What does the education system at a geographically challenging place look like? How do the children there learn? Are the children there the same as in metro cities? Seeking to answer these very questions led me to explore one of the pristine, untouched and unexplored districts of India situated right at (well! Really really close to!) the edge of the crown of the country, known for the 1999 war, Kargil. This small mountain town was where I chose to spend 20 days of summer volunteering to teach which also gave me an opportunity to meet people, listen to their tales, share their food and get a peek into their small-town, mountain lives.
While my time there, I was teaching Math and Science to grade 6th through 8th at Moravian academy, situated in Chiktan, around 60 kms from Kargil City, a small village, all of 70 people. This scenic village bang in the middle of the snowcapped peaks of majestic Himalayas had ONE generator for all the houses there which allowed electricity for two hours a day. This village housing close to 18 families was inhabited by Sunni Muslims where most of the women were homemakers and the men, farmers or army-men.
The children there understood Ladakhi and Hindi to a fair extent and were immensely shy. The ratio of boys and girls at the school stood at 60 to 40 with 5 teachers and 1 servant. This Christian Foundation school was considered the best out of all the schools from the surrounding villages.
Their school day started with 3 prayer songs and 1 verse from the Bible after which they obediently walked to their respective classrooms to study. The school was so strict, the children hardly voiced their opinions or spoke during class. The overall belief in the school was that anything outside of books was only fun and not learning, so they stressed immensely on classroom teaching. Given that, the students there were so engrossed in textbook learning (since that was the only resource available to them) that they could compete with any affordable private school from any part of the country. The children spent around 7 hours at school, which was the only place outside of home where they got any chance to socialize with peers. Since they had no means/ source of digital entertainment and because night is a little more eager to show up in the mountains, children looked forward to coming to school and did not see it as a burden at all.
Though the student learning levels in the school were not so bad, the teaching methods were fairly traditional and rote-based. That is to say that the learning process did not include establishing any real life context or skill development of any sort. In my opinion, there was complete lack of exposure for all of the people at the village. Given the tough terrain and the fact that they are cut off due to weather conditions for as long as half a year, from the rest of the country, there still was a lot of happiness amongst the students and people in general. During my short tenure there, I, along with other volunteers tried engaging them into learning using various activities. After school hours we also taught them things like music, martial arts, drama, etc.
What all of this did to the students and how well they opened up post these, was marvelous to witness. We laughed and danced and jumped together and we also joked and learned together and they did it with all the enthusiasm and all the love they had to offer. What was magnificent was the student showcase after 20 days of teaching, where we invited all the villagers to show them how powerful experiences and experiential learning outside of books can be. It was beautiful to watch the children perform and the fact that we left them and the people there with a thought that there is so much they can do and so much more they can be.
We bid goodbye to the principal and other teachers with a 6 hour long session on all the 6 different topics related to ‘what defines an excellent education’. The session ranged from corporal punishment to lesson planning strategies. The teachers thoroughly participated, encouraged and remarked that they will try to experiment these things in the upcoming session.
The experience and learning I drew from these 20 days with the students and the people at Kargil would undoubtedly remain to be one of the most cherished memories!
By Ritika Arora – Educational Specialist
(Member of Large Scale Assessment Team)