Most teachers teach a subject while some change lives by making you fall in love with it. One such teacher extraordinaire is Mrs. Jaya Gadgil, who currently also heads the department of French at Fergusson College. With an immense experience in the field of teaching, she is both looked up to and adored by her colleagues and students alike.
Having recently accompanied a group of students to France for an exchange programme, Mrs. Gadgil talks about the importance and the need of intercultural exchanges and gives a pedagogical insight on how such programmes benefit students in more ways than one.
Many institutes are now offering cultural exchange programmes to their students, but Fergusson College was the pioneer in the city and its French exchange programme has been running for quite some time now. So could you tell us a little about its history?
The programme was started 25 years ago by Mrs. Raddi and Mrs. Paranjpye, who are also the authors of the current French textbook for Std. 11 and 12 prescribed by the HSC Board. Mrs. Rau, the former HOD of French, was also one of the pioneers of this programme and has been solely responsible for its functioning from 2000 to 2014. We have collaborated with schools from various regions of France. The first group went to Chambéry. And in the years that followed, groups have visited schools in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Orleans, Britanny, etc.
So what are the objectives of such programmes?
Their raison d’être is obviously intercultural exchange. Students get a firsthand experience of a new and different culture which is extremely important for language learning. And in the process, they get to see the culture of their own country in a new light. So the basic objective is to facilitate interaction and exchange of ideas, belief systems, customs, etc.
Could you enumerate the benefits that students stand to gain from such programmes?
The first benefit that comes to my mind is purely a pedagogical one. Students are thrown into a society where people only speak the local language; French in this case. So they actually get to apply what they have been learning in the classroom. And no matter how little they know, the students have to use the language they are learning back home to get by and to communicate with their host families. This definitely hones their language skills. In addition, they get to witness the colloquial aspects of the language which I think is really enriching.
What would be the benefits for non-language learners?
Broadening of outlooks. Even if students aren’t exceptionally keen on pursuing a language, there are programmes that focus on architecture, tourism, art, history, etc. As for our programme, other than the obvious linguistic benefits, students get to know about the education system, their code of conduct and the social systems that prevail. They get a chance to travel abroad and live with their host families which itself is an experience worth cherishing.
Do you agree that these programmes are beneficial for the accompanying teachers too?
Definitely! We attend school throughout the week along with our hosts. So we get to learn from their ways of teaching. We also get to interact with the local students. And it really helps us polish our language. I have been on 7 exchanges and it still excites me!
Has globalization or the introduction of cutting edge media affected or changed such programmes in any way? Are the students just as excited as they were 20 years ago despite having everything a mouse-click away?
It has made the process more seamless. Discussion meetings are now replaced by WhatsApp groups! Certain other things have changed too. A decade ago, we would have students who had never taken a flight in their life. Participating students already know quite a bit about the destination countries even before visiting them owing to the internet. Things like these have changed but the essence of the programme is still the same. And I don’t think it has affected the fascination of the students in any way. Being at the top of the Eiffel Tower is something very different from seeing it on the internet.
On a slightly different note, what would you like to say about teaching as a profession?
It is extremely fulfilling but only if you have the passion for it. I think everyone must experience teaching once because each one of us has to be a teacher of some or the other form sometime in our life, be it at home or at the workplace. But whether or not to take it up as a career should depend entirely on your aptitude and passion.
Lastly, what message would you like to leave our readers with? Many of them are language students. A handy language tip, maybe?
My advice to them would be to read a lot. The average student of today doesn’t read enough, according to me. Students must also be proactive in the learning process and participate in events and activities. And in order to master the language, the most important thing is immersing in the culture completely.