Month: August 2003

Scripting new methods of teaching

Scripting new methods of teaching

As many as 60 pre-primary and primary teachers from various city schools just became more student-friendly. This happened after they attended the two-day workshop on experiential method of teaching students. Organised by the Thane Branch of Maharashtra Bal Shikshan Parishad (MBSP), the workshops were held on two consecutive Saturdays (August 16 and 23) from 11 am to 5 pm. MBSP is an organisation that promotes innovative methods in early child education.

As most children find studying from textbooks an extremely boring and cumbersome pursuit, they try and avoid it as much as they can. Being aware of this trait among children, this method uses dramatisation as a means to instruct students. So the objective of the workshop was to train teachers in scripting their lessons in a drama form and direct the students in acting and delivering dialogues that comprise of short lessons from their subjects.

Coaching them in this scientific method of schooling were Harshada Borkar and Vishakha Deshpande from MBSP. The techniques taught included body movements, facial expressions and most importantly, symbolic use of available material in classroom. For instance, a measuring scale would be used by the teacher to depict a guitar, a rifle, a stick or even a cricket bat. This approach helps in developing the imaginative capabilities of the children and also makes textbook lessons far more interesting. As students participate in the stories themselves, they find this a fun method of learning. They tend to understand the subject better and remember more of the subject being taught, leading to higher grades and better quality of education as compared to the traditional process of rote learning.

The workshop also promotes what can be called "Location Tuitions" where teachers are encouraged to take the students out of the four walls of the class into any area inside the school premises – staircase, passage, canteen, or even the rest rooms. This breaks the monotony of the classroom ambience and further helps the children in developing their imaginative skills.

According to Borkar, "When this method is employed by the teachers, it leads to an improvement in the relationship that they have with their students, who now look forward to attending classes instead of resenting them."

The dramatisation approach can be successfully employed for all subjects – History, Geography, Science and languages. Also, contrary to the opinion of many, this approach is equally effective for large, over-crowded classes with 50 plus students. For example, in a class of 60 students, if 10 students participate in the actual drama, the rest of the class become their audience and are far more engaged in the class proceedings than the in usual dreary one-way lecture from the teacher. Borkar says she has witnessed the number of hands going up in the air after a question is asked dramatically increasing after the use of this approach.

Being a radically different approach, most teachers were quite apprehensive about the workshop and its benefits before the workshop began. The fact that few had any skills in scripting, acting or directing added to their anxiety. Yet after the first session of the workshop, all 60 teachers were convinced of the potential of this innovative way of tuition, so much so that on the second Saturday, they acted in their own dramas directed and scripts by themselves. According to sources, the performance of these teachers was simply marvellous.

At the end of the second day, all the participating teachers were awarded certificates by the President of Thane Branch of MBSP, Kumudini Ballal.

Several prominent schools such as Saraswati English at Rabodi and Panchpakhadi, P E Society’s English School, A K Joshi, Bedekar Marathi, Saraswati Marathi, Bhagwati Vidyalaya, Dynaneshwar Vidyamandir, Brahman Vidyalaya and many more sent their teachers to learn this innovative approach to teaching. It is indeed an encouraging sign that so many city-schools subscribe to the view that school education needs to be made more interesting and appealing to students.

In fact, according to some teachers, this workshop can help parents too, in the sense that they can use the methods taught in helping their kids learn well even at home. For those interested in enrolling for the next such workshop, please get in touch with Harshada Borkar on 25381326.

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

Urbanisation, modernisation, computerisation and globalisation – the results of advancement in standards of living have both good sides and bad. One of negative manifestations of modern day living is that it is causing a downfall in the popularity of many customs and rituals that have been adhered to for centuries. While some of these rituals have their basis in myths, some others have meaningful motives behind them. Thankfully, there are some among us who do all they can to keep these rituals alive, if only for the sake of keep the history alive.

