Education that is Multicultural: Spirituality and Education in India

Blog #3

January 3, 2017 

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Erica Sabino who is a graduate student at the City College of New York College. She is pursuing a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Currently she is working as a head teacher at a preschool named “Footsteps”. Her future goal is to get certified and work as a first grade or Kindergarten teacher.

Our third class session was about a brief background of the educational philosophies of Tagore and Krishnamurti who saw education beyond just textbooks and traditional class teacher directed approach.

The main focus of this discussion was Tagore, who believed in a more practical manner of teaching, and a more profound connection with the student, teacher and environment. Tagore believed that there needed to be a deeper connection between the student and the teacher in order to enhance students' potentials. He also believed that students, rather than focusing on competing with others, should be competing with themselves and that is what educating the mind and the heart is about. Tagore says, “But when u remove that, then you compete with yourself, you strive for excellence at the level of your own potential, not someone else’s (Mukherjee, 2016, p. 9). And that is how you connect yourself with spirituality. Spirituality is about the self. Not the religion like many people think of. Religion is just the head, spirituality is the heart (finding your true self).

Therefore , in the classroom spirituality is about that connection between the teacher and the student, creating a deeper bond, beyond textbooks can offer. It should be focusing on the student's ability and then preparing the child to be ready to learn new materials and be able to be successful. It is about nurturing creativity and critical thinking (Mukherjee, p. 8). As philosopher Krishnamurti which was also part of the discussion for today, “Education is not just to pass examinations, take a degree and a job, get married and settle down, but also to be able to listen to the birds, to see the sky, to see the extraordinary beauty of a tree….and to feel them, to be really directly in touch with them” (Mukherjee, p. 14). This is the self-spirituality connection within the classroom context.

Later that day we visited the Ba’hai Lotus Temple. As I walked through the valley of the temple I noticed how spirituality plays out in New Delhi. It is all about respecting the self and others and connecting all together in unity no matter from what belief and religion they come from. As we were about to go inside the temple as a signal of respect they told us to remove our shoes and to turn off our devices. Once we were inside the temple everyone remained silent. It was interesting to see the level of of reverence once people were inside the temple. Everyone sitting down praying even the children were silent. All religions were accepted inside that temple. In the Ba'hai faith people were seen as members of the human and as beautiful flowers growing in the garden of humanity.

Spirituality is about the deeper connection with the self and it is surrounding (people, Gods, natural environment). It is about creating a connection first with yourself - your inner world - and then with the outer world. It is a connection with the soul and how you as a teacher, student, children, adults create those relationships that creates the sense of spirituality within us. Humanity - this is what today’s lesson focus about. Rather than just focusing on materials physical things; textbooks and religion, focus on the deeper meaning of everything. Spirituality is within, education is within.  And that was today lesson.

Education that is Multicultural - Social Fluidity in Delhi: A City of Seven Cities

Blog #2

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Lilai Teckie who is a graduate student at Lehman College in the Bronx. She is receiving a master’s in Liberal Studies in international development. She received a BA in political science from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

January 2, 2016

The second day of our Winter Study Abroad course in New Delhi, India was spent exploring historical monuments. After a tasty breakfast and a quick briefing by Professor Gupta about the day’s itinerary, we hustled onto our 16 seat minivan and headed out into the bustling streets of New Delhi. It was only about 10 am when we left our hotel, which is located in the quaint Green Park colony, but the traffic was already thick. Cars, buses, rikshahs, bicycles, motorcycles, humans and animals were all fighting for a place on the road and the constant melody of car horns were unavoidable no matter where we turned.

Twenty-five minutes later when we arrived at Qutab Minar, we were surprised to see ticket prices plastered that varied based on whether you were a local or a foreigner. The difference in ticket prices was anything but subtle-- 30 rupees for Indian locals and 500 rupees for foreigners.  After we purchased our tickets, we followed signs into the Qutab Complex which had separate lines for females and males. This was just one of many reminders of the importance placed on gender and the separation of gender in many spaces within Indian society. Once we passed the gated entrance of the monument, we were immediately blown away by the manicured landscape of the complex and the towering beauty of the Qutab Minar. The Qutab Minar, at 73 metres, is the tallest brick minaret in the world and second highest minar in India, after Fateh Burj in Punjab, India.

The Qutab Complex is located in what was once known as Lalkot, the first city among the seven legendary cities of Delhi. It was constructed in the 11th century and was the center of power during the 11th to 13th century A.D. Many rulers had come and gone, constructing other cities that had been abandoned or destroyed, such as Siri, Jahanpanah and Firozabad, but Qutb Complex never lost its importance throughout the 664 years of Muslim Rule in India. It was in Qutab Complex that Qutbu’D-din-aibak, Iltutmish and Balban, who were mere slaves were able to rise to the highest position of the sultans of the country and were Razia Sultana, the daughter of Iltutmish reigned.

