Home > Education, India 2012 > Is It a School or an Empire?

Is It a School or an Empire?

“Kiran Sir” has been the head of The Galaxy Education System, including S.N. Kansagra School, for 35 years. His father founded it. I’m not sure how many students there are in the whole network of ~6 schools, but at SNK there are 7,000. And 700 teachers. The sports complex includes gyms, a swimming pool, a table tennis facility, a 10 meter rifle range, and 3 rooftop astroturf fields. All up to standards for international competition. The school itself is designed in a way that doesn’t seem as overwhelming as it sounds. Corridors bend around the courtyard in a hexagonal pattern, so you can’t see for miles in any direction. The furniture isn’t plush, but everything seems clean and functional–which is pretty rare in India.

One of the first things to know about an Indian school is the language of instruction. In this, as in most private schools, it’s English–at least theoretically. That doesn’t mean students are speaking English to each other or even using it consistently in class, but instruction, texts, and assessments are in English.

The government and parents face a terribly difficult choice about which “language medium” to choose for children.

On the one hand, children have a better chance of integrating their daily experience and their studies if they occur in the same language. Parental involvement in the school is also facilitated (at least theoretically) by the use of their language. On the other hand, fluency in English is seen as the key to success. In one quotation, English was called a synecdoche for intelligence and educational achievement: it is assumed that someone who speaks good English knows everything!

“Government” (or public) schools offer instruction in the mother tongue. In Bangalore, most of those schools would be “Karnataka medium,” and where there’s any concentration of children speaking a different mother tongue, small schools are established; we saw a Tamil elementary school for 40 children in an area of Bangalore with high immigration from southernmost India. In Rajkot the government schools are Gujarati medium. All of these schools teach English and Hindi as second languages. However, many parents want their children to learn English at any cost, and so there is a burgeoning market in private schools at every level of the economic spectrum.

The implications of India’s incredible linguistic diversity are only beginning to become clear to me. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I assume that India has most complex linguistic makeup of any country in the world. Please tell me if I’m wrong about that!

This week I’ll be back at SNK school on Monday and Wednesday, and I’ll be visiting two other schools in the Galaxy system on Tuesday. I can’t wait!

Categories: Education, India 2012
  1. Deborah Marion
    July 9, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Fascinating. I had no idea there were still countries in which anything remotely American (speaking of English here, although I know it’s spoken as a native language elsewhere) was popular! I know that doesn’t necessarily translate to Americans being popular, but still it goes a long way toward addressing my insecurity about “traveling while American.”

  2. Jordan Adair
    July 9, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Fascinating Tina. That’s some complex! I remember my first real contact with Indian educated students when I was in grad school at Northeastern getting an MA in English. Two of my classmates were from India and much of what you describe relating to education in India resonates with what I recall they told me (it has been many year, however, since those days). I’ll be interested to hear more about approaches to teaching as you tour more schools and classrooms.

  3. July 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Tina,
    I am living vicariously through you. Glad you re having such a great trip. my husband has never ending stories about his time in India, so I feel like I must go and experience it.
    I also went to a tech workshop this summer at Cary Academy. We should compare notes when we see each other.
    The theme of learning in a different language is fascinating to me. English is seen like this in Colombia as well, and there are power dynamics at play of course, so it makes the choice even more complex. I like to think in Ands more than in ors in this respect.
    for an entertaining read I recommend The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi. she went to writing school with Blake and then her novel was big. it is about a bi cultural marriage welsh Indian. she rewrote her parents love story.
    I am off to Colombia with Soledad on Friday for ten days.
    keep posting. Loved your picture with your daughter!

    • July 10, 2012 at 8:41 am

      Hi Constanza. Lovely to hear from you! I do hope you’ll look for an opportunity to get to India–and I hope I’ll be reading your blog when you do!
      Glad to know you took the tech workshop, by the way. I’m curious to hear about it.
      And thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve bought several but am trying to restrain myself so luggage doesn’t get too heavy. At some point I might buy a bunch and mail them back to the US.
      Happy travels in Columbia.

  4. Sheppy Vann
    July 10, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Thank you for posting your observations, Tina. It allows us to share your experiences though we can’t be there. Do you note any difference between boys and girls education or is it the same? Separate classes or co-ed? How about sports?

    • July 10, 2012 at 8:46 am

      Hi Sheppy. You raise some great questions that I’ve been wondering how to address. Girls and boys are often segregated for classes, though there’s plenty of casual interaction during free time at school. There are more boys in school generally, but I’m not sure of percentages. More disturbingly, there are significantly more boys than girls being born. Gujarat province, where Rajkot is located, is one of the worst in that regard: ~750 girls born for every 1000 boys. Infanticide and abortion based on gender are assumed to be the causes.

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