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India 2015, Tibke Education, Workshop Tour, Memory and Engaging Learning

Tibke Education India Workshop Tour 2015

- May 13th, 2015


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. This picture is with Jesus Lall, CEO of Universal Education, during a traditional and very tasty South Indian meal earlier in the day.  image

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 here 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. Besides the weather, another advantage a school like Sanskriti and others in India have is 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.

18 & 19.4.15
There is something very relaxing about Chandigarh, though that must be due in large part to the great hospitality shown to be by Taranvir and Reetinder, who along with their maid Monhu look after me so well at their home. Arriving in Chandigarh always gets off to a good start, as the driver who collects me is one of the most cheerful and good humoured people I have ever met. Last year he drove me from Chandigarh to Mussorie in the foothills of the Himalayas for one of the workshops. He drove for 6 hours without a break, concluding with a breathtaking (and mildly terrifying) ride up into the mountains. He dropped me off and then drove back! A couple of days later he was there by 10am to collect me.  This is the Rose Garden in Chandigarh image

This weekend saw us at Chandigarh Golf club twice. On Saturday whilst Taranvir played I finally did some exercise, in the gym and then in the pool. There was quite a buzz around the club, as preparations were underway for a big event the next day, the annual club elections. I have seen officers elected in various types of sports club in the UK, usually at an AGM, but this was totally different. It seemed every member was there and teams of candidates were busy shaking hands – it was more like a busy polling day and votes were cast in private. Loads of food (again) was laid on and of course I cannot help but sample everything. It was entertaining to witness the witty manner in which Taranvir and his clubmates joked about this seemingly very serious election. I should note how welcome people made me; I had no real business to be there but plenty of conversations struck up, one or two of which were follow ups to having seen me around the day before.

Despite all the food and a couple of beers, we went for a walk in the evening, at a brisk pace and for quite a distance, before a terrific evening meal. During the walk Taranvir was wielding a hefty looking short stick, as apparently the dogs, lazy and docile during the day, see the surroundings as their territory by night. In the event, no dogs bothered us and I think the biggest concern was actually my lack of the 360 degree vision of Indian road users.

Last year I initially thought that driving skills were not good on the roads, but I have come to realise how much all road users rely on each other to see them, whether they are joining the traffic, cutting right across it or, as I have seen a number of times, cycling in the opposite direction to four lanes of traffic. Sometimes it has an almost balletic, choreographed quality to it – how else are all the potential collisions generally avoided ?!

At 8.30 am it was time to bid farewell to my hosts in Chandigarh, but their planning and assistance was to be self evident in the next two days. I was driven to Ambala to catch the train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. My workshop schedule has a gap in it that this year gives me the time to make this trip. The train was a sleeper train, so I was able to spend most of the 6.5 hour journey in a horizontal position, aside from a conversation with an elderly Indian gentleman whose daughter had married a doctor and they now live in Scotland and two young pilots-in-training who were keen to know what I was doing. I think it was my luggage, which includes my briefcase, that made them curious.

As the train began to slow for its approach to Agra, quite a number of passengers jumped from the slow moving train, presumably to shorten the walk home. This was quite a sight and of course unimaginable in the UK, to my knowledge at least! The stations are a remarkable picture of all kinds of activity and from the train many aspects of India can be observed. They’re not all pretty, as a lot of litter collects near the railway lines and many people eek out an existence living amongst it. There are often people and animals walking along close to or even on the railway lines. It’s amazing to see children getting on with the business of being children in shanty town dwelling and I can’t count how many keenly contested cricket games I have noticed. I saw fielders eagerly chasing the ball despite the heat and the rough ground.

Arrangements had been made for a driver and an experienced guide, Mannish, to collect me and plan my couple of days in Agra. I didn’t get further than a welcome dip in the hotel’s outdoor pool on Monday.

We left the hotel at 5.30am in order to beat the crowds and the heat at the Taj Mahal. It was almost surreal to come through the outer buildings and suddenly be in front of that iconic image. As it was early we were able to take those ‘tourist at the Taj’ photos with few people around. In fact on some it looks like I have the place opened exclusively for me. Mannish proved to be a knowledgeable guide and I was fascinated by the artwork on the building. I had never realised that what one might assume to be painting is actually hand carved into the marble and then inlaid with coloured marble, crafted to fit precisely into the carvings. The whole site is symmetrical with incredible accuracy.image

Later we visited Agra Fort, another formidable building steeped in history and Mannish and I chatted at length about the various invaders of the country, with the last attackers of the fort being the British. Then followed a conversation I have had more than once in India, about the legacy of British rule. There seems to be great willingness to acknowledge things like the railways and the structure of the education system and scant reference to the partitions and other considerably less salutary aspects of colonial rule. Finally, we visited the mini Taj, built some years before the Taj itself and it was a special sight to see the sun go down from the opposite side of the river to the Taj.

