Tag Archives: learning

EdTech Trends Post COVID

COVID-19 has posed a major learning issue to students, parents, and educators. In the face of a sudden paradigm shift, online learning now finds itself at the forefront of mainstream learning. For the first time, students everywhere are completely dependent on digital methods to fulfill their daily learning needs. 

“The pandemic has become an inflection point for education, and you can see this in how different stakeholders have responded to the crisis. A majority of educational institutes are conducting their classes online, parents are encouraging their children to learn from a screen, and students themselves are experimenting with new methods of learning from home. While I don’t expect things to remain 100% online or even 100% offline on the other side of the pandemic, I believe certain aspects of the ‘new normal’ will make their way into the ‘Classrooms of Tomorrow,” says Divya Gokulnath, co-founder and teacher of BYJU’S.

Few trends we will see post the pandemic:

  1. Blended learning will be the new normal: In the post-corona era, we will witness the rise of a blended form of education, with seamless integration of the best of both online and offline learning. The proliferation of smart devices coupled with the democratization of the internet will fasten this process. With teachers now understanding the advantages of online learning tools, we will see tech-enabled learning gain importance even in a classroom setting. The ‘Classrooms of Tomorrow’ will have technology at its core, empowering students to cross over from passive to active learning. The future will see us take a leap from the traditional one-to-many approach to blended one-on-one learning experiences, providing students the best of both physical and digital worlds.
  2. Interactivity will take center stage: Given the prolonged exposure to online learning tools during this period, engagement and interactivity will emerge as a priority for students, parents and teachers. Newer dimensions to quizzes, interactive games, story-based Q&As, engaging lessons that strengthen concepts, will see greater inclusion and adoption. 
  3. Personalization will be the need of the hour: Students are looking for learning solutions customized to their own style and pace and a majority of innovation will be geared towards making personalization as effective as possible. Data and analytics will play a major role in making this a reality. Virtual mentoring for personal guidance and tutoring will also emerge as a key service.
  4. Early learning will become more innovative: As the importance of formative learning and early conceptual understanding gains more acceptance, we will see a lot more innovation in products, tools, and ideas to help young children get learning right from the beginning. From storified concepts to their favorite cartoon characters playing teachers, kids will experience a highly engaging form of learning from their early years
  5. Vernacular learning will gain importance: As internet penetration and smart device adoption continue to increase across India, learning will become more customized. To cater to the huge student population outside metros, learning programs will be effectively created and delivered in all key vernacular languages. 
  6. Digital learning tools will see greater adoption from teachers: The on-going pandemic has caused teachers to become digitally empowered. Even teachers who were hesitant to adopt digital tools are now using them in different capacities. This has enabled them to see the advantages of digital learning. Because of better awareness, the coming year will see teachers/educators increasingly adopt tech-enabled learning tools to support their students’ learning needs. This could be in a classroom or in an after-school learning setup.

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 

11th Grader Starts Free Virtual Tutoring Service

From all over the Bay Area, students have stepped up to the plate to aid their communities amid the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s the story of a Mountain View student who decided to help the people he knew best – students. Kanav Mittal, a rising senior at the Saint Francis High School, started Free Virtual Tutoring. True to its name, this youth nonprofit organization provides Zoom classes to students of all ages. Since its humble beginnings, Free Virtual Tutoring has established a clientele of 40 students, with 20 math and computer science classes. We had a chat with Kanav to understand FVT’s unique journey over the past few months.

IC: What prompted you to start FVT? While there are a plethora of tutoring services in our area, few offer free classes. Why (and how) do you teach at no charge? 

K: A couple of weeks after schools shut down in response to COVID-19, I read some Nextdoor posts from parents who were frustrated at how the school district was handling their students’ learning. Elementary-schoolers seemed to be the worst affected, as it is quite difficult to transition to online learning at such a young age. Knowing that many elementary schoolers were struggling and falling behind, I wanted to help, so I contacted my friend with an idea for a free virtual tutoring service. Free Virtual Tutoring was born.

We teach at no charge because we want our service to be accessible to everyone during these times of crisis. We want any student struggling with the burden of school closures and catching up in schoolwork to be able to come to us and seek help, and we don’t believe that money should be a barrier to this. 

