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Berlin, Again (Credit: Ronni Shalev)

Berlin, Again (Credit: Ronni Shalev)

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Children gearing up for class

Non-hierarchical arrangement

This article is part of a series of articles written by Mathujitha Sankaran about her experiences during the year abroad in India. Click here for part one and part two.

My initial contact with the Eureka Koovathur Model School involved glimpses of the Social Science classroom. The subject teacher (Ms. Umarani) was teaching a chapter on the wildlife species that are found in the Southern states of India. The 2nd standard students were springing with eagerness to share their observations about the surrounding flora and fauna. I gradually felt rejuvenated as I listened to Ms. Umarani and her students narrate their encounters and impressions of the village scenery––the paddy fields, the principled behaviour of crows as they always share their food. She was speaking of the things that seemed most familiar to her students while also enabling a reflective atmosphere that encouraged us to be more than rural dwellers––that is––to take on an observer position.

It is hard to experientially immerse oneself in everyday banality, however, Ms. Umarani was determined to extract from her students the feeling of fathoming––to be able to engage in contemplation with the most familiar and to eventually turn into an object of thought. It was this atmosphere that I have been meaning to re-create with the students, whilst reading and discussing various philosophical and, specifically, societal issues with them.

Before I provide a description of my time with the students, I would like to briefly insert excerpts of a preface of the Social Science textbook at this juncture, which in translation has been reduced to hackneyed wordings. This preface captured the essence of my intentions of my time at the model school, which was to introduce a critical literacy programme that encourages a reflective aspect to reading. The fact that the preface was published by the Tamil Nadu state government provides sanguine prospects about the immense potentiality of reflective education in this region.

 “Children are always eager to be acquainted with the surrounding elements of nature, such as  trees, plants and animals. This textbook serves as an aide to invoke the child’s curiosity and his or her eventual foray into nature. Most importantly this book seeks to immerse the child in the world of experience.

 Every child undergoes a different experience. A class should provide them with the opportunity to converse, state their perspectives so as to enhance the process of interaction. Their desire to ask questions should be stirred and curiosity should be awakened.

 These lessons are not only relevant within the classroom but are more meaningful when stretched beyond the borders of the classroom, leading them to moments of gratifying happiness.”

The invoking of curiosity, the need for openness, and the beckoning of involving the surrounding phenomena in a child’s pedagogy reveals the juxtapositioning of simplicity and opulence of childhood. Armed with the intentions of bringing about this atmosphere at the Koovathur school, I was hoping for a perfected childhood experience for the students.

I sometimes intuit my intentions are inappropriate as I admittedly might have made naive assumptions about the blissful rural life and its utopian potential. Moreover the concept of ‘innocence’ has charmed me for eons which translates in my eagerness of wanting to understand and re-capture ‘innocence’. I must confess I am parched and overly nostalgic for a time in which experiences seemed more immediate and when there was very little conceptualisation of the world. Perhaps I am eager to re-live my own childhood through the perspectives of these students. However, aside from my self-serving intentions, my reading with the students and opening up a platform for discussion has led to the emergence of a buoyant and inquisitive atmosphere in the Koovathur classroom. I give you now an instance of a classroom discussion.

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