Monday, January 13, 2020

Roots and Wings: Southpoint from the Perspective of a Multicultural Family

A few weeks ago I came across a story in a children’s magazine and read it with my son: a yellow paint drop lives in the land where everything is yellow, but one day a blue paint drop falls there and some things start getting painted blue. The yellow paint drop and the blue paint drop decide to mix, and a green paint drop is born. Now, the land of yellow also has blue and green and becomes more beautiful.
I would add to the story, in my own mind, that the land of yellow also becomes more fluid and complex, and this is not always welcomed by those who prefer that things remain the same, simple, predictable. Also, being green in the land of yellow (or the land of blue) can make the green feel lonely, or too noticeable, or just too green, as it tries to adapt to the yellow and blue!
Coming from a family with mixed cultural backgrounds can be a blessing, but also a challenge. I come from such a background, with parents from different countries, ethnicities, languages (Mexican father and American mother). In addition, I was partly raised in a third country and language (Switzerland) and then married my husband, who is Indian from this region of Uttar Pradesh. Our son Andrés, who joined Southpoint’s preschool in August, is Indian, Mexican and American.
When we began looking for schooling options for him, I was discouraged by several aspects of the “mainstream” school choices available in Varanasi, which to my mind would not help Andrés to adapt, but might rather alienate him. Indeed, as an educator in the field of international education, I found the basic premises of these schools problematic for all children, not just my own child. The most problematic of these is the tendency to equate “global” learning with the intensive use of new technologies or with superficial partnerships with foreign countries or accrediting agencies, while – in my view – still being essentially boxed in by a very parochial, homogenous mindset. This mindset is largely the result of these schools charging such high fees that they effectively bar students from many social classes and communities from attending, thus limiting diversity a great deal. Finally, many schools seem to adopt a model of industrial production of students – large class sizes, intense competition with “toppers” listed even at the preschool level, and an emphasis on publicizing high results on national examinations and assessments.
This schooling model is of course not unique to Banaras or to India; indeed, it is a blight on education all over the world. To what extent can schools produce truly “globally-minded” students of they are not given the time and space to think critically, the support to develop individually, or enough contact with different types of children, beginning at the local level, in their own neighborhood and city? 
Southpoint stood out as a good alternative for us, as a multicultural family, particularly for the following three extremely valuable attributes:

An “Integrated School” that values diversity
The fact that Southpoint welcomes and supports students from all social, economic and national backgrounds makes it a school with a truly “global” ethos, in the sense of breaking down barriers and welcoming diversity. From the beginning I felt that Andrés will have the opportunity to interact with local children from all walks of life, as well as with some other international children, both of which are greatly needed to expand his world beyond the rather sheltered BHU environment where we live and work.
The corollary to welcoming diversity is emphasizing equality of all children, educating them as human beings who share universal values. I feel that Southpoint actively strives for this on a daily basis, making school a place where children are not “labelled” according to any ethnic, religious, national or socioeconomic category, but rather encouraged to relate to each other as individual children on a level playing field. Unfortunately, we live in societies (here and abroad) that can be quick to label, to categorize, to stereotype…and these messages, whether obvious or subliminal, are easily imbibed by children. A school like Southpoint plays a key role in neutralizing these messages and presenting an alternative narrative of equality. Again, this is very important to us for Andrés’ process of socialization.
Finally, Southpoint clearly values knowledge of the local culture while also being open to learning about the wider world, which should be the real measure of a “global” school. As someone famously noted, “there are two lasting gifts we can give our children: one is roots, and the other wings”. In this case the roots imply being grounded in our local reality, in order to be able to fly securely to other destinations. I was fortunate in my own education to have a family and schools that provided me with a strong sense of belonging to a local community, so that I could also embrace other communities with confidence; I hope Andrés may also have this with the help of balanced schooling.