IC: What is your teaching philosophy? How do you structure classes and curriculum? 

K: Our teaching philosophy is to build relationships with the students and teach concepts in a fun, engaging, and interactive way that takes advantage of these relationships. Why do we focus so much on relationships? Partly because many students, including us high schoolers but especially elementary schoolers, may be feeling isolated during this time. We hope that through Free Virtual Tutoring, not only can we support students academically but we can also support them emotionally by just being there to help them and by trying to connect with them.

Our classes, which are one hour long, consist of presentations, lots of practice problems, and a fun Kahoot! to wrap it up and review. Throughout our classes, we always try to relate to the students, putting in funny memes or cracking jokes that get students excited about learning. Interactive discussions and practice times during the classes allow us to engage the students more deeply in the concepts.

While creating the curriculum, we look at our old workbooks and consult our younger siblings for advice, some of whom have just finished up elementary school. We can also draw on our own memories – elementary school was not that long ago! Our curriculum is based on reviewing concepts taught in school and introducing more advanced topics to prepare students for the next step in their academic careers.

IC: What challenges did you face in founding FVT? Was it easy to build a consistent clientele? 

K: At first, it was quite challenging to figure out a system for how we would offer classes. What times? How would they be structured? How would they be conducted? Nevertheless, these questions were naturally resolved as we went through our first few weeks and became more skilled at running classes.

Another major challenge that we faced was outreach. As our team is just high school students, many times people do not take us seriously. To compound this, when it’s free, people often don’t believe in the quality. Therefore, it has been difficult to conduct successful outreach efforts and tell more students about our service. However, after receiving excellent testimonials from parents, and after parents have told their friends about our service, we have received many more signups!

Speaking of outreach, it was not easy to build a consistent clientele at all! Again, people would often not take us seriously. However, through our unflagging dedication to students’ learning and wellbeing, we have been able to build a group of students who consistently come. Since we see these students every weekend, we have basically become friends with them! 

IC: Your group teaches students from different age groups and learning capacities. How do navigate this kind of diversity, and make the material accessible for all? 

K: In each class, we have a minimum of two tutors, so while one tutor is presenting, another tutor is available to answer any questions via Zoom chat from the students. If a student is having a hard time on a concept, they can chat with our other tutor, who can work with them individually. On the other hand, if a student finds a concept too easy, our tutors can provide them with challenge problems to keep their minds stimulated.

Our individual drop-in help time is a great time when any student of any age group in K-8 or any learning capacity can come in to seek help. Just like during meetings, we not only can help students who have trouble understanding concepts but also help students who are looking for more challenging work. 

We also share all our materials with the parents afterward so that they can work on it with their children. We create worksheets that have dozens of problems with varying difficulty so that students of different age groups and learning capacities can all practice their skills. 

IC: According to your website, your tutors primarily focus on subjects such as computer science and mathematics. Are you planning on branching out into more fields? If so, which subjects can we expect to see offered at FVT? 

K: Yes! We are planning on branching out into more fields. We soon plan to begin advanced math classes (problem solving i.e. competition math) and advanced CS classes (Python). Perhaps in the future, we are looking into adding world language classes (Spanish and Chinese) and public speaking classes. The world language classes would focus on conversational skills to prepare students for middle-school and high-school level world language. Finally, we are very open to suggestions for new classes from parents and students.

We also offer individual drop-in help time, when we can help in almost any subject. These subjects have ranged from Spanish and writing lessons to learning how to play the game Roblox!

IC: With the coming academic year, schools are considering many possibilities in terms of teaching styles, attendance, etc. What are your thoughts on another year of distance learning? Should schools in the Bay Area open their doors? 

K: Obviously, distance learning has its disadvantages. From personal experience, I preferred in-person learning much more than distance learning. In-person learning allows for a deeper understanding of concepts through the face-to-face interaction students have with teachers – something that is difficult to replicate in distance learning.

Nevertheless, I feel that distance learning can improve. Most of the systems put in place by school systems from March onwards are likely going to be improved during the summer, as officials discuss how to best structure another potential year of distance/hybrid learning. 

Schools in the Bay Area should only open their doors if it is safe to do so, whether through a fully in-person or hybrid model. We must prioritize the health of everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IC: Do you have any advice for students who are trying to adjust to a virtual learning system? 

