Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Incorporating the work of India’s pioneer early childhood educators into contemporary preschools.



Dear Educator,
Here is my full keynote given at the ECE conference of Education World In Mumbai - 2020
Incorporating the work of India’s pioneer early childhood educators into contemporary preschools.
Its time to be ‘Glocal’, especially in early childhood education. Its time to know what the latest global research advices about early care and education but it is equally important to understand that at the sensitive age of zero to six years it is the child’s mother tongue and culture that will have a lasting impact on learning (cognitive, socio-emotional) for life.
So while we are aware of Froebel, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner as the leaders in early years education, what we should also be aware about is the history or evolution of early years care and education in our own country.
There were pioneers who took the best of research from around the world and adapted it for Indian culture and children. As early childhood educators it is time we know about their work, incorporate it, benefit from it and celebrate it.
The four pioneer early childhood educators who I feel we should read about and learn from for our contemporary preschool work are: Gijubhai Badeka, Rabindranath Tagore, Tarabai Modak- Anutai Wagh and Mahatma Gandhi. Of course there are many others too but lets begin with understanding their work.
Around the 1920’s the first foundations of early childhood education were being created in our country. Rabindranath Tagore backed the Montessori philosphy and started the Tagore Montessori schools across the country. Meanwhile Gijubhai a lawyer did not want his child to go through the same traditional education in school that he had suffered through. He read up on everything to do with early childhood education and parenting and was greatly impressed with the work of Maria Montessori. He was fondly called ‘Moochali Maa’ (mother with a moustache!) by the children.
Montessori influenced and inspired Gijubhai, but he adopted only those ideas that were possible to be implemented in India. One of the first things we can learn from Gijubhai perhaps is that it is good to be influenced by global practices but Adapt, don’t adopt global practices blindly. In 1920 Gijubhai Badheka set up the first Bal Mandir or early childhood education center.
In most schools the teacher waits for the children to greet them and say, ‘Good morning’, etc. but Gijubhai would greet every child at the door with their name, both at the beginning and end of the school day. It is after all relationships between students and teacher that brings true passion and interest in learning. Be the first to greet children in school, its not always about them saying, “good morning teacher”.
Gijubhai believed that any concert that the children put up to showcase their talents to parents, should be work done completely by the children in school. The kids put up their own annual day show, related to what they have learnt. An annual show should showcase what the children have enjoyed and learned throughout the year, they should be the directors, actors, designers of props etc. Sadly today annual days in schools have become song and dance extravaganza, choreographed by professionals! Maybe its time we rethink about making our end of the year annual concerts more about children.
Gijubhai was against corporal punishment and even created a ‘vanar sena’ a group of children that would look out for children who were beaten at home or by teachers and then report to Gijubhai who would intervene and educate the adults about the negative impacts of corporal punishment. Child Abuse starts at home and we should safeguard children from this because ‘touch should never become trouble’ for a child. The Early Childhood Association recently conducted a survey and found that parents still spank children, its time for a community conscience, its time to say #I will not, to spanking and corporal punishment
In schools.
Most educators and schools have lost track of educational goals in their quest to fill their school with children and their cupboards with student achievement trophies! Its time to revisit this poem written by Gijubhai Badheka and make it our vision and mission statement.
This Will Not Do…In Our School
(Excerpts from Prathmikshalama Shikshak,first  published in 1932, written by Gijubhai Badeka)
1.     It will do if the walls in our school are not covered with paint. It will not do if there is dust and cobwebs in corners.
2.     It will do if the floors are not  covered by carpets.It will not do if there is litter and dirt strewn on them.
3.     It will do if there is not a laboratory full of fancy equipment .It will not do if the little equipment  that is available is not ever used.
4.     It will do if there is not a great big library.It will not do if there are not at least a few books that children would enjoy reading.
5.     It will do if we are not great scholars.It will not do if we cannot give our children due respect, and an environment that encourages their development.
6.     It will do if we are not constantly engaged in ‘teaching’ children. It will not do if we interfere in their activities or threaten or force them to sit down to study.
Tarabai Modak was a social worker from Maharashtra; she also served as a Principal of a Women’s college in Rajkot. Inspired by Gijubhai’s experiments she joined him in his work in his balwadi. Together they started a training college for pre primary teachers in 1925, which proved to be first training college for pre primary teachers in India. And sadly till today India does not have a common Early Childhood Teacher Training Course, like it has the B.Ed. course. The new National Education Policy has included early years but has not defined a common early years teacher training program, whereas we had one as early as 1925!
On hearing a criticism that preschool education was meant only for the rich children, Tarabai took this up as a challenge and conducted a Balwadi in a Harijanwada at Amravati in Maharashtra. In 1936, she started Shishu Vihar Kendra at Bombay, which was a centre of Pre School Educational training. In 1945, she moved to Bordi & founded Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra. Later she moved in 1957 to Kosabad, tribal area.  Tarabai Modak and Sarla Devi Sarabhai (PSE worker) were called one of the two “ Montessori Mothers” as they have Indianized the Montessori education and popularized it.

