I am sure that tutors the world over who teach on post graduate degree courses would agree, that from fairly early on in the teaching process, some students stand out as potential candidates to study at doctoral level. Having taught on master’s level degree courses over a number of years, I can recall many occasions when I have had conversations with individuals regarding the possibility that they might further their studies, and continue whilst they had “study momentum”, to the next level. Whilst some respond positively, there are others who just wish to obtain their degrees and finish their studies after a prolonged period of self-sacrifice, and absence from their families, hobbies or other domestic arrangements. I fully appreciate this and would never coerce anyone into several more years of study unless they genuinely wanted to take this leap.
When working in England I have generally been delighted when a good and enthusiastic student expresses a desire to register for PhD. It is particularly heartening when they wish to do so because of the experiences they have had working on a course in which I have played a small part. There is no denying that I always feel an immense sense of pride when a few years later they walk onto a stage to receive their doctorates. However, when we started the MA in special and inclusive education programme in Bangalore, I had not really anticipated the level of interest that we might have here for doctoral level study.
I can honestly report that the quality of work we have received from students in our Bangalore cohorts has been very high. Their independence as researchers and their commitment to study has been exemplary. They respond positively to criticism and advice, and they have been a joy to teach. As our first cohort commenced work on research for their final dissertations some of them began to discuss amongst themselves the possibility of furthering their studies. This initial murmur eventually got louder until a few actually made the plunge to ask about continuing their development as researchers.
What motivates them to take this bold step to an even higher level of study I wonder? We are always honest with students about the significant endeavour that will be involved. In conversation with those who have now made a commitment and made applications for doctoral level study, it is evident that it is not the prospect of an academic career that has focused the minds of most, but rather a genuine desire to investigate aspects of their work, and the children and families they support. In so doing they hope to gain greater understanding of how the lives of others might be improved, and the ways in which the education services provided here in India can become more inclusive.
Having seen the level of motivation that characterises our Indian students, I find the prospect of working with some of them, as they hone their research skills and conduct empirical studies into aspects of inclusion, both exciting and daunting. Exciting because I know of their commitment and enthusiasm, and believe that they will produce studies of outstanding quality. Daunting because I know that I will need to be on my mettle to keep up with these consummate professionals, as they gain further in their confidence as researchers and thinkers.
Much that is good has emerged from the MA course here in Bangalore. The levels of learning have been high for students and tutors alike. We have evidence of new learning being applied in classrooms and changing the lives of children, families and teachers. We have developed networks, forged friendships and established collegial relationships that will endure and continue to impact upon professional lives. Building a community of researchers and practitioners here in South India, all of whom have the intention of moving the inclusive education agenda forward, should be reason enough to continue working with friends and colleagues in this part of the world. As one of our students stated at the recent graduation ceremony; “I see today not so much as the end of a period of study, but more of a new beginning for teachers and children.”
Amen to that!