Rowing boats and navigating a safe passage

Look carefully. There's some serious learning going on here!

Look carefully. There’s some serious learning going on here!

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream!

         (Traditional Children’s rhyme)

Between teaching two cohorts of students and running a training day for our research students here in Bangalore, we like to make the most effective use of our time. This sometimes means providing training sessions in either the schools where our students work, or in those of colleagues who provide support to our work here in the city. We are dependent upon the goodwill of so many friends in Bangalore and we are therefore always pleased to be able to give something back in kind to them and their schools.

Thus it was that yesterday a group of teachers and parents found themselves seated on the floor, rocking to and fro, whilst chanting the children’s rhyme that appears at the top of this posting. Later in the morning, the same group were playing a simple traditional Indian game of hop and catch, though restricted space somewhat limited the scope of this particular escapade.

If having read the above you are wondering what this has to do with the professional development provided to a school staff and parents, I probably owe you an explanation. Latha, who was one of the first students here in Bangalore to graduate from the MA programme, had asked that we visit her school to work with parents and colleagues to consider how early educational experiences can help children to become confident learners. We were more than happy to oblige, and suggesting that formalisation of education is being increasingly imposed upon children at an ever younger age, we decided to demonstrate the value of informal learning and to explore the uses of play.

Great fun was had by all as they experienced the kind of activities that we would hope all parents enjoy with their children. This was accompanied by more serious discussion about early years learning, the promotion of healthy child development and the importance of providing secure relationships between children, and for children and adults. We examined in some detail the many learning opportunities that exist outside of the classroom, and the importance of acknowledging that children learn much from people who are not formally designated as teachers. By the end of the day we had all reflected upon a unique learning experience, and promised to go away and encourage the children and adults in our lives to learn by being more playful.

Today was rather more formal, though also involved a number of enjoyable learning experiences. My good friend Savitha, who has been so supportive of our work in Bangalore, and is a fine example of someone committed to running an inclusive school, invited me to assist her staff in developing inclusive classroom planning strategies. Knowing of the great enthusiasm always exhibited by the staff of Pramiti school, it was easy to facilitate a range of practical tasks focused upon the children with whom they work.

Both of these days were not only rewarding, but were important to those of us who come here to offer the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme. Having rowed boats across very smooth waters, and navigated a route through classroom planning, we will now hoist sail and sally forth to work with our next group of students.

The teachers at Pri. .miti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

The teachers at Primiti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

Staying focused as we approach the finishing line.

Everyone assumes a role as we learn together on the MA programme

Everyone assumes a role as we learn together on the MA programme

Supporting our MA students in Bangalore as they work on the preparation of their dissertations is always interesting and at times challenging. At present we are working with a very enthusiastic and able group who have generated excellent research proposals and piloted one of their data collection instruments. At this stage of their progress they come back to us with many questions and a few anxieties about aspects of their piloting that maybe didn’t run as smoothly as might have been wished for. At the moment our job is not simply to give answers, but to give them opportunities to find solutions.

As part of the proceedings we encourage these neophyte researchers to bring their issues to sessions in order that we can help them to think these through, and learn about managing their projects. This invariably leads to lively debates and results in a stimulating learning environment from which we all benefit. Today was no exception.

This afternoon started with one of our students showing a brief clip of video recording of her work with parents of children from a village community near where she is based. Many of these adults are parents of first generation learners and our student wishes to gain data from them to inform her research, which is examining the effectiveness of the school provision made for their children. This is an exciting project which demonstrates the commitment and impact that some of our students are having in fostering more inclusive learning opportunities.

In order to gain the data that she requires this keen researcher is planning to use focus groups, but like many at this stage of her research development, she is apprehensive and has questions about how best this should be managed. What are the difficulties in collecting data from parents who cannot read and write? How do I manage a group when they don’t follow the conventions of taking turns to speak? These and other similar concerns were brought to the table. So this afternoon, much of the time was spent in role play, with students taking  the part of participants, researchers, recorders and observers. Everyone took the role they were playing seriously, and the action was followed by a lively discussion, with an exchange of ideas and suggestions that helped in the development of a set of principles for focus group management. Hopefully our student feels more confident and many of her questions will have been addressed. I look forward to her reprting back after the next stage of data collection.

