Learning from Kerala was devised to enable in-depth thinking about learning, and its relationship to curriculum and leadership, within secondary schools.  Below are some of the tasks and activities that the group of 13 teachers (and learners) experienced in Kerala.  These activities are in the approximate chronological order.  We share them for your interest an as a stimulus to thinking about the nature of encounters … and how you might plan for them.

What we did Why we did it Implications and reflections

Mind walk

We took a route around the city that incorporated the main streets and the main temples, thinking about the question: “What evidence can I see of learning, and what leads me to think about ‘what learning is’?” Some took images to share, some made notes, some just thought.


To allow everyone to adapt to temperature, surroundings and India, considering jet lag etc, whilst still beginning to focus on the project.

To create a clear comparison between Trivandrum and a UK city.

To consider the presence and significance of education in our everyday lives.


People felt that it had been a good way to engage with the city. They certainly did notice a lot of advertising for education – Personality Improvement Course etc. and because we had a focus, those who might have been less comfortable were able to use the focus to help them engage with the place.

The impact of advertising and an evidently ‘maturing media’ – adapting to people having more money, but in what way? Selling the West? Selling education as route? Selling an Indian-style consumerism?

Visit to professor in the Centre for Development Studies.

Professor Nair explained some aspects of Kerala’s historical experience, and answered some questions about communism, education, government etc in the state of Kerala.

To give people a background into how Kerala has become literate and why.

To give another perspective than the impression people get from the street – that highly organised and effective programmes are in place

People hadn’t adapted to the accents yet, so found it difficult, and were clear that Nair’s comments were from his perspective, but many felt that they had benefited from some of his explanations.

Key idea: that development through literacy is bringing new challenges: consumerism, disengagement, over-politicisation.

Different dimensions – holistic learning

People were encouraged to pursue their lines of enquiry using the city, by making their own plans of where to go, who to talk to, and what questions they had, in response to the stimulus of visiting Professor Nair.

We started with: what are the big ideas for me? Then found commonality, compromised, and created learning agendas that made sure everyone was in a group with a focus that engaged them.

Then we all fed back to each other, both on what they had found out, and also on how they had learned/how successful they had been.

To give members of the group independence in their enquiry and in the location, so that they could experience Kerala and their learning in a personal, informal way.

To experiment with the concept of a big idea (education and learning in Kerala) being explored first together, then using different strands, then returning to the central theme. (see “How are we going to enable this learning?”)

This was an all-round hit; although there was a huge variance in success levels, this led to useful reflection about learning in Kerala and at home.

Key ideas:

  • language is a barrier;
  • development is patchy – BBC on TV but no legal power;
  • people are friendly, welcoming, a community.

What is the relationship between education and society?

Groups explored this creatively, and were set the task of representing this relationship, as they see it existing in Kerala, on an A1 poster, using a visual metaphor.



Meaningful and useful in terms of clarifying and synthesising our ideas.

Movie poster task

Inspired by the plethora of movie posters everywhere, and the discussions about language barriers, we took photographs of posters that intrigued us in small groups. We then guessed the title, tagline, plot and characters of the film, presenting back to each other.


To consider how our cultural norms dictate how we perceive things.

To explore the cultural stereotypes we might have by applying our ‘knowledge’ then questioning it.

To have fun!


This was a good group-bonding activity, and a great way to consider issues such as political correctness, stereotypes and the purpose and role of popular culture as a learning resource.

Visit to Sakhi women’s co-operative

Discussion with the founder, and a project worker, about the extent of their work and experience, with an emphasis on learning and education programmes.

The group also purchased publications from their library, both Keralan and Indian, that aided our thinking.


To explore lifelong learning in Kerala.

Success of a non-West, non-International NGO that uses worldwide methodology but relates only what is useful to that setting – development fit for purpose, and education fit for purpose.


Unanimous in agreement that this was one of the most useful experiences.

Perhaps surprise that a small organisation can have not only the best answers for its own setting, but also many insightful comments about community, curriculum, leadership, education and learning as a whole, which enabled us to expand the way that we see those concepts.

Visit to a community-initiated education project

The project was in a fishing village that we contacted through Sakhi.

