Fulbright scholar, new La Sierra prof takes education to India's 'untouchables'
Aug. 25, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) Just four weeks into her new faculty position at La Sierra University’s School of Education, Dr. Margaret Solomon took off for her native India armed with inspiration and a wealth of knowledge she aims to use to uplift the country’s impoverished children.
A recently awarded Fulbright-Nehru Visiting Scholar, Solomon is launching a four-month education project aimed at helping India’s so-called ‘untouchables,’ children at the lower end of India’s caste system who frequently do not attend school or complete primary education. Her Fulbright project, titled “Educational Justice for Underprivileged Students,” seeks to boost the educational level of Indian children through a movement of professional learning communities comprised of teachers and educators of teachers.
Solomon flew to Delhi on Aug. 1 to meet with the United States-India Educational Foundation director and a foundation team to go over procedures. The foundation administers the Fulbright program in India.
She plans to hold lectures for teachers for two months each at Lowry Memorial College near Bangalore and at Spicer Memorial College in Pune. Both colleges have teacher-training programs and are owned by the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Solomon earned dual bachelor degrees from Spicer in 1968 and served as a teacher at both institutions.
Solomon will instruct the teachers and student teachers as well as teachers from nearby colleges in the organization of forums dedicated to increasing the education levels of impoverished children. She will use a ‘systems’ approach to the process, first instructing educators of teachers, then principals and finally the teachers. “My first objective is to bring awareness of the enormous challenges in India,” she said.
She held her first lecture the second week of August for teacher educators at Lowry. On Aug. 22 she began teaching pre-service teachers in the teacher training division. The college’s president has also asked Solomon to evaluate the program of the on-campus high school and train administrators and teachers, she said in an e-mail interview from India.
Additionally, she will travel next month to work with teachers at two schools in the city of Varanasi/Banaras and another near Bombay. The schools serve underprivileged children. She will interview and observe teachers, administrators and students and collect qualitative research data in case studies of the schools.
After training the teacher groups Solomon will call for volunteers and organize leaders of groups to form the learning communities. Solomon’s approach involves gleaning information from journals teachers will keep as they implement culturally responsive instructional strategies used to teach India’s ‘untouchables’. Teachers will also learn to hold “instructional conversations” with students after they teach a concept or an idea, asking students if they understood what was taught, she said. They will also learn to engage in conversations with other teachers about the process of teaching used in relaying a particular concept or idea.
Solomon plans to draw from studies conducted of teachers of underprivileged and tribal children in Indian government-sponsored schools. But her biggest obstacle may be in changing the perspectives of some of the teachers themselves. Most of the children come from very poor homes, she said. Some live on the streets, some in shacks and others in huts and mud houses. “The teachers have very negative attitudes toward them [children from lower classes],” she said. “My whole focus is to work on changing those world views.”
Thus far she’s had a positive response to her efforts, Solomon said Aug. 19. India’s government has created a law called Education for All, similar to America’s No Child Left Behind, but implementation is limited, she said. “Although there is a sense of duty toward teaching those children, there is not much commitment to do a thorough job. The system does not seem to have a thorough process to monitor the work toward educational justice,” she said.
Solomon and her husband have two grown sons. The couple lives in Yucaipa, Calif. She began her new position July 1 as a professor of educational leadership at La Sierra University. Solomon considered a position at a local state university before electing to teach at LSU.
“Dr. Boyatt [former School of Education dean] talked to me a lot. They really made me feel wanted. That really touched me,” Solomon said.
She believes the new job is the result of providential direction. While she was the top candidate for the more lucrative state university job, the institution delayed its decision to giver her a contract. She had prayed for direction based on which school came forward first with a contract proposal. Meanwhile, Boyatt continued to impress upon Solomon the need for her skills at LSU. “It was so obvious it was La Sierra, so I could not resist that anymore,” she said. “I began to feel that God really was directing me to LSU and I must contribute to my church institution the skills and knowledge I had developed all these years.”
The four-month Fulbright project is just the kick-off for Solomon’s cause. She plans to morph the program into a long-term research project with pre-surveys, process surveys and outcomes. “The surveys will be given to teacher educators to find out their worldviews about teaching the target students of the study,” Solomon said. “Pre and in-service teachers also will do the worldview survey and the teaching style survey to measure their instructional style to determine how much of student centered instruction is followed. Principals also will be given the survey to identify their leadership style and their worldviews about educating those students.”
Once the kinks are worked out and the India educational project gets solidly underway, Solomon dreams of building a similar grant-funded program in California based on the same model. The goal: to aid underprivileged California children whose first language is not English. “It’s a dream. Let’s see what how Lord leads,” said the Seventh-day Adventist educator.
The India education project jelled for Solomon while typing the application for the Fulbright scholarship, she said. “The ideas just flowed and flowed. I myself couldn’t believe I wrote that. I’m so grateful the La Sierra administration is letting me go and do this,” she said.
The Fulbright program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the program which operates in more than 155 countries and awards approximately 7,500 new grants annually.
Fulbright officials contacted Solomon in April announcing the selection of her project for a scholarship grant. “I just cried when I found out I got it,” she said. “I said ‘Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you.’”
Solomon is from the southern portion of India where she attended the first Seventh-day Adventist church established in that country in 1906. In 1978 she and her husband immigrated to the United States where Solomon pursued a master’s in curriculum and instruction at Andrews University while her husband entered Andrews’ seminary. Solomon was hired by the Grand Rapids public school district as a special education teacher in 1980. Her 23-year public school teaching career included five years as vice principal of Union High School in Grand Rapids, the largest high school in that district.
In 1999 she completed a doctorate in K-12 educational administration at Michigan State University and in 2003 accepted a faculty position at Redlands University in Redlands, Calif. She taught there as an assistant professor for seven years and developed doctoral and master’s program courses.
In addition to her broad teaching experience, Solomon has published numerous articles, co-authored two books, conducted extensive research and made numerous conference presentations at the state and national level.
She completed research this year that examines implementation issues of the federal government’s No Child Left Behind policy and is continuing cross-cultural studies begun in 2007 on identity development issues of recent Mexican immigrants attending California high schools. The latter study compares with immigrant issues in Hong Kong, Australia and Canada. Solomon in April submitted her research for consideration of publication in the National Association of Professors of Educational Administration Journal.
Solomon is shifting her research to focus on transformational leadership and its impact on the education of underachieving students. Much of her past analysis has centered on the needs of English language learners. “In the U.S. and especially in California they are the ones not having success,” Solomon said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University