The growing importance of India to Australia is not well reflected in schools. India-related content and Indian languages are very rarely taught in Australian schools. There are few connections between Australian and Indian schools in the form of student and teacher exchanges, sister school partnerships and collaborative classroom activities. Deepening school-related connections between India and Australia will require: (1) increasing teacher knowledge of India; (2) developing a better understanding of India literacy; and (3) promoting Hindi in Australian schools. This work should be guided by the following principles: (1) personal connections; (2) sustainability; and (3) inclusivity and equality.
Understanding the Indian School System
There are many different types of school in India. Within the category ‘government school’, the vast majority are standard state government schools, but there are also Kendriya Vidyalaya for the children of central government employees, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya for gifted students from rural areas, and several different school types connected to the defence forces. While most private schools receive no government funding (‘private un-aided’), a small minority are privately managed but receive a regular maintenance grant from the government or other public authority (‘private aided’). Private unaided schools can also be ‘recognised’ by the government or ‘unrecognised’. Given the small number of ‘private aided’ schools, in this report the term ‘private’ is used as a shorthand for ‘private un-aided’, including both recognised and unrecognised schools.
Schooling in India is highly privatized. In 2014-2015, 21 per cent of children (aged 6-18) in rural areas and 42 per cent in urban areas were studying in private (un-aided) schools (Kingdon, 2017). As education has become something that even the poorest access, there has been ‘elite flight’ from government to private schools. But private schools are attractive to poor families too, many of whom are willing to part with large proportions of their income for schooling. The majority of private schools are ‘low-fee’. In 2014-15, the median private school fee in urban India was just INR500 (approximately AUD10) per month. Although some categories of government schools, particularly Kendriya Vidyalaya, have excellent reputations and remain popular with middle-class families, standard state government schools cater primarily to the poorest of the poor.
India has a 10+2 school system, comprising five years of primary education, three years of upper primary, two years of secondary, and two years of higher secondary known as ‘plus two’ or ‘junior college’.
Many private schools also include two years of pre-primary or kindergarten. It is common for a single private school to encompass classes from kindergarten to Grade 10, and elite schools are increasingly extending to Grade 12. Pre-primary education is not typically provided in government schools. However, children can receive non-formal pre-school education in government funded Anganwadi centres, which provide child health and nutrition services in rural India.
The medium of instruction in government schools is the local language. Most private schools are English-medium, but many low-fee schools are English-medium in name only. English is the language of aspiration, believed to be necessary for individuals and the nation to compete in a global economy. English-medium schools are thus increasingly popular despite good evidence that children learn best when taught in their first language, and that promoting education in colonial languages reproduces inequalities.
Responsibility for education is shared between federal and state governments. School boards set the curriculum and conduct external exams for students in Grades 10 and 12. The three all-India boards are the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), which is a private, non-governmental board, and National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), which has a more flexible vocation-oriented curriculum. Each state also has its own board of education and curriculum. International curricula such as the International Baccalaureate or the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education are increasingly popular with elite private schools.
India has made significant progress in universalizing school education. At the primary school level (6–10 years), universal enrolment was achieved in 2005–06. For the upper primary group (10–13 years), 91.2 per cent of children were in school in 2014–15 compared to only 71 per cent in 2005–06. At the secondary level (14–15 years), the enrolment rate improved from 52.2 per cent in 2005–06 to 78 per cent in 2014–15. The bulk of the gains in enrolment at both the upper primary and the secondary level was for girls, whose enrolment rates over the last five years have overtaken boys (slightly) at both upper primary and secondary levels.
Enrolment rates are rapidly improving even for minorities and disadvantaged communities, such as scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST). Several government initiatives have contributed to this progress, including increased resources for school infrastructure, hiring new teachers and providing school meals under the Education for All (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) campaign, establishing residential schools for girls from marginalized communities (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya), and providing girls with bicycles to get to school (Balika Cycle Yojana). However, dropout rates are high – only around 30 per cent of children enrolling in Class 1 graduate from Class 12.
