“I don’t understand why we have to study geography. It seems of no relevance to me’ declared my fifteen-year-old sister when she was preparing for her ICSE board exam. As someone who ardently loves Geography, I tried reasoning with her, but to no avail. This episode with her got me reflecting about the way I taught geography during my one-year teaching stint; Especially class 10th, where I let myself give in to the hoopla about ‘scoring’ in the board exams. In my defense, I did have the argument that as a person teaching in a formal setting for the first time, the project I took up did not involve any mentoring and the only yardstick to measure my efficiency (I was delusional that it even mattered) would be the marks my students scored! I had no clue on how to make geography interesting for the students.
The number one issue being- how to generate interest in the subject. I mentored the groups of students from two of Mantra’s partner schools as they were conducting their research. Their quest and initiative definitely empowered me as a facilitator. Each day, I saw them push themselves into new territory and negotiating it with perseverance, whether it was about the statistical accuracy of the data, they collected or the classification of the intervention measures, they intended to share with different groups of people. On the day when they presented their paper, I knew they had mastered their topics.
It was apparent through their uninhibited responses during the question-answer session. I am not able to adequately put down the ‘teacher moment’ I had when the students’ delegation from Vinayaka Public School responded to one of the questions saying that ‘a cashless society is an ideal that we’re working towards and not something that was intended to be achieved through demonetization’. They studied the effect of demonetization in their locality. Here, these children had not only understood why we need a cashless society and the ways to work towards it, but had even understood the concept of an ‘ideal society’ (which I personally thought was great as this thought occurred to me only when I was doing economics in the 12th grade).
The only thing I could attribute to this level of initiative was the fact that the topics they chose were very real to them! But isn’t that the case with all those topics in the textbook? My personal view is in the affirmative. One of the reasons (apart from the others, out of which the most compelling one is that people on an average, don’t see how pursuing this subject is going to get them into remunerative jobs) that children find geography not exciting enough could be because we do not lay context to them. A small stroke here and a cheer there is all it takes to get anyone empowered. Perhaps the thought of helping their fellow men was the motivation behind the delegation’s pursuit. It could also be the excitement of the ‘agency’ they experienced at the prospect of being able to change things around them and also present a paper in front of an audience.
Throughout the conference, many adults shared a skepticism about whether some of the topics, presented, came under the purview of geography (it obviously did as all the topics were concerned with life and the living around different geographical areas). However a question that a friend of mine asked, bothered me more- Why did the topics present come under citizens ‘geography’, when it could fall under so many other subjects like civics, economics, sociology, etc. I think any human phenomenon we try to explore can have more than one explanation and sometimes these explanations can be from more than one disciplines. These disciplines also do spill into each other or have hazy boundaries.
As a former teacher and a student of education, for me, the prime concern is to see that learning happens in the classroom and that the learning, will make ‘empowered agents’ of those in the classroom-be it the teacher or the student…what is the difference between them anyway! 😉
-Written by Ms. Sharon Miriam Daniel, Intern, Mantra4Change