Rowing boats and navigating a safe passage

Look carefully. There's some serious learning going on here!

Look carefully. There’s some serious learning going on here!

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream!

         (Traditional Children’s rhyme)

Between teaching two cohorts of students and running a training day for our research students here in Bangalore, we like to make the most effective use of our time. This sometimes means providing training sessions in either the schools where our students work, or in those of colleagues who provide support to our work here in the city. We are dependent upon the goodwill of so many friends in Bangalore and we are therefore always pleased to be able to give something back in kind to them and their schools.

Thus it was that yesterday a group of teachers and parents found themselves seated on the floor, rocking to and fro, whilst chanting the children’s rhyme that appears at the top of this posting. Later in the morning, the same group were playing a simple traditional Indian game of hop and catch, though restricted space somewhat limited the scope of this particular escapade.

If having read the above you are wondering what this has to do with the professional development provided to a school staff and parents, I probably owe you an explanation. Latha, who was one of the first students here in Bangalore to graduate from the MA programme, had asked that we visit her school to work with parents and colleagues to consider how early educational experiences can help children to become confident learners. We were more than happy to oblige, and suggesting that formalisation of education is being increasingly imposed upon children at an ever younger age, we decided to demonstrate the value of informal learning and to explore the uses of play.

Great fun was had by all as they experienced the kind of activities that we would hope all parents enjoy with their children. This was accompanied by more serious discussion about early years learning, the promotion of healthy child development and the importance of providing secure relationships between children, and for children and adults. We examined in some detail the many learning opportunities that exist outside of the classroom, and the importance of acknowledging that children learn much from people who are not formally designated as teachers. By the end of the day we had all reflected upon a unique learning experience, and promised to go away and encourage the children and adults in our lives to learn by being more playful.

Today was rather more formal, though also involved a number of enjoyable learning experiences. My good friend Savitha, who has been so supportive of our work in Bangalore, and is a fine example of someone committed to running an inclusive school, invited me to assist her staff in developing inclusive classroom planning strategies. Knowing of the great enthusiasm always exhibited by the staff of Pramiti school, it was easy to facilitate a range of practical tasks focused upon the children with whom they work.

Both of these days were not only rewarding, but were important to those of us who come here to offer the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme. Having rowed boats across very smooth waters, and navigated a route through classroom planning, we will now hoist sail and sally forth to work with our next group of students.

The teachers at Pri. .miti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

The teachers at Primiti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

Getting things off my chest!

If Munch needed inspiration he could find it alongside me in this hotel!

If Munch needed inspiration he could find it alongside me in this hotel!

Adjusting to local conditions is something I always accept as an important necessity when working outside of my own country and culture. Most experiences can be regarded as learning opportunities and with a little forethought and a positive attitude they are usually taken in my stride. Indeed it is often those events or conditions that are far removed from those familiar at home that add to the experience of working in previously unknown places.

I recall working in Turku in Finland with a good Finnish colleague when the temperature was minus 26 degrees. Walking less than a mile through the city to the venue where we were going to teach, my beard froze solid, forming icicles that hung down towards my chest, and my eyebrows were so stiff with rime that I could hardly move the muscles in my face. However, I also remember that the air was clear, the voices of children singing in the cathedral were very moving and the company excellent.

In China I have on occasions found that the challenges are of a dietary kind. Though I became quite adept at using chopsticks whilst working in Hong Kong, the wide ranging foodstuff that I am more used to seeing hopping around ponds, slithering through the long grass or climbing trees was not always to my taste in mainland China. Having been told that the noxious smelling fermented tofu, considered a delicacy by some, tasted better than it looked, I found that I had been unintentionally deceived. It may well have been a local speciality, but it most certainly was not to my taste. Despite this, I was able to laugh about this situation with Chinese friends, and enjoyed seeing city sights that were novel and interesting to my western eyes.

Here in India, having visited so many times, I have begun to feel inured to the crazy traffic, the obstacle course that appears where pavements should be, the late starts of meetings, and the mangy dogs that roam the streets. You know that you are comfortable in India when you find youself dozing off in the back of an autorickshaw. I love the variety within Indian food, and have learned to cope with all but the hottest days in Chennai. However, just when I began to think that I was fully acclimatised, my complacency found me out.

