The Rengaprabhat Childern’s Theatre situated at Alumthara, a sleepy village about 20 kilometers north of Trivandrum city in Kerala was the scene of a very novel children’s educational programme this summer. This Centre which is forty years old now has been over the years organizing various innovative programmes to initiate children particularly in value creation through arts, crafts, performing arts, ,music child games, lullabies, story- telling, puppetry and a host of other creative expressions.
This experiment, the first of its kind in India when it began four decades ago under the inspiration of the doyen of Indian drama, Prof.G.Sankara Pillai, was ably led by his disciple Kochunarayana Pillai until the latter passed away a couple of years ago.
The mantle of leadership has fallen on Dr.Radhakrishnan who leads the campus now as its President with imaginative programmes in association with Smt.K.S.Geeta ,a renowned artist, musician, actor, choreographer and researcher of folk arts and children’s education. Several national agencies such as the Birla Akademy for Arts ( New Delhi),Ministry of Culture, Sangeeta nataka Academy,G.Ramachandran-Ikeda Award committee recognised the pioneering efforts of this organisation towards value creation through arts.
This year’s summer programme of 45 days- long was jointly organized by the Rangaprabhat , the Ikeda Centre for Value Creation and the Shanti Sena Training Centre. It stood out as a major initiative of children’s mobilization through arts and crafts.
The venue of the camp was the Children’s Theatre Complex and there were 120 children between the age-group of 7 to 16. These children who were selected on the basis of their response to the press announcement on the camp hailed from the different parts of the Thiruvananthapuram District. They represented a cross section of the Kerala community, though the majority was from the depressed and less privileged segment of the society. Preference was given to those who came from backward and socially marginalized sections of the community.
Though initially the organizers were considering of admitting only about a hundred children the overwhelming response both from children and their parents encouraged the camp management to admit as many as 120 children. Eighty of them were girls while the remaining forty were boys.
The programme was inaugurated on April 4 at an impressive gathering of parents, resource persons and children. Sri Harikrishnan, Director of the balbhavan welcomed while Dr N.Radhakrishnan presided. The Chief Guest of the function was the distinguished theatre expert Prof.S.Ramanujam. The other dignitories present on the occasion were Pirappankode Murali( former MLA), Sri Nanda Kumar,IAS( Director,Public Relations, Government of Kerala)Both Sri Murali and Sri Nanda Kumar hailed the efforts of the organisers as outstanding and revolutionary.
Dr Radhakrishnan explaining the objective of the programme said, “This programme which we expect will be children-centred will offer the participating children such opportunities that may initiate them into experiencing creative thinking , innovative experiential learning and full participatory community initiatives. The focus of the entire camp will be to offer children such situations that will help them to unburden themselves from the tension of the present-day education set-up by making full use of the creative aspect of value creation through arts particularly performing arts. Instead of any forced and stereotyped programmes, what the children will see and experience during the camp period here will be an experiment which fosters creativity and value creation going hand-in-hand in order to help children develop positive attitude through live situations .
A team of artists and educators with over four decades of experience in path-breaking experiments in children’s education and value creation with determination are in command of this 45day -long programme.
As Radhakrishnan has stressed at the orientation session to the instructors and facilitators of the programme this 45day programme in community living nonviolent leadership, yuva shantisena etc is a cutain-raiser to a major effort being planned to be launched soon to emphasise the value of "giving the children their childhood back" and encouraging their parents and teachers to understand children properly and treat them with compassion and love. To what extent adults are role models and trend-setters ?
On the basis of our experience in the field of value creation and education we are now convinced that sustained efforts are to be made at school level to inculcate values, leadership qualities, to foster reading habits, develop spirit of cooperation and compassion in an otherwise competitive and cruel environment in which the children grow. It is a long -felt that sustained efforts are to be made to inculcate in the children values for which appropriate educational inputs are to be provided right ( i) in the homes where they grow up, (ii)in the schools where they study and (ii) in the society where they blossom into adults. Unfortunately, very little attention is paid at the level of children’s education and precious little is done to catch the children young and lead them on with concrete and imaginative programmes which alone will generate in the children what the adult world always want the children to be”,Dr Radhakrishnan continued.