A Child-Centered School, focused on holistic development
The task of breaking down cultural barriers, understanding diversity and making children aware of their shared values is undoubtedly a very complex one, which is much more effectively done by focusing on individual children. It is wonderful that Southpoint has small class sizes and believes in placing the focus squarely on each child’s development – there can be no better way of learning for a child than being in an environment where he or she feels individually valued, understood and cared for. This pedagogical approach also naturally does away with labels – Andrés or any of his classmates are not categorized but rather seen as children with individual character traits, behaviors and moods who need to be supported in their individual development as human beings.  
Individual development, in turn, is viewed at Southpoint in a holistic way – it includes social, emotional, and physical aspects as well as intellectual or academic ones. This is essential for raising well-rounded human beings who have a civic sense and a feeling of solidarity with others, rather than of competition. The current waves of intolerance that can be seen in various parts of the world today may at least partly be the result, in my view, of a narrow form of learning that does not leave space for trying to understand ourselves completely, much less others in their diversity.
Finally, Southpoint encourages children to learn by using their own curiosity as a springboard, by exploring their creativity, and by connecting what they are learning to real-life problems and experiences. Children learn by using traditional materials and by making things themselves; I believe this serves an essential role in deepening “roots” to the local community -and indeed, to the basic tasks that unite us as human beings, such as planting crops, cooking, etc. - which should be firmly in place before children learn to “fly” on the internet and other technologies (I thoroughly agree with another parent’s blog post on this issue – please see Evelyn’s reflection below).
The center of all these pedagogical approaches are the teachers, who at Southpoint are caring, experienced and clearly open to continuous learning. “Mainstream” schools generally value highly “trained” teachers (those with perhaps many years of formal training and degrees), but it is important to widen this recognition to teachers who are highly “skilled”, meaning that they have the ability to relate to children in a caring way, experience in dealing with different backgrounds, and willingness to adapt their teaching styles. 

A School with a sense of community
Aside from my personal multicultural background, I have been fortunate to have worked in various areas of education; these experiences have given me insights that have perhaps helped me to become critical of “mainstream” schools and to see the value of Southpoint. For example, I observed the positive effects of individual attention and care when I worked as a literacy tutor for marginalized children in U.S. government schools. I carried out PhD research on the biases of teachers in rural Mexico towards migrant children, which has heightened my respect for “skilled” teachers who are open to change. I have also been a longtime consultant for the International Baccalaureate, which specializes in multicultural pedagogy, and this has taught me about the importance of “inquiry-based” learning – the kind of child-driven, interconnective, discovery oriented approach that Southpoint adopts, which is so essential for developing the ability to think critically and become open to diversity.
Regardless of these experiences, however, becoming a parent is the most humbling experience of all, which has often overturned any of my previously held beliefs or theories about education. Our children are undoubtedly our most important teachers! And raising them to be happy, cooperative, generous and tolerant human beings is our most challenging responsibility. At the end of the day, as parents our main concern is to adequately address the daily needs of our children, who are all struggling with similar internal challenges – learning to deal with their emotions, to relate with others, to test their strengths and limits – as well as external pressures imposed by the often unequal, stratified, divisive world in which we live. It helps enormously to feel that there are supportive, like-minded people who also care about our children and can help to guide us along the rewarding, but also bumpy, road of raising them. At Southpoint, there is a sense of shared responsibility and community that is often lost in larger schools. It is clear that teachers and staff share the worldview that “it takes a village to raise a child”, and they are willing to go the extra mile to work with parents from different backgrounds to understand each child’s context, resolve issues, and strengthen both their roots and their wings. For this, I am most thankful to have found Southpoint.

-          Adriana Alcántara
(Mother of Andrés, Preschool)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Five ways that Southpoint welcomes international families

As an international family living in Varanasi, we obviously value our children being able to learn and live cross-culturally. Part of that is mastering a second language, but another large part of that is learning to interact with people who are from different backgrounds. This is one of huge benefits of living overseas. However, without an environment that promotes their growth and understands their unique challenges, it would be entirely possible for us to live here and never see our children reach the goals we have for them socially and academically.

