The pedagogical importance of a creative curriculum has lately been an important and necessary element of school -post-pandemic world. While in the educators world we are still trying to grasp the impact of a two year hiatus from regular schooling, children have to be engaged differently in a post covid era and I am sure many will agree with me on this. Yellow Train School is situated on a farm on the outskirts of Coimbatore. The question that has been at the centre of our curriculum design is - How can we cater to the needs of the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of the students in our fold? Some of our practices to unfold are:
Incorporating aspects of serving one’s community into the curriculum takes a lot. While community service cannot be an afterthought, it has to be imbibed in children and ensure that they meet the world from spaces outside their comfort zone. In the same manner, children right from their primary years engage in activities that contribute to their surroundings. This practice could be helping with work on the farm like planting, weeding and harvesting or cleaning up local parks and volunteering at old age homes around the city. We recently experienced 6th graders who visited an old age home last term. Each child was mapped to a resident of the home and the children spent time chatting and planning activities for them.
On Day One some of them read to the residents, some taught them to write, some played games like Snakes and Ladders and Connect Four etc.
On day two, the children began referring to the grandmothers they had been mapped to as their own – my paati.
Community service is also important for children as it emphasises that we have the power to create and serve communities wherever we go. Education while travelling, especially for middle and higher grades children, plays a vital role in a curriculum. The best part of our third-term curriculum is that it is dedicated to taking the children to places where communities have developed sustainable living practices or have forged paths that depart from the mainstream. Buda folklore, Varanasi Farms in Karnataka, and Geelimitti in Uttarakhand are two such collectives that 8 to 12 graders engage with. Rustic living with the intention to give the children an experience that they may not have otherwise is at the core of these trips and has always done wonders. In engaging children in work like this, the classroom boundaries widen up and melt into the next step into the world with care and curiosity for human beings that lie outside the purview of their everyday experience.
Theatre is a huge part of everyday life at Yellow Train. Drama classes are a regular feature in timetables across the school and every grade works towards a production. Here theatre emphasises not only the production but on the process. In the second term, we see all the higher graders take part in productions helmed by a teacher. The children are encouraged to write their own scripts after rigorous research on a larger theme that is presented to them. Here we see students in a process of researching various sides to a topical issue like caste or stereotypes and forming their own opinion on this matter.
The role of Theatre in the school curriculum is not only to give the children exposure to an artistic medium that will help them express themselves but to also use theatre so that they can understand their every day better. This practice will also allow students to pay more attention to their daily routine and lead disciplined lives. A common pedagogy that we use to engage the children is the Theatre of the Oppressed.
Here the children are asked to split into groups and think of an unjust scenario that they witness around them. A variety of themes come up in these short skits like gender, caste, peer pressure, bullying etc. Each team present their ideas to the larger group and at the end of each presentation, the group is asked questions like: What can be different in this for the situation to make it fair? What can we as individuals do to make situations or circumstances better? When these questions open up, it is followed by interesting and surprising answers, which further lead to questions like: Do we have the courage to look at the injustices playing out before us every day? And if we do, do we have the courage to stand up?
A train bogie stands right in front of our middle and high school building. Step inside, and you will be greeted by children of all ages, sprawled on the berths, Reading. The bogie library at school is a favourite spot for both children and teachers. Walk in at the right time and you might just catch a class deeply engaged in a discussion on books.
Primary years also have a ‘book club.’ Teachers from the library team take books of various genres, and poems relevant to that age group and read excerpts from them to the children. Also factored in their timetable is DEAR time - Drop Everything And Read. A teacher usually takes a book to the children that they explore over a term, through a variety of activities
Long back an initiative that was started for children from the primary to middle school years was the idea of a Reading Passport. In each class, the criteria to receive the passport is different. For some classes, the children are required to read for 10 hours, in others, they are required to read a book exceeding one hundred pages. Once they receive their passport, every hour they spend reading is factored as their ‘reading miles.’ The miles are calculated at the end of each week, and the child who has read the most gets a bookworm badge that they get to wear till the following week. Sounds super exciting, isn’t it?
We also found ways how do you cater to the intellectual and emotional needs of a teenager, while simultaneously expanding their worldview. In grade 9, the class teachers and English teachers pick biographies of people that would meet individuals and each child makes a presentation on whether they could or couldn’t connect to the book. Activities like these, when incorporated into the curriculum, teaches children that as human beings, we have more in common than differences. And this, is the highest task and takeaway of an education system and education as a whole.