[Sachin Jain is an engineer and a class teacher at grade 4, Supari Tank Municipal School, Mumbai. He is a Fellow of Teach for India: a private national initiative to attain educational equity, where outstanding young professionals commit to teaching full-time for two years in under-resourced local schools in India.]
“Aandhi ki tarah aao,
Toofan ki tarah jaao,
Chhaap chhod jaao!!”
(“Come like a storm, go like a tornado, leave your mark!”)
These words by superintendent Craig Johnson rung across the main hall of the American School of Bombay and electrified the 300 delegates as he opened the 1st day of the InspirEd conference on August 28, 2010. This conference brought together educators and those working closely with the cause of education, from various parts of India and abroad.
The two theme over two days – teaching as leadership and innovation in action were designed to equip the participants with inspiration and empowerment. The idea of the conference was to have a space where minds of Indian educators from disparate contexts, regions and cultures who each deal with a unique piece of the jigsaw puzzle of education in India could have a chance to see the whole picture. We can thus align ourselves with where we are, and where we are headed, and apply our minds in unison to getting there.
The opening night at St Xavier’s college on August 27 had a magical illuminated imagination tree, leading luminaries of Mumbai sitting in a classroom and being quizzed by students and some cute performances by students. The mascot of the conference is a pencil, this seemingly ubiquitous object that can magically transform into so much more with some imagination – just like the dreams of students.
I went into the conference as a participant the next morning excited to meet educators who were passionate and committed to being the chance in their classrooms, but who followed theories of change different from ours. I was not disappointed. Key trends in the Indian education landscape in recent times are focus on learning and outcomes, scaling up of efforts, ultra low-cost models, for-profit schools, new careers in education and public-private partnerships. In the area of primary education which is of crucial concern to me, we have fared relatively well in providing access to primary schools and achieving enrollment, but we have miles to go yet with respect to quality, retention (preventing drop-outs) and equity.
Craig Johson of American School on Bombay did a brilliant deconstruction of culture and myth in India, of how teachers can become creators of “Outliers” that achieve exceptional things. He borrowed from the work of eminent Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik to establish how the pupil thinks of “My world”, how the rules and procedures of the school impose “The World”, and how problems arise for the student from the conflict.
Another inspiring session on the 1st day for me was by Dr. Mahmood and Shamsi Hasan of GSS, Bangladesh. It was inspiring to see how they were able to provide quality primary education to so many pupils at such a low cost. We could identify their struggles, in the context of the South Asian subcontinent, and we were really touched by their commitment to provide an excellent education to all children in their country.
Then was an informative panel discussion on Right To Education, providing teachers insights on how to bring it into practice. The day ended with a reflection session in different groups, one of which I facilitated. The teachers and principals at the session shared insights on the importance of self-evaluation, understanding student feelings and not imposing a bias. They were able to establish a connection between teaching and leadership – have faith, inspiring, motivating, setting good examples, firing imagination and curiosity. They wanted to create a fun environment in class and integrate students who came from diverse backgrounds. Overall we were left with a feeling of self-confidence and positive thinking.
On the second day, the theme was innovation in action. The day began with a spotlight on innovative schools like Riverside, Akanksha, KIPP and Shishuvan. Then the workshops I attended included phonics by Mary Kayt Norris and information literacy with library specialist Heeru Bhojwani. Heeru showed us what amazing things could be done by students in projects using free softwares from the internet, and how as teachers we could encourage higher-order skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis among our pupils. Then Galli Galli Sim Sim did a presentation on using TV as a teaching tool. Finally, there was a panel discussion among youth who are at the forefront of pioneering movements in India in environment, youth ventures, government and education.The reflection session produced insights like storyboarding, teaching through art, fun way to impart character eduction, enacting a skit to dissuade the use of foul language, using rubrics for evaluation and giving students advance intimation of what they entailed.
The closing session featured a moving testimony by one Akanksha student about how her life had been transformed by the power of one great teacher. The conference ended on a high note, with all participants continuing to share their learnings over email groups and the organizers promising a bigger and better InspirEd conference in 2011!