. Pushed them into better hygiene – by asking them to floss before interviews. She even visited their homes, if she felt that her mentees needed some nudging. In her experience, the duration of time spent is important to get results. There is no magic wand that improves employability. The magic is in the muscle – and the gradual change in attitudes and self beliefs. Not all of her mentees end up getting jobs, but those that do – return the favour. Quite a few of them joined her church, and have been added as volunteers to her employment readiness team.
We had a discussion on the contrast between the US and Indian education systems. Indian education is all about muggabaazi. US is about application. Sangeeta and Edwin have a son and daughter, who have been born and educated there. Sangeeta talked about how her daughter went to ballet class. Sangeeta herself had learnt Bharat Natyam as a kid. The difference in the two dance sessions, was that her daughter’s ballet training started with lessons in anatomy. And this exercise helped her later on in getting her postures right. Cut to 15 years later, the daughter is continuing her lessons in anatomy, as she trains to be a physiotherapist. She is clear that her vocation started with a ballet class.
The other thing that both liked about the US system is its preference of depth over width. Right from the early years, the little that is taught is detailed out well. Each chunk of knowledge is digested well – by getting students to do projects. A lot of these projects are done in teams, where students get to decide their own roles. This builds life skills. Weekly presentations happen. All this results in kids who are much more confident about working in teams and communicating with the world at large. Indian kids, in contrast, fear speaking in public. Another thing that she liked about the US system is the customisation. About how if you are good in math, you get extra classes, and if you are bad, you get remedial class. Ditto for other subjects. Reading is emphasised. Her kids can’t go to sleep unless they read something, Sangeeta herself reads 3-4 books a month.