Sunday, May 31, 2020

Online classes: Reflections shared by an aware parent

I want to commence from a historic story that took place in London about lockdown.
 England in 17th century, was considered as intellectual capital in the western  world. During this time, many intellectual personalities set the milestone in history. Second oldest University, Cambridge's Trinity college London, where Francis Becon, John Dryden, and scholars like Jawahar Lal Nehru and other thinkers have enlightened themselves. Among them, Isaac Newton (22 years old) was Science and Mathematics Research student at the University. In that time, in 1665, London suffered a pandemic named Plague. The disaster resulted in the death of nearly 25% of the population. Those days, technology was not developed, nor any medicine or vaccine was available but the only cure was to maintain social distance to stop its spread. Newton understood the perils of the situation and decided to quarantine himself for a year, as everything was shut. As a result, we have Calculus in Mathematics, theory of early Optics, and most importantly the Gravity (1665-66). 
Peeking through his window, he observed the apple fell down, the incident in his mind was confounded that why the apple fell at the bottom. With that, he gave birth to the theory of gravity, which changed the history of the world of Science. When alone, we pay attention to the things that are not commonly seen. The apple must have been falling every day from somewhere, but attention was taken during solitary confinement. The reason to refresh the memory, is to use lockdown time wisely. When alone, we do not think from outside, but from inside. 
    Today, India too is struggling through the Covid -19 pandemic, resultIng in a seismic shift in our lives. These are truely unprecedented times, that demand us all to steer     through unique challenges everyday. But during the period of this pandemic, we are  also worried about our priority to not  disturb our young childrens’ learning flow. To   achieve this, online classes are supportive for children and also their parents. One of 
the main pros of online class is, the aspirants can log in any time. While it is best if they set a daily routine for themselves and stick to it  and with encouragement from  parents, they can make individualised changes to their routine as per their desire.
Navya playing hopscotch, a class activity of the day!

    But clearly, online time cannot provide many of the informal social interactions        students have at school. Despite the audio and video features, no technology can ever replace the classroom setting and the human to human contact in real. But during the period question lies, how will online courses do, in terms of moving students learning  forward?
English copywork by Navya

The solutions are coming through many respected schools and academies, but to my mind the most trusted one is VIDYASHRAM- THE SOUTHPOINT SCHOOL, where the  dedicated teachers and also the Management, who have taken the initiative to educate  tender minds and who are working  hard for  conducting  online classes for  all their students with a dash of entertainment, are proving to be a boon for mothers and also   overworked parents during the Covid-19 lockdown. Their efforts are  commendable.  The current situation is a challenge but also an opportunity as this is the time for self-  reflection and introspection for teachers, students and parents alike.
Navya wrote all words that start with 'Sh' !

Navya made a mother's day gift for her mother, as her teacher encouraged her to do so during the online class.

    I think this is a great initiative started by school management to enjoy our tiny tot's company through comprehensive thinking ,and such wonderful steps tells us that the school is committed towards the education in a holistic manner. The online classes are running in full swing to boost the morale of students and indulging them in academic activities so that once schools open, we could shoot straight to the top.
Keep it up!
Navya's art expressions after her nature walk!

Navya and her family
Varsha Kharwar
(Mother of Navya, studying in K.G. class)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Looking ahead : The opportunities and challenges of online classes

A note from our Director, digging deep into the opportunities and challenges that have shown themselves in the education sector, as a result of global effects of Covid-19, and the need to  conduct online classes, in order to continue learning of all school children.

If any one of us could be in all the class groups during this online learning time…. we would become as wise, and as excited to learn, as we always wished we were. In one class five friends are collecting tamarind seeds and are calculating (quickly) who has more or less. In another, everyone is watching a recycling video, then drawing the waste materials they throw away. Another group is learning about regular and irregular verbs. Most exciting of all for me is the exercise of barahpai or the twelve Hindi vowels, as all applied to the same letter. I myself am teaching Nationalism in Europe and, while building up towards comparison with nationalism in India, learning something new.


The exercise of the twelve Hindi vowels, as all applied to the same letter

There is no doubt that our online classes are of high excitement to teachers and students alike. Novelty is a pleasure. Challenges are stimulating. To get together in groups is always fun.

Shalvi ma'am teaching about the concept of Recycling

Let's look at the pros and cons of these online classes.
Here is the main problem. Our country, despite the government claiming 100% electrification, is lacking in continuous, voltage-steady, moderately-priced electricity. Second, all Indians seem to have cell phones, almost all smart phones. In fact, only some 35% of Indians use the internet. No matter how much we inspire and motivate our students to study online, the practical difficulties for both village and small town children are insuperable.

