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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
How India's schools taught me about myself

By Kavita Patel
Westminster University student

Schoolgirl in Gujarat
Indian children: Smart uniforms - fewer resources

As a 20-year-old university student life is good.

I'm studying Film and Television Production at Westminster University and I'd say that I'm quite happy with the route my life is taking.

I sleep a lot, go out a lot and occasionally I might go to lectures.

However, a college project has helped me to take a step back from my life.

I recently visited a small, rural town in Gujarat, India. I visited several schools and colleges to interview students and gain an insight to their lives.

The town, Pethan, was where my dad grew up. It was the perfect location for me to film and, at the same time, learn about my culture and background.

Contrasting experiences: Students tell their stories

My parents constantly talk about how different their lives were when they were young, particularly schooling. My dad used to get up at 6am to go and work on a farm. Only after this would he go to school.

That school was very strict. He once told me the principal caned him for not having his shirt tucked into his trousers.

I laughed when he told me the story; he told me that we have it too easy. I agree with him now.

Differences in education

Initially I wanted to make a documentary, which highlighted differences between the education that we receive here and the education received in India.

School children in India working without desks
Although I was the one who had come into a completely new country, it was a huge culture shock for them - I was as much of interest to them as they were to me.

But while filming, I found myself being pulled further into the way of life of the young Indian students, whose lives greatly contrasted with those of many British Asians. I wanted to give people an insight into their lives.

I also wanted to find out what their aspirations are and what they thought about schooling in their country.

It was strange entering a country that looked completely different.

I was obviously expecting differences between London and Pethan but it was a complete culture shock.

Not everyone had telephones or televisions, but the majority of buildings didn't even have running water - something that hadn't even occurred to me before.

The schools and colleges were large and colourful, not like the dull, grey buildings in London.

Inside, the classrooms are spacious and airy and the students sit on long, wooden benches with small flip-top desks in front of them.

'Victorian environment'

The environment, and the atmosphere, reminded me of a Victorian classroom.

When the teacher speaks the children sit in complete silence. It shows a certain amount of respect, which, in a way I feel has almost vanished in England.

Students exercising
Discipline: Pupils exercise every morning

The uniform was also very different.

The girls wear blue pinafore dresses, their hair smartly tied back in two plaits with red ribbons. The boys wear matching blue shirts and shorts. They all looked immaculate.

The majority of the students I interviewed were helpful but extremely nervous.

A small digital video camera and a microphone didn't concern the students in London - they were happy to sit down and answer my questions.

Some of the students in India were so nervous I had to tell them exactly what the questions were before they'd even start.

Although I was the one who had come into a completely new country, it was a huge culture shock for them.

They seemed intrigued as to why I would want to interview them. I was as much of interest to them as they were to me.

Different aspirations

Many of the students in India wanted to work as teachers or engineers, whereas in England more of the aspirations were for jobs were in creative industries.

I think this is to do with the fact that in a village such as Pethan there are not many job opportunities.

Students in England are more financially secure and can therefore afford to follow their dreams.

So not only does money affect how you live your life now, but it also influences what you aspire to become.

In India, the students recognise this economic strain because they have to pay for all education after primary school.

One of the students told me: "There is a need for education to be free. Most people are too poor to even afford books."

Ultimately, the students in England and India wanted the same things out of the future - a job they enjoy, financial security and a happy life.

The experience has taught me a lot more about myself.

I am starting to understand why my parents moved to England all those years ago.

It was to give my two sisters and me more opportunities and to bring us closer to fulfilling our dreams and aspirations.

And now I am beginning to realise how important that is.

Students tell their stories
Kavita Patel reports from India


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