Remarks With Aamir Khan and Arnab Goswami, Moderator
Secretary of State
MR. GOSWAMI: Thank you all so much for being here. It’s truly a pleasure to have all of you, and especially to have in our midst two icons at this wonderful academic institution of technical excellence, two icons who represent the whole concept of taking a challenge and turning it into an opportunity. Their involvement in education is deep. It goes over a long period of time. And I’m so glad, let me say, (inaudible) Secretary Clinton, and to you, Aamir Khan, that you have given time to come to this institution and spend some time with all the volunteers of Teach India and Teach For India.
And let me also say that the volunteers who are in the audience today are the real stars, because they are the ones who take time out from what they do to share the vision that one has for this. So I’d like to thank you very much, and maybe we can begin with a round of applause for my two guests this evening. (Applause.)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Secretary Clinton and Aamir, I’d like to keep this as interactive as possible, but I am also sure that many in the audience have questions for you today about your vision of education. And we would also like you to share your wisdom and compare it to the Indian experience.
So may I begin, Secretary Clinton, by asking you to share your wisdom of education. And by way of a first question, let me ask you, Secretary Clinton, that when there are inequities, there are ways in which programs like Teach For India, Teach For America, Teach India help bridge those inequities. How about the larger net? If you say parents are the best teachers, how does one install teaching, then, among those who are underprivileged?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me begin by thanking you very much for giving me this opportunity to be here at St. Xaiver’s and to have this chance to talk about an issue that is very near and dear to my heart. It’s also, I have to confess, a great delight to be here with Aamir Khan, a Bollywood icon, but more than that, a dedicated, committed advocate for education, as we’re going to hear more about as we move forward in the program.
I wanted to make two points just to start it off and to respond to your question, Arnam. First, I believe every child can learn. I do not believe that children, regardless of their backgrounds, have limited or no capacity. But I believe they don’t have equal opportunity. I think that talent is distributed universally, but opportunity is limited. And that is true in every country, to a greater or lesser degree. And secondly, it is truly up to all of us – families, governments, businesses, educational institutions – to do everything we can to narrow the gap between talent and opportunity, and to give every child a chance to grow up and fulfill his or her God-given potential.
Now, children have different potentials. There are some who will be Nobel Prize winning physicists, and there will be others who will earn an honest living doing the hard work that keeps us all going. But every child deserves that chance to be able to chart his or her own future. And so for me, education is the great equalizer and the gateway to opportunity. It does start in the family. The family is the child’s first school, and parents are children’s first teachers. And some of us are fortunate to have families and parents who understand the value of education and encourage us and challenge us, and others are not.
So we have to do more to convince all families that education is partly their responsibility, and then we have to join forces with the government and the schools that are funded by the government with the private schools, with the private sector, and with groups and organizations like Teach India and Teach For India.
So I am committed and have been for many years to equality of opportunity for all children, and I’m thrilled to have this chance to talk with you about the programs that are represented here, the challenge that India faces to increase education to people who do not have the opportunity right now, and to look to see how the United States and India can work together on the common cause of educational opportunity.
MR. GOSWAMI: Thank you very much. Aamir, you get with this – you’re upset and you feel strongly about inequities. What really, in your view, is – is that the biggest stumbling block that one has?
MR. KHAN: Well, let me start by saying it’s a real honor to be here with Secretary Clinton today and I’m very happy to have met her and looking forward to hearing her thoughts.
I really have one extremely important thing that I would like to convey and – you know, in today. And that is that I have, you know, the highest respect and regard for organizations like Teach For India and Teach India, and hundreds of such organizations all over the country who are going out of their way and doing things for education. But what I would really like to see is that we as a people give top priority and the kind of value that education and teaching deserves.
I think we are still a little away from that. And by that, I mean that I would like to see one day in India that the top jobs that people are vying for are the teaching jobs. You see – did anyone happen to have met – why there are a lot of people who are really interested in teaching and are really doing a lot in this field?
But by and large, the majority of people getting into teaching today in the country, in our country, are those who are not able to make, you know, a job for themselves in other places. So people who want to be engineers, doctors, and management students, but they can’t make it and they go into teaching as a result of not making it as far.
So by and large, the majority of teachers are people who are not really interested in teaching to begin with, and probably are not entirely fit for it and are not the brightest minds either. And the reason for that --
MR. GOSWAMI: (Inaudible.)
MR. KHAN: No. I think, as I said, there are a lot of teachers who are doing a great job, so (inaudible), and there are a lot of people who are genuinely interested in teaching who are doing a great job. But I think that’s a minority. By and large in India, the people getting into education are because they can’t find a place for themselves anywhere else. And that is not why they should be in teaching.
