I do not want pwhy to be a tuition centre are words I have oft repeated. From the very outset we had been adept followers of Delors 4 pillars of of Education: - learning to know, to do, to live together and to be - and tried to incorporate them in our programmes. We were always conscious of the fact that education is not simple mugging of text books dutifully regurgitated at exam time and promptly forgotten thereafter. And it was our sincere endeavour to try and remain on track. We set aside time to talk to the children about larger things and make them aware of the world around them. But it was no easy task as there were many impediments along the way. The biggest one being the low level of many children who needed a lot of extra work to catch up with their class. Added to that were the periodic exams that meant extra revision time. Needless to say all extra time needed for studies was taken off time assigned to other pursuits.
In hindsight I think there was also the unexpressed reluctance of the staff to taken on new challenges. One must remember that pwhy staff is all drawn out from the local community and the product of the existing state school system. Teaching the curriculum was their comfort zone and as always they were quick to sink back into known territory. We did run several workshops - RTI, brain gym, teaching methods, civic rights, water etc - and each was attended enthusiastically by one and all. I must admit that for a few weeks post each workshop teachers did apply some of what they learnt but then sunk slowly back into their comfort zones teaching what they new best: the school curriculum! Gentle reminders and even blunt prodding did not bring much results. There were always some excuse available: the forthcoming tests or exams, the shortage of time, the need to bring students to level.
It was then that we decided to set Saturdays aside for what we called creative pursuits. Programmes were chalked out. We suggested that each centre adopt a theme for the month and all creative work be done around the said theme. It worked for some time but then again even creative work sunk into a comfort zone and children were back to drawing mountains and rising suns, the preferred or should I say only drawing subject of children in school in India. Looks grim. Not quite as we blissfully had workshops initiated by friends and volunteers where the children could let their spirit fly free. I remember the one that resulted in the lovely song I wish, that became the pwhy song. The words were written after a workshop entitled what I wish for! The children then recorded the song professionally in a studio. Then we had the letter exchange programmes with children in Germany and France and how can I forget the paintings made by the children for pantomime shows in England. But as I said these experiences were few.
A recent photography workshop once again brought its share of surprises. 8 students were selected for the same and in a matter of days turned into mean lens persons. The workshop culminated in a power point presentation applauded by all and needless to say that today they are the ones who take pictures of the project!
When we decide to celebrate Ram's centenary project why came alive. For a few weeks studies were forgotten and everyone was busy rehearsing plays, songs and dances. We even got a dance master to come and teach the children and what a wondrous surprise this was as hidden talents slowly emerged and took centre stage. I watched the rehearsals totally dumbfounded and feeling a tad guilty and sad. This is what children should be doing not once in 10 years but regularly. The experience brought out the best in everyone: the children of course but the teachers also as they took on the role of organisers. I wonder how many new lessons were learnt.
What has been a constant in each of the above events is the passion and joy the children demonstrate every time they are faced with a new creative challenge. It is thus time we make some serious course corrections and ensure that creative and awareness raising activities become and intrinsic part of the project why syllabus. We have to shed once for all the tuition centre label that we so easily make ours. It is a foregone conclusion that such activities develop the mind and thought processes and will reflect in the children's ability to master their school work. So as of today song, dance, debates, newspaper reading and more will be reinstated firmly in our work and no excuse will be accepted. We are not and do not want to be just a tuition centre!