Finding a voice through writing

Nidhi Qazi

The night of November 8 changed the lives of many; the effect created by this Demon(etisation) disturbed the flow of lives for all of us. The effects of it continue till date and who knows what’s in store next.

And somewhere in the midst of all this, when Murari Jha, a social science teacher for middle and secondary classes in one of Delhi’s government schools decided to make this historic event (in a sceptical sense of the term) a part of the classroom, children poured their hearts out. Jha asked them to write on this topic. Writing on a topic was nothing new for his children. But this time, he gave one specific instruction. “While I do give out some common instructions for a writing exercise, in this one, I had specifically asked them to write what they truly felt and not bring any points that are being circulated by the media. I asked them not to focus too much on media information and rather narrate their own experiences and experiences of people around them. But at the end of it all, their writings reflected the fact that media’s influence on them is quite dominant.”

pip These write-ups could not be used for an active discussion in the classroom due to lack of time. But this became a starting point for a conversation with Jha on what do such exercises really bring forth in the classroom. Having gone through some of the write-ups, this author couldn’t agree more with Jha on the influence that media has on the children. But more importantly, the significance of such a writing exercise or any other kind of activity where the children create content in an otherwise ‘dull’ social science classroom cannot but be appreciated and emphasized.

Where and how did it all begin for Jha? He goes back to his initial days when he had to teach a new batch of class 9 children. Soon enough, he realized that these children couldn’t write and express. Thus, he thought of giving them opportunities to express themselves through writing. Initially, the exercise was a free-wheeling one where the children could write on any topic of their choice. Eventually these were centered around specific topics such as gender, rights and many others which would either be directly linked to their lessons in the textbook or which were based on current affairs. As the quality of the content and engagement evolved, Jha would use the children’s write-ups as text and sometimes finish a chapter without the help of the textbook. “Since I knew a lesson and its content, I would slip in these without explicitly telling them that these are present in their textbooks and we would end up finishing an entire lesson without even once needing to take the help of the textbook,” he shares. Textbook lessons themed around ‘clothing as reflection of history and culture’, ‘gender, caste, class’, ‘democracy and diversity’ are some examples where children’s write-ups enriched the understanding of a lesson.

How comfortable were the children sharing their write-ups with the entire class? To this, Jha adopted a simple method. “Not all children are comfortable sharing their write-ups on a few specific topics. But it has been made a culture to ask them if they would want me to read their write-ups and if I can use the same for further discussions. It’s completely up to the children.”

The teacher further elaborated on his experiences in the following questions:

What’s your view on children’s writing on demonetisation?
The children have been writing various issues related to their life and about the major developments taking place in the world. Their writing became an important starting point for classroom discussions. I found that demonetisation was an issue which influenced their lives directly. They could capture their own experiences in their writings. At the same time I found that there is a huge influence of the stories narrated by the media. Many of them believe in the stories. While they did write about the difficulties faced by them or the people around, they seem to have accepted the narrative that demonetisation has and will continue to bring an end to black money.

The author is a consultant working in the space of education with children and teachers. She can be reached at qazi.nidhi@gmail.com.

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