When our Year 6 kids first Skyped with Raj in Chennai, India, for an inquiry into our Asian neighbours, it was a something out of the ordinary. Raj dressed in a special shirt for the occasion and the children sat politely in their seats, venturing to the microphone when it was their turn to speak.
A couple of years later, this is nothing unusual any more. Various classes have communicated via Skype with individuals and classes in other countries. Students and teachers alike have learned a great deal about different people, countries and cultures through these personal connections.
From 4G’s room in Melbourne to the living-room in Chennai.
Today Year 4G is interacting with Raj for an inquiry into cultural beliefs and traditions. It’s completely relaxed. There are groups of Aussie kids moving around, chatting about what Raj is saying, a core group is on the floor at the front lapping up every word and some serious inquirers sit at their tables taking notes. It doesn’t matter that some kids drift in and out of out of the conversation… so does Raj. It’s a holiday and he’s talking from home, with his son Aditya chiming in from time to time. It’s not the first time Adi has joined a session, but this time Raj is in the living-room and we can see the rest of the family going about their business in the background.
This is the week of Raj’s father’s Sadhabhishekam, a Hindu commemoration of the 80th birthday. The Year 4s explored photos from the occasion, before the session, and have loads of questions about the clothing, the food, the rituals… and about the values and beliefs underlying these. They are familiar with the iceberg model of culture and know that there’s much more to explore than what you can see above the surface. They have even classified their questions in this way, and one class has a paper model of an iceberg, with sand at the bottom, where they place their ‘very deep’ questions!
The engaging thing is that Raj draws in whichever family member the question relates to. The children meet his father, in traditional Brahmin dress. He demonstrates the application of the holy ash on his forehead and shows them the thread he has worn since his coming of age. His mother brings the box of vermillion, used to apply her bindee and she opens her hands to reveal the henna patterns applied for the birthday celebration. Raj’s wife Radha, demonstrates how she draws the kolam, a welcome pattern symbolizing ‘no end no beginning’, usually drawn on the floor outside the house.
They show the children ritual items and artefacts and almost share some traditional Indian sweets… It’s a shame we’re more than 8000 Km away! I have to say… it feels as if we are in the living-room in Chennai.