I spent my first week meeting people in Delhi and now I am back from Chennai to meet more people and visit schools in the capital. But – what a welcome on Monday morning – the floods have come! As the photo shows, the storm water drainage near the University of Delhi Arts Campus simply cannot cope with the downpour. Thank goodness I was advised to travel by taxi rather than taking the metro and walking! During the journey I was quite worried that my taxi might finally ‘die’ and I would have to paddle, but somehow the experience of the driver shone through and we survived.
Floods at Delhi University!
This morning my planned visit to the University Campus school took a number of unexpected turns. Firstly, I had assumed that the school would be a ’model’ school, providing for the children of University staff and offering teaching practice opportunities for student teachers. In fact, the school was actually established to provide an education for local manual labourers, domestic maids and workers on the university campus. Financially, it has the status of being a government-aided school, with 5% of its funding coming from a foundation set up by University professors, the other 95% comes from the Delhi authorities. The second unexpected discovery was that this week is Exam Week! Today, everyone in school was taking end-of-year tests in all subject areas. Here you can see in the photo, Class 1 ( a class of 45) have no books on their desks, just a worksheet fixed to a clipboard to complete, since all books are cleared away as no-one is permitted to have access during tests.
Testing times for Grade 1 (45 children)
The morning’s test was mainly on Hindi vocabulary (this is a Hindi-medium school) and was conducted step by step, with children marking their own work after each section was completed. The atmosphere was quite relaxed and the teacher seemed happy for me to ask a few questions once the test was over. However, it very soon became clear that although I could ask the questions in English, the teacher would then have to translate, then the children might reply in English with one-word answers only. Given that these children were just six years old and had only 2 English lessons per week, this perhaps was not so surprising.
The morning ended with a short interview with the school principal, which proved to be very illuminating. She very passionately explained how committed she was to trying to provide the best education possible for these children. She explained that she had grown up in a village where she had been lucky enough to attend school and do well. She later went on to complete a college diploma, university degree and finally a PhD in political science (focusing on leadership in education)! It seemed that she used the pride in her personal success as a way of trying to motivate the school children to have hope and ambition for their own futures. She talked particularly about how important it was to involve the parents in their children’s education. Many parents had attended little or no schooling themselves so these children were often the first generation in their families to attend regular schooling. Inevitably, not all parents fully appreciated the potential value of schooling, so the principal had introduced a monthly meeting for parents, with the aim of encouraging them to become more involved. Already she is finding that the meetings are making a difference. It was truly an inspiring school visit – though I was concerned to see the poor decorations and very basic blackboard in each classroom. It was evident that the funding was quite limited in comparison with the other schools I have so far visited. Still, the warm and friendly atmosphere provides important security for the children and it was evident that it was a happy school – despite the exams!