Tag Archive: Literacy


AMDG

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Eliot

A month ago I was in Bangalore looking for a couple of books. I stumbled across a second hand bookshop called ‘ Goobes Book Republic‘ on Church St Inn. It is a wonderful place – an Aladdin’s Den of books in a basement shop.  I was mooching and trying to restrain myself from buying too many books when I overheard the wise owner (pictured) trying to persuade a boy with his mum to start reading an Enid Blyton book.  The boy was doubtful – so the owner cut a deal – he could have the first book as a free loan and if he enjoyed it he had to come back within a week and tell the owner why.  The boy left the shop skipping with enthusiasm.  I was smitten with this book shop and the mission the owner had to get the children reading.

This year – because of my tertianship (like a renewal year) I have had the space and time to read more.  It has been a great joy rediscovering novels and books.  I now feel at least half an hour quietly reading in some corner or other has become indispensable.  It struck me that reading is an important contrast to the immediacy of the digital age.  Films, TV, The Internet seem to have become faster – hyperstimulating – a succession of rapidly changing images – and the danger is that there is no ‘breathing space’  or more importantly space left for your imagination to engage with what you are consuming.  With a book I find myself putting it to one side, thinking about something, mulling something else over.  It is refreshing and can increase your sense of well being tremendously. Along with this rediscovered passion I have found wonderful resources on the internet such as Goodreads, The Browser and BookCrossing.  In fact you can see my goodreads widgets to the left of this blog.

Literacy Rates around the world (wikipedia)

Here in Manvi – literacy rates are very low in the villages.  So as well as attempting to convince a first-generation how important schooling is, we are also trying to do so in the English Language.   For the poorest children from the remotest villages, they stay on site in hostels.   That means we get an extra few hours in the evening with them. At the moment that is ‘dead time’ i.e. after a day in class the children sit with their books open but not really doing any productive work.  So I am suggesting that we buy sets of comic books to improve their English. Good learning can also be fun and entertaining. So now, during the holiday, whilst the hostel is relatively empty,  we are trialing a few different types of comics to see which type are the most engaging and hold the attention of both girls and boys. Fingers crossed this could get the children into the habit of reading for enjoyment, thus expanding their worlds. A true gift if you come from a family who have been illiterate for generations.

AMDG

Great  contemporary Indian authors 

It is an arresting paradox of India – that its culture sustains one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the world, its engineers are valued and sought after, and it is becoming a dominant force in the IT sector, yet on the other hand there are more illiterate people in India that the whole of the population of the US.  I am helping train the teachers in the Pre-University-College here, we meet every day, I have been asking them questions about this paradox and what would they change about the system.  The answers ranged from better pay for teachers, reducing teacher absenteeism in government schools and a female teacher who said she would rigorously enforce the banning of child marriage and child labour.  This group of teachers has impressed me with their desire to learn, and I have shared with them teaching skills and professional practice from the UK.

Last week we discussed the findings of PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment).  Started by the OPEC countries, who realised that as education was so important for growing a future economy, they needed an independent ‘transnational’ way of checking how successful education systems are, and how they compare to other countries.  You can’t always trust national governments to give you an accurate and unbiased picture!  Data was gathered every three years as 15-year-olds’ take a series of pen and paper tests focusing on four areas. : Literacy in maths, reading and science and finally problem solving.  This international report is growing more and more influential in the field of education, South Korea performing best in the recent test, the UK and US slowly slipping down the table. India, not in OPEC, have resisted taken part – but eventually allowed two regions, Himachal Pradesh  and Tamil Nadu  to take preliminary tests.  They came below the mean scores in the tests but interesting scored high for language skills.

