Mundra Discusses Importance of Cultural Involvement

Rajesh Mundra, Instructor in Biology, presented his research in “India Beyond the Classroom” on Sunday, a conference which explored hosting trips to India and integrating such experiences into school curricula. Studies Abroad for Global Education and the Educators for Teaching India, Mundra’s organization, co-hosted the conference. Mundra met with Scott Kumar, Director of Studies Abroad for Global Education, in a local coffee shop during his sabbatical in Mumbai last year. The two created plans to bring India into American school curriculums. “My idea for this conference was to promote the [teaching] of a program [on] India beyond India. There is tremendous potential for school trips abroad to integrate into education during the year,” said Mundra. Through a keynote speech and various presentations, the workshop participants explored the idea of running scholastic trips to India and integrating out of classroom experiences into school curricula. Mundra discussed the four types of school trips: foreign language, community service, service learning and cultural tourism. The different trips were covered by presentations from various schools, including Nobles and Greenough School, The Peddie School, and Wilbraham and Monson Academy. “Every school has a different model for approaching global education and I think that schools should think carefully about their approach because it reflects what students want to gain from the experience,” said Mundra. “I think the conference was successful because educators could see different models, different approaches to how different schools are incorporating India. There were also other schools considering the incorporation of India and it was instructive for them.” “When a school signs on with Studies Abroad for Global Education, they should be required to attend this type of conference. I believe very deeply that the education and the reflection evolves after a deep experience in India, or elsewhere,” Mundra continued. In the summer of 2008, Mundra accompanied a group of Phillips Academy students and faculty that traveled to Mumbai, India in order to immerse themselves in the local community. After assessing the needs of the local citizens, the students designed a plan of action in order to assist in the improvement of the community. Mundra said, “Niswarth is a service-learning program building capacity to understand issues in different communities, gaining an awareness of urban development issues, the power of youth voice and developing a sophisticated level of empathy.” Looking ahead, Mundra hopes to have the Niswarth program reinstated this summer after a two-year hiatus. In the meantime, other prep schools in New England, including Nobles, Rivers Academy, and Belmont Hill School, have asked Mundra to develop similar programs for their schools. “I think this discussion is important for schools to have — not just in India, but what kids are doing during the summer can be very powerful and right now it is separated from their school experience. I want to encourage discussion of how that can be integrated,” said Mundra. Annabel Bacon ’09 presented an overview of her trip with the Niswarth program in the summer of 2008. Bacon said that she and her fellow classmates grappled with the question, “Will our actions make a sustainable difference?” In his keynote address, Mundra discussed his personal relationship with India and India’s importance as an emerging economy. “…Looking ahead, to ignore India is to ignore the future. One fourth of all children in the world currently live in India,” he said. Though the audience consisted mainly of educators, several Phillips Academy students also attended the event. Chris Nanda ’12 said, “Mr. Mundra not only changed the way I thought about India, but he also changed the way I thought about community service.” Mundra envisions a continued discussion next fall when student will have arrived fresh from their summer adventures, particularly from India. As this year’s theme was beyond the classroom, a considered topic for next year’s conference is “India Within the Classroom.” “My hope is that this will become an annual conference, and [for it to] grow,” said Mundra.