K: It is essential to stay organized. If your school does not have a designated schedule for classes, make one yourself, and do your work in the assigned time slots for each subject. 

One of the best things about in-person learning is the relationships you build with friends and classmates, so keep that going in a virtual learning system! Email or text them, or video call them to work on a project. It’s super important to stay in touch with your friends during virtual learning.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek help. We’re living in crazy times, and virtual learning is no exception. So, if you need any assistance in your schoolwork or in life in general, don’t hesitate to ask your teacher or parent, or you can come to us by signing up at freevirtualtutoring.org!

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. 

Students of Color Take a Playground Slide From Schools to Prisons

Public education needs to be at the core of the Revolution.

Understanding the function of hegemony is critical in identifying why public education in the United States is the key factor in revolutionizing ideology and challenging power structures. The concept of hegemony as an enforcer of the oppressive condition is explained best by the metaphor of a ripple effect in the water after a single drop. While moving solitarily, a single drop of liquid into a larger pool creates a succession of rings around it. Liquid large distances away, echo from the agitation of the single drop at the epicenter.

Consider interpersonal racism. One is taught biased and discriminatory ideas (often at young and formidable age) about anti-blackness, which then becomes cemented in ideology through experience, choice of social circles, and participation in the capitalist economy (jobs, buying/selling goods, etc). While beliefs and bias socially may impact the narratives one is exposed to, with the addition of the institution, those beliefs become rooted in power structures of politics, ultimately reinforcing them into tangible and measurable oppressive actions intersecting with gender, sexuality, class, ability, religion, and age. This is how a concept or thought of otherness, or anti-blackness, transposes into a ripple that now is rooted in the environment. This practice, often measured through economic means (part of the problem because we center conversations around capital and not humanity), shows a clear institutional racial bias that has rippled into every industry of our society (military, health care, sports, education, etc).

As someone who has dabbled in many areas of community organizing, I realized my calling was with the youth. I know, without a doubt, that my purpose on this earth is to work with and give space for youth to validate themselves. Working within the system is a concept many have discussed. To fix something within implies you have the power to flip a structure rooted in hundreds of years of oppression. As a 21-year-old, I was naive. I was a public school teacher at a  “low income” school with a majority being students of color, for 10 years. I taught 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade. I know for a fact that I was able to spark ideas, shift thought, and validate hundreds of students over the years. But did I change anything from within? Did I fix the cog in the gears that weren’t working properly?

No. Instead, it broke me, and many others with bodies and minds like mine.

I’d argue too that after gaining all of my experience and this knowledge that there isn’t any validity in attempting to “change” or “fix” something from the inside. Especially when schools are the core of the perpetuated hate. It’s 2020 and several people were hanged from trees in California. Nothing has changed, because the schools haven’t changed. They are functioning exactly as intended, and it’s working. People are dying.

ASHA educating through poetry.

My story is not dissimilar to others. I could reach kids in ways that others couldn’t, and students found safety in my classroom regardless of enrollment. I taught histories that exposed institutional bias, we held space for healing, and students developed agency in a matter of months. Each year the impact of my teaching improved as I focused on my craft, but so did the impact of how the district targeted and abused me.

And without the support and allyship, the mission to “change the system from within” just isn’t sustainable.

My career started by just doing my own thing in my four walls. I would literally close the door, turn the blinds, and talk to the kids with authenticity and honesty. They saw me for that too. Even young students knew I was treating them with more respect than education had ever provided and that felt affirming to them. They knew they could take risks with me. Then I was challenged by a coworker to expand my practice and offer to train others, allow peer observations, and train the staff, because then the impact becomes exponential. I was certified through Teaching Tolerance and did several trainings when admin found it useful for their public relations. Even though there was occasional push back, I felt like I was doing good work.

Slowly the admin write-ups and reprimands began to add up. Essentially the “radical” work I was doing at the elementary level validating students’ identities was “not age appropriate”. I was being pushed out. Because I didn’t want to continue to fight against my admin, I decided to move up to the middle school level in the same district. Since I taught 5th grade at the time, that meant following my students to middle school. I was so excited to continue to do the work and build, and now, I had confidence that I could start on some institutional practices as well.

