It was the first week of October. The 'Gandhi week' so to speak. What better way to celebrate Gandhi Jayanti that falls on October 2nd than to discuss Gandhi's ideas on school education?! Nai Talim. The Ragi Project in one way is the New/ Nai, Nai Talim- an attempt to reinvent Gandhi's core ideas for our times.
Before we harvested the crop, we wanted classes other than class 4, 5, and 6 to visit the farm. In projects like this where we explore the connect between schooling and society there is a whole lot that we can do with senior kids. They can be nurtured into being young change agents and the school can serve as a learning centre ( in this case, for anyone interested in organic farming) .
Imagine if older kids form a club and help nearby farmers by testing their soil? Or suggest ways to enhance soil quality? Prepare and offer their school made Jeevamruta? Write downloadable content around how to farm ecologically? Build their own seed bank?
There is so much more scope and so many skills to learn in these small scale community projects that the senior students can lead.
Sujit, my senior colleague at the University, keeps egging me on to rethink schooling and often points me to that famous Bernard Shaw's quote, "You see things , and say why ? But I dream things that never were , and I say why not ? "
Yes! why not?!!! :)
Anyways to come back to what we have now; the school has its own rhythm and timetable. The teachers and kids were all leaving on their annual trips for different places on the weekend (some even before). Yet, Reena and Rachita managed to take some time out and convert their history lesson for class 9 to a lesson around 'Aims of education'. It tied in well as these students were also about to visit a NGO run tribal school in Orissa as part of their annual trip.
They also encouraged these senior kids to interview 5 students involved in growing Ragi to understand how the Ragi farming project helped them in their studies/education. The class together came up with a questionnaire for the same .
Later I overheard a few interview answers and found this peer to peer evaluation fascinating. What a great idea that was! Reena asked me in later weeks to come speak to these kids in the classroom on the 'why' of the project and we ended up talking about all kind of things related to ecology of food. I was pleasantly surprised to find many kids talking about the presence of millets and red rice in their everyday diets! I later reflected on this classroom discussion in my own classroom with the undergraduates and felt how deeply political is this act of growing your own food which has a low carbon footprint . Gandhi! the champion of subversive politics? !
Madhu's friend Aparna from GKVK is willing to come and do a soil testing exercise with kids before we sow Ragi. Reena and Sreeja will get homemade compost and leaf litter to add to the soil and we will test again after a month.
So, what is soil testing and why should we do it? How can kids do this, learn, and have fun at the same time? Friends are helping out with different suggestions. Indira pitched in with resources around Soil that she has already tried out with Poorna kids before.
A lazy internet search informed me that in 2007, Bangalore commissioned three hi-tech mobile soil testing laboratories to help farmers test their soil.
If kids learn these simple tests well can they go around Poorna testing farmer's lands for free? Or perhaps they can be paid soil testers- charging a nominal fee to recover the cost of these kits? Who knows?
What is that wonderful quote by George Bernard Shaw?
You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'
Here are a few teachers' resources shared by folks around soil testing with kids:
1. Soil Science Society of America
2. The Compost Gardener
3. Let’s explore plants and soils : a curriculum resource / Nova Scotia. Department of Education.
4. NCERT's Handbook of Environmental Education Activities, Developed by Centre for Environmental Education