The hundred is there – Loris Malaguzzi

Posted: July 2nd, 2012 | Filed under: General | No Comments »

‘The hundred is there’, is a poem written by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the internationally known Reggio Emilia approach to education. The poem highlights the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which is based upon the following set of principles*:

  • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
  • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing;
  • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore and
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.

*Source: Wikipedia


The hundred is there

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Loris Malaguzzi
(translated by Lella Gandini)

We all love stories

Posted: June 19th, 2012 | Filed under: General | No Comments »

We all love stories and we all love (well, almost all) children.  As adults in the roles of teachers and parents, we have read numerous stories aloud to children. At Designin Schools, we chose to instead tell stories about children and adults to teachers and parents.

Acting as parables, the various stories in the sessions on ‘Children and Creativity’ struck different chords at the two workshops: one with teachers of Vishwajyot High School, Kharghar and another with parents at Just Books Library, Nerul.Our stories about children: ordinary children, none proven ‘gifted’ by a stroke of luck or subjected to a ‘genius’ moment, led participants to uncover some of their own.

In a world where technology has infiltrated every aspect of life with gadgets complete with operating manuals in various languages, we thought children were the only one who land up announced, but without any operating manuals. A teacher’s response made us rethink, as she rightly pointed out, “The operating manuals for children are the grandparents and their wisdom”.

Creativity and children:
Little children often imitate / emulate their favourite idols, could be a singer or a dancer or an actor. They can easily modify things into a mike to croon into. In doing so, they recreate the idea in their own worlds; as adults we are unable to do that fearlessly. Imitation is the foundation of creativity and children are inherently creative and fearless. They are not afraid to make connections between different ideas and objects. The absence of fear, especially the fear of failure enables them to think abstractly and innovate for themselves. We share here some such stories.

In a mathematics class, discussing concepts of addition and subtraction, a child diagnosed with ADHD (or as we know it today) stood up to say, ‘Rain is addition and Sun is subtraction’. The teacher was baffled for a couple of minutes and sought to clarify what the child meant. He answered, but, with a straight face, ‘Rain adds water to our planet, hence adds and the Sun with its heat causes water to evaporate hence, subtracts’. This is a child who you may think is unable to pay attention in class, but his mind travelled to connect the seemingly discordant entities of mathematics and geography, which even teachers do not think of.

In another, a grandparent, also a senior educator recalled telling his grandson the well-known story of the ‘Blue Jackal’. After listening to the story a few times, the little boy said, ‘Why can’t the jackal be red today, or green tomorrow”? As adults, we have never wanted to question the authenticity of the ‘blue’ in the story but he did. Because, he was curious to know how the story will be if the jackal changed colours; and his did not take away the learning of the story but only made it more exciting for him.

In an art class, children aged 7-8 were asked to draw and a colour a duck carrying an umbrella. The duck was supposed to be coloured in yellow, but when one girl decided to colour it a shade of purple. When questioned by the teacher if she had ever seen a purple duck, ‘I have never seen a duck carry an umbrella either,” she quipped. Had she been severely admonished about the purple duck, it would have scarred her mind forever and not allowed her to think freely.

Creativity and adults:
In talking to adults, we could see the various apprehensions about nurturing and channelling abstractions and creativity in children, and also owning up to their creative surges. One of the narrations highlighted how parents tend to react adversely to the inability of a child to score full marks /high grade in mathematics but do not worry about the lack of such high scores in art or sports. This hierarchy of subjects or a caste system needs to be done away with by both parents and teachers. At Designin Schools, we believe that in engaging in areas of physical education, sports and all creative arts can result into life-long learning.

As it seemed to be the norm, a woman (now also a mother of two) admitted herself to an engineering degree. But during the first year she saw some other students pursue architecture at the hostel. Completely taken in by what architecture encompassed, she wanted to switch over but the worry about losing a year held her back. After pursuing a job in IT for several years, she gave it up to realise her true passion lies outside and now works on organisational behaviour and also engages in art.

