Today my peers and I visited a local school called Step by Step. It is one of the most prestigious schools in India and most of the students are from wealthier families. It was interesting to see a school like this, after seeing so much poverty. I had not realized that there are such massive economic differences here, and just how close they are to one another.
Before our visit, I thought that the kids at Step by Step would be stuck up, so I was hesitant to go. I was also not looking forward to an eight-hour day, talking with strangers. But we went, and I have to say that I had an amazing time. The kids were authentic and vulnerable with us, during the discussions we had. We talked mainly about the education system and the flaws in it. Talking with these students really opened my eyes to the pressure most kids in India face regarding school. They grow up with immense expectations from society, their parents, and themselves. They explained they have little time for themselves, and zero time for a social life. One student explained that they must choose between social and academic, and how the two in congruence cannot exist. I found this very unsettling.
It killed me hearing them talk about how their world revolves around school, and more importantly grades. They learn to pass tests, not to find meaning. This is something that I have realized Mount Madonna has done a great job cultivating; finding the importance in what we learn. We can think more freely, and arrive at different answers without one being right or wrong. This trip has made me grateful for the education system we have, and I genuinely feel guilty for complaining about it so much. I am really going to take away the value of education that these kids hold because it is truly inspiring. Whether it is at this prestigious institution or at a rural girl’s school, they all are united in their gratitude, and THAT is truly amazing.
Today we went to a Indian school to “lead” a Samvaad, or dialogue, on important questions of the time. There are a lot of people in India, and this makes college admissions very competitive. They are determined solely by a board exam (SAT on steroids). The primary purpose of school is to prep students for this exam. Thus, the students were completely unprepared for our version of a standard values class.
We began in small groups: by writing and sharing the deepest questions plaguing our minds. The interconnection between these was especially interesting. Even in a group of three, one of the people in my group had, effectively, the same question as me.
During our reflections, the other students shared that they were amazed by the effects listening with curiosity can have on dialogue. Their enthusiasm made our conversations fun and meaningful. It was especially encouraging to see their excitement at trying something so new, and productive, that they are rarely exposed to in India.
The conversations also had an unexpected effect on the students: it made them more open and friendly. The trust and familiarity that they felt with us, after just hours, is something that is rarely found in US. The entire experience reinforced what we have already learned about the power of dialogue.