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  • Writer's pictureLopa Shah

Rounding Rebellious Tables

In the world of growing desires, having an accelerated opportunity of achieving them is an exciting idea. And artificial intelligence has brought us closer to bringing this idea to life. My recent conversation with Grade 9, my very intelligent adolescent class at Dolphin, was about this. Grade 9 had been rebelling in their own punitive ways against all things that upset them at school. They are growing up and beginning to take cognisance of their rights as students, individuals, teens and above all rebels. Growing up in Pulwama has taught them to fight back. And with that as their primary duty, as they believe, my students of grade 9 were fighting back. As an outsider I saw what was going on, and as an insider I empathised with them. But what could I have done, when all means by the book were failing to gain their interest in following the system of the school? How could I have expected anything out of them, when I knew their trust on the school was shaken and that they felt hurt and mistrusted themselves. And of course it is not only the school that has had a role to play in this. With limited inquiry or dialogue and multiplied voices of influence, children at that age are bound to feel overwhelmed, compelled to take sides, filled with unanswered questions and hence to misspell outrage. Children in Pulwama are intelligent and mature faster with experience and the last thing they need is one more of a commanding adult in any form of power over them. This, they are sure to resist. And who is to be blamed? The teachers at school? Or the school system of functioning? The parents? The society? The state of conflict? Well, perhaps none, and almost all of the above. But let us not blame. Let us realise that it is the lack of clear understanding of the problem and further slack in finding the right technique to find its alternative, that needs urgent attention. And sometimes no attention is the best attention you can give to something. Let us understand this in the context what we do at Dolphin.

Everyone here including children is floating on the river of victimhood, owing to the fact that they are clearly victim to the overcast of conflict. Besides, while talking about a problem brings us closer to its solution, the same exercise may prove to be redundant in a place where the problem is always so evidently playing on people’s minds. Consequently, taking time off it to observe, engage with and enquire into something that is distant, current, and may be remotely relevant can be a great escape, and probably a better homecoming! This is the premise on which this year’s global learning has been built. The global learning program started last year, as a “subject”, or a time-tabled hour of unlearning as I like to call it. I had introduced the idea of of time-tabling for learning without books and learning from the world primarily to identify and break patterns we conform to in our time at school. So global learning was a class where we turned our lenses everywhere else but on our curricular books. It was curated for grade and age levels of intelligence, and the idea was to unlearn how we learn, and discover how and what we want to learn. This year, since we are more equipped systematically, we’re zooming into the ideas of citizenship, staying current and making meaning. We are spending time analysing current situations of concern in the world, discussing perspectives and bringing them back into our own context through informed actions. In one such conversation, round the table in the conference room, where these classes generally happen, the discussion about rights for robots bubbled and children recognised the limitations in their approach immediately as they assumed a powerful position, as for them, giving rights became as difficult as not being granted some was. Another conversation about building a single road around the world, instantly filled the room with fears of intrusion, attack, expansive rule and blurring territorial boundaries. The beauty of it all is that these conversations happen through a supporting audio-visual, neutral, pragmatic take on the matters based on facts. So when children leave the room, they’re not just moved, but also informed.

My recent conversation on the worth of a union of nations, with the European Union as reference was specifically a hit. The status of Brexit and its process is a relatable idea for Kashmir and students recognised it. However, to view it through a distant lens and to begin to analyse the political, social, democratic, and pragmatic significance of it was a fresh experience for them. We’re yet to have a follow up class to it, where we may be discussing the relevance of Brexit and its resonance with Kashmir’s need for a separate state. Of course there will be awkward pauses and uncomfortable giggles because we fear power and judgement; and we’ve learnt how to evade difficult conversations to safeguard ourselves over time.

But the conversation is not aimed at brooding over the evident. What is exciting is the sheer space for a dialogue on what could be in the best interest of a generation that is hoping to look beyond disruption through a slightly larger and constructive lens. And this brings me to a younger class of grade 7, who’re trying to understand what systemic and policy level changes could mean in the context of their school and its movement against ill-management of waste. They’re devising systems and mobilising fellow students. They are trying their hand at leading a mission and learning as they do. These are change-makers of the world today and the sooner they realise this the faster the process begins. If they are seeing their school as a safe space to experiment alternatives that they may want to exercise in the world tomorrow, the GL program has done its job!

My children at Dolphin are being taught to identify problems and to use their time in school to construct solutions. And when this graduates from being a habit to being their purpose of learning at Dolphin, Pulwama will see a homecoming like never before! It’s time we spoke of alternatives over problems. The world needs designers of change, and the process of becoming one begins at school.

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