The Pre-School group was so lovely. They stood in a circle and did the rhymes as I led them. They were eager to learn anything: words, tunes, rhythms, standing instructions. Only one little girl, Arya, looked exhausted and complained at regular intervals of wanting to sit down. She stopped doing anything.
There are also three or four little boys and girls who are from illiterate or semi-educated families and never hear a word of English in their background. They are convinced deep down in their minds or psyches that they cannot understand whatever it is that ma’am is saying in English. They repeat words mechanically without a glimmer of understanding in their eyes. Worse, without a hint of a smile on their faces. It was only when I said “Jump up HIGH!” in one verse that these children laughed.
When I went to Class 1-2, I could give more special attention to these three or four children who had convinced themselves that they “could not understand.” By matter-of-factly correcting their work, pointing out one mistake at a time while praising them for everything they were doing well, giving them precise homework exactly where they needed it. The matter-of-factness is the key. They must not guess, from the smallest tone of voice or gesture or raising of eyebrow, that they are not “normal,”
And actually the privileged middle class children are not "normal." S--- of wonderful middle class parents, could not write or understand, but went on comfortably asking what and how, in childish Hindi.
I am on the verge of a discovery. Most teachers will not be able to be kind enough to poor children. They will keep resenting them in their minds for daring to be equal to the rich. They will keep blaming them for their shortcomings and being sarcastic in their presence and showing helplessness behind their backs.
The only way is to shame them and break their entrenched prejudices through theatre exercises. Only then will our teachers change in a deep ideological way.
At the same time, I can keep giving research projects and homework and having discussions and quizzes about the postcolonial aspect of our work so that everyone grows intellectually.
And, of course, we can design the curriculum and the classroom and its processes with subtle egalitarianism. Everyone does not have to understand everything; they just have to do it.
- Nita Kumar, Director
- Nita Kumar, Director