Building a pool of problem solvers

“When I grow up, I want to be a social entrepreneur to solve all the problems in Bangalore,” says Safeera, a 9th-grade girl. It was our first day of the Community Problem Solving workshop at one of our partner schools. I was shocked that she thought so deeply about the issues in her state, Despite knowing the meaning of the word “social entrepreneur.”

This was in stark contrast to my experiences in other low-income schools in Bangalore, where many students aspired to become doctors or engineers, but few cared about addressing the social and environmental challenges our society faces.

The purpose of our two-week Community Problem-solving workshop was to prepare students to tackle the problems in their community. Our key aim was to provide the students with real-world experience in problem-solving and increase their confidence in public speaking.

The workshop was divided into two parts. In the first week, students in the groups of 3 or 4 investigated geographical issues such as smoking, water scarcity and deforestation. They also came up with the solutions to the problem they were addressing. In the second week, students devised solutions to the issue of student absenteeism at their school.

On our first day, we introduced the concept of a “problem tree” which is a method of mapping out the core problem along with its cause and effects. Like any tree, the problem tree has a trunk, roots and branches. The trunk is the core problem, while the roots are the causes and the branches represent the effect.

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Adopting this framework, the students drew connections between the causes and effects for their respective problem. We culminated the lesson by asking them to draft a “problem statement,” which is a concise description of the issue that needs to be addressed. These lessons helped them in organizing their Internet researches into an introduction to their topics.

 

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After the topics were decided we briefed them on interview techniques such as asking impartial questions and recording responses more accurately. Students collected qualitative data by interviewing individuals in their community. The focus was to make them understand how the issue is affecting the community and how the community is perceiving the issue. After data collection, they brainstormed solutions to the issue in a Socratic seminar style.

Prior to the workshop, students had confessed their fear of public speaking. Our solution was to emphasize public speaking throughout the workshop. We mentored them on ‘Presentation Design’. We introduced every lesson by inviting them to give a speech on an assigned topic like their best friend or favorite memory. As the workshop progressed, we reduced the time for preparation, increased the prolonged duration of the speech and began asking on the spot questions. I was amazed when they reacted to these changes with more enthusiasm and multiple students volunteering to go first.

When the day of the presentation arrived, we reminded groups to speak clearly, maintain eye contact, use hand gestures, and take a deep breath if they got nervous. All the groups presented confidently in a room packed with students and teachers. I felt immensely proud as they clearly explained their topics and responded to all the audience’s questions. They were also confidently able to manage the audience’s engagement.

 

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I was overwhelmed with the joy  after the presentation, Rita Fathima (student from one of the groups) said, “Ma’am, this time I didn’t feel nervous while presenting.” Every one of them nodded in agreement. It was clear that they had experienced rapid growth in their presentation abilities.

The most memorable part of the workshop was when Safeera told me, “Everything we learned is very relevant to our daily lives.” I was overjoyed that the students not only found the course content useful but understood the importance of real-world experience in education.

I hope that our workshop can serve as a reminder that the most impactful learning often occurs when students can see the real-world applications of their work. I am extremely grateful to have been part of their learning journey.

By Naina, Intern, Mantra4Change

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