Agriculture Practicals at a Primary School

Friends on my Facebook and Twitter network already know of a school programme I attended today, on bringing agriculture through practical work. This was at Academic Heights Public School’s new campus in Nagole (Hyderabad). This school was set up by a bunch of six professional managers / entrepreneurs who took a franchise for Andhra Pradesh from the SK Group of Bachpan fame (more popular in Delhi). Today I was the Chief Guest at the launch of their new programme called “Continuing Education and Learning Programmes for Students”. The first domain for this programme is titled “Hello Farmer” to enable students experience villages and farmers lives.

Many of you gave me valuable inputs on what I should cover in my talk. I’ve synthesized all of those ideas into my talk, as you can make out from what I reproduce below! I enjoyed the whole experience largely because of this interaction with many of you on Fb & Twitter over the last two days 🙂 Thanks a ton!

Before I started my talk, I wanted a sense of what the parents and kids present there thought about the whole initiative. Since the numbers were large, I couldn’t ask individual opinions. Instead I gave two options and asked for a raise of hands.

  1. Parents: First choice was whether they “agree that practical / project work is great; exposure to agriculture is wonderful”. The second choice was if “all this is a waste of time and distraction from studies in today’s competitive world”. Overwhelming majority went with the first choice. There were a few who raised hands for the second choice too.
  2. Kids: One choice was if “all of this was fun and joy” or anyone thought “this was pain, hard work and more burden”. Every single kid raised hand confirming this was fun!

I was therefore talking to the converted. So I focused on underscoring the value of this approach and brought out some nuances.

Here’s a summary of my talk:

I compliment the management and the faculty of the school for conceiving a structured programme that helps “learning by doing”.

In my opinion, ‘learning by doing’ is the second best form of learning, in the sequence of ‘learning by’… 1. ‘listening’ to a teacher / parent / friend, 2. ‘reading’ books, 3. ‘writing’ notes, 4. ‘seeing’ action as it happens or in films, 5. ‘doing’ by oneself, and 6. ‘teaching’ someone else using whatever method, the ultimate method of learning!

I believe, through this programme, the children learn three things:

  1. Life Skills:Through any method of “learning by doing’, whether this programme or other such practicals / project work etc., children learn the very critical life skills. By life skills, I mean capabilities like gathering information, determining alternatives, making choices, appreciating future consequences of current actions, time management! These are as important, if not more, as the many subjects the children learn in the class room. Growing plants, watering them, monitoring the progress will develop a disciplined routine in the child.
  2. Focus on practical work in agriculture & ruralbuilds the character and value system in the kids: After experiencing the hardwork involved in farming, the unpredictability of survival & growth of plants, the children will value and respect a farmer. They will appreciate the dignity of labour. The children will also realize the value of food after experiencing the hard work involved in growing, and hopefully not waste food any more! Some parents know that this approach is likely to produce better results than any amount of telling and scolding the kids about wasting food 🙂
  3. This programme is also a great opportunity for the children togain knowledge in some very important areas: While introducing me, the Principal mentioned ITC’s brands like Bingo Snacks, Aashirvaad Atta and Classmate Notebooks. I know, most kids are already familiar with these brands, now they will also know how agriculture is the starting point for all such products! Most of you heard about 2012 prediction, some of you may have seen the movie too… The end may not happen in 2012, but won’t be that far away if we do not bother about global warming; I am sure many of you are familiar with that phrase. I know some kids who actively farm on Farmville via Facebook are very aware of this phenomenon. It is important that all of us learn and practice various methods of conserving natural resources. Say, reusing kitchen waste water in the garden, composting vegetable waste into manure, using drip irrigation for saving water etc. I am sure the children will come back from school and teach a thing or two to the parents on this front. And, after all, if we are worried about global warming, it is for their future! Through these practicals, children will also learn about different soils, different conditions under which different crops grow, importance of variety localization, problems in growing some alien breeds etc. Most importantly, I think, the children will start loving fruits & vegetables and eat such nutritious food, without the nagging from the parents!

The beauty is that all of these important lessons – be it life skills, or value system, or the much needed knowledge – are all learnt while having a lot of fun by playing with sand and soil:-) Therefore will be internalized better!

In order to realize all of this,

  1. a lot of innovation in the classroomis required, say showing films like ‘Bee Movie’ or pictures of ‘Urban farming’ using the multimedia, besides what is covered in the science class
  2. supported by outdoor practicals at the schoolincluding growing a nursery from where the children can collect saplings for growing at home. Could be simple crops like pudina, coriander or even tomatoes and chillies
  3. supplemented by a highly engaging homeworklike growing plants in pots or small patches at home, monitoring them and bringing results back to the school.

In short, an integrated design of the programme. That’s my recommendation to the school management and the faculty.

Before the launch speech, I planted a sapling. After the launch, the kids performed a skit on village life. That was lovely. At the end, all of us took a green pledge! Included in the pledge that each of us will plant at least one sapling every year and tend to it, knowing that that’s how a whole garden is taken care…

Before closing this blog, I want to again thank many friends on Facebook and Twitter who gave suggestions on what I should cover in my talk. I hope I’ve been able to incorporate all of them.