Teachers from Canada and India collaborate

Column: 
November 29, 2017
By Aubrey Swift and and Randeen Durette

Aubrey Swift (centre) is flanked by teaching colleagues from the All India Primary Teachers’ Federation.

Imagine you are attending a workshop that is 30 kilometres from your home. In Saskatchewan this would be a relatively short, quiet trip. You would have created your day plans in advance, and have the peace of mind that your students were being taught by a substitute teacher in your absence. The session would begin with introductions as you get to know the facilitator and the other teachers at the workshop before you begin.

This routine, familiar for many Saskatchewan teachers, looks very different for teachers in India! A 30-kilometre trip in India can take an hour or two through the city as cars, buses, bikes and auto rickshaws swerve and honk to compete for their place on the road while avoiding cows. As professional development is not always offered so close to home, many teachers travel for eight hours or more by overnight train to attend workshops. As substitute teachers are not provided, when a teacher is away from school their colleagues will take the students in addition to their own class. With up to 40 students in a classroom, this can be a challenge!

Workshops in India begin with an opening ceremony lasting about an hour long with speeches, gift presentations, religious observances and occasionally news crews filming or taking pictures. We saw these cultural differences first-hand as part of a group of teachers from Saskatchewan who travelled to India this summer.

Our team included Angela Banda and Stephanie Ochitwa from Saskatoon Public Schools, Randeen Durette from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and Aubrey Swift from Regina Public Schools. As members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, we were proud to represent teachers from our province in India. Since 1995, this professional development program has been an ongoing partnership between the STF and the All India Primary Teachers’ Federation. Additional support for the program is provided by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and Education International. The goal of the program is to develop sustainable professional development opportunities necessary to increase the repertoire of instructional strategies for the 2.2 million members of the AIPTF.

We arrived in India at the end of July. In teams of two we facilitated in four different states:  Calicut (Kozhikode) in the state of Kerala, which is on the southwest coast and locally called God’s Own Country for its natural beauty and 44 rivers; Bhubaneswar, a city of about 1,000 temples, in the state of Odisha which borders the Bay of Bengal; Pune, Maharashtra, known as the Oxford of the East due to the presence of several well-known educational institutions; and Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, a Mughal gateway boasting the 18th century Bara Imambara shrine and famed throughout India for its food. Our team was grateful for the hospitality shown to us by the teachers’ unions at both the local and state levels.

The purpose of our workshops was to share student-centred instructional strategies. After opening ceremonies in each state, our team introduced “big ideas” that would be woven into the various strategies presented and modelled throughout the week: gradual release of responsibility, differentiation and formative assessment. Education in India continues to be traditional, relying on the lecture method. Large class sizes are common and teaching materials are limited. Many states have required textbooks and standardized tests each term. This makes student engagement and differentiation challenging. Therefore, teachers are interested in learning ways to make learning hands-on, to use formative assessment to guide their instruction, and create classrooms that help all students grow.

During our workshops, we practiced instructional strategies in a variety of subjects. In math we explored a balanced math lesson format which allows for students to practice math in many hands-on ways, such as playing card games or using manipulatives. For literacy instruction we modelled guided reading using reading strategies, writers’ workshop and a variety of second-language strategies. We also demonstrated an inquiry process that can be applied to science, social studies and other subjects. The teachers in India were excited to try new activities and plan for how they can apply these strategies to the curricula in their classrooms!

Aside from leading workshops, we were welcomed into three schools. It was a joy to be able to interact with students and teachers in the schools, and to get a taste of what life is like in a school in India. The hospitality we were shown was completely overwhelming and an example of how to honour guests who visit our schools in Saskatchewan.

Our team would like to send a huge thank you to all the organizations that collaborated to make this program possible, including the STF, AIPTF, CTF, EI and all of the Indian unions. We would also like to thank the teachers from India who made their long journeys to join us.

Teachers in India face unique challenges and from what we saw in our workshops, these teachers are passionate about finding the best strategies to meet those challenges. Just as the Taj Mahal was not built in one day, educational change takes time and dedicated individuals to see it through. We are honoured to have worked with the teachers in India and look forward to continuing to collaborate as this partnership continues.