After the preliminaries the campers and their “ guides and care-takes”( as the resource persons were identified and addressed) sat together under the general guidance of Prof.Ramanujam who took the children to the amazing world of Creative Dramatics for self expression and self discovery. What followed in the next two hours was a plethora of creative expressions which some of the children later admitted to be the first of their kind in their lives. The freedom the children enjoyed and the confidence they derived out of every step they took encouraged them to embark confidently on more creative expressions .What a child said next day at the review session was startling . He said,” there was none to find fault with and none to supervise too”.
The Rangaprabhat Complex very fast in the next days got conveted into a scene of a plethora of activities by children . While one area resonated with classical music, one could hear the rendering of folk music from another corner. Instrumental music,painting,puppetry,mural arts,clay modelling also attracted many of them. The children were given the option to choose as many items as possible for their involvement .Dance items and creative music were also the favourites of many of them.Painiting,clay modelling,group songs,story telling also attracted quite a few children.
Smt.Geeta and her team seem to have got transformed into inspired agents of human revolution as if they were doing certain things as a part of a divine mission .In fact this missionary spirit displayed by Geeta paid rich dividends in the coming days as the programmes got themselves tightened up. The focus was to take the children from simple aspects to complex activities.
Voice training, yoga, meditation, prayer ,newspaper- reading and sharing of news among them,video viewing and film viewing were also part of the programmes. Moralising or denial of the children anything they are used to were also avoided as part of the general focus and guidelines issued by Dr.Radhakrishnan to the organisers. Special care was taken to encourage particiapation of children in the various activities .This was so becaue many children in the rural area shy away from group activities and hence group activities were encouraged inorder to foster group dyanamism as an important aspect of character formation.
Group activities for confidence building, Individual focused efforts to enhance communicative competence Leadership and self-management, Generate love of nature, The concept of My School/My Community Inter personal relations and promote dialogue leading to Highlighting the value of silenceYoga and meditation for concentration Peace building and conflict management
Taking out the children to the neighbouring villages to familiarise themselves with the crop and agricultural pattern ,tography of the lands, experience the biodiversity and interact among themselves on their experiences were also part of the camp activities. A team of children specialists were requested to evaluate the camp and they found the experiment highly encouraging and satisfying
Asha,a nine year old said,” The camp offered me unforgettable experiences. I will miss all these friends from tomorrow .But Iam confident that I will strive to maintain contact with as many of them as possible .I value friendship and this camp was a great experiment in community living and value creation”
The medium of the entire programme is dominated by performing arts,music,dance,lullabies,child games,puppetry,story telling and story enacting poems composition,poetry recitals,short story writing etc.
Perhaps as one one newspaper reporter wrote in his column the monthlong summer programme,an innovative step designed and pioneered by Dr Radhakrishnan stands out as a major break through in inntiating children in the complex art of problem solving and that too nonviolent problem solving.
Care is being taken to maintain the focus of the entire summer camp to offer children such situations that will help them to unburden themselves from the tension of the present-day education set-up by making full use of the creative aspect of value creation through arts particularly performing arts.,
Instead of any forced and stereotyped programmes, what the children see and experience during the camp period here is an experiment which fosters creativity and value creation going hand-in-hand.in order to help children develop positive attitude through live situations .
Value Orientation to children and teachers through folk songs, folk games, and community living
A brief report of an experimental project undertaken in India, jointly by the Indian Council of Gandhian Studies, Rangaprabhat Children’s Theatre
The Indian Council of Gandhian Studies has been collaborating with the Rangaprabhat Children’s Theater in developing appropriate strategies to involve children in large numbers in creative activities which ultimately will help them to find themselves deeply involved. The Rangaprabhat Children’s Theatre, perhaps the first children’s theater in India, which has completed thirty seven years of active and creative service in developing a highly satisfactory support system of educational strategies to the formal schooling system, has been in the forefront of organizing appropriate Programmes involving children, teachers and parents. One of the highly productive and satisfactory items of work the Indian Council of Gandhian Studies and the Rangaprabhat Children’s Theatre undertook during 2005 - 2006 was an intensive campaign it undertook in several schools involving several hundred children, teachers and a number of artists from April 2005 to March 2006. The program was partly aided by the Gandhi Canadian Foundation, Edmonton, and the Department of Culture, Government of India.