The quality of education is highly uneven in India. There are many excellent schools, but the majority of these are accessible only to the elite. Most students, especially the poor, attend schools where limited learning occurs. In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test in 2012, Indian students were ranked second last among the 73 countries that participated. The Indian government subsequently withdrew from participating in PISA, citing issues related to linguistic and cultural diversity. However, other tests also suggest there is cause for concern. In the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report, only a quarter of Class 3 children in rural India were found to be ‘ready’ for Class 3, able to do subtraction and read a basic text in their own language. The outcomes for government schools appear worse than for private schools, leading some to argue that low-fee private schools are the solution to educating India’s poor. However, there is little difference in quality when one controls for socioeconomic status.
Although India has some outstanding teachers, there is a severe teacher shortage, and improving the overall quality of classroom teaching is a major challenge for Indian policy makers. The National Council of Educational Research and Training has responded to this challenge with a National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, and the Indian Government has introduced several schemes to encourage the use of Information and Communications Technology in classroom teaching. However, many schools employ teachers who are inadequately qualified or untrained, and teacher motivation in India is low. 
In 2009, the Indian Government passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The Act includes a number of provisions that aim to make education more accessible and inclusive, including minimum teacher and infrastructure requirements as well as measures to make it easier for parents to enrol their children and to promote a more child-centred pedagogy. Section 12(1)(c) of the Act stipulates that all private schools must ensure that 25 percent of new entrants are from the ‘Economically Weaker Section’ and ‘disadvantaged categories’. This aspect of the Act has the potential to decrease segregation in India’s schools and increase equality of access to education opportunities, but it is unevenly implemented, and its effectiveness remains to be seen.
There has been significant interest in India in reforming school pedagogy. The Right to Education Act mandated Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) in an effort to move schools away from ‘chalk and talk’ rote learning for exams, and to reduce pressure on students. This approach to assessment was introduced by the CBSE as well as by state government boards of education, but in 2017, the CBSE cancelled CCE, and reintroduced the compulsory Class 10 annual board exam. In February 2015, the Indian Government set up a task force to develop a New Education Policy. In January 2019 it was announced that a draft of the policy would be made public soon, and this is expected to occur after the May 2019 election. A big focus of curriculum reform in India is reducing the amount of content, which may leave more room for internationalization activities. There are also plans to extend and improve the vocational education offered through the National Institute of Open Schooling.
Since the liberalization of the Indian economy in the 1990s, there has been an increasing emphasis in schools on preparing students for a global economy. Different types of Indian schools have very different priorities when it comes to making international connections. Elite private schools are forging links with schools around the world, establishing programs of student and faculty exchange, adopting international curricula and promoting the importance of global citizenship. International curricula are particularly appealing to elite parents who believe these better prepare students for high-status universities in the USA and UK than Indian curricula. A single elite school often has partnerships with schools in several different countries. Standard state government schools are not looking to internationalize, but between these schools and elite schools is a very wide range of schools interested in ‘international exposure’ and professional development through student and staff exchanges as well as collaborative classroom activities.
Connecting Australian Schools with India
‘Asia literacy’ has been a priority in Australia since 1994 when the Council of Australian Governments endorsed its Working Group’s report, Asian Languages and Australia’s Economic Future. This led to two significant national programs, the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy (NALSAS, 1995–2002) and the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP, 2008–2012). In 2008, the importance of Asia literacy was rearticulated in The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, which sets out the agreed national purposes and role of schooling and provides the basis of the Australian Curriculum. The Melbourne Declaration states “India, China and other Asian nations are growing and their influence on the world is increasing. Australians need to become ‘Asia literate’, engaging and building strong relationships with Asia.”
Following the Declaration, ‘Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia’ was made one of three ‘cross-curriculum priorities’ in the Australian Curriculum. The White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century (Asian Century Taskforce, 2012) positions Asian languages and studies as national objectives. It suggests that all schools should engage with at least one school in Asia and all students should have access to at least one priority Asian language in order to achieve these objectives.
Despite these declared priorities, a study conducted by the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) found that across Australia, only a small minority of Year 12 students undertake studies with content or focus on Asia. Even when Asia is a possible content or focus area, it is not often selected for study by students and teachers who generally prefer content on Europe. Further, AEF found that the small amount of content or focus on Asia covered a limited range of countries within the region, with almost no content on India. Australian schools’ engagement with India is very low in comparison to other Asian countries, such as China and Indonesia. Very few schools have sister school partnerships with Indian schools, student and teacher exchanges with India are rare, and Indian languages are hardly taught. Only three primary schools and one high school in Victoria and six primary schools in New South Wales offer Hindi.
