Indian students on India

14th August 2016. Sandwiched between International Youth Day (13th August) and India’s 69th Independence day (15th August), today got me reflecting on some things we’re learning about students through Student Think Tank for India. Students who are trying to understand this complex, bewildering, wonderful country.

1. They have questions.

About gender, about corruption, about what is waste and who cleans it up. Including, as one student asked with a straight face “are you a corrupt person?”

2. Social studies is nobody’s favourite subject

All those things put in our syllabus to make us good citizens? From my experience of talking to at least 100 kids a month — they detest it. CMCA , the Children’s Movement for Civic awareness reports low ratings on democratic citizenship among Indian teens. This is a score worth worrying about.

Yuva Nagarik Meter — CMCA

Somewhere on the other side of the world, a p4C (philosophy for children) high school course talks about why they are shifting from traditional social studies and civics to “a more examined” social and civic life. It holds clues about how to supplement this crucial part of education.

Makaiau, A, et al, 2015. Philosophical Inquiry. UH Manoa Uehiro Academy for Philosophy & Ethics in Education.

3. Kids want to do good

The CMCA report captures the level of apathy and ignorance, but if, like us, you’re interested in asking, what if it could be another way — there’s a lot of good ideas.

Look at Project Aawaaz. Look at Reap Benefit. Read about the impact of these Design for Change stories from India.

4. …and doing good is good for them!

Competitive demands of schooling, unstable environments at home, social & peer pressures of all kinds are like the heavy textbooks on a student’s shoulder that appear harmless at first but over time crush the poor child. Mental illness can be attributed to a toxic and fractured social environment. It’s at a high right now.

Aakash’s YKA post on existentialism and education

Dr. Vinu Aram, director of Shanti Ashram at Coimbatore, joked about how people wait to be diagnosed with depression to finally come and do some community service.

5. We might have some good ideas on how to do this

We hold regular Baatcheet (in Hindi, discussion) sessions on civic issues for high school students. And we find that they do in fact enjoy the process of questioning, articulating, listening, and taking a shot at problem solving. All the jazz of 21st century skills. Because in appealing to their thinking and empathy, we are talking to them as equals. Not surprisingly, they love not being lectured.

In an experiment to expand the Baatcheet among this beloved and belittled age group, we’ve rolled out the Baatcheet clubs, an extra-curricular activity for high school students from anywhere in India. There is overwhelming evidence that empathy, communication, collaboration and critical thinking are the mark of an effective 21st century education. But civic engagement has increasingly come to be the prerogative of privileged students; the unspoken understanding is that caring about issues or about anything outside of individual pursuits is a luxury that only the well-off can afford.

STTI Baatcheet Boards

We disagree. By removing the need for for hefty entry fees, offsetting the advantage of living in big cities where schools offer multiple extra curricular activities, and doing away with all the frills that events like MUNs flash, this is an effort to democratise civic engagement and make it an experience any student can have. My childhood school in Coonoor should have as much of a space to understand and engage with issues as a student in any of Delhi’s famed schools. We cannot wait to see the next wave of questions and insights from working with more Indian students on understanding India.

Student Think Tank for India works to promote critical thinking and civic engagement among high schools in India. Look us up on Facebook!