My experience with Shishuvan

by Avni Rambhiya

(Avni works for a digital media consultancy firm based in the US. She was invited by a parent to have a talk about software and its vulnerabilities to students from Std IX. In this post, she shares about her experience with Shishuvan.)

There are visions, and then there are visionaries. As cliched as this may sound, I found myself in awe last week while taking a tour of the remarkable Gandhian, democratic world of education that is Shishuvan.

Guided by their dynamic external affairs minister Anushka, my dad and I were privileged to see first hand what progressive visionaries and the unleashed natural enthusiasm and curiosity of children can accomplish together. Like the sunflower whose colors inspire their handspun khadi uniforms, these children are truly driven to turn and face the sunshine, whatever direction it may come from. To Premji uncle, high school HOD Subhadra, school principal Neha, and parents Lincoln and Swati Gada, and also to the ever-effusive Darshan Gada, I owe my thanks for this eye opening and heart warming experience.

In theory, I came to talk to the children of standard IX about what software is, how it can be altered, and how developers and users of software can keep themselves secure from threats of malware, piracy and counterfeiting. I came equipped with only 10 slides for a one-hour talk, with the plan to devote at least half the talk to interactive discussion and Q&A. That was a good thing, for no sooner had I started talking than I realized two things. First, that these kids were far more adept with consoles, smart phones, ecommerce, electronic banking and software app business models than many supposed industry veterans I meet. Second, that they were not afraid of asking questions. Not just about technology, but also about the politics, ethics, business considerations and future opportunities in the field. Thus it came about that in practice, we discussed everything from hacking gaming consoles to the role of technology in Syria and Egypt, from motivations for hacking to global disparity in laws regarding fair use and content access, and from the legality of corner-store refills of printer ink cartridges to the process of stealing credit cards. After most talks I give, I come away satisfied that I my audience’s time was well spent because I was able to impart a good amount of information to them and broaden their horizons. This was one of those rare and treasured engagements where I came away having had my own horizons broadened. The hour passed in a blur, and I never once felt I was talking to school children – these were curious, well informed, outspoken and yet extremely respectful adults-in-the-making.

As I left, I was given yet another gift, also unexpected. A hand made gift bag, made with recycled materials, with a hand made card and a book called Divasvapna – day dreams – that tells the story of a young Gujarati educator in British India experimenting with Montessori and natural learning methods in a fourth grade class. I’m now bitten by the bug of Gandhian educational methods, and look forward to reading and learning more about ways to teach integrated curricula in thought-provoking ways in our own gifted classrooms back home in Baton Rouge. I also look forward to continuing to engage with the Shishuvan community, and wish this oasis of learning and creativity the very best.

Kind regards,
Avni

Surbhi Soni’s magical sojourn in Shishuvan

Surbhi Soni, B.Ed student from K.J. Somaiya Comprehensive College of Education, Training and Research, was in school from 16th to 18th Jan 2013.  Here she shares her thoughts about what she felt about us:

I, Surbhi Soni, am pursuing B.Ed from K.J.Somaiya Comprehensive College of Education, Research and Training got an opportunity to take my practice teaching lessons in a wonderful school – ‘SHISHUVAN’.

The following that surprised me or I can say was magical were:

  • Students given so much of freedom to express themselves that they come up with doubts and don’t hesitate to ask their teachers because teachers are like friends for them.
  • Students call their teachers by name (just like their friends) still they respect them a lot.
  • Though the school environment being casual still the students are more disciplined than the other school students where I have been.
  • Students are like an open book for the teachers which help a teacher to make the student go in a right direction.
  • Students are nurtured under the skillful teachers who come up with creative and innovative ideas which generate learning curiosity among students.

Curriculum followed by Shishuvan School will make students smart rather than a book worm.

Thanks to the faculty members of the school for giving me such an opportunity.

Working on the Mathematics Curriculum at Shishuvan

By Susan L. Hillman

(Susan is Professor of Teacher Education at Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan, USA and was Visiting Teacher Educator at Shishuvan from 4th July – 30 November, 2012.)

I met Kavita Anand (Director of Shishuvan School) at the epiSTEME-3 conference at the Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education in Mumbai in 2009. She invited me to come visit Shishuvan … and that was the beginning. I visited Shishuvan for a week, in August 2010, and that is when Kavita and I sat down to dream about some projects that I might help with during my sabbatical from my university in 2012.

Consequently, I have spent the past 5 months at Shishuvan working with teachers and school leaders, with a focus on teaching and learning mathematics.