What happens is that the brightest – I mean, we, as a country, as a society, should be giving so much importance and so much value to teaching, that every kid coming out of college should feel like “I want to be a teacher.” It should be the highest-paying job. It should be the job that we all vie for. You know, young students, do they want to be doctors, they want to be engineers, they want to make a better life for themselves.
Teaching should be one of the most successful lives for the youth today, and it should be such that the youth vie for it, they want to become teachers. And that will begin with us, Arnab. I think we as a society have to give that importance to teaching and education as, you know, our government, our administration should give it that kind of value. And that is when we will give that value and I think that will dramatically change our system, and education is, in fact, ultimately, the very foundation of any society.
If tomorrow, we as India want to be world leaders – and I don’t mean that in a very narrow point of view – of competing as (inaudible) leadership, but – no, but taking responsibility and contributing towards mankind. Then, we have to make a strong base on that and only to education.
MR. GOSWAMI: Absolutely.
MR. KHAN: And one of the key things in education for me is not, you know, whether you know the answer to of A+B or the root square, but are you encouraging children to question, are you encouraging children to have minds which are wanting to learn and are thirsty and hungry, and not merely people who have a good memory? You know, kids are told that you have to learn this by heart and they learn it all by heart, but you’re not creating individuals who will have minds which can take our – you know, which can (inaudible) dramatically forward in ways that we can’t even imagine today. That will only happen if you have minds which are encouraged to question, to disagree, to challenge, to search, discover. And I don’t think that is the kind of education we follow in India today. It’s mostly, you know, focusing on how well you can memorize things.
The last thing that I would like to say here is that one of the things that disturbs me most about our education in India, and I don’t know how it is in the West, in U.S., but so much of emphasis is given on competition – did you come first in your class, what did you score, how is your math, how is your – I would like to see teachers actually telling students, “Hey, your partner is weak in something. Are you helping him?”
So psychologically, and very, very subconsciously, we give importance not to competing, but to caring. We teach our kids to be caring human beings, and that, in my opinion – I’ve been saying the last year for here – everywhere I go. But we have to teach our kids to be caring. We have to put a premium on love and care. And in my opinion, we do that, you know, from the age of toddlers, when today we go to a school recent – parents are “My son should come first.” Unimportant; let him be happy, let him be caring about his friends, teach him that is important.
MR. GOSWAMI: But I find that --
MR. KHAN: That will make a huge difference 20 years from now.
MR. GOSWAMI: Just a small contradiction on that, Secretary Clinton, that if one sees, for example, the most recent statements that have come out of your Administration in the U.S. since it took over, and the last two or three statements of President Obama, whenever he speaks about the education system of it – and I am told Secretary Clinton knows this – he always takes the example of good education systems being in countries like India and China.
You know, there is – there are positive references to the – and he’s always – President Obama’s recent statements have been in the light of “We must be able – our education system must be able to compete with the education systems in India and China.” So I wanted to understand from you what really are the handicaps in the present American system, and what would your Administration seek to change? Also, if you’d like to respond to some of what Aamir said.
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I think that he’s made some excellent points about what is going to be required to be successful in the world in the future. Obviously, competition is part of the human genome; that’s how we’re made. But cooperation and collaboration is more and more important. It’s important among people and it’s important among countries.
I think you can look and see our education system and realize that we have some of the greatest schools and universities in the world. But we don’t have them for everyone, and we don’t take care of students who fall behind as well as we should. So part of our challenge is to lift up the students who don’t always have the easiest time of it in life, whose families are not able or willing to assist them and support them, who comes from groups that are perhaps more marginalized than the majority. And we’ve made a lot of progress, but we are very candid in saying we have much to do in order to fulfill the promise of equal education.
Certainly, in India – so when you hear President Obama or another American talk about India, you can look at the very best in Indian education, and it’s the best in the world. You can look at the technical education and it is to be envied. It is so effective. But then there are hundreds of levels down where millions and millions of children don’t have an adequate primary education or a secondary education or, certainly, college education.
So I look at our country and I see that we’re providing an education to everyone, but it’s very unequal. India faces the challenge of so many more people to serve in very rural areas, often without adequate infrastructure, so you have to come to grips with how you actually produce the schools that are needed, the teachers who will be dedicated, the curriculum and materials that are required.
So in one way, we have a similar problem, that we leave people behind in greater or lesser numbers; and the other way, we have a different problem, which is that we have the infrastructure and we spend a lot of money on education, but we often don’t get what we consider to be the best return for the children.
