From: "Randolph Wang" <rywang@CS.Princeton.EDU>
Date: Tue, 1 May 2007 02:28:00 +0530
To: "DSH Hubs" <>
Subject: (dsh-discuss) (dsh-hubs) amazing school visit

Tanuja and I just returned from, arguably, the best school trip we've ever had!

And this picture is probably the most poetic of anything we've seen :)

We came to a BETI village school to see an evening school.  We had
heard about this for a while, but this was the first time we saw it.

It was 6:30pm.  Dusk was just settling in.  The entire village was
starting to gradually fall into darkness.  Except for one dim but warm
yellow-reddish light bulb from under one thatched roof (powered by the
same battery that powered our TV).

This was our "school."

Little kids, with books, under the moonlight, from all over the
village started to walk into the "school."  It seemed entirely
business as usual to them.

They sat down.  The teacher flipped on the TV.  For the next 1.5
hours, they had an English lesson and a science lesson, and we were
absolutely astonished by the level of quality instruction we saw.

The teacher and the TV in this case probably formed the best "team"
I'd seen.  She was pausing and resuming the TV throughout, but she was
so in command, so confident, assertive, playful, natural, that you
could be easily forgiven for forgetting the background she had.

But what was perhaps even more remarkable were the kids.  They
clamored to answer every question, to volunteer for every act, and
most amazingly of all, they got the answers right most of the time!
The participation was deafening for the entire period and they
literally wore down us adults first :)

I took time to step back from the school house and receded into the
darkness that was the rest of the village.  It was quite a magical
moment :)  There was this single orange dot in the distance, under a
thatched roof, under a silver moon.  And there was a cacophony of the
TV "teacher", the "real" teacher, kids screaming answers, and lots,
lots, lots of laughter, echoing in the night sky.


So far, so good.  But consider the following facts, which make this
all the more remarkable.

(1) This school started working with DSH around November of last year.
 (This was the school that Paul, Kentaro, and Bhagya came to see, the
BETI school, just when we were starting out---back then they were just
starting with alphabets.)  It's been about five months (four months
perhaps, if minus holidays), and this evening school has been going on
pretty much EVERY SINGLE night except for weekends and holidays!  By
now, the novelty effects probably should have died down, and yet the
enthusiasm of both the teacher and the students had stuck and it had
become routine.  The result shows itself.  They have advanced to DVD
#4 (out of a total of 5 discs for grade 3---the whole set is supposed
to last for a whole year).  If you look at the way the kids are
responding to questions, you don't need no fancy schmancy "evaluation"
to be able to tell that the kids have OBVIOUSLY got it!  At a level
that's probably as good as any fat kid anywhere!

The teacher told us that the kids, from a distance, watch for the
little orange bulb under the thatched roof to know when to come.  And
if the light comes on late, they'll come anyhow to pester her to turn
the darn thing on.  Sometimes, the teacher looked a bit tired, and the
kids would tell her to go take a break and they said they could take
of themselves in front of the TV :)

(2) There's no special baby-sitting coming from us.  The teacher took
up doing the evening school all by herself when she saw more kids
coming during the day than she could handle.  We didn't give her the
idea.  We had never come to see it during the past 5 months at nights.
 (Shame on us! :)  Indeed, we didn't even know this was going on for
quite a while.  We had come during the day for maybe a total of 3-4
times, dropping off some discs, chatting with her a bit, nothing
special.  The teacher gets paid something like Rs800 by the BETI NGO.
We don't pay her a single cent of extra bribe.  So this was all
happening without special attention or special bribery.

I asked her why she was doing it.  She didn't give any pretentious
answers :)  She said something along the line (with Tanuja's
translation), "as long as they come, I'll teach them; and as long as
the stuff is here, I might as well do something with it."  Cool simple
answer, no BS!  :)

We now must give her tons of special recognition at our spokes
workshop!  And we need to give her a special award! :)

(3) In terms of both their economic and academic backgrounds, both the
teacher and the kids in this case are probably as poor as it gets.
(This is kind of a specialty of BETI.)  If we can make it here, we
should be able to make it anywhere!!  (We had good results at places
like Kannar before, but as the geezer can testify, the Kannar school
is slightly upper-scale as far as village schools go.)


Ok that was enough gloating.  But let's not get too carried away :)
This is not happening everywhere.  Most other places are doing ok, but
not as brilliantly as this, as far as I can tell.

An important job for us to figure out is what exactly are the magic
ingredients that're happening here so we can replicate them.

(Simple things: I don't think everyone understands that it really
takes patience and persistent hard work for at least months to see any
result.  Some teachers and students get discouraged if they don't see
magic results after a couple weeks, or after skipping a couple

We currently have three BETI schools.  The other two are not as good
as this one.  Especially the one that's located in a predominantly
Muslim neighborhood, where the girls tend to be much quieter.  (They
are so conservative that they remained quiet during a question of the
three-piglet story, because the Hindi word of "pig" is considered a
swear word, I was told :)  We also think the Muslim families,
statistically, tend to be less encouraging in terms of letting girls
going to school.

Even the morning school of this BETI school, manned by exactly the
same teacher, isn't working as well as this.  One problem is that in
the morning school, the girls are supposed to do embroidery to
supplement their income, and the work often gets in the way of

We're about to expand into more BETI schools that don't do embroidery
and are entirely study-oriented...

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(dsh-discuss) (dsh-hubs) amazing school visit / "Randolph Wang"