Perhaps the best evidence of success I witnessed at The Heritage School in Gurgaon happened when I wandered into a ninth-grade physics class and took a seat at the back of the room. Many students were working diligently, a few were quietly talking, and a few others sat doing nothing. It is an all-too-common scenario in classrooms everywhere, except that, as a boy next to me explained soon after I sat down, the physics teacher was absent and the sub was late. So, two students, volunteering as leaders, kept the others in line and on task. I can think of no better image for a successful school culture than those two teenaged boys standing at the front of the classroom, doing their own work and leading their peers.
That happened during my second visit to Heritage. The first, beginning about nine hours after I arrived in India, was equally uplifting. At 10 am on Wednesday, June 19, Kaye Jacobs, The Heritage School’s Associate Director, ushered me into the world of Indian education and a room filled with about twenty middle-school English teachers for a training on the United States’s Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This was the second or third time the teachers had interacted with the standards, and their primary shift—from a content-based approach to one focused on specific skills and student output—seemed to energize the room. For two straight hours, the scene was a model of concentrated effort: teachers asked probing questions and brainstormed ideas while the department chair modeled active pedagogy, using a jigsaw protocol to allow each group to explore a strand deeply. The two groups I worked with, the ones focused on the Writing and the Reading-Literature strands, mapped content for each standard across grades four to seven. They would grapple with each standard, making sure they understood its goals, then turned each into a list of “Doables,” concrete ways they can implement the standard at each grade-level.
This at a school with two copier machines for 250 teachers. In a country with 700 million people living below the poverty line, where the government only recently passed “The Right to Education Act,” which states that all students have a right to the same level of education. Yesterday, June 24, The Times of India reported that the Indian state of Rajasthan recently received a “report highlighting the inability of students up to middle level to read Hindi properly in most government schools. Their reading skills in English were far worse and multiplication and addition were alien to them” (emphasis mine). College academics, meanwhile, are worried because “most government school teachers themselves have poor pronunciation skills.”
So, Rajasthan is implementing a project to improve reading skills throughout the state, which is certainly a positive step. But, I doubt it will approach the level of literacy instruction that the middle-school teachers at The Heritage School are working toward. Nor will it produce the type of teenage leadership, the doers of tomorrow, that Heritage is achieving. “Doables” and “Doers,” both outcomes of solid education. That is what is happening at The Heritage School in Gurgaon.