Two pupils from a Derby special school have been to India to see what the education system is like for children with learning difficulties in Mumbai.
Thirteen-year-old James Palfreyman, who had never been abroad before, and Matthew Bullock, from St Martins School, in Alvaston, spent a week at Udayachal High School, a fee-paying mainstream school which is supported by a company called Godrej.
The teenagers who have autism and learning difficulties, travelled to India with their teacher Bryony Gee and head teacher Debbie Gerring.
The partnership was formed though the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms initiative and this was the ninth exchange visit between the two schools, although the first involcing students.
The school welcomed the Derby visitors with marching bands and traditional dancing and teachers blessed the group in a puja ceremony while some of the students did mendhi patterns on their hands.
James said: “I’d never been on a plane before so that was a massive experience. I’ve only been as far as Butlins and Wales before, so India was a big step for me.
“I really enjoyed the flight, although getting to sleep wasn’t very easy as I normally sleep somewhere quiet and dark. And then the roads were like nothing I’ve ever seen before – all these cars going in every direction and all beeping their horns.
“Udayachal was amazing and everyone spoke English. There was never any naughtiness, all the students were lovely to us and really wanted to learn during their time at school.
“I enjoyed the whole experience. I think the best bit was trying new foods which I’m not normally very good at. But I tried curry for the very first time and found that it was lovely.”
The group had time to enjoy some sightseeing, visiting the Taj Hotel and the India Gate. They also looked around the house where Gandhi lived for 17 years and visited the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai.
During the visit the school celebrated Republic Day. The party were saluted by marching troupes and Ms Gerring addressed the gathering. Students performed traditional and modern day dance routines, songs and short plays. The school also took gifts including paper, coloured card, pencils and sharpeners to give to a school in one of the nearby slums.
But the real reason for the visit was to allow staff in each school to share best practise and techniques for teaching children with learning difficulties.
Head teacher Debbie Gerring said: “Our two schools are worlds apart, but actually there are far more similarities between them than there are differences.
“There is one very clear factor that connects our two schools and that is that their ethos is very similar to St Martins – we are both advocates of absolute child-centeredness. Although Udayachal is a high achieving school the principal and I think in exactly the same direction – every child matters.
“It was quite incredible to see the way in which James and Matthew adapted and coped with a highly sensory experience which was well out of their comfort zones, we were very proud of them.
“I was particularly interested in, and touched by, the way in which senior teachers, who have been at the school for a long time, are respected by the whole school community and nurture the younger members of staff. This is something I will definitely be advocating at home as I can see the real benefits of this.”
Children from the two schools are also working on shared projects and students and teachers from the Indian school will also be visiting St Martins.
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