Month: September 2002

In Black and White

In Black and White

For more than a century, blackboards and chalks have dominated classrooms across the world. Even today, the blackboard remains a major form of visual communication in classrooms, right from pre-primary through senior college.

Rohini Rassal, Principal of Saraswati Vidya Mandir’s pre-primary section says, "Black board is extremely important for small children as they tend to learn most through observation and imitation. Visual aid is most important when teaching children aged between 3 ½ to 4 ½ years." Thus, when learning to draw or write an alphabet, young children observe the movement of teachers’ hands – from where they begin and where they end – and gradually acquire these skills themselves.

But despite their popularity, a few schools in Maharashtra are giving up these chalkboards in favour of a new, child-centred, activity-oriented pedagogy. This is specially so in case of pre-primary schools, as it is being increasing recognised that little children tend to learn better through play.

No wonder that despite the initial reluctance of parents and teachers, the pre-primary section of A K Joshi School in Thane has done away with blackboards and benches. They have instead adopted what is known as the play-way method of teaching. Rote learning, written exercises, writing on the blackboard and the traditional learning of the alphabet are out. Instead, the emphasis is now on activity. The new method of teaching attempts to develop the student’s natural inclination to learn by offering greater freedom, making learning more fun than work, creating natural learning experiences; in short, on teaching children to "learn how to learn" in an enjoyable sort of way.

Aparna Bhole, Head of Department of Pre-primary section defends this decision explaining that the motor skills of a child develop only after the age of six. Therefore any attempts to force younger kids to learn to write invariably lead to undesirable outcomes. Such children usually develop poor handwriting, get sore fingers (due to undue pressure) and as they grow up, they tend to lose interest in writing, perceiving it as a difficult task.

Since the last couple of years, pre-primary students of A K Joshi are learning through participation in real activities. They have subjects such as arts, science, language, maths, daily living and physical training. Bhole adds, "We teach them simple truths. For example when teaching science, in order to teach little children about the properties of water, we bring buckets of various shapes and colours and then put water into them, transferring from one bucket to another, thus demonstrating the shapelessness and colourlessness of water."

Apparently, children are learning faster and better through such involvement. Even normally hyperactive, mischievous and troublesome children remain busy in themselves. Instead of passively watching the teacher, or silently trying to emulate what’s written on the blackboard, children here learn simple truths such as how curds are made from milk, or how is a roti prepared – from kneading of wheat flour to actual baking.

Going by the response of the parents, the progress has been outstanding. Students seem to love this form of learning. They love the freedom as against the limited movement they are allowed in traditional, blackboard-intensive methods. One parent excitedly corroborates, "My son has started identifying shapes. Everywhere he looks, he can see a square, a triangle or a circle. He knows that, ladoos are spherical, whereas rotis are circular. It is quite an achievement for a four-year-old."

The success of the play-way method of teaching can be attributed to one basic truth: Play is to a child what work is to an adult: it is what they do. It is through play that children learn about their world and the things in it. Play allows children the chance to explore their environment, to learn how it works and how they relate to it. A child can express feelings and emotions through various types of play activities far earlier than they can express them in words.

The spoken word

The spoken word

The other day I was invited to a seminar on Marathi literature. The theme of the event was contamination of language. A lady guest was called to speak about the importance of using language in its purest form. Our enthusiastic guest, who began speaking in chaste Marathi, was vehemently protesting the use of English words in daily Marathi speech. The audience, mostly from Marathi-speaking families, was listening with great involvement every word she said. A few minutes into her speech and the lady slipped – she used a few English words in her speech. There was uproar in the audience as she embarrassingly tried to continue speaking. The organiser had a strange grin on his face – that which said, "Wonder why I agreed to this theme". The seminar ended with some interactive games on the same theme, where audience was invited to participate.

As we left, I pondered aloud, "Is purity of language really important in our daily speech?" Most people agreed that purity for its own sake is of no use. Language exists to communicate ideas and thoughts. As long as we are able to effectively communicate ideas, it should not matter how pure our language is. Often, we deliberately use a foreign word, because it helps in putting across the idea more clearly. As for maintaining the Marathi culture, there is written literature.