Now we have another issue which I don’t really know whether it’s a problem here, and that is that there is a lot of competition for children’s attention. There is so much else going on in the culture that the idea of school seems less important than it did when I went to school. When I went to school all those years ago, the family structure was more intact, the teacher was a more authoritative figure, there really wasn’t a lot of other temptation and competition in the air. We didn’t have hundreds and hundreds of TV stations and internet sites and everything that children are attracted to now.
So part of our challenge is how do we keep a child’s attention, and how do we use technology in a way to assist the learning of children? But as I think about it, that may be an opportunity for India; rather than building the infrastructure for thousands and thousands of schools, how is technology used to communicate and educate? I met this morning with a group of some of the leading business and industrial leaders in India, and they’re moving toward using cell phones for banking. And one of them said that eight, nine years ago, there were not very many cell phones in India; now there are 500 million.
So having that technology can be a learning experience. It’s not the traditional one we think of, but it’s an opportunity to reach so many more people. So I think in a way – and you have a dynamic new education minister, I am told – so in a way, for India to think creatively, to go exactly to your point, that rather than “Okay, we – this is the way we do it, this is the way we always have done it, this is what we’ve memorized and this is what we’ll tell you,” let’s be creative, and how do we get beyond it. And we’re looking at some of the same ideas in our country.
MR. GOSWAMI: Secretary Clinton, I have one question to ask you before I take more questions from the audience, and that question takes me to a really vicarious pleasure that I have got when I read one of your statements, where you apparently said – and I am sure many of us who have been students at any stage, and all of us have been, would really get a sense of vicarious pleasure at your statement that there must be a one-time test for teachers as well. You said that there should be a one-time test for teachers. And if I am not mistaken – correct me if I am wrong – you said if they don’t pass the test, then fire them.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GOSWAMI: We don’t have one-time tests for teachers in India, Secretary Clinton. Did you manage to get that done --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GOSWAMI: -- in America and --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Not in America, but many years ago, when my husband was the governor of one of our states, Arkansas, which on the map is by Texas, we were very concerned about the low level of education in our state. My husband came from a family where he was the first to go to college, and yet his family believed in education, so they encouraged him and they made him study. And so he became academically successful and could follow his own path in life.
So my husband asked me to work on what we could do to make our education system better. And one of the concerns that I heard from people across our state was that there was such a disparity in the quality of teaching. There were some of the great teachers who were dedicated, who were there because they loved their work, and there were teachers who should not have been teaching because they didn’t know the subject matter, they didn’t seem to really be devoted to the task of teaching.
So I proposed a – what we called a teacher test. Now these teachers remember; they had gone to college and they had been given their certificates. But there were so many complaints about their teaching and their understanding of subject matter that we said we’re going to have a test. It was so controversial.
MR. GOSWAMI: It must have been.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It was extremely difficult. But we really stuck to our guns.
MR. GOSWAMI: Did they resist?
SECRETARY CLINTON: There was great resistance and great concern about it. We stuck to our guns. There was a test designed. And about 10 percent of the teachers failed it.
MR. GOSWAMI: Ten percent is a lot.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s a lot. And oftentimes, they were concentrated in the areas of the poorest children who needed the best teachers. I often think about my own daughter. I mean, we read to her from the time she was born, we took her to museums, we took her to libraries, we talked all the time to her, so she has an amazing vocabulary. And I kept thinking she could actually survive going to a bad school. She didn’t. I mean, we made sure she didn’t, but she could, whereas a child without that kind of background and encouragement really can’t.
And the final thing I would say, because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we help parents to become better teachers of their own children, there is very solid research in the United States, and I think it’s universal, that if you divide parents into wealthy and educated, middle class, lower middle class, working class, somewhat educated but certainly not college or post-graduate, and then poor people and poorly educated, if at all, what you find is that people from this higher educated class, like my husband and I, we talk to our children all the time. And we do exactly what you are saying, which is to ask them to solve problems – “Well, what do you think about that,” or “What would you do,” or “See that? How would you respond?”
So there’s a constant learning going on. As you move down the income scale into more working class environments, there is not as much talking, and it’s very utilitarian. It’s like “This is what you have to do,” and “Please pass the salt,” and “Please go do this,” and “Don’t do that.” It’s very utilitarian, but there is talking going on. But when you get into the lower socioeconomics, there is very little talking. Now, in part, because life is very hard; there’s not a lot of time to talk. You are trying to keep, as we would say, body and soul together – put food on the table and a roof over one’s head. And talking is just not part of the daily routine.
