We were visiting Daroga Prasad Rai School, a boys high school in Patna. The teachers had asked all hundred boys in Class 9 to attend. And they all showed up, cramming themselves into wooden benches in a crowded classroom.
Last week the boys had read, The Great Indian Train Journey, the story of a young man named Jeevan who works for Indian Railways and finds entrepreneurs across India. The skill project was to interview entrepreneurs, write articles on them and make a children’s newspaper.
“Who has done the Be! project?” we asked.
Hands shot up across the room. In the front row, Mohammed, a short boy with a tuft of playful, messy hair looked down.
“Did you do the assignment?” we asked.
“I tried, but it didn’t work.”
“I went to interview the man who sells potatoes near my house. But he told me to go away, he said this information would go to the tax department and he didn’t want to get in trouble.”
“Did you try to explain it to him?”
“I told him it wouldn’t go to the tax department, but he still didn’t want to talk to me.”
“How can we help Mohammed?”
Sonu was seated all the way in the back of the room. He raised his hand. He walked up to the front, stood next to Mohammed and said looking at him, “You need to talk to the person properly. You have to tell him, ‘This is for a school project, and the best articles will be published in the newspaper and it will be good for you.’”
Sonu told us, “I talked to my Chacha (uncle). First he didn’t want to talk to me, but then I explained it to my father, and my father told him it was okay, and he should just answer my questions.”
And as simple as that, the class came up with two solutions for Mohammed’s problem: communicate clearly and if that doesn’t work, use your social connections (two Be! skills they learned the week before from reading the first two Be! books).
“Will you try the assignment again, Mohammed?” we asked.
He nodded yes and smiled.
Without regurgitating information from their textbooks, and without looking at their teacher for the ‘right answer,’ children came up with solutions, using their experiences and the skills they have learned. It’s all about creating an environment that encourages them to learn from each other.