Students Take the Lead at FunScool Summer Program
Of all the initiatives that have been taking place this summer, FunScool Summer School, a program that was run in Budruk, Pune, was a particularly fascinating one. What started with a casual conversation about effective teaching practices in the home of Jai Mishra, an alumnus of the Teach For India Fellowship, between him and a handful of his former students soon developed into an idea for a truly unique summer school program. The thing that really set FunScool apart from the numerous initiatives that took place this summer was that this program was conceived of and run entirely by kids!
How could a group of fourteen to sixteen year olds actually pull off something of this magnitude? Even adults often struggle to organise programs like these. As we walked into the PMC school building where FunScool was conducted our doubts gradually dissolved. We started the day with a tour through the various classes at FunScool which included Science & Space, Arts & Crafts, Fun Math, Street Theatre, Dance, Frisbee, and Chess. The reason behind choosing these subjects, the student teachers at FunScool told us, stemmed from the desire to teach something they would want to learn themselves, and in a way that appealed to them, as kids. The effect of this played out heavily in the classroom through high levels of engagement in the students, minimal problems with classroom management, and a warm and safe classroom environment. This really goes to show how involving kids in the important decisions that dictate what and how classes are taught can improve the overall classroom experience tremendously.
Students listen with rapt attention as Rahul Thakur, 14, conducts a Scientific Experiments class.
One of the factors that made FunScool so successful with both its student teachers and students themselves was that it provided a safe space for everyone present. We found that some of the natural barriers that may exist between teacher and student, indeed between child and adult, didn’t pose a problem at FunScool. Kids were able to relate to their FunScool teachers with far more ease than with their school teachers. Kids found themselves more comfortable to make mistakes, more willing to explore new talents, and more inspired to make their voices heard in the classroom. “I had never danced a day in my life before I joined FunScool. But our dance teacher, Aditi, really encouraged me and now I’m performing in our dance showcase at the end of summer!”, Parth, 12, told us. Learning in an environment that flattened the hierarchy also significantly lowered their inhibitions. Science & Space teacher, Uday, 14, told us about his student Mrunal whose confidence level took a drastic leap forward over the course of FunScool, “For the first few days, she would just sit at the back of the room and cry. For a while, I felt bad because I thought I should do something to help her. But with time and support, she became much more confident and now she openly participates in my class”, he said.
It wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies at FunScool, however. The student teachers were tasked with many of the problems that their adult counterparts would have had to face and navigated them with a little guidance from their Jai bhaiyya. To set up FunScool, they realised they would need space, funds, resources, permissions and that was probably just the tip of the iceberg. With Jai in their corner, pointing them toward the right people and providing a safety net, this group of self-sufficient and highly motivated kids were able to draft a proposal for FunScool, approach their local corporator, appeal to donors with a financial plan in hand, and secure, create or repurpose all the resources they would need to get FunScool up and running. The program itself wasn’t smooth sailing from start to finish! These kids were playing the role of teacher in a very real way. One unanimous take-away that all the FunScool teachers came away with was a deep sense of empathy for their own teachers, after now having navigated very similar challenges. From organising substitutes when a colleague fell ill, to rearranging schedules, to managing unruly classrooms and keeping their own tempers in check, the FunScool teachers definitively proved their potential.
FunScool ended up being a truly revolutionary project, one that owes its success to students and educators alike. The students weren’t complacently complaining about the education system, but challenged its norms to deliver a product modelled on what they would have liked to receive. As importantly, Jai was willing to relinquish control – trusting his charges to navigate the intricacies of the project that they wished to undertake, while still providing them with the support that they required to do so. FunScool truly is a testimony to the success of reimagining education with kids being active stakeholders.