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Value Education and Creative Arts

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February 24, 2014


There has been a lot of conversation lately regarding the need for upgrading the Indian education system. Critics have rightfully denounced the overemphasis on marks, rote memorization, unimaginative teaching methods, etc. However, I believe that there exists an underlying problem from which these multifarious issues arise. Learning has become divorced both from its roots and its goals.

When we move on to examine the goals of education, the ability to earn a livelihood is ranked as the most obvious concern. However, the common purpose of surviving and living in this world is to create a happy, healthy and satisfied self and family, which leads to a thriving community, nation and planet. It is not possible to achieve this target without deeply engaging our children in contemplation about values and society. As study after study has shown, some of the least content individuals and groups are those who are materially successful but remain isolated while doing meaningless work.

“Literature, music and the arts are all necessary for the development and flowering of a student to form an integrated total personality,” wrote Rabindranath Tagore. Exposing students to the creative arts absorbs them in the fundamentals of education, be it the ability to imagine, conceptualize and represent ideas or the ability to interpret and create meaning out of ambiguity. Exposing students to values-based creative arts does all the above while also instilling in them an awareness of and sensitivity towards themselves, their society and their environment. Thus, the creative arts are imperative to the goal of providing holistic and meaningful education for the growth of each child.

This year, we at Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, encouraged our students to take an in-depth look at the Dohas of Kabir, which are a timeless reflection of the core values of our culture. The aim was to encourage a sustained understanding of India’s cultural heritage on one hand, and on the other, help students connect their daily lives, their emotions and their actions with the values ingrained in these dohas. Kabir’s profound insights span a wide range of themes of personal, social and spiritual relevance. Exploring the themes provided our students the warp and weft for a tapestry of introspection, self realisation and compassion. It also helped them recognise the Arts as a record of the triumph of the human spirit.

The avenues chosen to delve into the dohas covered a comprehensive creative sphere; the Art, Dance, Music and Theatre departments were all involved. The students studied the dohas, interpreted them from their own perspective and then illustrated them through these art forms. The Fine Art students showcased Kabir’s work through Warli Art, using traditional techniques and materials, which kept them in touch with their cultural roots. They created visual representations of narratives in the Warli style, which uses abstract art to tell stories from daily life. Many students chose dohas that had personal significance and then created paintings reflecting scenes from their own lives. The students found that as they listened to the dohas and contemplated upon them, their designs emerged magically. From Warli, the students went on to explore other art forms like the Huichol Art of Mexico, the Navajo American Quilt Patterned painting style, and the art of Joan Miro, Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh. The goal was the same: to reinterpret the themes of harmony, peace, nature, the self and the community. They not only appreciated the commonalities and the differences between these forms and Warli, but also understood that they could all be used to connect with their own life experiences.

The Theatre students tried to understand the relevance of Kabir’s ideals in today’s environment. During the Hindi Diwas competitions, each House was given a doha to interpret. The students then wrote their own scripts and presented them as Nukkad Nataks, keeping with the spirit of Kabir’s connection with the common people. The Hindi department, inspired by the success of the Nukkad Nataks, introduced alternative methods of exploring Kabir in the classroom. Each section of Classes 3 to 10 was given a different doha to interpret. The students used a project-based approach, where they created role-plays, poems, stories or Nukkad Nataks to display their understanding of the doha. Some students even conducted school-wide interviews, where they collected and analyzed diverse interpretations of the same doha from members of the student body. Apart from the ‘fun’ aspect of such activities, the students were relieved that they weren’t forced to memorize pages of dohas; they were actually able to grasp Kabir’s concepts and realize their widespread necessity. Class discussions on day-to-day applications of the dohas brought home the fact that the ideals that make up the basic fabric of the dohas never age. They are relevant for all generations, irrespective of how advanced we become, technologically or otherwise. They just need to be looked at in a different light, always keeping one’s background and circumstances in view.

