Two of my doctoral students today quite independently told me that they had been reading this blog and had observations to make. The first commented on yesterday’s piece (Life on the Education Production Line. 17th March) telling me that it’s not only schools that have become obsessed with targets and paperwork. The university, she informed me, is just the same. I hope that she is not blaming me!
The second student commented that the over the last few days my writings had been rather gloomy, consisting largely of forebodings of a “coming educational dystopia,” (I rather like that expression – the wording not the implications that is, so I’ve used it verbatim here). I tried to reassure her that I remain at heart an optimist, though she seemed unconvinced. “I like it”, she said “when you write about the good things you see in education, like the piece on World Book Day. If you carry on like this we are all going to sink into a trough of depression. Why not write something to cheer us all up?” Well, maybe she had a point, so here goes.
Visiting schools and seeing teachers in action often equates to taking a tonic. If it works for me, maybe it will for you too. So taking up the challenge let me tell you about a school I visited a while ago with my colleague Mary.
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BBMP) Public School is located in the Srirampuram district of West Bangalore. This is an area with an unfortunate reputation, many of the district’s inhabitants live in poor quality housing in badly maintained streets and the reported crime rate is high. Walking around the area one is immediately confronted by all of the familiar characteristics of poverty and could quite easily understand if the people living here had chosen to turn their backs on a society that seems to have neglected their needs. But the BBMP school is beginning to make changes here and if the example of the teachers we saw working there can be followed then things are bound to improve.
The Bangalore edition of The Times of India quoted a good friend and colleague Vijaya Mahadevan who works for the Brindavan Education Trust in supporting teachers in the school. Vijaya says of the pupils:-
“They come from difficult, unpleasant backgrounds. Sometimes we have to counsel them to make them happy. If they cry in the morning while coming to school, by afternoon they forget the sorrow back home. They love the atmosphere here and parents have also been encouraging,”
We had been told about the school before we visited, just as we had been advised about the area in which it is located. But nothing could have fully prepared us for the morning we spent in classes at the BBMP school.
We were greeted at the school gates by a group of excited, smiling pupils eager to show us into their classrooms. The school principal and staff proudly led us on a tour of every classroom, introducing us to enthusiastic teachers and a cacophonous welcome from children, all wanting to shout hello and greet us in their well-practiced English. During the morning we observed teachers working with minimal resources, compensated by boundless energy and a determination to give every child an exciting learning experience. Classes of 60 children all wanted to show us their books, sing to us familiar English songs and generally overwhelm us with their enthusiasm for learning.
This school is a haven for children whose circumstances are often grim, but who are being afforded an opportunity to learn and eventually to make better life chances for themselves and their families. The teachers at the BBMP School demonstrate all that is noble in the teaching profession. Their compassion, dedication, attention to individuality and determination to make the most of what few resources they have for the benefit of every child represents the fine ideals with which most of us entered the profession. Visiting this school was both memorable and inspiring and I hope to have further opportunities to return.
Writing this and recalling that visit has certainly reinforced my belief in what education can achieve. I hope that my research student also find this suitably cheering. I will say no more but urge you to look at the smiles on the faces of both teachers and children in these pictures in order to be assured that there is much that is right in this part of the world.
Many thanks to all of the children and staff at BBMP School and to Vijaya for always wearing a smile!