Nevertheless, although small in scale when compared to engagements with other countries, there are many good examples of connections between Australian schools and India. Much of this work has been led by individual schools. State schools such as The Grange P-12 College in Hoppers Crossing, and Rangebank Primary School in Cranbourne have been pioneers in teaching Hindi, integrating India knowledge throughout the curriculum, engaging with the local Indian community, and (in the case of Rangebank) establishing a student exchange program. Some Catholic and independent schools, such as Xavier College in Melbourne and Seymour College in Adelaide, have opportunities for students to visit India, and others, such as Tawoomba Grammar School, have organized collaborative classroom activities with Indian schools.
While forging connections with India often occurs organically through personal connections at individual schools, some state governments are supporting this work through strategies and funded programs. For example, Victoria’s India Strategy includes three initiatives for increasing school-level engagement with India: a student immersion program for Year 9 students, a principal exchange program for female principals, and a program to enhance schools’ connections with the Indian diaspora in Victoria. India has been a priority country for the Department of Education in the Queensland Government since 2016. As part of their internal strategy to engage with partners in India, they have been supporting schools in Queensland to form sister school arrangements and collaborate on global learning projects – an online exchange program – under a Statement of Intent with a private school conglomerate in India. They have also developed commercial capacity building and work shadowing programs for teachers in India delivered onshore and offshore.
Currently no Indian schools are offering the Australian curriculum, but some have been actively exploring doing so. There are some regulatory barriers to this, but one way in which an Australian school could form a meaningful and sustainable partnership with an Indian school would be to ‘foster’ them as they take up the Australian curriculum. Departments of education in state governments are also interested in Indian students studying in Australian schools as international students, but numbers are very low.
The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has been a key player in fostering Australia-India connections at the school level. To date, 539 Australian educators have participated in AEF professional learning programs in India and 70 Indian educators have participated in exchange programs in Australia. AEF’s Indian collaborators for these programs have included: private schools and principals; government sector schools and principals e.g. Kendriya Vidyalaya schools; non-government organisations supporting education; and government education authorities e.g. Ministers and bureaucrats from the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Central Board of Secondary Education.
AEF’s work has included:
- 15 Study and Exchange Programs for Australian school educators to India, 1994-2017
- Linking Latitudes India, AEF Conference and 12 Fieldwork Programs across India, for 250 Australian educators, 2007.
- Global Education Leaders Program held in New Delhi for education system leaders from 14 jurisdictions from around the world, including Victoria and Australia, in partnership with the Central Board of Secondary Education in India, 2013.
- Australia-India BRIDGE Program, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), commenced in 2015 and has involved 32 Indian and Australian school educators on reciprocal visits to each other’s countries to date. BRIDGE teachers and students collaborate on projects and practice language skills with their partner school.
- AEF’s India-Australia Principal and Women in Leadership Program, for the Australian Government and Western Australia Department of Education was delivered over ten years to build relationships, understanding and leadership capacity of Indian and Australian school leaders.
- Curriculum resources on India encompassing English, History, Geography, the Arts and Mathematics learning areas.
Many of the above programs centre around the professional development of practicing teachers and principals. Australia-India connections in this area are growing. In 2018, Curtin University signed an agreement with the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in India to create and implement online training modules and other professional development tools for Indian teachers, and to establish a research centre at NCERT. In addition, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has a Delhi office – ACER India – and offers professional development and capacity building programs in the area of assessment.
Connections at the pre-service teacher training level are less developed. Several Australian universities offer study tours to India as part of pre-service training. DFAT’s New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program, which funds university student travel to Asian countries, is an important enabler of these connections. Universities organise most study tours, but the Delhi-based NGO Tara.Ed also runs ‘Teacher Tours’ that are tied to an academic program allowing pre-service teachers from Australian universities to apply for practicum credit toward the attainment of their teaching degree. It may also be worth exploring opportunities for Australian organizations to be involved in the pre-service training of Indian teachers, given the severe shortage of teachers and the unevenness of teacher training programs in India.
Key action areas
1. Increase teacher knowledge of India
India-related content is rare in Australian classrooms, in part because teachers choose to focus on other areas of the world when given the option. One likely reason for this is teachers’ own lack of knowledge of India. Increasing school-level study of India is therefore likely to be facilitated by increasing teachers’ exposure to India. This can be done by:
- Increasing India content in pre-service teacher education. A survey conducted in 2012 found that 60 per cent of teachers had completed their initial teacher education without addressing teaching and learning about Asia.
