This morning I had a great opportunity to visit a high school here in Delhi. One of the teachers who had attended the Workshop that Dave and I did in November invited me to her school. It was another of the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) Schools, this one in a part of south Delhi called Sadiq Nagar. The KV schools are government run schools for the children of government civil service employees. The idea is to have a very common curriculum from one school to another so as the parent gets transferred around, the children have continuity in their schooling. The kids do also have to take an entrance exam to be accepted into a KV school. The kids I saw today were sure bright and highly motivated. The school goes from primary right through Class XII. I saw the Class XI group of about 35 kids for a biology class. Their teacher has a Ph.D. in genetics and was a lecturer at a University in Baroda for five years. Now she is teaching high school because her husband is in the army and teaching at KV schools gives her a job as they get moved around.
Kids get science from a trained science teacher right from the primary grades. Same also for math and for social studies. All primary teachers are supposed to be capable of teaching the entire curriculum for their grade but in this school even the first graders have science from a science teacher, math from a math teacher, etc. In the primary grades they get a mixture of sciences: biology, chemistry, earth science and even some physics. In high school the students take Biology as a separate course during all of 11th and 12th grade (Class XI and XII).
[Non-biologist readers with have to bear with me, or skip this next part]. So this class had had Mendelian genetics and DNA replication, transcription and translation (and they are only half way through the year). I taught about biotechnology: forensic uses of DNA tests and the making of recombinant human insulin. I brought some simple props (a necklace was the DNA, for example), but mostly drew on the blackboard and asked them a lot of questions. A lot of what I did was review for them and so when I would ask a question, most of the class would answer. So I started making the questions more complex, questions where you would have to predict an answer, rather than remember one. They needed a lot more prompting to be able to answer those, but with the prompting they got there pretty quickly. For example, they didn’t know why DNA fragments move in electrophoresis, but they did know that after the electrophoresis you blot the DNA onto paper. They do have a lab with their course, but aren’t doing any DNA stuff in the lab.
[OK, non-biologists are safe now]. After the students left I had lunch with the biology teacher and a physics teacher. They say that they do expect their students to memorize material from the text book, and they thought that they do less with “application” of knowledge than we do. Still from what they described of how they teach, I think it is quite active learning. The biology teacher said she assigns the material ahead, and in class the students work in groups to put the material into their own words. They write it on colored paper that gets posted on the walls, and a group spokesman explains the material to the class. After the groups present, the teacher goes back and adds further explanation or clarification. The teacher does use overheads as well.
So it was an interesting, informative and head-swelling day. At the start of the class two designated students, one boy and one girl, presented me with an “appreciation”, which was a bouquet of two dozen red roses!! At the end of the class two boys asked for my autograph. Wow! Teachers really do have the respect of their students here. I am sorry to say that I forgot to take my camera so you will just have to picture me looking like the queen with my red roses. Where was my tiara when I needed it?