Friday, February 12, 2010

Generation Next: Ozone Module

Generation Next: Ozone Module
November - December 2009

Sackhumvit Trust completed a module on ozone depletion with 9th standard students at Dream School Foundation (DSF). Sackhumvit Trust conducted this module as part of an after-school tutorial program offered at DSF’s education and development centres in Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar. This module is the second in a series focusing on environmental issues associated with urbanization.

Ozone Module Learning Objectives
Sackhumvit Trust utilized materials from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for this module. UNEP has created a series of worksheets, activities, comic books, and videos based on the fictional character, Ozzy Ozone, to educate youth on the sources and consequences of ozone depletion. The module started with a cartoon video illustrating how ozone depletion enables U.V. radiation to reach the Earth’s surface and harm human-beings. The video was effective at drawing student’s attention to the importance of ozone depletion, and students were quickly attracted to the character of Ozzy Ozone.

The video was followed by a series of worksheets and activities included in UNEP’s High Sky: Ozonaction Education Pack for Secondary Schools. Students learned about the layers of the atmosphere, and their specific properties and roles in fostering life on Earth. Students studied the ozone layer in greater detail, and how its dramatic thinning, especially over Antarctica, has been coined as the ‘Ozone Hole.’ Students then studied the chemical properties of ozone. This was useful in explaining how ozone absorbs and reflects U.V. radiation to prevent it from reaching the Earth’s surface. It was explained that U.V. radiation supplies the necessary energy for creating and breaking down ozone, thus establishing a chemical equilibrium that keeps the amount of ozone in the stratosphere constant.
This was followed by activities exploring man-made and natural sources for ozone depletion. Students studied the chemical process by which Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocharbons (HCFCs) breakdown ozone, which was facilitated by a useful diagram in the High Sky workbook . Students learned that the increased emission of CFCs and HCFCs in the stratosphere has disturbed the natural equilibrium of the ozone layer, resulting in a drastic thinning of the ozone layer. Students also completed a survey determining if their schools and DSF’s resource centres use materials made from or containing ozone depleting substances. Students concluded that their schools and DSF’s centres were relatively ozone-friendly, with the exception of their use of polystyrene cups.
Students reviewed health affects of U.V. radiation which was facilitated by a puzzle that differentiated the three types of U.V. radiation (U.V.-A, B, and C) in terms of wavelength, reaction with the stratosphere, and their effects on human health and plant life. Students were also introduced to the creation of ground-level ozone by smog in lower levels of the atmosphere, and how this is dangerous for human health and plant life.

Students then studied the U.V. index developed by the World Health Organization and tracked the ratings of Bangalore city from an online weather site; students were shocked to see the city consistently reported an index value of 11 (extreme)! This was followed by a review of conditions that increase our risk to U.V. radiation exposure, such as time of day, time of the year, location, elevation, reflection, and weather conditions. Students then discussed how they can limit their contact with U.V. radiation, and possible action steps to be taken by their local community, governments, and international bodies to prevent ozone depletion.

Ozone Module Highlights
Certain activities in UNEP’s High Sky workbook were particularly effective at raising awareness on ozone depletion, and resonated strongly with our students:

  • Students adored the Ozzy Ozone cartoon figure, and thoroughly enjoyed UNEP’s video and comic book productions. It would be worthwhile for UNEP to conduct a competition where students submit comic strips of Ozzy Ozone combating ozone depletion in their own country. This would enable UNEP’s content to appeal to a wider group of students, while encouraging students to apply their knowledge on ozone depletion in a creative manner.
  • The coded message from Ozzy Ozone concerning properties of the ozone layer, the discovery of the Ozone Hole over Antarctica, and how ozone depletion is impacting nations all over the world was extremely popular. Students enjoyed learning a secret code and were fully absorbed in revealing Ozzy Ozone’s message.
  • Students enjoyed the puzzle activity where they had to piece together the entire spectrum of radiation created by the Sun. This activity was useful at demonstrating how U.V. radiation is just one component of the entire range of light or energy that influences life on Earth. This activity also related to the light unit covered in the 9th standard science syllabus of students, hence inspiring Sackhumvit Trust’s module on properties of light.
  • The numbers game reviewing conditions that create ground-level ozone was a popular activity. However, the instructions for this activity were unclear and consequently obscured the activity’s learning objectives. Students were more focused on solving the number puzzle, as opposed to understanding how various factors can create ground-level ozone. This is because they were not sure what all the numbers represented.
  • The diagrams illustrating ozone equilibrium and how ozone depleting substances disturb this chemical process were particularly useful. As students often struggle to understand the change taking place in chemical equations, it was helpful to visualize the process of ozone creation and destruction.
Concluding Remarks
There were additional activities in the High Sky workbook that we could not complete due to time constraints. Moreover, students were also unable to participate in certain activities due to their limited knowledge of English. This includes recreating the Montreal Protocol summit to advise policy on ozone depletion in sessions of 5-7 of the High Sky workbook. Students also started to lose interest in studying ozone depletion as it did not relate to their coursework at school.