Here are some of the ways that Southpoint helps us to reach our goals and thrive as an international family in Varanasi.
1. Schedule flexibility. One of the perks and challenges of living internationally is that our family often travels for large chunks of time. We take time to see our families and visit friends in different parts of the world. Our children learn so much from experiencing life globally, but it can be hard to maintain a strict academic schedule. Southpoint has helped us with this by working with us when our children miss large periods of time at school. They have not required them to prove grade level competency through rigorous testing upon their return, but the teachers are able to work with them and observe where they have progressed and where they may need extra work.

2. Able to work with students individually. As a parent of twins, I know all too well how different two students of the same age can present themselves, in personality, in academics, and in interests. As a teacher with a classroom of students coming from different backgrounds, school experiences, and even parts of the world, I can only imagine the challenge they face in insuring that all students are challenged and mastering the material. Our children are at a very basic level with Hindi, but naturally excel in English. The talented teachers at Southpoint have been able to identify these areas, and they adapt their teaching to meet them where they are at.

3. Small class size. This was the biggest draw in placing our children at Southpoint. Without this, our children would not get the individual attention that allows them to learn at the level of their strengths and weaknesses. The teachers can know each and every student, and I see that they really care about our children and want them to excel. Smaller class size allows for creativity and self-expression. Smaller class size allows Southpoint teachers to come alongside a student to give an encouraging word or a gentle push to try again.

4. Hands on learning. Our children are growing up in a totally different age than we, as their parents, did. Technology is everywhere, in our very hands at all moments. In our excitement to embrace all the knowledge that the internet makes so accessible, it is easy to forget to teach the simple, practical skills that I grew up with - things like sewing, farming, cooking, handcrafts. However, Southpoint, with its attention to the environment and wholistic learning, has incorporated these essential skills into the curriculum. I love that my children have opportunities not to only learn about how plants grow from seed to plant to fruit, but to get their hands in the dirt and participate in farming. They are learning hand-stitching and traditional art forms. No amount of internet can substitute for being able to master these basic skills.

5. Growth over test results. The teachers at Southpoint really care about their students. They really want them to learn. They have a passion for teaching. For example, I have seen year after year that my sons’ teachers really expect and hope that my children will master Hindi, both spoken and written. They are willing to adapt their lesson plans to meet them where they are at. They are optimistic about their potential to learn, and they continue to work toward this goal. While their test results in Hindi may not be an accurate reflection of their hard work, yet the teachers are excited to see their progress. Testing is not emphasized to the point where it inhibits true learning and growth. Growth is seen in so many other ways at Southpoint: in mastering a dance, in presenting an art project, in reading a good book, in athletic skills, in interacting with classmates.
Thank you to Southpoint teachers for caring about our students’ growth in all areas. We as a family are blessed to be part of the Southpoint community. Our lives are enriched in so many ways through your dedication to learning.

- Evelyn
(mother of Jaya - class 1 and Micah, Titus- class 5)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Every child has a different learning style and pace : From the desk of a parent!

We had enrolled Ishaan in South Point Pre School in August 2017 after an extensive survey of various schools in Varanasi. We were looking for a place which allowed children the space and time to adapt to a new environment. The reason for giving so much time in choosing the right place for Ishaan was that he had developed very high levels of separation anxiety due to my job during his younger years. The other reason was that he had never interacted with any children of his age before school. He was (and still is) an introvert with rather high intelligence- something which made it crucial that he had involved, efficient and patient teachers.

The first three months at school were very difficult- both for him and me. As his father was in a different city, it became twice as challenging for me to see my son experience the kind of anxiety that he did. But the approach of the school was extremely cooperative. The Director, Dr. Nita Kumar, allowed me to stay with him in the class until he became comfortable with the environment. While Ishaan did well in individual activities (writing, counting, drawing, etc.), he refused to participate in group activities (rhymes, games, etc.). I am still grateful to the teachers who never forced him into anything and waited till he himself started participating (this was after seven months!).

