[Assam] Yesterday- Fire Drill in School Paradize -- Indian schools ignorant!!!-Cherry Blossom

umesh sharma jaipurschool at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 1 12:38:03 PST 2006

  It seems that one of Schwarzerneggar's movies -fire drill is an important part of US kindergarten schools (as they are called in India) or day-care centers for 0-5 year olds.
  I interviewed at 3 day-care centers including one where kids of ages 3months and up are taken in -- that was at Commerce Kids - inside the Federal building of Commerce Dept right opposite White House - meant for govt employees. 
  In comparison my current job (as substitute teacher -meaning when a regular teacher is absent they call me) is much more pleasant for teachers and students alike. It is inside a church building in Falls Church , Virginia - USA's richest county - mostly govt servants - but with no religious images at all. Money for the program comes from the govt's CFC program. 
  All kids are white except one East Asian who wears only Taikwando T-shirts and likes to draw rockets and build rockets (with blocks). Teachers are mostly non-white except a few including the director and a batchmate of mine from Harvard -Susan Kennedy from Human Dev and Psychology program.
  The main area is a big airy hall (about 20 feet by 50 feet) with windows on two  sides -along its length. Student generally sit on the ground on carpet/mattress when in their small gorups of upto 9 students - though they have a loft to climb up (for 4 at a time) and a playhouse -complete with toy fruits/food, pans, dishes, refrigerator, sink , utelnsils etc   . They use lots of colors -as paint, markers, crayons or a variety of paper - colored , rough etc.
  Lunch:  I set up their lunch tables and chairs - and distribute their food which they eat with their group teachers. Each group has anme like "Silly Penguins", "CopyCats" etc. Food is real good and lots of it. They all get fat-free milk -in plastic cups, except those who are allergic to it ( for them special milk /soy milk is given). Yesterday I was also invited to join eating the tasty stuff - well cooked , honeyed Barbecue chicken, boiled beans, bread, HoneyDew melons. One is expected to atleast try everything once - many seemed to have grown used to the delicacies and refuse to eat them. There is lots left over most of the time - which I wonder goes where - maybe the teacher who cleans up is allowed to take it home.
  A large part of pre-lunch and post lunch time is spent outside in the neighboring playground with its large space between two residential houses . This week being great spring time weather - was almost like a picnic. Some mothers was also volunteering -and enjoying it.  The only drawback is that the hall is two floors above ground level so there is a danger of kids falling down the stairs -as one did just on my first day (not under my care though but of the teacher in front of me). SO that is the time when I am most cautious - making repeated comments for the kids to hold the side railings on the staircase. 
  Fire Drill
  Yesterday we had a Fire Drill - and the kids were so well aware of what to do that I wondered if Indian school kids knew this then cases of hundreds of kids at a time dying in school fires could be avoided. Some may recall that in July/August 2004 (just before I was to leave for US) about 400 school kids of middle school and high school got burnt to death. Some teachers died with them -others ran to save their own lives -including the school director.   
  After we came out in a single file - with the loud bell ringing all the time -and when the roll call had been taken to ensure that all were outside. The fire deptt had been told that it was a mock exercise (there is a hotline to fire dept). The teachers gathered them in a group and asked questions. 
  "Why should we not cover our ears while coming down (becos of the loud nouse of the fire bell)?" 
  Answer from the kids" Becos then we cannot hear the teachers instructiuons"  
  Ques: "What should you do if you are left alone in the building and can see noone ?"
  Ans: " Come outside quickly"
  Ques: "What should you do if your body catches fire?
  Roll " Roll on the ground" -- and they did start rolling on the grass!!!
  The situation at the 2004 fire in India was similar. The kids were much older 13-18 years old but the teachers had never practised any drill. Even when the fire was burning they did not allow the students to exit fro the only exit down the stairs. They just kept telling them to be calm. The fire was becos lunch was being prepared inside the school building  for the kids.
  PS: Though I am amazed by the variety of activities the kids do - and some can draw better than many of my grade 3 eight year old kids and know a lot about differnt animals, space ships , grocery stores (as they pay in their payhouse) etc - they do not study any alphabet or numbers - like Indian kids do. The only exception seems to be the East Asian kid who knows that alphabet-maybe taught by his immigrant but well educated parents. His mother comes to drop him. 
  To reach school at 7 am I leave my house at 5:30 am. 
  The school and playground are surrounded by cherry blossom trees - in full bloom these days http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011.html and saw the Japanese dances at Kennedy center here on this fest. DC also has one http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/events/eng/event_search.php3?event_category=A might go to see tomorrow. 
  Interestingly I bought a new shoe polish yesterday (Kiwi) after my old one from India got used up . That was called 'Cherry Blossom' -famous in India in Bata stores - though I never knew what Cherry Blossom was. Now that I do - the polish is over!!

Umesh Sharma
5121 Lackawanna ST
College Park, MD 20740

 1-202-215-4328 [Cell Phone]

Ed.M. - International Education Policy
Harvard Graduate School of Education,
Harvard University,
Class of 2005
Yahoo! Messenger  NEW - crystal clear PC to PC calling worldwide with voicemail 
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