What better way to celebrate Commonwealth Week. Not only do I get the chance to share our 'Global Citizen's in the Making' programme with new audiences but to do so while learning about the education practices of other Commonwealth countries.
I arrived Sunday lunchtime (9 March). You know life is hectic when you thoroughly enjoy an eight-hour long-haul flight! A driver from the hotel was waiting for me, smiling with my name on a card and he couldn’t have been nicer. As he drove me through the streets of Delhi, it was absolute madness; people carrying make shift stretchers, a herd of cows in the road and every car bumped! But I knew I was going to have an incredible experience.
On Monday and Tuesday I attended the International Conference ‘Education as a right across the levels: Challenges, Opportunities and Threats’, hosted by Jamia Millia University’s Education Department - New Delhi and UNESCO.
The conference was in celebration of the University’s 75th Anniversary, and it isn’t any old University Education Department. It was formed as part of an international movement asking “Why should [India's] social theories be based upon theories developed in 19th century Europe?” Why do they ask this? Because they understand India’s complex society and believe it’s time to generate a homegrown approach to education.
Here are some things that I learned during the conference and want to share...
There is massive regional, gender and social inequalities within education in India and the feeling is that teacher education plays an important part in social reform. Education is a means of public empowerment and educators in India recognise that the countries where education is compulsory - and where places into Higher Education are gained upon merit - are ruling the roost. And those countries who aren’t are suffering.
They asked: “How are we going to promote the belief amongst teachers that they can achieve?” The message back was that teacher education needs an overhaul. UNESCO state that India has the largest illiterate population in the World, and that there is incredible inequality in India and very limited upward mobility. Perceiving the problem not just to be the right to education, but the right to a quality education.
I also saw Dr Yukti Sharma from University of Delhi present on ‘Redefining Values: Education for Social Wellbeing.’ My interpretation of her work is that teaching often takes the form of teaching facts and concepts from a textbook. That we need to redefine values and teaching for social wellbeing, rather than just exam results. Values have a major impact upon behaviour and attitude and we need to integrate society by directing the goals of individuals.
Dr Sharma said the qualities you need to survive in India are foresight, authenticity, optimism, perseverance and persistence. I would like to ask: “What are the qualities required to survive in the UK?”
My trip is far from over but I have already learned so much. For one, I am going to keep in touch with the lovely and inspiring Professor Harjeet Kaur Bhatia (pictured above left), Teacher of Philosophy of Education and Technology at Jamia Millai University. Having recently moved to Scotland from England I recognise that Scotland does education incredibly well, and I want to share this with her.
I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting some local schools who are very keen to take part in our programme and to connect with partner schools in Scotland. Next week I will visit schools in Kolkata, Sri Lanka and Delhi and hosting a teacher CPD session in Delhi. All of the teachers are keen for a Scottish partner and it’s an absolute pleasure to be connecting Scotland to the Commonwealth!