Given the lyrical foundation of Kabir’s dohas, it was a treat for the students of Music and Dance to have the opportunity to depict them in myriad ways. They played around with the compositions, marvelling at how the words simply flowed into one another. After introspecting and discussing the dohas, the students composed tunes and sang Kabir’s bhajans and dohas with a modernistic touch. They also attempted to compose their own dohas on current issues. The Dance students explored the Sufi medium and studied the dohas and bhajans through it. They happily took on the challenge of composing dance sequences based on the lyrics rather than the music. Their dance presentations, replete with a fusion of symbolic movements from the Kathak and Rajasthani styles, took on an earthy flavour.

It was obvious that experimenting with and synthesizing different styles from different time periods allowed the students to understand the wide applicability of Kabir’s age-old wisdom.

The second step in this project involved having the general student body apply the essence of the dohas to their own lives. They focused on introspection and applying the dohas’ core values to their own behaviour. Many of them actually found themselves trying to improve their way of responding to certain situations. An example in point is

Yeh toh ghar prem ka

Khala ka ghar naahin

Sheesh kaat bhu in dhare

Tab baith ghar maahin

This doha implores one to understand the nature of love, surrender one’s ego and make the world one’s home in the truest sense. After reading this doha, the students either answered pre-prepared questions or generated questions that applied to situations they struggled with. Some queries related to this doha were Is it possible to set aside my personal agenda and live in a way that honours my connection to my home, my earth? What would some of my new choices be?

The overt and subtle messages of these dohas became clearer through many conversations between the teacher and students, both collectively and individually. This helped students learn from each other and also through self reflection.

In the third stage of the project, to affect lasting change, we applied the dohas at the level of Art Therapy. This was aimed at identifying students who are not yet comfortable and balanced with their feelings and experienced reality, and helping them become stronger, stable individuals. The school counsellors became involved at this stage. Along with the Art teachers and a Kabir expert, they encouraged the students to think of a person, a relationship or a situation in their lives that they wished to understand more fully. The students then either chose a pre-prepared visual representation of a doha or created one themselves. Analysing this painting, making changes to it, and then looking at it again through the lens of their situation helped them play a more active role in the circumstances of their lives. This dynamic approach aided them in discovering the healthiest responses and a positive way forward. We repeated this exercise using the art of Frida Kahlo, Joan Miro and Vincent Van Gogh. Students answered reflective questions like

  • How do I see myself in my family?
  • Do I feel the need to protect myself?
  • What support do I have?
  • How do I nourish myself?
  • How do I feel when I am made to do
    something I do not want to?
  • How can I strike a balance between the
    positives and negatives in my life?

The Kabir project provides a common platform for all the creative arts to work together and synthesize, involving as large a group of students as possible. With stress levels at an all time high, it is crucial to give students a strong grounding in their artistic and cultural roots, where release through aesthetic appreciation becomes an integral part of life. The values the students imbibed through this journey of learning, studying and reinterpreting the dohas was also a journey of self-understanding, of internalising these philosophical insights, and ultimately of learning to be open minded and sensitive. These experiences will remain with the children and will be applied to other spheres of their lives.
As tomorrow’s citizens, they will need the all round growth, the habit of creative inquiry and above all, the secular values espoused by Kabir. This will foster in them a finer and clearer understanding, resilience, and depth, where conflict is minimised and the mind is able to successfully concentrate on the appropriate achievements of individual life goals.

Madhulika Sen is the Principal of Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar, Delhi. With 34 years of experience in management, teaching and administration of school activities, she has been the principal of Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi since 1995.
Her success in this position is founded in her logical and critical thinking, data – driven decision making and good communication skills.
Dedicated and resourceful, she has created and monitored policies and practices that promote a safe and encouraging learning environment, open communication amongst colleagues, implementation of class instruction and student assessment in accordance with prevalent learning standards.

She is widely travelled and has imbibed and implemented international education practices in her school successfully. She has been widely felicitated by a number of educational awards, most prominent among them being Dr S Radha Krishnan Memorial National Teacher Award.


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