by Serena Mehta
Serena is the daughter of Niyati and Parish Pravinchandra Mehta
The two weeks that I spent in Palanpur over the summer were very memorable. I had gone to Palanpur to help in the Vidyamandir Balmandir, work and observe in the Mamtamandir, the school for the blind, deaf, and mentally challenged, and to participate in the activities at the Sports Academy along with the kids in the Vidyamandir schools.
Before going to Palanpur I had painted a mental image of what I thought the education system in Palanpur would be like. I imagined the schools to be backward technologically and in the way the children are taught, assuming that since the schools were in a village they wouldn’t be quite as advanced as in Bombay or America. I was so wrong.
My perspective changed completely on just the first day when I saw how well crafted the curriculum was, because along with reading and writing skills, the children learned many other necessary skills as well, such as cutting vegetables, making puris, and many more. The teachers taught the children good manners and how to respect elders which is necessary for children to know and understand. The most unique aspect of the schools would have to be how in the morning all the children would sit for prayer, which encouraged that everyone was equal in every perspective and that god was always on their side.
Overall, working with the three to five year olds was pleasurable. They treated us just like their teachers, sang rhymes with us, and even played ring-around- the-roses during snack time. We also had the chance to teach them a few English rhymes and how to high-five each other, which they all enjoyed doing!
Everyday, I looked forward to going to Mamtamandir as well. We were shown every possible thing there was to see in the school in detail. The computer rooms amazed me, especially the one for the blind children. Even the library had a wide selection of books for the blind in braille, including many braille dictionaries. The way the blind, deaf, and mentally challenged were taught astounded me, because it required an immense amount of patience from the teachers, and the children were all very enthusiastic to learn as well.
After being shown the school over a course of three days, we were able to participate in many different activities. We did painting and drawing and got a chance to the see the artwork of the deaf children, who are incredibly talented. We even got to do pottery with the deaf children and see the excitement of their faces every time they made a bowl or vase. We sang with the mentally challenged kids during their sangeet session as well. However, my favorite part was the Kalakendra, where the deaf girls were taught all kinds of necessities. On our last day they even invited us so that they could show us how well they can do hairstyles, which they have won competitions for, and mehendi. The girls were very talented and taught well. What moved me the most was that even though they don’t have what is very important to us, they are always happy. The girls were also very loving, because everyday when walking back to the guest house which is near their hostel, they would all run to the fence to greet us.
These two weeks in Palanpur were enlightening, and have completely changed my perspective about Indian education. I am glad to have experienced just how advanced the system is after seeing the schools, and am reminded of how fortunate we are after interacting with the students at Mamtamandir.
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