Based on these observations, our volunteer teachers decided to focus on basic knowledge of ozone depletion (hence our coverage up until session 3 of the High Sky workbook), and transitioned to exploring properties of light. This has enabled us to cover concepts relevant to ozone depletion in the context of the science syllabus of our students. We found that it is more effective to raise awareness on ozone depletion through supplemental activities that complement the school work of students, as opposed to teaching this subject entirely on its own. We will continue to complete activities in the High Sky book in this manner, especially those in session 4 that explain the difference between ozone depletion and global warming. These exercises relate to the carbon cycle reviewed in the biology syllabus of our 9th standard students.

Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank DSF for enabling us to work with their students as part of its after-school tutorial program. We are also grateful to UNEP for sharing its learning materials and hope that our review of this module has been constructive. Sackhumvit Trust is happy to share our lesson materials with organizations dedicated to educating underprivileged youth, and interested organizations should contact

Generation Next: Sukrupa Field Trip to NGMA

Generation Next: Sukrupa Field Trip to the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)
October 9, 2009

The event was organised by Ms. Adiba Hashim from Sackhumvit Trust on the 9th of October, 2009 for the art students of Sukrupa. 

The main objective of this event was to create awareness about Indian art to the students of Sukrupa. An introduction to visual arts was given at Sukrupa at 10 a.m. A total of 27 students attended the programme.
Ms. Adiba enlightened the students about the different mediums of visual arts, which are drawing, painting, sculpture, print making, architecture, and performance arts like dance and music. The students were knowledgeable about the topics and they responded well to the discussion. Later she spoke about the contrast between modern art and contemporary art.

The students were then shown a PowerPoint presentation on the figurative and abstract works of great Indian artists like M.F. Hussain and Raza. After the short break, the students were asked to display their works of art which they had created in class over the past few months. The students enthusiastically explained their drawings and also spoke about their inspiration for drawing.

At 11.30, the students of Sukrupa were taken to the National Art Gallery of Modern Art (National Gallery) to expose them to Indian art. As soon as the students entered the National Gallery, their attention was drawn towards the sculptures placed in the premises. They were then joined by a very knowledgeable guide, Ms. Tejeshwi, who explained about the various arts on display. Upon entering the gallery, the students got to see historical paintings like miniature paintings, glass paintings and portraits of kings and the royal families and also the works of Raja Ravi Verma.

The students also got a chance to examine the paintings, etchings and lithographs done by Bengal school artists like Gagendranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and Baroda school artists. The works of the first Indian woman artist, Arpitha Singh were also on display.

The students then observed the differences between modern and contemporary art, figurative and abstract art, and folk and tantrik art while touring the Modern wing of the National Gallery. Students appreciated this component of their visit as it directly related to Ms. Adiba’s presentation at Sukrupa. Most students wished they had more time to view the paintings in the National Gallery, and were surprised to learn that they could visit at any time for the price of Rs.1/student/day!!! The students finally left the Art Gallery and reached Sukrupa at 1.30p.m.

The event was useful and educative for the students and Ms. Adiba was pleased with the level of intelligence and the interest shown by the Sukrupa students.

Written by: Ms. Asha, Art Teacher at Sukrupa

Generation Next: ESG Workshop

Generation Next: Environment Support Group Workshop
October 16, 2009

As part of our endeavors in environmental education, Sackhumvit Trust organized a workshop for 7th-10th standard students at Dream School Foundation’s (DSF) Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar education and development centres to learn about ecological issues associated with the urbanization of Bangalore. The workshop was an engaging and unique experience for DSF’s students, most of whom attend government schools which are unable to dedicate sufficient time and resources for teaching environmental studies as part of their school syllabus. The workshop covered a variety of topics including the history and current status of Bangalore’s urban lakes, the effectiveness of watersheds in securing water supply, and urban waste management in the state of Karnataka. Students also visited Lalbagh where they participated in bird watching, and learned about the history and unique landmarks of Bangalore’s botanical gardens.

Sackhumvit Trust organized this workshop in partnership with Environment Support Group (ESG), a non-profit organization dedicated to research, training, campaign support, and advocacy on a variety of environmental and social justice issues. We would like to thank ESG for sharing their knowledge and resources, without which this workshop and Sackhumvit Trust’s larger endeavors in environmental education would not be possible. We would also like to thank DSF for encouraging their students to dedicate time during their school holidays to explore the environment and its relevance to their daily lives.

