The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky – Margaret McMillan
A young preteen couldn’t contain her excitement. While she enthusiastically told me about her trip, what caught my attention was the overall impact the trip had on her self-belief and the resulting confidence levels. The highly spirited girl was all about, ‘I Can’. I can stay away from my parents, I can do all my routine chores by myself, I can make friends with people I don’t know, I can ask for help from villagers, I can manage money, I can travel by the local bus…her list seemed never ending.
This young girl was part of a unique programme organized by her school Jnana Prabodhini Gurukul, Nigdi. These outstation tours called, “Matrubhumi Parichay” (getting to know the motherland) aim at creating awareness, love, and sensitivity toward our people and our diverse culture and traditions. Listening to her talk, I wished that all schools thought similarly and organized such tours for their children – tours that bring children closer to people from different communities, rejoice in the differences, become sensitive to their culture and traditions and develop love for the nation and harmony in society.
Today, schools offer various excursion programmes to their students, but very few come close to Jnana Prabodhini’s “Matrubhumi Parichay”. These programmes are broadly classified into – day trips and outstation tours. Day trips are day-long trips where students spend the day at the destination and are back home before night time. Day trips include field trips with specific learning objectives and day-long fun picnics. Students going for outstation tours spend a few days away from home and these include study tours and camps. There is no standard practice in naming such excursions and every school terms them differently – exposure visits, field visits, educational tours, camping tours, outstation trips, etc. The difference is not only in the terminology, but also in what kind of programs are included as excursions. Overnight camps conducted within the school premises, resource person visits, and class participation in events and competitions are also included in the excursion gamut.
Shiv Nadar school, Noida a school inclusive in its approach and vision conducts grade specific outstation trips to places where children learn and get acquainted with our natural environment and history. They take the children into the wilderness, national parks, and forest reserves, or to historical sites. By living in a natural environment, the children not only learn various academic concepts, but get sensitized to nature’s beauty and the local inhabitants. Historical sites help students understand our history and the ways of life during those times. Sanskriti school, Pune, too believes that outstation trips, especially adventure camps are very important as they enhance the risk taking ability of an individual and teach the importance of team work.
Such outstation tours are optional programmes. Parents can choose to not send their children for such tours. Ms. Neha Teredesai, the Vice Principal noted that, “These tours are not mandatory, not all children can bear the expense of the trips. Plus, some students might have already seen the place of visit and may not want to visit it again.” Children with certain medical conditions are advised to not go for such trips. I have not sent my 10 year old for any of the optional outstation trips organized by his school, as the trips are not grade specific. Children from different grades and divisions can opt to attend them, making me unsure whether my son is ready to be with a group of students unknown to him. The school acts only as a liaison between the students and the travel company and may not send any of their teachers for these trips and does not undertake responsibility for the children making me even more apprehensive about sending him.
Unlike my son’s school, Shiv Nadar organizes grade specific tours and encourages all students to participate. The school teachers are part of the camps and children have their fellow classmates with them on these tours. The school also organizes resources for children who need financial support. Being an inclusive school, it encourages children with various medical conditions to attend these tours. However, they do respect parents’ decision if they don’t want to send their child and organize similar activities for them within the school premises during the camping period. This is possible because all the camps for the entire school are organized during the same time period.
While outstation tours remain optional for many schools, overnight camps at school and field trips also known as day trips are compulsory with due consideration given to medical reasons. Field trips are planned during the school hours and expenses for such trips are included within the fee structure. Manjushree Patil the Founder Director, Aatman Academy, a customized learning school said, “A good visit is worth its value whenever.” Preeti Rane, Principal added, “We have no fixed limit over the number of field visits per year. Our curriculum is customized to suit every learners’ need and hence whenever required we take the children on visits – a walk across the lane, or a visit to the local vegetable vendor, a lake, a museum, or simply a walk in the rains.” Aatman Academy has a small number of students making this feasible. However, a school with a large number of students would find it an administrative hazard, if its teachers took off with the children every now and then. Schools with a larger strength have to be more organized.
A school such as Nalanda Public school ensures at least two short field trips and one day-long educational tour per year for the primary section and one field trip and one educational tour per year for the secondary school. These visits add to the overall development through first-hand experience of what they learn in the classroom all through their years of schooling. The school also offers a wide range of exposure trips to the members of various clubs such as the book reading club, literary club, theatre club, nature club, SPICMACAY, Western music, and Indian music choir groups. All these tours are planned in advance and are included in the school calendar of events.
Some schools believe in organizing picnics with fun and social interaction as the only objective. Sanskriti school, Pune, has been organizing such picnics every year. The entire school goes together for this picnic. Children play various games and bring along their play equipment. Jnana Prabodhini organizes a ‘Pavasali Sahal’ (rainy season picnic) to experience rainfall. The sole purpose of this trip is to get wet and enjoy the rains. Fun, I believe is the essence of every excursion whether or not with an educational purpose. The joy of travelling together as a group, bringing special snacks and taking a break from the regular school routine enthrals the children. Children also have a natural curiosity to know more.
In my experience, whether a trip has any learning objective or not, they have to have an itinerary with time allotments and activities. Children prefer to have a structure to their day and without it feel lost. The trips may thereby turn into a mismanaged chaos with children making too much noise, getting into fights, getting bored and venturing outside the group by themselves. Thus, careful planning and organizing becomes a crucial aspect. Most schools have a coordination team that plans, organizes, and executes these outings. Outstation trips are usually outsourced to educational tour operators. Almost all schools shared that trust is a major factor in finalizing the tour operator, this supported by previous experience and strong recommendations and ratings is crucial. The tour operator and the school jointly decide the venue and the tour operator customizes the tours to suit the needs of the school.
