It should have been a disappointment that my School in the Cloud session is cancelled today, as I was looking forward to reconnecting with the girls at GGSS in New Delhi after their summer break. Instead I end up enjoying a delightful individual interaction with a surprisingly articulate twelve year old…
Jaya, the first student back at school after the summer, greets me with a ‘Hullo Mam’ and I wonder momentarily how we’ll manage to last the forty minute session in limited English, without a whole group to share the conversation. After a brief introductory chat about family and how much she enjoys playing with her three year old niece, I ask about the school holidays.
Jaya draws herself up and talks confidently about an organised school trip to various sites around Delhi. I’m captivated by her enthusiastic description of the hands on activities at the Science Museum, an exciting visit to Chhatarpur Temple and an interlude at Indira Gandhi Park. She talks about her first ever encounter with soldiers, what she noticed and what she found out from them. She tells me about games they played in the park and offers to demonstrate next time when the girls are back at school. I’m impressed by her thoughtful commentary on what she observed and how she learned from each experience.
I ask Jaya whether she feels she learns more at school or through experiences such as these. We talk about the difference between this kind of experiential learning and the kind that happens at school (especially traditional Indian school) where the focus is on marks and tests. When poor sound or unfamiliar accents limit communication, we use written chat to confirm mutual understanding.
‘I think you can learn much more on your own,’ she says. I ask if she knows that Professor Sugata Mitra, founder of School in the Cloud, believes that children can learn by themselves. ‘It’s true,’ she says… ‘but you still need school and teachers to teach you other important things.’
When time is up, I congratulate Jaya on her English and tell her how much I’ve enjoyed our conversation. After the call, the site coordinator sends me a message to say how impressed the school is by the progress Jaya has made through these interactions.
Hours later I’m still thinking about the grace of this lovely young lady, her eagerness to learn and her appreciative retelling of the kind of excursion that students at my privileged school take totally for granted.
Once again I am reminded of the opportunities for mutual learning which these interactions create.