About 3 months were spent working collaboratively with Sneha Sawant, Head of Mathematics, on compiling, revising, comparing, and updating the mathematics curriculum based on the ICSE curriculum for Std. IX and Std. X. The outcome is a coherent mathematics curriculum from Nursery through Std. X, that emphasizes learning the content of mathematics through engaging in the processes of doing mathematics. The curriculum is now available in print and digitally for use by teachers as they plan instruction.

Comparing this curriculum with other curricula such as the CBSE, IGCSE, and Common Core State Standards – Mathematics (based in the USA) led to critical analysis of the Shishuvan Mathematics Curriculum. This comparison allowed us to study what exists, in relationship to other examples, and provided opportunities to consider the rationale for specifying what, when, and how mathematics could and should be taught and learned.

The rest of my time was spent on professional development with teachers and coaching them in ways to implement the mathematics curriculum in ways that embedded the processes of doing mathematics: problem solving, reasoning, communication, connections, representation, using appropriate tools strategically, and generalizing. We studied examples and strategies for including Number Talks and facilitating classroom discussions in mathematics that focus on mathematics as a language that is spoken, heard, written, and visualized by students as well as teachers. Classroom observations and feedback sessions with teachers focused on “what went well” (i.e., www) and “even better if” (i.e., ebi).

Spending 5 months living and working with those who are dedicated to making Shishuvan School a place where quality education happens, has truly been a wonderful experience. I consider the faculty and staff my colleagues and friends.

As I prepare to return to the USA, I am looking forward very much to continuing our collaboration through various digital technologies available to us.

Talking about love with eighth graders

By Kabita Parajuli

(In August 2012, Kabita from Kathmandu co-facilitated two sessions at Shishuvan as part of her work with the Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange. The school welcomed her presence and was happy to support Hri’s efforts in developing a framework for facilitated conversations around the topics of transgression and taboo in our personal lives, particularly around friendships and other relationships.)

How do we talk about love? About longing? About taboo and transgression? As part of our work on documenting and analysing the love legends of Punjab, we began to explore these fascinating questions. The starting point for these conversations were the prominent love legends of Punjab – Sohni Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiban. We experimented with some of these ideas during workshops with students in Mumbai. Two of these were at Shishuvan School, Matunga.

Our workshops at Shishuvan were held as part of the Personal Development (PD) classes scheduled for eighth graders. PD sessions typically involve games, activities and conversations around themes that are of interest to the students. Chintan is their regular PD teacher, and from him, I learnt that ‘love’ and ‘relationships’ were topics that his teenage students would be interested in talking about.

We did two sessions in total, of about 36 students each (Std. VIII Shraddha and Std. VIII Karma), and I felt that they went very well. I was basically smitten by this group of rambunctious, somewhat incorrigible, and incredibly friendly group of eighth graders. I think the main reason for the outcome was the rapport Chintan already had with the students, and their willingness to trust an outsider that he had brought in.

We started by asking if they knew what the ‘class’ that day was about.  “Love!” came the quick response, the rumour mill at this school being fast, furious and  welcoming of class content for fodder. Most of the students seemed eager to find out what we were going to bring up, in the name of love. One or two expressed some apprehension – would this be a session of clichés? Was it really necessary to be there?

Here, Kailash Kher and ‘Teri Deewani’ appeared to be a favourite of many; nearly the whole class was singing along, some with their eyes closed, fully in the moment. They talked about his representation of love as something that was common in films (and perhaps stories) – but not necessarily one that many of them connected with in terms of physical danger. The idea of madness, risk, and falling into an abyss of emotion, however, was one that seemed to resonate.

When it came time to share the story of Sohni Mahiwal, the students were ready with both questions and explanations around the behavior of the main characters, especially Sohni. The second group was more rambunctious. To my immense shock, when I started telling the story, a quiet came over the class – they had settled! The circle became smaller in size as they moved closer to me. I started feeling like the Pied Piper, but I kept talking.

Both classes were eager to talk about the story, to try to connect it to others they had heard, and to explore the questions we raised.

How did you feel while hearing this story?

What do you think about what happened? Is it relevant?

Why did Sohni cross the river?

Why weren’t the two allowed to be together? Have you heard such stories in real life, or other places, of people who weren’t allowed to be together?

Who are you encouraged to be friends with, by your parents or friends?

Have you ever done something that you only found out, afterwards, you weren’t supposed to? What happened?

Why didn’t Sohni say no to the marriage?

Why is love thought of as dangerous?

