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Category My Word
 
Title Nurturing the Curiosity and Creativity of Children: Vijaya Sherry Chand
 
Details Let me begin with an incident recounted to me about ten years ago by an outstanding primary school teacher, Savita Parmar. In 1950, when she had just completed one year as a teacher, a girl studying in Class I taught her an important lesson. The girl had observed open bags of jaggery and sugar in her village’s grocery shop. She had noted that, usually, the large, quick moving, black coloured ants were attracted to jaggery, and the smaller ants, red or black, to the white sugar. The girl wanted to know the reason for this from her teacher. Savita Parmar did not know the answer; the question seemed simple enough, but satisfying the curiosity of the child proved difficult. Perhaps the observations of the child were not correct. Or perhaps there was some explanation. How does one proceed to answer such a question and nurture the curiosity of the child? We request our teacher-readers (and others) to write in at the editorial address with their responses to this question. We will carry your inputs in a future issue. Also please send us any ‘difficult’ questions that children may have asked you. Such questions should have been born out of the curiosity of the children, and may have been puzzling not only to them, but to you as well. We will throw open such questions to our wider readership. In this issue, we begin with an article, ‘Time to recognize biodiversity ‘geniuses’”, on one of the regular activities of the Honey Bee Network, the Biodiversity Contest. The contest simply means uncovering, in a competition mode, the knowledge which children have about local plant diversity. In the process, children are expected to get interested in conserving their biodiversity and to tap into the related knowledge available with adults in the community. The article makes the important point that rural and tribal children often possess knowledge that is not recognized by the formal system of education, since the competencies demanded by the latter may not mesh with an alternative knowledge system. The unfortunate result is that such children get labeled as ‘laggards’ or ‘drop outs’, and may suffer a loss of self-esteem. The biodiversity contests show that the participating children may not be that ‘dumb’. How one weaves in their knowledge into the formal system of schooling is a challenge for teachers. A curricular innovation like the biodiversity contest can succeed not only in recognizing locally relevant alternative knowledge that the children possess, but also in re-educating the local community on what needs to be done to promote conservation. Secondly, teachers would be able to identify the mechanisms through which children learn from their elders, and understand local approaches to transferring knowledge from one generation to the next. These methods may include observation, systematic instruction, demonstration, apprenticeship, supervised practice, and so on. There is no doubt that the formal system of education can learn from the contests described in the article, in order to introduce a ‘relevance reorientation’ in its education of economically and socially disadvantaged communities. It is no coincidence that regions high in plant diversity, forests for instance, also show poor educational performance. A systematic effort to build on the knowledge that children bring to school from their own social networks is clearly necessary. That children can be innovators is not in question. That they can come up with theoretical ideas aimed at solving practical problems is also not in doubt. How one identifies such children and supports them, unfortunately, has not received sufficient attention from society. Vishnu Dumania, who hails from a poor family engaged in salt making, is an example of an innovative child solving the problem of how to monitor water levels so that he can be free to study. His device has been adopted by many salt-making families, but Vishnu has failed in his secondary schooling exams in math and science! ‘Conquering the world’ presents a few cases of children, identified by the Honey Bee Network, who have come up with innovative solutions to common unsolved problems. The number is few; there are bound to be many more waiting to be identified. Perhaps the competition mode, as followed by the National Innovation Foundation, specifically targeting the young, will help in this process. The educational system needs to be involved as well, since some of the innovations may need to be supported. The example of Krishnakant, who has received support from the NIT, Calicut, is instructive. The article ‘Young inventors galore’ illustrates, in an international context, the potential of the competition mode, exhibitions and fairs, to identify, support and reward young innovators. The article 'NIF awards student innovators' highlights the student acheivers, who have been recognized by NIF during the National competitions. The combination of competitions and exhibitions can also be extended to recognizing and rewarding ideas. It is ideas that lead to innovations. The example of Moxad Thakur (Waste water to bring light to streets) illustrates the role of keen observation in generating ideas. Moxad has a model for using waste water to generate electricity, but he also has many more ideas. Take some of the ideas in the article ‘It begins with an idea’. Many of these may stretch one’s imagination. It is not important to test the feasibility of an idea at the outset. With more thought and trial and error, the idea generators themselves would handle this issue. It is nurturing the processes of curiosity, idea generation and innovation that is important. Once again, we are confronted with the jaggery and ants problem. Transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next (in the biodiversity contests noted above or any other field), nurturing the spirit of creativity and innovation, and learning from role models, are brought together in the framework of the family or adult-youth networks within which the children grow up. What do the children of those adults who have been recognized and rewarded by the Honey Bee Network think and feel about their parents and their work? An interesting question—we leave the interpretation of the answers given in the final article ‘Chips off the old block’ to our readers
 
Volume No. Honey Bee, 16(3):4, 2005

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