Friday, January 24, 2014

Enlightenment

As is evident from my last blog post, I have been having a tough time in the classroom for the last few weeks. To break the monotony, my co-fellows (Harry and Rajesh) and I decided to take our kids on a field trip on Thursday. We left immediately after school to save time. On board the train, we debriefed the kids on where we were going and what they were going to do to make this a memorable experience.

Our first stop was the St. Xavier’s College, Harry’s alma mater. Harry’s friends were kind enough to show the kids around the college. The kids showed tremendous enthusiasm in greeting and meeting the collegians as well as explore the campus. Some of them for the first time saw a grand old college building, a chemistry lab, a fully functioning library, preparations for a college festival and a canteen where college goers ‘chillmarofy’ when they are free. We all grabbed a quick lunch and then moved on to our next destination, the 321 school.



The 321 school is first in what will be a series of charter schools founded by a TFI alumnus. It is a path breaking model aimed at bringing quality to low cost education in India. However, the purpose of visiting this school was not just to show them what the school was. Harry, Rajesh and Rima (a 321 teacher and a friend of Harry and Rajesh) came up with the idea of making the Jafari (my school) kids teachers of the 321 students.

It was an experiment in creating an opportunity of learning exchange. Our kids were going to teach the 321 kids skills and content in art, craft, phonics, science, general knowledge and language through 5 minute lessons in small groups. All of us as well our kids were a little nervous as to how this would go, considering it was a first for all of us. I myself was unsure if the two sets of students would connect, if the Jafariites would confidently execute what they had prepared and if the 321 kids would learn something new. After the visit, I am mightily proud to say that Rima’s and our kids nailed it!! (see reasons below!)

We returned to our school at 7.00PM after a tiring journey in a crowded train. While our faces were tired, the sense of achievement and learning on the kids face was unmistakeable. Despite the hour, we made the kids stay back and reflect on their experiences of the day – they protested initially but gradually, the silence in the room grew as their thoughts took over.

We made everyone share how they were feeling, what the best moment of the day was and what was that one thing they learnt today. And as a part of that reflection and a promise to my kids, I am writing my own learning here.

1) An act of kindness and giving doesn’t need an opportunity 
 Madiha spotted a young girl while walking to Xavier. She drew Madiha’s attention because she was blind and walking with a stick. Madiha asked me about the girl so I told Madiha and her friends Ameera and Mahek to go and find out. And they did – they found out her name, her destination and her occupation (she was a student at Xavier!). They also saved her from hitting a branch of a tree that was in her way. I stood there as a silent observer, but I couldn't resist smiling. This was our Humans of New York like moment in Mumbai!

2) You don’t teach subjects to kids, you teach them a way of thinking
Ali and Madiha were going to teach the 321 children the 5 senses of the human body. I loved how they took from the experiential approach we use in class to make the kids feel the 5 senses – for example, making them taste a chocolate or smell a perfume. It was their own plan and their own implementation and I was feeling proud to be their science teacher.


3) Children have no qualms about talking to strangers
While we were in the canteen, I had asked my kids to find people who were standing or sitting alone and find out one thing about them. After an initial push, they realized it was easy – and soon they came back with a list of names of the new Bhaiyyas and Didis they had just met and had also figured what some of them were studying.



4) You can learn from anyone or anything, if you ask the right question
Anyone

As a part of their introduction our kids asked the 321 kids “How are you?” Without a moment of hesitation came a choral reply “We are fine. How are you?” It was not a set of words put together in a sing song manner as you would expect from 5 year olds, it was a set of words said with precision, strong diction and the right tone. Just after the discussion broke, Ali came and told me, “Bhaiyya they are so confident.” I gave him a teacher-like reply “See, this is why I tell you to speak with us in English all the time.” And in my mind I was telling myself “You are not the only one who is doing the teaching today!”

 Anything
While I was standing in the train, I had given Ruksana and Aamna, who were seated, a bottle of water to hold. It was a water bottle with the words “I ran the 2014 Mumbai Marathon” printed on it. I told them to ask me 5 tough questions about the sentence and they will learn 5 new things. And before I knew it, they had discovered my love for Mumbai, asked questions with all the 5W’s, learnt what a marathon is and solved three math problems on fractions. We had to stop only because we reached the destination station.

5) Photography makes me happy 
It is strange it took me this long to come back to myself. While the kids were teaching, I was clicking so-so pictures trying to conserve my heavily depleted camera battery. And I realize how clicking pictures makes me happy – should definitely do it at a higher frequency!


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