A Teaching Path Toward Policy

Bindi Parikh (WorldTeach India ’18) recently began school in Teachers College, at Columbia University. She is pursuing an M.A. in Education Policy. Her experience in Ladakh with WorldTeach this past summer was an eye-opening one that strongly influenced her path in Policy. This is the first of two blog posts about her experience.

We were in Ladakh for two months. We taught in two different districts, Nubra Valley and Zanskar. Living and teaching in Nubra Valley and Zanskar was an unforgettable experience.

While the change in location was unexpected, the contrast between the Nubra Valley and Zanskar schools was important to encounter. In Nubra Valley we taught at a government school. Here, we taught only for four or five days, for the couple weeks we were there. The school was closed because of many holidays, and the government schools would construct reasons to cancel. Thus, even though the students would want to learn, they were not able to. There were also only five out of twelve teachers who would come daily. It was challenging because I did want to make a small impact and teach, but did not get as much of a chance to in this school.

Because of this, I tried compensating by teaching the girls at our hostel (which was the place I stayed at). We, my roommate Ellie and I, had eight 6th/7th grade girls, six of them were Buddhist and two were Muslim. However, every morning they would all grab their books and do Buddhist chants. When they sang together, it created a melodious harmony. This inspired me to teach them a different tune of a familiar Buddhist chant they sing, from the US: “Buddham Sharanam Gacchami- Dhammam Sharanam Gacchyami- Sangham Sharanam Gacchyami- Sharanam, Sharanam, Sharanamyham.” Teaching songs to them and walking with them on different trails, created a close bond among us all. They spoke very little English, and it was often challenging to communicate, but there was always laughter between our groups. It was quite an unforgettable experience. The girls were so shy but kindhearted simultaneously. On one of the days, these young girls even cooked a meal for Ellie and me!

Soon after, we made our way to Zanskar which was entirely different than Nubra Valley. Here, Ryker (the 3rd WorldTeach member), Ellie, and I, taught at a Private School. We were teaching six days a week, Monday to Saturday, Pre-K to 8th grade. At this school, holidays were actually cancelled because we were there. The Zanskar locals wanted to make the most of our visit, because the students’ English comprehension was very poor (even many of the teachers’). This teaching experience in the region was much more of what we expected.

 

Every day we would teach English and basic computer skills to the teachers and students. It was primarily beneficial working with the teachers. We held daily teacher workshops where we would also teach grammar, research, and writing. We brought our own laptops and the school used a generator for the one desktop they had (for a total of 70 students)! When holding our kids’ computer classes, there were six to nine kids on one computer. They all surrounded the computer so eager to learn the components of it. It was many of the students’ (and teachers’) first time on a computer. We even taught them what spacebar and enter was! Even so, towards the end of the three weeks, the students were able to create their own, “Climate Change,” PowerPoint presentation.

 

After our last day of school, the teachers and parents of our school gave Ellie, Ryker, and I a farewell party. The school girls did a dance for us while the locals were playing on the Dhaman (Ladakhi drums)! They did so much more than we expected to receive. Their kindness was limitless. During this farewell, we became the panelists and gave our advice to the parents. Many of the locals’ education would stop after the 8th grade. Because of this, we discussed the fundamentals of education and how students can learn at home as well as school. All of our words were translated by our guide, Rigzin.

Reflecting back on my experiences, I do know that my concentration in Columbia University, with US education policy, will always compare with my experiences in Ladakh. The teacher workshops we did there, made me realize how important education is from the top-down. If the teachers don’t know, how could the students learn? It really does “take a village” to educate a child and no one should be deprived of this essential and critical necessity. Parents, teachers, peers, and members of the society assist to create an uplifting educational environment.