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Educators from India Learn from Thornapple Kellogg

Imagine a school system without parent-teacher organizations, volunteers or auditoriums for special events, and you’ll get a picture of what the majority of schools are like in India.

“The active participation of the community doesn’t happen in India,” said SV Manjunath, a visitor from the South Asian country. India is working to change these aspects of its education system through a partnership with Michigan State University’s College of Education and the Azim Premji Foundation in India.

India’s education system

  • India has 1.4 million schools and 7.7 million teachers
  • The country has 447 living languages (those that are spoken), 22 official languages and 29 languages*
  • Only 39 percent of children reach 10th grade and 90 percent don’t complete school
  • High school completion is 42 percent

Sources: Azim Premji Foundation, Teach for India, Brookings

*Figures from other sources vary, primarily due to differences in definition of the terms “language” and “dialect”

Manjunath was part of a team of six educators APF brought to the college of education in East Lansing to observe schools and get ideas for improving schools in their country.

While here, they visited six urban schools and one rural, the Thornapple Kellogg School District, during the two-week tour. The Thornapple Kellogg district was selected because the group wanted to see how a rural school system works. “I think it’s very interesting that K-12 is all in the same vicinity,” said team member Manjunath of the arrangement of the elementary, middle and high school within walking distance of one another.

The visits by APF staff and faculty is to learn about U.S. education and best practices, according to Inese Berzina-Pitcher of the MSU College of Education. “It also allows everyone here, at MSU and different school districts in Michigan, to learn more about education in India,” she said.

In India, an elementary school operates every kilometer (.6 miles) and a high school every two miles. Teachers instruct three to four grade levels at a time.

The nonprofit APF works with India’s large underprivileged and marginalized population, according to its website, and aims to improve the country’s education “as state-run education systems are in need of urgent reform and revitalization.” It brings groups from India two to three times a year to see how education operates here.

Goals for the recent trip included seeing how districts work with the state and getting a better understanding of curriculum development and assessments. The group also wanted to learn about recruiting for teachers (the country has a primary-school teacher shortage of about 689,000) and professional development.

Kim Chausow, Thornapple Kellogg’s director of curriculum, said the group was intrigued by the school’s learning lab. In this TK program, teachers watch other teachers to learn better ways to teach. “They’d never heard of it,” she said.

Inside the Classrooms

Group member Rajiv Sharma found students in the first-grade classroom more expressive and confident than his country’s students. Students in India mainly give “yes” and “no” answers to questions and focus on memorization, he said, instead of the hands-on learning they saw at Thornapple Kellogg schools. “They interact more,” he said. “It’s a very dynamic setting.”

Teaching three to four classes at the same time makes change difficult, though, for the country’s education system. “Our country has limited resources,” Rajiv said.

Ankur Madan was impressed by the amount of extra-curricular activities and the opportunities to learn so many subjects, such as classes in drafting and architecture, and the large amount of technology. The primary subjects in India are reading and math. “Kids are learning very sophisticated math concepts (there),” she said.


Azim Premji Foundation

Primary Education in India: Progress and Challenges

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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