Weaving the fabric of citizenship

Preeti Saha

21st century readiness has been the guiding principle for adopting new educational practices and re-imagining school education. At Heritage Xperiential Learning School, this principle is also applied to citizenship. We believe that the school is the key place to equip students with citizenship values and tools and transmit civic and governance principles to each succeeding generation and educators bear a responsibility that is unparalleled in its importance and effects.

Learning expeditions with service learning in junior and middle programme (grades 1 to 7)
Expeditionary learning is based on the design principles that reflect the educational values and beliefs of Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound (an innovative educational idea). These principles employ challenge, adventure and service not as an end in themselves but as a method of inculcating perseverance, skill, teamwork, leadership, compassion and responsibility for the community’s welfare. They form the core of our research-based model for transforming teaching, learning and the culture of schools.

Case study: Expedition: Be the change – by grade 7
The need for equality and justice is the root cause of all struggles that lead to political and social change. “Be the Change”, a social and political life expedition is designed to raise awareness among students about the society in which they live and its social, political and economic fabric. Through a process of critical enquiry, this expedition strives to bring about change. Its purpose is to develop a deeper understanding of social issues like poverty, justice, equity, gender and an individual’s role in providing and implementing solutions.

As part of the expedition, students conducted a study in their neighbourhood to examine the efficacy of the implementation of the laws and provisions as enshrined in the Constitution related to livelihood, education and health and their relation to social issues like poverty, equity and gender. They then conducted a neighbourhood survey of RWAs (Resident welfare associations), government schools and health centres. The survey served as a foundation to build a programme for exercising active citizenship in the locality. After analyzing the data from the survey results, students spent time understanding the framework of designing an effective campaign to bring about change. They then applied this knowledge to create campaigns using methods such as theatre and printed communication material like posters to generate awareness on the social issues they had studied. The campaign was conducted across 14 RWAs in Gurgaon in which the students, in addition to generating awareness, also suggested concrete actions that would lead to the betterment of the community. Some of these suggestions included allowing house help to use lifts, implementing a waste segregation programme, separating play time and walk time for children and adults.

Heritage Centre for Active Citizenship for senior programme (grades 8 to 12)
Heritage Centre for Active Citizenship (HCAC) is our effort to pass on the torch of active and responsible citizenship to each succeeding generation while imparting the language of citizenship in the way we learn, discuss, debate, advocate and act on local, national and global issues. HCAC aims to enable our students to be engaged, active and informed citizens by helping them build the right attitude, skill, knowledge and framework of action and advocacy. We empower students to exercise active citizenship in collaboration with government agencies and other community members to work towards building a society that is just, humane and equitable to all its citizens.

Service Learning – An Overview
HCAC has established a Service Learning Project (community project) curriculum with the intention of empowering our students, teachers and parents to work towards building a just and equitable community. The philosophy of the curriculum is to develop the understanding that good governance stems from a collaboration between citizens, elected representatives, civic bodies and policy makers and each individual is empowered to effect change in our society.

The Service Learning Project curriculum fosters:

  • A keen awareness and understanding of the Indian democracy, government and law.
  • Skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically.
  • The ability to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments.
  • Build the spirit of active citizenship by working closely with the community.

Service learning is a collaborative and democratic teaching and learning strategy designed to promote academic enhancement, personal growth and civic learning to advance public purposes. Students partner reciprocally with community members and with a facilitator to tackle issues that are both part of their academic learning and of public concern, for instance an issue such as sustainable environment. Through guided reflection, participants examine their experiences critically and articulate specific and actionable learning outcomes (for instance, how many hours of community service they are willing to undertake), thus enhancing the quality of their learning and of their service/collaboration/ public work. (Ref: Clayton 2013)

A typical service learning project has five components:

Investigation: Students and facilitators investigate potential community problems that can be addressed. An investigation typically involves research and creation of a design for the approach and plan framework.

Planning and preparation: Students, facilitators and community members (stakeholders) plan the learning and service activities. This stage involves creating a strategy for making an impactful change. The goals are set along with a method to assess and track progress as well as create tasks and timelines.

Action: This stage involves the actual implementation of the service project and is the “heart” of the project. It helps students develop important knowledge, skills, and attitudes and most importantly gives them practical experience of working towards the benefit of the community.

Reflection: This stage enables students to understand the service learning experience that they have gone through. They reflect upon the importance of the project, the impact of their contribution to society and their overall personal development during this journey.

Demonstration/celebration: The final experience when students, facilitators, community participants and others publicly share what they have learned, celebrate the results of the project and plan for the future.

Assessment is carried out at every stage to measure the learning and development that occurs through service-learning and to help diagnose the needs of each stage, provide feedback and incorporate changes.

Case Study: A Project on Sustainable Development – Waste Segregation
Overview: Management of waste is critical to the sustenance of urban centres. A number of cities such as Gurugram (Gurgaon) do not require citizens to segregate their waste, thus adversely impacting the waste management process and overall development of the city. This project was designed and led by students of classes 8 and 9.

