Systems, not tools for the 21st-century learners
Sarvesh Srinivasan, Executive Director at GEAR Foundation that manages Bangalore’s premium GEAR Innovative Intl. School, spoke to Flow about his work, vision, thoughts for the future of learning and what schools look for when they work with culture partners.
On challenges to setting up the school
Most of my childhood, age 9 onwards, was centered around my father’s dream of establishing his school. I have experienced first hand the difficulties and challenges he faced in his journey. One of his earlier struggles included facing the rampant red-tapism in the Karnataka Education department that made obtaining permissions to start an English medium school an extremely circuitous and slow process. Eventually, he resorted to taking over a preexisting school which on paper had proper infrastructure and 400 students but in reality functioned out of a rented house and had a student strength that was pitiably less than projected. For my father, who had worked abroad and saved up for his dream to set up a model school in India, these on-ground realities were like a rude awakening.
Through his struggle, he identified for me the two mindsets that had to be dealt with to execute any good work: short sightedness and opportunism. I feel these two culprits have led us to be a society with tremendous potential but little evidence to show for it. If we as a community begin respecting each other’s work and do not look for self-gain at every opportunity, we can truly be a superpower nation.
On the pedagogical tools and experiments that seem vital and likely to be integrated into his school’s ecosystem
What we see as important and crucial to a school environment is not really integrating a few pedagogical tools and experiments, but rather systems that address values and mindsets that will make children better human beings. As the world progresses to a more technologically dependent society, the human connection is slowly fading away and with that morals and empathy also begin to dilute.
Instilling a sense of community, respect, integrity, tolerance, and appreciation for difference within each child is of utmost priority to us. Isn’t that the true purpose of education, to foster qualities that make a child a better human being!
On Flow’s One Eye Sees and the Other Feels, a three-day long Integrated Creative Enquiry Programme
The Flow programme gave a great platform where children of classes 6, 7 and 8 were introduced to the medium of art through a select art exhibits. This resulted in children becoming more aware of the world that is associated with the art and history of the chosen objects, an understanding few adults would claim to have. The age group the programme was designed for was definitely ideal to begin this process in a school.
The activities and discussions planned helped enhance skills and undid misconceptions associated with art thus, laying the seed for each child to come up with her or his own outlook.
I feel in ideal circumstances the programme needs to allocate more to the activities conducted in the introductory section, especially, if it intends to tie in all the possible learnings needed by students to have a better grip on understanding the exhibits in museums and collections and feel excited to self-learn and explore further.
Recommendations for culture practitioners in the field of education
Most importantly, we need to be able to help children relate with and engage with the process. There has to be a hook or a bait that lures children into discussions on art and culture which would make them more receptive to learning from peers, educators, external facilitators and museum and cultural spaces.
We as a nation or community do not have enough cultural practitioners working with children, hence, the onus lies on the few to ensure they empower the educators they come across to take the mission forward. Empowering the educators, empowers the students and the community at large.
With every art-based intervention, a planned follow-through is a must too. Since the discussion around art and culture is very limited in school environments, there has to be a constant reminder for educators and learners about the possibilities and strategies to using them in their classrooms. Practitioners must ensure the educators and children they have interacted with do not fall back on the old chalk-and-talk model, otherwise, the planned art intervention would amount to being a feel-good experience rather than one with long-term impact. When culture practitioners are trying to change a person’s thought process they must remember that without offering the person an opportunity to frequently engage with the stimuli, it is very easy for the newly inducted to fall back into his or her comfort zone of the good old days. Follow up on the part of the practitioners is very important and a crucial aspect that has to be addressed to ensure that art interventions have a long lasting and continued impact on all.