The kids were all over the place, running amok in glee. Well, that’s what was apparent to fellow travellers staring at us, askance expressions on their faces! We teachers, smiled back at them, beaming with our all-knowing demeanours. We knew the method to the madness. We had created it. To us the madness indicated the levels of engagement, the depth of learning.
This was in Amber Fort, Jaipur. More than 100 primary and middle school students were working in explorer groups to unravel the secrets of history, geography, mathematics, architecture and politics ensconced in this epoch of a building. They had half an hour to run around, find information, places, justifications, rationales and possibilities to answer the set of thinking questions assigned to each group. Each little discovery was a little victory of team work. Within their teams, they distributed areas of work, defined timelines, planned circle-back discussions and brainstormed conclusions based on analyses of evidence collected. Can learning be better achieved in a 30 minute lesson?
And yet, all that is but a trickle in the stream of true learning that naturally gets integrated with travelling. The planning of a journey, backpacking for survival in unknown territory, often with unfamiliar companions, dealing with an array of deranged deep emotions, exploring, navigating, improvising to make it all work out better… it’s a simulation of life, a simulation of growing up and becoming. Each journey is a piece in the Bildungsroman.
To the educator, travelling with children is an opportunity to create a multi-level and thoroughly inclusive classroom. Toto Chan’s classrooms made out of converted railway coaches metaphorically capture the essence. The child’s eyes, wistfully peering out of the classroom window, stand for the innate desire to break the shingles and learn from the world out there. Birds frolicking to create their nest in the tree trunk outside the class window, are bound to be more interesting than black and white boards filled with semantic symbols. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre too looks at the horizon from the castle’s daunting walls. Freedom lures and yet we have our innate fears of freedom to tackle as well! Human existence is quite a paradox. Yet, for better or worse, we are changing, evolving from Man to Superman, or should I say Superhuman (to satisfy my gender-sensitive self).
If I had my way as a teacher, schools would be a series of journeys, curriculum a travelogue…planned like lessons, but not to the ‘t’, leaving room for unpredictability, students’ ideas, creativity, inquiry. Virtual reality is making some things come alive but it’s still far from my dream Travelogue School. Nevertheless, some of my most memorable experiences as a teacher have been journeys with children. From learning King Fu at the Shaolin temple in China, wielding the veils with my skimpily clad girls (by some cultural standards) at the Grand mosque in Dubai, making castles on the beach to excavating deserts and brazing the heights of Himalayan ranges, these journeys have charted my life as a teacher. Perhaps, more apt terminology would be a learner, an explorer. Observing my spirited young globe trotters navigating their way through cultures, cuisines, arts, history and languages of human civilisations in varied geographies, I have often admired the merging of dissimilarities, the acceptance of the ‘Other’, an effortless sensitivity to global concerns emerging naturally. This is global citizenship moving beyond the here and now, to much larger paradigms.
Perhaps nothing motivates a teacher more than the joyous sense of achievement on a child’s face, the unadulterated hunger for knowledge, the right questions… It’s our manna in the incessant journey of learning. The destination is for our students to reach. We take pride in them when they do, but our bliss is in the quest itself.