Archive for November, 2010

My last post was about children working with video, learning how to make them, and be able to tell their own stories. It is extremely encouraging to note, so much is happening with children and video around the world. There are many projects in India, like CAMP – Children as Media Producers or The Modern Story, which train children in producing their own media. I have also come across the ‘New Generation Workshop’, held during the Rio International Film Festival, where videos made by children were screened, and also the Caribbean Kids News, Not Suitable for Adults etc., where children produce their media.

This post is also about children and video, in a slightly different context though. It is based on my experiences as a video-trainer with an organization called, Sahyog in Ahmedabad, on their Videoshala project, which literally means, a ‘video-school’.

So, is it possible that children themselves contribute to creating their own learning material?

Well, my experience says, why not? Let me elaborate.

Videoshala was about a group of community members, trained to become video producers. They made educational videos for local schools, where their own, or children from their neighborhood studied, and the children themselves were involved in contributing to the learning content. I particularly remember two occasions, which were very interesting in the way the content of videos came about:

One was about the many different religions in India. Sahyog, being based in Ahmedabad (Gujarat, India), where at least eight different religions co-exist, had local children from different religions, as a part of making this video. They visited the different places of worship, gathering answers to their various questions on different religions, from the respective religious heads. Add to that, their own thoughts, conclusions and analyses became a part of the video as well. This video was shown in different local schools as part of the curriculum. Notwithstanding the by now, widely known phenomenon of ‘Hinduization of textbooks’, this video, in contrast, seemed pretty inclusive and candid, as it talked about other religions, like Judiasm, Zoroastrianism or Sikhism, as opposed to the prescribed textbooks with just one photograph of a Gurudwara (worship place for Sikhs), in stark comparison to the comprehensive detailing of Hinduism. It also became an enriching experience for people to indulge in cross-religious inquisitiveness and interest, something, most people otherwise, hardly ever did – not to mention the other children in the classroom, who also saw a different perspective through the eyes of their own peers.

The other interesting video was one on communal harmony. Now, this community is in Vatva, one of the many Muslim ghettos in Ahmedabad, which suffered through severe communal violence in 2002. People, I was working with, were directly and intensely affected by it. One day, while we were discussing about the topic of the next video, a small incident happened, which threatened to erupt into violence, once again. One of the producers was sharing with the rest of us, how her daughter was sent back home after schools were shut, and how she said that the Hindus were coming to kill them. She was quite distraught that her 8-year old daughter came to think like that. That led the team to decide on the topic of the up-coming video – ‘Communal Harmony’. It was indeed awe-inspiring, when they got a real Maulana and a Pandit (Muslim and Hindu priests, respectively) to ‘act’ in the film together and talk about it. An extra effort was always made by the team to ensure focus on the learnings and impacts during the process of the making of such videos, and therefore, children involved in the video production, were acquainted with real-life experiences and truths. They could critically think about and present such related issues, which helped the other children in their own neighborhood, learn and understand more.

On a side note though, we also had to portray it as a video on synonyms and antonyms, so that it fitted in with the existing curriculum, which didn’t talk about communal harmony.

Of course, there are educational videos made by experienced experts in the field that are great on quality, and there is a lot of thinking around pedagogy, as to how children learn and so on. Experts, though, will always struggle to bring in local experiences and realities of children but wouldn’t it be a better educational process, if children were more aware of their own environment and if their educational content was co-related? Isn’t it possible to make such content, which makes a child relate it to her/his surroundings, realities and experiences? Where a child can learn from and about things around her/him? For instance, in one of the children’s videos on different work people do, the kids interviewed a radio jockey, talked to a sweeper and so on, found out that women could be laborers and farmers too, unlike in the textbooks, where they are only nurses and teachers (…and, household work was recognized as ‘proper work’!). All that was actually needed, was to look at the world with an open eye, and not get buried in the biases and stereotypes, as sometimes (or should I say, more often than not!) set by conventionally written and prescribed textbooks. Wouldn’t it be a more real world, with less of such stereotypes?

I would also guess, most of us have had an education, where we could not relate to a lot of things we were taught, when we were taught those. This innovation was about engineering a balanced education of children through locally produced content and imbibing more wholesome values through such education. It was evidently successful, as teachers appreciated the educational content, children seemed to enjoy such topics that stood difficult earlier, and learning, suddenly became fun and relevant for both teachers and children.

How I wish, I had learnt through a similar process, than mugging my way away!

It is despairing though that the organization I was working with, no longer produces such videos. All the community members that I had trained as video-makers, are now trying hard to find jobs for themselves, in quest of basic survival and sustenance. They are all still in touch with me, constantly sending me their documentary ideas or asking, if I have anything better for them, than their current jobs. Sustained interest, funding, and therefore eventual sustainability, is a huge challenge for such meaningful and constructive media to be produced by the communities. I have a feeling I will write about that in my next post – raising questions, looking for solutions.

PostScript: Videoshala project was implemented by four organizations in Gujarat, with both the government and local private schools. The communities and children they worked with, were mostly under-privileged.

See this video made by the community producers about Videoshala:

Sorry, there aren’t any subtitles.

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