Today, I can say that while I am more than satisfied with his academic learning (he knows how to add and subtract large numbers, write small sentences and read short stories in both English and Hindi), I feel the proudest about the fact that he is learning to interact with the world outside home. Despite being such an introverted child, he goes to school without any pressure or inhibitions. He is much more comfortable in new places and with new people.

I am so glad to have chosen South Point as I honestly feel that there are a very few places left which allow every child to grow and develop in his/her own unique way.

Dr. Shweta Singh
(Ward: Ishaan Pandey, K.G.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The "Body" of NIRMAN

I awoke in what felt like to me, the middle of the night. Mind still dreaming, still reeling in the question of where I was. I noticed the texture of the walls in the once-cloister turned guesthouse. The weight of the iron ring in the ceiling. The weight of the wooden door, the warmth of the air that flowed freely over my skin and into the courtyard. Upon emerging, the sweetness of the North Indian monsoon air hit me again—as it had landing in New Delhi, and again landing in Benares. Despite the beckoning of countless rickshaw walas, we decided to walk to Assi Ghat.

Stepping onto the road toward Lanka Crossing, I noted the distantly familiar texture under our feet, the din of early morning horns and exhaust pipes, the gentle bowlegged peddling of men in their checked lungis, flip flops, and lazy turbans, burlap sacks, hanging softly from the racks over the back wheels of their bicycles. The image of Ramesh Bhaiya in his tank top, with one eye still dreaming comes to me now, remembering this episode. Remembering all the mornings when I took this same early morning stroll toward Assi Ghat almost everyday three years before. Children washing themselves before school in front of their houses; people drinking chai at the stand near the little bridge, the occasional auto zooming by. The prayers being said at the orange temple and at the foot of a great tree overhanging the road after the little bridge. The slowly rising and diminishing feeling of Nagwa stirring into wakefulness. The Ganga ma, waiting patiently at the ghat, was already higher than she’d been on my last visit which began in late October 2016. Still nothing like the level we saw on our last passing to the ghat in late August this year, when she had already engulfed the stage of Good Morning, Benares and yet, wasn’t finished rising.

Was it something about the rise in her waters between our arrival and our parting that made the visit feel somehow complete? Even knowing that not seeing the waters fall meant the witnessing of a sort of a half-cycle or her monsoon activities. Was it that rising that made our visit exciting, novel, full of waves of gentle discovery? Was it the fact that we left before she rose even higher, that we escaped the possibility of flood (of water and books from Claremont alike) that left me feeling still thirsty for more experience by her side? Was the widening of perspective that we received during our four week stay simply a repercussion of her widening? How does a person, sheltered and protected from the natural world, from “foreign” cultures, from the unknown, from the experience of the unfamiliar—protected by parents, by neighbours, by nationalist philosophies, by the too loud drone of media, nationalistic tendencies, and even wellmeaning friends, widen the aperture of perception to witness the life that a river gives?

I don’t have an answer, but my experience this summer at NIRMAN points the compass needle toward the value of community. NIRMAN is a real community. It’s complex, even complicated, impossible to understand. It’s alive. It’s dynamic. One feels that one has entered a kind of web. When I’m there, or rather when we’re here, from the perspective of being inside, we feel gently swaddled. We feel like we can grasp on to a fold in the communal sari, a little like the baby monkeys who so often visit the yard, to its mother, and ride through heat of the day. And yet, we see that the whole organism only works, only exists even, because of the efforts of its members. Many of those members are children. Because I teach classes that don’t fall into any of the familiar categories associated with education of children, NIRMAN is the perfect place to teach what I love. What we do as movement educators does fall into the category of “the arts,” and since NIRMAN is a great supporter of such a field, teaching and thus experimenting with teaching methodologies is possible.

