No textbooks, no benches, and unsafe classrooms: Faridkot reflects state of school education

Students sitting on the floor in Government Primary School, Jeevan Nagar, Faridkot.

Incomplete set of text books, no benches to sit and unsafe classrooms mark the state of school education in the district. This, even as chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, no less, expressed his disappointment at the 57% result in Class-10 at the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB). After his much-publicised comment, government officials had vowed to improve the education standards and take action, if warranted against teachers. Three months later, it is clear that before any action is taken against anyone, the government needs to ensure the basics that go into making a school are made available.

The bitter reality

Here in the region at least, the PSEB is yet to release books of 17 subjects to students of Classes 1-8. Anecdotal evidence suggests the same is true, across the state as well. “Delay in distributing text books is definitely causing academic loss to students. Downloading books online is an option not all students are versed with. We are trying our best to teach the students in the best possible way so that they don’t flunk in exams. Availability of books, though, is a major concern,” said a senior official of local education department.

Students sitting on the floor in Government Primary School, Jeevan Nagar, Faridkot. (HT Photo)

10 benches for 200 students

An HT team visited a primary school in Jeevan Nagar to find that the school had only 10 benches for 200 students. As a result, students were making do with gunny bads spread on the floor to sit and listen to lectures. This leads to burns and rashes on the skin of some of the students.

“We feel helpless at times to help students from avoiding the burning heat. They require proper facilities for education so that they can perform well,” principal Nirmal Jeet Kaur said.

The classrooms

What is worse than no facilities is the complete turning of blind eye of the authorities to the use of classrooms that the state engineering department has declared unsafe.

District education officer Dharamveer Singh said, “I have instructed the authorities of the schools not to use classrooms which require renovation. At the Jeevan Nagar primary school, three classrooms are in use for the students. We plan to merge the school in a government secondary school nearby where there is ample space. We have also made a list of the infrastructure required. We have made a request for more money.”

Headmistress of a government secondary school told HT that many schools in the district were struggling to pay electricity bills. “Our power connection was disconnected was we failed to pay bills. The school eventually took a loan and teachers contributed from their pockets to get power restored,” she claimed.

Privatisation of education minus robust supervision will be a disaster

The Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 says, by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcome

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant on Wednesday said the government needs to exit infrastructure projects and even look at handing over schools and colleges to the private sector as is the case in Canada and Australia. At the same time, he was critical of India’s private sector, terming it as “most irrational” and “insensitive”. Mr Kant said it messed up projects by aggressive bidding and creating the current crisis in the public private partnership (PPP) model. The idea of privatising education is not a new one; over the years, thanks to the dipping quality of education in government-run schools in India, there has been a demand for private intervention. But in India, the experience of PPP in education has been a mixed one. Two years ago, the Rajasthan government unveiled a PPP policy model to hand over more than 70,000 State-run schools to the private education sector but had to be scrapped after 3.5 lakh teachers resisted the move.

At the international level, the mood, however, is towards private-public partnership The Sustainable Development Goals — Agenda 2030 — (India is a signatory) also talks about the PPP model, but mostly in the infrastructure sector. However, PPPs cannot be a panacea in any sector unless there is a robust institutional framework to oversee its implementation. A United Nations Department of Social Affairs report — ‘PPPs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ‘— stresses that for PPPs to become successful, it is necessary that countries have in place “the institutional capacity to create, manage, and evaluate them”. It also talks about the four steps that need to be taken to ensure the success of PPPs: Correct identification of projects, proper structuring of contacts, establishment of a comprehensive and transparent fiscal accounting and reporting standard, and ensuring legal, regulatory and monitoring frameworks that ensure appropriate pricing and quality of service.

Goal number 4 of SDGs is about education: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes” is one of the main targets.

If this goal has to be reached using the PPP route, then it is imperative that the government systems have to be upgraded to keep a hawk eye on the progress of such partnerships. But present India doesn’t seem to be ready and equipped for such an overhaul.

New highlights of school education in Pune: Going beyond rote learning, including those left behind & using technology

If the number of schools is any indication, then the education sector in the city has seen nearly 100 per cent growth in the last two decades. From 2,626 schools affiliated to the state board of education in 2004, to 3,405 schools in 2017, the number has seen a sharp rise. Add to that, over 95 CBSE schools and 36 ICSE and ISC schools today — there were less than 30 schools earlier — and the establishment of about 10 IB board affiliated schools after 1997.

Educationists say that the methodology and outlook towards imparting education has changed significantly.

Around the same time the city saw the setting up of more international and non-state board affiliated schools, the concept of making learning interesting through classroom activities became popular, and even the state board realised the need to revamp its style. A programme of teachers’ training was put in place to make learning ‘joyful’, said Suman Shinde, former deputy director of education. Education is no longer only about imparting textbook knowledge, but it is about moving beyond the text.

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From rote learning to experiential learning

Devyani Mungali, an educationist whose career spans several decades, remembers how 20 years ago, teachers would restrict themselves to teaching what was in the textbooks, emphasising on retention value of the subject matter for students.
“At that time, teachers were the sole source of information. As English teachers, we concentrated on the writing skill of students and comprehension… most of it was functional learning. Even evaluations were based on textbook material… learning was mostly rote-based. Over the last few years, with exposure to technology and ICT material, the teachers’ role changed from being the sole giver of knowledge to being a facilitator. During this time, the syllabus started undergoing changes and so did the evaluation patterns… Students were scored on their skills and projects… they started seeking knowledge beyond textbooks that was encouraged by new marking patterns,” she said.

