Helping victims of the flood — The Riverside School

What I’ve learnt from innovative schools in India — Part 3 : Life worthy learning

This point made me think a lot! How often my students used to tell me : “Why are we doing this ?” and how often I answered : “For the test / the activity / you’ll need it some day…”


In all the schools I’ve visited, there was this preoccupation to give a meaning to any subject, and why not, begin with children’s questions. It’s not always easy, but the relevance of the content was everyone major concern.

It appeared to me for the first time during a sciences lesson in wich the teacher, asked : “What do you want to study during the next period ?” and suggested : “What about plasma ? What about learning how plasma TV works?”

I was eager to see what can be done in literature since this is what I teach. Discussing with teachers, I heard them using reading to encourage questions from children : what is courage ? Is the character doing the good choice ? Why ? What would I have done ? In France, we are not familiar with this way of doing but I like how it fosters empathy and self awareness. As for writing, I met a teacher having free choice writing sessions every week. Since she wrote with them, they saw her struggling and crossing out words or sentences and they understood that writing is not always easy for everyone. And progressively, they wanted to improve their writing to read it out loud and here comes the technical part to meet the actual needs. Once more, I don’t want to describe the perfect language lesson but to engage some reflexion about how we teach to make it relevant for student.

Empower students

Encouraging children to take risks and to take charge was a major issue in most of the schools I’ve visited.

In The Gateway School (Mumbai), in humanities, students had to read about a school in their city that became energy-free. They had then to understand how it was successful in conserving energy and what can be implemented in their school, and make them actors of change.

It leads me to the Riverside School’s philosophy, based on design thinking to encourage children to take charge. In each grade, students are encouraged to find a solution to a problem following four steps :

1. Feel, 2. Imagine, 3. Do, 4. Share.

For example, during the summer, some parts of India have known important floods and people where homeless : that was the issue. First, children felt what it was by sitting in the rain during a certain period of time. Then, they imagined solutions to help the victims. So they created posters and went into classrooms to speak about the floods asking other students to help, they found an association and they sent the food they collected. Finally, they shared to the school the result of their action.

You could see a similar process in TVS Academy (Hosur), students actually believe they can be change makers. For instance, visiting a governmental school, they realised that girls were skipping class during their menstruations, because the toilets didn’t have water, despite the water tank on the campus… Children then raised money, or rather they were encouraged to earn it doing small chores or to save it to buy the pipes needed. Eventually, they raised 100 000 rupees (1 300 euros), so the staff added the same amount, and the alumni association too. They found a company ready to sell them the plumbing equipment and they did all the physical work. This experience helped TVS Academy realised how sanitary facilities were crucial in every school they worked with.

It seems so obvious, isn’t it ?