Sessions such as these, led largely by the students themselves, and often involving friendly banter and laughter, can only be conducted when they feel at ease with each other, respecting their classmates and demonstrating a willingness to share ideas. I am sure that as these students begin the last leg of their journey towards achieving their MA degrees they are forming friendships that will endure, and have gained new skills and knowledge that they will take forward for the benefit of the children and teachers with whom they work.

Days like today reinforce the fact that it is a privilege to work together with such committed professionals.

 

 

In the vanguard of research developments

Getting to grips with the challenges of sampling. Three keen researchers in discussion with Dr David Preece

Getting to grips with the challenges of sampling. Three keen researchers in discussion with Dr David Preece

Throughout this week three students who recently studied for the MA in Special and Inclusive Education which is managed by the University of Northampton in Bangalore have been here in England. Having proven to be outstanding students on the MA programme they have now advanced to enrol as research students working at PhD level. This is a moment of considerable pride for them, for their families and also for the university.

A common concern expressed by students studying on the Bangalore based programme, is that there is a limited corpus of research literature related to special and inclusive education in an Indian context. Students inevitably find themselves referring to journal articles, books and research reports from outside of India which presents the added challenge of having to critique this work in relation to an Indian education system. It should be obvious that some of the approaches to teaching and learning adopted, for example in the more affluent areas of Europe or the USA, will not be easily applied in rural Indian schools. Issues of resourcing, training, expectations, attitude and understanding all need to be interrogated before any confidence can be gained in the application of ideas from socio-economically advantages countries. It is therefore critical that the research capacity in this area in India is increased, and that more Indian researchers make a contribution to the research literature. Data in relation to inclusion and exclusion is at a premium at present, and it is essential that local researchers address this shortfall in order that teachers, parents and children can move towards a more just education system with confidence.

The three colleagues who have joined the PhD programme here in Northampton this week have already begun to address some of the limitations in research in special and inclusive education in their country. Two have recently published papers in peer reviewed journals based upon their MA dissertations, and all are developing proposals to address critical areas related to the teaching of previously marginalised children in their communities. Their research will of necessity require them to engage with teachers, parents, children and policy makers in India, thereby broadening understanding of the complex issues that they are proposing to address.

As all teachers in India are confronted with the challenges of meeting the requirements of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act introduced in 2009, they are increasingly seeking the support of colleagues who have begun to consider how first generation learners, or those from scheduled tribes or scheduled castes, along with others with disabilities and special educational needs can be included in Indian classrooms. I am sure that in this regard our students in Bangalore will make a significant contribution to the support of their colleagues, and these new and enthusiastic researchers will provide data with which they can inform change.

Meeting with these three new research students this morning they described the journey upon which they are embarking as “exciting”, “scary”, “daunting”, and “challenging”. I am quite sure that all of these words are apt, but also convinced that in the near future they will be making a significant contribution to a growing body of research literature in India. We are fortunate in having these students here with us for a few weeks in Northampton and I am sure we are going to enjoy working alongside them in India over the coming years as they progress towards their doctorates. I look forward to reporting their progress over the years ahead.

A life to live long in the memory

 

 

Krishna Nath (1934 - 2015) activist, writer and scholar

Krishna Nath (1934 – 2015) activist, writer and scholar

 

I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility. (John Ruskin)

References to “great men” or “great thinkers” seem to be distributed quite liberally these days, and the attributes of greatness appear to have been diminished in an age of celebrity. Whilst I have been fortunate to meet many eminent scholars, writers and teachers during the course of my career, I have met very few to whom I might assign a title of greatness. However, I was greatly saddened during my recent visit to Bangalore to hear of the death of an individual who I first met in 2000 and was fortunate enough to spend time with on several subsequent occasions who certainly justified the much overused sobriquet “great man.”

Professor Krishna Nath, who was born in 1934 passed away a couple of weeks ago whilst staying with friends at the Valley School in Bangalore. Born into a family of freedom fighters who opposed British rule in India, Krishna Nath continued a heritage of dissent and protest throughout his life, often adopting the cause of Dalit and Tribal peoples who were oppressed and denied basic human rights. As a Satyagrahi he went to prison on thirteen occasions having taken non-violent action on behalf of people who had been subjected to demeaning actions by various authorities. By organising the occupation of Hindu temples by members of the disgracefully labelled “untouchable” castes, thus challenging the authority of a conservative and extreme leadership of that faith, he placed himself in direct opposition to powerful forces and paid the price with periods of incarceration. His actions attracted a number of critics and bitter opponents, but also won great respect from more liberally minded Indians and a wide range of politicians and intellectuals.

