Working With Generation Alpha

Generation Alpha

Alpha generation is the one made of people who are born after 2010. They are tomorrow’s adults who will face the entire crisis that the world is going through and they will have the responsibility to face it and solve it! A big challenge!

About the school

Government Higher Primary School, Hengavalli, is located at a village named Hengavalli, in Kundapur Taluk, Udupi District, Karnataka. My friend Poornima studied in this school and her father is the retired headmaster of this school. So, it was convenient for me and Poornima to start our project here as she knew the village, people and faculty.  The school has a total of 104 kids from 1st-8th standard and 7 teachers.

About the project

We had only one plan when we started and that was to make children get to know who they share their lands with i.e. who creeps on the ground, who hides behind the rocks, who climbs the trees, what kind of trees and who flies in the sky and how they all affect our lives and how we affect theirs. Neither did we have any syllabus nor any prior experience. But we had a group of friends who shared their ideas and we often discussed what has been done and what needs to be done.

We (me and children) learnt almost everything through different activities like digging pits, sowing seeds, watering plants, removing weeds, watching birds, inventing card games, doing yoga, cooking, cleaning and through a lot of discussions. Sometimes I would guide them and sometimes they would guide me. I believe that this relationship where we treated each other as equals was the key to learning and sharing ideas (of course I would act like a strict teacher very rarely when it was absolutely necessary and that necessity kept on reducing with time).

What have you learnt?

The very first thing I learnt was that the children know more than I when it comes to their surroundings and that I will have to become a student first if I want to become a teacher. I listened, listened a lot, inside the school, outside the school, in bus stand while waiting for the bus (learnt to wait for government buses that arrive only once in 2 or 3 hours) during the class, during the breaks, during every moment I spent with kids. I learnt their language (Kundapura Kannada is much more complicated than any other Kannada). I heard stories which children had heard from their grandparents or parents about the local plants and animals.

After a few months the children treated me as their own and took me for walks into their fields and forests and introduced me to their family. I learnt about the animals which steal (according to them) their crops or destroy it and how they plan to prevent it. I learnt about their myths, beliefs and interests. I learnt how children think, speak, act, seek justice, imitate adults, yearn to learn something new, trust their people, lie and how I can utilize these learnings to teach them or to learn from them. Picking up topics for the class and preparing for it made me dig deeper into many subjects. Sometimes I had answers for their questions and sometimes I didn’t. Those made me read more and explain better. There are some questions asked by kids for which I’m searching for answers even today. My skills with respect to interacting with kids have improved a lot.

Almost all the ideas about the topics for the class were inspired by nature, kids, Viju and sometimes accidentally. The way I taught changed over time. I started spending more in observing nature, started to sit in a place for a long time and would just stare at a tree or bush waiting. There I would see a story behind every moving leaf, every little sound, every time the air brought a new aroma and at that point, I would learn something new, perhaps a new topic for the class.  Initially I would go with a solid plan and saw it failing as the kids perceived things very differently. They wouldn’t settle for simple explanations. They had questions out of topic, connecting to different subject, social structures and how adults wouldn’t follow what they learnt in school. For example, we always talk about not cutting down trees, but teachers themselves cut the trees, we speak about loving and respecting other creatures but a snake is killed every day, we speak about saving water but a pump runs all day because the electricity is free in farms etc. These questions made us think and we would discuss about how everything is connected and how it needs to be solved, how they can make a difference and be better than the adults.

I learnt that there is still hope, that these kids are much more powerful than we can imagine. If we just let them think and choose and let them know that we have faith in them, they always take the right decision. Every kid is special and has many hidden talents. If a teacher succeeds in helping the kid to show what he is capable of he can do wonders.

What the children have learnt?

School was always about sitting on a bench and listening to the classes apart from the P. E. class in the evening. Working with tools like trowel and pickaxe in the morning would fill them with excitement. Some of them knew very well how to use these tools and others learnt from them.  As the number of tools was always lesser than the number of kids, they learnt to form groups, share the tools and do this in a harmonious way. Over time many of the tools were lost and they became responsible about using them and finding them when lost. With time they started taking responsibility of a tiny piece of land, a plant, a tree, a work, library, cycle etc.