We had a dialogue with staff, teachers and students who attended, about our common and different experiences of education and learning. We were shown round the village.

To actually see what Sakhi were talking about first hand, and to expand the range of people we spoke to.

To perhaps see beyond the representation – how effective are the programmes really?

Many said it was wonderful to meet such lovely people – and to see evidence that in some communities learning is supported, and students have life chances.

We were led to reflect on what drives learning – many of the group are specialists in learning technology, teaching and learning methodologies, pupil engagement projects, yet the village had an old room with a blackboard, and a fantastic success rate of A-Cs. What did these students want? Is education a route to materialism? When materialism is in place, what is the role of education then? Is it ok to reap the benefits of materialism, but not to contribute by getting an education?

Learning about Kochi and ourselves

  • brainstorming the factors that determine our identity;
  • rickshaw ride around Kochi to consider how we represent our place and why;
  • considering what is needed to address challenges of our global society using the three Cs as a framework – Curriculum, Campus, Community.


Reflect on our individual and group identities that determine what we think about the world and what learning should be about.

Understand more about the Keralan context, and the new challenges faced by people and education there.

Learn in an informal yet structured way.

Consider representation issues.


Again, one of the more successful ways of learning, and like the other personal journey on day 2, a variety in the depth of experience.

A huge amount learned, reflected on and considered.

People were shown their own identities by the places they were taken to – where it is assumed they will want to go, based on their colour, wealth, nationality etc.

Issues of exposure – is it fair to ask others (pupils) to expose themselves without leading the way?

Visit to Panchyat

– local government in action in Kodakara.

Who decides how I live?  - explore this using the stimulus.


To gain insights into participation and citizenship in Kerala by looking at how democracy operates at the level of local government.

To think about the connections between education and society and in particular the link between schools and communities.


The rather formal attitude to visitors in India and our limited time, made this a difficult and uncomfortable encounter for many.

The most useful learning took place after we had left the more formal structures behind and had the opportunity to talk loosely with members of the community including local teachers.

It was clear that community and school are more closely integrated in Kerala and that they each see one another as partners in the attainment of shared goals. I think many of us felt humbled and ashamed when asked to share how local government worked in the UK. It exposed our lack of political literacy and that Citizenship is as yet failing to address this.

Greenpeace input

An activist with responsibility for Climate Change actions came to speak to us about the direct actions that he was supervising in Kochi, Kerala, along with other cities where the coastline is likely to change.

He talked us through the Blue Alert campaign, and gave us his opinions about the way that Indian people view Climate Change, in response to our questions.


To plan learning creatively and spontaneously – when we saw the signs and the activists, we had an opportunity.

To get a local perspective on a global issue.

To understand the connections and commonality between ‘our’ place and ‘theirs’.


This was a useful insight into the awareness of climate change in this region, and the particular things that are being done.

It also served to break down stereotypes and negative impressions created by the British Media about the fastest developing countries (BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India, China) being the worst culprits where carbon emissions are concerned. Mr Narayan commented on the sense of injustice this can bring – that India is somehow not allowed to develop, yet is more eco-friendly in its new laws in some ways.

Planning for, and leading, global learning

In two groups we:

  • nominated a leader for the curriculum planning activity;
  • identified big ideas that the time in Kerala had presented;
  • used those big ideas to plan the enquiry using the stimulus of Kochi;
  • ventured out into the town to collect resources, evidence, ideas that related to, or in some way answered or shed light on the big idea;
  • collated and structured those resources into a format that could be used with pupils, on a stand-alone curriculum day;
  • fed back on ways of learning, and ways of leadership/team-work.


To use the process to help focus our debates.

To enable some sharing of ideas within the network.

To explore different models of leadership.

This was fairly difficult to do – perhaps because a number of the group were not well – and felt a little like a departmental meeting  - the excitement, enthusiasm and refreshment with which many approached other tasks had gone with this one. Perhaps this was because we realised the enormity of the task – how do you narrow down and how can you bear the responsibility of filtering the Keralan context – changing issues into broad brush strokes? The wording of the question, too, was difficult. There was some success.