Shobha Viswanath, Creative Director of Karadi Tales, talks to us about the ways and need to encourage creative learning among children

Shobha Viswanath believes we cannot live without stories. “If there was no television or internet, we would create stories to tell each other. Stories are the fabric of our culture and life. Even in a conversation, when we recall an incident, the others perk up to listen. That’s the magic of a story,” says the Creative Director of Karadi Tales, who was in Madurai to conduct a poetry workshop for teachers of matriculation schools.

From introducing story-telling as an effective teaching method, Karadi Tales has come a long way in devising innovative teaching tools and concepts. It started with audio books on moral stories from Panchatantra and Jataka. They contained a CD and a book which a child would read out along with the voice recorded in the disk. Says Shobha, “When we found that our products were being used as teaching tools in schools to impart language education, we thought of giving them a set pedagogy for greater impact. Now we offer a curriculum outline on how these audio CDs can be effectively used in classrooms.” The company’s tales are popular among kids below 10 years of age. The products of Karadi Tales are also used for children with learning disabilities.

Shobha feels that education and theories have become modern and as a consequence many things are deemed unnecessary these days. “Like the Americans look down upon memorizing maths tables but in India that is the first thing we memorise in maths class because it improves memory power and concentration,” says Shobha.

She elaborates how stories are a wonderful way of teaching and why it should be mandatorily adopted by teachers in classrooms. “Anything that touches us, inspires and makes us believe in a better world is a story,” she says. “It’s just that, as we grow older, our likings change for different kinds of stories. But stories and their impact on us just don’t vanish from our lives. Don’t movies tell us stories?”

However, she says story-telling cannot be called a new-age way of teaching and shouldn’t be viewed as a complicated methodology. “Teaching through stories is so old-age. Only the format is different,” she points out. “There is a practical difficulty in educating the masses in India and a need for the least common denomination of education. We have to restrict so many things and have text books, exams and boring testing methods instead. We all cannot afford to start niche schools where education is imparted through story telling, climbing the mountains and running into forests.”

And that’s where Karadi Tales steps in and tries to bridge the gap between classroom and creative fields. The poetry workshop for instance, briefed teachers on breaking the monotony in classrooms and engaging students to spur interactivity. “Sadly, as our students move up the classes, they lose interest in poetry. Poetry is studied only to write exams and then forgotten. I want to change this attitude,” says Shobha, who thinks poetry too can be of help in life. “There’s a need to be engaged with that literary form. I believe poetry makes better people.”

According to her, the notion that science is more important than languages and humanities is now being challenged. “Science may come up with a cure for cancer,” she says, “but humanities steps in the way the cure is administered.” “A person with poetry in the heart will make sure, it reaches the needy,” she adds.

Shobha rues the lack of competent teachers and good teacher training institutes. “The whole point of being a teacher is to learn ourselves along with the students,” she says. “Unfortunately our 45-minute periods leave no room for exploration and creativity. There is a dearth of teachers today who can inspire students.”

Primarily a teacher herself, Shobha visits many residential and matriculation schools across the State. “Our workshops for teachers are holistic as they cover lesson planning, classroom management, inspiring children and integrating curriculums.”

She, however, appreciates the willingness of teachers to improve their skills. “The responses in small towns are higher and teachers and students here are more receptive,” she says.

With Karadi Tales converting its audio CDs and stories into stage performances with the recently launched ‘Once upon a Bak Bak Tree’, Shobha hopes to do more theatrical shows on Karadi stories and poems. “We hope to introduce stage shows soon in cities like Madurai.”