Workshop Details
A total of 60 students attended the workshop representing five government schools associated with DSF’s Yeshwantpur centre and two government schools associated with DSF’s R.T. Nagar centre . The workshop took place from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm on October 16th, 2009, and consisted of two main activities: a workshop hosted at ESG’s office and a field trip to Lalbagh. Overall, students enjoyed their time with ESG and found the day’s events to be very informative. Most students expressed that they learned about issues which are of great significance to their present and future well-being. The details of the activities comprising the workshop are detailed below:

ESG Workshop
During the workshop at ESG’s office, students participated in an active discussion facilitated by Mrs. Bhargavi Rao (Yeshwantpur group) and Ms. Sruthi Subbanna (R.T. Nagar group). Students learned about the following topics:

Bangalore’s Urban Lakes
Students were asked to name lakes and water tanks in their community (Sankey Tank was a popular reference), after which they compared features of these water bodies with those of a village lake. Students generally concluded that community members have more freedom of access to water bodies in a village setting. This led to a discussion on the privatization of lakes in Bangalore, where ESG explained how the Bangalore Lake Development Authority’s (LDA) scheme of leasing lakes to private companies has increased the public’s cost of access to these water bodies. Students calculated the average cost for a family to visit a privatized lake (~Rs. 1,000 including transportation, entry fee, food purchases, playground access, etc.), and concluded that this was too burdensome for a resource that should be freely available to the public. ESG concluded with a case-study of a public interest litigation case they have filed against the LDA concerning the privatization of Lumbini Lake in Bangalore.

Students also learned that lakes were historically developed in Bangalore as part of an intricate system that carried down water from natural reservoirs and rain collected at higher-level lakes to lakes situated further below. Not only did this system provide a simple and efficient mechanism for collecting and transporting fresh water in Bangalore, it also maintained the city’s level of ground water. ESG highlighted that Bangalore originally had ~360 urban lakes of which only 39 remain as of today! Students went on to discuss how the building of apartment complexes, bus stations, sports stadiums, golf courses, and so on, have disrupted the water flow between lakes and consequently reduced Bangalore’s supply of ground water. ESG informed students that Bangalore now pumps water over a distance of 100 km and up to a height of 1 km from the Cauvery River to supply most of the city’s water requirements.

Ecosystem of Lakes
Students examined the typical structure of a lake (how it goes from shallow to deep) and the different types of organisms and plants that inhabit each level of the lake. Students learned the meaning of ecosystem – a system of interdependent organisms which share the same habitat. Students then discussed how dumping waste in a lake, particularly nutrient rich waste containing phosphates and sulphates such as sewage effluents and fertilizer run-off, can destroy a lake’s eco-system through a process called Eutrophication.
Students learned that excessive phosphates and sulphates can produce water hyacinth – a free-floating perennial aquatic plant native to tropical South America. With broad, thick, glossy, ovate leaves, water hyacinth may rise above the surface of the water as much as 1 meter in height. The common water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a vigorous grower known to double its population in two weeks. When not controlled, water hyacinth will cover lakes and ponds entirely; this dramatically impacts water flow, blocks sunlight from reaching native aquatic plants, and starves the water of oxygen, often killing fish. Water hyacinth is often problematic in man-made ponds if uncontrolled, but can also provide a food source for fish, keep water clean and help to provide oxygen to man-made ponds.

Zilla Parishad School Water Shed Program
Students watched a short film about a water shed project at Zilla Parishad School located in northern Maharashtra. The video explained the concept behind a watershed - a drainage basin constructed to collect fresh water from rain, rivers, etc., for use by the surrounding community. The video demonstrated how a watershed built by a small village increased their agricultural produce and supply of ground water. The watershed’s construction was also connected to a project for building a self-sufficient school to educate village children - Zilla Parishad School. Both the watershed and Zilla Parishad School were built by the voluntary labor of community members. The video also showed how students at Zilla Parishad School regularly interact with nature as part of their school studies by participating in tree planting, seed banks, composting, cleaning of the school, youth conferences on the environment, cultural activities, and so on.

Students enjoyed the short film as it opened their eyes to an educational experience entirely different from their experience of attending a government school situated in a big metropolis. Most students were not aware of the history of their school (how it came to be, who built it, etc.), nor if their schools participate in any environmental initiatives such as composting, rain water harvesting, paper recycling, etc. Students were then asked how they can act to better integrate their daily lives and schools with their surrounding environment.

Waste Management
This component of the workshop started out with a game where students brainstormed different types of urban waste such as plastic, paper, aluminum, biomedical waste, and toxic waste. This was followed by a documentary, Nammooru Chandadooru / Nagara Nyrmalya, which brought up issues of urban waste management in the state of Karnataka. Students were engaged by the movie and learned about the importance of recycling, reusing, and reducing.

ESG then shared a case-study of illegal waste dumping in Mavallipura located in Northern Karnataka, where piles of improperly disposed garbage have produced toxic leachates, effluents, and gaseous residues contaminating the ground water supply and air quality of surrounding village communities, hence causing severe health problems. Students were shocked to learn that such grievances are suffered by people in their own community. When asked what they can do on a personal level to alleviate this problem, students expressed that they would make a greater effort to recycle at home.

Students also learnt a simple way of composting at home by the brick, bagasse and compost method. This method requires an old bucket with some small pin holes. The bottom of the bucket is first filled with charcoal or brick followed by a layer of sugarcane bagasse. Some water is sprinkled and a small amount of manure is added as a starter. On this the everyday kitchen waste comprising of vegetable peels, dry leaves, and flowers can be added and in 45 days the first harvest of compost can be obtained to use in home gardens.