Back on the sleeper train to a station South of Delhi, then a long, congested taxi journey to one of the many hotels near the airport, in preparation for the flight to Guwahati tomorrow.

Straightforward transfer from hotel to airport for the also straightforward 2 hour flight to Guwahati in Assam, in the north east. The school administrator collected me and I was able to visit NPS School, meet with the director and the principal, have some lunch (a school lunch though it would not look out of place in many UK restaurants) and plan the next two days.

This region is different in many ways to the other areas I had visited so far. It is wetter and greener and seems to have a greater variety of insects that took an interest in me.

This will undoubtedly pan out to have been the busiest day of the trip. At 8am I spoke at the school assembly. This took place in the covered outdoor auditorium, with students standing in their class rows throughout. Most of it was led by older students from the stage and this seemed to be a regular arrangement. Here is something we might do more of in UK schools.imageimage

This was followed by two student workshops, each two hours long and each with 150 students. These went well enough and the younger students in the second workshop, despite the rising temperature and the approach of lunchtime, did well to cope with the content and activities that I had designed with older students in mind.

After lunch I ran day one of the teacher workshop and what a delight this was. Without exception, the teachers were warm, enthusiastic participants, willing to try anything I asked them to do. I left for the hotel with a real sense of achievement and looking forward to the next day with them. I could not have predicted just what a memorable day that would turn out to be.

The electric storm with its heavy rainfall caused some slight delays this morning, with some roads turned into mud. Nevertheless we were quickly back in action at the school, picking up were we had left off, some input from me and then lots of activity.

We had reached a point where the teachers were working in groups, planning presentations of how they would integrate ideas from the workshop into their own teaching, when I sensed movement and a collective sense of purpose around the room. I quickly realised why; the building was shaking and we were experiencing an earthquake. We began to evacuate, but as we were not quick enough the next part of the procedure was to stay at the edges of the building rather than risk being on the stairs with the building collapsing above us. By being by the windows, this would mean less rubble would fall on us and we would be at the fringes, so with a greater chance of being rescued. This was explained to me as we waited for things to subside, as this was only a new experience for me, not the teachers.

When normality resumed, save for some after shock later in the day, fun was made of my ‘British stiff upper lip’ as it was described, on account of me quietly slipping my iPad and my materials into my briefcase as we started to move out during the earthquake. It was not really stiff upper lip, it was a mysteriously calm sense that somehow this was not my time and I was not about to die. Needless to say, this is one workshop I will not forget! It should be noted, with immense sadness, that it was only later in the day that the news began to reach us of where the earthquake had done its real damage, as the terrible scenes from Nepal reached the TV news channels.

The teachers’ presentations were a joyful depiction of how they planned to put what I had done with them into action, so was heart warming evidence that what I am doing here will have a lasting impact on teaching and learning. Like most others, the school plans to maintain contact with me and one teacher is undertaking research that has some crossover with mine, so we will also make further contact.

After all this, we then did a photo at the front of the school, which should be visible here. To think that this at ease collection of people had faced potential burial under concrete, steel and glass earlier in the day is almost unbelievable and perhaps further evidence of the challenges that people take in their stride here.image

Sunday today and a day free to explore Guwahati, ably guided by mathematics teacher Mr Govind, who generously gave up most of his one day off. We explored a beautiful local Hindu temple, another temple in the hills above the city, one of the busy market place districts, a very entertaining hands on science museum, life around the ferry point on the river and a cultural centre full of regional history and contemporary art work, where we also rode on what is India’s ‘first and longest’ outdoor monorail. This passed through trees with jack fruit of different sizes hanging from them. Of course, it goes without saying that a very pleasant meal featured in the middle of the day. Here’s Mr Govind when we visited the river.image

In the hotel dining room in the evening (yes, eating again) the staff were very chatty, exploring where I was from and what I think of India. I have noticed that generally I am asked if I am from London and I seldom hear other UK cities mentioned, so it was a refreshing change to be asked if I am from Birmingham. This young waiter had visited Birmingham. I ascertained that he did not have relatives there but did not quite manage to work out why Birmingham was the focus of his UK trip but then again, why not? As I work in Birmingham quite regularly, I was at least able to discuss some features of the city.

