As I see the world...

As I see the world...

Reflections

As I see the world...

It all began one lazy Sunday afternoon with a pile of old National Geographics landing on the floor between my nephew and myself. As he bent down to take in the brightly-coloured maps and pictures, I knew I was in trouble. Letting your seven-year-old inquisitive nephew lay his hands on the whole world squeezed into 1,000-odd pages can be scary. But I took up the challenge and lived through hours of globe-hopping.

We dived in the Mariana Trench aboard the Challenger expedition, joined the reindeers in Lapland while watching the midnight sun, and fitted in continents like jigsaw puzzle pieces to see what Alfred Wegener’s supercontinent must have looked like.

Our learning odyssey just seemed to get better with a mid-week assignment turning up in the homework diary. The kids were asked to express their ideas on what the earth looked like. Spilling his plans for a pictorial representation between mouthfuls of rice and dal (much to the chagrin of his mother), the budding geographer requested me to help him.

After a few hours of amateur cartography, we had our very own handmade world map. With puffs of cotton looming over cold Siberia, blades of grass from backyard sitting pretty in the Prairies, a brilliant blue depicting oceans and yellow lentil seeds conjuring images of dust storms in the Sahara, the little creation became my nephew’s magnum opus, quietly nudging the wooden airplane assembled last summer off the shelf.

And then the heartbreaker arrived next afternoon. He’d barely taken off his school bag when he began demolishing the prized jewel. His work had been rejected and a mortifying ‘redo’ was handed over.

Apparently, the teacher was looking for a standard ‘round’ earth smothered with glittering sequins and taglines that read ‘green world’/ ‘clean world’/ ‘peaceful world’ and the clichéd likes. It was supposed to be a creative exercise, she claimed, and was dismissive of the whole map-making venture qualifying as one.

While gathering the shredded pieces, I wondered if she was ever introduced to Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences for classroom teaching.

He rejects the idea of intelligence being monolithic and gives it a multi-faceted makeover comprising not only the conventional arenas of linguistics-mathematics but also the oft-neglected brethren such as artistic, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. He goes on to suggest that each one of us is better in some aspects and weaker in the others.

Ideally, the medium chosen (both for teaching and evaluating the kid) should be one that resonates the best with a child’s strengths. Much to her surprise then, the earth can not only be expressed as a glitter ball or a plain map, but also as a musical or a poetical composition, depending on a child’s creativity. The idea, at least at the primary stage, is to get him to express through any channel.

Another beautiful exercise could be to form complementary groups by teaming kids who are good in diverse skill sets. A map paired with a verbal description of the earth and a corresponding musical theme can even coax the most bored kids into having a ball.

As my nephew got busy carving out a perkier and glossier earth, I argued with his mom about letting me share all the multi-intelligence and creative teaching strategies bit with his teacher. She decided against it and the matter was sealed. There was a soft knock on my door after dinner and the little discoverer requested me to help him locate the Dead Sea.

Chinks in our education system can be disheartening, leaving us worried if all those fat-fee cheques are indeed steering our children towards knowledge, or getting him off the map. But it is in moments like these, when our fingers and curious faces follow the mesh of routes on the map while exploring endless possibilities, that my faith in the eternal human quest for learning is reinforced.

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