Tuesday March 19, 2019
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Decolonizing India: Colonialism a teacher away?

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Teacher Helping Kids --- Image by © Michael Prince/Corbis

By Sumana Nandi

Couple of weeks back, I received a message on Facebook from Miss Mary Francis- my class teacher in Standard III and IV. The message read:

“Sumana, I’m very sorry for hurting you. Please forgive me if I’ve been very bad to you. May be in trying to be very sincere I was a bit harsh. Sorry a hundred times.”

For a minute, I went numb. Gradually, I pieced the emotions apart. On one hand, I was filled with empathetic remorse of how Miss Mary Francis may have felt while writing this message, and on the other, the ghosts of being the “rotten potato” about fifteen years from today came gushing to my mind like the roaring waves dashing against each other in a tumultuous ocean.

Thumbnail_Indian-teachers-yearn-to-focus-more-on-skill-and-personality-development-for-their-studentsThe feeling of using a pen after using pencils for years is an altogether different experience. Alas! My handwriting did not meet the cursive writing standards of Miss Francis. Coupled with this, the usual naughty kid I was, I loved to colour my fingers and the palm of my hand with royal blue ink which would match perfectly with my royal blue skirt, white shirt and blue tie.

So I wrote with pencil until I reached Standard V- which then meant being the junior most in the Senior Section.

In my school, it was the norm to have four rows of pairs sitting in a bright classroom with four big windows with a view of coconut trees and parrots flying in the horizon by the river Ganga.In order to discipline a child in school, our teachers would spank on the palm of the hand or on the calves with the end of a wooden ruler or make the child sit right under the nose of the teacher.

The sudden jolt I got after reading Miss Mary Francis’s message was at the second last line. I now re-read the message, not as a ten-year old but as a Scholar Activist specializing in education surrounded with many colleagues and friends who are teachers/professors/academics/educationist and those aspiring to be one. I mentally circled the word “sincere” with a red pen. Sincere to whom I ponder?

Is it sincerity to the job as a teacher in a convent school – which believes that female students should wear skirts below the knee, not sit with legs wide apart (like a man), need to learn to sew so as to put the missing button on the husband’s shirt and other Victorian values and virtues usually expected of a girl? Are sincere teachers just a tool in maintaining the status quo of patriarchy in the name of discipline? Are sincere teachers, mostly schooled in similar conditions have come to believe this is the manner in which a child needs to put straight in a line?

Miss Mary Francis’s apologies and regrets melt my heart and make me believe that most teachers probably are made to put-up-a-face. A face3c3e6b22-beda-45f8-9625-56471edc1fde

to the uphold the merciless, exploitative, oppressive and violent colonial system by colonising the minds of little robots (all in name of education and making better human beings) who would follow suit as they grow up. Teachers in many cases are compelled to do this in the fear of losing the job which sometimes is the only source of income.

Most teachers claim they promote independent critical thought but end the sentence with “Do as I say.” Towards the end of Standard IV, I had come to realise this. Definitely, not as much articulated as I am writing this piece; but the fact that, one needs to please the teacher if one doesn’t want to be penalised. This means, one says “yes” to everything one’s teacher, or the one’s superior in the power structure says. Even if one doesn’t agree to few or anything the teachers utters, one says “I agree”.

Thereby, the actual independent and creative mind of the child from the early years of his/her life is killed slowly in a subtly violent manner. The thought process is disturbed and moulded intothe way in which the system wants the child to think.

This produces homogenized people with uniform minds who then become slaves to the colonial and neocolonial system.
The worse being the neocolonial, because in this system, it is no longer the British, French, Portuguese and the Dutch masters but we have own very own Indian, Pakistani, Bangaldeshi, Srilankan and Japanese masters who actually controlled by remotes from Europe and America!

The killing of human beings psychologically doesn’t count as violence in the mainstream. It is only when terrorists bring out AK-47s, pistols and rifles it is “violence”.
The society then observes one-minute silence to mourn the death of their countrymen and countrywomen while continuing to massacre their own children every single moment. This epistemological violence which the society perpetuates is completely supported and financed by this exploitative Colonial/Neocolonial system ensures that all individuals are alienated from their own selves- their own consciousness- their own principles and only become cog in the wheel running after the salary they get for their labour, which again is meagre in comparison to the potential of the individual! admission

Probably India is an independent country politically, but our education system and the teachers who uphold such a system are not independent- they still put garland and incense sticks beneath the benevolent Lord Macaulay for showing us the light to get educated and civilized! The children are also taught to unquestioningly worship those Heroes and a couple of Sheroes (because anyway most of the Memsahabs were knitting in Shmila most of their time in India before 1947).

I can vouch that Miss Mary Francis was not only a sincere teacher within the classroom but also outside. She ensured that her students always carry the school bag weighing 15kilograms (hanging like a stone on the child’s shoulders) and not give it to their guardians or the rickshaw pullers or drivers who came to pick them up after school.

Thank you Miss Mary Francis for continuing to teach me till today by urging me to realize it is humane to apologize to someone half your age and that one is not always right! Thank you.

(All the names used in this article are fictional, there is no resemblance to any person living or dead. If any such resemblances arise, it is purely coincidental.)

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Africa
Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)