For the last few days I have been in Jaipur, visiting schools as part of the Jaipur Literary Festival Outreach organized by Pratham Books. The interactions were structured in such a way that it included upscale schools such as The Palace School as well as private schools catering to students from less elite backgrounds. All of them were either exclusively English medium schools or institutions offering both English and Hindi instruction. Spoken English levels varied widely, but what didn’t was the enthusiasm and energy of the children (mostly in the 12-15 age group) in discussing the workshop topic – ‘News and the world of information’.
What was remarkable was the level of knowledge among children, even in those belonging to the not-so-elite schools. At least one child in each school knew that paper was invented in China, and that the Gutenberg invented the modern printing press (the last was totally unexpected!). They had an instinctive understanding of the way technology was shaping communication to speed up the sharing of information. And they had no doubts that in the future robots would be writing the news and that we would be receiving news updates on our wrist-watches!
Before I left for Jaipur I had some qualms about how kids would respond to a dry, business oriented topic like news and information. Glad to say that my fears were belied. These sessions reinforced my belief that if you engage young kids, and tickle their intellect, most will happily respond. What also came home was, regardless of the kind of schools that kids go to, that children imbibe a fount of information, and are surprisingly knowledgeable.
And finally, I must add –they might be a little doubtful of what it is that our netas too (even I am working that one out), but their cricket ‘fundas’ are bang on. I ended each workshop with a little quiz, and the one question that got a correct answer every time was – which player holds the Indian record for the highest score in an ODI match? In case you didn’t know, it is Virendra Sehwag who scored 219 runs against West Indies in 2011 (Of course they knew the score and which team he thrashed!)
(Anita Mani is the founder-editor of Child Friendly News, a fortnightly newspaper for 7 to 13 year olds, that pitches ‘hard’ news for young minds in a style and format that can grip their attention. Writing and marketing a paper for children demands of Anita skills built over a 15 year career spanning mainstream print media, investment banking, consulting and running the operations of a technology start-up. When the call of the keyboard can be resisted (or ignored!), Anita pursues photography and bird-watching.)