Monday, July 11, 2011

An outsider's perspective

A British teacher learns about teaching methods and the abilities of students at Rajagiri Public school, and compares them with his students

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a presentation by a group of Class nine students of Rajagiri Public school, Kochi, Eugene Collins, a teacher of Stanmore College in London was taken aback by how articulate the students were. “It was remarkable,” he says. The students spoke about the recent Arab uprising, and the situation in Burma. “I was impressed by the level of research that they had undertaken,” he says. “The presentation style was very effective.”

Collins wants his students in London to have the same interest in international issues. “They find it difficult to think about life outside of London,” he says. “One of my aims is to expand their understanding of the world.”

Collins is in Kochi as part of the Global School Partnerships programme, funded by the UK Aid from the Department for International Development. The project enables teachers and students in the United Kingdom to learn about global issues, in partnership with schools in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

In India, the Rajagiri Public School has been selected. But it is an exploratory trip for Collins, who is working closely with English teachers, Ruby Antony and Parimal Paul, on how to set up a viable programme.

“The initial aim is to develop an international ethos among the students in London and Kochi,” says Ruby. “We felt that human rights can be a common subject.”

The students in London will be working with refugees who come to Britain. They include people from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. “The youngsters will befriend a refugee who is of a similar age and help them to access educational facilities and social welfare,” says Collins.

In Kochi, Ruby will enable her students to focus on gender issues, poverty, and the caste system. “Later, a student exchange programme will take place,” she says. “The aim is to break down the misconceptions among the Indians and the British.”

Some of the misconceptions are on expected lines. “My students, a mix of Indians, West Indians and whites, know about Bollywood,” says Collins. “They have seen the film, 'Slumdog Millionaire'. Not surprisingly, their impression of India is that it is a poor and backward country. I want to make them understand that India is a growing economic power and progressing very rapidly.”

Meanwhile, students in Rajagiri think that London is a big and developed city with shiny buildings. “The reality is that there is terrible poverty in London,” says Collins. “Our city is not just about the royal family or the Buckingham Palace. The economy is in bad shape, so life is tough. Recently, the teachers went on strike nation-wide because of changes in the pension shame. So, there are misconceptions on both sides.”

Meanwhile, as Collins wandered around the Rajagiri campus, interacting with teachers and students, he noticed that the teaching styles were different. “In India the relationship between the student and the teacher is very formal,” he says. “The teacher talks and the students listen. In my school, it is much more interactive. The students learn, by doing, rather than memorising. The students here treat their teachers with a lot of deference, and it is very lovely to see this. In London, students call the teacher by the first name. They don't wear uniforms. But, I guess, each country has its own way.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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