I was impressed by the connections they drew between social pressures and the actions that Sohni chose to undertake. Some recalled the stories of Heer-Ranjha, Salim-Anarkali and even Veer-Zaara (from a Yash Chopra film). Others talked about an episode on honour killings from Aamir Khan’s talk show Satyamev Jayate. In retrospect, it would also be worthwhile to try and focus more attention on Mahiwal – it seems to me that while Sohni justifiably receives a great deal of attention for her actions and decisions in the legend, Mahiwal often fades into the background. We talked in this session about why Sohni didn’t refuse to marry her husband, for example, and why perhaps she went ahead and crossed the river. But we do not ask about Mahiwal’s decision to stay back from his crew of traders, why he encouraged Sohni to commit adultery, or what he represents. A couple of the students did raise the question of pressures he might have faced – and suggested that as an outsider, perhaps he was not subject to the same constraints as Sohni.

After both sessions, there were a number of students who wanted to keep talking. “How do you define love?” one set of young women asked me. Others were eager to take me into some sort of confidence, sharing a time when they “did something they later regretted”, and connecting it to the story of the star-crossed lovers. One student suggested that she’d gotten carried away – against the better advice of her friends, she’d made a decision that she (unlike Sohni) had time to regret. Another student asked if there were other legends like this one (he was certain there were), and wanted me to tell Mirza-Sahiban’s story. There was a general consensus that the themes in these stories were pervasive in Bollywood; the idea of a ‘forbidden’ something or someone created the basis for a good many plotlines.

To Chintan, later on, a student brought up something he had read about sexuality and bullying. Two other young men came up to me and explained why they thought it was important to talk about love, as more than just romantic – but also more than just familial. To hear this group so willing to engage, so eager to share, and so open to expressing their ideas, was invigorating. These sessions were full of the stuff of eighth grade experience, philosophising, and concerns.

In the teacher’s lounge after our sessions, Chintan’s colleagues were curious to hear how our classes had gone. They were, I think, impressed – but also perhaps used to? – the commitment shown by the students in exploring ideas of love, and in bringing in their personal experiences. Often, I think, those of us past middle school (even those who regularly interact with middle school and high school students) forget about the different layers of emotion and thought swirling in a young person’s mind. It’s heady stuff (no pun intended) – but these same individuals can also be very eloquent and clear about what it is they believe, and how it is that they’ve come to a particular understanding.

The biggest take-away from these workshops was the reminder that young teens are not too young to talk about these love legends and what is socially sanctioned and prohibited. The issue is more one of how the material is presented, and how young people are invited to respond to it.

Note: A version of this article was first published on http://www.hrisouthasian.org/ on Nov. 11, 2012. To know more about the Love Legends project, do visit the Hri website.

Learning by taking risks

By Betsy Watkins

(Betsy Watkins is the cheerful and dynamic Principal of Ascend International School, Mumbai. We were honoured to have her grace our Std. VI Annual Day with her presence and an inspiring speech, the text of which is reproduced below.)

Last week I had the honour as serving as Chief Guest at the 6th standard’s Annual Day performance of Hana’s Suitcase.  Students delivered a powerful performance, inspired by the moving story of one small group’s determination to give life to the faceless name of a holocaust victim.  The audience was touched.  The performance was heartfelt.  The conclusion could only be greeted with quiet reflection.  We must remember to give voice to history, perform exhaustive research, and always act as the kind of citizens that strive to preserve human dignity and life.

The Annual Day performance marked my third visit to Shishuvan.  Each visit to the school has further impressed upon me the strength of students’ abilities to articulate their thoughts, engage in democratic process and ideals, and be active participants in their own learning.  These are attributes that are as important in today’s world as mastering mathematics and more than one language.  Unfortunately, these attributes are often overlooked in many models of schooling.

I wanted to share with students how unique it is to be part of a school that has high expectations of children at such an early age.  So, as Chief Guest, I told the story of how I grew into becoming the student that I am today—one that remains curious, asks questions, reflects, works hard, and embraces challenges.

My story begins with what I consider a simple fact: I performed well in school, but I was a terrible student.

To be fair, my mother would categorically disagree with this statement.  In fact, she has trophies, report cards, teacher comments, standardized test scores and class rankings that would support her disagreement.  But what one cannot see from a report card, ranking, percentile or test score—is that I did not care very much about learning.  One can also not see that I although I knew facts and formulas for writing essays or performing calculus, I had not learned to think.  I had no curiosity.  I was motivated almost exclusively by trophies and rankings.  I performed virtually no learning activity unless I felt that a top tier University would admire the addition to my curriculum vitae.  I was the student who perpetually wanted to know, “Will this be on the test?”  I was more interested in awards and recognition than the joy of learning.

I truly believe I did not learn how to learn until I went to University.