Around the month of Shravan, Hindus perform many different pujas and ceremonies. One such ceremonial is called Mangala Gauri when newly married Hindu girls perform the worship of Goddess Gauri successively for the first five years, on every Tuesday, in the month of Shravan, one of the months of the Hindu calendar. While Mangala denotes Tuesday, Gauri stands for promoting happiness, success and good fortune. To ensure immunity of widowhood and to pray for the well being of their husbands, newly wed women observe vrata (fast) and perform an aarti of Goddess Gauri. After the prayers, the girls sing and dance to traditional folk songs the whole night to celebrate the occasion.

On August 19, 2003, many Marathi women from Thane city danced merrily – they played games and sang traditional folk songs. In an attempt to bring back the lost glory of the Mangala Gauri, a ceremony was organised by women of the Rotary Club of Thane at Sahyog Mandir premises. While urban women hardly remember the ancient songs, dances and games, it was a folk dance troop from Vile Parle called Japurja Mandal, who managed to pump in the spirit by putting life back into an age old tradition. The troop, comprising mostly of middle-aged women, strive hard to keep the many ancient Hindu traditions alive.

The 20-odd women from Japurja Mandal did a fantastic job at Sahyog Mandir. They sang songs and enacted age-old parodies that had the attendees in splits: fights between mother- and daughter-in-law, a little boy bickering with his mom, small skits from the life of Lord Krishna. The women also mimicked the posture and gait of animals like peacock, tortoise and rabbit. According to them, ancient women used such occasions to unwind physically and mentally and these little games gave them the much needed work out. There was a session of ukhana where women would bring up the name of their respective husbands, but in a poetic manner, which was almost always humorous.

In the opinion of Dilip Doman, former president of the Rotary Club of Thane, "Some of the dances and acts performed by the troop were easier said than done. In spite of a regular exercise routine, I doubt if anyone of us could do those backbreaking, neck-straining moves with such grace."

In olden times, early marriage would deprive a girl of her friends and loved ones. Occasions such as Mangala Gauri would give them an opportunity to visit her parents and meet her childhood chums. "The song and dance ritual was a celebration of meeting up with childhood friends. Even older women enjoyed such occasions as they had little by way of social life otherwise," explained Ashwini Tambe, first lady of Rotary Club of Thane, who also participated in the Ukhana by mentioning her husband’s name in a humorous and poetic, albeit appreciating manner. "For us, the celebration was refreshing in the sense that it brought back memories of childhood and also revived the many legendary stories like those of Lord Krishna and his life" she added.

In the olden days, Mangala Gauri was a strictly women-only affair, but these days many men join the celebrations too – most of them do so for understanding of the ancient rituals so that they can enlighten their own kids.

The women of Japurja Mandal are invited by many tradition-loving-but-extremely-busy urban people who have lost touch with the ancient customs and rituals. These women remember every ancient song, dance or ritual that is associated with occasions such as Mangala Gauri and as such are doing a fine job of bridging the gap between the past, the present and the future.

Bonds of Love

Bonds of Love

Perhaps nowhere else in the world is the brother-sister relationship celebrated in such an endearing manner as in our country. What sisters tie around the wrists of their brothers on Raksha Bandhan are more than just colourful threads and decorative strings – they are symbols of love, affection and an enduring bond between the two. It does not matter much if the two are biologically related to each other. This was the essence of the Rakhsa-Bandhan celebration at a play school in Thane.

The Garden School celebrated the occasion of Raksha Bandhan in a unique way as little schoolgirls aged between two and half and three and a half years tied rakhis to boys of the same age. A day before the event, these little kids were acquainted with the significance of Rakhsa Bandhan – what it stands for and why. Parents of girls were asked to get rakhis and those of boys would get gifts. To ensure fair play, the school discouraged expensive gifts and rakhis and instead announced special prizes for the most innovative Rakhis and Gifts that would capture the imagination of the kids and also fascinate them. Parents were asked to bring rakhis and gifts on Friday itself so that they could be arranged well in advance.

What made this event really special was that the children were asked to select their own brothers and sisters. While boys could pick a sister they would most like to present the gift, girls could choose their rakhi-brother. Surprisingly, this whole pick-and-choose business went on quite smoothly as the little angles quickly became brother-sister pairs. They were then given the traditional aarti tray with kumkum, sweets and rakhi.

