Whether you’re a parent, or a student with an interest in social enterprise, it hasn’t been too long since the Australian school year for 2017 started. The school year may bring excitement, dread, or anything in between, but our universal education with a wide range of pathways is something we often take for granted. So what is school like in India? As I have seen for myself, there are many differences, but also some similarities.
India is home to one of the largest education systems in the world, with 1.3 million schools and over 230 million children enrolled. To put that in perspective, 230 million is about ten times the population of Australia! Just like Australia, India’s school system involves kindergarten and twelve years of study. However, while school in Australia is only divided into “primary” (grades 1-6) and “secondary” (7-12) school, India has primary (1-5), middle (6-8), secondary (9-10) and upper secondary (11-12) school. This is more to remember! Both Australia and India have a strong emphasis on mathematics, language, science and social studies in the early years, and both have a more advanced curriculum with a broader range of subjects offered (some being electives) in later years. Sport, music and drama are included in both systems too.
Going to school in India is not without its challenges – and changes. The Indian curriculum has been criticised for its emphasis on memorisation over problem solving and critical thinking. This can make it difficult for students to apply their knowledge to life later on. Fortunately this is beginning to change, such as in a new curriculum introduced to some schools in 2011. In this new program, called CBSE-i, there is a greater focus on critical thinking and communication skills, as well as social work and extra-curricular activities including swimming and gymnastics.
Sadly, many children don’t even get to complain about the curriculum. Even though India’s primary school enrollment rates have passed the 95% threshold set by the Millennium Development Goals, there are still millions of children out of school. But some young people are fortunate enough to find a place in catch-up programs, where several years of school are covered in just eleven months so they can then enter mainstream schools.
When I visited India, I got to see how The HOPE Foundation is improving educational access to some of Kolkata’s poorest children. An amazing 96% of primary and middle school-aged children, and three quarters of 15-17 year olds, are in school throughout the slums where HOPE works. The school drop-out rate in 2014 was less than one quarter of what it was in 2005. And thanks to you, the supporters of Moeloco, I am able to help provide school shoes to Indian children living in poverty. Children are not allowed to attend school without shoes for health reasons, and walking to school barefoot, especially in slum areas, can expose them to dangerous infections. Now, over five thousand children can enjoy improved health and a brighter, more empowered future.