The alarm rings and I see through blurred eyes that the illuminated clock face says 6.00am. I reach out and find Sara stirring next to me. Ah yes, back home in England. I try in my somewhat befuddled, jet lagged state to calculate the time in Bangalore – 11.30 am, friends there will have been about their labours for many hours whilst I have been catching up on sleep. Drawing aside the curtains and looking from the bedroom window it is dark outside, but I am able to discern that there is no glistening white covering of frost this morning. Good news, the temperature is above freezing, at 5 degrees a relatively mild start for this time of year, but certainly not a South Indian morning.
A bowl of muesli for breakfast rather than the more customary dosa or idli of recent days helps prepare me for the day as I catch up with Sara on the news from home of the past two weeks and share some of my experiences from Bangalore. It is reassuring to return to a familiar routine, though I cannot imagine my life now without frequent visits to India and my friends and colleagues there.
Whenever I return from working with students in India I find myself pondering what I have learned. The whole experience of the visit has an influence upon my educational outlook. I find myself recharged with an enthusiasm for work shaped by the privilege of working with teachers committed to gaining a greater understanding of how they may change the lives of marginalised children. The critical thinking that characterises the taught sessions on the MA programme in Bangalore challenges any notion of security we may have had in our own ideas of how to create an inclusive society. Whilst I am a tutor on this course I find that I am much more of a learner, a student of the cultural and socio-economic challenges confronted by Indian teachers on a daily basis. My conventional thinking is challenged and I am excited by the willingness of students on the course to debate issues and explore ideas.
Whilst this learning is clearly a positive outcome of the collaboration with colleagues in Bangalore, I also find that I become increasingly intolerant of the market driven bureaucratic processes that have been created by education policy makers in both India and England. The creeping iniquitous policies and procedures that have increasingly focused upon making our schools, colleges and universities into competitive institutions rather than supportive learning environments is something which causes me to become ever more anxious for the future of teaching. Healthy competition certainly has a place, but when schools feel unable to accept pupils who they perceive as likely to have a negative impact upon their academic results, this does nothing to assist the creation of an inclusive educational community. In India the Right to Education Act has been implemented with honourable intentions aimed at supporting learners who have been excluded from fair educational opportunities. At the present time many school teachers and their principals are wary of addressing the requirements of the Act for fear that parents will perceive that a new intake of disadvantaged students may have a negative impact upon academic standards and the opportunities provided to their children. There is no empirical evidence to support their fears, but these apprehensions need to be addressed rather than ignored.
We must not blame teachers who express these concerns. When teachers believe themselves to be inadequately prepared to address the needs of the students in their class, they are naturally apprehensive and may well appear reluctant to cooperate. It is essential that those teachers who have the skills, understanding and knowledge to address the needs of children who may challenge conventional teaching, share this expertise with those who are less confident. We must ensure that this is achieved through collaboration and the establishment of supportive networks which will ultimately benefit both teachers and children. Sharing learning may appear more difficult in a competitive education environment, but the generosity of the students with whom we have been working indicates that it is certainly possible.
Over the past two weeks I have worked with teachers and students who have not only made a commitment to develop their own professionalism, but will also become the future leaders of educational inclusion in their communities. It is because of this that my optimism for the future of education in India far surpasses my concerns about the increasingly competitive nature of schooling. If these colleagues with whom I have been working are in any way representative of the teachers of Bangalore, then a more inclusive education system is assured.