So by the time a child is five, that child has acquired 50 percent of the entire vocabulary the child will ever have. And so if you have been filled up with words so that you have a very active vocabulary, think of how much more it will be. And I don’t believe that a child can read above the level of that child’s vocabulary. So starting in the home and starting with an understanding that you need good nutrition for children to learn, a child who is malnourished is likely to be behind, both physically and mentally, and you need an atmosphere that encourages thinking and problem solving. All of that goes hand in hand before the child ever gets to the school.
MR. GOSWAMI: Secretary Clinton, I’m totally taken with what you said. You’re obviously an exceptional parent, and I think people have missed a wonderful teacher in you. But I saw Aamir drawn into that conversation, because Aamir’s movie, which I hope you see sometime, Taare Zameen Par, which was a hit all over India, was exactly about that, was (inaudible). It was about that special touch, that extra caring, that you don’t teach a – treat a child like someone who has to come out with a product at the end of so many years of education.
MR. KHAN: I mean, I think – I mean, education should ultimately, you know, contribute to how you turn out as a person and educate. For – and the fact is that reading and writing are only two intelligences that we as humans possess. There are so many intelligences, and each one of us can learn so much in different aspects of life and what impresses, what doesn’t. So I actually have very – I mean, I don’t have conventional views on education. I mean, a kid may not be interested in math, and that may not be something he’s interested at all in doing, but he might be really interested in singing. So we should encourage him and teach him singing.
So, I mean, when I, for example – I was only 12 when I decided to start learning about cinema and filmmaking, and for that, I wanted to drop out of college. It was conventional education. And my parents said to me that, you know, you have to be graduate, you know, don’t stop your studies. I said, “No, I’m not stopping my studies. I’m starting them. My education begins now, because this is what I want to learn about. I want to learn about cinema. I want to learn about filmmaking. So I’m not stopping my education. I am, I think, starting it.”
So like, you know, I don’t remember who said this, but don’t let schooling ever get in the way of education. This is what I absolutely believe. So I think that, you know, like TZP, the film that I made, I mean, we are trying to talk about inclusion. Every child has a right to education. And we shouldn’t judge children and assume that a child is dumb or doesn’t deserve our --
MR. GOSWAMI: Or the fear of rejection early on in education.
MR. KHAN: Certainly, certainly. I mean, you know, inclusion is such an important part, which again, is an area where, in India, we need to really soul-search and improve on, because we still have special schools for children. They should be in regular schools. All children should be in regular schools. I mean, every child has a right to be with children his age, and we don’t have a right to pick him up and put him somewhere else.
So, you know, inclusion is another very important aspect of education and growing up.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I just wanted to echo what Aamir said because there is a wonderful researcher at Harvard University named Howard Gardner, who has proven what you have just described, and that is that there are several different kinds of intelligence and ways of learning. Some people are very good at sitting in a classroom and absorbing the teacher’s lecture through their ears and through their eyes. They watch what’s written or they read what they’re given or they listen to the lectures.
But that is not the only way to learn. And it is not the – it is not better or worse than any other way of learning, but it is the way that our schools are structured, so that children who learn by doing and children who learn by a kind of kinesthetic --
MR. KHAN: Ability.
SECRETARY CLINTON: -- ability, right, which goes with performing arts and goes with the visual arts. And very often, they’re not given any outlet for their intelligence. And we keep learning these lessons in America, but then we don’t apply them in our schools. Like, for example, if you keep children just sitting in that classroom with very little opportunity to experience other forms of education, you’re going to lose the attention of a significant percentage of them. Whereas if you have a better way of identifying who would be the good singer – because it’s not only that this person might grow up to be a singer – not everyone will, by any means – but they might begin to feel confident about themselves, which will then enable them to pursue a different form of learning that will actually lead to a job and income.
I mean, part of – and I think what you said before is so important – part of what happens to kids in every education system right now that I know of in the world, is that a lot of the creativity and energy is channeled so narrowly.
MR. KHAN: Absolutely.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And then children who don’t fit into that channel feel like outsiders, and some of them have enough confidence that they’re able to survive. They --
MR. KHAN: But a lot of them don’t.
MR. GOSWAMI: But a lot of them don’t.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But a lot of them don’t. And then – see, what happens is that that child who doesn’t have the confidence and gets discouraged becomes a parent who wants to stay away from education. So, instead of encouraging his or her child, you are finding a parent who doesn’t want to go talk to the teachers, doesn’t want to be involved in the educational experience because they had such a bad time of it. So you then perpetuate the kind of generational resistance and rejection of education.
