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Beyond Teaching : The larger meaning of Education, 2020 - A report


Updated: Dec 14, 2020

The teachers of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan from across 55 branches in India put together a reportage of their experiences and what they took away from the three day ‘Beyond Teaching’ History for Peace conference in Kochi in January this year. Below are a compilation of their notes and observations.


The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Kochi Kendra organised its Disha conference in its golden jubilee year, in association with History for Peace – an initiative of the Seagull Foundation for the Arts, Kolkata from 20th to 22nd January, 2020.

ccccThe All India Conference for Teachers, DISHA, ‘Beyond Teaching’ was inaugurated by the Chief Guest Shri B K Krishnaraj Vanavarayar, Chairman of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Coimbatore Kendra, at Bhavan’s Adarsha Vidyalaya, Kakkanad. In his inaugural address, Dr. Vanavarayar emphasized that managing change is the prime business of educators. According to him, he inability to manage time and resources in a sustainable manner has led to lopsided development and that the need of the hour is sustainable management of natural and economic resources.

ccccCA Venugopal C Govind, Chairman of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Kochi Kendra presided over the function, while Rakesh Saxena, Director of Shikshan Bharati Mumbai, E Ramankutty, Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Kochi Kendra and Meena Malhotra, Director of History for Peace, Kolkata offered felicitations. The other dignitaries present were Ms. Meena Viswanathan, Academic Consultant and Education Officer, Ms. Jaya Jacob, Research Coordinator at the Education and Research Wing BVB and Shri. K. Suresh, Principal of Bhavan’s Adarsha Vidyalaya, Kakkanad.

Eminent educationists and speakers from all over the country shared their insights on ‘Beyond Teaching – the larger meaning of Education’ during the three day conference which had around 130 delegates from 55 schools all across India attending.



Urvashi Butalia

The history of India lies in its women, but there is no trace of the participation of brave women (women’s movements) in Indian history. How do we teach such untold histories? When you start to look for women in history, textbooks offer you almost nothing, other than the stories of a stray queen or two. Tracing untold stories and histories can be a really exciting no-textbook exercise. It’s rather like a detective story, where you have a clue that seems like almost nothing but leads you to a whole new background of the story.

ccccWe could start with Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, a famous figure in Indian history. She took initiative for the rehabilitation of thousands of refugees in India after partition. She persisted and set up the city of Faridabad. Rajkumari Amrith Kaur was an activist and the first woman to hold the Ministry of Health. She played an instrumental role in the establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. A collection of poems written by Buddhist nuns in 6th century BC becomes a clue to discover something about the lives of women then. One of the leading poets in Sangam Literature (from Tamil Nadu, 1000 AD) was a woman who was also a courtesan and had lots of knowledge on governance. Mukta Bhai, a fourteen year old Dalit girl who lived in the time of Peshwas in Maharashtra, was really an inspiration and her stories can be used in schools to teach the difficult subject of caste. Rama Bai who was married at the age of nine to a man who was much older than her, filed a case to get education and eventually became one of India’s first woman doctors.

ccccThe pivotal role of Sarojini Naidu in salt march, Savitribai Phule’s sari, the history behind sarkari uniform, phanek, pherak (hair-dress of Ladakhi women) and breast tax are fragments which disclose the untold stories in Indian history. None of the disciplines actually cover these precious fragments in its gravity, so we have to resort to unconventional sources.

These untold stories are very relevant and most useful in teaching history. There is a story behind each and every object around us. As teachers we should include it in teaching so that children develop a quest for knowledge. There is a world outside the textbook which the children need to explore.



Resource Person: Ms. Shahnaaz Khan (Shiv Nadar School)

For a long time the role of the teacher was non-existent. Now experiential learning extends outside the classroom with all its intricacies. The teacher is no more transferring the lesson, but deals with activities and experiences.  Teaching is oriented towards ideology which fixes its root in interest and identity. Identities have three perspectives – that which the society ascribes to us; that one has earned or achieved in relation with others, and that one owns (sexuality, religion etc.) These three (ideology, interest and identity)shape the journey from the known to the unknown. They might be visible, invisible, entrenched – one must not get the identity and ideology entrenched. Classrooms can provide realistic learning experiences, negotiated points of view etc.

ccccThe session was to help teachers understand the areas where they need to step in and assume their roles. Textual breakdown, highlighting etc. in the classroom are no more needed. Students are not mere observers and lecturing is not enough. A teacher may continue activities through probing questions, another teacher may encourage peer discussion on the topic. The roles played by different teachers can be the following:

