A thousand methods...

“Social Studies rarely created any interest among children and it was a challenge for teachers too,” says Lalitha, assistant teacher at Heggodu Higher Primary School, Shimoga district. Notions about the subject have changed over the past decade.

“We have understood that history is much more than memorising certain years, important kings and their expeditions. Exploring art, culture, sculpture, architecture, economy, polity and social life has helped us know the manner in which society has evolved.”

Supriya, studying in the seventh standard, unfolds a booklet that illustrates the geography of South America. “This book supplements whatever we read in the textbook,” she says. She pulls out one book after another to explain how these resource books help convert information in the textbooks into knowledge.

Every month, 1,230 Kannada-medium schools — urban and rural, government and private — in Karnataka wait for resource materials that enrich the knowledge base of both teachers and students.

One student likes to read the stories, which gives her another dimension of a chapter that is just over, while her friend wants to draw a map of her locality after carefully observing the given pattern. A group of children discuss the natural and social features of their village in comparison to a distant region. Another child is inspired by Kannada litterateur Rao Bahadur’s story based on an incident during the struggle for Independence. So much so that he was motivated to write a poem. Social Studies and Kannada have overcome the tag of being ‘monotonous’, thanks to the resource materials developed by Dhwani Educational Resource Centre. An outcome of the experiences and experiments of educationist Shivananda Hombal, Dhwani has been working with schools to make learning enjoyable and also applicable.

Nobel cause

His research with children during his stint at Valley School as a Kannada teacher, and his experience as an author of workbooks in Kannada, helped him develop materials that enhance children’s creativity. Language has its roots in the culture of a region and has evolved with the society. Shivanand Hombal feels that language and history should go hand in hand.

A couple of years in the beginning was spent giving shape to the mode of activities and interaction with like-minded persons like Dr Gananath, Dr Basavaraj Kalgudi, H R Prabhakar and Raghavan Srinivasan helped bring clarity to his ideas. A full-fledged Support Resource Material Programme began in 2004.

Then, Dhwani was based in Bangalore, and, naturally, the first phase of implementation took place here. The team identified 12 schools from Bangalore urban and rural areas as programme partners. While selecting the school, along with the school head’s inclination, they also looked at the participating teacher’s interest, aptitude and commitment.

Dhwani has set certain conditions for partner schools. The chosen teacher should continue with the same subject, same batch and be in the project for at least three continuous years. A two-day orientation is held for teachers every year; one day is for field trips and the location is of academic interest. Such trips have facilitated a creative expression among teachers. Back in school, teachers repeat similar exercises with students. They have started writing articles and sharing knowledge; discussions include essentials of education and ways of understanding a child.

“In two years, the teachers’ attitude towards the subjects changed!” exclaims Hombal. Once found useful, teachers shared their experiences on different platforms, prompting other schools to approach Dhwani. Now, after eight years, Dhwani works with 30 schools in seven districts. All children get resource materials tailored to the lesson plan each month. A Dhwani team personally delivers reading materials to nearby schools, which is also an occasion to spend time with teachers and students. Apart from this, they make sure to visit all schools at least once a year to see how far the programme has been implemented, clear doubts and get feedback. Though the overall format remains the same, every year, the content is revised and 15 per cent of it changes.

“We do not charge for training, and resource materials are sent for free. Travel charges are borne by the teachers. They complement our efforts through their commitment,” says Hombal.

“We have been part of the project since its beginning. Workbooks facilitate better understanding among children. The exercises are two-way, children read them while there is also scope for expression in the form of writing their views on a topic, observation of a certain concept, etc. Three-dimensional models and replicas ensure that children touch and feel historical artefacts. These resource materials become a reference material for teachers. The entire project is complementary to Nali-Kali programme implemented in the school,” explains Manjula, Head Teacher at the Government Higher Primary School in Kurubarahalli, Bangalore.

Trainings are held in Chamarajanagar, Bangalore, Dharwad (covering Gadag, Belgaum and Dharwad districts) and Shimoga (Chikmagalur, Shimoga and Dakshina Kannada districts).

Main projects

Arambha and Poorana are Dhwani’s two main projects. Arambha focuses on first to fourth standard students. Resource materials are for Kannada language, Environmental Science and Conceptual Drawing. The aim is to make children familiar with their immediate environment through activities and visually appealing resources, and develop language skills.

Poorana caters to fifth to seventh standard students and the materials are tailored to lessons in Kannada, Social Studies and creative development. Workbooks, story collections, activities, information sheets and 3D models help deepen the understanding of children. “Even a slow learner, who is not keen on learning geography, likes to identify rivers and forests on the map,” says Lalitha.

Raghu, a resource person at the Teachers’ Resource Centre, Chamarajanagar, observes, “We are implementing the project in 30 government schools in the district using resource materials from Dhwani.”

To pool the resources, the Dhwani team relies on field visits, exploring and photographing various historical and cultural sites. Teachers are so convinced by the effort that every school wants to be a part of the project. Since Dhwani doesn’t want to dilute the programme, it has limited itself to 30 schools.

When teachers offered to pay for the material from their pockets, they were moved. This gave birth to the idea of ‘Mitra’ schools. Schools pay a token amount of Rs 250 per year to become a ‘friend’ of the project. In turn, they get three copies of resource materials each month. Teachers sometimes photocopy these materials and distribute them among children. This has led to a classroom library concept. Presently, 1,200 schools are part of this. Funding agencies donate 40 per cent of the project cost and the remaining is contributed by donors and well-wishers.

Each month, teachers give feedback. “It is satisfying that we reach 42,000 children every month. Hundreds of letters written by children inspire us to work harder,” says Hombal.
Raja-Maja is an activity book that is sent to 5,000 children across the state during summer vacations upon request. Once they enter high school, children start missing Dhwani materials. When they write to Dhwani with specific academic needs, the team tries its best to cater to them.

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