Saturday, February 6, 2010

Social Awareness Program

In December Vandita started discussions with Kalleda School teachers about a major change to the school schedule. In the past six months Vandita has been encouraging teachers to use a more alternative teaching style, focusing on engaging and interactive lessons rather than concentrating solely on syllabus completion and test scores. Gradually teachers are changing their techniques but it's difficult because they have spent their entire lives both learning and teaching in the rote memorisation style. When Vandita introduced the idea of switching to a half day schedule with academic classes in the morning and an alternative program in the afternoon, the teachers appeared reluctant and still worried about getting through the syllabus. After many discussions the teachers and administration agreed to half-days and set a date for post Sankranti holidays in January. Despite their consent, I had my doubts as to how quickly and successfully the transition would happen.

Two days ago I returned to Kalleda after a month and a half long absence, which was spent visiting the other RDF schools, enduring bandhs, and enjoying holidays. The afternoon Social Awareness Program has now been running for two weeks and it is absolutely amazing. Yesterday the 6th - 9th class students divided into groups and spread out across the village and interviewed locals about this week's topic, child marriage. They then reconvened on the school lawn and one student from each group went on stage to share their findings with the other groups. These opportunities for public speaking practice were punctuated by local songs about child marriage.
Today the students continued with the theme and put on a play about child marriage. In the production a father arranges a marriage for his thirteen-year-old daughter against her wishes. When the girl's friends become aware of her situation they go to an RDF teacher and ask him to help through the Social Awareness Program. In the next scene the teacher, accompanied by a policeman and the village head, shows up at the family's house and convinces them to delay the girl's marriage and allow her to finish school. After the play, students divided into groups and answered questions such as: What title would you give this skit? Who was your favourite character? What was the message/moral conveyed? They then shared their answers in the same fashion as yesterday.
I am incredibly impressed with the way in which the teachers have all embraced such a significant change in their schedule. Not have they made the change, but they have also showed great innovation in creating a program that addresses important community issues using a varied approach that is fun, informative, and encourages critical thinking. As Vandita pointed out, Liza and I came here to empower the youth to identify and address issues within the community and the RDF teachers have beat us to it!

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