One of the best things about my time in India is staying with a loving host family. Not only do they prepare the most delicious homemade Indian food, they also have me try every kind of local dessert (jelabi, kheer, kulfi, gulab jamun and many more). In the evenings, they spend time taking a walk with my housemates and me and play “very competitive” scrabble with us after dinner. My host mom, who is in her late 60s, is an avid reader and lifelong learner. She takes swim lessons almost every day, attends a philosophy class three times a week, and is a member of a local book club. We often engage in conversations about world politics, cultures, and cuisines, and despite disagreements at times, I really enjoy listening to her life stories and learning from her experiences.
My host dad, who’s in his late 70s, is equally productive. He is the managing director of a college, but he also runs a government-aided girls’ school in Delhi called KBV. The school was founded almost 80 years ago to provide education for children from the lowest caste. It is free of charge and serves 800 girls from the ages of 3 to 18. Because the school is a charitable venture, all operations of the school are dependent upon government grants and private donations. My host dad’s responsibility as the managing director, then, is to secure enough funding and resources to ensure the smooth operation of the school. Recently, the school finished installing solar panels on their roof. It is estimated that they will save the entire cost of their very expensive power bill. With this, they will finally achieve some measure of financial stability.
As an early childhood education advocate who is now interning with a nonprofit for children, my first thought when I found out about KBV was to connect my host dad with my organization. I hope that the students at KBV can benefit from the educational resources that we develop. Coincidentally, my organization was also looking for local partners to participate in a community-based initiative that engages both parents and children from low-income communities. Knowing the needs of both parties, I introduced my supervisor and my host dad to each other and arranged a time for a school visit.
We arrived at KBV on a cloudy Thursday morning during the students’ recess time. The four-story school building was painted pink and looked very lively with girls in their green uniforms roaming around in the schoolyard. The first class we visited was a kindergarten class with very young girls between two and a half and five years old. The classroom setup looked very similar to that of TBGS (the non-profit girls’ school in Ghana that I worked with through IEDP’s Curriculum and Pedagogy class) where five or six girls sit around a large round table.
Despite some similarities, I noticed more learning materials stamped to the wall, from Hindi alphabet to English vocabulary posters. There was also an aide, in addition to the instructor, who is responsible for taking care of the girls’ non-academic needs. What surprised me the most was the large LED TV screen in the classroom that is connected to an Lenovo laptop. My host dad explained that he wanted to introduce ICT to the classrooms so that these girls can keep up with the latest developments in technology and education. However, very few teachers are willing to engage students with these tools and online resources because they think the technologies are “too much trouble.” One of the younger teachers demonstrated to us how she utilizes technologies in class: she downloads educational videos on vocabulary and other topics from youtube to show her students or she plays music so that students can sing along. The more senior teachers did not use technology much at all in spite of the availability of TV screens and laptops in the classroom. The teacher training for these technologies is nonexistent due to the cost associated with training and the teachers’ lack of motivation.
I remember reading about the ineffectiveness of many ICT projects in Dr. Wagner’s class:
..But the problems with these projects were neither isolated nor random. Rather, these same types of problems occur again and again in technology projects around the world, which too often focus on providing hardware and software and pay insufficient attention to the human and social systems that must also change for technology to make a difference… As seen in these three vignettes, meaningful access to ICT comprises far more than merely providing computers and internet connections. Rather, access to ICT is embedded in a complex array of factors encompassing physical, digital, human, and social resources and relationships.
–Warschauer (2004), Introduction; Chapter 1, Economy, society and technology
What I saw was just one of the many cases where technology has not been utilized to its fullest potential, but what is the solution? My host dad has lobbied for investment in teacher training many times in the past. However, with “educational ICT” and “the digital divide” being such popular buzzwords in today’s world, who is willing to invest in long-term teacher training when handing out digital devices is so convenient? Case in point, KBV has already equipped every student with a tablet.
I left KBV that day with many, many questions in my head. I know I probably won’t be able to find answers to these questions any time soon, but I’ll keep looking. Connecting my organization with my host family allows me to see how educational resources can be mobilized in a positive way and I hope this partnership will blossom into something beautiful one day!