Tuesday, July 27, 2010

School - The people are great, not so much the school

If Shardayatan English Medium School is a fair indication of the Indian secondary education system, then the Indian secondary education system is in a pitiful shambles. Fortunately, there seem to be other ways that kids actually learn their stuff, but for me, school is not the best
Let me run you through a normal school day for me.

My grandfather, who is an early riser, opens my door and mutters a bunch of Gujarati and somewhere in there mentions "six o clock". He seems to have taken it on himself to serve as my alarm clock, which I appreciate. So I get up, shower quickly, brush my teeth, yadda yadda yadda. Then I go downstairs and have some tea with my grandpa. Around six-thirty, the auto rickshaw shows up at my house and I am off.

An auto rickshaw is basically a taxi, and looking at it you would think that it would not be possible for more than three normal sized people to fit in it. In my auto rickshaw, however, the driver somehow manages to stuff myself, two middle-schoolish kids and about six obnoxious 5-year-olds. The rickshaw driver seems to know all of these kids pretty well and has a kind of friendly banter with them. He's actually a really nice guy, even though he speaks no English.

Shardayatan might be a decent facility by Indian standards, so I won't judge the classrooms and technology available with nothing to compare it to. But what I can tell you is in terms of trash, Shardayatan is really, truly, disgusting. There are gargantuan piles of wrappers, chip bags, bottles, and papers all over the outdoors of the school. The hallways are relatively clean, but they are open air, and kids are just constantly tossing their crap off the edge into their central sporting area. I can't believe that a scholarly facility allows this kind of horribly damaging littering to occur with such frequency. Another icky thing - I was stepping into a bathroom and there was a little boy who could have been no older than five who was peeing on the floor. I decided to move on.

When I get to school, I go sit in class. Their schedule works like Harry Potter - different every day, not every class every day. I am in 12th standard, which is basically senior year. In India you are to choose one of three streams of learning after your 10th standard year. These can be Art (which apparently nobody does - it seems to cover the humanities), Commerce, and Science. For me it was basically Commerce or Science. Anyone in my AP Chem class knows how I feel about science, so I chose Commerce. Here are the classes that they take and a brief description of what is done in them.

English: Their homeroom teacher, who is an excellent lady, seems to just give them kind of general advisory information. Through three days, I haven't seen any actual English being taught.

Gujarati: This class is for real. It has their most strict teacher, who makes them read and write things in Gujarati. I don't know exactly what they are doing. I usually read my Traveler's History of India during this class period. Obviously it sounds like this would be a good class for me, but it would be like taking Cohrs' class without having ever spoken a word of English, so really almost everything is futile.

Stats: This class is also for real. The only one with a male teacher, who is a pretty awesome guy. Yesterday he sent me and Annie out to participate in some sort of a parade instead of sitting the class, and today he just gave all of the kids a monster problem to do and then talked with me about the World Cup. They learn Stats at a pretty advanced level - I took a decent Stats class last year and I don't have a clue what they are doing.

Organization of Commerce: In this class they are asked to do things like define the word "profession" and learn about budgets with the sort of details that are very intuitive, but somehow are made extraordinarily complicated. I hate to be so critical, but I can't really see how these mundane, obvious details would be at all helpful in the real world of business. I think that this is the worst class - it is both useless and extremely boring.

Economics: There are a few teachers who accept that they have no control of their class. The Economics teacher is one of those. She does not give them things to do. She does not attempt to lecture. She just walks around the classroom and talks to the kids about everything except economics. Sometimes kids ask her questions about economics and she seems to know what she is doing, but this class isn't the best because I would actually prefer to be taught something than just sit around.

Accounting: A decent teacher, halfway in between the extremely strict Gujarati teacher and the relatively without control Organization of Commerce teacher. The problem, unfortunately, is that Accounting is a record-settingly dull topic.

The biggest problem with Shardayatan is that the students don't seem to care at all. They don't listen to the teachers at all. They just talk and squirrel around. Even though the guys that I have fallen in with are nice folks, they really don't have any respect for most of the teachers, and their behavior is sometimes immature. But they are good guys, and since school doesn't matter very much for me, it's not exactly hurting me.

Now there are a lot of things that I like about school - even if the teachers are sometimes fairly useless, they are always intelligent and good to me. The real purpose of me going to school is to meet people, and I have done that in spades. There's a largish group of about 15 or 20 kids that instantly inducted me into their group of friends. They don't do a lot in the way of school, but they aren't stupid either, and they're nice guys. The other thing is that the homeroom teacher is a very helpful lady, and the principal of the school is also a very helpful and informative woman. All of the administrators are very well-intentioned.

The expectations for my scholarly pursuits are almost non-existent. Indian school is just so very different from American school that they don't really expect me to have any idea what they are talking about. Every couple months or so the kids have a sort of final exams period during which I am not expected to attend school. I am given no grades, and the teachers expect me to sleep in class. Also attendance is not compulsory. Many of the Indians rarely attend.

They don't seem to want to learn from their teachers, but they do care about their exams - they don't really earn points daily like we do in the US. Everything is basically determined by these major exams. I have to stress that they do learn, but it is not in school. Instead they take extra classes that they call "tuitions". Akshay goes to these a lot in the evenings. It seems to me like they take these quite seriously, and that is their main source of real education.

The problem with this from my perspective is that I don't go to these. I would rather be taught something in school than just sit around. I hang out with these new friends of mine, but a lot of the time they are having their own conversations in Gujarati. And even when they really are being taught something, it's either exceedingly boring or it's something that I would need some frame of reference that I don't possess to be able to participate in successfully.

So school...isn't great. But it has done it's job of introducing me to people.

One other amusing thing. Today when the auto rickshaw was taking me home on a back road a gibbon jumped out of a tree and nearly hit the rickshaw. This was so unexpected, so shocking to me that before I could stop myself I shouted "Holy s***! That was a f***ing monkey!" I realized that I had just uttered some horrible American vulgarities, but fortunately I remembered that these little children don't speak any English.


  1. Ted, Thanks for the laugh today. The monkey story was HILARIOUS!

    Sra. Ostermann

  2. Ted, I seriously LOL'd when I read the bit about the gibbon. Good to know your inner being isn't changing at all :)

  3. kunal here (ur class mate)
    thts the problem of shardayatan scul .... in recess the students (mostly the small ones) come out as if they were caught by a gunman inside the class and now they are let free...
    but this problem lies up to only this ,,cozz not ol sculs are like this (Atleast not my old one~~Ryan international..)...well hope u will make up for it and like it..