Lalbagh Field Trip

The second half of the workshop involved a visit to Lalbagh facilitated by Mrs. Bhargavi (Yeshwantpur students) and Mr. Leo Saldhana (R.T. Nagar students). This was the highlight of the day for many students who have never visited Lalbagh before. Students had a chance to walk throughout the botanical gardens, and learn about the historical significance of various sites such as the Kempegowda tower, a 20 million year old tree fossil, Bangalore’s tallest tree Araucaria sps, Lalbagh’s famous silk cotton tree and rose garden, and so on. The visit concluded with a walk around Lalbagh Lake where students participated in bird watching and observed some water hyacinth growth at one end of the lake. Students also observed some birds such as the Purple Moorhen, Pheasant Tailed Jacana, Coots and a Pond Heron, Kingfishers, Brahminy Kites, etc. Overall, students enjoyed their experience at Bangalore’s botanical gardens and most of them did not want to return home by day’s end!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Generation Next: Rain Water Harvesting Field Trip

Generation Next: Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) Field Trip
October 9, 2009

Sackhumvit Trust collaborated with Dream School Foundation (DSF) to organize a field trip for students at DSF's Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar education and development centres to learn about RWH. This field trip was made possible due to the generosity of A.R. Shivakumar, the Principal Investigator for RWH at the Karnataka State Council of Science and Technology (KSCST), who agreed to share his expertise on the subject with our students. Sackhumvit Trust was fortunate to meet Shivakumar during a workshop organized by KSCST and Environmental Support Group (ESG), a civil society organization dedicated to environmental campaigns and education initiatives in India. Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank KSCST and ESG for there valuable support to our program. We would also like to thank DSF for encouraging students to participate in this workshop. 

Workshop Details
The RWH workshop took place on October 9, 2009, from 10:30 am to 2:00 pm. A total of 54 students from 7th-9th standards attended the field trip representing 8 government schools in Bangalore . The objective of the field trip was to sensitize students to Bangalore’s disappearing urban lakes and impending water crisis, while suggesting RWH as an alternative and effective supply of water. Several school teachers and DSF facilitators attended the workshop to learn how they can implement RWH at their homes and schools.

The field trip commenced with a brief presentation by Ms. Ayesha Hashim to students at Yeshwantpur centre introducing RWH and its relevance to Bangalore’s rapid urbanization. Following the presentation, students traveled to the KSCST’s office at the Indian Institute of Science (IIS) campus located on Yeshwantpur road. Students met Mr. Navnesh, an engineer working with Shivakumar, who hosted a detailed presentation followed by an examination of RWH facilities on IIS campus.

Student Participation
Students enjoyed the field trip and actively participated in the question and answer discussion following Mr. Navnesh’s presentation. Some of the questions asked by students are detailed below:
  • Vincent: Is acid rain a problem and does this limit the use of RWH in Bangalore?
    • Mr. Navnesh responded that acid rain is a problem for most industrialized countries. However, Bangalore is unique in that the acidity of rainfall has been minimal as demonstrated by data collected over the past 100 years. This means that water collected from RWH is clean and usable.
  • Prasana: Why isn’t the government doing more to implement RWH in all households?
    • Mr. Navnesh responded that the government has implemented RWH in all of its office and campus locations. The government has recently mandated that all new households have RWH facilities.
  • Kavia: How do we make sure that water collected from RWH does not get contaminated with bacteria?
    • Mr. Navnesh mentioned that harvested water must be stored in a dark and air tight location to prevent bacteria growth. This will ensure that water remains usable for an extended period of time.
  • Karthik: How does one determine whether to use sand bed or nylon filters for cleaning water collected from RWH?
    • Mr. Navnesh mentioned that sand bed filters are generally utilized in rural locations whereas nylon filters are implemented in urban settings.
  • Asha: How can low-income families afford RWH facilities? Is it possible to replace cement pipes with bamboo?
    • Mr. Navnesh indicated that bamboo is a cost-effective alternative for building RWH facilities at home. He also mentioned that the largest cost of RWH is the water sump and that it excluding this item, it should only cost Rs. 5,000 to construct RWH infrastructure. The cost of the water sump largely depends on the desired size and location-specific requirements of the building.
  •  Likitha: How can families who live in rented apartments implement RWH technology?
    • Mr. Navnesh indicated that many buildings have pipes that drain rain water collected at roofs, and that concerned students could place a bucket under these pipes to collect rain water for their households. He also mentioned that a white plain cloth could be placed on top of the bucket to filter the rain water. Collected water could be used for cleaning the house, watering plants, and so on.

Conclusion and Next Steps
To conclude the workshop, students conveyed their gratitude to Mr. Navnesh for sharing his knowledge on RWH. All students expressed that they found the workshop to be very engaging, informative, and inspiring. Students at Yeshwantpur were particularly keen to conduct an experiment measuring how much rain water they can collect at home. Many of them brought in bottles filled with rain water to class the following day!!