So, I mean, there’s so much more we could do, which is why programs like Teach India and Teach For America are important, because your interacting with children can light the spark that nobody else has lit. I’ve seen it happen over and over again, where some kind of interaction between a caring adult and a child who is looking for direction, inspiration, whatever, makes the difference. And that’s what we need more of and we just don’t have enough of it.
MR. GOSWAMI: Also because it opens up the eyes of those who – advantage --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GOSWAMI: -- who have the opportunities to those who don’t have the same opportunities.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right. That’s right.
MR. GOSWAMI: Yes.
MR. KHAN: You know, I think this program, Teach For India, which is similar for Teach For America, which has begun this year – I think a very important program. And when I was approached to endorse it and to support it, I was, you know, quite excited, actually, because it’s an idea – I don’t know how many people in our country know about it, but let me just briefly tell you.
MR. GOSWAMI: Yes.
MR. KHAN: It’s a program where students coming out of the leading colleges in India are invited to commit two years of their lives in becoming part of the education system in India, and teaching children from primary schools and municipal schools in our country. So this is the first year – and there are batches of, I think, 90 or so students who have signed in and who have been through a training program.
Now these are the brightest minds of our country, mind you. So imagine, you know, 90 of our students who are really bright going into municipal schools and teaching children, you know, at the age of eight or nine. And that’s the age where your basics are formed, you know, really. But this is just 90 students. I imagine 9,000 or 90,000 or nine lat students coming out could only mean – not only will it dramatically change and contribute to the education of our children, but it will significantly change that person as well, because when I – maybe I want to be a doctor. Maybe that’s what I want to be.
But after finishing my education and before getting into medicine, if I spend two years with little children, interacting with them, teaching with – teaching them, that experience is something money can’t buy. If I want to be a CEO of a company or I want to get into business, again, this experience that I have of two years with children is going to be something that will – you know, that’ll stand by me all through my life.
So I think it contributes to society in both ways: Children benefit and so do adults.
MR. GOSWAMI: Of course.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I wanted to add a word too about Teach India, which I have learned about from both of you. The idea that people from all walks of life would spend some time in the schools will help to raise the visibility of the challenges that you face. And every school can use more caring adults.
I mean, I remember when my daughter was in the first grade and her first grade teacher said, “I don’t feel comfortable teaching about science, but I would really like it if some of the mothers would come in and do the science lessons,” and one of the mothers of Chelsea’s classmates was actually a scientist who had decided to take some time off to raise her children. So I’m not a scientist, but she asked me if I would help, and I said, “Well, if you tell me what I’m supposed to do, I will.” And so four of us went into the first grade and just taught these little science programs. And it got us into the classroom in a way that you never can if you’re just a mother showing up to bring cupcakes for a birthday or some other kind of special event.
And then I’ve seen, over the years, more programs like this start in the United States, where a business might adopt a school. They would take one school and then the people in the business would sign up to help in whatever way they thought they could, or other programs of service would be established so that if a school didn’t have enough reading tutors, people would come in and help. I did that also later – not in my daughter’s school, but working with a group of kids who needed help with reading, and there were 25 kids in the classroom and the teacher couldn’t possibly give them all the attention they needed during the day. So several of us would come in and work with them.
So the Teach India program gives people a chance – not to have a full-time commitment like Teach For India will do for a year or two, but to have enough of a commitment that you can see what the needs are and then become advocates for the children and the schools.
MR. GOSWAMI: Absolutely. And it will have a trickle-down effect.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, it will.
MR. GOSWAMI: You’ll start with 19, but I’m sure it’s going to go down. It’s got to come from the hardbone.
Let’s take some questions simply because (inaudible) would be very unpopular if I held the limelight. We have some (inaudible) out there, okay. Let me start. I’ll try to be as well-distributed as possible. The lady right there in the front, second row, please. Wait for the mike to come through, please. Thank you. And who are you – who is your question?
QUESTION: Good evening. I – since I am working with (inaudible) and I was a part of the Teach India program, I vouch for it that kids must have learned something from me. But what I got from the program was tremendous. Keeping those same kids entertained for an hour was a task by itself, and those kids get kids so they can tell you (inaudible), “Maybe I’m bored, this is not interesting me anymore, do something different.” So you have to think on your feet and keep them entertained all the time.
My question to you, ma’am, is about the thing you were talking about, vocabulary. In India, what happens is I was teaching these kids English. No – they were brilliant in terms of the regional language that they were studying in, but they just speak no English and they felt inadequate. Their parents speak no English, so they could not give them the vocabulary that’s needed to go out in the real world. I’m standing here today because I speak English.