This time around, I saw a different aspect of the student body, having worked on my previous visit primarily with first and fifth standards. Without a performance date on the horizon, students allowed me to lead them into explorations of balance and suspension, working on the slack line, the gymnastics rings, and the aikido tatamis. Working on singing while moving, on matching the rhythm of one’s voice to the rhythm of one’s movement, to the rhythm of the partner. Pulling from acrobatics, capoeira, and research on developmental movement, we entered a very brief, but very real practice of self-localisation. For the slack-line especially, there is no pretense needed, no way to cheat or to escape the callenge. You’re up there, you’re walking and balancing, or you’re falling. On the other hand, the students who were supporting their classmates while walking, were required to be the kind of stable support that helps one get through the most fragile and nerve-inducing moments of the day.

Outside of class, one of the continuous pleasures of being at NIRMAN were our dealings with the residents and merchants of Nagwa, Lanka, Assi, and Madanpura as well. After an initial trip to Jalans, we started almost daily visit to the tailors. First to drop off the material, take measurements, and explain designs, with pictures from the web included of course—phones taking pictures of phones. Then a few days later to pick up and drop off new fabrics, new designs, then to bring back the first set of designs to be hemmed, taken in or let out, etc. back to pick up the second designs and drop off a third set of fabrics. To make something for ourselves, for someone else, for the joy of feeling what it’s like to be a fashion designer, for something practical, for the pleasure of experimentation. Little by little, we got to know the tailors, the men who stand in their shop, even other clients. Little by little our sense of community expands and is enriched.

We also got to know a particular shop of silks on this trip, Sofee Saree Center, as we made multiple trips to see them. Their philosophy is that a great deal of laying the ground happens for humans pre-birth, and that when we come into this world, naked and knowledgeless, we have already a great awareness of being, one that spans cultures and religions, castes and races. So, to house this awareness, one needs to wear cloth with a certain level of care put into it’s making. Pretty intellectual for a sales pitch, eh!? Well, we bit the bait, doing all of our holiday season shopping for family and friends in the span of two three to four hour visits. While Célia played along wonderfully in the scene, I was made drowsier and drowsier by seeing the coloured scarves fly across the store and must have nodded off a few times as purples blended into blues, turquoises into light pinks, and lower prices into higher ones!!!

Aside from fabrics, there are also, the sweets maker, the pan shop, and the tea shop at Ravidas gate; the emporium with singing bowls, and the little shop of notebooks and postcards at Assi crossing, ithe ice cream parlour across from my Taiji teacher’s old house, the paint seller and the bamboo salesman on the way toward the bridge. They all know NIRMAN, and it being the case, they all welcome us with what might be a little extra fondness as we enter their various planets of material and knowledge. It’s clear that NIRMAN spans far beyond the edges of the campuses, as we saw while walking around the central living area of Betawar, Samira ogling baby buffalo and the residents in turn, looking our strange group up and down for signs of either welcoming or alienness.

The lines as to what is inside and what is outside of the NIRMAN realm blur no matter where we go. If NIRMAN was a body, we might say that the parents are like the muscles, the staff like mitochondria and organs, the children like somatic nerves and connective tissue, the teachers like bones, the drivers like feet, the Majumdar family like the brain and central nervous system, gangaji like the circulatory system, the visitors like skin, everyone sharing the work of the heart and receiving the oxygen of the breath, everyone acting together to digest food and eliminate waste, the communal interactions that spread into the surrounding communities linking the soul of NIRMAN to wide and deep spans of time and space, to Benares, to India and its history and future.

