Hello from India! These past few weeks have flown by and I am finally beginning to feel somewhat settled here in the bustling, ever-vibrant city of Hyderabad. My first official duty included site visits out to five of the six schools that the Rural Development Foundation (RDF) operates. This was my first ever in-depth taste of rural India, and I was excited to get a sense of the lifestyles of these students, especially the impact an RDF education is making on their lives. The multi-school tour began with Kalleda, the flagship school established in 1996; which, having been established first, has received the most funding, resources, and attention of all the schools.
I was thoroughly impressed by the work RDF is doing. Just by observing Kalledaâ€™s morning assembly, it was evident that these students were respectful, brilliant, and focused. Each student was getting a full dayâ€™s education in many subjects, along with exposure to cultural activities, social awareness programs, sports ranging from karate to archery, career counseling and many other programs. Discrepancies existed in infrastructure and resources between the earlier established schools and the later ones, but it was clear that with more funding, the RDF vision of providing quality education to rural children could be accomplished at all of the schools.
The main issue that was slightly disheartening was that many of the students were less confident around me because of a sense of inferiority for not knowing how to speak English. Thankfully, RDF is not only in the process of switching to English Medium curriculum, but also trying to break down these societal notions that their own culture and language is any inferior to others by providing youth empowerment programs and leadership opportunities. I left the villages feeling invigorated, ready to go to bat for these schools and help provide as much funding, partnerships and beneficial opportunities as possible.
A few days upon my return to Hyderabad, I was invited to a conference run by Gray Matters Capital that featured several thought leaders speaking about the implications of the Right to Education Act, a recent piece of federal legislation passed in India that claims the fundamental right for every child (age 6 to 14) to receive a free and compulsory education. The bill further requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. It also sets infrastructural, curriculum, and employment standards for schools to be formally â€˜recognizedâ€™ by each state. There was some lively debate amongst the speakers and audience members (mainly leadership from private schools within the area) on the implications, both positive and negative that this bill would bring about.
Despite that, it was clear that all parties in the room were committed to improving the quality of education that schools throughout the state and even the country should provide. One particular speaker gave a personal anecdote about being disappointed in the math curriculum of his daughterâ€™s school (a top-notch school in the area) when she was unable to accurately produce the Greatest Common Factor (GCF) of two numbers due to a lack of clear explanation from her teacher. I had experienced similar frustrations sitting in some of the RDF classrooms and was curious to find out the discrepancies in the quality of curriculum from one of the best rural schools in Andhra Pradesh state to a competitive urban school in Hyderabad.
I was given my chance this week when I visited an RDF Partner school named Silver Oaks, an international school that runs on an English medium curriculum set at the national level (as opposed to the RDF Telugu medium schools with state-based curricula). Similar to the RDF Kalleda school, Silver Oaks teaches students from nursery (kindergarten) through high school. The differences, though, were clear immediately upon setting foot on campus. The four-story high school building alone, equipped with state of the art computer labs, cafeteria, dance and yoga rooms, to name a few, was extremely impressive.
After sitting in on the classes, however, I was surprised at what struck me the most. I had been expecting to focus most on differences in curricula but it was clear that how it manifested was in the behavior and confidence of the students themselves. And MY, were these Silver Oaks student confident! Not only were they quick to share about themselves and their lives, but also their career aspirations (which varied from cricketer to anthropologist). It was very clear that fluidity around the English language was the largest contributing factor in this confidence and it suddenly hit me that the greatest gift RDF can continue to provide its students is confidence! Confidence in themselves, in their backgrounds, and in their beautiful language Telugu. I realized that the Greatest Common Factor between RDF, Silver Oaks, and all education activists is but ONE: to give each and every child the opportunity to believe in herself and her dreams. Hopefully, with my time here, I can help RDF provide such opportunities to its students.