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Learning while doing is fun

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FOR KIDS' SAKE Guiding teachers and kids alike. Indira Swaminathan with a child
FOR KIDS' SAKE Guiding teachers and kids alike. Indira Swaminathan with a child

Indira Swaminathan, educationist, feels you should let a child do things at the level he/she can rather than at a level we want them to do. PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA listens to her views and methods of teaching that make life happier for children

Dimpled, chubby hands hide a tear-stained face and bury it in the folds of Amma's sari. The rising pitch of a harassed adult voice drown the unceasing, muffled wails. After crying, cajoling and being cross have taken turns and both parent and child are emotionally drained, one wonders how best to tackle this all too familiar sight as schools reopen and first timers enter the world of learning.

Normal to cry

"My best scenario to handle the newcomer, at my age of 71, is to not lose your calm. It is normal for preschoolers to cry and both the parent and teacher should try and distract the child," said Indira Swaminathan, Educational Consultant on a visit to the city. Director, Playhouse Early Learning Centre and President ICARE (Indian Child's Association for Rights and Education) Ms. Swaminathan conducted an ad hoc workshop for the Kindergarten teachers of Choice School.

Interviews unpleasant

Believes Ms. Swaminathan who is fondly called patti (grandmother) by the kids that interviewing children for admission is not a pleasant thing. "It is like probing a child. Interviews can be a play situation where you observe the child. The across-the-table interviews create tension in the parents and the child." An authority on teaching and learning she has developed COPCC (Cognitively Oriented Programme for Preschool Children) that allows the "child do things at the level they can rather than at a level we want them to do." And so the method, `this is a cat' and `that is a bat' is a definite no-no for her. "Instead of telling them this is the moon, let them ask about it. Stimulate and tickle their imagination," said the teacher who believes that she has learnt it all from children. "Learning must be experiential. So I have devised the cognitive approach where I give children the experience of doing, of using their body. With this the child begins to understand. With understanding comes communication. With communication emerges thinking and memory develops. You never forget what you create and the self image of the child improves," said Ms. Swaminathan, whose continuous research on learning and teaching has helped her evolve a methodology whose three key words are Knowledge, Techniques and Skill. "If every teacher will see how children conceive things in their way rather than how we want them to understand, teaching and learning will acquire a new meaning. Teachers per se should get creative in the ways they handle kids," And so Ms. Swaminathan advocates and uses music, rhymes, sing-along, gestures, story telling and drama as teaching tools. She breaks into impromptu action songs that strike wonder and thrill in young ones. Creativity is her by-word and something she wishes all teachers will put to good use. About the Apprentice Training courses that she conducts, said Ms. Swaminathan, "More than consultancy it is how to modify an adult to have empathy, innovativeness, capacity to disseminate joy and give quality training to children. I emphasise that the adult needs to be very observant."Training teachers and teaching students across schools in India and abroad, it is her work with rural kids and rural teachers that have brought out vital conclusions. The rural child is more spontaneous but poor in communication. The urban child conveys better but is stifled by the many do's and don'ts. She believes that once she awakens the teacher in an adult they don't need further guidance. "Once windows are open, then teachers don't need guidance. I improve the teacher's self image. I believe schools must have inter-school and intra-school interaction between teachers. This results in new ideas and enhances creativity. Getting into a groove and stereotype teaching is the easiest thing to happen."It is not early learning that Ms. Swaminathan's research stops at. "I have tried my methodology at different school level situations. The child-oriented approach is very basic. Teachers should try the holistic approach which is to integrate the various subjects so that understanding the subject becomes easy." As an example she says that the study of geography involves a lot of arithmetic in terms of volume, distance, etc.. This in turn means that the teacher's knowledge should be vast and she should be creative enough to link subjects. "The process of teaching should be a joyous one for the teacher," says Ms. Swaminathan who has devised traditional toys to make teaching a joyous experience for her. "In 1977 I started making traditional toys from ethnic things. For the regular game of dominoes I have taken the motifs from Deva Shastra. My intention is that handmade things and motifs from our culture should get into the market. ."

Impact of TV

On the impact of Television on kids, she feels that TV per se is not a bad thing. "It helps in concentration and imparts loads of information but adults should monitor the programmes viewed by kids. Computer learning, on the other hand, is easy as kids need to be shown just the rudiments after which they self learn. It empowers the child but again, caution is needed as to the kind of exposure. In rural areas there is a definite need to teach computers to kids." According to her marks and exams should not be performance oriented, long impositions to correct mistakes, she feels, is not the right way of rectifying a mistake as it leads to boredom and children should be observed even after the basic infant milestones are crossed. Her long innings as a teacher has left her wishing for improvement in the quality of teaching. "I strongly recommend that teacher training institutes should re-look at the teaching methods, particularly personality development of the teacher, for I believe it is the adult who holds the key to quality development in the child," says the Bangalore based teacher, after having spent half a century among children in classrooms.

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