Tarabai pioneered the concept of balwadi - a centre for preschool children. She started two types of balwadis at Bordi - Central Balwadis and Angan Balwadis. The central balwadis were run for five hours, had all essential educational materials and children were brought from their homes to the balwadis. The angan balwadis on the other hands were conducted in front of the parents in their courtyards; teachers would carry simple material and conduct songs and games on hygiene, cleanliness, oral language etc. Anutai Wagh was a professional colleague of Tarabai Modak and she along with Modak pioneered a programme whose curriculum was indigenous, used low cost teaching aids and was aimed at holistic development.

The concept of anganwadi in the ICDS scheme has been drawn from her work. And the inspiration that we can take from her work is that all children deserve a good education start to their lives. Its time for a public- private partnership to achieve this.

Rabindranath Tagore backed the Montessori pedagogy and established 'Tagore Montessorischools across the country in the 1940s.  Tagore wrote extensively on education and his story, ‘Tota Kahini’ (Parrot’s Training) is a satire on the education system and is sadly still relevant today. In 1929 the first International Montessori Congress was organised in Denmark. Tagore travelled to Denmark to attend this Congress and did you know that Jean Piaget was also part of this Congress! In 1940 when Montessori came to India, Tagore welcomed her with a letter. Tagore believed that education should begin with the training of instincts, emotions, self-reliance and co-operation. Then art, music and play should be introduced.
Today we take so many inspirations from global curriculum methods, but he advocated the following methods of teaching almost a century ago, which I think are so relevant even today for curriculum developers and educational boards designing their curriculum, both nationally and internationally.
      Peripatetic method: He was concerned with the association between body and mind in order to establish a total rhythm and harmony in life. The children should be taught drama and arts as compulsory subjects from the beginning. This is because the children need the opportunity to give expression to their feelings through their bodily movements.
      Activity method: He gave emphasis for activity method. He wanted children to understand the concepts through performing activities. For example to understand a verb “tear”, he used to make the children to tear some papers to master the concept of tearing.
      Environmental approach: He emphasized teaching through environment. He included more number of nature walks to teach the concepts for younger children. He believed in providing first hand experiences to children in their learning process through nature. The modern approach of learning by organizing “nature trails, in the subject of environmental studies are similar to the ideas of Tagore.
Its time to learn from Tagore and recognise that children are not unfinished adults and that the difference between children and adults requires different methods of learning.

In 1937 the scheme for new education or Nai Talim was introduced, but it was in 1944 that Mahatma Gandhi realized the importance of early childhood education.  "The real education begins from conception, as the mother begins to take up the responsibility of the child. It is very clear that if this new education is to be effective, its foundation must go deeper, it must begin not with the children but the parents and the community."
He gave the term 'Pre-Basic Education' for the education of children under seven years of age. Pre-basic education, he said, must aim at "the development of all their faculties, conducted by the school teachers in cooperation with the parents and the community in schools, in the home and in the village." "We labour under a sort of superstition that the child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the contrary, the fact is the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years.”  

The Pre-basic school is geared to the needs of the following four groups of children:
       Stage 1: Conception to birth
       Stage 2: Birth to 2 and a half years
       Stage 3: 2 and a half years to 4 years
       Stage 4: 4 years to 7 years
       The first two stages involve both the mother and the child. 
       Children from 2 and a half to 4 years of age are provided stimulating play activities. They are free to act, to move about and to choose their own activities. 
        After four years of age, the child participates in activities like cleaning the classroom, measuring and weighing things, and other similar activities. ' 
It is so heartening that the above is incorporated in the new NCERT preschool curriculum and the National Education Policy.

As we struggle to force handwriting skills on preschoolers, we must remember what Mahatma Gandhi had to say about the teaching of handwriting to young children, maybe this would cure us from our obsession to ensure that children write before they can read or understand!
“ I consider writing as a fine art. We kill it by imposing the alphabet on little children and making it the beginning of learning. Good handwriting is a necessary part of education, but I am now of the opinion that children should first be taught the art of drawing before learning how to write. Let the child learn letters by observation, as he/she does different objects such as flowers, birds etc. and let him learn handwriting only after he has learnt to ‘draw’ objects. First teach the child to draw straight lines, curves, triangles, birds, flowers, leaves, as that would help the child to draw and not to scrawl alphabets! Children should be taught to read before they learn to write.”
I hope curriculum designers are reading this, it is also mentioned in our new NCERT preschool curriculum, so download a copy and match your preschool curriculum to it to ensure that what these ECE pioneers worked so hard to prove is being practiced in our schools so that our children grow up learning what is developmentally appropriate.