The aim and scope
The aim and scope of the project is to involve large numbers of children in select schools in children’s drama and folk music activities, development on the basis of some select episodes from Gandhi’s life and use the judiciously and artistically to emphasize values, attitudes, behavioral changes and which directly support learning and teaching more enjoyable and participatory.
It cannot be denied that the present educational system in India lays emphasize on information acquisition and there is very little that caters to the development of the child in the child.
The child is burdened with a heavy syllabus and teachers in order to show performance results are also forced to concentrate on the academic side and the casualty in this mad rush is the finer sentiment of the child and moral values, art education have all become things of past. True, there are music teachers, craft teachers and may be some teachers who are interested in fine arts etc. may be there in the school, but then their efforts and encouragements by and large centered around what kind of Programmes they need during either the anniversary days or for the youth festival.
Very often what one sees on these occasion are the rehashing of some stereo taped programs devoid of creativity. With the onslaught of computer education and its accompanying temptation, children and teachers have virtually no time to devote to these extremely important activities.
A subcommittee consisting of the following was constituted to implement the project and the committee in right earnest plunged into action as soon as the formal sanction of financial assistance from the Ministry was communicated:
Dr. N. Radhakrishnan
Dr. G. Gangadharan Nair
Dr. N. Gopalakrishnan Nair
Sri. C.K. Thomas
Sri. K. Kochunarayana Pillai
The committee after studying the tentative schedule felt that care has to be taken in involving parents also in the programs so that maximum benefit would acure out of this initiative which would have considerable significant, if implemented properly. The committee drew up the following line of action:
Identification of schools.
Selection of one teacher and one student each from each of schools.
A week long workshop for the teachers and students at Rangaprabath.
Follow-up work in the various schools.
Development of a model play which can be taken to the various schools so that the teachers and students identified and given training could make use of the process of development.
Presentation or display in the schools on the basis of the experience gained.
Balamela (Children’s Carnival) at Rangaprabhath involving select children and teachers from the various schools where the project was put to experimentation.
- a. Identification of Schools
A team led by the president of Rangaprabhath Sri. K. Kochunarayana Pillai and four teen-age artists of Rangaprabhath came into contact with the various Headmasters and Headmistresses of the schools in the Trivandrum district and the adjoining district of Kollam for identifying schools. The initial response of the heads of these schools was not very encouraging; hence a request was made to the Directorate of Schools education to issue an order permitting the heads of the schools to participate in this programme. Over three hundred schools were contacted by this team and finally on the basis of actual response the following schools agreed to send their representatives:
b. Workshop with Teachers and Students
Consequent on the identification of forty schools and fifty children, a five day workshop for them was held at Rangaprabat from April 6 to 11 under the Directorship of the distinguished Gandhian Scholar and educational expert Prof. N. Radhakrishnan, Chairman, Indian Council of Gandhian Studies, New Delhi and consultant of Rangaprabat.
The workshop had a very impressive band of experts such as Dr. G. Gangadharan Nair (Retd. Headmaster and expert on educational puppetry and veteran stage designer), Dr. N. Gopalakrishnan Nair (Prof. of English and expert on children’s education), Alumthara Krishna Pillai (a teacher cum artist of long standing and Vice Present of Rangaprabhat), Ajith Venniyoor (Writer of Children’s literature), Dr. Jacob Pulickan (Co-ordinator of Gandhian Studies, University of Kerala), Sri. N.C.Pillai (Principal of Tagore Public School). The President of Rangaprabhat Sri. K Kochunarayana Pillai co-ordinator of the programme.
The workshop had before it is a very heavy schedule of activities. The fifty teachers and one hundred students from different schools in the district living together and sharing their experiences in community living in itself was an unforgettable experience to quite a large number of both teachers and students.
