Our visitors from India have gone. After ten days in their company everything appears quiet and we are already missing their friendly banter. They made the long journey from Bangalore to attend lectures and workshops, meet English teachers, visit schools and of course, enjoy some social time and see a little of Northamptonshire. I hope that they all return to India with fond memories and that they will be eager to make return visits before too long.
Throughout their attendance at taught sessions and their visits to schools they will undoubtedly have reflected on what they have seen, heard and done, and will probably be considering how much of this may be applicable in their own schools in India. Obviously as their tutors and hosts we hope that they have seen much that they will feel is relevant and it may be that they are already formulating plans with regards to what they may use on their return to their classrooms. There is however, a need always to exercise a little caution in these situations and to take time before making decisions that might influence changes of practice, or the implementation of new ideas. On too many occasions I have visited schools in other countries where attempts have been made to transfer directly those ideas that have been gained elsewhere. Even worse than this, I have experienced situations in which tutors from western countries have visited India and advocated the use of teaching approaches, methods or philosophies, that have worked well for them, but without any concern or understanding for the context in which Indian teachers work.
I have no doubt that many of the approaches discussed and seen during the past ten days could have educational currency in an Indian context. I am equally convinced that if these are to succeed it will be necessary to make adaptations and to consider how the circumstances in which these were used differ from those in Indian classrooms. Whilst international collaboration brings many benefits for all of us working in education, this is most effective when partnerships founded upon mutual respect for culture and traditions are achieved. I often hear colleagues declaring that inclusion is a “western concept” and that countries in Asia and elsewhere in the world are following a European or North American lead. This not only indicates an unwarranted arrogance, but represents a lack of awareness of the many sophisticated aspects of teaching and learning that have been long established in these countries. There is a good reason why inclusion has been so difficult to adequately define, and part of this is embedded in the differing cultural interpretations of the purpose of education and the ways in which this relates to the needs of each individual in different countries.
Over a number of years I have been privileged to see highly professional teachers in Indian classrooms, often managing groups of sixty or more children with few educational resources, but vast quantities of enthusiasm. In this situation I have witnessed teachers who have an astute level of awareness of the needs of their pupils, and have often developed personalised teaching approaches and resources in order to ensure access for those who might otherwise struggle. They may not always teach in a manner that those of us from countries of greater socio-economic advantage would term “inclusive”, but their commitment to the children in their care cannot be doubted. I have learned from my Indian friends that they are grateful for the opportunity to share ideas and discuss how these might be applicable in their classrooms, but have become wary of being instructed about what they should do rather than encouraged to find their own solutions. By working with students on the MA programme and alongside teachers in Indian classrooms we as tutors have gained some insights into the challenges faced in schools. and have been pleased to accept a lead from them in terms of the content that we teach and how it is delivered. The traditional teacher student relationship as one of transmission of knowledge has only a limited value when working outside of a familiar culture.
The evidence of the effectiveness of any teaching is to be found in the impact that it has on the lives of children and families, the confidence of teachers and the sustainability of approaches over a period of time. This can only be understood when the tutors on courses aimed at promoting more effective inclusion subject themselves to a critique from their students and demonstrate a willingness to participate with them as learners as well as teachers.
I have no doubt that in September, when we next meet our students who have spent time with us in Northamptonshire, they will want to tell us about the learning that they have applied within their schools. I am also quite sure that they will be confident enough to tell us about those approaches that they have seen and discussed over the past ten days that appear not to work in their classrooms. I hope that together we may be able to analyse both the successes and those things that have perhaps fallen a little flat. These will of course, form the basis of a fruitful discussion and hopefully we will all learn and move forward. I am equally sure that they will want to recall their visit to the theatre, the treasure hunt around Northampton, visits to the countryside and socialising with our PhD students which have been fun, but have also presented many opportunities for learning.