Objective: To generate awareness about the environment and implement a plan that focuses on achieving 100 per cent waste segregation in the school and an adopted residential society.

Project details:
Investigation: The students attended the ‘Gurugram Environment Conclave’ to understand and gather data and information regarding the condition of the environment in Gurugram. They attended three primary sessions on air, water and waste and a special segment on forest cover. The sessions comprised talks and panel discussions by leading environmental experts and government and industry representatives.

The students conducted the following:

  • Online research on waste management processes, laws, regulations and current reality in India, especially in Delhi NCR.
  • A survey in the school with the administrative department on the current state of waste management in the school by studying the way collected waste was being disposed and speaking to the staff managing it.
  • A survey across various residential societies in the neighbourhood to understand the current state of waste segregation or lack of it.

Based on the research, the following conclusions were drawn:

  • At the school: Need for an awareness campaign for students and teachers on the importance of effectively segregating waste and the introduction of a clear process for waste management.
  • Residential society: The research showed that very few residential societies in Gurugram were actually separating waste. We decided to adopt one society and implement 100 per cent waste segregation there and then help other societies to replicate the program.

Planning and preparation:
Goals for the action were set and the team created tasks and a timeline. They also identified the need to develop their understanding of how to implement the programme in a residential society and make it successful.

They visited a residential society in Gurugram to understand the complete process of setting up a waste segregation system. This was done with the help of Priya Mehrish who had pioneered a waste segregation system in her society.

They also got in touch with an expert from the NGO ‘Green Bandhu’, to receive in-depth guidance on waste segregation by understanding the “why, what and how”.

Students sent proposals to various RWAs. The proposal sought to partner with RWAs to understand their process of handling collected waste and to plan and implement a system of waste segregation for them.

Action:
At the school

  • Students wrote to school leaders to ensure that there were separate bins to enable waste segregation on each floor.
  • They generated awareness by addressing school assemblies and leading a class to class campaign explaining the importance of waste segregation through games, posters and PowerPoint presentations.

At residential society (with RWA)

  • They received confirmation from a residential society, ‘Park Royal’, for working on setting up waste segregation. They met the RWA members and presented their proposal.
  • Students started their campaign by involving the children of the society by playing games with them and generating awareness about waste management.
  • They then conducted a house to house campaign talking to all residents on the positive impact of waste segregation on the environment and ways in which they could implement it in their households.
  • They distributed informational material on segregation and put up posters designed by them in the society.
  • Students then held a demonstration on waste segregation and generated awareness on its importance with the household cleaning staff.
  • They trained the waste collectors on the methods of identifying and segregating wet and dry waste.
  • Next, they created a digital tracker to assess the effective implementation of waste segregation. Regular audits were carried out, initially on a daily basis for a month and then biweekly in the coming months (after most households had adopted the programme).
  • Appreciation methods were discussed with the RWA members for the residents who diligently segregated waste and remedial methods for those who stopped after a few days.
  • Surprise checks were done on random days to ensure that both the RWA and the residents were actively playing their part.
  • Over 95 per cent of the households adopted the waste segregation programme and the work continues.

Reflection: At every stage of the project, students reflect on the journey they have embarked upon. These reflections develop within students the ability to think deeply and analyze themselves and their relationship with the society.

In this project, students reflected on their journey and articulated their learning based on prompts and questions as stated below:

“I learned that” …

  • Express an important learning, not just a statement of fact.
  • Provide a clear and correct explanation of the concept(s) in question so that someone not in the experience can understand it.
  • Explain your enhanced understanding of the concept(s), as a result of reflection on the experience.
  • Express in general terms, not just in the context of the experience (so that the learning can be applied more broadly to other experiences).

“I learned this when” …

  • Connect the learning to specific activities that gave rise to it, making clear what happened in the context of that experience so that someone who wasn’t there can understand it.

“This learning matters because”…

  • Consider how the learning has value, both in terms of this situation and in broader terms, such as other organizations, communities, activities, issues, professional goals, courses, etc.

“In light of this learning” …

  • Set specific and assessable goals; consider the benefits and challenges involved in fulfilling them.
  • Tie back clearly to the original learning statement.

A celebration of learning/demonstration: Students shared their journey and learning in school assemblies, with school leaders and NGOs. This motivated and encouraged other students to take up service learning projects. Students have also received recognition for the same. Going forward, a short documentary film will be made with all stakeholders’ views to create awareness as well as to set up models for others to follow.

Our endeavour at the HCAC is to empower students and inculcate within them a strong sense active citizenship so that when they embark into the adult world, they emerge as responsible and aware citizens.

The author is an educator, Lead – HCAC (Heritage Centre for Active Citizenship), Heritage Experiential Learning School, Gurugram. She can be reached at [email protected].
To know more about the school and its work visit http://heritagexperiential.org.

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