Reassembling the assembly

Nimesh Ved

Last year between June and November 2020, only teachers were present at the school premises.

This uninterrupted time, structured or otherwise that teachers have had as a team, presented a basket of opportunities and raised a host of questions.

One of these questions pertained to the morning assembly. Teachers, not unlike students, were keen to move on from the ‘regular’ assembly — singing from a prescribed set of songs.

The morning assembly had – during the recent past — raised multiple questions with students as well. After deliberations, the school put in place a fresh schedule for the day’s initial interactions. It tried to make the mornings more fun and inclusive by bringing in activities like storytelling, book reading, sharing experiences and exercises. Students welcomed the schedule. A schedule that is not inscribed in stone. 

The recent years have also seen the State get active with regard to the morning assembly. The State’s actions range from directions to officials to ensure that students in government schools perform yoga each morning to the suspension of a school headmaster over singing of what many consider to be an ‘iconic’ song.

During a workshop on children’s literature, a well-known poet, also a musician, said of these school assemblies, “They are the reason why so many of our students nurture an antipathy for music.

On the one hand, the conventional assembly is being critiqued as being “a classic example of this notion of power, authority and hierarchy that is exercised every day” or “mechanical aspects such as maintaining silence, standing in perfect queues”. And, on the other, schools are trying out myriad options to make it more fun, lively and interactive. These range from sports to cleaning or cooking and could also include undertaking any action of their choice.

Back to our school and the teachers.

These teachers discussed options to the singing of prescribed songs. In other words – activities in which 15 of them could participate each morning. ‘No activity’ – was also an option. 

The teachers agreed that each day one of them would bring about 15 minutes of downloaded music on her/his phone. They would then connect the phone to the speakers and all teachers would begin their day listening to their colleague’s choice. The only guiding line was – “what would you like to listen to during that time of the day”? The teachers responded positively.

Many a time when we take risks we end up getting more than what we envisage. This rejig too worked at multiple levels.

At one level the teachers learnt how to use their mobile phones more effectively. They not only became aware of colleagues’ choices  of music but also about musicians and singers previously unknown to them. The music was also a reminder of our cultural diversity; much welcome during current times. A ‘Shiv Tandav Stotram’– then viral on the web – on one day was followed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Allah Hu, Allah Hu . .’ the next day.

At another level this fresh approach to beginning a day also underscored the willingness to change, openness to take risks and keenness to innovate as key ingredients at the school. It opened up a few windows shut since a while.

 More plans are afoot for the coming months. Each day three teachers will recite one poem each, to set the ball rolling for that day.

Some initial steps on a long road – – – 

The author loves long walks, silences and both of them together. He blogs at http://nimesh-ved.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at [email protected].

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