In an introductory humanities class, I was asked to generate a paper in response to Agamemnon.  I was perplexed.  What should I write a paper about?  I was baffled by the lack of parameters and I approached my professor to explain my confusion.  “Usually the instructor tells the students what she thinks and then we generate a paper using this premise.  That’s the way it works.”

The professor, who had clearly seen this response in many students, was patient but honest. “Unfortunately that is the way many schools train students, but you actually have to learn to think.  What do you notice about this book?  What is your premise?  Being a student is about thinking, not about repeating what someone else has already told you.”

This was the first time I had been asked to think.  This was the first time I had been asked to generate questions and not ready-made responses.  It was painful because I had no practice.  I re-wrote this paper six times before I received a mark I could take home to my parents.  I was excited, because for the first time I had really learned while writing a paper.  The process did not come easily, but this is where my joy for learning began—because it turns out that thinking is engaging!

My second transformation as a student was many years later, when I was a teacher.  When I first started teaching, I was not a risk-taker.  After many years of praise for correct responses and high scores, it is difficult for one to choose the challenging path in which you might learn more, but make many mistakes along the way.  As a teacher, I marvelled over students who learned deeply and rapidly.  I noticed a trend.  The students who learned the most were the ones who were most willing to take on a challenge—the students that were ready to take risks because they understood the value of making mistakes as part of the learning process.

Over the years, children have taught me that to learn big, you have to take big risks.  Learning to take risks is how I arrived in another country to help found an international school committed to meaningful learning.  When the Kasegaon Education Society came to me and asked if I would help create a school in which children would not only obtain knowledge and skills, but also learn to think and embrace challenges—I knew I had to say “yes.”  I had to say “yes,” because as an adult, I have become a much better student.  I am curious.  I do love learning.  I am willing to make mistakes and reflect on my process.  And I am always ready for a challenge!

I think students are lucky when they are engaged in learning which asks them to think and promotes the value of questions.  Educational environments which encourage children to persevere through obstacles and challenges promote an intrinsic love of learning.  These attributes are among the things that make places like Shishuvan and Ascend International School special.  These schools are built to be learning communities—for everyone involved—so that everyone can capture the joy that is a true part of learning.

Nature So Bizarre – 1

In ‘Nature So Bizarre’, our new series on Biodiversity, Katie Bagli introduces us to the wonderful world of flora and fauna – believing that the more we know them the more we’d want to protect them. Here is the first post in this series.

(Katie has many hats that she dons at various times. When she is not leading nature trails as a BNHS Volunteer (since 9 years), she is reading books (authored and illustrated by her) to children at major book stores. She is also one of the founders of the NGO ‘Save Rani Baugh’ where she has gathered many supporters to save many precious trees from being axed in the name of re-development. She loves children and is always ready to visit Shishuvan as a resource person, author and nature lover.)

CHILD LABOUR 

The Weaver Ants make their nests by attaching two or more leaves together with silk.  But these ants do not have silk glands.  How, then do they manage it?  They take the help of their own young ones who have silk glands.  While several worker ants hold the edges of two leaves together, one of the other workers holds a young larva in her mouth and moves it to and fro along the leaf edges, which get zipped together with silk threads produced by the larva.  Even ants make use of child labour!

STRANGLERS 

Birds relish figs and after eating them they often fly a short distance and perch themselves on other trees.  Here they pass out the seeds through their droppings.  The seeds readily germinate on the tree itself as the birds’ digestive juices have softened up the seed coats.  Soon the roots of the new fig tree embrace the trunk and branches of its host tree preventing sunlight from reaching it.  Moreover, once the fig tree’s branches reach the ground they draw nutrients from the soil. Thus the host tree, deprived of the much needed sunlight and nutrients, soon dies and its trunk rots away.

The Strangler fig, having taken the life of its host tree, continues to stand without its victim, appearing like a cylindrical lattice work of branches hollowed out inside.

ROBBER CRABS 

The Coconut Crabs or Robber Crabs are enormous, having a length of 30 cm, a width of 20 cm and weigh about 5 kg.  They are so called because they are known to climb up Coconut trees to ‘rob’ coconut s.  They manage to break open the shell by thrusting their large front claws into one of the three ‘eye holes’ and then extracting the tender kernel using their hind claws.  Besides coconuts, they also relish other fruits like chikoo, sago palm, jackfruit, etc.

These crabs are nocturnal and during the day they take shelter under the buttress roots of trees and inside the hollows of logs.

BONE BREAKER

The Lammergier Vulture, whose habitat is the high altitudes of the Himalayas, has a very long wing span.  But what makes it stand out from other vultures is its black ‘beard’ just below its beak, for which reason it is commonly called Bearded Vulture.