Now how do we address it? Yes, it’s very true that parents need to teach their kids. My parents taught me; I’m here today. But how do we address this whole issue of English being so important to people who seem well-educated?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s an excellent question. We have the same issue to a lesser degree. We don’t have many languages spoken by as many people as you do in India, but as you might know, we have a number of students in our schools – I know New York best because I was a senator from New York and I live in New York. And in the New York City public schools, there are something like a hundred different languages. Now the most prominent are languages like Spanish, languages like Chinese and Russian. So part of the challenge is how do you teach a child who doesn’t speak English without breaking their spirit and making them feel that they’re so ignorant because they may know a lot in their own language, they may express themselves well in their own language. But speaking English in our country and, frankly, now in India and most places in the world is such a precondition.
We’ve done a lot of work on what we call bilingual education, and there are two different schools of thought. One is that as soon as the children come into school as early as possible, start teaching them in English and make them learn English quickly when they’re young and they can absorb it. The other school of thought is: Teach the children in their own language and gradually transition them to English. There are arguments on both sides.
Here’s the problem: We don’t have enough teachers, let alone bilingual teachers. So the difficulty of trying to take, in one classroom, say in New York City, kids who speak Spanish, Chinese and Russian, and try to work with them in their own language is – it’s just hard for the system to absorb.
So it’s – we don’t have any answers. We are working hard to come up with the best approaches, but a lot of people believe the best approach, especially when you’re young, it is to immerse you in English and help you learn English before you’re self-conscious about not knowing it. I think that part of what India should do is experiment to see what works in India, because there are different approaches.
MR. KHAN: Absolutely. You know, what I feel about that is that English is a language like Marathi or Hindi or Gujarati or any language. The education is not really about languages. I think when you’re teaching a child something, I think each society and each culture has a language, and that is extremely important for that culture and society.
So when you’re talking about education, I think we should retain what is our own and what is the child’s own culture. So if a child is comfortable in Marathi, he should be – he or she should be taught in Marathi. If he ever feels like communicating with a person who knows English or wants to communicate in a field which requires him to learn English, he will if he needs to.
But I think that’s not important if you don’t (inaudible). Education is not about languages. There are so many languages in the world and all of them are beautiful. And we should not assume that – let us move towards any one language. I don’t, you know, buy into that.
MR. GOSWAMI: You have to think of it, Aamir. English is never the primary language in India. It’s the link language and that’s also our advantage, that it’s --
MR. KHAN: No, I mean, it’s a great language. I mean, I think in English. I mean, I grew up in India, I – my mother tongue is Urdu and my mom tried to teach me Urdu. Unfortunately, I never learned it. I regret it today. I really do. And I think in English and I’m – English is a great language. I don’t have any issues with it. But I think that it’s also important for me to be tied to my own roots, in a way, emotionally, and that’s important as well.
MR. GOSWAMI: Well, absolutely. The next question, okay. The gentleman right at the corner there. Yeah, please go ahead, yes.
QUESTION: Hello, everyone. It’s an honor standing here in front of you, both of you. My name is Rahool Vengent, Teach For India Fellow 2009, and the class teacher of second standard (inaudible) high school.
Actually, the question is that on any rainy day in Bombay, we enter a class that is – I mean, that is quite a lot, but it has very, very eager students who are there to learn. Also, we have students who are in second standard, but they don’t even know the basic alphabets. We – I’ll teach (inaudible) that challenge almost on a daily basis.
So as the leader that you have been and you are, how do you think that resolving such education challenges makes you a good leader?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, could I ask you a question? How long have you been teaching?
QUESTION: Three months in total.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And what age children are you teaching?
QUESTION: The children are six and seven, six years and seven years.
SECRETARY CLINTON: What have you learned in three months that helps you feel like you’re teaching them?
QUESTION: First and foremost, I cannot enter my classroom unplanned. I have to plan before I enter my classroom because I get only five hours, and those five hours are very, very precious for those kids.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right.
QUESTION: So I need to plan very well, every second of it, so that I’m able to give them what I’m here for.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I really appreciate what you said because it goes back to Aamir’s – one of his first points, the amount of time it takes to be a good teacher – to really plan, to be prepared, to get into the classroom and keep the children’s attention and try to figure out who’s learning and who is not.
I really believe that what you’re doing is so important because there needs to be an understanding of how important teaching is in order for the public to support paying teachers better, to convince people to go into teaching so you can recruit better teachers. And there is no substitute for experience. I mean, you could be in a classroom and say that, but it wouldn’t have the same credibility as what you’ve just said, because you’ve now been doing it.
