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The Story Of Kalpanadham – Part 2

Blogger: Shalini Krishnan

Information Designer, California


An intervention in education seemed difficult. It was a new domain for me and I needed to do a lot of groundwork. I began by going back to the books, reading and researching about education and the alternative practices. Many pedagogical approaches, practices and experiments have been developed and being successfully experimented upon since centuries around education, esp. in response to the mainstream standardized Western education system. E.g. Jiddu Krishnamurthi philosophy, Montessori curriculum, Waldorf Steiner philosophy, Reggio Emilia approach, to name a few. Another researcher and educator whom I follow is Mr. K. B. Jinan who emphasises on the biology of learning. Most or all of these different pedagogies, experiments and initiatives focus on applied knowledge. They emphasise the importance of connecting the head-heart-hand, i.e. holistic approaches to learning and building a strong connection with the surroundings and nature.

Being a designer by profession and a performing artist myself, I understood the importance and possible impact of a tinker space for the children of Kankia High School.

Reading about and understanding these different pedagogical theories, visiting different learning environments, institutions and meeting up with educators and experimenters around India, I was convinced that the children of Kankia School could immensely benefit from an approach that was set outside of the textbooks. An approach that leveraged their existing knowledge systems, supported their appetite for creation, connected with the natural surroundings and pushed them to imagine beyond what they see. The school community could probably learn and grow together by facilitating such learning spaces and approaches.

Like any new approach, the success of the concept and its implementation depends to a large extent on the capacity of its stakeholders and target audience. In this case, it was the NGO management and the school community. Their willingness to accept, participate and drive the program was very crucial. This was a herculean task – bringing about a behavioural change.

I started really small. I would carry materials (mostly art and scavenged scrap materials) from class to class, look for free periods on the time table and conduct creativity exercises and art sessions for the kids inside classrooms. I noticed the younger ones were much more enthusiastic and responsive as compared to the secondary/ high school students. The younger students were less conditioned and more open. The sessions served like mini pilots or prototype sessions for a possible alternative education intervention.

The process was slow, intense and time consuming.

Along with taking classes for the students, I was also extensively researching, reading, meeting and connecting with people and organizations in the space of alternative education. Amongst the many many people I connected with, a constant support and source of inspiration throughout my fellowship were my conversations with Mr. Sujit Mohapatra, the founder of Bhubaneswar based Bakul Foundation. Bakul started as a free public library for children and adults in the city and has now diversified into Environment, Arts and Volunteerism. They host interesting events and are able to attract a massive number of volunteers and contributors, esp. young, curious and talented minds. This way they communicate stories of possible changes and make a strong connection with the city dwellers. Another very interesting institution I had the opportunity to visit was Ahmadabad based Riverside school. They heavily focus on instilling design thinking and leadership qualities among their students in a way that empowers them to bring the change they wish to live.

The pilot sessions I was conducting aimed at eventually being able to reach that level of dialogue and empathy among the school community. Most of my sessions were art centric because art is a powerful medium that helps to quickly start a dialogue and set a context for the facilitator (myself in this case).

As time passed, I was able to gain some enthusiasm amongst the students. Luckily, I could cash upon a couple of landmark opportunities. A senior teacher and myself were able to convince the NGO for sponsoring an excursion trip to the very well known Raghurajpur Heritage Crafts Village in Puri district. Here, about ten students from tenth grade, a high school teacher, Mr. Debendra Dash and Gram Vikas in-house artist Mr. Ajay Baral, got the opportunity to interact with master craftsmen and also try their hand at the traditional crafts of Odisha – Talapatra Etching, Patachitra Painting and Paper Mache.

Another opportunity was participating in a Story Illustration competition organized by Bakul Foundation where one group out of the ten groups that participated from Kankia School, won the competition. Winning the competition was a big deal for the children. A bigger deal was being able to participate in a competition confined to city schools and children. And for illustrating a storybook of ten pages, we introduced the technique of storyboarding through a series of workshops. At the end, it was not just a competition entry, but a lot more.

There were a curious bunch of five to six students in the whole lot of five hundred that were the early adopters and consistent in their enthusiasm. They were the uber creative ones, who were literally starving for an opportunity to express their creativity. Be it by drawing, asking questions, experimenting with materials or even by simply participating. Unfortunately, all of these students were boys. The girls were extremely shy to express or wholeheartedly participate. And this gender gap was another massive problem that I was attempting to deal with – getting more girls to participate.

Through these sessions and the continuous research, I was slowly and steadily able to define the intervention to fit the context of Gram Vikas Kankia School. With the generous help of some of the NGO executives, after in-depth brainstorming sessions, I was able to come up with a learning framework for the intervention. I called this the I.E.A framework – Imagine, Explore, Act. This served as a guideline to plan further activities and workshops for the school community.

(To be continued…)

About the Author:

An Information Designer by profession, Shalini Krishnan, spent 7 years in the corporate world before choosing to apply her expertise to the social sector. She joined SBI’s ‘Youth for India’ one year fellowship program to engage with rural India at the grassroots level gaining strong hands-on experience and knowledge about the sector. She is currently based out of California where she practices Yoga and volunteers with different organisations.

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