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Culture Connection: understanding and respecting differences

Unlike the mainstream schools where education is easily accessible, Bandhyali is a school on the outskirts of Jaipur which caters to the children for whom school is a palace and education a dream. Bandhyali School, in Bandhyali village, is a primary school for 325 children, 201 girls and 124 boys. All these children are from educationally, socially, and economically disadvantaged communities from the surrounding villages. Bandhayli is a free school. No fee is charged, and all books, notebooks and stationery are provided by the school.

This school is run by an organisation called Digantar which aims to develop educational opportunities for children from the nearby villages. The purpose of education is to make every child a self-motivated and independent learner with the ability to think critically. Digantar strives to develop educational opportunities for all children based on this idea. Every child is capable of learning to live in the society, defining his / her goals for life, finding ways of achieving the chosen goals, taking appropriate action, and of being responsible for the actions taken.

Children at Bandhyali School had never visited another place outside their village. They were hesitant to ask questions and make any decision. They lacked creativity and had never shown interest in learning English language.

Nobody had ever envisaged that a visit by a group of teachers from the UK in 2004 would change the classroom environment and improve the quality of education in Bandhyali School. This group of teachers was led by Mr. Paul Whitcombe, Head teacher of Lord Scudamore Primary School, Herefordshire who proposed the idea of partnership with Bandhyali School. Both schools were formally partnered under the Global School Partnerships programme.

The staff  at  Bandhyali were excited with the prospects of this alliance as it would not only give an opportunity to the students to engage with contemporary issues but also enable the teachers in developing new skills among the students. The aim of this partnership was to primarily evaluate and improve teaching-learning practices, and this was truly in line with the philosophy of education at Bandhyali. This wide-ranging aim would provide endless opportunities for integrating new forms of expression, creativity, exploring diversity and other global issues and supporting formative assessment.

The Global School Partnerships programme, managed by the British Council has provided an opportunity to both schools to work collaboratively in raising awareness about both countries and develop a strong global dimension in the primary curriculum. The programme has benefitted 759 students.

Interaction, creativity and empowerment are the three cornerstones of this six-year old partnership between Bandhyali, a rural school in the Jagatpura district of Rajasthan and Lord Scudamore Primary School in UK. The partnership has come a long way since then; it has laid the foundations of the education dream for the wider school community.

Teachers from the UK school worked on various subjects with the students at Bandhyali. Interaction with teachers from the UK has motivated the students to develop an interest in English language. Various activities were conducted which resulted in improved skills in speaking and writing. The teachers also planned dramas and poems which has improved students’ creativity skills.

Activities in subjects like history and geography has increased children’s knowledge not only of their own country but of UK as well. Locating their partner country and knowing about the geographical conditions taught the students to use a map. They learnt about the similarities and differences between each others’ culture.

The staff at Bandhyali, during their visits to the partner school in UK, learnt a lot about new teaching-learning practices and inter-disciplinary approaches to curriculum transaction; major part of the curriculum is now thoughtfully designed around major seasons, festivals and other events.

The children are now so confident. They are always curious to know more about things around them. They don’t stop questioning until they are satisfied with the answer. They enjoy studying. They don’t shy away in exploring and expressing themselves creatively.

The programme has also benefitted the teachers. The exchange visits have helped in teachers’ professional development, taught them to bring creativity in to the classroom and to make optimum use of each and every resource available.

This partnership has had its positive impact on the community as well. Parents of these children have now become open-minded. They once never agreed to send their daughters to school, are now ready to send them to the UK.

Abdul Gaffar, Senior Academic Co-ordinator, Bandhyali School reminisces asking a parent of a student – “until a few years ago you didn’t even want to send your daughter to school, and you now want her to visit England?’ Prompt came the reply, “I want to give the best education to my daughter and I want her to see the world…”

The mind-set of women in the village has radically changed. They are no longer scared to ask questions and are actively involved in discussions on topics like why men don’t undertake household tasks and why women do more work than men?

Bandhyali School has had an exemplary involvement with the community. The village folk now freely interact with the visiting teachers. The village elders help students with their projects on understanding the changes in lifestyle, education, industry and agriculture practices. The village community has done some significant fund-raising to set up temporary structures for classrooms while a new building for the school is being constructed.

The literacy rate in the surrounding areas in 1992 was 14% for men and 2% for women which has now shot up to 47% for men and 38% for women, as per the survey done in 2008. There is now a long waiting list of students wanting to seek admission in Bandhyali. There are about 197 children waiting to seek admission in this school.

Children of both schools now feel interconnected with each other. They have an urge to visit their partner school in UK. This partnership has developed a holistic perspective among the students of both schools. The activities have helped in develop social ethos and respect and understand the culture and traditions of another country.

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