I met another CEO whilst dining, a gentleman called Kalamboo who leads Go4Guru.com and also had business at NPS School. We exchanged business cards with a view to exploring whether we have any scope for collaboration. Then the waiters made arrangements for my breakfast to be ready before the opening time in the morning, as I would need to leave for the airport by 6.30am.

My breakfast was neatly packaged and waiting for me and one early rising waiter gave me his complete attention. When I went to check out, the school administrator was already there and had dealt with check out for me. Yet again, so well looked after. Assam has made a big impression on me this year and I was sad to leave.

Then again, as I walked out of the airport into the heat and bright sunshine of Mumbai, I felt a sense of a next chapter commencing. The Mumbai skyline is a constant source of fascination, as is the juxtaposition of incredible new skyrising buildings with the shanty towns that sit right besides them. Like one of the Mumbai visits last year, I am in an apartment with four bedrooms and staff to cook, clean and generally assist in whatever ways they can. I am a little concerned though, because I thought I was here for two nights so asked the staff to take my laundry away. They said it would be ready tomorrow evening. I have now had a call from the school principal, who told me to bring my luggage when I am collected in the morning, to run a one day teacher workshop, as the second school I will visit in Mumbai has arranged for me to stay somewhere else.

I have tried to explain to the apartment staff that my laundry will need to be back before 8.30am tomorrow. I hope they understood, otherwise I may be washing the clothes I am wearing now in the bathroom sink every night this week.

I am on the sixteenth floor here and can see the Mumbai coastline nearby. It’s good to be able to watch the waves rolling in. Apart from the airport, as Mumbai is so big I have not recognised anything from the two visits on last year’s trip. I have just been served more great food. There was enough for at least two people, but I could see that the table had been set for me alone.

This is the first accommodation that I have stayed on this trip that does not have wifi, so I will be having 24 hours without email and social media. For the second time, I have an incredibly firm mattress, something that people here tell me is good for us. I like firm mattresses anyway, but this takes it to a whole new level! The mattresses everywhere have been firm and have set me thinking about a replacement when I get back to the UK.

It was a delight to be back at the Aditya Birla World Academy today, almost exactly a year after being here on my last trip. This was the venue for last year’s final workshop. Today’s was a smaller group since this is a teaching day and also contained some teachers from another school. The principal, Bindia and her colleagues again made me very welcome.

The next school, the Children’s Academy, is a long way from Aditya Birla and I have been transferred to nearer accommodation at the Grand Sarovar Premier Hotel. Very grand it is too. Development in Mumbai is fascinating and I could gaze at it all in bewilderment for hours.

So tomorrow will be the final workshop, though the next day promises to be interesting, as the director of a group of Mumbai schools has arranged to meet with me, following a conversation she has had with someone in one of the schools I have visited. What this is about is not yet entirely clear, but I am suitably intrigued!

Thank you to all the teachers at The Children’s Academy, for making the final workshop another memorable one, with so much enthusiasm and willingness to try out new ideas on display. Once again, participants were enterprising in using the activities and suggestions in ways I hadn’t envisaged, making things appropriate to the contexts of their own teaching. Another tremendous school lunch too!

The company I am meeting tomorrow, Kanakia, have moved me into yet another hotel, The Courtyard Marriott and it is even fancier than the Sarovar. I am trying not to stare at things. Absolutely fantastic evening buffet and incredibly attentive service.

The meeting with Ms Rupal of Kanakia today was a bit of a bombshell. Kanakia, amongst other business interests, like many large corporations in India run a group of five schools in Mumbai. They have asked me to come and work for them for their next school year (August to the end of May) in a new role they want to create, as director of professional development across the five schools. This would come with good pay and accommodation. At first I thought that it was flattering to be asked, but the more we talked the more it became a serious consideration. We will need to look more closely at contractual details, but I think I am up for this. Funny to think that in my own notes I wrote something like ‘could I actually live and work here?’ during the first days of this trip.image

Tomorrow is a long day of travelling, with having to fly back to Delhi then later fly to Manchester. Plenty of thinking time!

Return flights all went to plan. Manchester greeted me with cold and drizzle and by the time I had reached Morecambe on the train the weather was even worse.
Decision pending re a year in Mumbai!