The problem is not simply that x, y, z child cannot study. The problem is that some children were already at risk because their parents lacked the time or understanding to give them the support needed. With online classes, the number of such children  goes up. More parents are unable to support their children’s classes—they are busy and monopolise the family phone; they lack electricity or internet; there is no privacy at home; they cannot give elementary help like drawing columns for a small child. Or they are under-occupied and unnecessarily take over the schoolwork that should have been tackled independently by the child.

Hardik doing his work on his  laptop

In school, and I am talking concretely about our school, the child is part of a world constructed deliberately by the teacher. This is a society in which there is equality and brother/sisterhood. Critical thinking is taught. Children both practice democracy and learn about democracy. In online classes, children may read and do exercises about democracy, but they can never practice it. Nor can they critically, practically, engage with gender equality, or social justice, or anti-communalism. Each of our families is rooted in its own traditions, most of which are exclusionary. A child studying online is subjected to the family’s influence rather than the physical school’s liberating one.

Varun and his mother doing Yoga class together

            Yet we are continuing our online classes, and are planning more. Mostly because we have no choice, and if a job has to be done, it should be done very well. We are planning to make richer curricula to use online. This curricula should talk directly about our changed social surrounding and our new responsibilities; teach critical thinking about new facts and figures; stimulate children’s imaginations in new directions. The classical information they must still learn has to be recast for use in new technologies. Videos, image and sound recordings, links to other material, instructions for individual work…. the list goes on.

Riya ma'am teaching English through her video

My last word will be for our school’s philosophy. Our twin motto is equality, or integration; and excellence, with no excuses for failure in quality. Both these values are being put to the test, as I have described above. The “no excuses” means: teachers and managers, let’s get on with our research and development, and come up with a new teaching style for the new emergency-led era!

Dr. Nita Kumar

Friday, May 22, 2020

Vidyashram -The Southpoint parents share their experiences

Feedback 1

The lockdown has been difficult for all of us. But it has been particularly hard for children. Confined strictly to their homes, they were not only getting terribly bored but their holistic development was also being affected.
South Point's online classes have been very effective in keeping them engaged and enthusiastic. I am very happy to see that they are covering the curriculum so there is no fear of children being over burdened with studies whenever schools re-open. But the best part are the creative and exploratory activities that have kept my son busy and cheerful so far. Unlike other schools, the screentime is limited and there is flexibility for the child (and parents!) to complete the activities during the day. 
We don't know when it would be fully safe to reopen schools, especially for younger children. Therefore online classes are definately the best way forward as of now. As far as my humble opinion is concerned, the way my son's online classes are being conducted can be considered optimum.
All the best to the teachers, children and their parents!

Shweta Singh ( mother of Ishaan, studying in Class 1)

Ishaan doing his Maths homework- making patterns on floor, after doing his copywork about patterns!
Ishaan showing his creation to ma'am, after completing that day's work!

Feedback 2

The Southpoint School continues its learning and teaching sessions for students online and almost no snoozing of academic activities  even during the lockdown. Teachers of the Southpoint have meticulously planned the academic calendar for each class and created an online ecosystem of imparting training to the students.  My son is a pre-school student and gets his desk work every day and he returns them back to his teachers after working out. Each lesson and exercise has been made easy and interesting with the support of drawings, videos and audios. So, without relenting the Southpoint School is catering the educational needs of its students.  As a parent, I'll appreciate their dedication to holistic development of my child.
 Prof. Sanjay Srivastava  (father of Abhisht Shankar, studying in Nursery ).

Abhisht with his father!

Cutting and pasting activity done by Abhisht, as part of his online class activity!

Hindi copywork done by Abhisht!

Feedback 3 

 The online KG classes organized by the school have been a wonderful experience for our son... and for us as a family. They have provided an adequate amount of academic practice per day, which makes us feel that our son is on track, without becoming too difficult or overwhelming. The online format is also very appropriate for young children, as it does not require too much screen time or immerse them in a virtual world they may not yet be prepared for. The dance videos, stories, science activities are very thoughtfully prepared and our son is always excited to do them. Hearing his teachers' voices and getting their feedback on his work, as well as seeing the other classmates' work and pictures, is so important at this moment, when there are so few opportunities for interactions with others. Of course nothing can replace the classroom socialization, and sometimes it makes him sad to see the videos of the past class activities, he starts asking when Coronavirus will be over. But the online classes have been something we all look forward to every morning - they provide us with some structure for the day, something cheerful to do, and a way to remain connected with the school community. Thank you so much for this effort, and I hope the classes can continue as long as we are all in lockdown!

Adriana ( mother of Andres, studying in K.G.)
English copy work by Andres!
Maths copywork by Andres!