As a young man, Krishna Nath was politically active with the Samajwadi movement, campaigning on issues of social justice and equality, and deeply opposed to the dynastic politics of Congress and the inward looking approach of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Having seen the dawning of Indian independence in 1947, like many other idealists at the time, he quickly became disillusioned by the inability of successive Indian governments to provide greater stability and opportunity in the lives of the country’s poorer people.

It was not only for his work as a social activist that Krishna Nath was held in high esteem. Having spent much of his life studying the culture and traditions of the peoples of the Himalaya regions, he was regarded as one of the leading authorities in this area, and wrote a number of scholarly works that have informed an understanding of the region and its people. The World Buddhist Conference recently honoured him for his contribution towards Buddhist thought and culture. Sadly, very little of this work has been translated into English, though it is to be hoped that a suitable scholar might be found to undertake work that would be invaluable to those who would wish to understand more of the culture and history of this little known region. Perhaps the University of Varanasi, with which he was associated over many years may take on the responsibility of ensuring that his seminal work reaches a broader audience.

I was fortunate enough to engage in conversation with Krishna Nath on a few occasions when my visits to the verdant lands of the Valley School near Bangalore coincided with his. Listening to his profound thoughts on Gandhism, the state of Indian politics, the plight of Tibetan Buddhists and Buddhism, or on many aspects of Himalayan art, music or languages, one was soon aware of being in the presence of a true intellectual who had made an immense contribution to the life of his country. Amongst all of this, his apparent simplicity and humility stood out as a characteristic of a man who was more interested in his listener than in hearing his own voice.

Amongst all his intellectual prowess, there was a  very natural and often humorous side to Krishna Nath. I recall for example crossing a busy road in Bangalore with him on one occasion. By this time he was not terribly nimble on his feet and clearly did not enjoy the chaos of the traffic. Standing between hooting cars, lorries, motorcycles and auto rickshaws (not to mention an assortment of cattle) in the middle of the highway, Krishnaji turned to me and said:-

“Richard my friend, I always feel close to God when I am crossing the roads in Bangalore!”

I knew exactly what he meant and was grateful when we reached our destination in one piece.

On another occasion, leaving the dining hall at the Valley school, I was unable to locate my sandals that had been left outside the door prior to entry. Just as I was about to accuse the local monkey population of yet another theft, I heard Krishna Nath exclaiming that his feet had most certainly swollen as his sandals felt extremely tight! Gazing at his predicament I was soon able to solve the problem by locating his footwear and relieving him of my own.

I could have wished to have spent more time with a man who was a great scholar, and a tireless fighter of injustice and oppression. Listening to him speak I was acutely aware that every word he used was carefully measured and his statements weighed and considered before he proffered an opinion. His life was an example and an inspiration to all who came into contact with him. The Dalai Lama, and numerous Asian intellectuals considered Krishna Nath to be a friend and sound counsellor, and many have good cause to be thankful for his tireless campaigning on their behalf. The memories of the few occasions when I was able to sit and listen to him, are ones that I treasure, and I count myself fortunate to have known him.

Many of the recordings made of Krishna Nath Speaking are not available in English, despite the fact that he spoke the language fluently. This brief recording is one of the few to have English sub-titles and provides only limited insight into his great intellect

 

New beginnings

New students eager to lear

New students eager to learn

It seems hard to believe that yesterday we began teaching a fourth cohort of students on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme here in Bangalore. Twenty enthusiastic individuals gathered somewhat apprehensively at the Brindavan Education Trust in Jayanagar, all eager but understandably uncertain about the road ahead.

I never underestimate the tremendous sacrifices that many of our students make in order to study for a higher degree. In addition to making a financial commitment, they have to reorganise their home and working patterns in order to study, and often organise child care and make other arrangements to enable them to attend classes. In Bangalore this dedication to professional development is often intensified by the challenge of working, studying and writing in ways that may be considerably different from those experienced in an Indian context. I am full of admiration for the students who join us on this journey and look forward to working with this new group of twenty professionals. Today’s new students give us every reason to believe that they are going to be an excellent group and will progress steadily through the course.