We feel that even as we see the didis cooking everyday, the drivers getting into their cars, the endless discussions of managers and organisers with staff, students, and parents, the endless reflecting, listening and writing of Nitaji (not to mention the teaching of children’s songs), the cleaning of cars, cafés, clothes, kitchens and courtyards, the ceaseless social activity of children, planning, teaching and re-planning of teachers—there is so much that is unseen. So much that is to us, certainly, and perhaps, to each individual, individually, unknown. So we all share in the mystery of the place. How does it exist? Why does it exist? How does it evolve? Why does it evolve? At NIRMAN, whether looking forward or back, what’s left to discover will always be more than the sum of what’s been discovered. That’s how I leave feeling—looking forward to another challenging, eye-opening, lovely visit.

Davis Saul

Davis is from South Carolina, U.S.A.  He is a graduate of Pomona College, California.  He has studied Corporeal Mime, and many kinds of movement and bodywork. He runs a Contakids group in Toulouse, France and has collaborated with different kinds of NIRMAN projects. This is his second visit to NIRMAN, India and he has taught movement and performances in Vidyashram-The Southpoint School.  Our students, teachers, and staff thoroughly enjoy his workshops and conversations with him.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


It has been a month since I came in Varanasi, India, at the invitation of VIDYASHRAM-THE SOUTHPOINT SCHOOL , in order to spread aikido within the ‘Nirman project’, which aims to broad-base education of young people attending that school.

I have been practicing aikido for 50 years. The style that I practice and teach is Kobayashi Ryu Aikido, which is based on the teachings of Master Kobayashi Hirokazu (1929 - 1998), a direct pupil of the founder of aikido Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969).

Aikido ("The Way of the Harmonious Spirit") is a traditional Japanese martial art. It is not a sport but a "Budo", a Japanese word meaning "Way to Stop the War".

Aikido, besides being an extremely effective martial art, is first of all an educational discipline for everyone, without distinction of age, sex, culture or social level.

It teaches how to work with the body in order to discover the tensions that inhibit it.
It teaches how to release an energy that can be used to act and create.
It leads to self-esteem and respect for others in favour of common growth.
It leads to the realization of one's dreams.

This educational message is key for the young since the future of the world is in their hands. Khalil Gibran said about our children:
"You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams."

Education lies in the knowledge of one's own body, in the search for one's own identity through one's relationship with others.
For this reason, the teaching of aikido turns out to be of fundamental importance in schools, where the young are trained.

Assisted by Sanjukta Roy, 1st dan, I am teaching the young students in Betawar, Varanasi.
Here at Betwar, students already have an excellent educational and relational training as they are prepared in a school environment where the aim is to enhance the personal qualities of the student.
Not unexpectedly, the first impact with an aikido class has revealed expectations borrowed from the information about martial arts – often incorrect or even harmful – coming from the media or more simply from friends and acquaintances.
Some of the boys were looking forward to fighting in order to demonstrate their strength and superiority; others were keeping aside fearful; the girls usually made a group of their own, wondering if they would ever be considered in an environment which is wrongly considered of male relevance.

The young people of Betawar are taught first of all:

* The management of space, discipline, silence, listening (which is the foundation of the relationship) and respect for the place devoted to the practice. 

* Respect for the aikido partner, through the technique, and therefore the understanding of differences, sharing and mutual help; the understanding that the martial gesture is not used to suppress but to make live both contenders, by respecting their physical and moral integrity.

* Respect for the group, through the ritual and the relation to sacredness.

At the basis of all this there is the acceptance of essential rules to form a framework within which the young can find themselves, having points of reference in an environment unknown to them – namely the dojo (or place of practice) – and in conditions unusual to them.
Since the first lesson, many rules have been accepted immediately with great diligence:
- how to get on the "tatami" (a mat on which Aikido is practiced);
- which side of the mat the students sit on;
- which side the teacher sits on;
- the salutation towards the honour side of the dojo, i.e. the "kamiza", which is the place where the teacher stands;
- the salutation towards the aikido partner.
Of course, the acceptance of these rules has been accompanied by a number of questions, sometimes asked in a confused way, but this is ultimately a positive aspect, a point in favor of young Indian students, since it translates the enthusiasm to learn new aspects, which is something difficult to notice in Europe.