Monday, May 11, 2020

There and Back Again: A Bristol Fellow Tale

  By Evan Warnock

( Evan Warnock visited NIRMAN in the year 2015, as part of his Bristol Fellowship trip. Warnon's project was called, "Space matters:How the Spatial and Architectural Design of Schools affects students." This project  had brought him to Vidyashram- The Southpoint School.
The below is an excerpt from his blog. Please read the full blog at: ) 

Way back in April, I decided to make a trip to Varanasi on the Ganges. Part of my trip was centered around seeing a school there that I had heard lots about from a college professor at Hamilton, Chaise LaDousa. The school is called Southpoint Vidyashram, and it is run through Nirman, an NGO started by an anthropologist named Nita Kumar. The school has been running since 1990, and it now serves students from kindergarten through 10th grade.
  Announcemnts before schools around 8 am

As Nita Kumar discusses in her book, "the Politics of Gender, Community, and Modernity", Nirman was founded with the goal of working closely with the community to preserve their local culture while educating children with non-traditional methods of instruction. Rather than continuing the practice of rote memorisation like in most government schools, Kumar explains that she hoped Nirman's project heavy curriculum could teach students self reliance and social responsibility. Nirman also began with a focus towards women's empowerment and issues surrounding local artisans in Varanasi and the education of their children. Nita Kumar refers to her vision for a school as the "post-colonial" school, denoting a desire for the students to find and celebrate their own culture and identities rather that embracing western ideals, customs, and knowledge. I observed that Nirman strives for community ownership instead of a take over and reform strategy, which some NGOs risk employing if they do not fully understand the communities in which they work. Kumar writes, "We could strive for an interaction where we are not interacting with them, but are all in a mess together and can only resolve it together." 

More outdoor classroom spaces
There is a cafe as well, where many people come for chai from the local community and Benaras Hindu University down the road from the school

When I walked in Nirman, I was most stuck by how vibrant and playful the school felt. Unlike other government schools that I've visited, I quickly came to understand that Nirman was designed for children's enjoyment and to enhance their school experience. Bright mosaics were built into the ground and walls. Trees were left on site to provide shade for kids. Classrooms on the second level looked more like treehouses than prison-like classrooms. Little benches were positioned in outside areas. Within classrooms, small students enjoyed desks and chairs that were appropriately designed for their body size and shelving at the correct height for their water bottles and lunch boxes. 

Happy little dude !
I taught a class of 9th graders how to make origami.

I strongly believe that the pleasing aesthetic of the whole school had a positive influence on children's perception of that space and school as a place more generally. It was a clean, orderly safe haven from the chaos of urban Varanasi. It felt more like a big house than a school. In short, without expensive computer labs or floor to ceiling glass, the architecture of Nirman subtly conveyed a child-centered and child friendly atmosphere.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Reflections on teaching: The learning doesn't stop

Not every elevation is Mt.Everest, we need little hills to climb too and the opportunity to lift our feet off the pedals and coast down the other side. Early in my career, I had the teaching experience, but I got to learn different teaching techniques from  Vidyashram -The Southpoint School.

Vidyashram - I was very impressed by the name and I was drawn to the school due to this name and decided to appear for the interview. I also got selected after the interview and a new world opened for me.

I learned from this school, how a topic can be taught to children, in many different and interesting ways, which was a very different opportunity for me. The opportunity to learn these techniques were very useful for my teaching career. Throughout the academic year we used to teach children in different ways, using theatre, music, dance, study tour, interviews, creative writing, storytelling and many more, which helped in making the topic entertaining and inspirational.

All the workshops I attended there, have been very useful for me specially the teachers’ trainings in summer months. I learnt about holistic learning in this school.

As you progress in your career, experience makes you stronger. So, you can take on even difficult challenges. For this, I'd like to express my deepest appreciation towards Nita Ma'am, for her excellent mentoring during my tenure. She turned every mistake into a learning opportunity. Her guidance has been influential and it provided me with the necessary skills and approach as a teacher and a leader.

 Feeling genuinely appreciated lifts people up. At the most basic level, it makes us feel safe and frees us to do our best work. In an organization, where senior leaders and managers care, really care about their employees, the goal is to create an attitude of gratitude, every day of the year. I'm very happy that I got an opportunity to work in such an atmosphere.

There was an interesting thing here that the support staff is given same importance as teachers and managers, which is rarely seen in any other organization.

It was my second home for me. Here, all were tied together like a family.

Everything I learned from this school was very useful to me and will continue to be. So, I am very thankful to the school for this, and thankful to Nita Ma'am who was the best mentor, I've ever met in my career.

With regards and best wishes,

Jaba ma'am worked in Vidyashram- The Southpoint School for 10 years, from the year 2009 to 2018. Apart from being children's favourite preschool teacher, she was appreciated by one and all for her creativity showcased in her classes and for being able to pull out best performances from her children.