DSC00104

As with any course of this nature it has taken many years to reach a point where we are confident of the sustainability of the work. Discussions about the possibilities of bringing a university accredited course to promote inclusive approaches to teaching and learning began as early as 2003, and it has required the determined endeavours of colleagues in Bangalore to succeed in this mission. The commitment of colleagues who have worked on course development, recruitment, the devising of curriculum content and the securing of India specific resources is a tribute to the vision that they have of creating a more just and inclusive society in India and beyond. Without their persistence, often against major obstacles, this exciting venture would never have been launched.

Last week we met with some of our students who graduated with their MA in Special and Inclusive Education in April. From the perspective of course tutors this was a reaffirming experience as they talked about the work they are doing now, and the ways in which they are applying learning from the course. Latha and Rekha talked passionately about their work in ensuring that the schools where they are principals adopt an inclusive approach, welcoming children with a wide range of needs and abilities. Champa described a new project in which she is engaged, working with street children and those who are homeless and rejected by their families. Four of our students, Pooja, Elsie, Sulata and Sumathi have developed their hunger for inquiry to the extent that they will be commencing studies towards a PhD with us over the next few weeks. Each of them is keen to pursue research that will make a difference to the lives of excluded or marginalised young people in India.

It is the stories told by our students that inspire us and encourage us to return and to find new ways of improving the MA course and challenging thinking about inclusive education. The memories of an informal discussion in the home of a friend in Jayanagar, and the subsequent efforts made by colleagues here in Bangalore to turn a dream into a reality are something to be valued. The professionalism of the tutors with whom I am fortunate to work on this programme will ensure that students continue to have a positive learning experience and that its future sustainability will be secured. I look forward with anticipation of another exciting day working with teachers and students today in Bangalore.

Disputation: an essential part of teaching and learning.

Teachers engaged in friendly debate and sometimes letting me express an opinion too!

Teachers engaged in friendly debate and sometimes letting me express an opinion too!

I enjoy working with groups of teachers. They are generally eager learners, keen participants in activities and tasks, and ready to discuss issues related to their practice or the lives of children. In India many of the teachers whom I meet thrive on debate and whenever I am engaged in sessions with them Amartya Sen’s entertaining and profound book “The Argumentative Indian” comes to mind.

Yesterday morning I worked with such a group of enthusiastic teachers in the HSR District of Bangalore (I’m not sure why it’s called HSR, perhaps someone could enlighten me?) As is often the case in these situations, the session started with a high level of decorum and a respectful silence that often makes me slightly uneasy. The reverential respect afforded to “The Sage on The Stage” (an expression I first heard here in Bangalore and have never encountered outside of India), is so different from what might be expected in a similar situation in Europe. I always feel that it is important to get a class of teachers or children actively involved in a lesson as soon as possible. Therefore, a few deliberately provocative statements (some of which I did not subscribe to myself) were used to encourage a more lively response. Once this was achieved I felt that the session was more truly under way.

As is typical of these school based professional development sessions here in India, it did not take long to reaffirm Sen’s belief that Indians love nothing more than disputation as a friendly, if somewhat heated debate emerged. I must confess to being the guilty party in having lit the fuse for this minor spat. In an attempt to provide an example of children who are currently being denied opportunities for appropriate schooling in India, I presented figures related to those of migrant families, many from the poorest states of India, such as Bihar who can often be seen on the building sites of Bangalore. Many of these children speak neither English or Kannada, and a significant number spend their lives moving from site to site, living in tented villages and never attending school. Within half a mile of the school where I was working I had passed just such a community and watched children making a playground from heaps of sand, cement and rubble as their parents began a day’s labour to lay drainage pipes. These children, I suggested, are trapped in a cycle of poverty, living in dangerous conditions, with little health care and excluded from much of society. Expanding my point and expressing an opinion I stated that whilst education alone could not solve the difficulties faced by these children, teachers and education administrators have some responsibility to ensure that they are included in the education system.

I found general consensus in the room, with nodding heads and affirmative expressions. Several teachers in the room made positive suggestions regarding the actions that could be taken to improve the lot of the children under consideration. However, it was the response from one young lady that took me a little by surprise and caused a certain friction in the room. Her theory was that by putting these children into formal education we may be raising their expectations and those of their families in a way that is unrealistic and destined to fail. Furthermore, might we be denying such children an opportunity to learn all of the life and survival skills they need, and which will hold them in good stead as they lead their future lives on the building sites of India?