Devika Nadig, an educationist, said she feels that teacher-capacity building has been the most important change in the last few decades. “While a lot of people talk about ICT, a decade ago, corporates and others began looking at the way schools were run. One of the things revealed in the studies was that we rely heavily on rote memorisation… that perlocated down to teaching, as it was simply to memorise and the assessment was based on how the students could recall. The gamechanger was moving children to application-based learning… The other wave that came in around this time was the international schools – IB and other boards… As school education got more expensive, parents became consumers, earlier they demanded only marks, now they demand better teaching,” she said.

Introduction of technology in classrooms

However, educationists agree that one policy that has led to a sea change in the school education sector and transformed it completely is the integration of technology into classroom teaching. From state government projects to identify tech-savvy teachers to initiatives by private schools to introducing smart boards or tablets, integration of ICT into school education is the reality of today.

Lakshmi Kumar, director of The Orchid School, says that in the last two decades, one of the major changes in classroom teaching has been the introduction of smart boards, laptops, tablets with pre-loaded content, and introduction of YouTube into tutorials. “… Today, with ICT-enabled classrooms, a 40-minute explanation can be done in 10 minutes. Conceptual doubts are easier to resolve as students can be engaged through digital content and shown things practically. We have an opportunity now to move to the next step of the learning process, beyond mere recall and retention of concepts, to application and analysis… Even government-run Zilla Parishad schools are part of this digital evolution …,” she said.

Technology has also changed the relationship between parents and schools. Stating that school administrations have gained hugely from the use of technology, Kumar pointed out different ways of how it worked.; like instantly reaching out to parents, sharing information via e-circulars, and more.

RTE, regulatory laws and child-centric policies

Educationists unanimously agree that if there was one law that changed the way schools function, it was the introduction of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education. On one hand, it opened a window for quality education for all by reserving 25 per cent seats for students from low-income families; on the other hand, it also introduced child-centric policies like stricter laws on corporal punishment. “Until RTE was introduced, people viewed only physical harm to a student as child rights violation. But RTE mandated that no child could be mentally harassed…” said Shinde.

Shinde said it was the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which became operational around 2001, which started off the process before the RTE Act. “Through that programme, schools which were dilapidated or had no classrooms or toilets started getting funds, improving their condition,” she said.

Inclusive education

Another parallel movement working towards inclusion was trying to bring students with special needs into mainstream education. Not only did the RTE Act mandate a non-discriminatory policy, but various school boards rose to the occasion by introducing a slew of concessions. “In the late 1990s, if you had a special child, very few schools would dare to admit them… Now, with the concessions by boards, the RTE rules and general awareness among schools, the scenario is far better…,” added Kumar.

Why all education institutions should make humanity a compulsory subject

All of us want to pursue different careers and courses have been designed to teach and develop various professions. These help us monetize our talents and thus contribute to economy and growth. Is economical and technical stability the only basis of measuring our country’s prosperity?

In the race to gain economic and career success, we brush aside importance that emotional and mental stability place in our lives. Due to this, we keep coming across terrible stories of inhumane actions and reactions of our fellow citizens. Whenever there is an accident or someone being attacked in a public place, very few stop and try to help the victim and still less of us raise our voices when someone is molested or is physical or mentally abused.

We have built the ‘Great Walls’ of discrimination between rich and poor, religions and castes, educated and uneducated, States and Countries. We rarely witness people standing against child labour and we are too lost in enjoying our holidays or obsessed with work and study to ask important questions on subjects like AIDS and cancer. Most do not even bother to protect our innocent flora and fauna.

These examples show a lack of empathy and compassion, emotions which develop with our sense of humanity. Today, almost everyone wants to achieve something and in this race we have lost our humanity somewhere. We do not have the time to be kind and considerate towards others since it does not seem beneficial to us, at least not for short term. This absence of humanity is crippling our country from within. It is like an epidemic with terrible emotional, mental and physical consequences.

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The main reason for this lack of humanity is the lack of awareness regarding a large range of important topics. Subjects like gender equality, AIDS and child labour are not a part school or even university curriculums. When our education institutions do not find these topics important enough to include in the syllabus, how would an individual develop any awareness regarding such matters?

Our course curriculums are designed in a way that they focus on preparing us for a particular profession. As a result of which there is almost no subject that teaches us to be kind and spread love amongst all. Some subjects of Arts may contain brief glimpses of humanity but they are not detailed.

Is it not important that we learn to help the poor, care for the diseased, protect the weak, respect the women and stand firmly against any form of injustice to humanity without fear? Humanity should be taught to a child from a very early age. This process should start from home where children should be told stories about great emperors and warriors who succeeded because of their ability to spread love and kindness.

In schools, colleges and universities, it should be taught as a separate subject and should be made compulsory to all. The curriculum should be structured such that the students never lose interest in this subject. Discussions, debates and talks should be held with the idea that the students implement in their lives whatever they learn in class. The younger generation constitutes more than half of the population of our country. If we spread awareness through education institutions, we can certainly change the fate of our country.

