Paper waits…

25 July 2014.
I’ll start with a simple question. Direct and no-nonsense.
“Do you like solving worksheets?”

It is the first question that I asked in each class we entered and ‘taught’ today. Back to Talegaon, back to the same school we visited 3 days ago (Back to my previous post if you need a reference!!) With the R & D department marching on with vigour, we were back to check the children’s writing skills today. Armed with worksheets of different subjects for Std 1 to 5, our arrival in the school was greeted with sincere pleasure on the shiny faces peeping out of each classroom. There was a sense of familiarity now, there was a definite connect. We’d lost the garb of strangers and donned the cloak of belonging. Almost instantly, we felt at home since the students and the school layout were known. This time round though, we resembled a cameraman’s team as much as teachers. As part of our internal research, we wished to capture a few moving shots of children actually solving the material we supplied. So this time, children met a new member from our team – the camera. Their curious eyes followed the camera and almost instantly, hands were seen tidying the hair. An instinctive action, each child suddenly switched on to the ‘good behaviour’ mode because of the “eeedio shooting!” However their fascination with the camera died as soon as I asked them one question.
“Do you like solving worksheets?”
The familiarity with the word ‘worksheets’ changed per standard, but the eager “Yuss” that was collectively received from each class was constant. Slowly and steadily, the worksheets wound their way through the class and found a child each. Pencils in hand, the children were simply raring to go!!
Now these worksheets we design rely on actually understanding the concept. The same concept is checked through various question types and so gaps in comprehension can be quickly identified. Since we were here for research purposes, we had a variety of English, Math and Science worksheets to offer to the children.
As we progressed from Std 1 to Std 5, the reactions the worksheets received were funny…and a stark reminder of the value of a single A4 printed sheet in today’s world. There was a girl in Std 1 who lovingly folded the worksheet into the smallest rectangle possible for her and packed it away in her bag for safekeeping. If only it happened at the end of the class. This exercise of folding and packing away the sheet was sincerely practiced by the girl after each sub-question I discussed with the class. By the end of Page 1, she had already become frustrated with me for discussing so much!!!
Then there was Std 2 who were so engrossed with their worksheets that not a single person uttered Bye when we exited the classroom. It was only when the teacher made them aware that we were leaving, did they absent-mindedly oblige but without raising their heads!
Std 3 wanted to rush on with their worksheets. They wanted to solve everything that was on Page 2 simply because while discussing the content on Page 1, the next page tantalised them.
Std 4 was perhaps the most well-behaved class…they eagerly passed around the worksheets and confidently answered each question on it, noting them down in neat handwriting. We finished solving the worksheets in record time and just when I was about to ask if they’d enjoyed the class, one boy was leaping about in an attempt to catch my attention. His almost instant reaction, “Bai, ata Marathi?” (Madam, is it time for Marathi now?) As I nodded my head in negation, he blurted out the string of subjects, hoping I’d agree to at least one more worksheet on another subject. Apparently he had loved the concept of solving something on his own so much, that he wanted to get through at least 10 worksheets before the day was over!!
Std 5 was our last stop for the day, and the worksheets found a comparatively mature audience in this class. Each head was bent in concentration as they answered the worksheets and each aspect wished to be duly filled by the children. When I asked them to write their names on the worksheets, hands quickly raised in doubt. “My name spelling please?” Although they speak in broken English, nobody stops trying. We were waved off happily only if our team promised we would be back with more. And soon!
It is amusing to see the fascination a little paper can generate. It is all the more fascinating that something we take so much for granted in our ‘private school’ education is such a rarity just outside city limits. And perhaps that is why these sheets of paper are given so much reverence.
Funny how carrying the bulk of worksheets seemed a weight for us when the children are only eagerly waving Goodbye, saying “Paper. Wait!”

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Teaching to learn…

22 July 2014.
If you have to find me these days, from Monday to Saturday, you’ll catch me sitting across a computer….frowning at it, sharing a smile with it, or usually furiously tapping away at its keyboard. To cut the long story short, you’ll find me in ‘office’…engrossed in work or so I’d like to feel!
The nature of the work requires me to be brainstorming, documenting ideas, developing them. Hoping that one day, at least one child can go places because of what my mind could conjure up. But just occasionally, before that brilliant dream takes flight, my work decides to take me places. To see, to understand, to experience and to absorb. And so today, ‘office’ got packed into a bag and a car and a school in Talegaon awaited our arrival.
A huge campus with a simplistic school building constructed in the midst of it, the school we visited in Talegaon today was as rustic as it gets. Children dressed in uniforms that were not shiny new but worn with much pride. Hair that was oiled and put in place and eyes that sparkled above charming smiles. A single division per standard, there were about 30 kids in each class. The school layout was simple. Carpets to sit on for the younger classes and benches for the elder ones, the doors and windows looking out on to a breathtaking view. Nestled cozy in such a location, there was something quite unlike any other school here. There was enthusiasm running through each teacher and student’s veins. And this enthusiasm was contagious! Quickly our team split up and each of us requested the class teachers to allow us to conduct a class. We were here for some basic research : to check whether our planning was in sync with the reality. And so our initiative of teaching a class each was an effort to learn about the grasping capacities of these children. This is a Marathi medium school with the trend of English fluency being no stranger. When I walk into the class, I get an instantaneous Good morning. Not because I’m some exotic species but because that’s what they know leaves people impressed. As I walk out at the end of the class, I get a traditional Namaskar but coupled with the English Thank you! The language is integrated to such an extent in all these lives that it is funny to see the children’s liasons with the language of the British Raj.
The idea is to remove these hurdles, these complexes generated due to a language that despite popular usage, we still partly call our own. And so in each class we check the level of English. Can they walk English and talk English? As I ask my class (I was teaching Std.5) whether they’d like to read a story with me… I have 4-5 hands and souls jumping up from their benches already. They’re eager to participate, enthusiastic to learn and most importantly, not scared of making mistakes. We falter a little through the reading process but we sail through the comprehension test. Children of all intellectual levels participate in this ‘discussion’, right from the mentally – challenged boy sitting on the first bench to the boy who cannot recognize a single alphabet yet but who’s the first one to volunteer for the ‘Reading aloud’ activity. Each child has an opinion. And each child wants to have it heard.
Within the next hour and a half that our team is in the school premise, the children exhibit a variety of emotions and behaviours. And the crux of it, these children know how to care. Stand in one spot and just look around. There’s one boy tripping over himself to get you an umbrella. There are two girls bending with the effort of bringing you a chair. There are four boys making sure you’ve had your steaming cup of coffee. And there are six girls standing guard as you enter the toilet. None of these favours were requested, none were in fact necessary. And yet, all were granted. By children of ages 6-13 for women in their 20s and 30s. Why? Because that’s what they know. How to be responsible and how to be supportive. You’ll see the elder children mentoring the kiddos in the absence of teachers and you’ll also see 7-year olds help out a classmate who has wet his pants. Nobody is suppressing a smile; each child aware that one day they might need a similar moral boost. Against a backdrop of pattering raindrops, I’m lost in thought.
I’m standing here in front of the class, learning how to teach….
And yet I walk out of the classroom realising I was just teaching to learn…all the invaluable life lessons that these children had to offer.

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