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Teaching-learning moments from Kung-Fu Panda

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January 13, 2017

Teaching-learning moments from Kung-Fu Panda

While watching the movie Kung-Fu Panda with my 8-year-old son, it struck me how relevant the movie is in the context of our classrooms. The connection was instant. Throughout the movie, I stumbled upon many typical classroom scenarios.Teaching- learning moments abound in the movie.

The inimitable Po (Kung-Fu Panda) grows on you through the sequels. This adorable character could be just any regular student we teach everyday, who feels out of place, out of step with the rest of the peers, underrated, forced to take up things he has no real liking for. In the story the only thing that keeps the protagonist going, adding a little magic to his monotonous and meaningless days is his obsession with Kung- Fu. He inhabits an imaginary world, surrounds himself with miniature figures of the exponents of the art form, whom it is his destiny to lead. Hello teachers! Doesn’t this sound familiar? Don’t we encounter such students – ones who day-dream their way through a school day, distracted, pre-occupied, showing no real inclination to what is required of them or rather what they are told to do? Welcome to the world of Po.

Perhaps the most poignant teaching-learning moment occurs towards the climax of the first part when Po’s father in order to cheer him up and divert him from his self proclaimed failure and defeatist state divulges the most liberating secret to success. He says, ‘The secret is there is no secret ingredient. To make something special, you just have to believe that it is special’.

This moment of epiphany which dawns on the protagonist in the most unexpected of circumstances and through the least likely of all teachers which marks the transformation of the character from a self-depreciating, evasive, awkward character to a confident, powerful one, capable of creating his own destiny is especially significant. How often we come across such students suffering from low self esteem and poor self image in our classrooms – battered from all sides, having never experienced any winning moments and eternally entertaining self-defeating thoughts! Hardly any attempts are made to make them feel that they are equally capable, if not more capable than their successful peers. School is a place where a child is made for life and teachers, the one who mould them into the desired shapes. The teaching-learning process when carefully designed to give each child a taste of success will boost his confidence and go a long way in helping him identify his sweet spot and reach his potential. This positive learning curve will manifest only when the child is made to feel special. The magical transformation is only a few successful experiences away.

Faced with unprecedented threat and danger, the identity crisis that gnaws at the protagonist in the third instalment of the movie series is a very pertinent one. We can see its parallel playing out in the classroom. The key to tackle the issue is so beautifully echoed in the words of the teacher, Shifu , when he tells Po, ‘I don’t want to turn you into me. I want to turn you into you.’ Can you imagine what a learning paradigm this approach implies! Most often than not, it is the teacher who, by ignoring the fact that every child is unique and different, follows the one-size-fits-all approach which undermines the actual capacity of students. There should be no ideal to follow, no one sure way to succeed and definitely no imposition of my way of doing things. If only teachers saw what a child is capable of and uniquely talented at and use that knowledge to provide the right medium to capitalize his strengths, I am sure every child will become a winner.

Another striking parallel in the movie is the relationship between the teacher and the taught – Shifu and Po. The character of Shifu is portrayed with a good share of flaws like in real life. He has his favourites among his students through whom he wants to achieve greatness. He, too, is not without doubts and errs in discerning the true potential of his wards. He takes up the task of training Po rather unwillingly as he had not chosen to teach him but was rather thrust upon him. Finally, when he comes to terms with the inevitable situation where he has to accept Po as his student and teach him everything he knows, he does his job with utmost sincerity and unequivocal faith. Using innovative teaching techniques and customized learning solutions with rewards and incentives to motivate his pupil, Shifu successfully effects a dramatic transformation in Po. Here Shifu symbolizes the predicament of an average teacher – one who has no choice in selecting the students he/she teachers and is often required to teach students who are considered ‘unfit material’. But after mentally accepting the inevitable situation of having to teach such students, if the teacher makes concerted efforts to initiate the students on the journey of self- discovery and keeps them motivated and pushes them to overcome the self-imposed limitations and shatter the labels given to them (often by the well-meaning teachers themselves), one would be amazed to see many such Pos emerging out of their shells and surprise everybody by their never- before- seen persona.

Another reality the movie reflects is how very often the student becomes greater than the master seen through Po’s mastery of not only the martial art form but the science of attaining inner peace at will. History is replete with such examples where great masters had greater pupils who went on to become luminaries and guiding beacons to illumine the path for others seekers. This captures the essential purpose of a teacher – to initiate the student on the path of self-discovery and guide him through periods of self-doubt, reluctance to explore or go the extra mile and by doing so make him realize his true potential. And when the student reaches the self-actualized stage, the teacher can have the satisfaction of being instrumental in leading the student to his destiny and thus fulfilling one’s role in the larger scheme of things.

The best part is all this enlightenment and insights through a movie! I guess it is true what they say about the medium becoming the message.

P AJITHAP Ajitha is a teaching practitioner who has been advocating for ‘liberating’ the education process to accommodate change and give true freedom that enables the teacher to create, innovate and experiment with notions of learning; a votary of teachers’ rights to empower them to become the catalysts of change in building a national force of informed men and women with sound value system and integrity of character; a staunch believer in the transformational nature of education imparted with true commitment to the larger objectives of this noble endeavour. The author presently teaches at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore and can be reached at

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