The first year there was amazing. I facilitated several trainings both at my site and regionally, including one for administrators on restorative practices. I felt validated and affirmed. But with a change of administration brought a change in leadership ideology and now, the new mission of the person in power was to cut off my mic. They immediately let me know that the path I was on was not going to continue. I fought. Hard. Union. Grievance. All of it. I won, too. But I didn’t realize the toll it took on my mental health and that the road was only going to get harder.

The year after, I watched student after student be criminalized, marginalized, suspended and expelled, and some, locked up. The same students who had found refuge with me for a decade. I stopped having anything positive to say to them. How could I tell them it was going to get better? I realized very suddenly, it wasn’t. Then, the district really waged war against me when I spoke out, and sought media attention, because atrocities against students were being ignored. They isolated me, silenced me, and removed me from the one thing that reassured me of my purpose, my time with students.

Speaking out against police abuse on a school campus was like trying to call the cops on the cops. Participation in the public education system requires complicity in causing harm against the most vulnerable. Teachers of color become sacrificial to the cause of supporting youth of color as they navigate the system themselves. It’s just not sustainable.

The concept to describe the relationship between the success of students of color in schools and the prison industrial complex is the school to prison pipeline. However, in 2020, it has undoubtedly turned into a playground slide. The increase of police presence in schools whether as an SRO, community partnership, or some fake notion of safety like with the “Safe Schools” program, has exponentially increased the rate at which students of color are criminalized. The pipeline has been shortened into the slide and even painted a bright color to attract youth. Any teachers that stand in the way are subject to severe injury.

Defund and dismantle the police. Abolish prisons. Abolish ICE. But honestly, without a complete overhaul of teacher staff, redlining, curriculum, anti-racist training, restorative practices, school design, libraries, and community resources, the single drop of racism will continue to ripple throughout society; through friendships all the way to board rooms. If we don’t directly focus on rebuilding public education in the United States, none of this will change.

In Hindi meaning hope and Swahili meaning life, ASHA is an Artist, Educator, and Revolutionary. Through her decade of teaching, performing poetry, and speaking at community events, Asha consistently uses her platform to voice out against injustice and to speak up for those who have been marginalized and silenced for centuries.

Environmentalism Through Kid’s Kathas

Living in the world that all of us do today, it goes without saying that children across the spectrum need to read books that create awareness surrounding the environment and its inhabitants. 

When I think of an Indian publishing house for children, the name that first comes to mind is Katha. What sets Katha’s books apart from others is that it is known for facilitating learning through the power of storytelling. Storytelling is a beautiful way to address some of the most pertinent issues related to the environment and climate change, and the 32-year-old publishing house has time and again called for attention towards our planet through this distinctive approach, in books such as Tigers Forever!, The Mysteries Of Migration, and Polar Bear

Books that Make You Fall in Love with Nature

Sonam’s Ladakh

One of the most effective ways of getting children to care about the environment is to simply help them fall in love with it. Some of Katha’s older books instill a love for nature with their stories and themes. Each of their books has a varied message: In Run Ranga! Run!, one gets to explore the grasslands with the fearless baby rhinoceros who needs a friend; Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah and Walk the Grasslands with Takuri are tours of rainforests and grasslands with a hornbill and an elephant, respectively; On the Tip of a Pin Was… uncovers the science behind wormholes; The Gift of Gold is a mythical story from South African folklore is about a little girl who saves her village from drought. 

Manish Lakhani’s Sonam’s Ladakh tells a story through exquisite photography about a girl belonging to the semi-nomadic Changpa tribe, wandering shepherds in Ladakh. Young Sonam informs readers about animals in the Ladakh region that are her closest friends and “better than boxes of money”. She mentions goats, dogs, her father’s pashmina herds of sheep, and yaks that help grow food and whose wool make their tents. She also points out other animals in the region—the rare Eurasian otters, horses, and Himalayan wolves. The story that is bound to fascinate most children with its sheer novelty and imagery. The books ends with a section that discusses Ladakh’s many glaciers that are gradually melting due to the earth’s global warming, increasing pollution levels and the cutting of trees. The questions posed are aimed at making children think of ways in which all of us in our own way can contribute to caring for the environment.