While other vultures are feeding on carrion, the Lammergier waits by the side for them to finish.  He then carries off the bones to a great height and drops them on a rock so that they break open, and feasts on the marrow.  Thus, the Lammergier is also called ‘Bone Breaker’. 

SHOOTOUT IN THE SEA

Visitors to the seashore are often puzzled to hear a loud ‘pop’ rather like a pistol shot, accompanied by a jet of water.  This sound is actually produced by the Pistol Shrimp.  One of its claws is distinctly larger than the other.  This claw has a knob on the finger and a corresponding socket on the thumb.  Two smooth patches of skin on this claw which act as suckers hold the finger and thumb wide apart.  But sometimes when the shrimp exerts a great deal of force and thrusts the knob into the socket a gunshot -like sound is produced and a jet of water is ejected at great speed.  The shrimps use this sound to communicate with each other and frighten away enemies.

 

Crossing borders, challenging stereotypes

By Anam Zakaria

(Anam works with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, and lives in the beautiful city of Lahore. She became a friend of Shishuvan in February 2012, when three of our students and two of our teachers visited Lahore as part of the Exchange for Change programme facilitated by Routes 2 Roots and CAP. She visited Shishuvan in the last week of August during her trip to Mumbai.)

The morning before I was supposed to reach Shishuvan was spent finding the famous Babulnath Temple. The taxi driver, Anil, told me its history; the deity had risen from beneath the ground hundreds of years ago. Since then it was one of the most famous temples in Mumbai.

As we made our way to Matunga, Anil asked for directions from passersby and we found ourselves in a quiet narrow lane, surrounded by residential buildings. On one of the crossings, a parent who had just dropped off their child to school pointed straight. There I saw a row of yellow and green uniforms making their way forward. I got out of the taxi and followed them inside school and was welcomed by two friendly security guards. Armed with my visitor’s card I walked over to the reception. Behind the smiling lady (Vaishali) ran a slideshow of pictures of students involved in different activities. I could already feel a different energy about the school.

Anam with the External Affairs Ministers of our School Parliament

Growing up, most of the schools I was accustomed to had white or grey uniforms and a student council that was limited to senior school. Here, two young External Affairs Ministers (Yashvi, Dhvaneel) clad in yellow and green received me to tour me around the school. Students of high school, they walked me through the six floors at Shishuvan, allowing me to interact with students, visit the library and engage with the artwork and assignments displayed on the soft boards.

Swapping notes with Prachi on History Teaching across the border

I also had a chance to sit amongst the teachers during a Reflection Meeting, listening to the kind of holistic teaching and training Shishuvan was striving towards. The teachers too had a remarkable energy to them; they were always smiling and friendly. I even got a delicious lunch offer from one of them (Mini)!

Interacting with students of Std 10

The highlight of the day for me was the hour-long sessions I had with students of Grade 10 in two batches. At first the students had trouble believing I was from Pakistan. Every face had a question plastered across it- How can she be wearing her dress? Where is her dupatta¸or even her burqa? Nonetheless, soon the students opened up to me, thanks to the constant assurances from Chintan that they could ask me any questions that crossed their minds. And once they started, there was no stopping.

Hands shot up in the air and we had detailed and healthy discussions about issues ranging from women and minority rights to democracy, terrorism, visa policies, geography and lifestyles across the border. I was in awe of these students. At such a young age, they were so well informed, so inquisitive of their surroundings. I was amazed at how quickly they allowed their stereotypes to be challenged, at their pure quest of knowledge.

Lots of food for thought

Later, students of grade 10 made me a card. It said the following:

Dear Anam,

We the students of Standard 10th thank you for coming over and sharing valuable information about Pakistan, which changed our perspective about it.

We thoroughly enjoyed this session and look forward to many more. Thank you so much.

Hope you have a lovely stay in Mumbai! :-)

Shishuvan

The rest of my stay in Mumbai was indeed wonderful. I visited old temples, Hajji Ali, Prithvi Café, bookstores and several restaurants. But my visit to Shishuvan and speaking with these students is something that will continue to stick with me- these students showed me hope, they showed me tolerance and a window into what peaceful Indo-Pak relations can look like. A big thank you to all of you for making my visit so memorable.

 

A Lahori friend writes about Shishuvan’s Project Day

By Haroon Khalid

(Haroon who works as a writer and journalist in Lahore became a friend of Shishuvan in February 2012, when three of our students and two of our teachers visited Lahore, Pakistan, as part of the Exchange for Change programme facilitated by Routes 2 Roots and the Citizens Archive of Pakistan. He visited Shishuvan in the first week of August on his trip to Mumbai.)

