Playing conkers in Bangalore

MA students learning to be children again in Bangalore.

MA students learning to be children again in Bangalore.

The Bangalore rains are threatening to wash us away. Tonight we travelled across the city from the Cantonment area to Jayanagar driven by one of our student colleagues in a torrential downpour. The lightning cracked the heavens and thunder beat around our ears as Asha negotiated her way along roads that ran like mountain streams. Crazy auto-rickshaw drivers created bow waves through water that threatened to engulf their cabs and motorcyclists appeared to accept that the water would be rising to their kneees. Caution is not within the nature of the average road user here in Bangalore. If the English truly are obsessed with the weather we will have plenty to talk about for months to come.

All this came at the end of a day which saw the commencement of their studies for a new group of MA students. In great anticipation we awaited their arrival this morning and gradually each entered the classrooms appearing slightly apprehensive as any scholar might be on the first day of school. However, in no time they had settled and were enthusiastically engaged in a range of activities to which they responded brilliantly. Before long they were debating those obstacles to creating inclusive learning systems that they each face in their day to day work. It was soon apparent that this is going to be another excellent cohort of students.

When we start these courses, as tutors we are always keen to put our students at ease, and we seek out those activities that may enable our newcomers to smile and relax. Today, amongst the surprises we had arranged was the opportunity to play a game that has been enjoyed seasonally each autumn by English school children for many years. In September English children have traditionally sought out the fruit of horse chestnut trees, affectionately known as conkers, in order to play a game. These hard, shiny brown seeds, some as big as a ping-pong ball are threaded onto a length of string and children engage in friendly combat by attempting to break the conker of their opponent. The conker is swung in an arc in an effort to strike that of the opponent who must hold their own still until the attempt is completed.  Not surprisingly, our Indian students knew nothing of this tradition, so today, having come prepared, we taught them the finer arts of the game.

This was, of course, just a way of getting the students to know each other and to relax. A simple diversion in the midst of their more serious studies. But I also feel that it is good for all of us to experience every now and then, what it is to be childlike once more. Children learn through playing games and having fun. In the case of a game of conkers, they learn motor skills, taking turns and how to win or lose with good grace. As our students today discovered, there is more skill in this game than may have initially met the eye.

Throughout their studies we will hope to work with these new students in ways that engage them and make them smile. After all, when there is joy in learning it encourages the student to ask for more. So as well as the serious business of examining teaching styles and the relationship between educational policies and practices that we did for most of today, we will continue to seek ways to enable our student colleagues to experience the fun that promotes learning. Tomorrow the pleasure of learning will continue and we can hardly wait.