As part of its Holistic School Development Program (HSDP), DSF is working with government schools at Nelemangala and Old Airport Road (Chalgatta School) that already have RWH facilities. However, the infrastructure at these schools needs to be revamped with a new filtration system and cleaning of the water sump. DSF is also working with a new government school in R.T. Nagar (currently under construction) and would like to incorporate RWH facilities as part of the school’s infrastructure. Sackhumvit Trust is interested in coordinating a project with DSF to enhance the RWH facilities of these schools.

Sackhumvit Trust welcomes the opportunity to organize classroom activities, workshops, and field trips that educate low-income youth on ecological and social issues relevant to their well-being. We look forward to working with DSF to enhance the RWH facilities at government schools benefiting from HSDP, thereby contributing a valuable environmental dimension to this project.

Generation Next: Air Module

Generation Next: Air Pollution Module
June – September 2009

Sackhumvit Trust organized a series of classroom activities exploring the topic of air pollution in the context of the 9th science syllabus of state board schools in Bangalore. Sackhumvit Trust partnered with Dream School Foundation to organize this program at local government schools, and DSF's education and development centres in Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar. The first module covered as part of this project was air pollution.

The module started off with students exploring what is air by testing its properties of weight, pressure, volume, and temperature. Students conducted various experiments such as comparing the weight of two different sized balloons; testing whether water spills out of a plastic cup covered with a piece of paper and flipped upside down; building their own barometer to measure air pressure; and observing the change in shape of a plastic bottle that is heated up with hot water and then cooled over time. These experiments, although simple, were new to most of our students and effectively related to the states of matter unit covered in their science textbooks.

The module then went on to explore the relationship between air temperature, pressure, and weather. Students learned the meaning of cold and hot weather fronts and how the interaction of hot and cold air masses create certain weather patterns such as rain, fog, and thunder storms. Students also learned that wind is a consequence of hot air rising to be replaced by cooler and denser air. This was followed by an examination of land and sea breezes, for which the Indian Monsoon was used a specific example. As a fun activity, students built their own anemometers to measure the speed of wind, which required them to apply basic mathematics along with creative engineering skills. Students also constructed a wind vane where they measured the direction in which the wind blows.

The module then transitioned to explore air pollution. Students learned about various types of air pollution including respiratory particulate matter, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and ozone depleting substances. Students learned of natural and man-made sources for these pollutants, and their impact on human health and the environment; i.e. smog, acid rain, global warming, ozone layer depletion, etc. An interesting case-study concerning the parthenium weed and its association with severe airborne allergies in Bangalore was also reviewed.

Several activities were organized to engage students on the topic of air pollution. Students participated in a walkabout after which they produced an air pollution map demonstrating sources and sinks for air pollution in their community. It was encouraging to see how involved students were in the walkabout, many of whom freely asked auto drivers, roadside vendors, and pedestrians for their opinion on the Bangalore’s air quality.

To link this section of the module to the science studies of students, several sessions were organized to review the periodic table – the history of its development, and how to read the table to infer properties of an element and draw atomic structures. Students were then taught how to draw molecular structures for the various air pollutants they were learning about.

Sackhumvit Trust also organized for Mrs. Shalini from CLEAN-India (Development Alternatives), to conduct an air pollution experiment in which students measured the levels of respiratory particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides in their neighborhoods. Students were excited to conduct a science experiment involving a lab equipment and chemicals. This activity also required students to learn the concepts of hypothesis, data collection and analysis, and conclusion – the fundamental building blocks of science reporting. Students were encouraged to learn that the level of air pollutants in their neighborhood was below the danger thresholds as indicated by CLEAN-India.

To help students understand the process by which air pollutants can cause dangerous health affects, our volunteer teachers reviewed the human respiratory system and the process of gaseous exchange in line with their biology studies. Students were given the opportunity to build their own version of the respiratory system using clay, an activity that strongly appealed to our artistic students.

Lastly, to touch upon the complexities of global warming and how it affects the well-being of children, our volunteer teachers organized an activity where students built a collage of articles from their local newspaper discussing climate change. Students were surprised that the majority of articles discussed the acute drought in Karnataka due to the delayed monsoons, followed by severe flooding in northern Karnataka during recent months. Other interesting articles concerned India’s discovery of water on the moon; the use of rain water harvesting facilities by Karnataka’s Chief Minister, Yeddyurappa; and an opinion editorial debating the significance of climate change.

Students also reviewed a fact sheet prepared by UNEP TUNZA detailing how climate change affects children all over the world. Most students were shocked to learn the dramatic number of children worldwide who suffer from displacement, malnourishment, lack of clean water, and acute airborne allergies such as asthma.
The air pollution module concluded with an examination of indoor air pollution and the benefits of indoor plants. Students reviewed the sources, chemical properties, and health affects of formaldehyde, benzene, and other pollutants commonly found in our homes. They also learned about various indoor plants indigenous to Bangalore and how they can help improve the quality of air.

Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank Dream School Foundation for enabling us to work with students from its various partner government schools. We would also like to thank Environment Support Group for guiding us in developing hands-on activities for our science education program. Sackhumvit Trust is happy to share our lesson materials with organizations dedicated to educating underprivileged youth, and interested organizations should contact us at

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Generation Next: Bangalore Bridges Drama Workshops

Bangalore Bridges Drama Workshops
July 2009

Bangalore Bridges is an ongoing project to bring together children and young people with an aim to use the medium of theatre and movement to facilitate personal and social change. The uniqueness of this initiative lies in the multi-arts approach to addressing development issues. As a collective of arts educators and practitioners, Bangalore Bridges strongly believes in the power and potential of the arts to facilitate this change.
Dream School Foundation (“DSF”) is an Indian non-profit registered organization working towards making the right to quality education and a happy childhood with overall development a reality for the child.

Sackhumvit Trust is a public, charitable Trust registered under Income Tax Act, 1961. It is a non-profit organization rendering services in the field of health, education, and economic development to underprivileged communities in India.

Project Objectives
Sackhumvit Trust and DSF financed a series of eight workshops in collaboration with Bangalore Bridges in the month of June 2009. The facilitators of Bangalore Bridges, Maitri Gopalakrishna and Shabari Rao, worked with a group of 12 students in 8th and 9th standards at Bapu School to reflect on how the environment is related to their daily lives and their responsibility to their immediate surroundings.
The workshops did not intend to educate participants on the environment but rather inspire them to think critically about environmental problems in their community. The workshops focused on developing critical and independent thinking skills, and exploring the topics of the environment and responsibility in alternative arenas of dance, drama, song, movement, and real-life experiences. Lastly, the workshops were designed to encourage student creativity, confidence, and communication and teamwork skills.
As non-profit organizations dedicated to the holistic development of underprivileged students, Sackhumvit Trust and DSF believed the Bangalore Bridges workshops offered a new educational experience focused on topics, teaching methods, and skills otherwise not learned at school. Bapu School was selected as the host site for these workshops given its close working relationship with DSF and support of the Head Mistress in promoting extra-curricular activities.

Selection of Students
Students were selected to participate in the workshops based on the following criteria:

  • Interest in the creative arts, particularly drama, as demonstrated during the sample drama workshop hosted at DSF’s Yeshwantpur centre by Bangalore Bridges.
  • The ability of the students to attend the workshops on a regular basis considering their academic load and distance from Yeshwantpur centre.
  • The extent that students would benefit from exposure to an alternative educational experience. A wide range of personality types and academic scorers were selected for the program based on the individual advantages they stood to gain. The selection was undertaken by DSF in consultation with Sackhumvit Trust.
Program Components
Certain observations were apparent at the onset of the workshops regarding students’:

  •  perception of the environment;
  • their ability to analyze environmental matters in their community and conceive of their responsibility to the same;
  • and their relationships to one another.
These observations largely informed the content and desired outcomes of the program as detailed below:

1. Enthusiasm for the Environment
A mental disconnect between the environment and the daily lives of students was noticed right from the beginning of the workshops. When asked if the theme of the environment was interesting most students responded unenthusiastically and in a confused tone. The majority of students thought the topic was random given that they were enrolled in a drama workshop and questioned why they were selected to explore this issue. Based on these initial observations, facilitators appealed to the interests of students in order to make the topic of the environment engaging and relevant in their minds. This was done through exploring environmental issues through drama, emotion, and real-life experiences.
It would have been beneficial to organize a briefing session prior to the workshop to inform students about the program’s focus and objectives. This would have enabled students to discuss and conclude amongst themselves if analyzing the environment was important, hence taking ownership of their participation in the workshops. The benefits of a briefing session were made clear during the final workshop session where students had the chance to ask critical questions to the facilitators regarding the purpose and implementation of the workshops. The question and answer session helped students process their experiences over the past month, and enhanced their motivation for the closing session where they performed in front of their peers, teachers, parents, and DSF facilitators.
2. Independent Thinking and Personal Responsibility
In order for students to critically analyze environmental issues and their responsibility to their community, they must develop confidence in thinking for themselves. This proved a difficult challenge for workshop participants who were more comfortable repeating text-book / rehearsed answers instead of developing an opinion or analysis of their own. On a similar note, students had a hard time conceiving their individual responsibility to the environment as well as conceptualizing other stakeholders that should be concerned by this issue. When faced with an environmental issue that seemed beyond their control, students were quick to blame authority figures, such as the government, or reiterate vocabulary and concepts learned at school without stringing these pieces of information together with their own analysis.
In an education system where answers are meant to be learned and repeated, moving to a frame of mind where one is expected to engage with and analyze an issue to arrive at an independent understanding proved to be quite a shift for students. This became a central focus of the workshops with the facilitators engaging students through a wide range of activities encouraging students to independently assess information, develop opinions, and learn through mediums extending beyond traditional instruction methods. These activities were applied in the context of analyzing environmental issues prevalent in one’s surroundings and the notion of responsibility. Several of the learning strategies employed during the workshops are detailed below:
  • 20 Questions Game: A simple guessing game that requires students to frame questions, categorize information, and apply deductive reasoning. This game was applied to student’s observations during a walkabout from Bapu School to DSF’s Yeshwantpur centre, thus raising awareness about environmental concerns in the immediate vicinity while also developing strategies for critical thinking. The activity also emphasized the importance of working as a team and paying attention to one another’s comments.

