2014 was the year when the experiment with constructivism, in the District Council schools of Kumthe Beat in Satara district, went on to become a well-known success story.
We had all been trying to imbibe and understand this new concept, which held that when children come to school for the first time, they have already learned and absorbed many things from their environment. Thus the role of the teacher must mainly be that of a guide, nudging students in the right direction.
The then Group Education Officer of Latur, Trupti Andhare, had arranged lectures by experts as well as group discussions, for teachers in Latur interested in constructivism.
We were deeply impressed by a talk by Kishor Darak, on the student-friendly education system in Finland – where only highly qualified and highly educated people are chosen to teach
because it is believed that teachers are responsible for building the future generation. Finns take pride in their teachers. Unlike in India, where students sit in the same classroom for the entire duration of the school day, Finnish students have to go to a different lab or classroom for each subject. Not only does this ward off sluggishness, the system also encourages learning through self-studying.
In Finland, as we learned, the classrooms or labs for different subjects were equipped with educational material relevant to that subject. Trupti Andhare encouraged many District Council schools in Latur to adopt this model.
At that time, I taught at Matephal District Council Primary School. We, too, set up separate classrooms and labs for Language, Maths, Science, and Social Studies.
In keeping with concepts of constructivism, our students helped decorate the rooms with colourful pictures, posters, formulae, and so on, and these classrooms began to be used for different subjects.
Besides the inspiring talk by Kishor Darak, another reason why I took the initiative of setting up a separate Language class in the Matephal school was that our students were not doing well in the subject. In 2014, most children in my class could not even read fluently from a book, and I acknowledged this as a personal failure. I decided to concentrate on improving their basic language skills through this new class.
For a language to blossom, it needs a good vocabulary. I first focused, therefore, on my students’ reading skills. Many of them were timid and shy. To make them more comfortable with me, I began sitting down on the floor with them, and we would form a circle and chat. Slowly, their inhibitions faded. We would talk about simple things – their families, the crops are grown in their fields, our village, the school, what they liked to eat. I decided to let them speak in their own dialect and took care not to pick on their spoken or written grammatical mistakes.
Gradually, the students began to converse with me quite freely.
We would sing songs and recite poems. To help expand their vocabulary, I would ask each student to name some one thing from the village, write the word on the blackboard and then have the whole class read it aloud, before erasing it. Finally I would rewrite all the words on the board, and the class would read all the words aloud together. These were words from their world, with which they were familiar. I too was learning new words.
Then we began making sentences using these words, and playing word games – such as making word pyramids.
To encourage the students to express themselves freely, I introduced a new project called ‘Man ki baat’ (‘Speaking your mind’). This involved sharing a secret about yourself with the whole class that you hadn’t shared with anybody else, and then writing about the experience. The whole class was sworn to secrecy.
They insisted I play the game as well. ‘Tell us a childhood secret of yours!’ they went on. Once I had obliged, they were happy to start sharing their own secrets.
Someone had tied two bulls together by their tails, someone had stolen fruit or flowers from somebody’s garden, someone else had let their siblings take the blame for something they themselves had done. They narrated these stories in their own individual styles.
I will never forget the anecdote that Abhishek narrated in his own dialect: ‘Ma’am, this happened two months ago. We had made good money from soy bean. There were bundles of 100-rupee notes lying in the house. I thought, if I flicked one note, nobody would know. And I really did it. I was seeing so much money for the first time in my life. I rushed to the restaurant and wolfed down hot puris with potatoes, boondi and gum laddus, drank Pepsi, and still had 50 rupees left. I thought of keeping the money with my friend, because if my mother ever found so much money on me she was bound to get suspicious. My friend agreed, and we put it in his compass box, which we hid in a field. I used to collect it while going to school and put it back in the same place while returning.’
I was happy that Abhishek had trusted me enough to tell me his secret without hiding anything, but he had stolen money, so I asked him, ‘It must have been fun for a while, but are you able to be easy in front of your father now?’ Abhishek replied in a strained voice, ‘No ma’am, I’m too scared. If he ever found out he would surely thrash me. I avoid being face-to-face with him!’
Abhishek was feeling guilty. He knew what he had done was wrong. I explained that just as he had trusted me and told me the truth, he should come clean to his parents. He agreed.
When he confessed to his parents, his father said that he had realised that 100 rupees had gone missing, but he hadn’t suspected his son. He had thought Abhishek’s mother had taken the money. He told Abhishek how embarrassing it had been for him when the 2000-rupee bundle he gave the contractor turned out to be short by 100 rupees. He said he was forgiving Abhishek this one time, but never to repeat the act again. He also said that he was happy the boy had told him the truth, and gave him 10 rupees.
I got Abhishek to write down this experience. His tears of repentance and determination never to lie to his parents or to steal, were part of the experience. I couldn’t have asked for more.
We tried another experiment in our Language class, called ‘One Day for Mom’. The idea was to make these children realise how hard their mothers worked for their families, how creative they are, and to help them learn about gender equality.
I had them make a list of all the tasks their mothers did through the day. They realised that she was the one who woke up before everyone else and that she was the one who slept after everyone else had gone to bed.
I asked them to do all the work mothers did, one day, and to write about the experience. They soon realised how tough it was. To fill water without spilling it, to cut vegetables, sweep and swab the house, draw a rangoli pattern in front of the house without messing it up, to cook – I could see how the image of their mothers had gone up in their eyes. From their writing, it was obvious that their feeling of respect had deepened.
I insist that all my students, girls and boys, help their mothers in the kitchen as well as in keeping the house neat and clean. There should be an equal division of labour. Everyone should share the work. I want my students to start respecting women and the work they do.
Once every two weeks, we cook together in class. We make bhel, panipuri, kheer, or laddus, with money collected by the students or using whatever ingredients are available. The students buy the ingredients, clean and cut the vegetables, cook and serve the food. They learn about team work and gender equality through this exercise.
I get them to write out the recipes of the dishes we prepare together. Even though the dish is the same, each student has a different way of describing the way it was cooked and how it tasted. Through doing this, they learn many new words, and they learn to write neatly and to make paragraphs.
I am pleased to think that my students are never going to consider cooking and cleaning worthless jobs.
This Language class made a huge difference. Our students started writing so well that two books, ‘Phulchuki ani itar goshti’ and ‘Gotya’, written by Sanket Chavan, a Std 7 student, have been published. With financial contributions from the villagers, members of the School Management Committee and myself, these books were released in a nice little ceremony.
The students read these books, published in 2017, during their summer holidays, and actually messaged their responses to me on WhatsApp.
At the ‘Shikshanachi Vari’ event held in the academic year 2017-18, I had put up a stall about the experiments in our Language Lab. Many teachers from all over the state visited this stall and congratulated me on devising a programme that had helped students express themselves.
I have now been transferred to another school where I am continuing the programme with vigour and enthusiasm.
Writer: Anita Jawle-Waghmare, Teacher, District Council School, Borgaon (Kale), Latur district.
She is writer of book ‘Lakhlaknari Shala’ (Marathi).
Editing & translation: samata.shiksha team