Radha Prathi urges teachers to use a dramatic new tool to convey dry concepts to their students – Theatre
Effective teaching at the primary and secondary school level has become a veritable challenge to the most passionate and dedicated teachers these days, no matter which kind of school they happen to be teaching in. It does not require in-depth research or introspective analysis to accept the fact that today children are exposed to a wide variety of topics under the sun – thanks to the media and the internet. As a result students from every genre of the society happen to know a little of everything but do not have a comprehensive working knowledge of any subject.
The basics of languages, mathematics and other prescribed subjects are vaguely learned by them to clear examinations, which they do startlingly well, much to the chagrin of well-meaning teachers. It is only much later, when they are in high school or sometimes when they are graduates that they themselves realise that they have little or no knowledge of the essential structure of the subject.
The crowded classrooms of India, the semester system in some streams of schooling, constant tests and examinations, the heavy academic syllabus are the culprits which give the teacher little or no time to make sure that each child in the classroom has grappled the basic concept of the subjects properly.
A lot of workshops have been conducted by teachers and institutions to study these problems and work on feasible solutions to make teaching a creative experience and to drive home the fundamentals of various subjects to overcome these problems. Teachers consulted on the subject agree that though children appear to be bubbly and ingenious, one can notice a singular lack of imagination and creativity in most of them. Many children cannot perceive beyond what they are told. To them education is a never-ending exercise of reading and writing. Schools which toss in project work, practical lessons and workshops as a part of academics rarely involve the active participation of all the students thus defeating the very purpose for which it has been launched.
Story telling and theatre have been introduced in many schools to step up the quality of learning and also to usher in a harmonious environment among the pupils of the school. Several lessons prescribed in the text books have been staged to make it a fun-filled and unforgettable learning experience for students. Usually stories, poems and plays that appear in language texts are popularly enacted on stage with a positive impact on the students. Many schools which have experimented with this mode have emerged successful in their endeavours hence the time is ripe to carry forward the idea to other subjects too.
Theatre in education is possibly the very best solution that one can think of to salvage the crumbling significant skeletal structure of education. Yet there are hitches in this mode of teaching. The thought of conventional theatre brings in images of a huge stage, costumes, endless rehearsals which will end up eating away precious academic hours in school.
Theatre should not spell more expenditure, on the other hand it should emphasise on making learning fun all the while communicating basic values of goodness, integrity, harmony and responsibility besides putting across a theory. Academic concepts like that of arithmetic, geography, life sciences and history can be made livelier in the classrooms through theatre. Teachers who want to use theatre techniques in classrooms should come up with imaginative, inexpensive and timesaving solutions.
Here are a few practical suggestions that teachers can follow. Schools can pick up flowing robes or bed sheets in two or three colours that can double up as costumes.
Children playing different roles could be made to wear them over their school uniform and carry relevant props to suggest their role. This way the children will have the joy of wearing a “costume” and it will make a visual impact on the student spectators too. The actors could mouth their lines extempore, bilingually in colloquial terms to din in the idea well. If the characters in the play are able to set their dialogue to a popular tune, then they will win hands down with the audience. This way they will be unwittingly coaxed into learning a whole gamut of concepts without much ado.
When children are able to visualise the functioning of the solar system or an atom where their own classmates take up the roles the concept becomes indelibly clear to them. The concept of rotation and revolution will become clear. Similarly, basic concepts of algebra and sets can be played out by students so that they understand the importance of signs and the difference between sum and product. A life science teacher can use child actors to differentiate between good and bad bacteria, different nutrients that the body needs and even the importance of different parts and organs of the body. Once a teacher is determined to put across a viewpoint with the help of theatre techniques the options are infinite.
If theatre sessions involving students are conducted at least once before beginning a new chapter it will certainly exude bilateral improvement in the comprehension level of children. They will not only follow the concept but will also pick up the relevant vocabulary instantly.
For those of you who are still wondering about the impact of theatrics upon the human mind remember India is a country which educated its general public through traditional audio-visual art forms like Harikathas, Patakathas, Chitrakathas and puppet shows.. In fact most of our art forms and temple arts such as Kathakali, Ottan thullu, Villupattu and Street plays were nothing but different forms of theatre. Though critics agree that the concept of formal theater was inspired by Greek theater, one cannot deny the presence of basic characteristics of a play like action and conversation which is found in segments of the Vedas. The Vedic platform was a raised place like a dais around which disciples and spectators could sit and perform their Homas and Havanas. The performers of these rituals wore specific prescribed clothing, recited their verses with musical intonations and used actions and body language widely which made it a very interesting and rewarding experi-ence to the spectators.