A recent report from PISA results suggested that there were roughly four stages countries would find themselves. At the first, basic stage, the challenge is to centralise learning, standardize curriculums and make sure everyone is using the same textbooks etc.  Then when this in place the second stage seems to be the use of reliable exam data to identify good schools and share good practice, The third stage, perhaps where the UK is at, is then to choose the best graduates for teaching, by increasing entry salaries and raising the status of the profession.  And the final stage, where East Asian and Scandanavian countries seem to be is the opposite of the first stage  – a radical de-centralisation and allow teachers more control over curriculum and teaching.  In my limited experience it seems that at least in rural India is making the transition from stage one to two.  One of the problems is the unreliability of  the public exam system. I have been told that in the cities it is different. However it seems as though corruption is endemic.  Copying in exams seems frequent, in some places the invigilators even encourage it. There are many leaks of papers, this year being no exception.  Papers are  frequently recalled and have to be sat again, putting extra pressure on the students. One girl committed suicide a few weeks ago.  There are attempts to come to grips with it – todays news is that the Common Entrance Tests are being delayed in Karnataka after exam rescheduling because of leaked papers and also boycotts from lecturers.  The delay allows an evaluation of exam scripts but puts even more pressure on students who have other exams for civil service, police and armed forces.

This is a shame because until the exams are better regulated then there is not enough reliable data to identify good practice in the consistently successful schools and share it, at least in the rural areas where 70% still live.  It is also give another example of why the Jesuit school and college here in Manvi are so important and are becoming flagships for good education in the region.

First Generation Students

AMDG

Many Dalit children are left to a life of illiteracy and looking after sheep or goats

Education is the key to unlocking poverty so it is fascinating to observe first hand the struggles and resistance in creating a culture of education in an area where until now there has been very little.  We take education for granted but here in Raichur District the literacy rates are the lowest in Karnataka State.  The impressive Indian Censusof 2011 (perhaps unique in the modern age for technological expertise in such a diverse country indicates that rural literacy rates in Karnataka have increased from 59% in 2001 to 68% in 2011  (with girls only 59% boys 78%).   Here in Raichur District – the literacy rate is still hovering around the 50% mark, which makes the Xavier High School and the Loyola College here so important.  But it is also a challenge educating so many students from families who have always been illiterate, as it is involves changing minds and hearts or parents and grandparents too.

The Jesuit High School - almost entirely for Dalits offers a way out and hope for the future

Today I have been preparing presentations to the students on basic hygiene.  This is very important particularly for our boarding students (400+).  They are all from very poor villages – and as such are used to a different way of life. This can create problems when we have so many living in a small space – the boarding hostel.  They need to live here so that we can ensure they attend classes every day and do not spend time in the fields grazing goats as their parents would ask.  They are all the first ones in their families to go to secondary school.  Many families still  live a subsistence life so it takes a while for them to understand and value the importance of education.  Most of the children are sponsored through excellent charities such as Supporting Dalit Children, but still every family must pay something towards the education  and living costs.  Yesterday morning it was very sad to see a group of children in tears outside the gates, because their parents had not paid their annual fees – after weeks and weeks of promising.  Each pays what they can – for some it is as low as 500 rupees a year (£7 or $10).  I was told that their parents are relying on the Jesuits to be  kind, but they are standing firm.  This is important as all must value their education.  Today most have come and paid what they promised.

Part of my preparations is to teach the children how to use a latrine toilet.  Many of them used to living in the small villages have always gone and squatted in the fields. With 4oo living together in the hostel this proves to be a health hazard but they are frightened of using the commode – so part of my presentation is to show them why this is important. Fr Rohan (the head of the school) suggested I show them the video below by Wilbur Sargunaraj who has been called the first Indian ‘You Tube’ sensation.  From Madurai, Tamil Nadu, he is famous for his music and instructional videos.  Through his songs and his videos he aims to promote cultural intelligence.  I showed the video to the college teachers I am training and they were laughing and cringing! It is true that is not a sophisticated image of India – but I find him very likeable and this video is interesting (as well as funny) because it shows the basic level of education that is needed – which those of us who are urban and literate take for granted.  It is worth noting that the video is meant for us foreigners on how to use an Eastern Latrine.

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