1. Indifferent (explains the text)

2. Observer (gives group exercises, doesn’t give teacher’s point of view, doesn’t comment, merely remains as a passive observer)

3. Facilitator (starts the discussion, guides etc.)

4. Participant (remains within the circle, student – teacher points of view are put forth and merged, bond is strengthened).

ccccTeachers should always share a bit of themselves with the students and let students lose their guard. Teachers must be unbiased and objective. As the teacher ensures freedom and independence for the students in a classroom, they may come forth with innovative ideas. Different tools may be used to frame a participatory classroom and all teachers must strive to be participant teachers. A genuine perspective is built in the classroom imbibing different points of views. Heterogeneous classrooms widen experience in the journey from unknown to known and help children feel free of constraints.



Resource Person: Tina Servaia (History for Peace)

‘Teaching History like a Historian’ is focused on bringing in multiple sources and perspectives into the everyday teaching of history to encourage the teacher, and subsequently the students they reach, to critically question and engage with ‘given’ knowledge.

ccccThe most important aim of a history teacher is to create interest in the subject – a love of and for history. The problem that we face in history is that there is a disconnect between historians and the teachers. Students should be taught to think like historians, historians should rely on different sources, we should analyse and connect sources from different perspectives. A historian’s methodology includes viewing all sides of an issue, reading different sources, and analysing sources.

ccccChildren must be asked to find out: Why? How? Who? What? When? Where? In order to analyse the sources, the following should be sought: origin, purpose, content, Valuable, Limitations. Teachers should not reveal their perspective, they should ask the children to frame their own views. For example, was the British rule in India good or bad? Allow the children to collect sources about merits and demerits of British rule, insisting they balance the findings. The teacher can ask them to derive a conclusion and allow them to create their own perspective.

ccccWhat is most important is children should be provided with a range of opportunities. Teaching History should not be teacher-centric but it must be a simultaneous exploration of sources. Instead of expounding historic ideas, ask the children to prepare presentations for which they can rely on technology, different software and ultimately they would come up with wide varieties of ideas. History can also be taught in connection with different subjects. The result will be the acquisition of historic skills by themselves and they  will start to relish it.



Resource Person: Vaishnavi Narayan (The School, KFI)

History is our road map to the future, it is more than just names and dates. Why do we teach history? History is taught to learn from the past, to conserve important values or to work on drawbacks of the past for better change. History is memorization. The essential skills to understand history are through observation, questioning, examining evidence, making conclusions/inferences and openness to review conclusions. History includes a sum of perspectives. It uses evidences to come upon a reasonable explanation.

ccccOne of the most important aspects of heritage education is experiencing our culture first hand and visiting a historical building. A historical monument is a rich source of history. It gives us a sense of wonder and makes us curious to know more about the past connected with it. The study of a monument helps the students to construct history through observation. The activity generates interest in historical buildings and develops observation skills. It also develops their aesthetic sensibilities and instills an appreciation of elements of architecture and our cultural heritage. The activity done during the workshop was in four steps: 1. Preparation, 2. Exploring the monument, 3. Sketching the monument, 4. Creating a brochure.

ccccThe next activity was on ‘Learning about a Timeline’. One should take about four minutes to write a ‘history of you’. How much history should a “history of me” include? What boundaries should be drawn on these? We probably write about our childhood and may be our parents, but may not write about grandparents or anything that happened more than hundred years ago. This activity facilitates in the understanding of primary and secondary sources of data, identification of important dates, chronological sequencing of events, understanding lineage and tracing back to previous generations.

ccccAnother activity on ‘Creating a Neighbourhood Atlas’ was done. Visiting ancient places enhance different perspectives and critical thinking. It includes understanding a place in its entirety, identifying themes; cultural and governance, mapping the locality and creating interview; observation, questioning, examining, conclusion. It is extremely important to avoid bias. We do have certain inclination towards opinions. How do we identify it? How do we overcome this? We may uncover different sides of an issue, analyse different sources and insist students to read and mention bibliography.



