September is the month for teachers. Teacher’s Day came and went. The President gave away the National Award for Teachers to nearly 400 teachers at a special ceremony in Delhi. And nominations for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize were opened. Across the globe – from the refugee camps of Bethlehem to the street schools of Mumbai to the community programmes at RADA – efforts are being made to bring education, and the importance of good teachers to impart it, to the centre of the changemaking discourse.
Imagine then, not a classroom, but an empty space for noisy discovery – desks pushed to a wall, artwork and props heaped in corners, a cacophony of questions, ideas, arguments and discussions.
“Maam, I can’t pronounce antagonist. May I say villain instead?”
“Walk slowly now. Think of what it would be if you wanted to jump and run, but your body wouldn’t listen to you. Think about that the next time you’re yanking your grandma’s hand”
“Maam, the Prince is forgetting to take his sword every time. I can pick it up and take it with me while exiting the stage.”
“Here you go Sir, we all come up with solutions to this scenario. Now you chose!”
“Don’t worry miss, we’ll finish this, I’ll make sure we all know what to do.”
“I felt really bad. I guess I shouldn’t have bullied everyone when it was my turn.”
“Sir, I love playing the fairy, because I love to fly.”
Today more than ever teaching needs to reach beyond instruction to the creation of experience. Which is why it is time for us to shine the spotlight on arts educators and drama teachers. Because that’s what art and drama in a classroom setting creates – opportunities for acknowledging, experiencing and expressing – as individuals and as groups. So here is a look at just how Drama-in-Education contributes to the holistic development of the child, teacher and society as an extension.
The beauty of Drama-in-Education is that it shows us how teamwork and awareness of others can be incorporated into children’s psyche without having to preach it to them.
How they can be encouraged to ask questions and reason for themselves. How they can develop problem-solving skills which further trigger decision-making. How they can be very subtly pushed to shed their multiple layers – layers of inhibitions, layers of fear, layers of judgement (not just towards the others but also towards their own selves) – at the right age and come into their own.
Shaizia Jifri believes teaching drama is “being involved with something that is introducing a way of thinking and questioning that seems to be vanishing from the education system.” Shaizia has been teaching drama for the past 7 years and works as a puppeteer. She uses puppets as a drama resource in class. Puppets often become mirrors for those using them. And in the hands of children, they can become incredible tools tackling sensitive issues like abuse and disability.
As drama teacher at Don Bosco, Mumbai Keisha Lobo puts it “While information can bring about mental stimulation, drama brings about emotional stimulation in kids. It helps in igniting their imagination and most importantly, helps generate empathy in a child.” Empathy, of course has long been seen as the lynchpin for Social Emotional Learning – a concept that started gaining ground in the late 2000’s based on research into communal and gun violence.
Drama allows for a unique and active balance between challenges and motivation. The point is to stimulate reaction without compounding stress by making difficult concepts easy to digest.
Says Manasi Chopra, drama teacher, Japanese instructor and Creative Art Therapy practitioner, “Children never cease to surprise me with their ideas and their ability to simplify things. When I wanted to work out something with the concept of space (universe), I had a kid coming to me while we were doing a little exercise to say, “You know it’s weird but the cavity in my teeth is also space.”. That’s the kind of simplification and interconnection drama creates by making large concepts relatable.
One gets to pick up complex topics like the history of civilizations, mathematics and break them down into digestible components.
Drama-in-Education allows adults who work with children to genuinely role-model behaviour and become true influencers. It makes the process of teaching and thereby learning more enjoyable.
“It’s a constant process of inventing, evaluating, re-evaluating and re-inventing ideas, and in that process you get to learn a lot more than what you get to teach,” says Surdhani Zaheer, a drama instructor at The Heritage School, Vasant Kunj in Delhi. In an age of rote learning, it breeds creativity in classrooms. Teachers bring together a variety of elements such as movement, voice, concentration, collaboration, communication skills, role play and improvisation. This benefits them as much as the children.
In fact a of schools have begun seeing how drama aids in the development of their employees. Rustomjee Cambridge recently had teachers of English, Social Studies, Math and Science undergo training in Using Drama for Learning.
Drama-in-Education has brought in a revolutionary approach with respect to learning and teaching. And perhaps the time has come to join this revolution and bring the benefits of drama to children everywhere.
– Written as a tribute to drama educators everywhere for Teacher’s Day, 2016 by Arwa Janjali and Hina Siddiqui in conversation with all the drama teachers and educators at the Young People’s Theatre Programme.