After about 16 years of education, during a conference I discovered that Thokar Niaz Baig, the area that I live near in Lahore, Pakistan was for six months the capital of a defunct empire, just after Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) took over Lahore. This came as a shock to me. I have been living here since the past 17 years, passing through this area several times a day. I like to believe that I have an avid interest in history and yet I was so ignorant about the history of my own locality.

The discovery opened a new chapter in my life after which I started exploring small villages and localities around Lahore, redefining for myself what it means to be a historian. And this is exactly what impressed me the most about Project Day at Shisuvan. The students were encouraged to go out in their localities and discover for themselves where they are located. This is something that I have never heard of in a school in Pakistan and believe strongly should be encouraged.

Haroon in conversation with Mahir and Karamvir, students of Std IX

For two days, the students engaged with various aspects regarding the locality of Matunga, where they are situated. Some talked about the sounds there, others about the communities and food. Younger children focused upon the local government system, interacting with the visitors, which were primarily parents. Unlike a lot of other school workshops and events I have attended, and been a part of as a student, this particular Project Day engaged every student, which means that all the parents had an incentive to attend.


Haroon listening to a presentation by Aditya, student of Std VIII

These two days also allowed me to interact with students from the schools who were genuinely intrigued by a Pakistani. Like all human beings, I am sure they also hold stereotypes about Pakistanis. In a lot of ways, I must have reinforced those. Perhaps my beard, which was not religious, was perceived as a typical Muslim male feature. On the other hand, the tattoo on my hand must have surprised a lot of them. I felt that there was a genuine interest in the students to learn about their neighbour, of which they know the least about. ‘What sort of cars do you have?’ ‘Do you have playstations?’ ‘Are there any malls?’ ‘How is the night life in Lahore?’ were the sort of questions I was getting from the young male students. A lot of them were surprised to hear that in a lot of ways Pakistan is like India.


Haroon engrossed in a presentation by Niral, student of Std VIII

There was one student whose response for me was the best. Sitting in the auditorium, Chintan, he and I were chatting to each other. “Can you guess where he is from?” Chintan asked him. “I think he is from Punjab,” he replied. That was Yug Vora, a fifth grader. When I asked him what city of Punjab, he named a few from East Punjab. I told him I am from Lahore, which didn’t really ring a bell. I told him I am from Pakistan. “Pakistan!” he said in a state of shock, with his eyes wide open. Chintan and I had a good laugh. After the shock, that child and I continued talking as if this conversation had never happened. Later in the day, I was standing in the school grounds with a friend when the child called out my name loudly and waved at me. He was leaving with his mother. I saw his mother bending over asking him about me. I wonder what he would have said.


Haroon jamming with the ‘Musinga’ group – Anuraag and high school students

The Project Day also allowed me to interact with the teachers at Shishuvan. However, as they were busy with the students, we didn’t get a lot of time. But by the limited interaction that we had, I could feel that there is a lot of curiosity about Pakistan. Being from where I am also got me protocol in the school. All the teachers and students were particularly kind to me, escorting me through the different classrooms and presentations. It was very flattering.


Haroon in conversation with Kavita, Neha and Kabita (a visitor from Nepal)

Coming back from Shishuvan, I have returned with a lot of memories, friends and experiences. I am highly impressed by the atmosphere of the school and the inquisitive spirit of the teachers and the students. Working with Pakistani schools and teachers I would benefit from the lessons learnt at Shishuvan.

Annual day Speech – Usha Pandit


Usha Pandit, Founder-CEO of Mindsprings, was the honourable Chief Guest for the Std IX Annual Day (2011-12) performance “As you like it”. This is her speech:

I am delighted to be invited as Chief Guest for this spectacular performance. Congratulations to the very talented 9th graders for their flawless rendition of ‘As You Like It’. I taught Shakespeare in Hong Kong for 5 years to the 12th grade who had a paper called ‘Shakespeare Our Contemporary.’ Indeed he is because all his themes are universal and human and eternal. He is as relevant today as he was 4 centuries ago. Having both read and taught the play, I know as a teacher that it is no mean task to put up this play. Therefore, a big round of applause to the actors and the director for their talent and effort.


Usha Pandit lights the lamp as the management looks on.

The students of Shishuvan have done a fabulous job where – in order to accommodate most of the class in speaking parts – they had 5 Orlandos, 5 Rosalinds and 5 of all the rest in the five Acts they performed – woven very skilfully and cleverly with no confusion whatsoever. When I first read this in the programme I almost thought they would put up a spoof. I am pleasantly surprised that they have managed so many parallel characters and yet kept the unity intact. Well done.

