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Unwind Session - Renovating furniture in schools by Kabir Vajpeyi

Kabir Vajpeyi formulated the idea of Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) which aims to change the physical infrastructure in schools to improve the education quality. In this video, he talks about how his concept is to change the mundane and boring school spaces like doors, windows, furniture, walls, etc to colourful and abstract concepts which will be children-friendly. He involves the principal, teachers, school administration, and sometimes the local panchayat and NGOs to make this difference. He also provides examples from two schools where he had already implemented his ideas. The simple innovations and changes in designs of the school classroom and surroundings can bring a great change in the learning process of a child.

Thank you very much for inviting me here. And I am basically an architect and I work with pre-school and school spaces. Very frankly, I’ve discovered that.......

So, just a very brief thing we have designed for is that working with......... We are also working with teachers, school headmasters, supervisors, workers and so on. All those in between connect these people. In order to really make a difference, fundamentally what we found and this is just by accident and not verified, there is a huge amount of investment going into schools and other bodies. I mean different flagship programs, and you and I, whatever tax we are paying is going into that. So we found its very oblivious, absolutely no sensitivity of the child who is the fundamental target in these programs and there is absolutely no understanding of child development. And as architects, we are also very insensitive to many things that happen around. Often, as architects, we are focused on the programs, projects, which have very limited---------

