If we were to have a conversation with a fellow parent or a teacher about the woes of the education system today, we typically get a few pointed gripes- too much focus on tests, demotivated teachers, underperforming students, lack of resources, irrelevant syllabus, outdated scoring system.
If we were to connect the dots from all of these pointers- it would lead us to one simplistic problem statement- Children are told what to learn, instead of how to learn.
Today’s research and experimentation trends on education lead us to many ‘revelations’ – A recent CNN article pointed to meditation replacing detention for changing student behavior. Another New York Times article points to mindfulness being part of the curriculum. Harvard Business School now recommends storytelling as a very effective tool for communication- from the business room to the classroom. We see angry outbursts at children’s shrinking recess times, ascertaining that children need more play, more movement.
These are timeless tools, and every teacher needs them, but they are by no means ‘new.’ One man, over a hundred years ago, painstakingly experimented with various teaching techniques and established their effectiveness in the classroom.
‘ Once Upon A Story’ is a book co-authored by Vinita Ramchandani, a children’s author and Dr. Swati Popat Vats, a fierce education activist and advocate of stress-free education. The book beautifully captures the trepidations and the implicit courage involved in the achievements of this mild-mannered, anxious but tenacious man; especially at a time when resources were limited by both availability and authority.
Written by Vinita, children’s book author and storytellers and Dr. Swati Popat Vats, a fierce advocate of stress-free education for children; ‘Once Upon A Story’ is a book that chronicles the life, experiments and experiences of Gijubhai Badheka. Born Girijashankar Bhagwanji Badheka, Gijubhai led a quiet revolution in the classroom, with resources limited both by availability and authority.
The authors have brilliantly documented the different approaches he tried, the challenges he faced, his change of strategy, his unique metric for success. I loved reading about the mindfulness practice he incorporated in his class of boisterous boys through “The Silence Game” where he invites the boys to a few minutes of silence while gently guiding them to listen to the sounds around them. Much unlike the “SILENCE!!!!!”, you hear in classrooms today.
Corporal punishment was a norm in those days but was a complete no-no for Gijubhai. So, what did he do to effectively combat the problem? He created the “Vanar Sena” – mini-pools of child advocates against corporal punishment who were the eyes, ears, and voices of the no-corporal punishment policy. He empowered the children to report, and talk to any adults to let them see the ineffectiveness of corporal punishment. Today, social behavioral research points to ‘peer advocacy‘ as the most effective strategy against bullying.
The authors uphold the book’s relevance by establishing that his teaching methods are making a comeback- in fact, today’s forward-thinking schools differentiate themselves by incorporating many of the teaching methodologies that Gijubhai established in India, over a century ago.
Nature- play, sensorial learning, multidisciplinary learning, learning through storytelling- Gijubhai’s methods are not just relevant, they are highly necessary today. The book concludes with a chapter on “How Gijubhai would have used technology in his Classroom?”, corroborating the evergreen relevance of his methods and techniques.
“Once Upon A Story” is a must-read for every educator aspiring to make a real difference.