  • Enhanced Consciousness of Daily Experiences: Activities such as walkabouts in and around Bapu School and recreating sounds heard in their immediate surroundings encouraged students to experience their community with heightened attention to detail and hence in entirely new ways. Students generally perceived the walk from Bapu School to DSF’s Yeshwantpur centre to be mundane and some students even questioned why they had to participate in this activity – “What was new about this?” However, during the course of the walkabouts they developed a consciousness about the environment and social problems taking place on their streets and were quite vocal on the same.
    • The most apparent observation to students was the ubiquitous presence of garbage and its invasion of vital activities such as the preparation and eating of food, and public facilities such as schools and hospitals. The passion with which they discussed this matter following the walkabout inspired their closing session performance on the garbage problem in Yeshwantpur.
    • Another critical observation made by students was the health affects of second-hand smoke and whether this counts as an environmental problem. This would be an interesting discussion topic to follow-up especially given its relevance to the health education of teenagers.
    • One of the students during the walkabouts demonstrated incredible knowledge on the variety of flowering trees in his / her community, listing the vernacular names for all of the trees passed during the walkabout. It is fascinating to observe the vast knowledge of our youth, and they should be encouraged to further explore their interests.

  • Human Relationships / Emotions: Students explored relationships between different aspects of their community as a way to analyze environmental issues. While a unique teaching method, this could have been implemented better during the workshops. Students were highly engaged when analyzing human relationships and emotions, but lost interest in extending these emotions to objects in their surroundings. In other words, the love and hate relationship between a man and a woman felt more real to participants than the same relationship between a tree and the water tank. It is understandable for students to experience this disconnect and alternative strategies for exploring environmental matters through relationships and emotions should be considered. Perhaps discussing how human relationships are strained by environmental circumstances is a good starting point.

  • Critical Group Discussions: Facilitators often interspersed workshop activities with reflective group discussions where students generated the flow of dialogue in response to questions asked by the facilitators. Since these conversations required students to express original comments they were very challenging. It was interesting to note that in some cases students who found it easier to share their opinions were generally those who scored poor academic marks at school. Students scoring high marks were largely silent participants. While it is encouraging that the workshops appealed to students who are otherwise left-behind at school, it is imperative that activities focused on creative thinking, critical analysis, and self-expression are incorporated into regular school programs.

  • Learning from Movement: Students explored the implications of being a leader through a hand-following exercise where one student is bound to follow the movement of their peer’s hand. In discussing which role in the activity they enjoyed (the leader or the follower), students observed that the leader’s power makes him/her responsible for ensuring the well-being of the follower, hence the realization that with power comes responsibility. Students then transitioned to analyzing areas of their lives where they can exert control / influence and hence possess responsibility. This experiential learning process helped students recognize that they do have power, responsibility, and hence the potential to make a difference. Given that discussions of responsibility have a tendency to take place as lectures or preaching, i.e. “You should clean your room because I said so,” this activity was effective in making students recognize responsibility on their own.

  • Social Atom: A social atom is a spatial map that plots one’s responsibility to a social problem. The workshops utilized this teaching concept to help students explore how different stakeholders in society, including themselves, are connected to environmental issues. Students also used the social atoms to plot their personal responsibility to various components of their community that extended beyond the environment, from keeping the streets in their neighborhood clean to being a responsible elder sibling and so on. The social atom provided an alternative arena for students to explore responsibility beyond traditional instruction methods of lecturing and note-taking. Students had to conceive of responsibility in terms of a spatial relationship, from the perspective of multiple players in society, and ultimately acted out their rationale for responsibility in the form of a T.V. news show drama production! 
    • Enacting the social atom was the highlight of the closing session performance organized by students. Students concluded their performance by passing around a ball of waste paper to whoever they blamed for the garbage situation in Yeshwantpur. This resulted in waste paper being tossed all over the auditorium leaving the performers with no choice but to each take responsibility and pick up some of the garbage. This performance provoked a lively discussion from the audience including questions such as “Why did the students focus on not being responsible?”, “Why didn’t the students come up with a solution?”, and “What is the lesson of the story?"

