In the solitary organization and activities of different classes, school assemblies are perhaps the only time during a day when all the students and teachers assemble at a common place. School assemblies have a subtle, educative, entertaining and enriching purpose. However, due to a number of reasons this purpose is getting diluted and what we are left with is mere pomp and show.
In ancient India, during the Gurukul system of education, community life was an integral part of education. The teacher and student fraternity had the chance to meet at the time of common prayers and meals, which resulted in greater bonding. However, in contemporary society, assemblies have taken an ornamental look. Things are made up and showcased with little spontaneity and quality. Very often, only selected students tend to take charge of the assemblies and generally it’s not ‘everyone’s affair’.
Moreover, with increasing globalization and consequent commercialization of education, schools now engage in publicity by displaying their so-called well-organized annual function, sports day, and special assemblies in newspapers. Often, it is the finished product that is showcased and never the process. The learning lies in the process, but assemblies invariably seem to value the perfect end result keeping in mind the bigger audience, but the fact that the entire school is first a learning community is often missed.
Generally, the focus is more on mechanical aspects such as maintaining silence, standing in perfect queues, routine check of clean nails and uniform; it is seldom interactive, dynamic, and fun-filled. At an assembly in one of the multi-grade schools situated in Uttarakhand, each student was made to recite aloud the tables of two to twenty depending on the grade! It was quite a shock as almost an hour was devoted to this mechanical and futile exercise where every student feared committing any mistake.
As far as the regularity of the school assemblies is concerned, there could be variations from being held almost everyday to the negligible frequency of once or twice a week. Moreover, the assembly is not always meant for the entire school. In many schools, assembly for the lower primary grades is either not held or is held separately. Reasons may vary from ideological ones of having an assembly suited to their age to completely infrastructural ones like lack of space. In both cases, however, it cannot be denied that even a younger group has a need to stand shoulder to shoulder with their school mates and feel a part of this bigger family, if not always, at least occasionally.
Sometimes, many schools play the pre-recorded prayer tracks and the students, instead of assembling at a common place comfortably stay in their classes to sing the prayer and perform the ‘assembly ritual’. Even the age-old system of meditation and yoga has lost meaning for children as few such exercises are being done in the school with lesser dedication.
Furthermore, the hidden agenda of the school can be discerned by having a closer look at the assembly structure of a particular school. One can come across children reading news bulletins, thought for the day and teachers announcing the certificates and prizes bagged by students in different competitions. No wonder these are the institutions that propagate the concept of competition and condition the students to compete mindlessly thereon. Schools governed by a particular belief system or religious values use assembly time to strengthen it further. The writer recalls one of her academic experiences wherein at the time of studying in a particular school following Jain philosophy, chanting of verses of Jain prayers was a routine. Here, the school assembly time was used for a distinct purpose. However, the practice is not in violation of any apparent rule and is even guarded by Article 28 (Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions), Article 29 (Protection of interests of minorities) and Article 30 (Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions) of the Indian Constitution.
Assemblies are a vital part of an ordinary school day and must be organized likewise. It is a common forum, which can be used for the following purposes:
- To make the students or group of students come forward and present a drama, skit, debate, or declamation on a theme or topic of common interest. This in turn will help them gain self-confidence, connecting better with their peers and feel a sense of fulfillment at having presented something of quality.
- To express and reinforce the code of conduct expected both from teachers and students.
- To give a platform to almost everyone to share a common concern pertaining to the particular school or even a larger community.
- To make the students and teachers understand the philosophy of the school and to live by it.
- And to instill a feeling of communion.
School assemblies can be made more lively and engaging if the school is willing to do so. Simple calendars can be made wherein each section of all the grades is given a particular date when a class is supposed to present the assembly. The Assembly can be more ‘students-led’ by encouraging them to actively choose a theme and make the required preparations. Here, the teacher acts as a facilitator and mediator helping the students to explore their own latent talents. It goes without saying that each child should be encouraged to contribute to this event.
Further, to make the assembly more context-sensitive, relevant themes may be chosen. Both in single sex or co-education schools, one such theme could be ‘gender disparity as experienced by us’. It will make the students more aware and reflective and at the same time will encourage the school to keep a check on any malpractice. A school believing in democratic values will not fear from putting the questions in an open forum to be critically examined by both students and teachers, e.g., bullying of younger students by seniors. Assemblies can also make the students more aware by celebrating the less known but nonetheless significant days, such as World Environment Day (5th June), World AIDS Day (1st December), International Literacy Day (8th September), Child Rights Day or Universal Children’s Day (20th November) and World Red Cross Day (8th May).
The ‘National Curriculum Framework – 2005’ also makes a few recommendations for school assemblies in its fourth chapter titled ‘School and classroom environment’.
“In most schools, the day begins with a morning assembly, when the entire school gathers to do things together. This time can be used for reading the headlines of the morning newspaper, performing some physical exercises, and singing the national anthem. Other activities could also be added, for example, singing together, or listening to a story, or inviting a person from the local community or an outside guest to speak to the children, or hold small events to mark some significant local or national happening. Classes that have undertaken some interesting projects could also use this time to share their work with the whole school.” If not everyday, such longer morning assemblies could be planned once or twice a week. In composite schools, depending on the theme, a junior school assembly and a senior school assembly could be held separately. News headlines that are significant, could provide a theme for a special session on that day, and be woven into the curriculum.” (P.97)
Assemblies should be more interactive wherein opinions are sought and the audience is engaged spontaneously. News related to education can be shared and discussed. Wishing a child on his/her birthday in the assembly, initiating fund raising for a common concern, and sharing a school related matter like ‘respecting the school property’ are other concerns for which a forum like school assembly is quite useful.
On a concluding note, efforts should be initiated to make the assembly an integral part of the day and it should be held on everyday basis. This time belongs to everyone and everyone should have an equal chance to come forward in this forum.
The author has done M.Ed (Elementary Education) and is an educator in The Heritage School, Rohini. Her areas of interest include Environmental Studies, Curriculum development and sociological aspects of education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.