Why kids in families from India doing well in Spelling Bee

Sameer recieving prizeIn 1993, a group of influential Indian-Americans noticed that children of immigrants from India were doing very well in the math section of the SAT, but finishing only average in the verbal category. They wanted to fix that. And one came up with this idea: Hold spelling bees.

“Spelling is the foundation of the language,” said Ratnam Chitturi, founder and president of what’s called, the North South Foundation.

The organization, which was created to give scholarships to poor Indians, soon began sponsoring spelling bees for Indian children. It began doing so all over the United States.

And lo and behold…

This year, the top four finishers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee were youths of Indian descent, including Anurag Kashyap of Poway, the winner.

While Anurag apparently did not take part in North South Foundation spelling contests, it’s clear that the organization has made spelling a focus for children who have roots in India and that the results have been nothing short of stunning.

This year’s second-place finisher, Samir Patel, took part in North South Foundation’s spelling bees.

The 2003 winner, Sai Gunturi, also participated in the organization’s contests.

Youths who have ties to India have won the national spelling bee three times in the past four years.

And the North South Foundation, which also holds vocabulary and math contests for these children, normally can claim one of its own as a top finisher.

“For years, we’ve had a kid going pretty high,” said Chitturi, who lives in Chicago.

The idea for the bees came from Murali Gavini, a longtime member of the North South Foundation, who wanted to give children of Indian descent a better chance to get into top schools. Even if they tested well in math, they could lose out if their verbal skills were weak.

Within a few years, early participants were making their mark in the national spelling contest.

But this success by Indian children in spelling bees has other factors, too.

Education is a big part of the Indian culture. It comes first, said many local Indians who were interviewed yesterday at San Diego’s Little India in Mira Mesa.

Secondly, the Indians who come to America are among the best and brightest in academics. They’re smart. They’re focused. And that rubs off on their children.

“The people who come here are well-educated,” said Anand Ramadurai, 33, a computer-chip designer.

Indeed, a random number of folks from India interviewed yesterday included a software engineer, two pharmacists and a computer programmer. Many noted they came to this country for its education resources.

“Parents place so much importance on education,” said Prajakt Kulkar, 28, an engineer.

“They don’t allow for other things.”

Another factor may be the way India children have been schooled over the generations. According to an article in Language in India – a monthly online journal – memorization and recitation are big components in the education process.


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