Keeping it Simple

In a world filled with an overwhelming amount of information on environmental degradation, young children are most likely to gain sensitivity about the situation most through personal experience. Katha’s books have constantly aimed at bringing out simple storylines with characters that relate to most children.

In Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?, Geeta Dharmarajan explores a mother’s obsession with her potted plants kept in her verandah. When her plants start mysteriously wilting and drooping, her husband researches the subject of how to keep them happy, leading him to attempt re-potting them. What follows is a comical saga, however, the key message has been surreptitiously slipped in—that the roots of plants get tangled up when their pots become too small for them.  

More recently, in The Mystery of the Missing Soap, Tobakachi, the wicked Asura and GermaAsura, along with their Coronavirus Army, make soap disappear in Dakshinapur, one of the happiest villages in the country. By tricking people in this way, they ensure that no one washes their hands, which makes them all very sick. That is until the helpful elephant, Tamasha and the fearless girl, Lachmi, show everyone how to make soap in order to win the battle against the Virus Army. The story, beautifully illustrated by Suddhasattwa Basu and Charbak Dipta, is followed by a simple recipe for making soap at home using reetha berries. By explaining the importance of washing one’s hands in order to prevent coronavirus, the book then dives into Katha’s famous “TADAA” (Think, Ask questions, Discuss, Act, and Take Action for the community) section which details what coronavirus actually is and what one can do to prevent oneself from getting it.

Big Ideas with a Heart

After getting kids to fall in love with nature through simple stories—and hence, getting them to care for the environment—the next step is to focus on concepts that help them think about pressing environmental issues that are affecting the world. Every narrative in Katha’s books is filled with common themes—or what the publisher likes to call ‘big ideas’. For instance, all of Katha’s environment books have recurring themes such as empathy, affection, kindness, collective action, and cues to switch to alternative eco-friendly habits.

Ma Ganga and the Razai Box weaves environmental concerns like pollution, soil erosion, and desertification with mythology. The Magical Raindrop humanizes and gives emotions to Mother Earth, formulating her character in a way that the readers feel she’s a person who feels happiness, sadness, anxiety, and joy just like all of us. Katha’s Thinkbook Series has been designed in a way to introduce young readers to big ideas such as “climate change, gender, and kindness through stories that inspire, aspire, and engage.” 

Educating through Stories

Katha’s founder, Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan, is an award-winning writer, editor, and educator. Her published works alone include more than 30 children’s books, many of which are Katha publications. Needless to say, environmental issues are very close to her heart. She is credited for having created Katha’s unique concept of StoryPedagogy, which combines India’s oral traditions and the 2,000-year-old Sanskrit text on the performing arts, Natya Shastra; an idea that she has seamlessly integrated with an earth-friendly curriculum.

While the stories get children to empathize with the characters and their situation—and thus, understand and imbibe an environmental concept—Katha’s final goal is to make children think deeper and take initiatives to act and make a difference. The insightful exercises that appear at the end of each book are created using the SPICE model (Student-centred, Problem-based, Integrated, Community-based, Electives, Systematic) as well as observations, teachers’ feedback, and research among children in the Katha Lab School.

Katha Lab School is a model and a center of creativity for the slum cluster of Govindpuri in New Delhi. Thus, Katha takes the storytelling approach a step further beyond its books too. The Katha Lab School, for instance, uses no traditional textbooks or a one-size-fits-all syllabus. Instead, its system of education is based on StoryPedagogy, a technique that is delivered through Active Story-Based Learning, which helps children to learn language, science, and mathematics, while developing general awareness and critical thinking skills through various stories and activities.

Katha’s StoryPedagogy is the new age of education – one that we can all benefit from adopting.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Ajjibaichi Shaala: Let’s Go to Grandmother’s School!

“With a roar, rise, and fight for your right to education.

Breaking the chains of tradition, go get an education.”

– Savitribai Phule

India’s first school for girls was started in Pune, Maharashtra, by Savitribai Phule – a woman who spearheaded the movement for female education in India.  Almost two centuries later, the flame continues to burn bright in Maharashtra, as a new institution, the first of its kind, is set up. A school that Kantabai More, at the age of 74, can proudly say she attends twice a week. Where she gets scolded for not finishing her homework by her teacher, Sheetal More, who also happens to be her daughter-in-law. A school where all her peers are of her age. A school for the ajjis (grandmothers) of Fangane, a village in Maharashtra.