Geniuses emerged slowly and in varieties. 4 little girls from 3rd standard became the top readers of the school spending at least half an hour with library books every day. They started systematic library classes for their classmates which they later on taught to their seniors (without my help. And honestly, they did a better job than me). All I did was to watch and be mesmerized. I had expected this from the older kids (8th standard), even had guided them several times but they could never do it like these 8-year-olds.

The so-called naughty kids were excellent when it came to anything that involved movement. They love digging a vegetable bed, they love cleaning and organizing the books in library and therefore started taking care of THEIR GARDEN and THEIR LIBRARY. Nobody can mess with their garden or misplace their books. The naughtiest kid has a very particular interest in a particular type of story books. He likes stories that have no explanation, no letters because he likes to make up his own stories looking at those pictures. This kid wouldn’t sit in one place few months ago.

The kids started thinking what they can do with the things they have grown.  Giving it to the kitchen is one thing but planning what they can do by themselves with their harvest is another. Their gongura leaves are ready, they have learnt the recipe of Gongorapachdi from a Telugu video and have figured out who will get methi, who will get chilly, when will the kitchen be free and how many people will taste their pachdi. I find it very beautiful when kids select a topic on their own (and it’s the right one almost all the time), discuss the details and take actions and ask the teacher just to be with them.

Karthik can talk about snakes all day, Manish can spend his whole life repairing and designing machines, Thanmayi is never tired of talking to me about what plant, bird, flower, insects she saw the previous day. And there are hundreds of stories and examples if I continue.

What did the teachers and the school administration has learnt?

They have for sure learnt that these activities are necessary and useful. They have learnt to have faith in our methodology and kids. Few things are still foreign to them and impractical but there is still a long way to go. In the past few months teachers have been very cooperative and have given me complete freedom with everything that I want to do (with few exceptions like taking kids to wild zones and taking classes on holidays. But I also understand their dilemma).

They have also learnt that these activities and academics can go hand in hand and this can be done in other schools. They have also become aware of the biodiversity of the place and its ecological importance.

What did the community learn?

Well, I cannot say much about it as my interaction with them has been minimal. The parents know me through kids, they know what we stand for. And they are supportive too. It feels wonderful when I receive seeds from them and when they meet me some of the parents share their experiences and we talk (though I enjoy talking to kids more). I feel we need to work a lot in community level. That’s the task for the coming days.

How did it affect the nature around you?

We have been successful in utilizing the barren areas in school and making it successful. It’s clear that the school surrounding is less polluted as we are managing grey water and food waste. So that has affected positively on butterflies, birds, insects and homosapiens. We have started utilizing the trees, leaves, flowers and been actively planting something every month. Children have also started doing similar things at their homes. But at the same time, these changes are minimal according to me. We have been doing a lot at school. But nature is much more than an area within the school compound.

How much you have learnt to communicate with the nature?

We are learning that even though the nature looks silent, there are thousands of things going on in that silence. And our ears are not designed to hear most of the sounds. But if we just stop talking and moving and see where we stand and look around, we understand how ignorant we have been to what’s happening around us. The kids perceive this better than me. They feel the wind better, they sense the change in temperature, and they show me how a particular insect has been showing up more often and on what days and at what time. We have started to see when a tree sheds its leaves, when a flower blooms and what kind of bees or birds are attracted to them. We see how a snail crosses a hot road without being crushed by a vehicle. And we think why are you doing this O snail? Why the road? Why in the afternoon?

Could any of you hear the nature communicate with you?

This is a magical question and needs magical answer. A kid approached me one day and said that her plant is growing well because she has been talking to the plant. I wonder how did that thought come to her? There have been incidents where we feel pulled to a place or to look in particular direction and we witness something magical. I have seen many birds that way. There are times when kids feel that a tree is smiling, waving, protecting or warning them. I don’t know if you consider this as communication with nature and silly mind games. But in any case it soothes the mind, relaxes our nerves, makes us feel that everything communicates with everything and gives a sense of connectedness and belonging.

Dr. Deepthi Amin (29 years old) is a qualified Naturopath Doctor. She is interested in children, organic farming and permaculture and yoga. She works with rural children. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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