Training Programmes

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.

 

  1. 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.

Second day

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.

 

Third day

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.