Yesterday was Republic Day in India, an occasion that honours the date in 1950 on which the Constitution of India came into effect. Across the city flags can be seen flying proudly as an assertion of the country’s independence. Today also marked the first day of teaching for our third cohort of MA students, as they commenced the second module of their course. Appropriately the day started with a dignified singing of the National Anthem by our students and Indian tutors, as Mary and I watched on in respectful silence. Unfortunately The Brindavan Education Trust where we teach lacks a flag pole; I must have a word with the management to see if we can make amends for next year.
As they entered the teaching room this morning the students greeted each other and their tutors with warmth and enthusiasm, clearly glad to be returning to what promises to be a busy, but enjoyable week. The focus of the module to be taught will be largely built around applying inclusive planning, assessment and teaching approaches in classrooms, and within five minutes of the first session of the day it was evident that everyone had returned with new ideas, and questions that they wanted to explore.
The second module on this course always appears more relaxed than the first, when students arrive not knowing each other and unsure about what to expect. Many have been familiar with professional development, and even degree courses, which are taught using somewhat staid didactic approaches, where they have been expected to sit in silence and take copious notes. For some, the first few sessions can be something of a surprise, even slightly daunting, as they find themselves engaged in active learning through a variety of problem solving tasks and debates that demand that they take a leadership role in their own learning. However, they soon relax, and begin to enjoy a situation in which they question their own beliefs and practices, and devise new approaches to understanding the challenges of inclusion.
The concept of learning by doing is far from new, Socrates in the fourth century BC encouraged the development of critical thinking through questioning and challenging the issues of the day. Our students on this course adopt this approach, and in so doing recognise that they are already in possession of tremendous knowledge and understanding, and are therefore able to utilise this as we examine notions of what it means to be inclusive, and how to foster more equitable approaches to teaching and learning.
By the end of yesterday’s sessions our thoughtful and highly motivated students were already back into the routine of disputation, questioning, challenging and expressing their opinions that has come to characterise this course. These teachers are all superb reflective practitioners, who are able to take ideas and quickly translate them into classroom solutions for the benefits of their pupils in schools and colleges. Their commitment to learning is a tremendous motivating factor for those of us fortunate enough to be their tutors.
Article 21A of the Constitution of India states that:-
“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine”.
In 2009 the Right To Free and Compulsory Education Act was passed with an intention that this constitutional clause should become reality. Much work needs to be done before this is achieved, and these students will certainly have a major part to play. As tutors we have every confidence that they will make a significant difference to the lives of children who have for too long been marginalised.
If these students are representative of India as a whole, then the Republic is in good hands.