It took us traveling halfway around the world to understand how the United States, and especially New York City, is a true pioneer in education, both in the elementary years, as well as in College. The American education system is gaining a growing respect on how it values, not only academic excellence, but also the student as a whole. And the world is following right along.
Though the United States and India are culturally very different, there are many similarities too. Parents in India are just as involved in their children's education as their American counterparts. Indians with sufficient means enroll their children in private schools hoping for the best possible chance of a top university, many of them sending their children to the United States for college. They worry about their children's academic achievement, social successes and extracurricular activities, just as we do here. Nevertheless, in Mumbai, academic excellence is at the forefront of every parent's mind and the questions we were first asked during our visit revolved a lot about test scores, math achievement and the best way to get their child into an Ivy League Institution.
Mumbai has many different types of schools, though most follow a traditional model, focusing on testing starting in 10th grade. Beautiful Victorian-style buildings and classrooms are the norms in typical Indian private schools that run on tradition, rote learning and test scores. Psychometric testing is conducted for each student to help them determine the "trade" that is right for their adult life. One parent told us that the psychometric tests revealed that her daughter "belongs in fashion because she is not very bright." Yes- she was serious!
We had to break it to this concerned mom that, fashion is one of the hardest fields to get into and be successful☺
Most of the schools in Mumbai, until recently, were trying to follow a similar model. As advanced they seem to be in academic studies and testing, they were leaps and bounds behind in looking at the whole child, building resumes and working towards finding a student's passion beyond the test. However, this is now changing...
When we led a lecture on education, including the importance of a student discovering who they are outside of the classroom, the parents perked up! They became excited by this prospect and started listening. Practically all of them shared a similar sentiment that they want their children to be out of the "cookie cutter mold" and find their own academic path. We faced a volley of questions such as:
"What can we do to support our children in this way?"
"So if my child is not a math genius, are there colleges for him?"
"How do we go about getting an internship for our daughter?"
There are a bunch of new schools starting to crop up around Mumbai, just as they are in New York City and across the United States. These schools are trying to be more progressive, focusing on the nurturing a child's individual identity, allowing them to explore their own passions, work with a variety of their peers, and reach academic as well as personal excellence. They want their students to succeed beyond the test, to be personally fulfilled and intellectually curious beyond admission into college.
As different as Indian and American cultures are- they are working on the same goals with respect to education.
We discovered during our short trip to Mumbai that parents are more open to discovering who their kids are and to give them the best educational environment possible. We realized that psychometric testing is out dated, even to the people of India and that these parents are craving guidance to help their children succeed beyond the test, to succeed in a world that is complicated and wanting them to be fulfilled. We just cannot wait to go back!