In discussion with adults, rose several questions on how can grown-ups undo the effects of the hierarchic systems of education. As a response, we all turned to Vishal Khandelwal (from Safal Niveshak), one such example in the audience. With an education background in finance, Vishal worked as a Stock Market Analyst for eight years, before he decided to quit the safe and secure job, to follow his dream of becoming an independent financial writer. He established Safal Niveshak, a guide to movement to help the small investor, become successful in stock market investing decisions.

Education as a ‘Cash-Crop’
As a team of design professional with a wider portfolio, we have often been posed with the question, ‘Par Scope kya hai – But what is the scope?’ A question not faced by doctors, engineers or even teachers.

There is a tea-shop run in Navi Mumbai by 4 ambitious youngsters with great entrepreneurship skills. Armed without a degree in culinary skills or a formal education worth boasting of, they together serve around 5000 cups of tea everyday (incl. Sundays and holidays) at Rs.8 per cup; this with a smile every day, sometimes a whistle and a pat on the back of their patrons. Assuming a minimum profit margin of Rs.2 per cup and a maximum of Rs.4 per cup, we leave you to do the math. (Hope you have perfected your math skills)

After eight years of a successful career as a software professional with a well-cushioned job, Sanjay has now left it all to become an entrepreneur. He is working on opening a franchisee of teashops that will combine more than hundred varieties of teas with the right food. Sanjay has no formal training in culinary skills either, but his passion drove him here and he has taken the plunge.

These two unconnected stories were not narrated with a defined lesson, but were left open for the participants to make deductions. The first story invoked extreme reactions from some. One thought that there is a big difference in the 4 young lads earning that kind of money and their happiness quotient when compared to a qualified professional earning the same amount; purely because of their lifestyles. (This was pointed to the fact that the young lads did not fancy a four-wheeler or stylish clothes or latest gizmos; and hence their happiness quotient ranked low when compared to their profits. We are not sure, but are very positive that it is otherwise). Absence of formal education or a different lifestyle put a big question mark on their able entrepreneurship skills and hence their success. With the second story, not one doubt was cast on Sanjay’s entrepreneurship skills or his lack of experience thereof. This was clearly attributed to his past as the successful software professional and his access to formal education.

Several inferences can be drawn from the stories we shared, but we are confident that they all build and strengthen a case for creativity in education; and beyond it.

Please feel free to write to us here and share other such inspiring stories.

Making space for design in education

Posted: June 2nd, 2012 | Filed under: General | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

When we hear creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson say that schools kill creativity; we all nod our heads in agreement. The question to ask is how we are working on infusing creativity into mainstream education. Education, especially in K-12 schools influence and shape children’s minds; develop their skill sets for day-to-day life; prepare them for the future; and widen their understanding of diverse aspects of life.

Let us look at a creative domain like design. Design is a process that encompasses creativity, communication, planning and purpose – a result of which is experienced by everyone in some way. Today, mainstream education needs to engage itself with tools like design thinking rather actively to sensitise both children and teachers about design thinking and creativity.


What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a process of identifying a problem, analyzing it and creating an innovative solution to the problem. The solution: a process; a product or a system is the recognised intent / purpose of design. Design thinking does not only solve new problems every day but often creates new solutions everyday for the same problem. Teachers and children have a large stake in the future and when sensitized about design thinking and creativity can be lead to several inspiring moments in their learning environments.

To facilitate the above, we require educators & design professional to come together to build space for design thinking and creativity in the school program. In designing their class; the content; the curriculum and the learning environment, educators and curriculum developers are constantly designing, though only unintentionally. Incorporating design thinking, consciously into their daily activities will enable them to learn from different disciplines, especially through meaningful collaborations with each other, and also empower them to further nurture creativity in children. Children can similarly expand their field of learning through a subject like design.

There can be many challenges in formulating such comprehensive educational models through which children can be educated on the basic concepts of design. For instance, should we take a` more organic approach to teach the concepts of design or should we take a more classical approach, resembling the educational system through which a design student is trained. As design practitioners, we believe that an organic structure founded on awareness and appreciation of the medium can augment the experience than a rigid model of design education of schools.