City as Lab: The Story of a Beautiful Song

At Apni Shala, we engage children in real world experiences that help build skills. How, you ask?

One monsoon day in June 2014, Babloo Bhaiya went to the Door Step School community centre at Reay Road, with an agenda. The room is a simple enclosure with a capacity to seat about 20 cross-legged children.

“For the next three months we will do research!” he said

Babloo stood still, with a smile on his face. It’s part of his plan, to throw a word at them and watch them surrender to wonderment.

The statement is met by silence, blank and vacant expressions, tentative giggles and children elbowing each other, “Yeh research kya hai?”

Using a word map, a visual organizer that enables ideation, the students think about the concept of research in several ways. At the end of the activity, they look at the map on the blackboard that they have created. They understand that research is a deep investigation of a problem backed with data that they have to themselves collect and analyse.

But, behind words such as data and analysis stands a simple thought that is an opportunity to raise their voices against problems that they face in the city around them, an opportunity to find answers.

During the first phase of narrowing down on a research topic, the children, together with people like Babloo Bhaiya brain-stormed about the daily problems that affect them, things that go wrong, things that bother their communities, things that they need to question hard.

What ensured became a beautiful song sung by raised voices.

When they understood what they were expected to do, they set to work.

How many manholes are left open at Ghatla village? Why do people leave taps open? Why is it unsafe for women on the streets? Why do sugar prices rise? What are the ill-effects of alcoholism? Why do people break traffic rules? How or why was foul language created?

The children were unstoppable!

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For three months, giving up all leisure and playtime, the children braved rains and rebuffs.  Armed with a questionnaire that was designed by them they went door to door to find answers to questions about women’s employability and education. They spoke to traffic hawaldars about traffic violations. They walked around narrow gullies in the heart of the community asking questions about why alcohol bottles were thrown around. They stopped people in a hurry urging them to answer questions.

They learnt by doing that research is completed when they arrived at a conclusion as to what can be done about the problem.

An initiative by Reniscience Education, City as Lab enabled school students from all over the city to scientifically question problems that plague the city. Ten top teams presented their research findings at a grand event at Prince of Wales Museum to a panel of judges. Along the way, they learnt to work in teams, to question, to probe, to think critically and communicate better. But, most importantly they learnt to take initiative to make small changes to their lives, and to find answers to problems that until then, nobody around them had bothered to question!

Do you think that’s an empowering experience?
See it all come together in this short video !

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