Everyone is aware about the prosperity of the kingdoms of emperors like Ashoka and Akbar and we all know the role people like Mahatma Gandhi played for the independence of our country. All these people, who revolutionized our country and the world, led a simple life and spread their gift of humanity amongst all.

We have to realize that exhibiting affection towards all not only helps in the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society but also fills us with a sense of joy. It is a different satisfaction that cannot be achieved by anything else. This emotional strength promotes us to push our boundaries further in the process of achieving success. Humanity certainly cannot be forgotten as it strengthens the roots of our country. It is the backbone on which the success of our country as a whole depends.

One School's Quest for Personalized Public Education

SAN DIEGO—To understand just how far Vista High School will go to keep kids interested in school, consider the case of 17-year-old Hernan Hernandez and his skateboard.

Hernan, an avid skateboarder, was bored in gym class. So were his classmates. So, late this spring, Hernan approached Principal Anthony Barela with a potential solution: What about offering them a skateboarding course instead?

“I’m pretty sure if you told them they could skate and get an A, they would do that,” Hernan told Barela, a former football coach who is maniacal about keeping Vista High School students in school.

Students walk across a grassy field in front of a school building.

Barela agreed: He’ll work with Hernan to design a skateboarding course, part of the school’s dramatic transformation toward meeting the needs and interests of the roughly 2,600 students, most of whom are Hispanic and working class, who attend this open-air suburban high school. Next year, Vista will enter an uncharted era: Every freshman will embark on a new curriculum designed to help them find and pursue their interests.

A $10 million prize from the national nonprofit XQ Super School Project is already overhauling Vista High, encouraging more cross-disciplinary, independent projects; enhanced access to technology; and close attention to social and emotional skills. The changes support a contention of high-school reformers nationally and some educators here: “The way we’re teaching students, it’s not working,” the Vista science teacher Allison Whitman said during a recent weekday before school ended for the summer.

District officials have been pushing similar changes in all of Vista’s schools since a series of student forums four years ago revealed an unexpected truth. After Matt Doyle, Vista’s acting superintendent, helped interview more than 2,000 middle- and high-school students about their school experiences and dumped all of his interview notes into a software program that identifies the most frequently mentioned words, one word rose to the surface: “irrelevant.”

“That was kind of a gut check for us,” Doyle said, and it prompted the district to issue a challenge to all its schools—to create classes more tailored to their students’ interests. Vista High School and Barela leapt at the opportunity.

Vista High School was struggling with chronic absenteeism, and, most vexing to Barela, 10 percent of students who entered as freshmen dropped out before senior year.

The idea officials came up with two years ago, called the “personalized-learning academy,” or PLA, eventually formed the basis for the school’s winning XQ-grant application, and will be the model for the curriculum that Vista rolls out this fall.

In September, Vista’s entire incoming freshman class of about 700 will be split into five “houses” of between 130 and 150 students and four teachers each, with the teachers trained to home in on the students’ strengths and preferences. The XQ prize money, paid out over the next five years in $2 million installments, will fund total conversion of the school by 2020.

For Barela, the barometer for success for the inaugural freshman class is straightforward: “If we don’t lose ’em,” the school is making progress.

Vista’s transformation comes in the midst of increasing national attention on the potential of personalized learning— and the new technologies enabling it—to solve a whole range of challenges facing schools, from student behavior, to job readiness, to academic achievement. The term encompasses a variety of techniques, often involving technology, meant to give students more control over what they learn and how fast they learn it. Advocates say it’s more effective than having an educator present one lesson, at the same pace, teaching a group of students with different interests and needs. But the approach is so new that, so far, little evidence exists to suggest it can deliver on its potential, and there’s little agreement about what it looks like in practice.

Vista’s willingness to extend personalized learning to all 25,000 of its students will make it one of the first districts in the country to take on the approach system-wide, Doyle said. And the changes at Vista High School will become a high-profile national test run of how a personalized-learning approach can work in a large, comprehensive public high school, the kind most U.S. students still attend.

Already, the new system at Vista is creating anxiety for students, teachers, and parents who are new to the approach.

“People are scared,” said Craig Gastauer, a former science teacher at Vista now leading the training for the school’s ninth-grade teachers, “because they haven’t seen it—they haven’t been able to wrap their minds around what this change is going to look like.”

Principal Barela, a devoted fan of the school’s successful athletic teams, is optimistic, and analogizes the school’s to new model to high-school sports. In sports, constant feedback from coaches helps athletes identify the skills they need to practice and then put to the test during games. There’s no question about whether those skills are relevant, Barela said; why not replicate that model in academic classes, allowing teachers to act more like coaches who work together with students to help them improve in areas they consider important?

Students prepare to present a final project in Jeb Dickerson’s 11th-grade history class in Vista High School’s personalized-learning academy. Next year, all freshmen will take part in personalized learning. (Mike Elsen-Rooney)

Vista’s personalized-learning overhaul next year, for all of its uncertainty, is not the school’s first foray into the approach. School officials have been closely watching the progress of the pilot personalized-learning academy. It opened two years ago, with a class of about 150 students who opted into the program as juniors with the option to continue through their senior years. The same offer was made to last year’s juniors, and the opt-in program for the upperclassmen will continue while all the new freshman embark on the class-wide, personalized-learning initiative.