Resource person: Ashwin Prabhu (form English and History teacher, The School, KFI)

School trips can be a comprehensive pedagogical tool to teach history.  The design of the trip is very important as it should help the students to encourage their observation, enquiry, questioning and reflection. History is not a mere memorization of facts, but an enquiry into the past and a relation of the findings with the present. Through these trips, children come in contact with people, sites, landscapes, cultural practices and social realities, which allow them to make sense of the present by looking at issues through the lenses of the past.

ccccA vital part of teaching history is enabling pupils to have an understanding beyond the simple facts and figures, of the historical events, people and places that shaped where and who we are today. This could be at the national or local level, and is surely best achieved through the first-hand experience offered by a history school trip or field trip. School children may find it difficult to imagine how people lived in the past due to their limited life experience. As part of their historical enquiry, a school visit to a historically significant place will certainly help to put what they are being taught in the classroom, into context, and make it more understandable. Teachers usually find that the classes are so much more motivated following a school trip, which makes the subsequent lessons more enjoyable and allows the pupils to make the cognitive connection between the place and what is on the paper in front of them.

ccccEducational travelling experiences can be used as a powerful tool of experiential learning. A well-planned class trip is a fun way to get out of the classroom and reinforce academic concepts. Making school trips is an effective pedagogical tool where travel in itself enables experiential learning; learning can be fun or fun can take the form of study and study is possible through observation, questioning, dialogue and reflection. Fun can lead to studies, to place a hard demand, to discover what it means to take ownership of one’s work and to surprise you. Students can experience first-hand learning which may be fostering imagination, understanding, care, sensitivity.

ccccLearning through trips nourishes children’s interest towards studies. It provides direct and first-hand experiential learning. It paves way to explore the outside world and helps the children to express themselves without inhibition, by which they can connect their experience with history and foster the spirit of learning in classrooms.



Sundar Sarukkai

Act of teaching is very closely related to the act of philosophizing. It is crucial to reflect upon the act of teaching and what it means to teach. One must reflect on how, being a philosopher contributes to the quality of being a teacher. The idea of philosophy is essentially concerned with the question of teaching.

ccccUpanishads are filled with stories of teachers and students. Many important philosophical lessons which have become a part of the classical philosophical systems in India are derived from the Upanishads. Adult teachers in these stories range from Bheeshmacharya to Dronacharya. In the philosophical discourses are Nachiketa’s questions to Yama where a child asks about the soul and nature of death, thereby displaying critical enquiry. The core of Upanishads is story-telling with major questions of philosophical import.

ccccMahabharatha showcases a completely different model of teaching which is modern, contentious, political and social. Upanishadic and Greek paradigms kept teachers and students together. The story of Eklavya shows a shift, wherein, teachers are replaced with other instruments like books. Education which used to be a closed community act undergoes a fundamental shift, as one considers the possibility of learning in the absence of a teacher.

cccc Roles of peripatetic philosophers and teachers was the transmission of knowledge and equipping students to know by themselves. Debate is central to Greek and Indian philosophical traditions. It could be seen as the foundation of critical thinking and is the best way for transmitting knowledge. All teaching and philosophy aim at making students potential teachers who gain knowledge without being taught. Medium of teaching is as important as what is being taught. The knowledge that is transmitted deals with the nature of one’s self and existence in the world.

ccccPhilosophy was the foundational discipline from which other disciplines emerged. The philosophers and teachers in ancient times wanted to equip the students with critical enquiry (questioning). Debate can be categorized into three major forms: 1. which helps in learning and gathering evidence 2. which leads solely to dispute 3. which attacks the other person’s belief. Humility, honesty and persistence, in the search for truth, are qualities which are conducive to learning between a teacher and a student.

ccccPhilosophy in India underwent a radical change during the Bhakti movement which challenged the idea of philosophy and what should be taught. The resistance poetry of Vachana singers of Karnataka broke many hegemonic practices and spoke of social liberation of the people. Philosophy was thus modified. It could not be contained in the textual domain or among those groups of people who were the only ones to access it. Major challenges to philosophy come through advances in science. Philosophy is central to learning other disciplines as it reflects the ideals of education. The implications of the changing notions of philosophy are the following: 1. transmission of the textual knowledge, 2. when reduced to textual knowledge, the body and action are completely lost, 3. philosophy through practice is a discipline for adult students. Philosophy is erased in schools, 4. discards many philosophers like Gandhi, Tagore etc. 5.philosophy functions in the public domain at places where they are least expected to be.

ccccNo knowledge is accepted as knowledge if it doesn’t go along with the notion of compassion. Texts should encompass the ideals of self and social transmission. Teaching which is devoid of fear, hierarchy, and exclusion is important in Buddhist learning along with honesty and the fundamental quality of compassion.



