Sunday, 8 October 2017

Grey Scale #5: Unskool, unteacher and so on

Education is not just relying on pen and paper but, is a holistic phenomenon. When one steps into class 5D of Chennai Middle School in MGR Nagar, this sense of being holistic could be felt right away.

The environment of the classroom and the way the 26-year-old teacher and my bestie Gilbert Ram, handles the class makes one want to go back to school and pursue studies under his guidance.

So, what’s special about Gilbert’s classroom? I recently visited his classroom and it was not a conventional one. Gilbert, along with his friends, was giving a makeover to the old government school classroom. The theme was the famous Minions.
“I have named my children Minions. I play videos from Despicable Me movie series and they love it.”

Guess what? Gilbert was giving the physical makeover during the Pooja holidays to surprise the children when they return after the long quarterly holidays. “We have sketched and coloured a lot of freaky minion expressions on the walls and I am sure they will be impressed by this,” says Gilbert.

Why was Gilbert taking all these efforts? Just to make them happy? No. He says. “A classroom environment would be the first one that makes a kid feel comfortable. Simply sitting on benches and looking at blackboards will surely lead them to hate education.”

Gilbert during painting
Adding to his birth name, Ramalingam, the 26-year-old teacher and part-time movie critic, works in a MNC and he is on two years sabbatical leave. He is teaching government school kids under a fellowship programme of Teach for India (TFI), a national-level NGO based out of Pune.

“Actually, I write movie reviews under the pen name Gilbert (nickname given by his uncle), and so it turned out to be the used name,” he chuckles.

But, Gilbert was not alone in his painting mission. When Gilbert Ram asked our other friends Arunkumar, Rajalakshmi and a couple of others regarding painting his class as per a theme, they stepped in without hesitation.

“Before the first term holidays began, we had vague ideas about what to do. A good friend of mine, Shrikrithika Nagarajan, who studied architecture at NIT Trichy and currently working as an interior designer, agreed to help us out and came on day one to kickstart the project,” said Rajalakshmi.

They handed over the scraping and primer coating to professionals and intense discussions happened each day about designing the class.

Gilbert and his friends
Arun’s version was quite emotional. “Drawing each Minion gave us satisfaction and colouring each Minion gave us goosebumps. It was a cherishable experience and full of fun. Each day, we also had friends volunteering.”

As time was short, the team got the work done by coming in immediately after work in the case of master artist Shrikrithika, and staying overnight in the case of other volunteers.

Shrikrithika said, “Working with Gilbert and his friends was an awe-inspiring experience. A team of people from various walks of life came together for one cause – to help their friend provide a conducive and nurturing academic environment for kids who hardly have access to two meals a day.”

“Starting from scratch, the rush and excitement of a deadline that came a week too soon, a little helplessness at the dearth of funding, the groggy high of doing overnight sessions for planning and execution after our regular office schedule, were a few of the challenges we faced,” remembers Shri.

However, it was all enjoyable: bonding over the highs and lows, working with different volunteers every night, sketching, painting and reminiscing about their schooldays, and giving the kids the best they could.

“With the preparatory work leaving us with hardly four days, we managed to complete the intended décor with the timely intervention by Yashwanth, an aspiring artist, and his contribution and encouragement,” she added.

Minions' Paradise - Class V-D, CMS, MGR Nagar, Chennai.
The team unanimously said when the classroom was finally ready, they went to sleep with a sense of satisfaction, three hours before the alarm rang to start a school day again.

“When I looked at the kids’ happy and excited faces and heard their screams of delight the next morning, I felt all the pains of the past week melt away, and a sense of purpose, pride and satisfaction wash over,” said Shri excitedly. The judges had judged! And of course, it was a job well done.

- Santhosh Mathevan,                                                                                             With inputs from
Chennai, October 8, 2017                                                                      Rajalakshmi and Shrikrithika

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