And while early results from the pilot academy are promising, the experiment hasn’t always been smooth.

Hernan, the skater, participated in the pilot and found the freedom in class disconcerting. He became easily distracted by having a personal Chromebook laptop at his fingertips.

“There’s times where you are like, wow, I just wasted two hours,’’ said Hernan, who once spent the better part of a class Googling “Supernovas’’ during a unit on the Big Bang theory. His grades slipped over the course of the year.

Jeb Dickerson, who teaches American history to juniors in the pilot academy, found his students growing restless while working on independent projects he’d designed to give them more freedom.

“The teachers and students wanted something different, but we were not necessarily prepared, and [the students] were definitely not prepared to make good on that,’’ said Dickerson. “The direction I’m headed [in] is more structure,’’ he said, alluding to an important lesson he’s gleaned from the experiment. “I don’t think it conflicts with the idea of giving them more ownership.”

Vista’s early trials and errors echo the experiences of many schools trying the personalized-learning approach, according to Betheny Gross, the research director at the Center for Reinventing Public Education.

“One of the risks of personalized learning is that we move away from the traditional classroom, which is a one-size-fits-all model, to a different one-size-fits-all model,’’ Gross said. “Just this new version has beanbag chairs [letting students sit anywhere they want] and computers.’’

(Vista has opted for rolling chairs that students can wheel around instead of beanbags, and every student will have a personal Chromebook.)

Principal Barela said the experience of the teachers in the pilot academy pushed him to focus more on teacher training this fall. The challenge ahead, Barela said, is to find a balance between teachers butting in to students’ work and teachers giving them free rein—that will be part of the training. Finding the right balance might also mean taking risks on topics not traditionally covered, one reason Barela was so open-minded about Hernan’s skateboarding proposal.

Kelly Humann, the PTA president and a parent of a 10th-grader, has seen personalized learning work at the magnet middle school (a selective school that admits students by application) where she’s also sent her children, but wonders how it will translate to a much larger high school where not all the students necessarily choose to be there. “We’re all worried to see how it’s going to be implemented,” she said.

But Humann said the approach, at its best, can reach students at varying academic levels in the same class. The middle-school program worked equally well for her high-achieving daughter and her son in special education, she said. And Vista High School’s personalized-learning experiment is causing parents who might typically opt for selective high schools to consider sending their kids there, Humann said. “I’m excited … a lot more kids are going to experience what my kids have experienced from the beginning.”


Vista’s experiment comes at a time when schools across the country are turning to personalized learning as something of a pushback to test-heavy instruction and as a way to prepare students for jobs of the future, said Gross of the Center for Reinventing Public Education.  “We’re coming out of a prior wave of reform that was very focused on testing,” Gross said. “We kind of lost sight of the kids in all of that.”

In addition, the low cost of technology that allows different students to work on different projects at the same time has made personalized learning an even more attractive route, Gross said.

Early data from Vista’s pilot program suggests that, for most students, the more-flexible class environment of the personalized-learning academy has been helpful. Of the first cohort of juniors, 60 percent boosted their GPAs, school officials say.

Teachers also reported a big improvement in student behavior. Barela said 70 percent of the students in the pilot academy improved their attendance, and there was only one disciplinary referral in the academy during the first cohort’s first semester. “We have so many kids who are typically on that fringe, in class regularly and participating … who felt like they belonged here,” Dickerson, the 11th-grade history teacher, said.

Teachers could also better handle disciplinary issues because they’d developed deeper relationships with students, and they were able to rely on other teachers in the academy because they shared students and had more time to collaborate with each other, said the 12th-grade history teacher Matt Stuckey.

For example, when one senior cursed at another student in the middle of a presentation, Stuckey calmly approached the student and walked outside with him while another academy teacher carried on with the class. Stuckey learned more about the conflict—the two students were longtime friends, and had gotten in a fight—and resolved it without punishing the one who’d cursed. Later, the student approached his teacher and offered a mea culpa, acknowledging that he’d lost his composure.

Dickerson believes the academy’s approach played a role. “I’d like to think, at least in theory, [that] personalized learning is about taking responsibility for oneself,” Dickerson said. If the student hadn’t been a part of the pilot personalized-learning academy, he said, the conflict “would’ve never happened that way. They’ve had a lot of time to explore themselves and their values.”

Vista’s pilot personalized-learning academy helped the school win the highly competitive XQ competition, and they have lots of ideas for what they’ll do with the money. About half of the first $2 million installment will go toward training staff, Doyle said. Teachers will get a four-hour block of time during the school day each week to meet with a small group for planning and training, Barela said.

Another $800,000 will go toward updating classrooms. The school will distribute rolling chairs and Chromebooks, as noted, and several flat-screen TVs per classroom instead of one projector, so that groups of students can project different images at the same time.

Though Barela’s immediate hope for personalized learning is to improve attendance, his plans for the next five years are more sweeping. As part of the XQ grant requirements, the school identified several performance goals. Vista committed to improving not only its graduation rate, but also students’ college readiness and state math and reading exam scores by at least five percentage points by the time the incoming freshman class reaches its senior year.