So, what we are trying to do is to create value----We have officially, in the government records, probably reached up to around 110 or 120 thousand schools,--- I don’t have right now, but we have worked in schools around 19 states. About pre schools, we have worked in about 3-4 states. Actual count I won’t be able to tell right now, but I am sure it has already reached about 15-20000, and I am sure in the few years it will reach much more because the work is happening across the states. In India, we have a huge ---- for primary and elementary schools, now it’s running in around 13.5 lakhs across the country. About other bodies, the count is very similar again, 13.4, huge numbers. You cannot really go and say--- It is very often important to see what already exists and what value you can add. So we are focused largely looking at 2, one is what value you can create and what exists and if you are going to create new one, the investment that is going on, how do you create value in it. So the idea is we are looking we are talking about different kinds of spaces. -------okay, these are often the kind of spaces which are dirty, filthy and insensitive. And you are expecting that the kids who are coming up, they will be inspired to go to these places. We are talking about the environment----what kind of spaces do you’ll need? What kind of experience do you’ll need? You have this uninspired, unattractive, uncomfortable setting in spaces, and these are taken from different parts of the country. You would have in some cases overcrowded classrooms and on the other hand have classrooms which will have 1 or 2 kids or 3 and so on. We are also talking about furniture, it would not be ---, it would not have any kind of child sensitivity and so on. Very often you will go there, it will be very bogus, and sometimes a very helpless situation because you think that everybody ---. What we are trying to do is to tinker with that seemingly hopeless, seemingly helpless situation, where what is it we can do, little bit, to make it experience, useful, child oriented. What you see here is an example from a region in ----, in Chattisgarh, India, where you know all the bars and security bars and windows have ------ You make it more impressive from a child’s perspective --essentially it is about giving an experience of---and also to involve the local and others into it. Most of the examples that I am going to show you are deliberately from government schools and government bodies, even though we work in private schools and institutions. You know a child, you know even I was a child I could not --------when a child comes to school, they get a whole range of concept in mathematics like fractions. ---- the physical space actually offers a very unique prospect. You know I really want a time-----------------------And if you look at how we learn, you will find that we actually learn with time. You have learnt it in the classroom. You’re learning right now, okay. This is a space, large space. This is not a classroom. Yes, at home, with friends. And as said by somebody, by sitting somewhere, while meeting, while walking. So if that is the case, ------why invest in a classroom? Why can’t we create this learning environment and this stimulation for learning everywhere? In the habitat, at home? So our advice is let us do it in schools. Schools are a limited area, you can control it, it has a territory. It is partly fixed and maybe it is doable. So what we are trying to do is to make that stimulation for learning. -------it could be furniture, or floor, door, window or whatever it is. So the whole idea is what is that -------13.5 lakh is a pretty big number. We can’t physically reach them. So the only way to reach out is develop a capacity of system--------- In other words, we are repairing, upgrading existing buildings, ----So what we are doing to do is to orient, train these administrative who are these IAS officers in many cases, sometimes they might be ministers , whoever is taking the decision at the – level, whoever is taking the decision from the front, it could be the chief engineer or whoever, it could be people working at the ground level or the district magistrates, it could be from the top level, it could be BDOs, Block Development Officers, or CDPOs like Child Development Project Officers, it could be educational officers. All these people who are handling the whole thing. Then you have engineers who are working on the ground, the engineers, the architects and stuff like that. So orienting all of them to make this difference. And the essential approach is that everybody wants to do ---. There is nobody who wants to do--------. So what we are really trying to do is ------And we know these engineers or the particular----known for all kind of practices, so what we go and do is we tell their boss, there’s something good that we all can do together, and can collaborate. Can we do it? There have been instances where we have had, I mean we have been working with government directly without any kind of you know, hanky-panky or anything and because of that, we have been able to do a good amount of business. As a result of this, -----sorry, I am very sorry for the text, for some reason the format is this, but I want you to go through the visuals. These are the little bit of transformations which have happened, this is the chalkboard, see pre and post. This is an example from -----Government school, right next to India Gate. Here we are dealing about transforming the attitudes of many of these people. Very often all these decision making, execution, implementation, planning is done by the adults. The child is nowhere in the picture. So we have bought the child into the ---, in so many different ways. So just getting this chalkboard to this level and this is the same class, the same wall, everything. The difference is 3 months. So we had to talk with the top chairperson at ----, the chief engineers and chief architects here, I mean they have been ready. ---------But the chalkboard would never have been brought up, simply because the engineer was not aware that it could be-----it’s a simple thing it’s not rocket science. But the fact is if anybody demands then the child is invited and the teacher to do this kind of activity. But nobody thought about it. But this teaching is possible if you work with the attitude and mindset. And that is one of the areas we work with. Typically you will find the furniture that we see on your left, in the schools, government schools and everybody is so happy that we are providing furniture to the kids. And those furniture are so restrictive. It don’t let the child be a child. And this on the right is what we are trying to change. What you see here is an example where, children want to scribble, they want to---things. So you give them like these surfaces. These are things that can be produced locally; you don’t have to go a central------- and stuff like that, okay. We can make it locally, we can make it ---, just go ahead and make it. Very often you will have these kind of broken floors in existing buildings, buildings that have been made 13 years, 14 years, 20 years old and requires repair. And we have been able to ------with time, train, orient and also equip with the knowledge of ------. So this work that you see on the right, it had a similar, if not exactly but a similar kind of floor where you could not sit. This teacher and the headmaster of this primary school went for 70 kms away to buy these kind of tiles and stuff -----and made this. What we are really trying to do is make this entire experience of coming to the school more meaningful for the child and more useful to the child. The same thing is with the outdoors. The same thing is with the landscape. How we can look at the landscape and how we look at the play space. So I would like to show the kind of changes and the kind of transformations which have been brought about in the ---. The location called – a semi-urban situation, Anganwari it is situated next to---As you can see this is the outdoor of this anganwari, no stimulation. ----All that the children that they do is to loiter around, they drift, absolutely no stimulation for any activity. Now with the state government and the local NGO partners, we transform this and -----process. We transform the same space into this. Now you see here, there is a lot of stimulation of different kinds done in a ---way, something that can be done and maintained locally. Now the same space now becomes a very active hub of so many activities for children. Now what we really do is not just the change in this typical space, what we actually do because of this change is the whole process –development of physical, social, ----. Earlier they were just visiting, kind of coming there and loitering around, but now they have actual activity or stimulation happening. Now what is the investment that is going into it? Not much. These are donated by the welfare community and this is—again donated by some Panchayat person. There are other things which have been made using local crafts and so on. Very often, schools and anganwadis don’t have a boundary wall. Communities demand that you should secure it with a security wall. Yes we secure them with security bars but then they become cage. So from a child’s perspective, it’s like a cage. What we are trying to do is to modify this situation and the same space now becomes like this. Where, what you saw earlier, becomes better lit, better used, with these arrangements. The upper part remains the same, but the lower part where the child’s eye or the child’s attraction takes place, changes. ---------So all those things can be done in a sensitive way and these are done with the funds which are usually available. We are not talking about something that have to be brought from outside. We are not talking about getting---------.It is something which can ---the existing system . Again what it does is, in terms of stimulation and otherwise, it actually creates a totally different kind of environment. Something which is not just beautiful and attractive, it is much more. It is conducive to the overall transformation of a child. This is an example of a school; you can see the left and the right. This was in 2007 and this was in 2010 and you can say this is probably the ----. You can go physically into the school. The entire school had been transformed not by us, but by people who were trained by people who train, who we train. So in a way, it’s not that we go ahead and do the nuts and bolts, but we train people who go there and do the nuts and bolts. In this case, the school headmaster, the community, they all worked together to get partially grown plants into the school environment. Here this space, it was barren, absolutely no outdoor. It had outdoor space, but------barren. Same thing in the, this, this is the entrance, this same space which is now like this. The difference came in a span of 3 years. This is the space that you saw earlier is now transformed to this. What you see here is furniture that is not even made out of white cedar, it is made out of ----wood. It’s an industrial area and they got this. So basically it is an innovation system where all have gone into the training which they use on their own. So we don’t give prescribed solutions to them, we just give them some ideas and-----and beyond that we..
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