All the ideas like experiential learning, hands on learning, play way, that we are bringing in our schools and thinking that they are new, were already practiced by our ECE pioneers even before independence. Its time to revisit, relearn about them and stop reinventing the wheel! Or at least stop giving credit for the wheel to others! Its time to celebrate our Indian ECE pioneers. Here are some books written by them that you can read for more inspiration and learning:
·         Gijubhai Badheka-  Divasvapna: An Educator's Reverie
       Rabindranath Tagore- A Parrot’s Training
       Anutai Wagh- Kosbadcha tekadivarun
       Mahatma Gandhi- Basic education
Early Childhood Association and Association for Primary Education and Research in partnership with Education World are proud to announce an Educators Pilgrimage to visit the inspirational places and works of these 4 ECE pioneers: Gijubhai Badheka, Tarabai Modak, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Join us on this immersive education pilgrimage. More details are given in this issue.

This article is written by Dr. Swati Popat Vats, a passionate crusader for the upliftment of early childhood education in our country, for ALL children. She is the President of the Early Childhood Association and Association for Primary Education and Research and is also the President of Podar Education Network where she heads 500 early childhood centres and 110 Early Childhood Teacher Training Programs.  She can be contacted on ecapresidentindia@gmail.com and urges all educators to visit www.eca-india.org and become a member and join this crusade to make early childhood education for all children in India a reality.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

After the rage, disbelief and gossip...

Day 2 after the article in Mumbai Mirror was published about the teenagers who crossed all boundaries of decent behaviour!

  1. Parents of ‘those’ boys must introspect, how did that cherubic baby that they held in their arms when it was born turn into this devil without boundaries spewing these sick things! Reflect at what stage and age did you go wrong and then rectify it going forward. 
  2. Other parents- did you discuss this incident with your young boys and girls? Please don’t think they don’t know about it. Its best to sit down with them face to face and without going into gory details make it clear to them that this kind of a behaviour is not acceptable and if they are indulging in something similar then they should admit right now or if they know if someone in their circle is doing something similar. 
  3. Schools its time for you to get strict too- have a meeting with your PTA, student council and come out with a better reporting mechanism so that such things can be nipped in the bud and maybe draft some rules and repercussions about such deeds. Words and actions that are not allowed for students and make parents follow them too. 
  4. Impulse control, self-regulation, empathy, the ability to understand right from wrong, moral values, logical thinking and courage not to bow down to bullies- these are the things that went wrong in this case. These are essential life skills; these are what make the difference between a good citizen and a criminal! Time for schools to assess if they are covering these essential life skills in their ‘curriculum’. Time for parents to assess themselves if they are covering these life lessons in their parenting.
  5. Time to also think about a more pertinent punishment for the boys rather than just removing them from the school. They will only become another school’s problem. 

Its time for schools and parents to start working together instead of working against each other. After all  is our future that is at stake here.
Dr. Swati Popat Vats
Parenting Mentor.

Sex and rage fuelled rant…

Sex and rage fuelled rant…

Mumbai city woke up today to a shocking story about how 11 to 14 year old boys were sending messages on whatsapp that were sexually derogatory against the girls in their class. I came to know about the story quite early when my whatsapp starting buzzing with messages from educators, who asked, “which school?” Shame on us for wanting to know which school, rather than wanting to understand what is going wrong with our children and us as a society!

I read many blog posts and social media posts about the article and here are some comments that I found particularly offensive and confusing-

  1. “We should thrash our children left, right and centre and they will then not indulge in such thrash!”- Written by a very educated parent, it suggests that because we are not beating our children, they are behaving this way and that by beating them; they would stop indulging in such things! Height of, sorry to say, but stupidity and illogical thinking! You hit kids, they retaliate, and they don’t conform! They either fear and face mental issues or they become offensive and indulge more.
  2. “We need to talk more about sex, we are not open as a society and that is why our children are indulging in these things!” –incorrect again! Ancient Indian temples had erotic carvings that were quite explicit and left nothing about sex and erotism to the imagination. Do you think there were no rapes in those times? There were!