I was surprised to learn that the slave trade had occurred between East Africa and India around the same time as the Pan-American slave trade (Indian Express, pg 5) but even more surprised to learn about the difference in their purpose and treatment. The slaves in India were originally from Ethiopia, but were known as Habshis or Siddis (a term derived from the North African term used to show respect). They were used as “elite military slaves, who served purely political tasks for their owners” (pg 5). The Siddi or Habshis even rose to hold prominent positions of power in Indian society and politics and even developed their own kingdom in Janjira with their own cavalry, coat of arms and currency (pgs 7-8). I had never imagined slaves holding prominent positions of power in any society and I realize the fluidity in society, even among African slaves. This knowledge made me reevaluate my personal definition of a slave which I had always subconsciously associated to African slaves in the United States.

I was even more amazed to learn that a woman once ruled Delhi, as early as 1236 A.D. Razia Sultana, the daughter of Iltutmish, was the only female to ever rule Lalkot, defying the political, social and religious customs of the time. At a time when women were veiled and secluded to harems, Razia defied the status quo and existing gender norms once again, by putting down her iier veil (purdah) and appearing in public audience in male dress. To me, Razia’s home city of Lalkot, represents the defiance of social norms and the emancipation of women and their empowerment. As we left the Qutab Minar, I could not help but leave feeling a sense of pride and inspiration, knowing that hundreds of years previously a woman, who was the daughter of a former slave, once ruled the earth I was walking on at this moment...

Education that is Multicultural - Exploring the neighborhood

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Aminata Diop who is a Ph.D candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. She is also the Executive Assistant to the Dean of Education at City College. This is her first time visiting India.


January 1st 2017 was the first day of our winter class in New Delhi, India. The morning started with breakfast at the Southgate Hotel followed by a quick meeting in the lobby where Professor Gupta gave us a general overview of the history of India and the history of education in India. Discussing the power of spirituality in India, we could confirm its significance by just looking around the lobby of the hotel. On the far left corner right next to the newspaper stand was a framed picture of the goddess Jagad Dhatri (also called Sherawali) riding a tiger. She is a powerful figure in Hindu religion and spirituality and symbolizes the feminine creative power of the universe. Next to that were brass idols of Krishna and Ganesha, two popular Hindu gods. As we wrapped up the conversation about the history of India, we set off on a walking tour to explore the "colony" as neighborhoods are referred to.

As we walked we saw a man in his 60s ironing clothes by the roadside, on a makeshift table, and placing them in a pile on a red mailbox next to him. This iron was filled with hot coals, far different from the electric irons we are used to in the U.S., but seemed to iron just perfectly. In the absence of sidewalks we walked on the roadside in a single line, one behind the other, to maneuver incoming traffic. We passed different types of stores (e.g., Fortis Health world, Chitrumai Jewels, Café Coffee Day, beauty salons next to each other, couple of spas, electronic stores, many fruit and vegetable vendors, etc.). As we walked the local people frequently stared at us, while a couple of beggars aggressively asked us for money. A number of street dogs lay around sleeping in the sun. Further on, we saw an old man seated on the ground surrounded by his baskets of orange, red, white, and yellow fragrant flowers - jasmine, marigolds, and roses. In a very calm and smiley way, he threaded different flowers into short chains called gajaras intended to be worn by women in their hair. Not too far away from the flower man were a couple of familiar western fast food chain stores: a Pizza Hut and a Dunkin Donut. We saw a large number of autorikshaws (also called scooters in Delhi) - green and yellow three-wheeled vehicles for local transportation. The rickshaw drivers stop wherever they see people on the streets and honk to get their attention looking for passengers. As we circled through a very quiet residential street, we saw a broom-seller wheeling a bicycle loaded various kinds of colorful brooms,as well as a vegetable seller wheeling his cart full of fresh vegetables. I learned later that small merchants such as these contributed to a very high percentage of the national economy.

In light of the current state of demonetization in India, as the deactivation of certain currency bills have sent the cash flow in India into quite a downward spiral, I wonder the impact on small business vendors such as the garland seller, the ironing man, the broom seller….no doubt their income will be deeply affected. In this current cash crunch situation no doubt these vendors are more likely to see their sales plummet resulting in less revenue, which can affect them financially as they work so hard to survive and take care of their families.

This thought stuck with me later as we ate one of the best Indian cuisines I had in my life, but then again what else should one expect when in India?

Study Abroad in India!!

