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Vol. XXVIII No. 11, September 16-30, 2018

A ‘Madras Week’ lesson

VINCENT’S JOTTINGS

Every year, for the ‘Madras Day’ season ‘Mylapore Times‘ hosts an event for school students.

It is called the ‘Heritage of Chennai’ contest. The idea behind it is to encourage teams to go out of their classroom and study a specific aspect of our city that has a history.

Over the past 14-odd years we have covered many areas – from markets and neighborhoods to streets and places of worship and prayer.

This year, the theme was ‘Natural Heritage’. The theme required extra legwork – a metro does not have rivers and hills, water bodies and forests all over the place. So it took some coaxing and prodding to get as many schools as we could to go that extra mile to sign up for this contest.

One school which wanted some guidance got back to ask for more tips. It is a girls’ school on Anna Salai. The guide, a senior teacher, said that it would not be possible to send three students to far-off places to undertake a study.

So we suggested a section of the Cooum river which is located some 3 kilometers from the school campus. We suggested that the girls and their guide could walk down half kilometre stretch of the river and record what they saw and observed in it and around it.

But there was silence after that conversation. This school’s team did not sign up.

While many other schools chose to present projects on the Cooum river, the choice of a few others held the attention of the judges.

One was on the lake in Korattur. A set of pictures which documented the bird life in this sprawling lake got everybody’s attention when the three students made their presentation in a Power-Point format.

Another theme was on the Pallavaram Hill. Though it has been mined over the past many decades, the hill held its own form of scrub and tree vegetation and the mined depths became reservoirs of water during the monsoon.

The team which chose to explore this area had taken the effort to trek to some extent up this hill that you get to see from the airport.

Another school team chose to study the Adyar River Creek: the vegetation, the fish and the crabs and organisms that thrived in its cleaner zones and the pollutants that destroyed such life.

Overall though, we found that the students had relied on the internet to source material and had not undertaken field study. They had blindly accepted visuals and data which proved to be wrong or mistaken and many knew very little of the city and its environment.

This reflects poorly on our education. Parents and schools are now content to focus on an education that will earn them high marks/ranks and ensure safe passage to higher studies and dream jobs. In doing so, the student community is so badly lacking in basic skills of field study, research, analysis, presentation and communication.

Also, our young people are ignorant of the city and its many facets and lives. Their knowledge and experience is very limited. I am sure they will be excited if they have gurus who can enlighten and guide them.

Take them on city tours, to the museums. Hold talks. Line up projects. All of which can earn marks or credits. But then I don’t think many schools want to do this.

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