As a sociology student we had a subject called Women and Society and the history of women in society was about being considered a property through whom the lineage of any culture or society would grow and progress. So it was the woman who was exchanged for territory, money, power and it was the woman who was raped when you wanted to show your power over a particular community or people or adulterate the lineage of any community or sect. Disgusting, but go through the history of rape and this is what is common in ancient communities around the world.

What is the reason our boys and men are behaving the way they are?
Are we failing as parents and educators? Are we too closed up about sex as a society? Is there too much of porn being viewed? Should movies stop item numbers? Should we make prostitution more available?

The solution is not so easy and will have to begin first in the family, with the parents.

  1. Children need to see women being respected in the family, having a voice and children need to see equality being practiced in the family. 
  2. Neither the boy nor the girl should be seen as being favoured or more important. Its time for parents to start being sensitive to gender bias and gender equality in every decision they make about their children and themselves. 
  3. Children need to hear their parents and their friends and relatives talk respectfully about women and girls. Be alert about anyone in your circle talking flippantly about girls or women. And please do not ask young toddlers and children whether their friend is their ‘boy/girl friend’..’Will you marry her/him’…its so sick, that at that young age you are turning every relationship with the other gender into an intimate relationship.
  4. If you are fond of watching porn, ensure that your children never, ever find any trace of it. It’s serious! Children can never get over the fact that their parents watch porn! And that leaves a huge impact on them. 
  5. When your child first asks you about porn or when you feel your children may be knowing about porn, probe with questions to find out what they know instead of being shocked and throwing a tantrum and making them feel ashamed about it. 
  6. Explain to your children what is porn and what are your family’s rules about porn. 
  7. Do’s and don’t about sex, sexual language, sexual references, sexual talk etc. should be discussed with your children, if you find them or their friends misusing it or abusing it.
  8. Children don’t become horrible adolescents over night! It is the same toddler that is now a teenager! So are you there when the child is growing up? Are you bonding with your child daily? Or do you just talk about studies and marks? That drives the worst wall between parents and children, when parents only talk to children to criticise them. 
  9. When you give a phone or allow children to use social media and the net, it should be with a condition, that you would regularly check it in front of them to monitor their use. Yes, you can and should do it as you are a parent and the child is a minor till age 18! Nothing to be shy about, better than thrashing the child!!
  10. Know your children’s friends…all friends. 

In the case of these 11 and 14 year olds, they are not inventing this kind of language! They have definitely heard either their parents or other adults talk derogatorily about women and sex. Or they have seen content that taught them that women and girls are just for sex and you can hurt them with sex. It is a sign of dominant ideology of patriarchy that is clear in their behaviour and that does not come from your genes, it is learnt and imitated behaviour gone unchecked and uncorrected for a very long time. If these boys had been taught to respect and if respect was given the highest priority in their behaviour they would have never ever broken the ‘taught’ boundary of respect.  Its time not only to counsel them but their parents too.

It’s also time to make children understand about consequences and that again will be easier to teach from childhood. It is part of impulse control and self-regulation, and needs to be an integral part of our upbringing and education of children.

Its time for parents and schools to regularly check the ‘mental’ content of children to understand if the content these young brains carry is age and developmentally appropriate and if not then to take immediate counselling action to ensure that we sensitise and sanitise their brains about sex, sexual behaviour and gender respect.
Dr. Swati Popat Vats
Parenting mentor

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Teaching kids about Chandrayan-2

Teaching kids about Chandrayan-2 

Dear all,

Chandrayan-2 can be a superb inquiry session with children aged 4 and above, depending on the age of the children in your class, use the below facts developmentally appropriately.
·         Start by making the children sit in a group or a circle and probe about what they know about Chandrayan and vikram.
·         Then add the following facts as and when required. Ensure that the session is not all about ‘giving gyaan’ but is more about having a discussion and hearing what children have to say and extending their knowledge.
·         Also ensure that you use the right photos and pictures from the ISRO website and not what you have received on whatsapp forwards.
·         Please understand that this will be a science topic to develop scientific thinking in children so avoid making the objects ‘talk’ as it confuses children and does not build scientific connections. I always say that in a classroom a teacher must know when to teach with stories and puppets and when to teach facts. (For example when children watch TV programs they know that what they watch on cartoon network is fiction and what they watch on national geographic is real, a good teacher must know this distinction)
·         You can start the session with songs and rhymes about the moon in various languages, but when talking about the facts of the mission talk scientifically.
·         You can use either STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) approach or Multiple Intelligences (musical rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical- mathematical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic.
So link facts to these from the ones given below, don’t forget to do point no. 
Download pictures from this link to use- - www.isro.gov.in

Some facts about Chandrayan-2 mission of India-

1.America, Russia and China have explored the moon.

