Yesterday we visited a local private school about 20 minutes away from Deer Park. The man who founded the school some 10 years ago (or so I understood), started with nothing but three borrowed chairs. Now the school consists of two buildings across the street from one another and apparently has 600 students, though we could not imagine that the facility could host more than 100. We met with students and teachers and were able to enjoy a short conversation with them about the school. The teacher I spoke with told me that she teaches over 200 students and in a day teaches nine classes in 35 minutes. We noticed that the furniture was sparse and only one computer seemed to serve the whole building. I also quickly noticed an old fashioned “switch” at the front of the class for keeping the attention of the students! A massive high tension wire ran across campus, but I was surprised that it didn’t buzz with electricity. The teachers seemed engaged and happy to meet us. They were confused by the ethnic diversity among our students. One of the teachers was also interested to see that I did not color my hair, like most of the Indian women who have grey hair, and she demanded to know my age. When I told her I’d been teaching at the same school for over 23 years she seemed shocked and asked me repeatedly if I liked teaching! Maybe I’d think otherwise if I had to rely on a switch.
The students at this school all looked very neat and tidy in their clean uniforms. The girls all wore their hair in two looped braids at the side of their head tied up with white ribbons. The boys wore ties. All were very trim. I noticed while we were driving from McLeod to Bir that shops along the street sold school uniforms. One sign I saw announced uniforms for Jain students. I didn’t realize that schools might be divided by religion, but most likely it was a private Jain school.
The other day we ventured out into the village to ask residents about education here in Bir. Elderly women (over 80 years) told us that when they were children no girls received an education. One granny remembered that her father went to school until second grade but then had to leave school to help the family farm. This would have been in the 1920s or earlier. Other people we spoke with told us that 25 years ago both boys and girls went to high school for one Rupee per month, and the uniforms were free. Only 10-15 percent went onto university, and these were mostly boys. Today in Bir all children attend school through 10th grade and nearly all will go to university, including women. They greatly value education, and it is true that everywhere we go we see advertisements for education.
I’ve always appreciated my job at Thacher, and visiting this school certainly made me appreciate our excellent facilities. The teachers at that school only work from 9-3, but I’d still prefer our “round the clock” schedule!