On March 8th, 2016, International Women’s Day, the Ajjibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers’ School), was set up in Fangane at the demand of the ajjis. “

The idea for Ajjibaichi Shaala came to me in Feb 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” says the founder Yogendra Bangar. “The ladies in the village were reading out of a ‘paath’ (a holy passage), and I heard the senior women say that they wished they, too, could read the text. That’s where the idea of a school for them came from, and the whole village rallied behind it.”

After having spent their entire lives dedicated to family by tending to the fields, the harvest, and the business, the ajjis have, at long last, decided to turn to their own lifelong desire—to go to school and get an education. 

The crew of Virtual Bharat, a 1000 film journey of India initiated by filmmaker Bharatbala, attempts to capture the ajjis in action, as they don their bright pink saree-uniforms and head to school together to learn their rhymes, math, alphabet, and art—and like any other students, complain about homework and tests. In a four-day shoot in Fangane, living amidst the grandmothers, the team saw that telling the story of the Ajjibaichi Shaala was more than filming the classroom and the uniforms. It had to be about capturing its incredible spirit.

As Sitabai Deshmukh, an 85-year-old ajji—the oldest in her class—tells the crew, school, for her, is about more than just the letters that they teach (which she forgets before the next class anyway); she cannot even really see the blackboard or comprehend much of what is taught to her. For her, school is about living a life she never thought she would have access to. A life she has ensured that her children and grandchildren experience. A life that she too can now proudly say she has lived. The Ajjibaichi Shaala is a Maharashtrian grandmother’s dream and now serves as source of pride.

Watch the short film on the link below!

Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!

Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel

Raising a Feminist Family

Have I raised my daughters to be feminists? An honest midlife self-appraisal.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Congreso Futuro 2020

Impressed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “We should all be feminists,” I picked up the tiny purple book with the intriguing title, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Eager to understand feminism in the twenty-first century from this articulate young woman who possesses an enviable clarity of thought, I planned to ask my daughters to read the book once I was done. 

As a lifelong bookworm who turns to the written word for knowledge and guidance, I had picked up “What to expect when you’re expecting,” during my pregnancy. Considerate colleagues gave me the sequel, “What to expect the first year,” at my baby shower. I referred to the book constantly. Like a child reading a mystery novel, I occasionally jumped ahead to read up on the next developmental milestone.

At my daughter’s first birthday celebration in India, seeing the book in my purse, a good friend joked – “You NRI’s bring up children by reading books.” 

I found her comment condescending but she had made an astute observation. Being far from home and lacking guidance from parents, I felt bereft. She, on the other hand, was raising her children in India in close proximity to her extended family.

To me, books had come to my aid when humans had failed.

*****

More than two decades after that conversation, I look fondly at my two daughters. In a few months, the older one will leave home in pursuit of higher education and the younger one will hurtle towards the end of her teens. 

Motherhood has been the most transformative experience of my life and the opportunity to raise two daughters has been a gift and a privilege. 

Adichie’s book is a long, thoughtful response response to a friend’s question about how to raise her newborn daughter feminist. I wondered if I had raised my daughters to be feminists? Would I find myself too outdated to understand this manifesto? I desperately hoped it wasn’t too late to make amends. 

“The solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

Adichie’s first feminist tool seemed familiar. Not vaguely, but intimately.   

By this measure, I have always been a feminist. Perhaps I was born feminist. Although the word ‘feminist’ came into my vocabulary only after spoken and written language became my primary mode of communication, the inner knowing that “I matter’ must have been poured into my veins and set into my bones at the time of my creation. 

Born between two boys, I was the only girl child, brought up with great affection by egalitarian parents. Despite having a level playing field within the home, I was not immune to the rampant sexism that existed outside. I retaliated by waving the flag of gender equality, fighting for fairness, and arguing for justice at every opportunity. 

During the school years, my brothers and I were expected to wash our respective uniforms, polish our shoes, and keep our designated cupboards clean. But everytime my mother asked me for help around the house, I would protest. 

“You are asking me to do this because I am a girl,” I would pout.

“I am asking you because you are better at it,” she would patiently reply. 

“In life, you will find that the person who does a better job will be assigned more work, even in an office.” 