At the inaugural session welcoming the participants the co-ordinator of the programme Sri. Kochunarayana Pillai explained to team that the purpose of the workshop is to present before them the revolutionary concept of children’s theatre and educational dramas as explained by the late Prof. G. Sankara Pillai. He pointed out further that much was not done in this field for a variety of reasons.
To make education more enjoyable and participatory
Dr. N. Radhakrishnan, the Directore of the workshop explained to them what has been happening in the field of educational drama in India and elsewhere. He drew the attention of particularly the teachers that a country like India which had a strong dramatic tradition right from Bhavabhuthi or Kalidas and a dramaturgy by Bharathamuni who gave Natyashastra unfortunately has not been using its indigenous wisdom in developing educational strategies. The neglect of primary schools and lack of attention on the part of experts and community of this vital sector has cost the country very much initiative like the present one which seeks to encourage teachers and others what individual strategies could be evolved in making education more enjoyable and participatory.
Children at work
While the session for the teachers with Dr Radhakrishnan was on, the children were being engaged in another part of the complex by the artists of Rangaprabhath in Theatre Games and community singing. The children who are used to only certain type of games and songs in their schools found this highly motivating and a genuine experience.
The purpose of this experience was to encourage even the most timid or uncommunicative student to participate joyfully and without inhibition. In another, the teachers who were watching discreetly these games and other exercises of their children without these teachers being involved said openly that it was an experience for them also. The whole complex reverberated with bouts of shouts, laughter and over a hundred boys and girls shouting in joy. There was creativity, freedom and initiative.
After tea when the teachers reassembled for sharing of experience what they had in their mind was what they had seen a little earlier and strategies as to how back in their schools the same atmosphere in the school what too within the framework for the existing syllabus and general school atmosphere.
The teachers as the focus of change
A teacher who was slightly skeptical earlier, began by saying that these things could be possible in the Rangaprabhath while in the school it would be both impossible and undesirable. He was rebutted by another teacher by pointing out what was required was initiative on the part of the teacher and then everything will follow. There is in fact nothing new in what was being stressed by a genuine and well-motivated step to involve students and slightly try to move away from the rigidity of the formal education system by giving inputs for developing communicational opportunities for the child to express freely.
It cannot be denied that the present system does not give the child any opportunity to express him self or herself. The form of expression the chills has is at the time of written examination where his/her ability to by-heart what to has learnt and reproduce what it has memorized takes place. All other forms of the so-called creative expressions are just eye-wash. In fact though there is lot of talk about educational experimentation very little takes place in the schools. The grip of the bureaucracy is such that even good initiatives suggested by teachers and others go unheard and unattended.
Prof. S. Ramanujam, retired Professor of Drama at the Tamil University who was the chief resource person of the workshop did not say much initially. He just suggested the teachers and students to assemble not in blocks but just freely as they would sit casually in such a way that the teachers and students would mix freely and were jumbled. This created some embarrassment to some teachers since they were not used to such jumbling and their concept of discipline demanded that the students and teachers should maintain some distance from each other for purpose of maintaining discipline. However, old the feeling might be, this is ingrained in the minds of every teacher particularly in the rural areas.
Teachers as friends and guides
The half-an hour joint exercise Prof. Ramanujan gave to the teachers and students really was an experience in itself. It appeared that certain deep-rooted inhibitions in teachers were removed at one stroke and there was a new spirit of discovery on their part of work with children back at home. Similarly, the young children numbering over hundred could experience a new warmth in their teachers and half-a-dozen children put it later in their discussion sessions that they were discovering their own teachers as genuine guides and friends - an image hither to denied to them since the image of a teacher at school is that of a hard task master who would be laboring to instill in the children a set of do’s and don’ts. This was the beginning of the workshop.
The workshops beginning
The next session was division of over 50 teachers and 100 students into four batches of equal numbers for purpose of cohesion and better team spirit. Each team was asked to workout a schedule which is thought would help them in the next three days.
After lunch the teachers and students started working in four different areas discussing among themselves common aspects concerning the habits, etiquettes, good behavior, parent-children relationship, student-teacher relationship and such other areas in a relaxed atmosphere far away from the glare of being noticed or reported.
The aim of this exercise was to brake the ice loose and encourage free flow of information and cordiality between the teacher and the taught, coming from different parts of the district and from different backgrounds. It was an exercise again to discover each other.