And I think from my own experience, what I remember most over the many years that I’ve been advocating for better education are the times when I was interacting with teachers and students. And very often, teachers want to do a good job, but they’re given no support. They’re basically – just said, “Here are your students, go teach them.” There is not the kind of teacher training, continuing education; there is not the materials that a good teacher needs. In our country, teachers spend up to $400 a year out of their own pocket buying supplies that are not given to them by the schools because they want to do a good job.
So I hope that this program, which – both of these programs, which are really good in and of themselves spur a debate about education more broadly so that people who won’t go into the classrooms for Teach For America or Teach India will be aware of what you’re doing. And I think you’ll have some real credibility, and it’s through that credibility that perhaps there can be a real movement for change.
MR. GOSWAMI: Thank you so much and thank you for helping spur that debate by being here today. Look, there are a lot of hands going up for you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
MR. GOSWAMI: More than we can accommodate, perhaps. Okay, let me take the lady there. Yes, right there, you – the fourth row, the lady in the fourth row, please. Thank you.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Diachi. My question is really first a statement and then a question. I have been really recently quite shocked to hear that a lot of children are – rather, all children in school have to go for extra tuition not because they can’t handle the pressure of school, but because it’s expected out of them. And the teachers that they’re learning – to whom they go to for extra tuition are the same teachers at these (inaudible) schools. So it’s not that the teachers are not capable. It’s probably out of what Aamir (inaudible) said, that they’re not paying enough in school to pay them extra money for the tuition, and then they give them more attention.
So what happens to those children who can’t afford that extra tuition week? And how do we solve it? Is it just by paying them more, or is it a systemic problem that’s much worse than now?
MR. KHAN: The thing is that, you know, in India, there are so many issues and so many problems. And certainly, the population is huge. There is a lot of poverty. I think that as people, as Indians, we have to give high priority to education and also our government and administration. I’m saying in the long run, suppose we want great scientists, we want great doctors, we want great businessmen, we want great leaders, we want great politicians; where are they going to come from? They’re going to come from a good education.
So I think that if we invest in that and give that a lot of value, you know, like – I don’t know, I’m not a politician, I’m not into running a country. But I would imagine that the kind of – starting from the annual budget that you have, the kind of money that we should keep aside for education should be much higher, I think, than what we have, especially considering the fact that we are a poor country, that there is so much poverty in the country.
And I think that this is – you know, the fact is that this is going to be the base for anything that we hope positive to happen in our country. It would depend on how our children are educated.
MR. GOSWAMI: It stems to the point that Secretary Clinton also made – you can’t buy good teachers. You can’t buy good teachers, (inaudible).
MR. KHAN: Well, the thing is that you can give emphasis and value to teaching.
MR. GOSWAMI: But it has to come – it’s a calling, also. It’s a kind of calling. It has to come from within.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But I think – but it’s a kind of combination. You want to attract and keep quality teachers, but if teachers’ status and pay are so below other professionals, a lot of people who might want to teach will feel that they can’t afford to teach. And one of the challenges in our country and elsewhere is how you pay teachers appropriately. We have some places in our – in America where teachers are paid a lot, but it doesn’t seem to reflect in the increase in enrollment. So it’s not either/or. It’s both ends, exactly.
MR. GOSWAMI: But change will not come overnight.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GOSWAMI: It’s going to take investment over a long period of time. I see more hands going up each time I look at the audience. I have limited time, so – but I will take a few more questions. It’ll be two or three more questions.
Okay. The gentleman in the fourth row there, yes, you. Yeah, go ahead. The mike (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. Good afternoon. So, the reality that we face in our classrooms every day are extremely different. I mean, some of them are universal – children go through a lot of abuse in different forms from the societies they come from and the backgrounds that they come from. And these same challenges that I, as a first-time teacher, I’m facing is how do I make society aware of these incredibly gaping insecurities? You know, the child’s rights are not defined. They are so ambiguous. A teacher slaps a child and goes away scot-free. A child is abused in the house and he’s afraid to come out and talk about it.
How, as a nation, how, as an educational entity which we’re sitting here and talking about – you know, equal opportunities and all of that, how do we address an issue like this? And as a leader, how would you address an issue like this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the whole issue of children’s rights has been something I’ve worked on for many years. I wrote an article, one of the first articles that was written in our country, called Children’s Rights Under The Law. And I talked about exactly what you’re describing. I mean, what happens when the adults who are supposed to care for children abuse them, ignore and neglect them, whether it’s in the family or it’s in the classroom? And how you balance parental rights with children’s rights?