A part of me agreed with her. But I would have none of her rational explanations. Despite her college education, my mother was a housewife by choice. What did she know about work and career? 

I was academically oriented, bold, and outspoken. Unlike my mother who was content to stay home, I planned to study, get a job, and make my own money. I did not consider my mother a feminist, because feminism to me meant independence, financial security and power. Little did I know then that the seeds to my conviction about equality of the sexes were actually planted and nurtured by my mother’s parenting style.

*****

So much about the world has changed since my childhood. With women becoming astronauts and scientists, doctors and bus drivers, I wondered if Adichie’s suggestions were even necessary. But reading this simply-written, heartfelt manifesto brought forth many self-limiting biases and belief-systems that are coded into our DNA through social conditioning and serve as barriers to women’s’ achievements even to this day.  

In time for International Women’s Day, I thought of using Adichie’s list as an appraisal tool to evaluate myself. I was undoubtedly a feminist, but had I done enough to raise my girls to be feminists?

Of the fifteen suggestions, I scored well in 9. I am particularly proud of encouraging my girls to read. Regarding marriage – they know that marriage may be a part of their life but it is not to be counted as their greatest achievement. Through my own career choices, independence, and pursuit of interests outside prescribed gender roles, they have seen a working model of some of Adichie’s suggestions. 

But I have to admit that I have failed in a few areas. Even though we talk about boys and romance, open conversations about sex have been difficult; attributed more to my own cultural conditioning than to the oft-repeated excuse that such information is easily available these days. 

And there are suggestions about appearance, identity, likeability – important points that I am unable to assess at this point. Much of how my daughters find their way through the maze of conflicting messages and peer pressure depends on their ability to think for themselves, something only time will tell.

I think back to my mother’s unerring sense of fairness and transparent style of parenting. Unaware that the dictionary defines ‘feminist’ as a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, she had instilled in me the core belief that my life is valuable and my choices are valid, even if they veered away from socially accepted constructs.

Parenting is a uniquely personal journey. We undertake it with optimism and a combination of tools – some that we come equipped with, some we borrow from our own parents, and others we learn – from books, from society, from our own experiences.  

The thing that makes this journey incredibly interesting, if not always rewarding, is what Adichie says in the initial pages of her book, “You might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try. And always trust your instincts above all else, because you will be guided by your love for your child.”

The best we can do is try. I know my mother did. So do I. My hope is that my daughters do the same when they have children. It doesn’t matter if they are raising girls or boys, I know without doubt that their journey will be interesting, and they will be richer for the experience.

Ranjani Rao, a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and former resident of USA, now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir.  Connect with her on Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog


Artwork by Feminist Sravya Atalluri.

My First Hindi Book: Bringing A Language To The World

Chandni Bhatia’s debut, My First Hindi Book, teaches the basics of India’s beloved national language in a fun, approachable way. The book covers concepts ranging from colors, animals, and numbers in Hindi and English — a perfect way to introduce our ‘maatrabhasha’ to young people all over the world. Chandni’s own experiences of living between two cultures influenced her approach to this book. Though she was born and raised in Delhi, she emigrated to the United States in 2013. Chandni wanted her daughter to appreciate the same language and culture that she had grown up with — but where to start? 

“As a fairly recent immigrant to USA, and the only Hindi speaker in my family, I wanted to teach my daughter Hindi. I started working on this book after giving birth, and realizing that there weren’t many books on the market to help provide young children an early introduction to Hindi.”

The desi diaspora that has characterized generations of immigration is less about leaving India behind; rather, it’s much more about carrying pieces of India with us, no matter where we go. And Chandni Bhatia’s book is a fond reminder of this idea. Her bilingual work offers a simple introduction to a wonderful language, bringing hope to every multicultural household. To find out more about My First Hindi Book, this book is  now available on Amazon.com, Amazon worldwide, and Barnesandnoble.com.

Community Colleges: A Well-Kept Secret

Community colleges are the often-overlooked institutions of learning, that are hidden gems in one’s backyard.