For those who still want to complain against the use of foreign words in our desi language, think about what Lily Tomlin, a world famous comedian-actress had to say, "Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain".

Substance Mania
The state government of Maharashtra has banned the manufacturing, advertising, storage and sale of treated and flavored tobacco (gutka) and pan masala. Yet, we all know that this ban has been ineffective in controlling the consumption of these substances.

Last night, I was traveling from Thane to Kanjurmarg in a CST bound local when my attention was caught by a teenager who boarded the train and occupied the seat in front of me. He was carrying a rather bulky sports bag and was fiddling with his cell phone throughout the journey. Judging by his appearance and the season cricket balls that he was carrying in his bag, I concluded that he was a budding cricket player who hailed from a rich Gujarati family. This young man, aged perhaps 14 or 15 years, was chewing Gutka. I wondered what compelled a young sportsperson like him to resort to this deadly tobacco variant that has destroyed millions of lives across India.

Needless to say that it was a disturbing sight. Despite the ban, young boys are able to source Gutka easily and this shows that the ban alone is a necessary but not a sufficient step towards regulating the consumption of Gutka. What is required is education, especially in schools and colleges, about the risk factors associated with these artificial tranquilisers. Gentle persuasion and de-addiction programmes would be more helpful than reprimanding the young addicts. So will helping them channel their energy into constructive hobbies and activities that will not only motivate them to live their lives healthily but also de-stress them from anxieties that are a result of our overly competitive education system.

All work and no play makes…

All work and no play makes…

Extra-curricular activities provide school students an opportunity to break away from the monotony of academic exertions. Several studies suggest that participation in such activities help students perform better in school and beyond. Better grades, lower absenteeism and success in later life are some of benefits associated with extra-curricular pursuits. (See Box)

City-based student group Jidnyasa has been endeavouring to cultivate the interest of students in non-school activities. Surendra Dighe who founded Jidnyasa in 1991, discloses, "Jidnyasa stands for curiosity – curiosity of new experiences. The name is derived from three words: ‘Jiddh’ or determination, ‘Gyan’ or knowledge and ‘Sahas’ or adventure. So Jidnyasa is an organisation that strives to encourage and develop the spirit of determination, knowledge and adventure among the students."

Since the last eight years, Jidnyasa has been bringing out a unique magazine called Shaleya Jidnyasa. This magazine is produced entirely by students. Everything, from editing and article contributions to page layout and cover design, is conceived and executed by students who from various city schools. The magazine is published in English and Marathi and is circulated among students in the city.

The next issue of the magazine is due in the month of November, to coincide with Diwali. To create excitement and also generate content for the issue, an essay competition has been organised. Students from across Thane district are being invited to participate in the competition. There are three topics from which students can choose:

  • "What would be your promise to the President of India?" (300 words)
  • "Which successful individual do you admire the most? Choose from the fields of education, social service, sports, science and literature" (300 words)
  • "Cricket is a national obsession. Do you like cricket. Why/Why not?" Write in 400 words

Students are also encouraged to contribute stories, poems, drawings and other interesting material suitable for publication. Entries may be sent to: SHALEYA JIDNYASA, 14 Suyash Society, Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Naupada, Thane – 400602

Benefits of Extra-Curricular Activities to Students

  1. Broadens horizons
  2. Promotes physical development
  3. Encourages team spirit and social skills
  4. Teaches time management
  5. uilds confidence
  6. Provides outlet for stress
  7. Teaches commitment and decision-making

Remembering an eternal soul
Noted writer and academician Shyam Phadke was one of those rare individuals who achieve immortality through their work. Though no more among us, his writings make his presence felt even today.

Last week, Phadke’s eleventh death anniversary was observed in a special manner. Unlike previous years, when famous personalities were called in to give speeches, this year his wife Sumati decided to honour her late husband by staging portions of the popular plays written by him.

