Collaborating, performing non-routine tasks, finding solutions to stumbling blocks and effective written communication, are essential life skills that are becoming increasingly crucial in jobs across industries today and are likely to be the case for very long time to come. The preteens and teens at the Young Executives Club, had the opportunity to witness the application of these life skills in a very interesting real life project - Creation of a Math Textbook Customised For The Children of Sikkim. Ms. Swati Sircar, Faculty at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, was actively involved in this project. She gracefully accepted our invitation to come to our online club and share a few snippets from this project.
The need for a customized textbook for the children of Sikkim
In 2018, Sikkim wanted to revamp all its textbooks for primary school. They took help from the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education, Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), UNESCO and Azim Premji University. This was the first time, this kind of a project was being attempted.
States across the country prefer to have their own textbooks for primary school. It is only from class VI that schools get aligned and follow the NCERT textbooks. The state of Sikkim realised that their textbooks did not adequately prepare the children of Sikkim for the NCERT textbooks. Many of the children felt that the transition was a jump. In order to help the children easily transition to the NCERT textbooks, the state decided to revamp their textbooks. The frontrunners of the project took it one step further and painted the textbook in the colours of Sikkim. In other words, they used commonly used names, locally grown trees, fruits, stories from local culture and so on in the textbook. For instance, the people of Sikkim are very familiar with landslides. This aspect has been covered in different contexts. Similarly typical food, festivals and important places too make an appearance in the textbook. When the need was felt to replace candies in problems with healthier options, the authors thought of fruits that grew in Sikkim. The purpose was to make understanding mathematical concepts become a lot easier and fun by setting a familiar context that children could easily associate with.
Building a team
The authors of the textbook comprised of educators from SCERT and DIET(s) as well as teachers from the local schools in Sikkim. Talented illustrators and designers worked with the authors to come up with beautiful coloured illustrations and diagrams. In the pilot stage, teachers from 20 schools in Sikkim were invited to be a part of a workshop that illustrated how the textbook can be used in the classroom.
A page limit had to be adhered to in order to make sure that the textbook does not get heavy for primary school children to carry. At the same time the concepts need to be covered effectively with diagrams and illustrations. This process involved adjusting the size of the text and the pictures, making sure that they are clearly visible and ofcourse narrowing down what was most essential from the text book point of view.
Attention to detail and ensuring that different authors adhere to fixed formats and provide adequate detail.
They met online for a week every month. A lot of work went in between meetings and the team members learnt to become more adept with technology to participate effectively in these meetings.
Pilot stage and testing
A WhatsApp group was created with the teachers from the 20 schools that participated in the workshop. The teachers went back, began working with the textbooks and sent back photographs with the children's responses as wells small videos of live classroom sessions. Ms.Sircar shared a snippet from the videos- "It was very interesting to see in one of the videos, that during the break, the children were playing games using the math textbook. No one had asked them to. It was their own initiative."
Unusual features in the textbook
The textbook did not have answers. Students were to be encouraged to come up with different approaches to arrive at the right answer. "But how does one know that the answer is right?"asked one of the young executives, while the rest of us nodded eagerly as we had exactly the same question. Ms.Sircar explained the role of teacher and pointed out that the teacher was to encourage discussions in these lines and gently guide the children to the right answer. She added that these problems are elementary and any primary school teacher will be able to easily solve. The key was to enable children to figure out an answer rather than be given a direct answer.
The key was to enable children to figure out an answer rather than be given a direct answer.
When math education begins, children generally are also learning a language. While in language, a letter can be used in a number of words, a word similarly can be used in a number of sentences and be right, the same need not be true for maths. Every approach need not always result in a correct answer. Most often children get dissuaded when their answer is wrong. The emphasis tends to be on the result rather than the approach itself. Ms. Sircar shared with us how educators such as herself have been working for a long time now to pave the way for independent thinking when it comes to math as a subject amongst children. There can be multiple approaches to solving a problem and in some cases more than one correct answer. Showcasing these cases and the emphasis on the approach is what brings out the beauty of the subject.
The emphasis tends to be on the result rather than the approach itself. Ms. Sircar shared with us how educators such as herself have been working for a long time now to pave the way for independent thinking when it comes to math as a subject amongst children. There can be multiple approaches to solving a problem and in some cases more than one correct answer.
The textbook included several illustrations walking the children through the steps in solving a problem in some cases. These pictures proved to be a catalyst for discussions among the children with the teacher simply being a facilitator rather than the only person talking in class.
Our takeaways from the session
At the Young Executives Club, nothing stops us from asking questions and getting answers.
The preteens and teens asked a variety of questions that ranged between making math fun with fun puzzles, how transition from colourful, illustrated textbooks to colourless textbooks in class VI impact children to what it feels like to be working as an educator. At the end of the session there was a consensus amongst them that they will never take any textbook lightly. Textbooks are not simply meant to be studied for exams but actually are a door to understanding reality which has been discussed in way that is easy for children to relate and understand.
They found it fascinating that there were several edits, differences of opinion about the amount of detail required, the approach to writing etc. The fact that these discussions were done on WhatsApp as the entire team was spread out across the country showcased the difference technology can make. It can bring experts together irrespective of their geographic locations without the hassles of arranging common meeting places and accommodation. We drew a parallel with the Young Executives Club. Many of the young executives login from different cities and have made strong connections in their journey to becoming better orators, writers, leaders and more importantly great teammates who listen and respect the others in the team.