Imelda Rebello, one of the staff at Garden school, made an interesting observation, "It is not easy for a child to give away a neatly packed gift to another child. But we were surprised to see that the boys handed over the gifts which they had brought quite willingly to their brand new sisters".

Another staff member, Greta Dantin added "The gifts and rakhis were really nice. There was a rakhi made of tri-colour, another one had a miniature coconut on it with grains of rice. Among the gifts there was a bag with the School’s logo beautifully embroidered on it and a jewellery set made by a grandma of one of the boys.

I love my India
The Garden School also celebrates the country’s independence in a special way. The commemoration begins 15 days in advance, on August 01 when these pre-school kids are taught portions of the Pledge and informed and educated about India. Throughout the fortnight, kids indulge in various activities that are designed to inculcate a sense of patriotism early on.

Everything done during these 15 days reinforces the importance of Independence. Instead of the regular nursery rhymes, patriotic songs are played during the 15-day run-up to the Independence Day. Whichever child celebrated his or her birthday during these 15 days had special tri-colour candles on the cake. Rebello says "Curiosity often prompts the children ask why the tricolour and such acts go a long way in implanting the seeds of love for the country."  

On August 15, after the flag hoisting and singing of the national anthem, every child walks up to the stage dressed up as a national hero (not a   political leader, mind you) and utter a one-liner about freedom. This act builds confidence in the little children and once again reinforces a sense of nationalism.

After the celebrations, children are served with a sandwich, once again made out of the tri-colour – with sauce on top, cheese spread in centre and green chatni below.

Finally the children are presented with a book wrapped with a tri-colour ribbon and balloon and told, "If you wish to serve your country, you must first study well."

Judging by the celebrations, the last fortnight was eventful for the little children from Garden School – and whichever way you look at it, they learnt important lessons in love.

Staging talent

Staging talent

In the early part of the twentieth century, there was an American actress known for her outspokenness. Tallulah Bankhead, who worked in virtually every medium – stage, screen, radio and television – once proclaimed, "It’s one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work – the night watchman." What she was referring to was the uncertainty that dogs the lives of theatre professionals, most of who land up in this vocation due to their love of stage. They often struggle to survive and, if lucky, manage to sustain themselves. Yet, the struggle does not deter budding stage professionals.

When it’s the question of Marathi stage our city rules. Thane has always been known to have a rich theatrical background. This culturally rich city boasts of having produced some the most respected film, TV and stage artists. According to Datta Ghosalkar, producer of the hit Marathi play Yada Kadachit, "About 40 per cent producers of Marathi stage are based out of Thane." It is this disproportionate share of the city that prompted like-minded theatre producers from Thane to come together to form a committee that would encourage budding artists and existing stage banners by providing them with a platform to display their ability and creativity. Thus was born the "Thane District Commercial Play Producers’ Committee." In all 38 stage producers are its members. Ashok Pulekar Patil of Omkar Arts, producer of popular Marathi plays, "Smile please" and "Shame to Shame" serves as the President of the committee while Ghosalkar is the Secretary.
The main purpose of the committee is to help theatre professionals – actors, musicians, writers and all others who provide technical support. The committee also intends to organise talent competitions for school children in the area of acting, singing, writing, one act plays and so on.

From their very first effort, the committee seems to be enjoying tremendous support. A few weeks back, when they announced a short play competition for theatre professionals from Thane, our sporting artists urged the committee to throw open the competition to participants from across Maharashtra as they felt that this would make the contest fair and they would know there they stand in the world of Marathi theatre.

The first round of the short play competition (Ekanki Spardha) held in New English High School had as many as 44 teams participating from all over the state. 12 teams qualified for the next round which was held in Kalyan and Vashi. Four teams made it to the finals:
1.  Mitra Sahyog, Thane
2.  Chirantan, Thane
3.  Evamika Theatre, Vashi
4.  Sahkar Nagar, Dadar

The finals are scheduled to be held on August 25, 2003 at the Gadkari Rangayatan.

Writer-Director of the ultimate Marathi comedy "All the Best" and playwright Anand Mahavaskar were on the judges’ panel. Apart from the honour, the winning play will be converted into a full length show and will be commercially produced and promoted by one of the producers of the committee.