"Thirteen students,  mix of undergraduates, graduate and Phd candidates from three institutions, make up the first cohort of participants in the new City College of New York-India Study Abroad program starting on January 1 in New Delhi. Ten of the group are from City College, two from The Graduate Center, CUNY; and one from Lehman College..."

Read more at:

Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 4

Teaching Character, Citizenship, and Cultural Values

Chapter 4 highlights the widespread emphasis observed in the teaching of character, citizenship and cultural values in schools across Asia. Descriptions of school environments and classrooms are accompanied with a discussion to highlight how many of the curriculum decisions made and values taught in the classrooms were reflective of larger national and cultural values in these societies.

Passages from Chapter 4:

"...A cultural value that is central to the Asian worldview and which appeared to be emphasized in schools, homes and in general society is the “importance given to guests and strangers – people who represent the “other”. The notion of hospitality is pervasive and made a strong appearance during my meetings with the participants” (Gupta, 2013, p. 73). Within the socio-cultural context of India, for instance, a deeper explanation for this phenomenon “may possibly be found in the ancient scriptures where it is clearly written “atitih devo bhavah” which implies that your guest is like your God. Thus across the various socio-economic classes and castes in Indian society, it is believed that a guest should be welcomed with the utmost respect and hospitality, and this belief is practiced actively and widely…extending hospitality toward a guest or a stranger is accorded high priority in the scheme of duty..." This value given to hospitality was found in schools and institutions across other Asian cultures as well..." (page 77).

"...At the Singapore Neon primary school I was met by the principal and two teachers who welcomed me into a large meeting room with a long conference table set up for a power point presentation. Along one wall of the room was a table with refreshments: coffee, tea, mini fruit tarts, and Chinese carrot cake which is not at all the carrot cake I was familiar with. This version is a rectangular piece made by steaming rice flour with shredded turnip in it, and then deep frying the steamed cake after coating with a light batter. I have to say the carrot cake and the fruit tarts were just delicious, and our hosts were extremely receptive and attentive to us – welcoming and hospitable..." (page 78).

"...When I visited Dogwood Kindergarten in China, I was greeted warmly and effusively by the school principal and assistant principal. They spent two hours taking me around the school and introducing me to the teachers in each classroom, and allowing me to carefully observe the classrooms, interact with the children and take pictures. In each classroom, the teachers encouraged one of the children to greet me and present me with a gift: a piece of art or craftwork that children had made during their classroom activities..." (page 78).

"...One of the most memorable moments was in Sri Lanka. I was scheduled to meet with a group of early childhood educators - five women who were mostly retired or close to retiring from active service, but all of whom had been pioneers in the field of early education in Sri Lanka having been deans, founding chairs and professors in universities. They could be credited to laying down the foundations for the field of pre-primary and primary education by initiating and leading national projects for the Sri Lankan government in the 1960’s and 70’s. After an enthusiastic and very informative conversation with the group, my host invited us all to her home for lunch in my honor. That she had organized a feast is a complete understatement as the lunch included at least 10 local Sri Lankan dishes..." (page 79).

Read more  in Chapter 4 about other character, citizenship, and cultural values emphasized in schools in Asia.

Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 3

Play-based and Child-centered Pedagogy

Chapter 3 is focused more closely on this policy shift from a traditional approach to a play-based and child-centered pedagogy. The chapter begins with the definition of a “child-centered” pedagogy as constructed within the progressive education framework in the “west”. It further includes a description and discussion of where, how and to what extent the policy changes in Asia are/are not being reflected in local classroom practices with regard to teachers’ perceptions on play, the classroom environments, and curriculum planning.

Passages from Chapter 3 (pages 22-24):

"...Within the western discourse of play in early childhood education, however, there seems to be some consensus on very fundamental characteristics of play such as: play is incompletely functional and the actions involved do not contribute to a goal; play is spontaneous, rewarding or voluntary; it has a repetitive quality; it can be fragmented and exaggerated; it is initiated in the absence of acute stress; and there is a preference for performance over outcomes (Burghardt, 2011; Smith, 2010). But with national debates focusing so intently on play-based pedagogies there is no doubt that early childhood educators world over feel the intense pressure to justify that play is learning, and activities done in the classrooms are characterized and labeled as learning through play.

            The above ideas that accompany the conceptualization of a child-centered and play-based pedagogy are, nevertheless, still challenged in their actual implementation in the classrooms of most schools in the developing world. The practical application of child-centered approaches is consistently challenged by the difficult ground realities of classrooms...

• cultural incursions that occur due to conflicting worldviews;

• political contexts that do not support the democratic essence of learner-centered education,

• inadequate space available in schools and classrooms;

• inadequate basic health care and nutrition available to all children;

• scarcity of basic supplies in schools and classrooms such as furniture, running water, electricity and sanitation facilities;

• inadequate classroom resources including learning materials, time and space;

• teachers who have inadequately, or never, been trained in the pedagogy of play and child-centered approaches, and who are unable to make classroom decisions on a regular basis with regard to the use of classroom materials and the use of classroom time.

