Interventions - Avehi Abacus
We live in a media-saturated culture, a culture of paradoxes, where the information explosion co-exists with shrinking spaces for public debate. The communications revolution has tended to serve the interests of the powerful. More than democratizing access to knowledge, it has worked towards spreading consumerist cultural values. Avehi is an organization, working to facilitate community access to relevant media resources. Avehi, an audio-visual resource centre, was launched in 1981 as an initiative of the Avehi Public Charitable Educational Trust. It was founded by individuals from various fields, committed to empowerment through education and to using the potential of audio-visual media to facilitate rational thinking, social awareness and social change. Avehi works towards promoting values of equality, social justice, gender sensitivity, secularism, communal harmony and human rights.
The Avehi-Abacus Project was initiated in 1990, to develop a supplementary curriculum for schools. The founding inspiration behind the project is renowned educationist and theatre personality, Smt. Shanta Gandhi (Padmashri recipient).
Philosophy (Presentation by Deepa)
We have been
working for last 12 years, developing learning material. (We) primarily work with
municipal corporation schools. Education should not be broken up into different
subjects. The world around us is one and so we need to learn everything as a
whole. That’s the way children learn naturally. If children cannot apply what
they learn at school when they go home, it is forgotten as soon as exams are
over. Education needs to give them skills that they require, skill to make
decisions, weigh options, skills to find out information (rather than just
giving information, since it keeps changing). Education not only happens at
school, but also at home, with parents and in our surroundings. We work with
children through the teachers. Since the teachers themselves have been through
the same system, they have to be trained to become a part of an interactive
process, so that children can come out with their experiences and express it
through whichever way they want to - poetry, debate, drama, writing etc. We
decided consciously to work with the system. Unless it is incorporated in the
existing system, it may die out when the first set of people leave. It has been
a long process. By and large given something new and more interesting, teachers
have awakened within themselves a joy for connecting, sharing and using what
they have learnt in other subjects as well.
Material we develop is extremely visual and attractive, since this caters
to the municipal school children who don’t have a library. The teachers are
also involved in many administrative works like inoculation, election, etc. So
the material should be attractive and interesting for the children to see and
react to but also for the teachers to use.
Most of the
children live in chawls with different communities, castes. Our modules are
activity based. What they learn in our sessions, the children use it in their
life. We get very good material in English, but not in regional languages. But
the kids deserve it in all languages.
Educational Methodologies (Presentation
at the conference by Noella and
year was 1952 and place was on the banks of the
1990, Avehi in
How many of you are designing material?
Our design team has 8 of us preparing the course and learning materials. In
addition we have supervisors who visit the schools and ensure that the materials
are used properly. We will give you more details a little later.
part of the presentation by Deepa]
on, we decided very consciously to work within the system – this way we can
reach out to the greatest number of children. We decided to work using the
existing space in the current system and after obtaining the co-operation of the
teachers and the municipal authorities. So after the initial experimental phase,
we went to the Mumbai municipal corporation and told them
“You have seen our program. There have been several independent
evaluations of our program, your evaluation, those by TISS (Tata Institute of
social sciences). We are not asking for extra time. There is already time
allocated to SUPW (Socially Useful and Productive Work) in municipal schools. Give us this time and we will use it.
This is time for socially useful productive work and is not being used
We take up
following themes in the 6 kits
Myself, my body and our needs: Understanding that I am unique; I have
unique needs, unique emotions, unique way of looking at the world; but we are
all unique and share common needs; seeing the connections with everyone else.
All of us are interconnected.
Understanding the world and the web of life. It helps in understanding
that all our needs are fulfilled by the earth.
The topics explored include our being on this earth, understanding our
world and web of life that binds us all together - living and non-living.
How societies developed? Where have we come from? This helps in
understanding what we were, where we came from, the mechanizations that get
people together, what were the structures set up, which in turn helps in
understanding our society today. How we operate in this world today.
The way we live. Where are we today? What is the role of social
institutions like family, state, class, caste today? What role do they play in
our lives today, how relevant are they, how do they influence us? Having
understood them - what do we accept, reject or challenge?
Exploring changes - change is inevitable. We can either be passive and
react to the change once it happens, or if we understand change - learn how to
be proactive, hasten a change that is good
or resist a change that is not welcome
Where are we going? What do I want in life? What will I be encouraged to
do? What will take me further? What will determine the future of the place I
live in? What will determine my future and the future of the world around me?
these sounds like extremely difficult topics to tackle and sometimes it does get
daunting. We take these themes in
one hour sessions. First 10-15 minutes is an introduction of an idea through a
story, flip-chart or discussion. Then there is discussion or an activity to
connect what is discussed to their own lives. Then there may be group activity
or worksheets and taking it home to relate it to their own lives. The values
that are very important to us are and which guides our work - working together,
respect for each other, dignity, co-operation, respect for labor, peace, respect
for all other living things. These themes keep coming up. One of our strengths
is that we let children to discuss complex contentious issues in the class,
where these issues are not discussed or do not even find a place in the
curriculum. These include for example issues related to development. The
children discuss it by putting themselves in positions where they debate and
come up with solutions.
