A Thirst for Learning: Education in Kerala

“Study in Canada!”

An hour and a half drive from the costal tourist town of Fort Kochi, on our way to the tea plantations of the Western Ghat Mountains of India, the roadside billboard caught me by surprise. Then I saw it again, beside an ad for Milwaukee Academy, apparently the solution for high scores on IELT and a list of other acronyms that I assumed were tests.

Ads for schools outnumbered those for restaurants and stores. Secondary and English schools, engineering, Ayurvedic medicine, countless vocational colleges, too many to register as we drove by.

“College Junction,” our driver named it, although on the map it was Kothamangalam. “People coming down from the mountains must pass through here so this is where they advertise.”

Turning on the TV on my first jet-lagged night in India, I was shocked by a PowerPoint showing mathematics I hadn’t seen since I did my Masters’ degree. Flipping through the channels I saw classes for power station technician and nursing assistant, among many others. I learned India has huge numbers of MOOCs, online courses at the university level.

Not sure where else one would find a math book showroom…

I saw a passion for education in Kerala. Although this may be true in other parts of India, I suspect it is higher in this state that I visited. In a country with a 75% literacy rate, Kerala has reached 95%. Before I traveled here, someone made a comment that I thought was odd at the time. Most immigrants from India come from Kerala, they said, or at least were educated there. I now have a better idea what they mean.

One of the tourist sights in Fort Kochi was the open air laundry, where families whose ancestors were brought here in the 1600s by the Dutch, to wash their clothes, still perform the same functions. They are no longer limited to this occupation by their caste, however, and I saw that most of the scant workers were older men. Apparently their children were getting educations, and no longer following the family trade.

Not everything is rosy, though. Issues with government-run schools have been exacerbated, as in many other countries, by budget constraints. Private higher education is not well regulated, and many for profit schools take advantage of eager students without delivering recognized accreditation or quality skills. The Arab countries, once a mainstay for employment of educated Indians, are downsizing. It is harder to get a US work visa, no matter what your skills.

Education is still seen as the path to a better future, however, and I admire their commitment to it.

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