First a disclaimer: the inspiration and thinking behind this post are not mine. Instead, the credit goes to Maya Menon, of the Teacher Foundation in Bangalore, who spoke to my TGC group about the paradoxes of India. She raised many interesting points that are worth sharing and I've tried to find some of my pictures to better illustrate the paradoxes.
The two pictures above were taken in Delhi about a block apart from each other. The first is the lobby of the hotel that our group of teachers was staying in and the second is of two men carrying a small clothes dresser down the sidewalk next to a small slum area. While there is extreme wealth, there is also extreme poverty, and I often observed the two almost side-by-side throughout India. In this case, the posh hotel and ramshackle slum share the same street in the capital city.
The picture on the left should be instantly recognizable as the Taj Majal, one of the most well-known structures in the world. The other picture is a roadside trash pile in Delhi that spills onto the sidewalk. This contrast between beauty and ugliness is another of India's paradoxes. The country has both man-made beauty (such as the Taj Majal) and physical beauty in abundance, and yet there seems to little interest in keeping public areas clean. I saw lots of litter, pollution, as well as public urination throughout my trip.
India has 1.2 billion people, and in less than 15 years it will likely be the world's most populous country. The vast size of the cities and the cacophony of noise are likely to shock any Vermonter visiting for the first time. Despite the enormous population there are still places, such as areas in the Western Ghats between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, that still retain natural beauty.
The picture on the left is a small cluster of shelters underneath the Delhi Metro. There is one child in the picture next to a man in what might be called an open kitchen. That child is unlikely to receive the same educational opportunities as the girls in the picture on the right at the Kendriya Vidyalaya Malapurram School. They have parents who could afford the expense of sending their children to this school. They attend a school with decent resources, SmartBoards and a computer labs, for example. It is a school that seeks to enhance learning through teacher exchanges; our host teacher had taught in Ohio for 5 months in 2014. It is a school that conducts instruction in three languages (Malayalam, Hindi, and English). Finally, it has a good track record at sending students to post-secondary education. All of these things help to ensure these girls will be able to succeed in the world once they are finished with school. What education awaits the child on the left?
India has a track record of producing outstanding students who shine even when measured on the world stage. India produces some brilliant students, but it also offers little opportunity to those who do not have the means to access it. India has 450 million students under the age of 18 (that's larger than the entire population of the United States) and they do not all have equal access to education, yet.