The programme was held at Naupada Hindu Bhagani Mandal and the show was hosted by Makrand Joshi, son of stage actor Shashi Joshi. Portions of six different plays were staged. These mini-plays were directed by Prabodh Kulkarni, well-known stage and TV actor. Performers included stage actors Yatin Thakur, Satish Agashe, Jyotsna Karkhanis, Asha Khari and Arun Vaidya. Child-artist Vedashri Agashe captivated the audience by her solo act.

According to one of spectators, Phadke’s plays can be considered as classics. The evening was nostalgic for many who were associated with Phadke during his lifetime. Shyam Phadke, who was fondly called Bapu, was rated as one of the only two great Marathi writers who scripted truly humorous plays, the other being Baban Prabhu. He also wrote plays for children, among others.

In addition to being an accomplished writer, Phadke served as the principal of Dnyansadhana College and is still remembered fondly by all students and teachers who were associated with him. Show-host Joshi, who was one of the many students trained by Phadke said, "Phadke Sir would get so involved with his students, that they often forgot they had a teacher among them. His dedication to whatever he did was extraordinary."

Towards the end of the evening Sumati Phadke felicitated all those who contributed to the programme. As the people were leaving the venue, there was one feeling shared by most…that Shyam Phadke lives on.

Arise, Awake

Arise, Awake

On Wednesday, September 4, 2002, an exhibition of paintings based on the life and teachings of Swami Vivekanda was organised by the Ramakrishna Mission. The exhibition, which was held at the TMC school no. 2, is a part of a larger programme which aims to spread awareness about the great mystic among children of today.

The theme of the exhibition was "Arise, Awake" and the paintings displayed captured meaningful messages of the saint. Most messages had special significance for children, who were seen asking their teachers to explain the context and perspectives of the idea behind every message.

There was a message on education, "What is education? Is it book learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. (It is) the training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education." One painting carried a really simple yet powerful message on God, "Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being."

Thane Municipal Corporation’s Education Officer, Prakash More, who attended the exhibition, was so impressed that he assured the organisers that he would assist them in taking the exhibition to other city schools as well as schools across Thane district.

Today’s kids will be tomorrow’s citizens. The "Arise, Awake" exhibition strove to instil a high quality of thinking among children, whose young minds are open and pure and can be easily stimulated to think the right thoughts and act appropriately. Certainly, such exhibitions go a long way in creating higher sense of values that benefit the individual and the society.

Readers who wish to catch a glimpse of these paintings can visit Saraswati Vidyalaya, Rabodi on Saturday, September 07, 2002. The exhibition is open to all.

Slogun Fun
It was the twelfth year in a row for the talent competition organised by Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-Primary Division. What makes this event special is that the participants are little kids aged between three and a half and five and a half. This year’s theme was "Advertising" and participants were expected to create captive campaigns for the product chosen by them. Themes in the previous years ranged from physical exercises and traditional dance to patriotism.

This year there were 17 groups in all. Each group, comprising between four and six members, had to stage their "skit" in two minutes. The performance of the toddlers left the judges and the audience enthralled. Cleverly conceived scripts, witty advertising slogans and skilfully crafted skits marked the show.

The first campaign of the day was for Saraswati School itself. The group drew from the popular saree commercials on TV and proclaimed, "The choice of all kids – The One and Only Saraswati School". It ended with, "We have no branches". Another attention-grabbing skit was the one that had a social message that appealed the citizens to save trees. Then there was the Amul Butter campaign that showed little Lord Krishna stealing Amul Butter. This campaign was very well thought-out and was one of prize winners.  
However, the judges were unanimous is selecting the first prize winner. This group enacted a really innovative campaign which had an original script. The advertisement promoted the "Rich Indian Culture and Tradition" by symbolically demonstrating pilgrims from various faiths. Their banner said, "This advertisement is not to sell a product. It is a call to uphold the rich ethos of India"

Although prizes were given only to a few groups, each participant was a winner. As such group events help in inculcating a team spirit among students, besides building their self confidence. According to principal of the school, Rohini Rassal, "The goal of such competitions is to honour and encourage creativity and talent in kids". Another advantage of such group events is that it establishes enduring bonds between kids, who remain friends forever.