• teachers who have been inadequately trained and equipped with the tools and time to document children’s voices/experiences to create assessment portfolios which are key to assess individual children in a learner-centered classroom. Assessment techniques recommended in the “western” discourse of child-centered education include capturing moments of children’s play and work using tools like cameras, camcorders, anecdotal reports, and observations of children in centers like the block area, book corner, writing center, dramatic play, art center;

• large class sizes which do not support the one-on-one teacher child instruction that is central to learner-centered pedagogy, children in classrooms of 40-60  cannot voluntarily engage with activities related to their interests;

• children who do not start school equipped with decision-making skills that are essential to successfully navigating a child-centered and choice-based classroom, and are unfamiliar with making choices with regard to their engagement with classroom life

...The last two items on this list are, perhaps the most challenging in terms of cultural differences and reflect on the fundamental nature of the Asian worldview regarding the child-adult relationship: first, there is generally, a longer dependency period and a more extended child-adult continuity within Asian families; and second, the right to choose according to one’s own interest is based on an individual-orientation worldview, whereas general childrearing practices in Asia are based on a group-orientation worldview.

Tobin et al (2009) demonstrate that schools in urban China have embraced an emphasis on dramatic and imaginative play in the early childhood curriculum because the stakeholders there are now viewing imagination and creativity to be the prerequisite skills for later success in entrepreneurship. But here too, as is to be expected, the full implementation of this pedagogy is challenged by factors such as teachers’ own inexperience in play and play methods; and parents’ expectations for skill mastery in playing musical instruments, writing Chinese characters, and knowing how to use the abacus to solve math problems (Vong, 2012)..."

Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 1

 Introduction: Expanding the Discourse of Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education

Chapter 1 introduces the book with a narrative account of existing tensions between the dominant discourse and local practices in non-western school settings. The chapter emphasizes the interfacing of local and global elements in the creation of a hybrid space in some classroom practices in Asia, and urges the development and expansion of a third space in theory based on research conducted in the local context. A discussion on the conceptual frameworks utilized in the study follows, with an overview of the current global spotlight on early childhood education. The chapter ends with a brief overview of the research methodology underlying this study.

Passages taken from Chapter 1:

"...Cross-cultural research has indeed consistently highlighted the different constructions of childhood within diverse social, political, and cultural contexts (Cannella, 1997; Bloch, 1992; Kessler, 1991,1992; Delpit, 1995; Katz, 1996; Viruru, 2001; Trawick-Smith, 2006; Gupta, 2006; Tobin et al., 2009; Marfo & Biersteker, 2011; Brooker, 2011). However, for the longest time, it has been the Western voice and knowledge that have dominated the early childhood educational discourse. Emerging diversities regarding images of children and childhood have thus worked to create a tension between the Western discourse of early childhood education and teacher education theory, and the cultural worldviews of the non-West..." (page 1)

"...This then begs the question of how the “voice” of pedagogy and educational theory can be made more inclusive and multilayered. A good place to start is by asking what it is that sustains the status quo of educational and teacher education theory and what prevents it from incorporating a more expansive knowledge base. Referring to the important ways in which indigenous knowledge could contribute to the educational experience of all students, Semali and Kincheloe note that “because of the rules of evidence and the dominant rules of epistemologies of Western knowledge production, such understandings are deemed irrelevant by the academic gatekeepers” (Semali & Kincheloe, 1999, p. 15)..." (page 2).

"...Curricular reformers in Asia today are grappling with the hegemonical expectations of Western culture at the global level on one hand and the need for a more culturally relevant curriculum at the local level on the other hand. During the course of this research in Asia, it was observed that many educational centers/schools for young children were touting philosophies and mission statements that were couched heavily in the language of the Western discourse. Being seen as an “international school,” a “world-class school,” a school having “global standards,” a school based on “international methods” and offering “English-medium instruction” seemed all of a sudden to afford the centers credibility and make them eligible for funding from a variety of local, national, and international sources. This is painfully reminiscent of the educational policies in colonial India that required schools to use English as the language of instruction if they were to be funded by the British Administration. Today, that language of pedagogy is taken from the progressive discourse of the West against whose standards schools are evaluated around the world...." (page 4).

For more, please read Chapter 1 in this book.

Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices

The full title of my book that was published by Routledge in 2014 is:

Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices

Voices and Images from Five Countries in Asia

In subsequent posts I will be highlighting one chapter at a time, providing a chapter overview, as well as a passage taken from the text.

Stay tuned!!