This year I hope to write a weekly blog of this fascinating experience, which I have the opportunity to undertake again thanks to an invitation from The Achievers Programme to conduct another workshop tour.
Things are working out differently this year, as whereas everything was planned in advance last year, bookings are still being finalised even though I have now arrived and undertaken the first workshop. So I am receiving flight, train, hotel and pick up details almost daily, which certainly adds to the sense of adventure!
I have started this trip in the south, arriving at Chennai before flying on to Trichy, where I am the guest of the Alpha School Group. India takes the word ‘guest’ very seriously and once again I am being overwhelmed with the welcome and hospitality.
Today (10.4.15) I led the first workshop. New for this year was a request from some schools that my proposed theme ( memory and deeper learning) would work well in a student workshop version. So today’s workshop was with A level students. They found the mix of strategies for memorising and engaging with learning, supported by neuroscientific evidence from my PhD research both interesting and of practical assistance. Just like last year, there are things I will do differently next time, evolving the workshop as I go. Tomorrow’s workshop is with teachers. It is followed by an evening event at which I have been asked to speak. This is a huge outdoor event, quite a spectacle and will be attended by parents, children, local dignitaries, with the anticipated audience numbering 8,000. Yet another new challenge!
The Celebration evening at Alpha was as grand as anticipated and I was particularly struck by the story telling through dance and music, a traditional format used to consider a contemporary environmental theme. The costumes were beautiful and it was marvellous to see the participation of literally hundreds of students, girls and boys, ages ranging from 4 to 18. I also noted how well the very young children sat through the formalities of awards, presentation and speeches. My speech was the final speech and I kept it short and appreciative. I also presented some of the awards – something else that I didn’t know about until minutes beforehand! Now no surprise, the extravaganza was followed by more delightful South Indian cuisine.
I am now about to fly to Hyderabad for the next two workshops. I am informed that I must try the biryani here! Never has the phrase ‘it would be rude not to’ been more apt.
Great response to the two student workshops at Chirec School yesterday and today. The campus I worked on has 2000 students and this is not all of the school. Schools of this size are not unusual in India. I chatted at length with the school principal about India and education in India. There seems to be rhetorical commitment to state education, but limited funding and lots of problems. It seems that all parents who can afford to do so, opt for the extensive private provision that exists around the country.
It was interesting to hear how the arts are supported and compulsory, at this school at least, way beyond the ages at which English students can opt out of school arts provision. That said, a teacher described to me how the potential doctors and engineers are channeled into a very intensive arrangement that possibly narrows their options. Some older students also talked about this and about careers or ambitions in the arts and humanities very much being seen as second best.
Leaving Hyderabad now at the end of week one. Next stop, New Delhi. Delhi must be one of, if not the most crowded and busiest of cities anywhere in the world. I will need to adjust from the calmness of the South, where the heat seems to dictate that rushing round is not helpful. I am lucky to be heading for very classy accommodation at the Iris Hotel, South Delhi, which will certainly make being in the city a whole lot more manageable.
Problem-free travel to Delhi and the hotel is in a relatively peaceful area, largely surrounded by banks and embassies. I have an early start tomorrow for a long day with teachers from five different schools, gathering at The Sanskriti School. That will be followed by the train journey north to Chandigarh, where I will be the guest of Taranvir, CEO and founder of The Achievers Programme. I visited Chandigarh twice last year. I include above a photo of its Rose Garden, which boasts an enormous number of Rose species. ‘Chandi’, as its residents call it has significance as the first. City built following India’s independence. It was actually designed by French architect Le Corbusier and has a very grid -like layout. That certainly makes it easier to find one’s way around compared to admittedly much larger places like Mumbai and Delhi. I got lost in Delhi last year and needed a gathering of several rickshaw drivers to discuss the route by which one of them would get me back to the hotel.
A very enjoyable workshop today, hosted by the Sanskriti School, with teachers from five different schools. Sanskriti is an impressive school campus and provides on this particular site education for 3000 students. Something that did strike me repeatedly on this campus was the quantity and variety of trees, bushes, shrubs, plants and flowers. I commented on this and was informed that it is something that the principal is very keen on. Obviously the weather makes a difference in the UK, but nevertheless I can’t help thinking that this uplifting feature is something that is often not considered in the overall environment and appearance of UK schools. Beside the weather, another advantage a school like Sanskriti and others in India have the the high level of security at each possible entry point. High walls are interspersed with large gates so I suspect that these schools do not receive unwelcome attention at the weekend, which is the time when UK schools with an eye for horticulture sometimes find their displays suffer damage or theft.
The Shatabadi Express is now taking me north, as previously mentioned to Chandigarh. New Delhi Railway Station can be a challenge, but today it was not as crowded as I have seen it before, the driver took me to the right side of the station and a porter took me and my luggage through security and to the right area of the platform from which to board the train in the correct carriage. He overcharged me for this assistance and after a long day at the school my efforts to haggle him back down to something near the approved figure were pretty lame, so I paid up. An overcharge of around £2 is not a lot for me but quite a bonus for this young man and I do not begrudge him it. In fact, strange as it may sound, the persistence and the well-honed technique of these individuals deserves some admiration. I would certainly have to be paid a heck of a lot more to carry heavy suitcases around on my head in a hot, crowded railway station all day.