Some Vista students from the pilot academy won’t know for sure how, if at all, personalized learning changed their high-school experience. Hernan, the skater, didn’t sign up for this fall’s academy, fearing the freedom would prove too tempting and his grades would continue to slip.

But he did come away from the experience with a better sense of how he works as a student. “Whoever you are and how you work with others and with yourself,” he said, “that’s basically what it all comes back down to.”

Hernan plans to dedicate his senior year to working on a skateboard apparel company called Brofu that he founded with some friends. He’ll take courses in graphic design and photography offered through the school’s vocational-tech program to get better at designing clothes and digital marketing, while sticking with more structured classes for his core academic subjects.

And even though Hernan won’t be in personalized-learning classes anymore, Principal Barela thinks Hernan’s experience wasn’t in vain. ”For me, that’s a total win,’’ Barela said. “He’s taking an active role in his learning. Fantastic.”

The Schools Transforming Immigrant Education

Katherine Zelaya sits in the front of her math class, leading her table of classmates in a word problem that’s asking them to determine the median and mean for a set of numbers.

“¿Por qué?” she chimes in, asking Maria Alejandra to tell her why she came to a certain conclusion.

“Jesús, termínalo,” the 19-year-old says a little later, encouraging the classmate on her left to finish his work.

The scene in Michael Krell’s probability and statistics class at the International Academy at Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, D.C. is a far cry from what Zelaya remembers of her first year in the U.S. after moving from El Salvador almost four years ago. Back then, she was in the minority of students at her former high school who were learning English.

“I knew some things that they were doing in the class, for example, in math class,” said Zelaya, who has big brown eyes, an ombre hairstyle that fades from brown to blonde, and pink braces that sometimes cause a slight lisp. “Like, I know the process and I know everything about it … just the problem was the language to communicate with the teacher and with the classmates.”

Now a senior, Zelaya is an inaugural member of Cardozo’s International Academy, a school within a school designed specifically around the needs of recently arrived immigrant students like her. She feels confident in her classes now, she said, and enjoys being able to support her classmates in their learning.

A teacher stands near a whiteboard that describes "Learning Goals" and another board with math problems; students sit at desks.

“Sometimes I know little things that probably the other students didn’t know, so I can help them and teach them some words or meanings,” she said.

Schools like Cardozo have been growing in popularity across the country in recent years as an alternative to educating newly arrived immigrant students in traditional public schools, where students who are learning English often trail their native-English-speaking peers academically and are at high risk of dropping out. The approach has taken off in the D.C. area, with the opening of five international high schools and one middle school since 2012 to meet the needs of a growing population.

Data suggest the targeted approach is working: Students in these schools outshine their English-language-learner counterparts in traditional high schools.

But the growth hasn’t been without controversy. While supporters look at these models as a way to close the achievement gap for a vulnerable student population, some critics liken the separate learning environments to segregation practices of old. The schools have also raised questions in some communities about focusing too many resources on immigrant children when the test scores and graduation rates of native-born students of color also lag behind those of their white peers.


English-language learners, or ELLs, represent 9.4 percent of the student population in U.S. public schools, according to the most recent federal dataavailable. These students score well below their non-ELL peers on national assessments in reading and math and have a graduation rate of 65.1 percent—the second lowest after students with disabilities.

It’s those kinds of statistics that the Internationals Network for Public Schools is trying to combat through the opening of targeted programs that place ELLs on a level playing field with their peers. Most of the 8,600-plus students across the network have been in the U.S. for less than four years and score in the bottom quartile on an assessment of English proficiency when they enroll in school.

These programs aren’t just in major urban areas like D.C. and New York City, where the Internationals Network began and has 15 schools. The organization recently helped to open a school in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and school districts elsewhere, like Indianapolis, have also established similar programs independent of the network.

It’s a question frequently addressed in districts where there’s an influx of immigrants, said Annie Duguay, whose work at the Center for Applied Linguistics focuses on school-aged English-language learners. Immigration policy, population flow, regional economics and other demographics are all factors, she said.

Districts experiencing a large growth of immigrant students have been experimenting with such programs, and there is a lot of interest among content teachers, Duguay said in an email, adding that sometimes, teachers may want such a program for the wrong reasons, hoping it will “fix” a student’s English before they enter their classroom.

“A program such as Internationals is a more additive approach where there are large populations of immigrants that warrant a program and in particular for secondary students with limited or interrupted formal education who may be learning literacy and numeracy skills for the first time in a formal school setting. Programming really requires a holistic look at the demographics of the region, educational and linguistic backgrounds of the students and culturally-responsive school supports,” she continued.

The International Academy at T.C. Williams High School functions as a school within a school, maintaining its own students and staff while sharing facilities and top-level administration with the larger high school. (Natalie Gross)

Though the majority of students at Internationals Network schools are from Spanish-speaking countries, the children come from all over the world and speak close to 100 languages total—from French to Farsi. Some have little to no formal education and others are on par academically with their American peers, said Internationals Network Executive Director Joe Luft. At D.C.’s international high schools, students’ education levels and experiences fall on a particularly wide spectrum, with the city being home to children of diplomats and refugees alike, educators note.

