MECPI on Tour: Our trip to Acharya Shree Vijay Vallabh School, Pune, India by Sinead Matson
On the 12th of April, Sandra Lofus, Imani Gibson, and Ruth Bates joined me on a cultural knowledge exchange of knowledge with two schools in India: Archarya Shree Vijay Vallabh School and Emmanuel Public School, both in Pune, India. Through a series of blogs, I will describe the experience. In this, the first blog, I describe our experience of Archarya Shree Vijay School.
Having spent a weekend visiting famous cultural, historic, and religious sites we were welcomed into Archarya Shree Vijay Vallabh school on Monday morning by Subhash Pawar (chair of the Board) and Jasinta Manue (the Headmistress) with a traditional Indian welcome. It was such a delight to see the beautiful Rangoli and hear the excited chatter of the early childhood classes waiting in the yard to receive us! We walked through to see lots of excited children in yellow uniforms smiling and waving. Their teachers and teacher assistants were very welcoming and smiling.
After an assembly, including welcome speeches by a student, Ms Jasinta Manue and Mr. Subhash Pawar we were treated to prayers, songs, a traditional Marathi story, and a physical exercise session followed by meditation before the children went into their classes. It was very powerful to see the children singing their national anthem and also to watch how the simple meditative techniques seemed to centre after their exercises. Such simple things that I have never encountered in my practice in Ireland, despite our independence coming just a couple of decades before India’s.
Although it was just before the holidays and many children had left for the summer, there were still plenty of children left for us to get a sense of what the daily classroom dynamics are like. There seemed to be two lead teachers to each class, two teaching assistants, and a helper. Each classroom seems to hold approximately forty children on an average day during the year. The early childhood professionals in each room all held recognised early childhood education degrees. An indoor shared space included a very large sandpit approximately 16 metres squared which contained climbing frames, swings, slides, and plastic seesaws.
Inside the nursery classroom, the furniture was pulled back revealing a very innovative pattern on the floor to encourage gross motor movements. Some of joined in the fun as the children who demonstrated how to navigate the pattern. It was such a simple but effective way of encouraging gross motor skills in an environment that wouldn’t normally lend itself to it with the number of children occupying it.
As we walked around the classrooms, what struck us most was the print rich environment, the embracing of the children’s culture and heritage, and the use of recycled materials for resources. We heard songs, poems, and stories in English, Hindi, and Marathi (the local language). Lots of reference was made to the children’s local environment, their family, and communities. The theme of identity and belonging in our curriculum framework, Aistear, was clear for everyone to see in this school. What struck us most was that despite the different cultures, countries, and continents, we shared similar views of the child, similar practice, similar outlooks and similar materials. Everywhere we looked we were struck by how similar it all was and yet at the same time different.
We shared in a birthday celebration in one of the older classrooms and the class sang happy birthday to the pupil who then went around and gifted a pen to each of his classmates, and us, in honour of his birthday. It was so simple and yet so stark to the individualism of the birthday celebrations at home.
Finally, at the end of the day after we had been treated to a delicious lunch, followed by mehndi by the teachers, we had the chance to address the board of management, the Educational committee, and the team of teachers. This exchange of knowledge was such an important part of the day. We learned a little something about each of the teachers and we were all struck by their professionalism and teamwork. Really, they seemed like family and it was so refreshing to see such passion being recognised by the educational committee and board of management. We shared our thoughts about the school and spoke about our system in Ireland. We gifted them with a copy of Aistear the National Curriculum Framework and a painting which Ruth had commissioned of the Irish and Indian flag intertwined to represent our new relationship.
Our experience in Archarya Shree Vijay Vallabh School was amazing, and we really felt welcomed. There was so much to this one day visit that it is difficult to put into words. We know we are welcomed back any time we wish and already look forward to our next visit over to them. In the next blog, I will discuss their pedagogy and environment in greater detail, but for now I will leave you with a taster of our day in the video below.