Oswego students to teach, reach India's poorest children

Classroom in India.SUNY Oswego students will travel to India in January to teach and interact with some of the country’s poorest children in an educational effort to save them from poverty and slums.

The short study-abroad course, “Schools and Urban Society in a Global Context” led by Virginia MacEntee and R. Deborah Davis of SUNY Oswego’s curriculum and instruction department, will interact with the three schools of the Sankalp Society, a private effort led by Anupriya Chadha to help the most marginalized children pursue educational uplift.

Chadha, who works for India’s Department of Education, combines money she earns training teachers and parents of special-needs children with donations to support the effort.

“The hope is that after three years, after the schools have proven themselves, this can receive government support,” MacEntee said.

‘Life and death’

“Learning English, for these children, could be the difference between life and death,” Davis said. “It could be the difference between growing up to be ragpickers or getting a job that can support their families.”

Ragpickers are those so impoverished they collect debris for their own use or sell as their means of support. Anyone who watched the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” has seen the kind of underclass these schools try to help.

But by learning English and pursuing an education, these children can get a job in India’s hospitality and service industry that will provide a livable wage and break the cycle of poverty, MacEntee said.

The Sankalp schools also offer vocational training, most notably an hour daily teaching sewing skills to older girls. This training allows them to make items for use or to sell to support their families.

Expanding horizons

Participants from Oswego have the opportunity not only to make a difference, but also to expand their cultural horizons.

“The majority of students who come to Oswego would categorize themselves as white middle class,” Davis said. “They come in with a set of values and little experience with people of other cultures. Connected with EDU 380, ‘Culturally Relevant Teaching,’ this helps sensitize students to other cultural realities and how culture impacts education in the U.S. and other countries.”

Oswego students will experience that different cultural reality while teaching or helping some 130 poor children in the village schools of Uklana, Parbhuwala and Bithmara in the state of Hissar-Haryana. While the classrooms lack desks and chairs, the program provides attention the students need, a mid-day meal and help with health and hygiene issues, MacEntee said.

Educational gains for children have been great, she added. Within a year nearly 74 percent of them were mainstreamed into regular public schools.

Students in the college course, which is open to non-education majors as well, will be in India from Jan. 9 to 18. In addition to their time in Hissar-Haryana, students will visit Delhi to see public urban schools and points of interest, including the Taj Mahal.

The Oswego delegation aims to bring over school supplies, especially textbooks, to bolster what is available in the education centers. And just having Oswego students around conversing with them in English will help children learn the language, MacEntee noted.

Oswego tradition

The program ties in with the tradition of college founder Edward Austin Sheldon, whose interest in education came about when he counted 1,500 impoverished children who could not read or write in the booming trade city of Oswego in the 1850s.

The course on urban education in India is just one of the upcoming short study-abroad courses aiming at global solutions, said Joshua McKeown, director of international education and programs. Other solutions-based offerings planned include a course to India on the history of human trafficking; ecological ones in the Brazilian Pantanal, Honduras and Virgin Islands; and a course continuing Oswego’s educational partnership with the African nation of Benin.

For more information, call 312-2118, e-mail intled@oswego.edu or visit the study abroad page.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Educational aid—In January, SUNY Oswego students will help in the classrooms of the Sankalp Society, which gives the most marginalized children in India an opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty.

(Posted: Oct 15, 2009)

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