Example - There is a block of flat on one of the main roads in
dwellers group- these people should go! They are dirty. They have to move as out
children need place to play (the children representing the building dwellers are
also from the slums).
dwellers group - We have as much right to stay here. You are rich. You shift.
Don’t our children have a right to play?
municipality group – in true bureaucratic sense wrote a letter to vacate the
houses. In 15 days you have to empty your houses.
We said this
wont do – you have to come up with a solution. The groups started discussing
this. The building people realized
that - if all the slum dwellers leave we will not have people to clean cars,
work in our houses etc. So we will clear our garages and let these people stay
and rest can go.
dwellers said - Who do you think likes to live in slums or dirty places? You
give us place. Give us a place that has jobs near by, sanitary conditions,
schools for our children and then we will move. Give us these facilities and we
suggestion that was put forth – re-house us in the same area with low level
housing and one flat roof covering all our houses. You can then build gardens on
the top and both children can play!
from municipality said - we will discuss this later.
This is an
example of an issue taken up in class which many of our children face. This was
a very adult issue, but they were able to solve it in a very friendly mature
fashion. We then gave it a little twist to see how they would react.
this place was earmarked as a hospital, what would you do”? The children
representing the slum dwellers said - if it is for the benefit of the larger
society then we will vacate. Building dwellers said - We don’t want a
hospital. Who wants blood, dead bodies around us?
Then we extrapolate and ask children if this has happened in their area?
What did you do? This is an issue that faces many of our cities today. Using
role play we were able to explore complex topics relevant today.
devised the teacher’s manual to be stand alone. Any teacher anywhere should be
able to read the manual and take the class. The manual consists of preparation
before the class, main ideas that are taken up, materials needed, session at a
glance, flip charts used, and questions to be asked after the flip chart, how to
carry the discussion and what the activity to be carried out after this is.
We give a lot of information and often the teacher herself is the best
aid! The good teacher simply takes off from here! The worst teacher conveys at
least 60-70% of the material. Even if this is followed as it is a lot is
conveyed to the children. Once this happens, even teachers feel how different
these sessions are different from any other periods in the class.
class strength varies from 35-60. The flip chart is large enough for the
children to see. The teacher wanders around to give the children a chance to see
the flip chart. Each Sangati kit comprises of one manual, flip chart, posters,
materials to be shown in class, worksheets. In conventional schools homework is
what we have already done in class. Here it is an extension of what was done at
school and relating it to their lives. Typical assignments include interviewing
someone in their locality, finding out number of shops in their area, asking
parents of an anecdote when they were young etc. This is some way in which they
learn about the world around them and also include parents in the education
process. Education is not just in school and that it happens in our
surroundings. Education is a combination of all the structures that influence us
- in school and outside.
issues do you take up?
take up issues like caste, class, gender, religion, development in our
classrooms in a way that is interactive, so that the children don’t feel
about reactions of the regular teachers?
There have been very interesting reactions. Many teachers in the
beginning at the very outset were resisting. BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal
Corporation) told them they have to do it. It was an extra thing for them. But
after taking the first month attendance in classes the day our sessions were
taken up shot up from 65-70% to more than 90%. Parents were getting interested,
they started coming to school and asking what is this that my children are doing
said – “In your sessions I encourage the children to talk, discuss, tell me
what you think and after this hour is over, I have to go back to the
history/geography lesson and I tell them keep quiet and listen. I have a
dilemma.” We asked her – “so what do you think you should do?” And she
said “I think I need to change my other classes.”
make it a point to attend our sessions to do a little bit of their classes. Many
of them are using these materials to teach other classes since there is a little
bit of history, geography in the material. We also teach them how to make charts
etc. Many teachers have also changed their world view, which goes even further.
does the worksheets?
Children do the worksheets. They take them home. They form a file for the
children. Worksheets are not corrected. There is no right or wrong. In 2000 when
we launched of our new printed material, we called some of the children we
worked with 5-6 years earlier. Some were working, some finished schools, one was
married. We asked them – “do you remember the things that we have done.”
This guy said “When I met my wife, I showed her 2 things - One is my photo
album and the other my Abacus file that I did in the sessions. Because these are
what define me.”
additional areas do you work in?
We work in
the schools we have mentioned before and an additional 100 schools in
Noella, Deepa, Ms. Simantini Dhuru
3rd Floor, K.K. Marg Municipal School,
Behind New Shirin Talkies, Saat-Rasta, Mahalaxmi,
Bombay 400 011
Tel: 022- 3075231
Please click here to see article from Avehi.
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