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Feature - Making a difference

Awakening social conscience in India’s next generation


Two years ago, when I first arrived in India, I struggled with the fact that I was working in a rich private school in a developing country. I discussed my inner turmoil with Nitin Patde, one of my new Indian colleagues at Kodaikanal International School.

For 18 years Nitin had been the senior editor of the Hindu Times, one of India’s leading national newspapers. Now he was teaching political science at KIS. He understood how I felt as a Westerner living in his country and he was able to diffuse my anxiety by explaining India’s position in the 21st century.

"For decades India’s professionals have left India to earn huge salaries in the Middle East and in the West. Today, that is changing. Indians are staying at home and they are committed to building a better India.

"Think about it; if you were to go work in a rural school, those kids wouldn’t stand a hope of making a difference in the country. If you teach in this school, you’re educating a generation of kids who have the family capital and political clout to make a real difference."

Nitin’s words gave me peace of mind and I decided to stay and to teach at Kodaikanal International School in Southern India.

There was one more reason for me to stay at KIS; the school’s Social Experience program. The program teaches social awareness by enabling students to participate in a variety of social service activities in Kodaikanal. All high school students, Grades 9 through 12, must participate in 15 hours of interactive community service each semester – or they don’t graduate. Students are involved in community development projects to learn about the realities of life in the surrounding communities.

The department is headed by Nathan Knoll, a fellow Canadian from Victoria, B.C. Nathan’s parents were missionaries in India and he was raised at KIS. One of the few teachers who speaks Tamil, the local language, he’s serious about the school’s commitment to the community.

Knoll stated: "These elite kids have the potential to be future leaders. If we can give them a sense of justice for the plight of the poor, then it might have a tremendous effect on policy decisions that affect the poor and their future in this country."

The department’s objective is to develop a consciousness of the issues related to the distribution of natural resources, the dynamics of poverty, and the social and political forces that contribute to justice and peace. Knoll also wants to provide students with service work in the field. Ultimately, the students develop a sense of responsibility for the society in which they live. This "hands-on" involvement develops constructive, respectful behaviour towards themselves, their families, peers and communities. Students realize quickly that each person can learn from their help.

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