That is why I immediately proposed movements belonging to the ritual of aikido where the silence is paramount.
Everything was accepted with some perplexity, with lost looks looking for confirmation in the aikido partners. However, after a few classes, the students themselves looked for this specific aspect of the practice, the silence, which is key to allow them to listen to themselves and their companions.

We have also overcome the first resistance on the part of males to practice with girls.
The sky needs the earth to create the horizon! Yang energy needs yin energy.
The boys have understood this and now the practice is common, as it should be.

My teacher, André Cognard, says that in order to teach children and young people it is necessary that the instructor has solved his/her own infantile and adolescent problems.
This is a thorny issue, since sometimes violent children come out of our dojos, who consider the martial art as an instrument of domination over others.

In Betwar aikido classes aim exactly the opposite way. Aikido is definitely a martial art, an extremely effective fighting art where it may be easy to transcend into oppression. However, its educational aspect, for a trained teacher, is the foundation of the practice.
Respect, humility, benevolence and listening are the foundations for making aikido an instrument of peace and not of war, at the service of man and not against man.
Neither domination, nor submission, nor compromise is our motto. That is what we propose to our children in our classes, and it seems that the message has been received very quickly, with enthusiasm and intelligence.
Many things – as is logical – need to be improved, since we are at the beginning. The prospects of growth for this group of young people are exceptional though.
In the next classes we will provide the children with more information and explain further techniques, gradually, as is appropriate to a consciousness that is bound to grow.

  Paolo Salvadego
  8th dan, Shihan KRA, Kyoshi DNBK
  India Shibu-chō

 P.S.  For more information about our classes, please check our facebook page @ Kobayashi Ryu Aikido Varanasi. You can also write to us with your queries :

Exploring themes of Diversity and Discrimination - A Panel Discussion

A fresh perspective, a different outlook, new opinions and thoughts… this is what allows our students to constantly evolve and develop through their learning. Learning is never limited to only what surrounds us. While we learn best from our surroundings, in order for it be well-rounded, it’s important to explore topics in the bigger picture and to keenly listen to the experiences and opinions of others from different cultures and backgrounds. 
In an attempt to explore the big picture of the various facets of diversity and discrimination around our world, a panel discussion was held for the students of class six, seven and eight at our school. The topic seemed fitting for all three classes as they explored themes of diversity, discrimination, equality and learnt about the Indian Constitution in their individual classes. Our aim was for our students to gain an understanding on a local as well as a global level and make the interconnections between these themes at various levels. 
Our first two panellists were Célia Dufournet and Davis Saul, body mime practitioners from Toulouse, France who were spending a month at NIRMAN working on various projects and conducting workshops. And our third panellist was Nita Kumar, director of NIRMAN.
Our first speaker, Célia Ma’am, shared her experience of living in France and America and her experiences of being a woman in different countries, including India where she was currently traveling. Célia also spoke about racism in France and how it affects the lives of immigrants and refugees. She also taught students some greetings in French, hoping they would embrace different cultures and languages with equal enthusiasm as they adopt that which is familiar to them!
‘Race’ and ‘Racism’ were new terms for our students, since the conversation about discrimination was centric to ‘caste’ or ‘religion’ so far. Célia’s talk explored themes of gender and race for our students and in response to her talk, many asked questions about the causes of discrimination, if she was discriminated or had discriminated someone and the differences and similarities in India and France.
Our second speaker, Nita Ma’am, shared experiences of her childhood about how she had understood the difference on the basis of one’s ‘class’ very early on, in the company of Shankar, a helper in their house. She spoke about caste and class discrimination in India and how any form of discrimination is dangerous as it completely devalues the person being discriminated.
Students quickly made connections from her talk to their lives and asked questions about class discrimination in India, how can one define discrimination and the difference between inequality and discrimination. 
Our third speaker, Davis Sir, spoke about religious diversity in the world and introduced our students to Judaism. He shared his experiences of being a Jew and the history of the religion as well as the atrocities that Jewish people had faced during World War II.
Through this talk, students learnt about the multiplicity of religions in the world and how some people choose to be religious and some do not. They also learnt about how certain sections of the world have been discriminated against throughout history.
  In response to the panel discussion, class 6 students wrote reflections in their diary. Here are a few excerpts:  

Reflection #1  
“In Panel Discussion, we were talking about discrimination and inequality. We learnt it in three different ways. First France, second America and third, India.

