As part of our learning experience here in India for interim I was invited to come spend some time with Archana and talk with her about education in India in her office at the preschool and tutoring business she runs.
Archana is an energetic woman who has lived in Hyderabad for most of her life. She is the youngest of five siblings many of whom live in Hyderabad along with her parents. Her family originates from the neighboring state of Karnataka and became Christians many generations ago through the Portuguese missions that were active on the west coast of South India in the 16th and 17th centuries. Archana has a quick smile and bubbly personality and clearly is passionate about her work. She holds several college degrees, speaks a number of languages fluently including English, Hindi, and the local Hyderabadi dialect and has taught marketing and statistics courses to management students in a local college. She also spent a good part of her career working with her husband Michael to build their human resource and staffing business in Hyderabad.
However a few years ago she began to feel God’s calling to do something more to make a difference in people’s lives and realized that educating children is her passion. Archana described the education system in India as needing a great deal of improvement. The free schools or government schools provide such a poor education that few parents want to send their children there. Many days the teachers do not bother to show up for classes and there is very little provided in the way of books or supplies. So most Indian parents who can choose send their children to private or public schools that charge fees but provide a much higher standard of education. Archana and Michael choose to send their daughter to an all-girls school called the Rosary Convent School. Rosary Convent uses the state curriculum which leans heavily on rote learning and memorizing but the fees charged are reasonable and can be afforded by the middle class Indian family. Class size can be large–Archana mentioned that one of her daughter’s classes has 63 girls sitting on benches in one classroom listening to the teacher. Average class size is 45 which is still incredibly high by U.S. standards. But the teachers are dedicated and for the typical student a reasonably good education is provided. Archana laments though that the teaching methods are outdated and the curriculum is unexciting and focuses so much on memorizing facts instead of concepts and problem solving. There is a great deal of pressure on Indian children to achieve by their parents and most of them are enrolled in some type of preschool or play group at two years old, graduating to nursery school at two and a half. In nursery school they must learn colors, shapes, and ABCs in English because these are the things they must know in order to pass the interview given at 3 and half years to be accepted into a good school. Some of the International schools and concept schools in Hyderabad use a more rigorous and interesting curriculum that focuses less on memorization and more on understanding concepts but for the most part the high fees charged make these schools unaffordable for all but the most well to do.
Archana’s business is a combination of providing preschool and tutoring services to fill the gaps in the education options for middle class Indian families. She has hired several teachers and does some of the tutoring herself to be able to offer a combination of after school, Saturday and summer camp courses that include mental mathematics, English proficiency, handwriting, keyboarding, and computer skills for all ages. Some of her curriculum materials have been obtained through the Abacus franchise which she purchased in 2008 but she has also found other materials and in some cases designed the curriculum herself in order to meet the needs of her clients.
The summer camps which are offered have been a huge success, growing from one location with 50 students in 2009 to tripling their numbers in 2011 with three locations with a total of 150 students. These day camps are offered to children ages 5-13 years for 5 weeks during the summer and are taught by a combination of specialist teachers with the help of college students. Archana’s face becomes animated as she describes how much fun the children have as they are taught Indian and Western dancing, arts and crafts, and fun songs—all part of the summer camp experience she designed. She has also made interaction with children who live at a local orphanage part of the curriculum in order to give her clients a way of giving back to others and learning compassion. Auctions are held to sell the crafts made during the camps and both the money raised and donations of gently used clothing are brought to the orphanage.
Archana voiced her concern about being able to help children whose needs are not being met in the current education system in India. Parents whose children have learning differences such as dyslexia have very few options in India’s education system so finding methods that provide these children paths to becoming successful learners is a huge challenge but with her enthusiasm and talent I have no doubt that Archana will find ways to offer help.