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UNICEF-supported workshop in Rishi Valley hopes to bring children back in classrooms in The Andaman & Nicobar Islands

© UNICEF/India/2005
Dr. Padmanabha Rao, Co-director Rishi Valley institute of Educational Research (RIVER), at a workshop with teachers from Andaman and Nicobar who have come to learn new innovative methods of teaching.


By Priyanka Khanna

Madanapalle (Andhra Pradesh), September 2005- “If a hurricane like Katrina or a tsunami swept away the huts of six people, what would you do if you had only two houses to offer them?” a teacher asks Gayatri, as a group of wide-eyed children look on.

“Three people will stay in one hut and three in the other,” she quickly responds, directing three classmates toward one make-believe hut and three others to another. One look at her smiling teacher and the six-year-old breaks into rapturous laughter, knowing she got it right.
"Simulation is a good way of teaching children mathematical division and keeps them informed about current events, but I hope no child faces a tsunami ever again”
Such role-playing is one of several methods used by teachers like twenty-three year-old T. Venu, who have been trained by the Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources (RIVER) to make learning as enjoyable as possible and use it also as a tool to increase the retention power of children. Venu, who has no formal degree in teaching, uses group work, storytelling, crafts, music, athletics, drama and even puppetry to enliven learning for children aged four to ten in his one-room village school.

 “This kind of simulation is a good way of teaching children mathematical division and keeps them informed about current events, but I hope no child faces a tsunami ever again,” said Digvijay Singh. Digvijay is among a group of teachers from India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands attending a UNICEF-supported workshop held in Rishi Valley in Madanapalle district of Andhra Pradesh to help educators make classroom environments child-friendly and free from fear. Because the islands bore the brunt of the Boxing Day tsunami, he knows only too well the trauma such incidents can inflict on students.

The Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources (RIVER), which is a part of the Rishi Valley School, has developed a comprehensive educational programme for primary schools and imparts training to educators from all over the world. This particular workshop was for teachers from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that were affected severely by the December tsunami. Teachers trained by RIVER work in remote villages in Madanapalle district. Teachers from other states have also adopted the methodology and adapted it to their own environment and specific needs.

© UNICEF/India/2005
A class room of Rishi valley school

The tsunami hit the education sector on the islands hard, said UNICEF programme coordinator Subhash Mishra. Education quality is a major concern, with only 40 per cent of the children making it to the next grade. In Banda, there is only one primary school catering to students in a 10-km radius. On another island, only six schools of the ten remain standing. Continuing tremors have weakened school buildings, Mishra adds.

Children in Andaman and Nicobar are still scared and do not want to come to school, said R. N. Tiwari, who teaches in a government-run school in Little Andaman. “Those who do attend are not attentive. The recurring tremors don’t allow them to forget the horrors of that day. If we change our methodology and make our teaching more interesting, maybe things will change.”

“The first thing we noticed when we went to RIVER school was that there was no sound. The children were truly enjoying their lessons,” says Pinaki Devnath, of Andaman. “The educational programme is free, fearless and activity based. Unique ways are being used to teach children language and mathematics. Imagine using sticks or a ‘metric mela’ {a fair in which children have fun while learning} to understand simple mathematics.”
“Those (children) who do attend are not attentive. The recurring tremors don’t allow them to forget the horrors of that day. If we change our methodology and make our teaching more interesting, maybe things will change.”


On the third day of the workshop, teachers are taken to one such ‘metric mela’. “We had heard about it from our instructor, but what we see takes us by surprise,” said Pinaki. The atmosphere at the school was that of a carnival. Children aged six to ten, dressed in their finery, were selling hot eatables or managing stalls, gauging weights, heights or lengths of their noses. All the activities were geared toward demystifying concepts like weights, heights, lengths, time, money, and simple mathematics.

“It is well established that children learn more when they are enjoying,” said Dr. M. Ayyaruju, Assistant Director of Education of the Andaman and Nicobar administration. “The methodology being practiced here will help our teachers create joyful environments back home.”

UNICEF has played a major role in the relief, recovery and rehabilitation of tsunami-affected areas, and is working with the government to improve child learning environments, with financial support from Japan, Switzerland and France.

 

 

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