We asked questions about discrimination and inequality. One by one, sir and ma’am told us what is discrimination and inequality. In France, we learn what type of discrimination is happening in that country and in America, the difference between discrimination and inequality.”

Reflection #2
“Today, I and my class went to class 7 for a discussion with Celia Ma’am, Davis Sir and Nita Ma’am. The topic was Diversity, Inequality and Discrimination. After this, we know that discrimination is a thing which happens with everyone, at least once!
In USA, there are many races and the white skin is special for them. It’s high like ‘Bhramins’ over here. The black skin is (treated like a) waste by them, like ‘Shudras’ over here!”

Riya Parikh,
Teacher and Researcher, 

Monday, August 26, 2019

My goals and plans: my journey and the road ahead!

Working at NIRMAN has shaped my career as an educator and has influenced my interactions with the people around me. It’s for this reason that I want to talk a bit about my time at NIRMAN, my goals as a teacher, and the future of education in Varanasi.

From my very first day at NIRMAN, I knew that this was the place I wanted to pursue my professional goals and develop my teaching persona. After interviewing with Nita Ma’am and being offered a position, I began an intensive training that challenged everything I previously knew about education and opened my mind to endless possibilities. The training was difficult. There was so much to learn, and I had never experienced anything like it before. There were quite a few new teachers, and others that had been at NIRMAN for years. And yet, we were all treated as equals. There was no discrimination against those of us who had a lot to learn. Instead, we were met with patience and understanding. My fellow teachers, and Nita Ma’am, were incredibly encouraging. It was clear that they were there to ensure that our classrooms would be run according to NIRMAN’s values.

Since this training, years ago, I have learned quite a bit about the education system – it’s faults and shortcomings, but also the endless possibilities it has for improvement. Ultimately, I believe that education should have a few foundational goals: personality development, equality, and integration. No child should feel isolated or discriminated against in the classroom, regardless of gender, caste, or socio-ecominc status. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that this high standard is met, and I believe that NIRMAN does an exceptional job at reinforcing this. 

Unlike many schools in Banaras, we at NIRMAN strive to give every single student the attention they need and deserve. Every single child is prioritized. The teachers work endlessly to create plans for every single day: what will be done in the classroom, what homework will be assigned, and how learning can extend beyond the walls of the school. Further, I work to make sure that all of my students are well-rounded. Because I believe that this is one goal of education – to ensure that all students are capable of entering any field of study and succeeding. 

Working at NIRMAN has also taught me how to identify the greatest problems with our education system as it is. The majority of students do not receive the individual attention that they need, and we at NIRMAN are working hard to combat this. Classrooms should have size limits, and if these are exceeded, schools should hire more teachers to account for the excess enrollment. As teachers, it is our responsibility to ensure that no student gets left behind. Not a single one. At the same time, students must know that there is more to life than just studying. Going to school and learning should be fun, something students look forward to. Because this is how successful individuals are created. 

Teaching at NIRMAN has allowed me to truly grasp the importance of education, specifically a proper education, not only for students, but for teachers as well. If teachers aren’t equipped to deal with the problems of the classroom, students aren’t likely to be as successful. I am truly grateful that I have had this opportunity to develop my own identity as an educator, while also striving to empower the students and children of Banaras.


Teacher and Academic In-charge

Vidyashram-The Southpoint School.