Because obviously, adults need to take responsibility and they need to have authority over children, but if they abuse it, who steps in? And I think that part of the answer lies in what you just did, which is to stand up and talk about this, and to organize around this so that people become more aware of the consequences of their actions. Many people, particularly parents, just don’t know any better. I mean, that’s the way they were raised and the way their parents were raised and – corporal punishment of the most severe kind, discrimination between boy and girl children, I mean, that’s just how people were raised.
So part of the challenge is to change the culture, and it, again, doesn’t happen overnight. But you make things less acceptable. And having a movement around the rights of children, as defined appropriately within Indian society, is one that I think will come from a lot of the work that is being done now, because you are seeing it, more and more people will see it, and it will begin to take on a reality for the society.
So there is no perfect answer and we certainly still have child abuse, and we have all kinds of other problems, but it’s no longer acceptable. When I first started working on child abuse after I was in law school, we had just recognized child abuse as a serious problem, and this was probably 1973. And before, people just didn’t pay attention. If a child came to a hospital with burns or a broken arm and the parents said, “Oh, he fell under the radiator,” or “She fell down the stairs,” nobody said anything.
But then starting in the mid ‘70s, people started saying, “Wait a minute, we know children are being physically abused. We have to start paying attention.” So now, we have a whole system for reporting and responding. It’s just – but that’s not a very long time that this has been part of our law and part of our cultural mindset.
MR. GOSWAMI: I’ll take one last question, only because of want of time, and there is a lady right in the very end. She seems very (inaudible) to ask a question.
QUESTION: Good evening to one and all. I am (inaudible) and I’m a student of St. Xavier College. I’m extremely glad that my colleagues are giving me this opportunity. I’m not a part of any of these organizations, but I saved time, which is very close to (inaudible), which is like a (inaudible). I tried teaching, like, a group of five children, just like a school under the tree without much of infrastructure. But a huge problem that I faced was that the parents wouldn’t allow them to come. After like, one or two days, they would be like, “No, but they need to go.” They wouldn’t say (inaudible), but I did understand, or they needed to go to (inaudible). And after some point of time, I found myself handicapped because I start going to their places too, but they weren’t there at home.
So at that point, I thought that, you know, like, all my dream of – you know, at least bringing up these five kids when – you know, trying to teach them something were just shattered. So I don’t know what – then what to do exactly.
MR. KHAN: You know, in India there’s so many problems, and certainly, poverty is one huge issue, and I just think you shouldn’t give up. You know, I just think that yes, these problems are there, and I think that what you’re doing is beautiful. I think that the emotion with which you are coming forward to contribute to the lives of those children and to your own life is a very important thing, and you should just continue that.
Find five other children or, you know, try and convince one of them to come and learn with you, you know? It’s a very important thing, what you’re doing. Don’t be disappointed.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would echo that completely because, I mean, really, we’re not just talking about education here. We’re talking about service, and we’re talking about an ethic of service. And I think it’s important to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who of course learned so much from Gandhi, and carried the message that he picked up from studying Gandhi back in the United States, he said one time, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
And it is often discouraging and sometimes it feels futile, but you never know when the magic will strike, when you convince some mother or father that you can actually give their child a better life, when a child will say, “No, I want to stay here under the tree because I’m learning something.” You just will never know that unless you try. And you cannot give up. I mean, you clearly have the heart for it, which did come through so passionately, so you just have to keep working at it and be smart about trying to find the situations that will enable you to help children who can benefit from your intervention.
We have a program in the United States called Big Brothers Big Sisters. And people sign up to sponsor a child, and they spend just one afternoon or one evening a week with a child, and it’s usually a poor child. It’s often a child who has lost a parent, and so the mother has left or the father has left; they want the child to have another adult in the life. And it’s amazing what those kind of personal relationships can actually produce if they click, if they’re worthwhile, if the adults enter into it with good faith and a good heart.
So I just think there are so many ways to serve, and you are exemplifying that and it’s the most powerful message that you could send.
MR. GOSWAMI: I don’t have the heart to wrap this up, but I know I have to for want of time. I’m just going to wrap up by just saying one thing, and I’m sure I represent the feelings of everyone here today: Secretary Clinton, and to you, Aamir, thank you for giving your time. Your passion is obvious, your commitment is deep, more power to you, and you’re always very popular in India, as your husband was and continues to be. And I’m sure that after this event when people approach you, people will – the admiration for you will even grow further. Thank you very much, Secretary Clinton.
A round of applause for both our guests. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you.