Reflections on state schools in England and India

by Kavita Anand
Executive Director, Adhyayan

I visited three state schools in England last month. In each of these, I met motivated leaders expertly managing their schools, with a sense of pride in their school’s accomplishments.

I saw bright, airy classrooms, beautifully decorated, painted, equipped, clean and furnished. And, great outdoor spaces for games and relaxation.

I observed trained, talented, creative and committed teachers, delivering well planned lessons based on the national curriculum.

I listened to busy children on task, discussing, enacting, drawing, reading, writing, calculating, thinking, figuring out…..

These schools are run by the government, for all children growing up in Britain. Just like we have Municipal schools for our children growing up in India. And the thought uppermost in my mind right through the visit was: “So why can’t we and how do we in India, do the same for our children?”.

If our government schools looked and behaved like these, would any child or parent want to access a private school?

What will it take to change the dismal apathy in the average government-run school, into a lively learning space that teachers create for children to thrive in?

Every meeting with government officials in India that I’ve attended in the last year, has highlighted the concern regarding the motivation of the teachers in government schools. Before we talk of injecting motivation into teachers, I wonder how we can first build the motivation of the functionaries of our government. Our administrators, managements and teacher trainers also need the motivation it takes to manage and administer our schools well and train our teachers to teach well.

The motivation to do something well flourishes in any culture that is desirous of and uncompromising on quality. I saw this in the schools I visited in England. The captain of the ship is the Head Teacher (known in India as the Principal or Head-Mistress). It is the Head Teacher’s mindfulness that ensures classrooms that are ‘fit for purpose’ or effectively equipped and appropriate for the age group they serve. This includes the awareness that the classrooms need also to be tasteful and attractive so the children come into a creative learning space that is inviting as well as challenging.

We can build this culture in a government run primary or secondary school in India if we want – all it needs is a determined set of leaders who get a lot of support and encouragement from all of us, and a sensitivity to and awareness of obstacles. This leadership is that of Principals and Heads – people at ground level – who are oriented toward and believe strongly that an educational space has to be pleasant and children are entitled to the best.

What should we do to transform spaces like these? All we actually need is:
• an annual coat of whitewash,
• moveable desks and chairs,
• fans and lights that work,
• a class library,
• some indigenous toys and games that enable informal interactions,
• softboards and staplers/pins,
• child friendly displays that attract their attention and provide learning opportunities even when a teacher is not at hand,
• cleaning material, brooms and dusters.

That appears to be simple till I realize it first requires the belief of our administrators that such expenditure is justified because such classrooms are absolutely necessary for learning to take place!

I believe that 12 years of being in such a space would at least result in the students experiencing and desiring the same cleanliness and attractiveness at home and in their environment. It is role modeling at its subliminal best. Wouldn’t you and I want our students to grow up wanting to live in beauty?

Let us join forces to convince education departments of State Governments that such classrooms are mandatory and actually get them!

The next question in my mind then is: How do we get a motivated Head-teacher like Jo here, in our Indian schools?

AND, what do we do to get teachers like with the sort of commitment I encountered in England?

What it takes! Coming next …!!

The author is the Executive Director of Adhyayan. She can be reached at ‘kavita dot anand at adhyayan dot asia’