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North Carolina teachers and leaders visit India

Editor's note: In August 2017, a delegation of 11 North Carolina teachers and education leaders traveled to India to learn about the country's education system, economic development, and STEM education. Thanks to Burroughs Wellcome Fund in partnership with the University of North Carolina and Go Global NC, they visited public and private schools, universities, businesses, and nonprofits from Bangalore to Delhi. This week, we look back on the trip and offer reflections and lessons learned.

From Bangalore to Delhi to Agra, the delegation visited private and public schools, educational foundations and nonprofits, and institutes of higher education to learn about economic development, rural education, access to higher education, and STEM education in India. The following photos document the trip and highlight lessons learned.

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The delegation, from left to right: Michelle Ellis, Elizabeth Cunningham, Lily Dancy-Jones, Nathan Avery, Ryan Smith, Rep. Craig Horn, Molly Osborne, Meredith Henderson, Bryan Zugelder, Sallie Senseney, and Matt Kinnaird

Private and public schools

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Vidyashilp Academy, a private school in Bangalore. In India, 30 percent of students attend private schools.
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Two students said they chose to attend Vidyashilp Academy because of the extracurriculuar activities. At Vidyashilp, students can participate in 13 different sports, including throw ball, shown here, as well as cricket, football, swimming, field hockey, yoga, and horseback riding.
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At Vidyashilp, all lessons are digitized and delivered via tv screens in each room. Each lesson is peer reviewed by two teachers before being digitized. After the lesson, students and teachers rate it and give feedback for the next year.
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The next school we visited was a government (public) school in New Delhi called Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya (RPVV) Dwarka. This school was one of 20 government schools in Delhi that had an admissions.
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The students in this physics class presented experiments that demonstrated different physics concepts, such as friction. Our math and science teachers got to ask them questions and were very impressed with their understanding of the material.
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Representative Craig Horn (R-Union) interacting with one of the teachers at RPVV Dwarka. Our delegation and the teachers at RPVV Dwarka got the chance to ask and answer questions about education policy in the U.S. and India, classroom instruction, and the role of technology.
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On our last day in Delhi, we split into two groups and visited two government schools that host Teach for India (TFI) fellows. Teach for India fellows serve two-year commitments but are not certified teachers. To get a certification, they must go to school for two years and pass a test. Teach for India fellows teach the same group of students from second to 10th grade, if possible.
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When we visited this secondary school, there were about 5,800 girls in attendance. The girls go to school from 7 a.m. until 12:30 pm, and then another 5,000 boys go to school in the afternoon. All students come from a distance of two kilometers around the school. Class sizes range from 50 to 110 students per classroom. In this seventh grade class, students were sitting in groups of 10 at each table.
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Teach for India fellows incorporate significant group work in their lessons. As they described, there are too many students in each class to reach with one teacher, so they must use groups to allow students to learn from each other. Each student in the group has a defined role for the entire year. Each group has an academic leader who accompanies the TFI fellow to parent teacher conferences to report on each student’s progress in the group.

STEM focus: inspiring innovation

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SELCO Foundation focuses on using energy access to connect wellbeing, health, education, and livelihoods in vulnerable communities. They work with partners to customize energy solutions for their end users. They also invest in finance tools and human resource development in the local communities to grow local capacity and develop local entrepreneurs.
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Agastya International Foundation is a charitable trust and non-profit organization whose mission is to spark curiosity, nature creativity, and build confidence among economically disadvantaged children and teachers in India. Their 172-acre campus in Kuppam has science, innovation, and art labs and a planetarium. Five hundred children come from rural areas every day with their teachers to learn and explore.
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Agastya also sends mobile lab vans and lab boxes to bring hands-on science to children across India. They have one rule: please touch. They believe “it is important for children to learn that their ideas and discoveries matter just as their opinions and vote will matter later as adults.”
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At Agastya’s Innovation Hub, students use a design thinking process to design, prototype, and create an invention that addresses a need in their community. Two students designed a pair of gloves for their parents who work as stone laborers. The gloves had cushions at pressure points, vents, and sponges to soak up perspiration. The Innovation Hub was an inspiration for North Carolina teachers. Many came home with ideas of how to create something similar at their schools.
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Agastya is not just for kids. The North Carolina teachers had a great time learning and experimenting in the different labs. Agastya trains teachers at their campus and also sends master teachers to train teachers in classrooms.

Higher education and the IT sector

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India Institute of Management Bangalore accepts less than one percent of applicants. Only 24 percent of students in India go on to higher education. All higher education is taught in English, so if students do not learn English in primary and secondary school, they have little chance of attending college.
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Infosys is a multinational corporation headquartered in India. The Bangalore campus, which is located in a section of Bangalore called Electronic City, employs 26,000 people. 70 percent of Infosys hires are engineers. Many students told us they want to be engineers when they grow up and work for companies like Infosys.

Thanks to Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the teachers and leaders left India with inspiration and ideas for how to incorporate global content and spark engagement in their STEM classes.

Molly Osborne Urquhart

Molly Osborne is the vice president and director of operations for EducationNC.