29.05.2018

Priyanka Patel

Priyanka

Priyanka Patel, USA

Started studies in 2016

Internship place: Samait Shala, start-up working in schools to support teachers, India

Having worked in India prior to starting my studies at the University, I knew it was a place I wanted to go back to do my summer internship. India being so different from Finland, I was eager to see how I could apply my learnings to a different context. It was also important to me to be able to contribute to a system which is lacking expertise in the field of education. The education system in India has many challenges, mainly stemming from corruption at the governmental level with policies falling apart when it comes to implementation. They also have a lot of unique challenges due their extremely large population (1.3 million) which creates large gaps in educational equity with the rich and poor having extremely different educational experiences.

I completed my internship in a city called Ahmedabad which is located in the state of Gujarat. The city has a population of around 6 million people (more than the entire country of Finland!) and it is a two-tier city. There is a mix of both private schools, which range from high to low income, and public, government schools. Children have the option to study in either English, Hindi, or Gujarati medium schools.

During my time in Ahmedabad, I worked with a start-up known as Samait Shala. Samait Shala is currently working in English medium, low-income private schools to support teachers so that they can support the lowest performing children in their classrooms. Many children in India are at a very high risk of drop out due to not getting the support they need in the classroom. Samait Shala’s larger aim is to reduce drop out by increasing participation of these low-performing or struggling students. They also aim to support children with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Most children in India who have disabilities, especially those from low-income households, end up never entering school and if they do happen to enter, they often do not learn. Samait Shala aims to change this and ultimately create more inclusive environments where all children are participating and learning.

I worked with Samait Shala mainly on a new literacy program which they were implementing in the school. This involved working with 4 teachers who taught grades 4, 5, and 6 who combined had about 136 children. The literacy program was a differentiated program which provided intensive support to children in both reading and writing as a majority of the children were performing very far behind their current grade levels. The program was developed based on prior observation by Samait Shala members in which they realized that it was difficult for teachers to cater to all the various levels of children in the class. Another learning was that, because children were studying in English which is a foreign language for them, gaps in language were being interpreted by the teachers as being a special need.

We did teacher training where we introduced teachers to concepts such as classroom design and observation and documentation of student learning. We also worked more individually with small groups of students who continued to struggle despite the differentiation. I also worked very closely with development of the literacy curriculum which involved reading fluency, comprehension, grammar, writing, as well as a speaking/listening. There are no strict curriculum guidelines which we were forced to follow in the school which gave us a lot of flexibility. I would make materials and plans and then observe teachers while they executed lessons and children while they worked on the materials. Based on my observations, I would modify later lessons and materials. I also had bi-weekly feedback sessions with the teachers to further support them. 

Ultimately, my time in India was a very fruitful learning experience. I found myself working there with an advanced, more critical mindset which I feel is something I developed in Finland. I still don’t have an answer as to how to make inclusive and equitable education a true reality in India, but I did see the potential in even small shifts which can lead to significant changes. Most of all, I was surprised at how much of what I learned at JYU was something I could actually apply in the field!