We are just about to set off for the Beautiful Feast element of Alfie’s birthday celebrations, which turns out to be: a visit to 3 temples, a jail and a forest. “A Full Day” said Mr P, with meaning. Pictures to follow…


Activity Based Learning

Activity Based Learning is the new happening thing in Tamil Schools, apparently. It was introduced at SEED a couple of years ago. I have spent some time pondering what Inactivity Based Learning might have been like. Activity Based Learning is, as far as I can tell, a series of work sheets. The great virtue of the worksheets (I hesitate to say their greatest virtue) is that that the children can all be working on different exercises without the need for a class set of books. There is a variety of types of card. We have engaged slightly with the English cards. Ben’s least favourite are the ones with a triangle in the middle and three English words around the edge- something like “Cracking/ Refinery/ Carpet” or “Slender/Ignite/Dog”. – sometimes we have been handed one of these cards and asked to “teach it” -for a couple of hours. We have never quite worked out what the children are supposed to be doing with the three unrelated words, but since seeing the High School exam I have lost any sense that it’s a mystery I will ever be able to fathom. I certainly prefer the surreal triangle cards to the ones with a single grammatical point, like “Perfect Tense” and then a series of disconnected sentences where you have to fill in the gaps.

I have spent several afternoons sitting on the floor writing down the answers to the later cards, which no children have got to yet in a special book for the teachers, as far as I was able- often not very far. One of the cards had a series of pictures of children with their names underneath, all industriously engaged with various craft activities. You had to write a question: “What is Prabu doing?” and then an answer “ Prabu is colouring in” or “Prabu is making a horse out of Papier Mache”. There was one picture where two girls seemed to be shooting sparks out of their hands at each other but this was actually, according to the teacher “Playing Pebble Game”. Several of them were totally impentetrable to me and the teacher, memorably, a boy who appeared to be painting a small model of the Buddah turquoise.

Some of the cards feature Traditional English Rhymes like “Solomon Grundy” and the one about “cloudy weather” and the “old man all dressed in leather”- you know that one? The teachers know tunes to all of these rhymes- rather good Tamil tunes. In amongst these rhymes are some modern additions like “I have little cell phone”, which everyone is disappointed that we don’t already know.

As far as I can see there is no opportunity anywhere in the Activity Based learning scheme for any sort of creative writing or “expressive” work of any kind. Every exercise has a right answer which is not up for negotiation. That may be because I am only able to look at the English and Maths cards and when I come to think about it, I don’t think there was much creative writing when I The learning is “outcome focused” -if you will excuse the education speak- rather than “process led”, it’s about getting the answer right not meandering about on the way enjoying the view. I may be reading it all wrong though, and in fact the picture of the boy painting the Buddha turquoise is meant to be the spring board for a really remarkable intellectual journey. In fact now I come to think of it, it makes much more sense that way.


Ben’s Choir: by Ben

There is quite a lot of singing in the daily life of SEED. Prayers are sung several times a day, thanksgiving is sung before lunch and if it is a feast day- paid for by a benefactor celebrating a birthday- we sing happy birthday.

In addition to this, there is a fair amount of singing involved in Activity Based Learning. One man went to Moe is a favourite,although the actual tune of it is fairly lost and the rhythm (as also in Happy Birthday) has got some tricksy bits to it – tricksy to us westerners who are used to just 3 and 4 time. About 3 weeks into being here I realised that what with telling stories, smashing through I’m a little teapot and ‘doing’ past and present tense, I wasn’t really doing anything pr properly musical

for the children. So I started an official choir – 4.30 -5.30 every day. Discipline has been a bit of struggle, partly because the children are like any children, but also I think because they think that Ben + singing = hilarity and tomfoolery. I soon put this to rights as hilarity + tomfoolery = no songs learned.

I have chosen some traditional songs – All things bright and beautiful, Give me joy in my heart, As I went down in the River to Pray, Molly Malone, and a couple of others. I thought that religious ones would go down well as they can use them in ‘cultural pro grammes’ (Paramishvilli, one of the teachers has already said that she could use some of them in the future), they have good tunes and the children respond to a spiritual theme. Actually they loved the ghost bit of Molly Malone, it took a while to explain what was going on, but once they got it they went all shivery, which was fantastic. They generally respond to the moods of the songs well and have risen to the challenge of singing English music, in English very well indeed. I am proud of them.

I have them all ready for a performance, with solo and trio bits, all of them looking up and smiling and knowing where to stand, but I don’t have a venue and have been hoping that Palanisamy’s friend will have us in his bank one afternoon- he offered a while back. However a really great gig opportunity has turned up for this weekend – to perform for the inmates of Vellore Jail. This is part of our trip for Alfie’s birthday and is in fact a wonderful opportunity for some of the children from SEED to see their parents some of whom are serving life sentences there. I hope the children sing well. I have often chatted to music educators about what it is like to do music projects in prisons but I have never been involved in one. I never thought my first experience of this kind would be in India.