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When kids help in taking stock of books

Anshumalika Rai and Nimesh Ved write about a project where students took charge and showed the way to teachers
Last Updated : 10 June 2024, 22:56 IST
Last Updated : 10 June 2024, 22:56 IST
Last Updated : 10 June 2024, 22:56 IST
Last Updated : 10 June 2024, 22:56 IST

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Working in a Hindi-medium school on the outskirts of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, which caters to the financially underprivileged, we realised that languages warrant focus.

A quick look at our school before we jump on to the details. We focus on languages: Hindi and English. The book room is a favoured place. Students of classes 7 and 8, the senior-most children, help us take care of the book room. The idea is to deepen their engagement with books. 

This year, we got a tad ambitious. The annual stock-taking turned into a project: one room, five days, 1,500 books, and 30 children of Class 7. As we look back, we realise that throughout the project, it was not the children assisting us, as we had once envisaged, but the other way around—we were assisting the children.

Now, the project.

Planning

We began by asking: How can we do this together best? Questions and answers flowed to bind the project together.

As we formed groups, we realised we were in deeper waters than we had envisaged. We had considered the class strength to be 30, but the children pointed out that the average attendance over the past few days was 25, and we needed to plan the groups accordingly. They had a point—on average, five of their classmates, equivalent to one group, were absent over the past few days.

Children allocated tasks themselves. One of the groups had no specific role. When we asked them about this, they said that this group would assist the other groups when the need arose and coordinate amongst groups. Their clarity and confidence had us go happily silent.

One action was to note ‘remarks’ in the list for each book—whether it was to be repaired, discarded, handed over to a teacher, moved to the almirah, or lost. The children could not agree with this, and they asked us to take responsibility for noting ‘remarks’. 

This mix of seriousness, fun and simplicity that the children brought to the project made all the difference. 

Action

Each day began and ended with a group chat. Children open up about their difficulties, mischief, what they enjoy most, books, etc. At the end of each day, they updated the status of the exercise on the board. 

While mending the books the children also got lost in reading some of them. These were instances of welcome delays.

Spreading the books out on the floor one day felt special. The room felt different, and many hidden poems and stories came out in the open.

During the process, the damaged books became ‘sick’ books that needed treatment, while the discarded books were declared ‘dead’. Children infused ‘life’ into the books. 

We also noticed that four of them did not participate in the action. After a point, we conveyed that they could go home. They did not claim to contribute but said they were enjoying themselves. They insisted on being around their friends when they were working with books. It struck us, albeit somewhat late, that these four struggled with reading and writing in the class. We were perhaps too fast for them to keep up with. 

Our initial concerns that the children may get bored or tired with this ‘full-day’ exercise were misplaced. They were in no hurry to leave, even after the bell rang. At some point, we, too, stopped looking at this exercise as a task and immersed ourselves.

The book room had finally become a co-owned space! 

Lessons

A few questions and reminders.

How much of this—bonding, observing, listening, mahaul—would have been possible in the regular school schedule, with a bell ringing every 45 minutes and our urge to complete the syllabus?

What other mundane, mandatory, or otherwise school activities can provide such learning opportunities?

How ready are we for children who are evolving faster than we are? Do we need co-owned spaces at school? Do we need meaningful, two-way, and equitable conversations?

How much did it help that we brought in neither subjects nor gadgets amidst the books, children and us?

These five days have enabled learning like a few others, underscoring that the journey is more pertinent than the destination. We had set out to take stock of books, but we ended up taking stock of ourselves instead of children.

Finally, trust and children bring us to John Holt, “trust children, nothing could be more simple, or more difficult”. However, “to trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves”. And, we take the liberty to add—trust each other.

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Published 10 June 2024, 22:56 IST

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