The use of the original Shakespearean verse in the rhythms of modern speech was sophisticated and delightful theatre. Stage space was used brilliantly.

I also loved the minimalism. The use of large potted plants to symbolically create the forest, simple props and a single accessory to denote costume was so refreshing. I do believe schools must invest in getting children trained in speech and drama because it contains a multitude of skills and spend less on elaborate sets and tailored costumes that are time consuming and wasteful.

Once Vidushi asked me to name 3 people who had influenced me. It sent me hurtling down memory lane and a long lane that was, knocking briefly on one door only to zip to the next…..yes she attracted me.. yes he impressed me..but inspire? Now that’s a special word.

Inspiration is a life enhancer, to me it is a turning point where someone takes you by the hand and walks you on to a different path and says walk …… fear not it will be for the better.

Being the cynical soul that I am, where my scrutinizing binoculars go before I come in, it was difficult to be inspired by many people. There was definitely a lot of support from some in power, a lot of love given and reciprocated but inspiration is another dimension.
So the names that surfaced to mind were:

ROSEMARY CATHCART
Educationist, thinker, boss, friend. The then director and founder of the Gifted Centre in Auckland where I taught for a few years.

When I met Rosemary, I had been a teacher trudging along.. alone. I never ‘did’ the syllabus. The kids used to say she teaches outside the book but they never missed a class. Have taken three sections of 120 all together, when they had a teacher crisis for nearly a year because the admin did not see any discipline problems. So yes, I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer.

Learning was a passion that engaged me totally. I took all my major degrees after I married my man, with the demands of a growing kid, with an old dad and his bed sores.. even today when I find people who can engage me in a good cerebral exercise, I salivate. Often my questions, observations, arguments make them uncomfortable, but I am merely trying to absorb a new dimension. I am not gentle and that’s a fault.

Rosemary never actively taught me anything. She had a zero interference policy but she was watchful. I learnt from her to delegate. If she had a criticism she would say it when we were making coffee in the Centre’s pantry and end it with a hug that often brought tears to my eyes. I learnt from her a generosity of spirit. A teacher is a giver. She’d say give it all away it won’t impoverish us. There is place for everyone. Teachers are big hoarders. I learnt from her the blessing of giving.

I held her praise in high regard. She would share with me stuff that parents said about me. She would mention me to people. She would mention me as one of her best in meetings. She would send me out for prestigious assignments. So simple and yet so profound.

I learnt from Rosemary you don’t have to heap money and praise to reward people, you need to be sincere, to share information, to show that you value the person. I am so different from Rosemary ‘she was soft spoken in the extreme ‘ I am not, and yet, my management style is fashioned on hers. I am firm but I don’t stifle people who work for me. Those who work well for me have every freedom, those who don’t, I let go ‘ yes that too I learnt from her.
Rosemary was, is, and will be an inspiration.

The second person who comes to mind is:

CHANDRA SHANMUGHAM
Mrs. Shanmugham was Professor of English at the Lady Welligdon College in Chennai where I did my B.Ed., my first degree in education.
A Christian Tamil, she was a stout wheezy lady, dark, hair tied up in a tight bun and a big bindi. To me she was beautiful. Again soft spoken and calm ‘ I am attracted to them ‘ yes, my husband is one such.

Mrs. Shanmugham was an excellent teacher. I have fashioned my teaching on hers. Clarity was the key. And engagement. Eye contact, interest in the audience, organization of matter. She showed me how one needs to get into the mind of the child. Be it. That was a big education. I have often looked at children in later years and imagined them as my own and been overwhelmed with love.

Her accent, although thoroughly Indian, was impeccable. She had perfect received
pronunciation, completely British. Her ‘do yous’ were ‘djoo yous’ with no pretention whatsoever. She was awesome.

I learnt from her that you need to have depth. ‘Knowledge is Power’ she once said to me and I have never forgotten. It is indeed. It is the foundation for a lot of courage and fortitude.

From Mrs. Shanmugam I learnt how the foundation was important, from Rosemary I got permission to fly, rather to give myself permission to fly. I learnt to be an independent thinker and have the confidence to be a creator of ideas.
Foundation and Flying. A lot of us miss one or the other. Some of us take off without foundation, so we falter and fall. Some of us have great foundation but we are clutching to the earth of that foundation in a stranglehold that will not let us take off. I was fortunate to find this combination in a span of 10 years.

Meanwhile, I have learnt from lots of people what not to do. My observation of others in the profession was a good handbook on how not to be a disaster. That too was learning.

