I watched a Hindi movie this afternoon that was pretty inspiring despite being guilty of the usual sins: dragging on past its logical ending and forcing the viewer to make huge leaps of logic. As with most Indian movies that have a message, this one had to be viewed in the context of its objective. In this case, to get people to value education even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Particularly relevant in a country where large numbers of people still can’t read or write.
One scene in particular stood out for me. A motley group of villagers attends a night class in basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Among the elderly men there is a little boy (it is telling that there are no girls, but I may have missed the part where that was explained, so no judgment from me yet. At least the teacher is a woman) who takes some time to be convinced about the value of attending the classes.
The teacher set a test for the students that required them to write out the Hindi alphabet. When she announced that time was up they queued up at her desk to receive instant feedback. The little boy’s test paper was blank, and the teacher expressed disappointment in his lack of learning. But then he showed her an envelope on which he had written not the decontextualised string of letters he had been instructed to write, but a real message that actually meant something.
In the modern school context this would have meant that he’d failed the test, since he did not do what he had been told to do. But the teacher in the movie recognised that real learning had taken place, and since it was her school, she had the power to decide to reward him for that learning. Assessment became a flexible tool that worked FOR the teacher and student, rather than a rigid wall that determined what counted as learning in a very limited way.
There must be a way to work this flexibility back into our schools. Thinking caps, everyone!