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The South Asia Institute is proud to support organizations in the community that promote South Asian culture and studies through education and generation of new knowledge about the region.

SAI awarded Primary Source a grant of $7,500 in 2013 to support their commitment to resource building for K-12 educators in the areas of South Asia. Based in Watertown, MA, Primary Source promotes history and humanities education by connecting educators to people and cultures throughout the world. By introducing global content, Primary Source shapes the way teachers and students learn, so that their knowledge is deeper and their thinking is flexible and open to inquiry. Because of SAI’s funding, a new online course about India was developed.

SAI talked with Sue Cuyler, Marketing & Communications Manager at Primary Source to talk about programs related to South Asia, and the increasing importance of global studies in the classroom.


Q: Can you tell me more about the new online course about India?  What do you hope students and educators gain from it?

A: Despite being the world’s second most populous country and a rising economic power, India is not well understood by U.S. students. At the same time, teachers are being asked to teach about areas of the world they may never have studied. Our goal is to ensure that all educators are prepared—both to address the needs of our increasingly diverse student population and to equip today’s students for an increasingly global economy. The last century or so has been a time of immense political, economic and social change in India, and yet India’s story is mostly absent in the curriculum.

Primary Source course participants Skype with teachers in India

Our online course offers educators a chance to engage with different themes, including colonization, independence, and the legacies of each; gender, caste and social change; religious diversity and practice; economic trends; political culture; and the possibilities and constraints of geography in the past and today. In 4 weeks, we cannot go into great depth on any one thing, but we can frame topics in helpful ways and point people to resources where they can pursue their own lines of inquiry.

Q: What other work does Primary Source do related to India, and other countries in South Asia? Have you found that South Asia is a region that needs more support for educators in the classroom?

A: For the past six years, Primary Source has run dedicated seminar series and summer institutes on India and South Asia, as well as one-day programs on Indian arts and Bollywood. In 2012, we co-led a study tour of K-12 educators to several cities in India. Many educators want and need a greater base of understanding of the region. It is helpful that there are fantastic children’s and young adult books on South Asia and accessible journalistic and literary works being published regularly.

The fact that so many South Asians speak English is potentially another rich opportunity to gain access to their perspectives. But teachers need time to sort through these resources and they need frameworks to organize what they know and hear. Primary Source is able to bring the expertise of university and K-12 educators together to create content-oriented programs that achieve these goals while giving teachers space to reflect. Once teachers feel confident about their subject matter, they are much more likely to share it with their students.

Local teachers on Primary Source India study tour

Q: Primary Source has been able to develop additional web seminars – how important is technology in helping educators feel more connected to the world?

A: The array of online learning opportunities available today makes such a huge difference in how educators teach and how students learn. Thanks to social media, a teacher in rural Arkansas can be part of a personal learning network (PLN) with teachers from around the globe. Because of technology initiatives in schools, students in the US can collaborate directly with students abroad.

Educators in our online programs can connect with like-minded peers from around the United States and the world, and share ideas on how they teach global issues and engage students in global awareness. It’s important to us that through our online learning environment and the web 2.0 tools we model in our courses, our programs promote technology integration, enhance student engagement, and help teachers create globally connected classrooms.

Q: Why is it so important for students to have access to global education?A; In today’s interconnected world, no child can afford to be without a global education. Students need to be culturally competent, to think flexibly about complex global issues, and to engage comfortably with diverse peers. At Primary Source, we know that educators are essential to shaping the way children see the world. So we make sure that our programs are engaging and collaborative and give teachers the opportunity to deepen and broaden their own global understanding. They return to their classrooms inspired, informed and ready to enhance their students’ learning.

Q: What are some of the challenges when encouraging educators to think more globally?

A: Today’s state and federal standards mean educators are faced with so many more pulls on their time and resources. The good news is that these requirements can be met without sacrificing global content. The key to building global proficiency and 21st century skills in the classroom is to inspire educators and we work hard to create programs that do just that. By helping identify entry points in the curriculum, we support teachers to seamlessly include a global approach.

 Q: What does it mean for Primary Source to be able to partner with an organization like SAI at Harvard?

A: This sort of partnership makes much of our work possible; it takes time and investment to create strong professional development and curricular offerings on South Asia, and few organizations offer financial support for this cause. Without SAI’s partnership and support, we would simply do less work on India and South Asia.  We benefit from our relationship in other ways as well: by participating in conferences funded by SAI, meeting educators with interests in the region, and working with scholars affiliated with SAI.

Q: Moving forward, what does Primary Source hope to do in the future?

A: It is our hope that in the not too distant future, global education will be seen as a fundamental part of an excellent education. As we celebrate our 25th year of inspiring teachers to create globally focused classrooms, we are working to more effectively reach teachers across the United States. We will continue to develop timely, innovative and effective program offerings, and look for ways to deliver course materials that serve teachers when and where they are ready. As we expand our reach, our goal is to build awareness of why global education is so important for today’s students and we look to the day when all curriculum is rich in content about people and places around the world.