I was not surprised that at this point a certain cacophony of objections were raised around the class as the sixteen gathered teachers expressed at least twenty opinions! Having decided that discretion was the better part of valour (or was it pure cowardice?) I was content at this time to adopt the role of an observer from the fringes and to let the argument run its course.

When the time seemed right (and I felt safe) to intervene. I drew the debate to a temporary halt, summarised what I felt to be the many facets of a complex issue and having expressed my own opinion about what I had heard, moved on with the session. However, I have been reflecting on this interesting discussion ever since its conclusion.

For those of us who seem to have been immersed in debating, researching and teaching about inclusion and children’s rights for a long time now, it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that we can reach consensus on the need to provide access to schooling. However, I do believe that the originator of today’s contestation did have some valid points to make. The life experiences of a child who lives on a building site must be considered and respected by those who would provide formal education. His or her culture and expectations and those of their family are likely to differ greatly from their peers. The ways in which we value these experiences will inevitably shape the ways in which children respond to teaching and learning.

Time was limited otherwise I would have welcomed an opportunity to discuss this issue with greater depth and breadth. The one conclusion that we did reach, and upon which we were all agreed, was that inclusion is far more about changing schools and teaching, and reshaping the ideas of educational policy makers, than it is about changing children.

 

Sharing learning with a wider world

We are always delighted when our students return to share their experience with current cohorts. When they share their learning with a wider audience we are thrilled!

We are always delighted when our students return to share their experience with current cohorts. When they share their learning with a wider audience we are thrilled!

Devising research questions is not as easy a task as it may sound. Yesterday on the MA programme here in Bangalore a group of enthusiastic students set about the task of identifying topics and research questions that will inform their dissertations. The dissertation is a major piece of work on the course, and for most it represents the largest volume of writing they have ever had to complete. You may then understand why there is always a little apprehension at this stage of the course.

Such mild anxieties, whilst understandable, will soon be overcome by this group of students who have remained focused and worked hard throughout the course, and have shown themselves more than equal to every task they have approached. I am confident that by the end of this week they will all have identified a clear set of questions that will inform their small-scale projects and lead to some interesting research.

One of the major challenges for students working on this course is the limited range of research literature available to them that has been conducted within an Indian context. Often they find themselves referring to European, Australasian or American literature and having to consider its appropriateness in terms of the socio-economic and cultural conditions that are found here in India. This is a challenge that they approach thoughtfully as reflected in much of their writing.

From the beginning, when we started the course with our first cohort we emphasised to our students that they had an opportunity to contribute significantly to the Indian literature in the field of special and inclusive education. I think at first they believed that papers in academic journals and chapters in books were written only by those working in universities with many years of experience. We have encouraged them to understand that there is in fact a huge gap in the literature related to the application of teaching and learning approaches for children from marginalised groups, including those with special educational needs and disabilities in India.

We recognise that not all of our students in Bangalore will want to embark upon a path of writing papers, submitting these to the rigour of the journal peer review process, with the inevitable possibility of rejection, and finding the time necessary for amendments and rewriting. But we have been greatly heartened by the response to our suggestion that they can indeed make an important contribution to the literature.

Over the next month, several of our students from our first cohort and one from the third will see their work in print in two different peer reviewed journals – Support for Learning, and Good Autism Practice. We are, or course, immensely proud of their achievements and this concrete evidence of their expertise and hard work. I am confident that many of our students will play a leading role in the promotion of inclusive practice here in India, and optimistic that we will see more of their research and writing in print in the near future.

Whilst the MA course here in Bangalore does not set out with an expectation that all students will become published researchers and authors in the field, it is good to think that others embarking on this journey will be able to refer to the literature generated by those who went before them. It may seem to many that their contribution to research and the literature is small, but every journey begins with a single step and these excellent students have in fact taken a giant stride.

Filling my lungs

“Sometimes all I need
Is the air that I breathe
And to love you”

Written by Albert Hammond and  Mike Hazlewood,  and performed by The Hollies

 

Taste that good, clean Northamptonshire country air!

Taste that good, clean Northamptonshire country air!

