In the 1990s India amended its constitution, making education for all children free and compulsory. In the years since this has unquestionably changed the country, but providing education to more than 300 million students can be a challenge.
“The education system in India faces many problems, “ says Dr Mary Keeffe, Associate Professor in Inclusive Education at La Trobe University. “Funding regimes are not reliable, resources are limited, and the student body can be diverse with needs and abilities. This encourages Indian teachers to be resourceful in how they teach, and there’s much that Australian educators can learn from such a system.”
Dr Keeffe co-ordinates a program which sends twenty education students from La Trobe University to India. There they visit and work in Mumbai slum schools and rural disadvantaged schools, learning how education works in the different conditions.
“The Indian education system presents our students with a different experience,” says Dr Keeffe. “Being in a challenging environment helps our students think and teach in an innovative and sustainable way. This kind of social entrepreneurship may not be familiar to educators, but it is becoming more relevant.”
This has become a focus of research for Dr Keeffe and Dr Silvia McCormack, and another outcome of the three year program is the development of a survey to identify the attributes of social entrepreneurship in education.
“It’s important for educators to take a fresh look at problems in the classroom and relate good ideas to outcomes and inclusion,” says Dr Keeffe. “Exposing our students to teaching processes in India shows them they can achieve innovative ideas that are sustainable without the sole emphasis on a funding model.”
Education students are also able to gain an appreciation for the educational diversity within a country, particularly in rural areas where communities show a high level of engagement with the schools. After learning how these schools operate they teach at an international school in Delhi, where they experience students from diverse backgrounds.
“One surprising development during this program is our student’s desire to teach Indian students about the effects of pollution and sustainable living,” says Dr Keeffe. “They see this as a serious problem in modern India, and our students are motivated to try and apply inclusion and sustainability within a rigid curriculum structure.”