Coming To America– By Sohom Bhowmick

For the last few years, over the course of my undergraduate degree, I have been an alien in an institution the population of which numbers in the tens of thousands, and a city in which the population numbers in the millions. This feeling of change and alienation forced me to learn many things about myself and the world I live in, but these lessons has never deterred me from my one true motive: succeeding in America, specifically in the American education system. India is a country that 1.2 billion people call home and I still consider myself proud to be included in that statistic, however it is also a country in which 60% of that population live below the poverty line, many of whom have and will never get the chance to experience the quality of education that I have. I am deeply indebted to my parents for sacrificing so many of their ambitions and resources so that I could study overseas, but I can envision a future in which parents do not have to scrape together the funds to send their children thousands of miles away to gain the best education, but instead can access it right where they live.

Achieving this will be a monumental task. The current (general) education system in India is essentially a holdover of a pre-WWII philosophy, in which English-style rote learning is the heart and soul of every classroom. This form of learning has its uses, but crucially, it lacks any attempt at developing critical thinking. Though it must be admitted that this education system in India has brought out some of the brightest minds of our era, Nobel laureates such as Rabindranath Tagore and C.V. Raman for example, however in many ways this can be seen as an exception to the rule. In my opinion, the Indian system continues to live in the age of educational dinosaurs, though the developed world has rapidly begun to move on to a broader perspective; not only in how they challenge their students to think and learn but also by giving them the opportunity to ask “how can what I learn be applied?”. Similarly, there are many hard questions that we need to ask ourselves as well, not only we the students but also we the parents, we the teachers and we the entire Indian community, For example, does spending 8 hours in school, and then an additional 4, 5 hours in tuition help us gain any true, practical and applicable knowledge?

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Of course, it is easy to point out all the problems of a given issue, but figuring out a solution that addresses them is a much harder task. One possible option is to simply replace the entire education infrastructure and imbibe some of the core values that would help build up students as engaged and active citizens in a globalized future, rather than creating robots, capable only of accomplishing one specific task over and over again. This would require a complete revolution in Indian educational philosophy that seems utterly impossible to achieve.

We might look to the United States for a more practical solution. Schools here opt for a Student Enrichment Program; Clendening and Davies (published in 1983) defined enrichment to be ; ‘any learning experience that replaces, supplements, or extends instruction beyond the restrictive bonds and boundaries of course content, textbook, and classroom and that includes depth of understanding, breadth of understanding, and relevance to the student and to the world in which he or she lives’. There has been a large amount of research that has been conducted over the last three decades on this very subject and researchers around the world have identified many of the key learning outcomes of this program that would make it successful.

Over the last six months, we have been trying to bring students from India to be a part of this program. Our association with the Cedar Rapids School District Board has helped us in not only having students come from India to learn and interact with their peers in America, but it has also given the American students to indulge in activities with a person who lives halfway around the world and has a complete alien cultural background, much like what I experienced when I first came to study here.

As our first batch prepares to go back home and finish up their Student Enrichment Development, I have seen these kids change for the better. This is evident especially with Pragnya, the girl who I recruited in Hyderabad. When I first meet her a few short months ago, she struck me as incredibly shy and timid, though my few interactions with her gave me an idea about the brilliance of her work (she has earned a number reputable accolades in the field of fashion designing). After spending two weeks gaining international exposure as a part of SEP,  she has ‘enriched’ herself in the fields of Theater, Writing and American Culture and she has also garnered a number of memories that she assured me she would never forget. This program was developed to enrich students and improve certain interpersonal and critical thinking skills, but I never expected that the students will experience a change that will completely alter the way they look at life. Though not as sweeping a solution as it would be to simply topple the entire education system of India and begin again, I believe that this small act of introducing students to true enrichment of the things that they might not get in a traditional Indian environment, is incredibly helpful on its own.