Celebrated Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet Oscar Wilde once said, "The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life." The Play Producers’ Committee is helping get life back to into art.

Coaching Special Children

Coaching Special Children

Ancient scriptures of India bestow a high stature to the teaching profession. The teacher is perhaps the most important individual in a child’s life, after his/her parents. And not without reason, for teachers influence the young minds in a manner that is indelible. No wonder, teaching has long been considered a noble profession. But when the child being taught is physically or mentally challenged, the nobility associated with the profession reaches its peak.

Earlier this year, while presenting his budget 2003-2004 speech, the finance minister of Maharashtra announced the implementation of a comprehensive programme of "Enablement of the Disabled" over the next 3 years. This included enrolment of disabled students in general schools. So far disabled children could only attend special schools which are limited in number, depriving many such children their basic right of education.

With this new step, the Government of Maharashtra may have opened up new avenues of for the disabled children, but it also faces a gigantic challenge – that of training teachers from regular schools in the techniques of educating children who need special care.

As we write this, 25 teachers from various municipal schools across the city would be attending the last session of what can be called a unique orientation programme where they were trained in the rather sensitive skills of coaching children in need of special care. The workshop which was held at the Jidd School in Thane began on June 16, 2003 and lasted 45 days, which included a 7-day digression to the National Association of Blind.

The objective of the workshop was to orient participant teachers in the following ways:

  • To help them understand and respond to the educational, emotional, physical and vocational implications of handicapping conditions
  • Develop their skills in systematic assessment
  • Help them develop curriculum needed for children with physical disabilities, mental retardation, and learning disabilities/visual impairment (special children)
  • Help them with planning and implementation of educational programmes needed for these special children
  • Familiarise them with organisation and administration of special education programmes for special children
  • Understand and participate in the work of parents, doctors and the community at large in preparing the special child to become optimally productive and a useful member of society
  • Grasp the methods and procedure of encouraging co-operation from the family and understand the problems of the special child.
  • Be acquainted with the attitudes of parents and society towards special children

Principal of Jidd School and coordinator of the workshop, Shyamshree Bhonsle expressed her apprehensions about the effectiveness of such an exercise. According to her, "Teaching special children is not simply a matter about acquiring skills and imparting knowledge. It’s about a certain sense of mission and dedication that goes beyond the mere material pursuits like earning money or fame. It’s about sporting an attitude of love and tolerance." Yet she also added that she’s happy that finally these children are finding their rightful place in the society and will no longer feel left out.

The reactions of 25 participant teachers can be held as testimony to the fact that teaching children in need of special care requires a special kind of commitment. Most of these teachers were deeply moved and many even wept in their first few days of the workshop. In many ways, Jidd School is the perfect venue for such a training workshop as children from the poorest strata of the society study here.

There were as many as 69 prominent individuals from various fields who assisted Bhonsle in the mammoth task of training 25 teachers every day from 9:30 in morning to 4:30 in the evening for 45 days. Dr. Milind Patil (Orthopaedic Surgeon), Dr. Madhuri Pai (Educationist and Past Director of the Spastic Society), Raman Shankar (Director of National Association of Blind), Shubha Thatte (Senior clinical psychological) and Sampada Kulkarni (TV actress and compere) were among the many who spared time out of their busy schedules to instruct the participants.

Chairman of Primary Education Committee of TMC Chintamani Karkhanis reveals, "These programmes are being conducted under the directive of the Maharashtra Government. The programmes are free of charge and the participant teachers are awarded a certificate at the end of the course. Although not compulsory, the teachers who attend certainly benefit from the course as they become better equipped in handling the needs of special children."

Although a circular was sent to all schools in the city, almost all the participants who attended were from the municipal schools. Many teachers from private schools were quite eager to attend but could not, perhaps because their schools did not approve their participation, revealed Bhonsle. She then appealed, "Though not compulsory, principals and heads of private, aided and unaided schools in the city would do well to send their representatives to such programmes whenever they are held in the future. The government is doing its bit – we teachers should do ours."

"The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children," said German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And our teachers carry an uneven share of the burden of this morality on their shoulders. The least we can is encourage them.