Gloria de Souza had taught high school here in Bombay for some years before her students dropped a psychological grenade in her lap: She learned that about 70 percent of them wanted to go abroad to study after graduation -- no suprise. But that same number didn't want to return to their native India -- big surprise. ``If we . . . fail to foster commitment to improve the country, we've failed,'' she says.
So she designed a new approach based on a concept called ``environmental learning.'' If the subject is history, ``we . . . let it come alive by making them aware of their own surroundings,'' she explains.
For instance, she took students to the Gateway of India arch to reenact the scene when King George and Queen Mary docked at the pier in 1911 and were received by the viceroy at a makeshift pavilion which later became the site of the colossal arch. She pointed out the Hindu and Muslim motifs in the arch and contrasted the architecture to nearby buildings. ``With this the children start to understand the world around them as history,'' she says.
The concept caught on in her own school. Then, with an Ashoka fellowship covering her living expenses, she was free to set up a learning resource center to spread the idea. Last October, the Bombay government asked her to replicate her approach throughout the municipal school system.