Programs affiliated with the network vary in structure: Some, like the international academies at Cardozo and Roosevelt Senior High School in D.C. and their Alexandria, Virginia counterparts at T.C. Williams High School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School, function as schools within a traditional public school. They have separate counselors, teachers, and classrooms but the same top-level administration as their parent schools.

Other models, like International High School at Largo and International High School at Langley Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, are entirely separate schools. Though initially launched with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the schools will be fully supported by district funds in the upcoming school year.

No matter the model, these schools share a common goal—to enable ELL students to become proficient English speakers who are prepared for college by the time they leave high school, Luft said. The network has grown to 27 schools since its official launch in 2004, and is eyeing further expansion next school year.

“The core part of it is that the language development of our students is everyone’s responsibility,” Luft said when asked what makes network schools different. “The traditional high-school model is that you have teachers that are responsible for different subject areas and often there’s a language-development teacher or an [English-as-a-second-language] teacher …  and yet none of the other instruction throughout the day is really geared towards [ELLs’] needs.”

This approach was evident during Zelaya’s probability and statistics class, as Krell, the teacher, asked students to read and write the definition of “outlier” as he introduced the math term. Midway through class, he launched into a full-blown grammar lesson on forming conditional sentences when discussing hypothetical situations—if the median were to change, for example.

According to graduation statistics in New York City, the approach seems to be working. Last year, 74 percent of graduates at network schools finished in four years, compared to 31 percent of English-language learners citywide. The network’s six-year graduation rate was also higher—78 percent compared to 49 percent.

At Cardozo, still too new to have trackable graduation data, there are early measures of success. The attendance rate at the academy has been consistently higher than the overall average attendance rate of Cardozo High School, which houses the academy.

Also part of the network’s model is an emphasis on preserving students’ home languages by allowing, and even encouraging, students to use their native language in the learning process—just like Zelaya was doing with her classmates.

“It’s a really important part of who students are, but it’s also an important part of what they can use to make meaning for learning in school,” Luft said.

For Zelaya, it’s a double-edged sword. She appreciates the opportunities to speak Spanish with her peers because she’s more comfortable communicating in her native language, she said. But at the same time, she knows they should be all be practicing their English to become fluent.


When Zelaya was 15, a local gang member running from police forced himself into her family’s home in El Salvador, she said. She remembers moving in with her grandmother for a while until her mom finally convinced the gang member to leave. But soon after, the family started receiving threatening phone calls that made them fear for their lives.

“We told my dad that, and he said that we couldn’t live in there because it was too dangerous for us,” she said. “When people say no to the [gang], they decide to kill them.”

Zelaya’s father had moved to the U.S. when she was in elementary school, and though he’d planned to return to El Salvador one day, he decided to send money for his wife and children to join him in D.C. instead, she said. The family has been seeking asylum with the U.S. government ever since.

Zelaya enrolled in Cardozo High School a month after arriving in D.C in October 2013, before the school opened the International Academy in 2014; she’d just turned 16. She didn’t speak any English at the time and was working with only one English-as-a-second-language teacher. She said some students laughed and made fun of her and the other Spanish speakers, but she tried not to let it bother her.

Even now, when she takes gym class and electives with the students at the larger Cardozo High, she feels like she doesn’t fit in.

Cardozo teachers treat the immigrant students differently, she said, and though the two schools share hallways and a cafeteria, the students don’t really mingle. (As of this article’s publication, the school’s principal was unavailable to provide comment.)

For some, that’s a problem.


When Prince George’s County announced it would open two high schools for nonnative English speakers in fall 2015, the decision was immediately criticized by some. Parents complained that the new schools would have newer resources than Largo High School, which shares a building with one of the international schools, and others in the majority-black community felt the separate learning environments sounded all too familiar. The local NAACP chapter even called officials from the organization’s state offices to weigh in.

For Barbara Dezmon, the education chair for the Maryland NAACP, the main concern was that the schools’ model did not include a plan to transition students out of the program once they become proficient in English. Long-term segregation under any circumstances is unacceptable, Dezmon said—“whether it is Largo, whether it is Harvard, or whether it is that school in Arkansas back in the 50s.”

A student raises her hand in class.
Katherine Zelaya, 19, raises her hand to answer a question asked by her teacher, Michael Krell, in probability and statistics on Feb. 24. Zelaya and her classmates were learning how to identify the median and mean of a set of numbers. (Natalie Gross)

“The plan has to be one in which these children who are coming with a need as English-language learners,” she continued, “participate for probably a year at least and then they enter the general population of the school that is part of the program.”

Gary Orfield, who co-directs the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, and conducts extensive research on school segregation, also opposes keeping English-language learners in separate environments for too long, he said. But he knows it doesn’t benefit students to put them in a classroom where they don’t understand what’s going on either.

“There’s a lot of hard choices. Many of them are being made with good intentions,” Orfield said, noting that he has not personally studied international schools but has noticed a lot of enthusiasm for them.

International High School at Largo Principal Alison Hanks-Sloan is aware of the community’s concerns, though she said support for her school has improved recently, even as she’s made more efforts to partner with the school next door. She also emphasized that the international schools in Prince George’s County are simply options that are available to students who struggle with English—students are not forced to go to Largo and can still choose their in-boundary high school if they’re looking for a bigger school with more extracurricular opportunities. And unlike most other Internationals Network schools, the ones in Prince George’s County aren’t restricted to recently arrived immigrant students; even English-language learners born in the U.S. can attend.