  • Identifying Responsibility through Negative Association: As strange and counterproductive as this activity may seem, it worked brilliantly! This learning strategy was manifested when students acted out their social atom in the context of a T.V. news show. Students took on the part of a particular stakeholder in society and argued why they were not responsible for the problem of overflowing dustbins in the Yeshwantpur community. Facilitators had students argue why they were not responsible to avoid responses learned at school or from parents. The negative association proved to be highly engaging, as students enjoyed debating why they were not responsible and ‘pinning the blame’ on their peers (or other stakeholders). In so doing, they participated in a lively discussion that actually brought out multiple reasons for why all stakeholders in society are accountable for environmental issues.
3. Group Dynamics
Student interaction during the workshops demonstrated that while students share a common background inclusive of DSF and Bapu School, they were not all familiar with each other. Students had favorites to work with, and boys and girls often separated themselves in distinct groups during warm up activities and class discussions. Facilitators addressed this by having students work with different peers throughout the workshops. Certain students in the group regularly displaying uncooperative behavior were managed on an individual basis by facilitators . However this presented a minor issue and is to be expected when working with children. Overall the workshops provided an opportunity for students to examine their own behavior in the context of being responsible to a group; a personal experience that students will have to reflect on throughout their lives.

An important indicator of group dynamics was student attendance for the workshops which leveled at around 60-70% for most sessions. It is understood that certain instances of absenteeism are unavoidable and that it is impossible for the workshops to appeal to all students. Furthermore, there were no perceived ‘real’ consequences for being absent. There was no punishment and no reward. The commitment that was demanded needed to come individually from each participant. The low attendance at the workshops therefore reflected the sense of personal responsibility that each student had toward the group; a concept that the facilitators constantly emphasized to students. This is relevant given the fact that environmental issues are ultimately a collective problem which requires each individual to recognize his/her responsibility to their community. Facilitators encouraged students to think this way by examining their own commitment to the workshops and their peers.

A summary of workshop outcomes along with quotes from students are detailed below:

  • Relating the environment to the interests of students and their daily lives such that they understand the significance of environmental issues in their community.
    • “I learned about my responsibilities toward the environment.”
    • “I learned how to keep my surroundings clean and how to frame questions.”
  • Developing an understanding of personal responsibility and how this extends to a larger community ranging from the group of peers attending the workshops to Bapu School to DSF to the surrounding neighborhood to the families of students to the environment, etc.
    •  “I learned about discipline such as being punctual to class. I also learned about the environment by observing what is around us and what is missing.”
  • Encouraging students to think analytically and independently, and to ask critical questions.
    • “I learned how to determine which questions to ask and how to frame them when learning something new.”
    • Exploring the creative and imaginative sides of students through song, dance and drama to develop knowledge.
    • “This is the first drama workshop I attended and also the first workshop on the environment.
    • “I learned that drama can be different from what we see in the cinema because we created it to understand our experiences here.”
  • Enhancing group dynamics so that students were comfortable and cooperative while working with each other. Group dynamics were also emphasized so that students recognize their responsibility to each other.
Follow-Up to the Workshops

1. Knowledge on the Environment
While the purpose of the workshops was not to educate students on environmental issues but analyze these matters for themselves, it became apparent that knowledge on the environment, particularly in the urban context of students, is essential for constructive opinions and dialogue. This is not to say that students were completely unaware of the environment, as they themselves brought up matters of natural disasters, waste disposal, water shortages, deforestation, and so on. However, their references to these issues often raised more questions which should be addressed through environmental education / awareness programs. Some examples of these instances include:

  • Student X’s explanation that earthquakes are caused by human activity and particularly the drilling of borewells into the ground as he/she learned at school.  A more sophisticated discussion of the causes of natural disasters would be beneficial. The student makes a valuable point in arguing that natural disasters can be man-made, but his/her example is incorrect.
  • Student Y’s explanation that spilling of clean water on the road is not wasted because this water evaporates and is then rained down as part of the water cycle. While an insightful application of the water cycle to real-life observations, it would be valuable for students to learn about the sources and affects of water pollution, and the energy / resources required to purify water.
  • Student Z’s complaining that garbage on the streets is the fault of the garbage trolley lady / man and the government. This is a simplified perspective on how urban waste is collected and managed. Students would benefit from learning about the types of urban waste produced by human activity and best practices that can be implemented on an individual level to minimize waste pollution.
The purpose of an environmental education program is not to discourage students from expressing their opinions (whether correct or incorrect), but rather support them with factual content so that their dialogue is constructive and will add-value to their own lives. It would even be beneficial for facilitators and teachers working with students on these matters to enhance their understanding of environmental issues.

2. Learning by Doing
The workshops demonstrated the value in educating students through activities where they are encouraged to make observations and draw conclusions independently. Not only does this encourage students to be creative and explore their imaginations, but it is also conducive to building self-esteem and communications and teamwork skills. These learning methods should be shared with schools so that their benefits are experienced by a wider audience. This could be done through teacher training workshops and through offering more of extra-curricular activities.

3. Self-Expression through Performance
While the students enjoyed the workshops, they were disappointed that the drama workshops were more analytical than performance-based. Given that students are very engaged by singing, dance, and drama, they should have more opportunities to explore self-expression through the arts. Such an activity would not be bound by a specific topic (pre-decided for students) nor would it require analytical discussions / assignments. Instead, students would be encouraged to explore elements of performance based on their inspiration from any cause. This experience would build on the creative and communications skills of students, as well as encourage students with talents in the fine arts to push their limits.