I interacted with 5000+ students in a month, and it changed my perspective

I want to share an experience that left quite an impact on my perception on how we can make this world a better place.

Children.

Education is a powerful tool. The right curriculum, delivery mechanism and classroom techniques can help develop our children in every aspect of life. But education goes beyond what is taught in the classroom. This one still happens within the walls of a school – external interventions. Workshops, seminars, information sessions etc. are all a very powerful yet an underestimated tool in the education world.

There are a lot real life and social subjects that are not currently covered in the traditional curriculum but, they are required, more so now than ever, in order to ensure that children grow up to be properly sensitised and aware citizens. Subjects such as road safety, sexual awareness (including sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviour), gender sensitivity etc are sensitive topics that many a times need experts to make sure its delivered appropriately. But any external intervention is useless if all the focus is on the subject content but none on the style and method of delivery.

Delivery of any content is essential to make sure the receiver is able to absorb it and retain it. A dry, monotone delivery of letters and words is just another lecture. How do we ensure that in midst of a 8 am to 2 pm schedule of jam-packed classes of mathematic formulas and poetic interpretations, children actually retain and take interest in content delivered through external interventions?

As part of my work, I was tasked with delivering information workshops across 50 schools in Delhi NCR for a CSR campaign focused on road safety. The instructions given to me were plain and simple – here is the material. Here is the list of schools. All of the content must be covered within the 50 minute slot allocated in each school. However, no one spoke to me about good practices to adopt in order to ensure that children are not yawning while I talk. I don’t think that has ever crossed anyone’s mind wherever I have worked. We focus so much on quantitive impact – how many students did we reach? But in my head, the more important question is: how much did we end up impacting the students? Will they remember us once we’re out the door?

We had only one laptop to showcase our material, and every child, even the ones at the back, were intrigued and made the efforts to see whatever they could. This is one of the purest showcase of effort and example of the curiosity in young children.

When standing in front of these children, I saw this excitement that can’t be explained. All of them looking at me with curiosity – what will they be doing here? It is an escape from their everyday classroom routine, so regardless of the content, I had to focus on the experience and connection and make it count. Make it memorable. Environment is key in making sure that the learning space enables absorption and helps curiosity thrive. An individual never stops learning from their environment, therefore, we have to make sure we also invest in a student’s learning environment at every step, age and grade.

My interaction with students yielded positive returns. Good feedback, laughter every now and then at anecdotes, questions that didn’t need to be coerced and many times, children asking for autographs, a big achievement because that means they want to remember you. There were a few simple yet effective techniques I followed to achieve this:

– Seem (and be) friendly and approachable
– Don’t pick on children individually, even if they misbheave.
– Don’t deliver the content in a lecture delivery style. Instead, first ask questions, and then cater your content as the answer to that.
– Add a personal style. Tell them stories that can help them relate to you.
– Eye contact and a smile. Allow youself to laugh when they laugh at something funny that happens. Be human with them.

My last school session. My 50th school.

Reading the room when delivering any content is an essential step. Understand how young or nervous your audience is. Individuals remember moments and experiences more than they remember words and dates. Your capability at creating an experience is directly propotional to the impact you will create in their minds. Understanding this simple formula changed my perspective towards conventional education and external education inititatives.

It made me realise the true learning power that children hold, how tapping into that potential learning power can greatly influence a child’s growth and holistic development. They are curious and they are always open to something new. The way we deliver content determines the value we add to our society through these young minds. I myself don’t remember every class or chapter that I have read in school. But certain moments, good or bad, with teachers and peers have made a lasting impression on me even today. Environment and delivery style are two key tools that we need to look into when discussing about bettering our education system in India and worldwide.

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