But as far as a plan for transitioning out of the international schools, there isn’t one.

At the International Academy at T.C. Williams in Alexandria and the academies in D.C., students can take elective classes offered by the parent high school, thereby mixing with native English speakers. But Luft said Internationals Network schools are different from other transitional ELL programs in that they’re designed to provide a full, rigorous academic curriculum; the goal isn’t necessarily for students to intermix with native English speakers but rather to be immersed in an environment that’s tailored to their unique needs.

It’s up to the students whether to stay or go.

Student-made signs line the hallways at the International Academy at T.C. Williams High School. (Natalie Gross)

Back when the Prince George’s County international schools were announced, local NAACP President Bob Ross told The Washington Post that the schools were putting the needs of newcomers “ahead of the needs of those who are already here.”

“You can’t close the achievement gap for one group and then [not] close the achievement gap for the other group,” he told me more recently.

But even though he wishes the schools had adopted a more integrated model that included both native and non-native English speakers, he’s since shifted his focus to other issues and said he hopes the schools succeed. And in today’s political climate, he wants the immigrant community to know they have an advocate in the NAACP—not an enemy.

In a school full of immigrants two miles from the White House, Zelaya and her classmates have felt the ripple effects of a new president’s controversial immigration policies that pledge to put Americans first.

She has always loved school but has sometimes wondered since coming to the U.S. whether it’s worth finishing; in her opinion, finding a professional job can be especially difficult for immigrants.

Some people “think that we can’t work, we can’t do anything good for this country,” she said. “I feel kind of angry sometimes because I feel like [those people] look at me less. It’s difficult for us even to find a job, even to work, [to go to] school … everything.”

Ultimately, it’s Zelaya’s after-school job at Popeyes that keeps her motivated. She wants to continue to learn English so that she can go to college and work toward a better life for her family.

“While I’m working at the restaurant, I tell myself I don’t want to be here all my life,” she said. “So I tell myself you have to study, you have to prepare yourself to have a better future or better job in your life.”

She was recently offered scholarships to attend Marymount University, Hilbert College, and Catholic University, but plans to give the University of the District of Columbia a try before possibly transferring. She plans on studying education.

Could she have learned in English in a regular school setting? Yes, Zelaya said—in her own way. But she prefers the focused attention on language development and extra support that she’s received at the International Academy. Besides that, she said, she feels like she’s found a new family in her fellow immigrant peers.

The students all come from different backgrounds, yet share a bond in their common experiences—like working after school to support their families and going to school every day to try their best, she said. “I can tell them what I feel—anything. I can tell anything to them because I know they will understand me.”

Big change:Babus, not academicians, to oversee education in Punjab

The Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) has decided to make structural changes in its set-up, by appointing bureaucrats instead of academicians in top positions.

The decision was taken in a meeting of the board held on Friday.

Until now, academicians were appointed in the administrative posts such as secretary. Now, the government will appoint IAS and PCS officers. At present, Janak Raj Mehrok is holding the position of secretary in the PSEB.

Among other decisions, the board has finally chosen to hand over the eleven Adarsh Schools under it to the government, would “bear their complete liability”.

The decision was taken in a meeting of the board held here on Friday.

Sources said the board ends up spending around Rs 35 crore on Adarsh Schools, which earned a revenue of Rs 1.5 crore only. The eleven adarsh schools under the board are located in five districts of Bathinda, Muktsar, Faridkot, Amritsar and Nawanshahr.

Meanwhile, the board has decided not to publish books for optional or additional subjects. The syllabus material of these books will be uploaded online for the students.

The board will make the art and craft classrooms in all schools, which were earlier supposed to be made under Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).

Education system dehumanised, mass producing clones: Delhi HC

New Delhi: The education system has become “completely dehumanised” into a machine which is “mass producing clones” and frowning upon individuality, the Delhi High Court said on Tuesday.

“It (education system) is completely de-humanised. It is a machine. The human element has been completely taken out. The contact between teacher and student is perfunctory. There is no connect,” a bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Najmi Waziri said.

The bench said, “Are we producing clones? We seem to be mass producing clones. It seems individuality is frowned upon now. You must conform at all costs, else retribution is swift.”

The court made the oral observations while hearing a plea initiated by the Supreme Court in September last year on the alleged suicide by a student of Amity Law University. The matter was transferred to the Delhi High Court in March.

’It (education system) is completely dehumanised. It is a machine. The human element has been completely taken out. The contact between teacher and student is perfunctory. There is no connect,’ a Delhi high court bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Najmi Waziri said.

During the day’s proceedings, the bench said there was perhaps an “element of callousness” in how the university handled the deceased student’s “cry for help” before he took the extreme step.

Sushant Rohilla, a third year law student of Amity had hung himself at his home here on August 10, 2016 after the university allegedly barred him from sitting for semester exams because he did not have the requisite attendance. He left behind a note saying he was a failure and did not wish to live.

“The student reached out to you (Amity). He cried out for help. But did you respond? Perhaps there is an element of callousness in how you handled it,” the court said.

“Implement your rules, but do not put students at risk,” the court told the varsity which claimed it was only strictly enforcing its attendance norms.

