A humane side of skill development

SkillingIndia on November 5, 2012 Comments
Adithya Narayanan, Fellow, Teach For India

Education enables us to be good citizens. But, can we ingrain the life skills that we want in children for lifetime? The question is how.

This narration brings out a teacher’s dilemma on sustaining humanity in children.

Adithya teaches in Grade 4 in a low-income school in Malad West, Mumbai, India. He introduced a project called Design for Change (DFC) in his class. DFC is a global project across 25 countries that aim at giving young children the opportunity to express their own ideas of change as they wish to see it in the communities that they live in. In DFC, the children typically identify a problem in the community, discuss it in class and then design a project to help solve the problem. Then they go out and implement the project as designed in the community, and bring about the change they wish to see.

There were some apprehensions about how the kids would react to the project, though, and how Adithya can take this forward in his class. The idea of the project was awesome, but he didn’t know what problems the kids would identify, and whether they would find practical ways of solving the problems that they pointed out. Also, it was intriguing for Adithya how children would react to the whole idea, whether they cared enough to identify problems that they would want to change in the community and whether this opportunity of bringing about change would excite them.

Problems v/s. solutions

Adithya introduced the project to the class and gave examples of change that he wished to see in the community, before throwing it open to the class. At the outset, the board was divided into two. The left side had ‘problems’ written on it and the right side had ‘solutions’ written on it.

Within 10 minutes the left side was filled with problems, while the right side was completely blank. As the class began to participate more Adithya began to get the drift of the problems and solutions that were being discussed, he rubbed off the ‘solutions’ on the board, and continued with writing down the problems. The issue wasn’t that the children were not giving solutions to the problems they were coming up with, but, their solutions were too impractical, innocent and utopian to implement. For instance, one of the problems that the children kept bringing up was about how to help the beggars on the street. While talking about that, a student, Samina said, “I have a good idea. We should call all the newspapers and tell them that there are beggars outside our community who don’t have any food and clothes. They can write an article and many people in Mumbai will come to know about these people, and then they can all come and help us.” Another student Soheil who throughout the class was extremely bothered about the fact that beggars didn’t have proper homes and slept on the footpath every day, offered, ‘My idea is that we all collect money for Eid from everyone in Mumbai and from that we can build houses for beggars. Also, we can take some beggars home and give them work in our homes.” This was exactly Adithya’s biggest fear that children are innocent and unfortunately they are ignorant of the world and how it functions. Now, the challenge was to introduce them to the ugly realities of the world.

Adithya tried to explain to Samina and Soheil and everyone else in class that the Times of India may not be able to report on beggars as it had more important things to report about. Of course, they didn’t get it and failed to understand how reporting on sports and celebrities was more important than people dying on the streets. He further told them that whether it’s right or wrong that was the unfortunate truth about how the world works. Even if Times of India did carry the report, people may not to do anything about it and no one really needs to know about this issue through a newspaper article.

Teacher’s dilemma

Adithya’s dilemma is: How can he as a teacher ensure that 10 years later, Soheil or Samina feels as strongly about helping people? Will Samina or Soheil become shallow enough to one day pick up the newspaper and read about a celebrity while driving to work dismissing someone who will ask for help that they today want to do? How can he keep children from destroying their faith in humanity with these truths?

The silver lining is that at least Adithya was able to kick start Design for Change in his class.

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