Via Teacher Plus
I am in a small village in north Bihar. The sky is overcast, dark clouds hang overhead. Soon it begins to rain. Children are running to school holding their bag and books over their heads. This is a government primary school. The building is small – only two rooms and a verandah. A new classroom is being built but it is not yet complete. Children of Standard 1 and 2 sit in the verandah, crowded together. The older children sit inside in the rooms.
One girl brings out a story book from the cupboard inside. It is a book about a boy called Maloo and his black dog who is named Kaloo.* The story is about their adventures in finding aloos (potatoes). The book is a bit dirty; the corners of the pages are curling upwards. It is clear that it has been well used. Some children can read the story and others can read the words. I read it out loudly. The words are fun to say out aloud … the pictures are clear and vivid. Most of the children in Standard 1 and 2 cannot actually read. It seems to me that some cannot even decipher letters. Yet, once we read the story out aloud several times, there is a lot of discussion. Our drawing activities have made it very natural to start putting things down on paper. Talking, looking at pictures, giving opinions, drawing, scribbling – all seem to happen naturally in the class. The book comes alive through the talk, the arguments, the discussions and debates. Talk has to happen with others. There can be agreement and disagreement, give and take. But on paper, each is on his or her own. Individual thinking, individual expression. Sometimes the drawing is clear and sometimes the scribbles are actually words. If I ask a child what they have made – they can always tell me what it is. The rain has stopped. The school compound is full of water. The children’s slates are full too. There is Maloo in every drawing – a boy who often bears some resemblance to the artist. And there is Kaloo too. It is not hard to make a little black dog with a pointy tail. And of course there are aloos and potatoes everywhere. Now the children are looking for more books to read, more books to talk about and more books to have fun with.