My name is Naina Boveja and I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for International Initiatives (CII).  I am traveling in India with 2 other members of the CII team, meeting with the schools that we are going to connect to the United States through our eKWIP platform.  Please read about my experience in Gwalior, India-

Our trip to Delhi Public School (DPS) Gwalior was more than I ever could have imagined.  The night before we went, we had the pleasure dining with the Director of the school.  He explained his vision, that children from Gwalior should be exposed to the world.  They should travel and know English well, even if their parents may not know the language. He told us his idea for video conferencing, where students from India would be taught by world-renowned teachers and vice-versa, through cutting edge technology.  We gave him more details about eKWIP, the secure platform that will connect classrooms globally.

Our adventure began with a 6:15am train ride from Delhi to Gwalior.  I had only heard about train stations in India, but never experienced one for myself, I was a little nervous, but there is nothing like going with locals who know the system.  They bypassed all the traffic and stopped in the middle to let us out.  We followed a man who carried our luggage on top of a red scarf that he wrapped around his head.  It was quite a memorable experience.

The train ride took almost 4 hours.  When we got out of the train, we were welcomed so warmly with smiles and bouquets of beautiful flowers by the Principal, 2 teachers, and one of the trustees of the school.  Similarly, when we reached the school, we were welcomed by students and teachers with a traditional welcome ceremony that included putting a tikka on our foreheads and giving us a blessing.

We walked around the entire school for the rest of the school day, understanding the innovative methodology and seeing the smiling children.  It was hard to believe the school is only 4 years old!

The Principal of DPS Gwalior, Mr. Sunil Bhalla, has created an environment conducive to learning at every level.  The results are phenomenal. The teachers are his strength and he their inspiration.  The day starts out with a motivational thought texted to parents and teachers.  He also has the same thought on various bulletin boards in the school, so the students can also see the message.

It was a breath of fresh air to see teachers have complete freedom over their classrooms.  Students learn diverse subjects in innovative ways. There are dance classes, science, computer, and math labs, audiovisual rooms, music lessons and traditional subjects (just to name a few). They also teach English, Japanese, and German.  The facilities are excellent.  They are bright and airy.   The cheerful environment definitely carries over to the students.  One thing I found particularly interesting is how the students spend less time in school, but are retaining the information at a very high level.  The school day is from 8-2:30, and the morning classes are traditional subjects and the afternoon classes are activities based.  They are using the student’s energy level to their advantage. Some might take the activities-oriented method of learning as unconventional, but the bottom line is that every student seems to enjoy their experience, and they remember the concepts that they had learned previously.

When we went outside, we saw the real life version of some of the exploriments (the science portion of the eKWIP portal), in large tactical “toys” for the children to discover while they are outside.  Concepts in applied math and physics are part of a garden near the playground, so children can be learning while they are playing.

After the school day was over, we had a late lunch and went to the Gwalior Fort to see the Sound and Light show. People sit outside the steps of the fort and hear the history of the place while different parts of the fort light up according to the story.  It was beautiful.

The next morning we arrived at school a little before 9am and were escorted to the outdoor stage area where the students have their Assembly twice a week. The topic of the day was wisdom so teachers and students spoke to the particular topic. We were honored as their special guests. The students showed us dance performances, sang songs, recited poetry and gave speeches. One performance (the peacock dance) actually placed second on the reality TV show India’s Got Talent.

Our day was packed.  After the assembly we had a meeting with the principal to understand the report cards and evaluation system.  The one thing I realized from this school is that everyone is held accountable. The report card includes input from teachers as well as parents.  They go beyond measuring English and Science and have categories for each subject, such as Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Comprehension, as well as Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.  They ask parents to evaluate their own children on discipline, obedience, and their consistent study habits.  The evaluations are taken into account for their overall marks.  The children were so polite and disciplined, that you could tell they took the DPS motto of, “Service before self”, to heart.  Whenever we were walking through the school, the students were sure to say “good morning mam,” or “good afternoon mam.”

Later in the day, we met with some of the students to answer questions about our program. We talked to 10th and 11th graders and found out what each student wants to be after he or she finishes high school. Students want to become astronauts, engineers, lawyers, business people, designers, and journalists. We asked them how they know what they want to be at such a young age, and each student said that it was discussed with their parents and mutually decided.  There was a diverse group, and just by talking to the students, we knew that they would make their ambitions into reality. After, we had the opportunity to speak to the teachers.  We showed them a demo of a eKWIP and answered their questions.

In the afternoon, we had a press conference. Several of the local papers in Gwalior were in attendance.  We even had our picture in the paper!  The press conference went well and people seemed to like the idea of connecting classrooms to each other.  They wanted to be sure that we would also show the rural areas and similarly connect them to the world. We told them that we would be sure to do that in the subsequent rounds of the program.

While we were in all of our meetings, the students made rangolis for us all over the school.  They used traditional materials like sand and flowers, and non-traditional materials like soda cans and candies.  The whole experience was mesmerizing and we enjoyed every minute.  We look forward to working with DPS Gwalior as our lead school in India and are sure that the cultural and academic exchange with  classrooms using the eKWIP portal and video conferencing capabilities will go beyond any of our expectations.

Naina Boveja
Executive Director
Coalition for International Initiatives