“Systems are not in place in your institution which is why a student took that step,” the bench said. The varsity, however, said that systems were in place, but there was always room for improvement.

The court did not appear to be convinced by the claims of the varsity, which is affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU), and said there should be safeguards in place so that a person who wants assistance gets it immediately.

It also said that this incident would have scarred the lives of the family of the deceased, his friends and batch mates. “It is a continuing trauma for them.”

Meanwhile, the amicus curiae appointed by the court said the status report filed by the Delhi Police regarding the incident was “shocking” as it said there was nothing in the complaint which required examination of any person.

The status report also said the suicide note was probably not written by Rohilla, the amicus told the court.

He said the investigation carried out so far by the police appears to be “compromised” and therefore, should be transferred.

After hearing the submissions by the amicus, the bench said it expected the police to cover all bases and talk to everyone.

It directed the deputy commissioner of police (south) to look into the matter, monitor the probe and file a detailed and comprehensive report before August 8, the next date of hearing.

The GGSIPU was given a last opportunity to file an affidavit indicating its stand as it had not responded to the plea.

The PIL was instituted by the apex court after taking note of the letter written to then CJI T S Thakur by Raghav Sharma, a close friend of the deceased and a fourth-year law student.

It has been claimed that Rohilla, who missed classes for various reasons, including health issues, was depressed over the prospect of not being allowed to take the exam by the college because of lack of attendance. The letter has blamed the Amity authorities for Rohilla’s suicide.

Alleging harassment by his teachers, his classmates had taken to social media and launched protests on campus after his death demanding action against his professors, two of whom have since resigned.

The letter to the CJI had also urged the apex court to take cognisance of the incident and order a probe by an independent committee in such matters.

It also referred to the letter written by the student before taking the extreme step that he “might not mentally survive” the debarment.

The college had said that the student had 43% attendance, whereas the attendance requirement of the university was 75%.

Education department to lead ‘mission Aadhaar’ for school children in UP

The primary education department has been tasked with making Aadhaar cards of students of classes 1 to 8 in Uttar Pradesh.

A government order issued by special secretary, (primary education department) Dev Pratap Singh says the students who still do not have an Aadhaar card issued in their name will be provided one latest by July 31, 2017. The order is dated July 3, 2017.

Two computers and a kit, comprising iris scanner and finger printing machine, have been provided at each of the 852 development blocks present in Uttar Pradesh.

For accomplishing the task at the state level, the secretary, primary education department, has been made the nodal officer of the programme. At divisional level, the divisional assistant primary education director has been made the nodal officer. The basic shiksha adhikari has been made the nodal officer at the district level. The Khand Shiksha Adhikari has been made the nodal officer of the programme at the development block level.

The exercise will help in doing away with several discrepancies.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath had announced making Aadhaar cards mandatory for primary and secondary school students, after which the UP Board had made Aadhaar card necessary for admission to class 9 and class 11.

The exercise will help in doing away with several discrepancies including fake enrolment which is largely done for fraudulently seeking benefits of various welfare schemes for students like mid day meal, free uniform and textbooks.

The initiative will help in assessing the exact count of students in primary schools up to class 8, besides providing accurate information about school drop-outs.

The recently released Comptroller and Auditor General’s report says there were around 20 lakh drop-outs per year between 2010-11 and 2015-16 from class 2 to 7. The figure was obtained on comparison of data from the District Information System for Education (DISE) with household survey data. Accurate data will be available once Aadhaar cards are made for every student in government schools.

Corruption in education: Teachers education council asks staff to declare income and assets

To curb corruption and bring in greater transparency, the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) has asked all its employees to furnish details of their income and assets including property that will be put up on its website.

According to sources, the council has over a period of time received a number of complaints regarding corruption and the move is aimed at checking that.

“All the employees have been asked to provide details of their incomes, vehicles, property and its present market price. Data for three years has been sought from them so that it can be compared with the previous years,” said a senior NCTE official.

The council is responsible for providing recognition to B.Ed colleges and teacher training institutes. There are 11474 such institutes in the country. In the past, NCTE has been accused to processing applications for recognition out of turn. At the same time, a number of inspecting teams had members of questionable credibility and in some cases affiliation was granted even to non-existent colleges.

National Council for Teacher Education

Once the data of assets is complete it will be put on the NCTE’s website and the figures provided by the employees will also be monitored and compared to their income levels, sources further said.

“Generally too they are supposed to furnish such data but many people don’t do it despite reminders. But this time we have decided to put it on the website so that it is in public view,” added the official.

In case there are cases that look suspicious they will be put on a watch list and will be monitored closely. Employees at all levels including deputy secretary, under secretary, section officers among others have been asked to provide information.

The issue of corruption in NCTE has been raised in the Parliament too, in the past. In 2015, the then HRD minister Smriti Irani had informed the Lok Sabha that after reconstitution of the NCTE in May 2013, a vigilance wing was established in NCTE headed by Chief Vigilance Officer to look after the vigilance cases against the officers/officials of NCTE and in its Regional Offices.

“The Vigilance branch takes necessary measures in the cases of irregularities that come to their notice. In order to ensure transparency in the functioning of the NCTE, several steps have been initiated such as the online submission of applications for grant of recognition, on-line payment of fees and processing of applications in chronological order, etc”.