 

A few days away from this blog has been necessitated by events. Arriving home from India at the weekend, exhausted and afflicted with the all too familiar “Bangalore Bark,” (a persistent cough that seems to have the sole function of extracating two weeks of city gunge from my suffering respiratory system!), my priority was to catch up with my family, and seek some domestic tranquility. The greatest challenge of working away from home for extended periods is certainly being away from loved ones – skype is good, but it has its limitations.

Living in a location surrounded by fields and trees, one of the first things I inevitably notice and appreciate when returning home from working in traffic choked polluted cities, is the good clean air. It arrives in my lungs as a welcome tonic and has an immediate rejuvenating effect. If I could bottle the good clean Northamptonshire country air, and carry it with me on my travels, it would be well worth the cost of excess baggage.The relative quiet of the countryside, disturbed only by birdsong and the wind in the trees is certainly a boon, but it is the rich quality of the air that I appreciate most. Ten minutes of deep breathing in the garden can result in a most pleasant intoxication.

Back on familiar territory, I have the opportunity to reflect on the hospitality and friendship of colleagues and students with whom I have had the privilege to work over the past few weeks in Bangalore. Whilst their lives and experiences differ greatly from my own, we have engaged in a common purpose, and share in the same ambitions of creating improved learning opportunities for children and teachers. As has been the case on all my previous visits, I have returned home with new learning and continue to make slow progress towards understanding the complex challenges that my Indian friends face in their day to day teaching lives. Their persistence and determination to do well for their students, fills me with admiration.

I look forward to returning to Bangalore to work with these respected colleagues in September, and to sharing again in this educational journey. I wonder how much easier their work might be if they could breathe some of this lovely Northamptonshire air? I’ll take a can or two with me on my next trip!

Tempestuous teaching!

This may be exaggerating Johnson's teaching experience yesterday (with apologies to the actor Greg Hicks) but at times he certainly having to fight the elements.

This may be exaggerating Johnson’s teaching experience yesterday (with apologies to the actor Greg Hicks) but at times he was certainly having to fight the elements.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

                        (Shakespeare – King  Lear)

I had the better part of the day for teaching here in Bangalore yesterday. Spending the morning engaged in lively debate over various models of interpreting behaviour with an enthusiastic and reflective group of students. Biological, psychological and social models were discussed, with the various merits of each interpretation being related to children known to the group. Arguments about the applicability of teaching approaches were high on the agenda, and a profound discussion of attachment led to some high level critical thinking. Our students participated willingly in all of the activities we had prepared, questioned their own beliefs and those of others and postulated theories and ideas in relation to their various classroom situations. This was quite literally the calm before the storm.

After another delectable lunch, Johnson took the reins and began the afternoon session by showing a video-recording of a classroom in Kerala, in a Malayalam media school. His session was well prepared with a series of questions and tasks and he had been looking forward to a vibrant lesson. He could not possibly have anticipated exactly how exciting it would become. No sooner had he begun this process than the heavens opened and rains lashed against the windows of the classroom. I should perhaps explain that we teach on the fourth floor of a building with windows on all four sides of the room. It can be noisy on a quiet day – but this was not a quiet day!

Heavy rain is not unusual in Bangalore, but what then followed was unprecedented in our experience of teaching here. Within minutes sizeable hail stones were cracking against the glass, the wind had picked up to gale force, and the eucalyptus trees behind the screen being used by Johnson, were threatening to smash their way through the windows. Johnson continued manfully, with the determination of Captain Oates going forth into the teeth of the blizzard, he raised the volume of both the video and his voice in a determined effort not to be defeated. In response to Johnson’s strategy the tempest grew fiercer building into a crescendo of rage as if to spite his every effort.

As Johnson continued, we noticed water seeping through windows, and before long two willing ladies appeared up the stairs with cloths, mops and buckets and with great gusto began to address the deluge that was fast building around Johnson’s feet. As a small lake developed in the classroom, Johnson waded forth, set on his mission and not to be distracted. I must confess to seeing an element of the old silent movie comedies in the session as with the determination that befits a seasoned professional Johnson ploughed on with increased resolve.

Fortunately the video had been concluded when the power cut arrived, and as I would have expected, ignoring this adversity Johnson fought his way stoically to his conclusion. Bravo man, what a sterling effort! The students I am sure were as full of admiration for this intrepid performance as myself. Furthermore they maintained their high level of performance and continued to complete the tasks set with gusto.