In India, the system of community colleges is seen as an alternative system of education that can be used to acquire trade skills, but not as a conduit to institutions of higher learning.  In the United States, on the other hand, community colleges are seen as junior colleges giving a leg up to those that need one, in climbing into the four-year college system. If the student so desires, he or she could earn college credits at the local community college and then transfer to a four-year educational institution in the United States. By completing two years worth of credits at a community college the student then needs to spend only two years at a University school like UCLA to earn a Bachelors degree. 

The aim of both the Indian and American systems, however, is to empower the disadvantaged and the underprivileged through appropriate skills-development, leading to gainful employment.  

The booming popularity of community colleges could also be attributed to President Obama, who was hailed as the “Community College President”, for funding and supporting these educational institutions.  During his campaign, Obama spoke regularly of the importance of community colleges in keeping America economically and educationally competitive in the 21st century.

The Evergreen Valley College (E.V.C.), located on a sprawling 175 acres in the eastern foothills of San Jose, California, is just such an institution that prepares students to transfer to four-year college systems, such as those of the Universities of California and California State Universities.  It has transfer agreements with all 23 California State Universities, 6 of the Universities of California, and some private universities. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges – a national accrediting body – the E.V.C. is the largest feeder community college to the San Jose State University.

Community colleges are especially attractive as stepping-stones to international students who need to improve key academic skills, including language skills, before obtaining admission to a Bachelor’s level program.  The credits earned at the community college help complete university education in a time- and cost-effective manner.

The Evergreen Valley College has a large number of international students from India.  Elizabeth Tyrrell, Director of the International Student Program, travels to India and meets high school students in order to explain the American community college system:  

“We have the 2 + 2 system.  At the end, students receive their Bachelor’s Degree from the 4-year institution (from which they graduate).  Almost all of E.V.C.’s international students transfer to accredited 4-year institutions.  94% of E.V.C.’s transfer-ready students do, in fact, transfer.  Students can apply and transfer beyond California and go to any university or college in the U.S.”

Evergreen Valley College is S.E.V.I.S. certified and approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to issue the I-20 Form, which is required to apply for a visa to study in the U.S.

Students from India do not need to take the S.A.T. or the T.O.E.F.L. exam, as long as their high school transcript is in English, and they come from an English medium high school.

The application process is more relaxed as well.  Students may apply for admission till as late as June 30, 2018 for the Fall semester that begins on 4 September, 2018, or apply between October 15 2018 and December 1, 2018, for the Winter session that starts on 28 January, 2019.

There is no question that the savings are significant when it comes to tuition. While the annual tuition at a Universityof California would cost approximately $41,000, a student would only pay $6748 at the Evergreen Valley College – a savings of nearly $35,000.  However, taking into account the cost of living – housing, transport, fun-money, books and supplies – students would be well-advised to budget for $21,500 for the year, per E.V.C.

In addition to the compelling financial savings, students also step into a learning environment akin to that of a University.  While at the beginning of each semester, students are responsible for signing up for classes, maintaining attendance, completing course work and submitting assignments, they have the added advantage of having Counselors on hand, to guide them in the choice of courses and help them meet the necessary pre-requisites for their Major.  

The average class size in community colleges is typically smaller.  While the student-teacher ratio at E.V.C. is only 28 – 45 students to 1 teacher, the class size at a U.C. can sometimes run to over 300 students.  Additionally, students in community colleges have Professors teaching the course themselves, while in large universities, the course may be taught by a Teaching Assistant.

The 2015 enrollment statistics published by the American Association of Community Colleges, reveal that 46%, of all the U.S. undergraduates, are community college students.  Of the 12 million students who go to community college in the U.S. every year, 2.1 million choose California community colleges.

Community colleges cater to the needs of the local job market and have professors who work closely with the students to groom them not only for the needs of the local area, but also equip them with skills that are transferrable beyond.  With the voracious appetite for new talent and the ever-changing skills needed in the Silicon Valley, community colleges provide an alluring and viable solution.

Says Michael Riordan, a tax accountant and teacher at a local Bay Area community college, of the merits of community colleges “This is a win-win situation.  Save your money for (the students’) Masters.”

For queries please contact: Elizabeth Tyrrell, Evergreen Valley College, 3095 Yerba Buena Road, San Jose, CA 95135 E-mail: International@evc.edu Phone: +1 (408) 270-6453

 

Ritu Marwah is the Features Editor at India Currents and is an avid student of educational systems.