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On March 31, 2014, teachers from across the country came together to discuss how a story about slum-dwellers in Mumbai can be used in the classroom – except they did not even need to leave their computers.

As part of the Global Literature Online Book Group for Educators, SAI partnered with the Harvard Global Health Institute to host the online book group about Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Shankar Ramaswami, SAI South Asian Studies Postdoctoral Fellow, spoke at the webinar to give the teachers background and historical context on the book.

Using Adobe Connect webinar software, teachers were able to log on to a virtual classroom and interact directly with Shankar and other participating teachers. A partnership of international study centers on Harvard’s campus, this online reading series for k-12 educators explores literature from six global regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Russia / Eurasia, the Middle East, and South Asia.  Workshop participants have the opportunity to discuss works of global literature with scholars and authors in live, online conversations.  Each month, a different regional center chooses a book and connects educators with a scholar at Harvard.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction story about a present-day slum of Mumbai, India, named Annawadi. It follows the interconnected lives of several residents, including a young trash picker, a female “slumlord,” and a college student. Shankar is currently co-teaching a class about poor and working people in modern South Asia and using the book in his syllabus, so his comments during the webinar provided the participants with valuable content to increase their understanding of global issues related to India.

The teachers were also able to brainstorm with each other how sensitive material can be taught in the classroom, given that the themes of the book include issues such corruption, religion, eithics, poverty and inequality. Participants included a 4th grade teacher at a private school in Baltimore, a high school world literature teacher in Iowa, and teachers from public and private schools in Massachusetts.

Click here to view a recording of the whole webinar.

Click here to learn more about Global studies Outreach at Harvard.