One of the saddest features of yesterday’s furious storm was the number of mature trees we encountered felled across the roads of the city in the evening. Today’s Hindu newspaper reports that more than 90 trees came down. Travel became an arduous process, and what should have taken fifteen minutes involved a journey of more than an hour. I would like to think that these wonderful giants of the city would be replaced with new planting, but I suspect that this may not be the case, as too many motorists, – these are now the dominant species in Bangalore, – see trees as taking the valuable space that could be given over to tarmac and new potholes.

We are hoping for quieter weather today as students begin to consider the assessed elements of the module. However, just in case things deteriorate further we will be armed with buckets and sponges and plenty more of Johnson’s fortitude!

Appreciating context; a first step towards respectful teaching?

Come and visit my school. You'll have seen nothing quite like it in England.

Come and visit my school. You’ll have seen nothing quite like it in England.

I have always believed that in teaching an understanding of context is important. I think that to some extent this belief was instilled in me during my first year of teaching when I worked in a school located in a coal mining area of England. It was soon apparent that the life experiences of people in this community, and therefore the children in the school were very different from my own. If I was to work in this school, I needed to gain some understanding.

I still find it difficult to imagine the dangers faced by the men who went every day, miles underground to toil in the heat, noise and dust of the coal seams. Mine was a very comfortable life and profession by comparison to theirs. I soon came to appreciate that with mining came a distinct culture and pride, built upon a close knit community that experienced similar dangers, and had bonded through times of hardship, pit accidents, respiratory disease and a common identity. To be a miner was to wear a badge of honour, and those outside of the immediate pit community could not easily gain access. But alongside a shared adversity, the local miners amongst whom we briefly lived had forged a positive life through the miner’s welfare clubs, a significant commitment to charitable work, and the rightly acclaimed music of the brass bands, a well-respected feature of many British mining communities. I still find it difficult to watch Mark Herman’s film Brassed Off without the occasional tear coming to my eye.

If context is important in shaping  lives and attitudes within communities, then it is surely necessary that we as teachers try to gain an understanding of the experiences of those we teach. This is a major challenge for those of us who come from the UK to teach on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme in Bangalore. Whilst it is fair to say that having worked here over the past fifteen years I find that there is much that teachers in England and India have in common, and that I see similar aspirations for children in the families I meet, I am always conscious that there are phenomena here that I don’t fully understand. I am sure that a lifetime here as an outsider would not be enough to enable a full understanding of the complexities of this context.

The modules that we deliver here have been developed in close partnership with our Indian colleagues who work with us on this course. We have worked hard to ensure that each session is relevant to teachers working in Indian schools and have gathered resources and teaching materials developed by Indian teachers working in a range of schools in Bangalore and beyond. None the less there are still issues arise during teaching or the assessment of student’s work that require careful consideration, analysis and discussion with our Indian colleagues in order to ensure that we are able to fully interpret a range of situations.

I have become increasingly concerned that there are professional educators, many from well-respected universities who are working outside of their own countries with very little regard for local traditions, beliefs and culture. This came to mind yesterday as I read about the introduction of an assessment procedure, commonly used in western countries for the assessment classroom management procedures, to schools in a northern Indian state. No effort had been made to modify the instrument being used, or even to discuss its relevance with local teachers or education administrators. It would appear that an assumption was made that because this procedure had been developed by “experts” in school management in a distinguished institution, that it should be suitable for use anywhere in the world. I am reliably informed that the two academics who delivered training in the use of this assessment tool had not previously visited India, and had certainly not spent time in schools. I assume that someone in this north Indian state had paid for the services provided, and maybe too they are in part culpable for not investigating the appropriateness of the materials on offer.

The creation of cultural dissonance increases with globalisation, and the imposition of a set of values previously alien to those particularly in countries of socio-economic disadvantage, who are working hard to improve the lives of children may well be a future source of tension. Internationalisation in education brings with it great opportunities for shared learning and understanding, but the right conditions must be created in order to ensure that the advantages gained are of benefit to all parties. Establishing a partnership of equals and challenging imperialistic models of benefice is essential. Taking the time and effort to get to know something of a country, its culture, influences and the aspirations of its people should be a requirement of anyone embarking upon such work.