All work related to day trips is usually carried out by an in-house team. The team consists of the concerned teachers, admin staff, and transportation staff. Some schools include their physical education team in planning excursions and field trips. Involving their students in planning and organizing excursions is something all schools should explore. This will give students hands-on experience in understanding how to organize programmes and events and the efforts required for the same. Facing obstacles while organizing trips helps them acquire the spirit of problem solving too. Harmony Montessori, Founder Principal Ms. Beena Parekh shared that her students are part of the planning. They organize the transport, manage the money, decide the itinerary. Though, one teacher accompanies them as a chaperone, she intervenes only when they need help.
A former student of Jnana Prabodhini Gurukul, Nigdi, shared that for one particular trip, in Grade 9, he and his classmate had to go visit two venues for permissions. They had to draft a letter and use public transport to visit the places. The entire experience was an adventure for this young lad as he had never travelled alone. He felt he could travel and navigate his way anywhere after he got the necessary permissions for their visit.
Places for visit are selected on the basis of curriculum objectives. These places are usually recommended by fellow teachers. In some schools, children’s suggestions too are valued. Once a suggestion comes in, the planning team conducts a recce and checks the place for relevance to the curriculum, safety, hygiene, travel time, and availability of clean washrooms. In case of outstation tours sleeping arrangements, provision of food and refreshments, and availability of medical help is also taken into consideration. Safety of the children is very important. A recce of the place always helps school plan the safety measures – whether it is about taking more teachers or carrying protective gear and rehydration juices or enlisting the dos and don’ts. The recent episode of students drowning at the Murud Janjira beach needs to be taken seriously. Schools need to pay special focus on the danger areas, the kind of dangers, and plan their safety measures.
Another crucial aspect is orienting the students about the trip, the safety measures, and sharing the itinerary with them. Some schools do not feel it important to share the itinerary, I believe it is important to do so as children thrive when they are aware of what is going to happen. A surprise element can be maintained by not revealing details of a particular activity but only revealing the time schedule.
It is crucial to point out here that teachers need to be well-prepared and give considerable thought to ensure that children who are introverts or shy feel at ease and are happy during the outings. Teachers also need to take care that such children are not prey to bullying and teasing, otherwise an experience meant to be fun and exciting could turn into a nightmare. Such children often go unnoticed as there are many others willing to take all the limelight. Teachers also need to pay attention to the so-called trouble makers – children having difficulty in managing anger and resulting aggression, children displaying inappropriate behaviour such as that of throwing tantrums and also children who display a tendency to bully. Children who wander away from the group and go exploring by themselves also have to be taken special care of. A teacher should always be in the vicinity of such children; keeping them occupied with additional tasks can help the teacher ensure a trouble free trip.
Schools use various ways to assess the impact of such trips. A sharing session helps students and teachers recall the visit and talk about something that stayed with the children. Some schools ask children to draw, write reports or poems about the visit, while a few schools also ask questions related to the visit in the exams. Making presentations of the visit is another way of bringing out the learning from a visit. Keeping a journal is encouraged in some schools. Schools also take feedback and suggestions from the children. Their feedback is used for planning trips in the future. However, most schools have refrained from quantifying the impact. Quotes, anecdotes, and feedback shared after the session are valued and form the basis of deciding whether an excursion was successful or not.
According to all schools, excursions impact the ability to comprehend and understand concepts being taught in class and also help develop various social skills. Younger children these days do not know how ‘milk’ is produced or ‘food’ is grown shared Ms. Vaishali Bhide of Nalanda Public school. For many, milk comes in packets and we get food grains in malls and superstores. A visit to a dairy helps them understand the entire process right from feeding and milking cows and buffaloes to pasteurizing and packaging of milk. A visit to a farm provides many learning experiences shared Ms. Rupa PalChoudhary of Shiv Nadar School. Students not only see the process of growing grains and vegetables, but also make connections with larger issues of how water scarcity impacts farming and the livelihood of farmers. Ms. Sailee from Nalanda Public School narrated a child’s learning after a field trip to the traffic park, “On our way back from the traffic park, a student told the bus driver to stop honking as they were passing a hospital.” The students of Harmony were upset when they did not see the promised turtle eggs during their outstation trip to Goa. What followed was a long discussion on environmental pollution and how various environmental hazards are destroying nature and harming other living creatures. These children expressed their feelings and developed compassion toward other living creatures. “This is impact,” Ms. Beena proudly said.
Ms. Rupa PalChoudhary narrated the experience of a grade 7 girl with weak limbs who attended a camp and expressed that she had had the best experience of her life. She made friends and found that her classmates were very supportive and helpful. The teacher accompanying this group shared that the other children became sensitive toward her condition and developed a sense of empathy and caring attitude. Another boy, who found it difficult to make friends and lacked in social skills because of his over emphasis on perfection opened up after the tour. Other children too accepted him the way he was and he was able to accept other children the way they were.
“Fun is an essential ingredient of all field trips and it is our responsibility as teachers and learning facilitators to bring out the impact,” says Manjushree Patil. The impact of experiential learning and learning by doing is well known. Field trips and outstation trips provide opportunities for both conceptual understanding as well as the development of personal and social skills. Unless we guide the thought process of children by asking them the right questions or getting them to frame the same, learning may not take place. Our questions need to help build their thinking skills and the ability to think out of the box. Questions thereby need to be specific and open-ended, where children’s answers are more than a yes or no. For example, when a student shares something that did not go well, the teacher can ask the student about what he/she would have done if he/she were in this situation, or what could have been done to make the situation better. Through this hand holding process, children learn to reflect on their experience and make meaning from it. As rightly said by John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on the experience.”
The author is an education and social development professional. She is involved in teaching, teacher training, and conducting parental workshops. You can visit her blog www.shikshanaarthee.com to know more about her work. She can be reached at [email protected].