And the third?
It was an amalgam of the varied influences of authors, poets, movies, theatre and people in many walks of life. From my husband and my father before him, I have learnt to value unimpeachable honesty and integrity. That is another source of immense strength. From my daughter I have learnt empathy towards people who are alternate – like gays ‘ after which I found Brian my colleague and gay Australian friend, a delight as a teacher and a gem of a man.

Had I written this blog in recent times I would have included Kavita Anand – Shishuvan’s dynamic Director as one of the people who inspire me. In a world that is teeming with people who pay loads of lip service to what needs to be done, visionaries like Kavita, who take tremendous risks to bring about and sustain change, are rare and precious. Risk taking is not a common trait, and when it is wedded to good sense and intelligence it is an unmatched quality.

Shishuvan is a “thinking” and “learning” organisation blessed with a very progressive management. There is an advertisement on television of nervous parents and a child have been summoned to the Principal’s office and the mother ventures to ask: How is he doing? The Principal is prompt in correcting her: It is not about him, she says, tell us how are we doing? I think of Shishuvan whenever I see that advertisement. To my mind that is the spirit of Shishuvan.

Shishuvan has a very bright future and the children of grade 9, having lived their text on stage, will breeze through their examinations with aplomb and happy confidence and hopefully learn to love the bard for life. All the very best to all of you and thank you for listening.

Jaya Madhavan weaves a story in Shishuvan

Jaya Madhavan is the author of ‘Kabir the Weaver Poet’, a gripping novel about Kabir, the man we remember as poet, saint, social reformer, revolutionary, and much else. Published by Tulika Books, Jaya’s novel is for older children and young adults. It is a powerful read, and much in keeping with the spirit of the Kabir Festival co-hosted by Shishuvan for residents of Mumbai. This is her story at Shishuvan:

Shishuvan, to me is a clutch of sweet memories now- the robust voice of Prahlad Tipanyaji, the energetic singing by Bhanwari Devi, the hearty applause from children around me and the taste of Shishuvan’s masala tea in my mouth….that is how my day began in this lovely school. A lot of things about Shishuvan left me smiling and pleasantly surprised.


The author weaves, her book “Kabir the Weaver Poet” is in the background

Foremost in my memory is the confident way in which a couple of students gave me company through the day, the way they met me in the eye while talking, while complimenting me about my book and the composed manner in which they served us a simple but delicious lunch of Okra and dal ….one girl even managed to persuade my usually reticent daughter into walking around the school with her. My daughter came back beaming with a pot with her name “Prasanna” beautifully painted over it (a work of art that adorns our showcase at home now.) I particularly liked the “symbol for silence”, what in Bharatnatyam we call the Mrigashirsha mudra or the “deer” mudra, which the teacher used to bring order without lacerating her voice cords. And boy was I surprised that the students should call their teachers by name!!! “Too much”, I thought to myself.


On the way from Rags to Tapestry: Labdhi, Rashi, Arushii (Std. X) absorbed in the process

“Our children are very enthusiastic about a variety of things,” Shubadra was saying and I was rather intrigued, for when I was that age I just wanted to be left alone. But we (Archana, Shruthi and I) did have a good session of weaving, singing, dancing and reading with the children. I must say my knees knocked in nervousness when the weaving teachers from the school (who am sure are past masters at the loom) were watching attentively the manner in which I made mats out of rags. I sighed in relief when they smiled in validation at the simple weaving technique I used. And here I must mention that Shubadra supplied some truly exquisite “rags” for the weaving and I couldn’t resist asking her for some (plus two frames). She parted with them so generously and I am proud to say am putting all of these gifts to good use. A lot of pleasant memories like these. The way the school called up the restaurant where Archana, Shruthi and I had gone for some snacks and informed that they would be picking the bill. What a sweet gesture! The way a kid who had spent the entire day with me said at the end “You are Jaya Madhavan? You are Jaya Madhavan? But I didn’t know!!” To which I replied, “What difference does it make?” and the kid replied, “But I have read your book!!!” Now, that anchored me again in the fact that the art is always more important than the artist! And finally,I nearly exploded with surprise when the children told me that they run “Asanjo” or “Our radio” and wanted an interview from me. A radio run by children! How wonderful!


Jaya Madhavan speaks for Asanjo Radio recorded by Mahir and Bhavish (Std IX)

I congratulate the school from the bottom of my heart for harnessing the teen and pre-teen’s fiery energy in so creative a manner. Hope to see you all again sometime.

(This year the Kabir Festival was held between 17th-19th February 2012 at various venues across Mumbai. -Ed)