Graduate students help close education gap in India

By: Sara Scheler

October 31, 2012

Poverty and education are serious issues in India, and not many people would choose to spend two weeks of their summer working exhausting 10-hour days in some of the poorest slums in the world.

However, this past summer, six graduate students from Dominican University did their part to help close the education gap in both public and private schools in and around Mumbai.

Samina Hadi-Tabassum, associate professor in Dominican’s School of Education, recruited and led six passionate graduate students on Dominican’s first trip to India. Student Danielle Mull had jumped at the chance.

“I wanted to be a part of the global movement of closing the education gap,” Mull said.

Hadi-Tabassum chose India because of its dire need for educational assistance. India, she said, is moving from a third world to a first world country. She explained that many of the schools are in shambles, and large class sizes, lazy teachers and malnourished students make education difficult.

In addition, Hadi-Tabassum has personal ties with the country because she is Indian herself.

The trip was made in association with Teach For All, a global initiative that seeks to improve education throughout the world. Hadi-Tabassum and her students worked with the Teach For India organization, which trains and supports teachers in Indian classrooms.

The group’s goals, according to Hadi-Tabassum, were to model effective teaching styles and techniques. Many of the teachers in Indian schools, she said, focused on the old, British system of teaching and did not teach but merely expected the students to “regurgitate” information.

Hadi-Tabassum pointed out one teacher in particular who gave her students the test answers ahead of time so they could memorize them. There is no accountability or evaluation system in place, so Hadi-Tabassum and her students provided evaluations and constructive criticism to the teachers they encountered.

The students prepared for the trip by reading two books about the Indian poverty crisis by award-winning author Katherine Boo and by meeting twice with Hadi-Tabassum to discuss the details of the trip.

The trip began on July 6 and for two weeks, the student’s shadowed Indian teachers in and around Mumbai. Three of the students worked in poor, government-funded schools and the other three worked in a private school. They assisted in classrooms, observed, gave feedback and gave presentations of their own.

Hadi-Tabassum and one of her students introduced Indian fifth-grade teacher Sapna Shah to a concept called “literacy centers.” That was so successful that Teach For India invited Shah to present the concept to other teachers in the organization.

Mull enjoyed her trip so much that she hopes to go back if she can.

“Hadi-Tanbassum is a great teacher who is very supportive and informative,” she said.

Hadi-Tabassum said she is working on a grant to fund a second trip to India, this time to the capital of New Dehli. She expects the experience in New Dehli to be different from Bombay because it is the country’s largest city.

Hadi-Tabassum said if she could change anything about the trip she would require the students to write deep blogs about their experience and encourage them to see the complexities of the poverty they encountered.