नमस्ते Himalaya School

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In the last two weeks, I’ve probably had enough chai for several years – I think I’m averaging five cups a day. So with my chai-bloated belly, I bring you pictures from my time in Chaukori.

I usually ended up working with 4 classes each day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, for a total of 5-6 hours. I did various activities for the classes depending on their age. The younger children I taught rhymes and simple games – some in English, some in French, some in Spanish. Their teachers really liked this and were also interested in learning words in new languages. The younger kids loved playing Simon Says. For 11, 10, 9a, 9b, 8a, and 8b, I did some easy “philosophy” games. These games were difficult to design because each class has quite a range of ages in it; moreover, the attitude and energy levels of classes varied greatly between levels and from day to day. For one such game, in each class I let each student come up with one rule that the whole class would have to follow. Many of these ended up being very similar; some popular ones were: everyone must speak in English; everyone must have discipline; everyone must respect their elders; no making noise in class; wear proper clothing; keep the classroom clean.

Each class voted on what rule would be the best. 8a chose “Everyone should speak their thoughts and no ban on singing or dancing.” After they decided this, a few of them sang songs for the class. 8b chose “Respect the teacher” as their rule, and we talked about why this was a good rule and if there were other rules that might be better. 9a chose “Always be honest” but one of the final contenders was “Boys and girls should be treated equal,” and so we discussed this as well. A similar conversation occurred in 9b, where the rule chosen was “No discrimination between boys and girls.” Both 9 level classes had lively discussions about the role of girls in Indian society. The girls do not speak up in class, even when specifically prompted to do so. In 9b the boys even said that they were discriminated against as much as girls. I found that by provoking the boys to give their opinions, the girls would finally speak up to correct them and to defend themselves, especially when they realized I was on their side. It was a huge learning experience for me. It was also incredibly rewarding to have these discussions.

Girls are outnumbered in every class, and the teachers are all men (for the classes above nursery, 1st and 2nd). When I prompted them to discuss whether it was fair that girls couldn’t always wear pants or that they were expected to do all the cleaning, I could see the girls becoming bolder in arguing for themselves against the much louder and aggressive boys. They were all surprised to hear that in the US, more girls go to college than boys. At the end of my time with 9b, where the most lively discussions took place, each of the girls came up and asked for a hug. This is not a typical gesture, particularly in this conservative area of India. For them to be this outgoing from when I first met them was shocking and moving.

One of the big differences in the education here (compared to the US) seems to be a very study-based day. What I mean is that in the US we usually have classes and the teachers lecture, we take notes, or do group work, and so on. Here, most of the day they are sitting without much lecturing in their classroom doing their studies. “Science period” means they are sitting and studying science. “Sanskrit period” means they are sitting and working on their language. So it was definitely a challenge to get them to think independently and critically, instead of always giving the answers they think I want to hear. Even when I asked them to call me ‘Erin’ instead of ‘Ma’am’, it was clearly not something they were comfortable with.

Many classes also wanted to learn the games that students play in the US, so I taught them some games and they taught me some games. It was intimidating to work with classes alone for these times – as the boys greatly outnumber the girls, things often get rowdy and it was hard to keep control of a 30-strong group.

With the 9 level classes I had twice as long, and so I did a more complicated collective action vs self-interest game. Much of this was quite boring to them, but I think they got the general idea. I had a lot of fun teaching 10, 11, and 12 levels German or Spanish (I let each class chose what language). They were very eager to learn the new language, and so the deal we made is that what I teach them, they would then use when we are speaking. Because it is customary that they say “good morning, ma’am” “good afternoon, ma’am” etc whenever I see them, I taught them to say these things in German or Spanish, and they are expected to address me in that language. They had a lot of fun with it, and learned enough to say hello, introduce themselves, and ask how I am. It’s good practice for me, too – I have to brush up on my vocabulary, because they often asked to learn how to say some pretty random things. In exchange, they taught me some very simple Hindi, though I still cannot read Sanskrit.

Some of my most rewarding moments were outside of class. One girl in 10th level named Manju and I became quite close. She, her sister, and a friend often came to my room in the evenings and we discussed cultural things and girl things and sometimes they asked me to help them with their pronunciation and teach them slang (they are now armed with the horrific sentence that is “Some homies are coming to my crib” because I’m actually that much of a loser and couldn’t think of anything else off the top of my head… I made a list and taught them some better ones after that first tragedy).



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