We’ve made it to the grand finale, India’s school system. I saved this one for last because it’s the one I’m most passionate about, a best-for-last type thing. Sorry for the length, but I didn't want to skimp.
On the last week of teaching my mom asked the NICE coordinator if it would be possible for them to take me out to some of the schools they worked with. My ears perked at the thought. What an amazing connection standing at my feet, that I had no idea I even had!
The NICE Institute has two sectors, one that works with sick newborns and infants and one that provides free healthcare to schoolchildren. The program is currently working with 276 schools a month.
Here’s how it works: The children are encouraged to come to school, even if they’re sick (This directly contradicts of the ever-present tattoo I have etched on my forehead, “FOR GOD SAKES IF YOURE SICK, STAY HOME”). They take attendance, and if a child is absent, they'll go to his/her house to find out why. They’re very thorough and efficient. If the child is sick, they line the children up to be seen by the doctor. Before she begins seeing patients, she takes out about 12 Tupperware boxes filled with various pills and creams. One by one, she records the child’s name and class and asks what’s wrong. She gives them the necessary medicine (including antibiotics) and sends them on their way. If they need labs done, she writes the paperwork. The NICE school-care program will provide all necessary healthcare (including lab-work and surgeries) all the way up to transplants, free of cost.
^^The each kids get one egg a day for breakfast
So I got to ride along with the team as they went to three different schools in the day (they can’t possibly go to each school every day). Before I get into the educational aspects of my visit, here’s what I immediately observed:
80% of the children are Anemic. Anemia is a condition where there is a deficiency of red blood cells, which causes paleness and fatigue.
The children do not drink water, not because they’re not thirsty, but because they know that if they drink water, they will need to go to the bathroom, which are unsanitary and not private
Some of the kids come back the following week to see her again. The doctor asks them why they didn’t go to the hospital like she told them. The real reason is because their parents can’t afford to miss a day of work.
From a professional standpoint:
This was the first time on the trip that I felt particularly useful. I was in my element and my opinion mattered. I had an hour-long meeting with the CEO of NICE because he wanted to know my initial thoughts.
The first school we visited was called Nala Nagar School, a Government Primary School. The second we walked through the gate, the entire school was siting on the ground having what appeared to be an assembly. Everyone immediately waved at us. I later found out that it was the last day of school so they were having a celebration.
^^ Here, the doctor is telling the students the importance of drinking water and showing them how to mix a vitamin powder with the water to help them get the nutrients they're lacking
I was surprised to meet some teachers who spoke English. Two of the teachers at this school were from Teach for India and I credit much of the success of the school to those teachers. This school exceeded my expectations. I even learned that some parents opt to send their children to this “public” school over the private schools.
The school was a K-6 school with a high school attached but separated. There were 30-40 kids to a class with 1 teacher who was responsible for multiple classes. The required credentials of the teachers are basically the same as in Chile or The United States. The real issue is that there are not enough teachers.
The teacher that gave me the tour, from Teach for India, was a true blessing to the school and not your average teacher of Inida (HA!). She goes above and beyond to give the kids what they need. She is organizing programs for the students to attend on the weekend so they’re exposed to extracurricular activities like art and music.
^^ A Special Ed classroom
They teach the students to read in English and actually follow an accredited reading program, very similar to ReadingA-Z. Each child has a reading level and they are tested on a weekly basis. They had Dolch sight-word posters in each classroom. I was very impressed with the curriculum at this school given all of the conditions they are up against. It was like looking at my classroom in an Indian setting.
For the 500 children in this school, there were 2 bathrooms. The bathrooms were holes in the ground and there was no running water to wash your hands. The bathrooms are cleaned once a week, because there are no janitors. The children clean the bathrooms and the school. My tour-guide teacher was working with the government to get running water. This school is considered lucky because they have one projector.
^^ The sinks (that were "out of order")
The second school we visited was called Ambedkar Nagar Government Primary School. This school was drastically different than the first. It was situated right in the middle of the slums. The younger students were still in school but the older kids had finished testing and were now on summer vacation. Some of the older kids still came to school because they had nowhere else to go, and the teacher proceeded with classes.
This school didn’t have desks or chairs or even tables until the kids were in fourth grade. The students sat in rows on the floor. The boys were always separated from the girls. When we walked into the room, the students would stand up and greet us, very private-school-esc. I didn’t get to talk to any of the teachers about the curriculum because they didn’t speak English. Overall, the building was nice and the classes were okay-sizes. The bathroom conditions were the same as the last school.
^^ Lunch Boxes
^^ Each student was given a water bottle
After the school tour, they walked us around the village surrounding the school. This was heartbreaking, to first see the children in the school and then see where they live. They lived in makeshift huts that were the size of a shed. Garbage was scattered everywhere and people lived on top of each other.
^^ A boy playing with a tire
We were unable to visit the 3rd school of the day because they were testing.
A few days later, I met with the amazing CEO of NICE. We met in his office to discuss what I saw. After seeing what I saw, you feel compelled to help, like it’s your duty as a human being and a teacher. I explained to him my opinions and that I wanted to help.
Dr. Reddy is a very knowledgeable and honorable man. A quick biography, he is arguably one of the most honorable and respectable men I have ever met. Dr. Reddy, a very successful neonatologist, wanted to change India’s healthcare system. So for years, he created blueprints of a dream that seemed so out of reach it was actually laughable. Free, quality healthcare in India? Unimaginable. But he did it; he built a state of the art hospital with equipment that is unheard of in India. He has a team of wholesome, genuine and good-hearted people. The hospital operates on its own, so in his absence, it will continue on, flawlessly. And Dr. Reddy, for all of the time he has dedicated to saving and improving lives of others? He takes no salary. He does it out of the goodness of his heart. And his heart is good. Meeting with him was intimidating and inspiring. He is a true legend and an unknown hero.
He agreed that something must be done but what exactly? We’re still scratching our heads.
You need to look at it objectively. India has a very corrupt and broken infrastructure. They live in a culture where you’re encouraged to cheat your way through life. It’s much faster to cheat than to be honest and noble. That being said, if you install running water into the schools, the public would abuse it. They would literally break down the gates and use the water. What is hard for us to grasp is that there is no set of rules or ethics, theres literally no order. So add a security guard? One security guard cannot withstand the entire village entering the school.
Okay, so maybe school supplies, or projectors? I thought about the school supplies but what lasting effect would that leave? And projectors would be and have been, ripped from the ceiling and stolen by the townspeople.
So how do you help these children who have nothing at home and are being raised to compete in such a corrupt society? You teach them. You teach them basic self-care skills, and sanitation skills. Things that are common sense to us, are not to them. Sanitation is not a priority when there are so many other more detrimental things like finding water.
So really, I’m at a loss for how to exactly go about helping. All that I know is that I want to help. And the best way to help is to start chipping away at that broken infrastructure. If we want to give these kids a chance, we need to make big changes, not provide them with crayons and pencils. But it’s hard, and it will take years, maybe decades. I plan to go back to India eventually, for this purpose. I will be in communication with that amazing teacher from the first school and Dr. Reddy and little by little we can hopefully make changes. How overwhelming the task before us is... but how rewarding. If you have any suggestions or advice, please reach out, I’m all ears.
And there ya have it folks, we've reached the conclusion of my five-part series on India.