2. But all have explored the north pole on the moon.

3.What is ISRO- Indian space research organisation- it is based in Bangalore (show CORRECT map of India, see if they know where it is)  

4.You can also show them website of ISRO if required- www.isro.gov.in here it is important to teach children that when we receive some news on whatsapp we should double check with the ISRO website to know the real facts. (This is called seeking evidence, this will be our way of laying the foundation of teaching children about fake news.)

5.Point to picture of Dr. Shiven ISRO head and hundred’s of scientists worked on Chandrayan-1 and 2 missions.

6. Here many children may talk about how our PM was consoling/hugging Dr. Shiven. Good opportunity to talk about emotions. That it is ok to feel sad and be upset when we fail or think we are not going to be successful or get what we wanted and the best way to cope with such emotions is to cry or talk to someone and that is what you see happening. It is ok for everyone to cry. (In many areas you may get children who may say that it is sissy to cry or boys don’t cry, so use this opportunity to teach that crying is a way of showing your emotion just like you smile or laugh when happy, similarly you cry when upset, nothing wrong and everyone can cry, even boys and men)

7. Why is the Indian mission named Chandrayan? It means “Moon Craft” in Sanskrit language. (Ancient-oldest language of India)

8.Just like you have an aircraft this is a moon craft. It was the size of a refrigerator

9. What was chandrayan-1? It was the first orbiter sent to the moon and orbited around the moon from a distance (100kms to 200 kms)

10.India launched Chandrayan-1 in 2008 and it brought back pictures of water on the moon- slabs of water ice buried in the craters.

11. So India launched Chandrayan -2

12.That is why Chandrayan -2 mission has a rover to physically land on the moon to explore this evidence of water.

13.India wanted to explore the south pole by doing a soft landing of its robot- vikram lander

14.What is chandrayan-2 mission? Chandrayan- 2 is India’s moon mission to explore the southern side of the moon

15.  It was launched from Satish Dhawan Space center- Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh on July 22 (show CORRECT map of India, see if they know where it is)

16. Chandrayan-2 has an orbiter, lander and rover to explore the unexplored south pole of moon

17.So the chandrayan-2 orbiter has already reached the moon and is orbiting around it

18.The orbiter has a camera and it is like the camera on a mobile phone but much better with very high resolution

19.It will work on solar power

20.The chandrayan-2 also had a lander with an rover

21.The lander is named vikram and the rover is named Pragyan

22.Vikram lander was to make a soft landing on the moon and release Pragyan rover who would then be active for 14 days exploring the physical moon surface.

23. On September 7th at 1.53 am the vikram lander came very close to the moon but a little away from landing it lost communication with ISRO

24.So presently we don’t know what is the situation of vikram lander and pragyan rover. It could have landed   we don’t know as we have lost communication with it.

25.Here it is very important that you don’t say anything that is not a fact, don’t say it is destroyed or crashed etc. give facts that are evidence based only.

26.How was ISRO communicating with Chandrayan-2? With a high velocity signal there was communication through data. So its not like they were connected with a mobile phone or TV. It would send messages in codes to ISRO that the scientists would then decode.

27.The orbiter that is presently around the moon will keep sending signals and images to ISRO and will be orbiting for the next 7 years.

28.Also the Vikram lander can be connected to for 14 days, so ISRO will keep trying to communicate with it

29.What was the difference between chandrayan-1 and chandrayan-2? Chandrayan 1 was an orbiter that orbited around the moon and took pictures from a distance (100- 200 kms) whereas Chandrayan -2 has an Orbiter and a rover. So the orbiter to orbit around the moon and take photos and the rover to land on the moon and explore 

30. What would have happened if Vikram lander had landed on the moon?
When vikram would have landed on the moon, Pragyan rover attached to Vikram’s door would be exposed to the sun after the door opens. Soon after getting solar energy the rover’s battery would be activated. The rover has 6 wheels with our tricolour and an ISRO logo embossed on it. It would move at a speed of 1 cm per second and use navigation cameras to scan its surroundings. The scanned data would be sent to Vikram to send to ISRO, as Pragyan does not have its own signalling system. During its lifespan of 14 days Pragyan would cover 500 metres on the moon.

31.Your art links can be stamping or embossing the Asoka emblem, singing songs and rhymes, making the models of the Chandrayan, Vikram and Pragyan etc. And helping children express by drawing (don’t forge to document their drawings).

All the best, lets make children aware about Chandrayan-2 and use it to teach ‘academic skills’ the inquiry way.

        If you use this do send me your photos etc. on 9819121384.

       Dr. Swati Popat Vats.