Power cuts, often associated with stormy weather are a not an unusual feature in India, and these are usually short in duration and manageable. Today, a series of such “outages” as some call them here, have been the order of the day, causing regular minor interruptions to sessions on the MA course. These are generally manageable, and of course, our excellent students are very tolerant. Whilst this is a small inconvenience, other issues since my arrival in the city have been much more of an irritation. It is a symptom of modern life, and more especially today’s working practices that we struggle when we have no internet access. Our lives are, in part, governed by emails, which everyone assumes provide a quick and easy form of communication between all parts of the globe. When such a facility is not available, which has been the case for most of the time when we are in our hotel after a day’s teaching, and hoping to catch up with work from home, it is possible to quickly become irascible.

Before I go any further, and begin to sound as if I am moaning, let me state that the hotel staff are all very pleasant people, and I am sure that they are doing their best to provide a service. We have internet access at the teaching venue, so we can, to some extent work around the lack of this facility at the hotel. Such a minor inconvenience I would normally take in my stride. But when this is coupled with the fact that my laundry has gone walkabout somewhere in the suburbs of Bangalore, I begin to feel the strain.

It is said that Mahatma Gandhi when he was so brutally assassinated owned two dhotis a shawl and a pair of sandals. This was more than adequate for his needs. This I say is all very well, but I am not a Mahatma, and whilst I am generally of a calm disposition, I do not have Gandhiji’s saintly characteristics, and my tolerance level is far less than his!

I have no doubt that before too long I will be laughing about what are, after all, a minor series of inconveniences. I know that this is far from my usual experience of staying here in this city, where people are always welcoming and eager to ensure every comfort. Above all, the pleasure gained from working with good colleagues and excellent students means that as always, being in Bangalore is a privilege and a positive experience. The teaching has been a pleasure, and the interaction with people, not only on the course, but during my morning walks around Jayanagar has been, as always, a delight.

Today I told our MA students that they should write something every day. That writing is a physical as well as a mental process that requires training and practice. Trying to lead by example I informed these eager learners that if I write nothing else today I will at least post something on this blog (internet allowing). Writing I suggested can be creative, is an aid to thinking, and provides opportunities to attempt to solve problems. I have just realised that it can also be cathartic and sometimes allow one to, as they say, “get things off one’s chest.”

Do I feel better for that – probably. But I’d still like to become reacquainted with my laundry!

If my laundry doesn't arrive sooon I shall be as naked as Rodin's thinker. Then they'll be sorry!

If my laundry doesn’t arrive sooon I shall be as naked as Rodin’s thinker. Then they’ll be sorry!

Staying focused as we approach the finishing line.

Everyone assumes a role as we learn together on the MA programme

Everyone assumes a role as we learn together on the MA programme

Supporting our MA students in Bangalore as they work on the preparation of their dissertations is always interesting and at times challenging. At present we are working with a very enthusiastic and able group who have generated excellent research proposals and piloted one of their data collection instruments. At this stage of their progress they come back to us with many questions and a few anxieties about aspects of their piloting that maybe didn’t run as smoothly as might have been wished for. At the moment our job is not simply to give answers, but to give them opportunities to find solutions.

As part of the proceedings we encourage these neophyte researchers to bring their issues to sessions in order that we can help them to think these through, and learn about managing their projects. This invariably leads to lively debates and results in a stimulating learning environment from which we all benefit. Today was no exception.

This afternoon started with one of our students showing a brief clip of video recording of her work with parents of children from a village community near where she is based. Many of these adults are parents of first generation learners and our student wishes to gain data from them to inform her research, which is examining the effectiveness of the school provision made for their children. This is an exciting project which demonstrates the commitment and impact that some of our students are having in fostering more inclusive learning opportunities.

In order to gain the data that she requires this keen researcher is planning to use focus groups, but like many at this stage of her research development, she is apprehensive and has questions about how best this should be managed. What are the difficulties in collecting data from parents who cannot read and write? How do I manage a group when they don’t follow the conventions of taking turns to speak? These and other similar concerns were brought to the table. So this afternoon, much of the time was spent in role play, with students taking  the part of participants, researchers, recorders and observers. Everyone took the role they were playing seriously, and the action was followed by a lively discussion, with an exchange of ideas and suggestions that helped in the development of a set of principles for focus group management. Hopefully our student feels more confident and many of her questions will have been addressed. I look forward to her reprting back after the next stage of data collection.

Sessions such as these, led largely by the students themselves, and often involving friendly banter and laughter, can only be conducted when they feel at ease with each other, respecting their classmates and demonstrating a willingness to share ideas. I am sure that as these students begin the last leg of their journey towards achieving their MA degrees they are forming friendships that will endure, and have gained new skills and knowledge that they will take forward for the benefit of the children and teachers with whom they work.

Days like today reinforce the fact that it is a privilege to work together with such committed professionals.