For a more caring environment

Geetha Arvind

This article outlines the theme, summary and outcome of “Schools That Care”, A National Conference on the Social and Emotional Environment of our Schools, held between November 3-5, 2008 at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, IISc Campus, Bangalore.

The conference was born out of a deep concern over the practices predominant in our schools as well as a strong belief that schools need to actively nurture the “human” side of student growth and development.

In this context, The Teacher Foundation (TTF) organised the conference “Schools That Care” to create a forum for academics, researchers, government officials, school administrators and classroom practitioners to come together, share their ideas, experiences and concerns in making schools happier places of learning. By setting the platform for a movement, the conference played an important role in highlighting the need to have a national forum to discuss the social and emotional climate of our schools.

You realise the importance of social and emotional development in children every time you hear of their difficulties in understanding and managing their feelings, working co-operatively in groups, motivating themselves, demonstrating resilience in the face of setbacks, etc. There are various factors that influence the social and emotional climate of schools and the conference focused mainly on one such factor which is teacher – student/parent interaction.

The conference was made effective through speeches, video presentations, live demonstrations, brain storming sessions, and providing ample scope for participants to express their views and discuss.

A film was screened at the conference that was shot at different schools across the country which specifically focused on the quality of personal interactions in Indian schools. The film touched most participants including the teachers as it helped them look inside themselves. Instead of following the traditional method and having speakers speak about the Way We Are, the screening of the film, by the organisers, helped set the framework for participants to reflect on an important issue.

The conference helped the participants, who included representatives from government, private and alternative schools, to exchange their approach on the Way We Could Be along with certain techniques to address issues of concern. Some of them are briefly explained below.

Nali Kali and Samudaya Datta Shale are a couple of programmes initiated and implemented successfully in most schools across Karnataka by the State government to address this issue.

“Quality Circle Time” (QCT) model was demonstrated live with 30 children quite effectively. This model promotes positive behaviour, respectful relationship skills, self awareness and awareness of others, personal and social growth, etc. The session was very experiential and one felt that the QCT model would indeed be useful in our teacher training programmes.

But, how effective is QTC to address the issues raised in a school environment keeping in mind the challenge that exists to equip teachers to conduct these sessions? Is this a technique and how holistic is it to resolve the issues raised? Is this model obvious in school environments that are practicing a holistic approach to address social and emotional aspects of development?

Practitioners from various institutions like Muktangan, Digantar, Centre For Learning, Shishuvan, Pravah, Valley School, Pallikoodam, etc., who are successfully practicing the holistic approaches to address the social and emotional environment in their schools presented the philosophy and methodology of their school environment giving an opportunity for seekers to know the possible ways of achieving this in the school environment.

Social and emotional aspect of development is definitely a topic for literature, conferences, awareness camps, research, publications, etc., but the questions that emerged in the conference were, “Is this a topic for a policy as the same topic is already mentioned in the National Curriculum framework 2005?”, “Is a teacher really aware of the care he/she needs to give?”, Or “Is the system at fault?” These are questions that need one’s attention urgently.

Unfortunately, the teaching profession is perceived as easy, monotonous, and less challenging and is neglected. On the contrary, this profession is a challenging and dynamic profession that demands maximum creativity. Teachers have the scope to leave an impression on the lives of many achievers during their crucial growing years. A teacher is morally responsible for his/her behaviour, ethics, values, knowledge, information and messages as they are observed by many young absorbent minds. It is very important that we uplift the teaching profession. The training programmes that are designed and conducted for teachers should be made more experiential with a holistic approach.

Throughout the conference, sessions and discussions focused on some of the areas that need immediate attention like importance of improvement in the student – teacher relationship, maintaining the right student – teacher ratio, balancing curriculum, support system for a teacher to be a healer, teacher welfare, quality teacher training, social inclusion/ exclusion, awareness to children’s rights, parent – teacher relationship, school counsellor, need for defining the terms like care, emotional needs, etc., need for a school environment which is democratic, reformation in assessment methodologies, etc.

Let us wait for TTF to distribute the policy document which will be based on the brain storming at the conference.

The author is the founder of Anubhava Science Centre, Bangalore (www.anubhava.net). She can be reached at [email protected].

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