They also discussed at this session how in the views of the children what is to be done to enhance the level of learning in the class rooms. This was in sharp contrast to the practice of the students being never consulted at the school level with regard to what they have to learn and the manner in which teaching also is to be affected. Very useful suggestions were made by the students which some of the teachers later confessed to be very revealing and informative.
After refreshment at 5 in the evening, the children and the teachers were invited by the young artists of Rangaprabhath, who presented a play Gurudakshina.
The play was witnessed in rapt attention for about one hour and the artists were given standing ovation and thunderous applause at the close of the play. This was followed by a discussion of the play on aspects such as, what is was, what they have learnt, whether the conduct of the play was satisfactory, whether there was any acting or over-acting, was it different from the other types of plays they have seen, whether it would be possible them to present similar plays back in their schools. The discussion went on for about 1.5 hours and at 7.30 when they disbursed for a little relaxation, what each of them had in his or her mind, was the new experience they have after witnessing the play the message of which went straight into their heart and which disturbed them in a big way.
At 8 pm they had the dinner and the time between 9 and 10 was used for diary-writing and by 10, the lights were off and it was a signal to everybody to return to their bed in their respective places of stay.
The second day began with reading out of news papers with appropriate inter-action and pause and it was followed by learning and teaching of community songs and choral music. Songs, mostly in the folk tradition were taught and sung with sufficient rhythmic movements and saying of their bodies gently. This was followed by demonstration classes by Prof. Ramanujan. The students and teachers were introduced to the world of puppetry by Dr. Gangadharan Nair and after lunch the group identified some themes for their rehearsals and they worked in their groups uninhabited by normal instructions that would come from the organizers.
In the evening a play, PONNUMKUDAM (The Urn of Gold) a hilarious comedy, which took the children and teachers by surprise and it was yet another experience for them and many of them were determined to make use of some of the elements in their teaching practice. This was also followed by discussion of the play at different levels and the day was rounded off with diary writing.
The third day began with discussions and panel discussions among the participants and resource persons on the feasibility of using educational drama for enhancing teaching and using improved technology in making learning more enjoyable. In the afternoon the four groups presented on a common platform the various skits they have improvised during the workshop with which gave remarkable insights into the creativeness of both the children and the teachers it they are allowed to work uninhabited and free but in the ideal class rooms such things are impossible when confronted with rigidity of a system which is to catch and the students responsibility is to score the highest marks. The presentation of items by group was conveyed upon by the other three groups and this went on for all the groups so much so everybody was involved in the process of assessing what they have seen without any prejudice or inhibition. It took more than four hours for them to evaluate their experience during the last three days.
Besides, what has been stated here, there were presentation of folk dance and ritualistic songs items by both the traditional artists. There were classical music and dances too.
The third stage of the program
The third stage of the programme was centered round the effort made by teachers and students who attended orientation workshop and the help rendered to them by the artists of Rangaprabhath who visited these schools to help them in visualizing the plays and other skips prepared by the teachers with the help of other teachers and students. Their presentations were highly encouraging. What characterized their efforts was the care with which selections for the programs were made. Interesting aspects about the lives of great men from far and wide, great poems and short one act plays were selected fro presentation in the schools. In many of the schools the artists of Rangaprabhath gave demonstrations of creative dramatics also.
Fourth stage of the program
The fourth stage of the project highlighted the experiences of Rangaprabhath and the manner in which a popular children’s play was developed by Prof. Ramanujan from a folk tale which the children themselves called “MUTHASSIKILIKAL” (GRANDMA BIRDS).
Children’s play from folk tale
The story of lines of the play had an interesting lines and length in the sense that it reflected the desire of lazy crow to live without working and how it learns its lesson. The children narrated it in such a manner that mirth, play, games, songs in the unconventional style-all offered a new experience to both the children who performed and those who watched the performance.
This play, later was performed in over ten schools on a selective basis. The approach was to invite the students and teachers of schools in clusters and present the play as a pilot presentation. The idea was not to offer morals but to give them vignettes of life and insights which would help them see through the realities of life.
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