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monkey on path, The Lawrence School, SanawarFor a few days in January and most of February, I was traveling in India, doing workshops for teachers and students on self-directed learning, motivation, and teamwork. Sponsored by The Achievers' Programme, the workshops took place at a number of the top schools in India.

When I embarked on this trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never been to India before and didn’t know much about their educational system. It would be difficult to summarize all my experiences in a short article. India is an amazingly diverse country. On the street in the big cities is such a bewildering array of sights and sounds and sensations. People come from many ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. Several hundred native languages are spoken in this country, although only about 30 have more than a million natives speakers, and only 22 have some sort of official status.

As I got away from all the noise and confusion of the streets and interacted with individuals, my consistent experience was that the people I met in India were kind, thoughtful, gracious, intelligent, and respectful. They were also very hospitable.

Budding Buds workshop in TinsukiaThe overall feeling I get is that the opportunities for growth and development in India are enormous, particularly educational growth and development. The educators I met were eager to develop the amazing resources they have in their children and youth. The teachers and administrators were intelligent, caring, and resourceful, doing their best to provide outstanding opportunities for their students. The best schools are on par with or exceed many schools in the United States in resources and opportunities.

However, like their counterparts elsewhere, many teachers and administrators feel limited by a prescriptive curriculum that has been planned and developed elsewhere by people who appear to have only dimly understood local needs. To some extent these educators feel trapped in the old educational dilemma of having to respond to systemic requirements for compliance and the need and desire to engage students in real learning. It’s the same compliance vs. engagement dilemma that teachers and administrators face in the United States and elsewhere.

The competing demands of the national or global educational administration are often misaligned with the needs of students, their families, and the communities in which they live and learn. This misalignment is to be expected, considering the difficulty of localizing any product in a bewilderingly diverse marketplace. More than once in the course of these workshops, participants asked a variation of this question, "I can see how these principles will engage my students and help them learn; I can see how these principles will make all the difference in the future of our students, but how can I apply them and still meet the requirements of the curriculum and the end-of-cycle examinations?"

Athletics building at Indus International SchoolThese problems and concerns are similar in the US and India, and so are the solutions. While the principles of self-directed learning can be applied effectively in any context, the best solutions for Indian education—and US education—and the most dynamic and flexible outcomes will arise as educational challenges are addressed locally, with as much autonomy as possible so that local solutions can be applied to local challenges. The solution begins understanding basic principles of learning and with giving students and their learning communities as much autonomy as possible to find the best path for their particular circumstances.