- Increasing opportunities for pre-service and practicing teachers as well as principals to have direct experience of India. The same 2012 research was unequivocal about the importance of first-hand experience of Asia as the most influential enabler of Asia literacy.
- Encouraging practicing teachers’ engagement with the Indian community in Australia.
2. Understand India literacy
A substantial amount of research has been conducted in Australia on ‘Asia literacy’, but it is highly likely that the drivers of and barriers to engagement differ for different Asian countries. China and, to a lesser extent Indonesia, have hugely dominated Asia related teaching and learning in Australian schools, and many Australians do not even regard India as part of Asia. Research with connected schools in both countries would be useful to understand what works and what does not when forging these connections as well as why schools might be drawn to India and Australia, in particular, as countries to connect with.
3. Promote Hindi in Australian schools
Language is often overlooked as a means of connecting with India because it is assumed that India is an English-speaking country, and the number of Indian languages can be daunting. However, only 11 per cent of Indians speak English, while more than 51 per cent speak Hindi. Hindi is the fourth most spoken language in the world, and among the fastest growing languages in Australia. Research shows that “the teaching of an Asian language positively impacts on all areas of Asia related teaching and learning”. Although Hindi was not one of the four ‘national target languages’ in the NALSAS strategy, it was added when the new Australian Curriculum was developed following the Melbourne Declaration. However, several years on, Hindi is taught in only a handful of Australian schools. A Very Short Policy Brief on ‘Strategies to expand Hindi education in Australia’ offers an overview of why and how Hindi education should be improved. It highlights the need for a language learning ecosystem with dynamic connections between primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. This is another area in which there are many opportunities for the Australian Indian community to provide a supportive role.
1. Personal relationships
All of the successful connections between India and Australia at the school level have involved investment in building personal connections through travelling to each other’s countries, taking the time to understand each other’s priorities, and developing a partnership that is mutually beneficial. Individuals and organizations looking to establish new connections should prioritise getting to know their counterparts in India well. Making the most of others’ connections is also a good strategy. Those who have been working in this area for many years will be able to make introductions to individuals and organizations whose interests are aligned.
There is a need to move Australia-India school-level connections beyond one-off activities. Although principal and teacher exchanges are a good way to forge personal relationships and build the knowledge and skills of individuals, they do not always lead to sustainable connections. Ensuring that these connections have an effect beyond individuals and their schools would be facilitated by:
- Recognising the importance of personal relationships and ensuring that programs allow enough time for these relationships to develop;
- State-level strategies and programs in Australia;
- Connecting not just with individual private schools in India, but also with entities such as the CBSE, the Ministry of Human Resource Development and state governments;
- Exploring opportunities for Indian schools to offer the Australian curriculum; and
- Continuing professional development around the use of ICT in teaching to enable collaborative classroom activities.
3. Equality and inclusivity
The highly privatized nature of India’s education system and huge variation in school fees means that most children study alongside others from similar class backgrounds to themselves. Non-elite children very rarely have access to quality education. Equality is an issue in Australia too, where there is a closer relationship between student background and academic achievement than in other OECD countries. Any efforts to better connect Australian schools and India should not compound these inequalities. Although language and resource barriers may make it most appropriate to connect with fairly elite private schools in India, efforts could be made to connect with and learn from schools that are educating poor and marginalized students alongside elite students as a result of the Right to Education Act, and/or schools engaged in various community development projects. Low cost strategies for connection – for example, connecting with Indian communities in Australia or connecting digitally with Indian schools – as well as exchange programs that are subsidised for those in financial need could also be encouraged.
There is very little written about engagement with India in Australian schools or the internationalization priorities of Indian schools. This report would not have been possible without the help of the following people, who so generously shared their knowledge and advice with me:
- Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road
- Maureen Welch, Consultant, former Director of the Asia Education Foundation
- Hamish Curry, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation
- Fazal Rizvi, John Quay and John Polesel, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
- Jennifer Star, Tara.Ed and ACER India
- Megha Gupta and Jacinta Webb, Department of Education, Queensland Government
- Lisa Davies, Department for Education, Government of South Australia
- Lyndal Corbett and Anu Jain, Australian High Commission
- Brigid Freeman, Australia India Institute
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