Kapil Pande

Story telling is an effective tool to create contexts in classroom. Warm-up activities of the same magnitude generate interest in learning. Drama is needed to engage with the issue and take up the issue as one’s own. It helps in engaging and exploring human experience. One may thus personalize the problem and invest themselves in solving it.

ccccThe session began with a physical warm up in which audience respond to the speaker with claps. A Bhojpuri song is sung with the accompaniment of a guitar played by the speaker. Participants sing along and clap to add rhythm to it. The story of Birju, a farmer from the village of Palampur is narrated. Gestures are used while singing the song – “till the land; irrigate with the water it needs; fertilize till the crop is tall; harvest time cut it all.” The speaker takes the role of Birju and creates a situation in which the farmer evokes empathy from the audience. Audience join in the enactment and offer plausible solutions to help the farmer out of his debt crisis. It leads on to further discussion in which the plight of the farmers in general is taken up. Problems in the system of the age are explored.

cccc Learners should be oriented towards empathizing. A drama in which a teacher takes up a role breaks down the set hierarchy in a classroom. It motivates the whole group to participate. Simple props may be used during acting to step in and out of the roles. Drama when used in a classroom is most often devoid of a prepared script and improvisation is key to its success. Fictional circumstances are set by the teacher so that students can take various roles and generate problem solving skills. Teachers problematise issues and students offer keen solutions. One must think within the problem to bring the feel-factor and thereby generate empathy or compassion.



Sebastian Joseph

Noam Chomsky has famously said that meanings are ascribed based on circumstances. A movie clip from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator may be used to transmit the ideals of fascism, Nazism or any kind of despotism. Movies can capture the attention of the students. Archival documents may be better understood through different activities. Authorial intent intervenes while understanding any type of text. Post modern historians have done emotionalisation of history.

ccccCinema adapts certain culture. Any feature film can be considered for a historical understanding of the socio-economic conditions of a particular period. Films easily adopt cultural tags. Everyday life events can be seen in films. Films have an aura to generate interest and attract the attention of the audience which inherently links them to the history of that age. Movie clips can be used to study the history of Kerala. They provide the students with everyday practices and a better understanding of the ecology of the state. Films deal with ordinary lives and emotions. They may be used to revisit those lost in history and understand gender relations.

ccccThe ocularcentric student community has their mindset impacted by the growing visual data bases that galore in these times. In the times of post literate society, certain pedagogical shifts have to occur in spaces where history is taught. Structural changes in the responsive character of the student community that study history should be brought out. Feature films, documentary films and photographs contain historical plots. These have to be discerned in classrooms. They develop critical social scientific aptitudes and skills of the students. Students can get easily affiliated to the cinematic emplotment where history is transmitted through stories and interesting visual narratives. Studying a historical film through using film historical methodologies is imperative. They help in locating past events and processes in its historical setting. They enmesh with the emotions of the period of study and emulate intense historical imagination of students. The talk intends to orient the teachers in the art and craft of using historical feature films and other visual source as texts of the past. They reinforce the concept of cine pedagogy in the post modern world. It engages more with the visual past than the textual past.



Jayshree Nambiar

A teacher is the centre of the educational experience of a child. Teachers must function as agencies that impart knowledge thereby enabling the child to grow without prejudice. A teacher should not create dependence and should act impartially. They should give chance; be humane and should be drawn by purpose for meaningful learning.

cccc A vision that needs to be translated into practice demands real hard work. A child should grow free of fear and confinement. Sometimes relationships may be established in the classroom through a smile, mere meaningful eye contact or conversation. Learning may be nourished by exploring academic subjects through lively discussions. Teachers should always consider the possibility to learning a new interpretation, idea or knowledge in a classroom. Close observation is necessary to bring ideas which are outside of the textbook.

cccc Teachers may compare themselves with others, express ideas and engage in conversations with colleagues to solve any problem. Teacher shouldn’t be the centre of any activity in a classroom. Their role is to observe. Students need to learn on their own while explaining what they have noticed or learned.

cccc Students may do the following: 1. go on a field trip to a temple fair 2. meet with different people and talk to them 3. painting a mural – to encourage co-operation rather than collaboration. Learners should work together with pleasure even in mixed age groups. Nature needs to be an integral part of our education process. Solitude, slowness and silence are now missing from the field of education. Working together brings people together. Longevity in learning happens only when the mind is free of fear.



Jerry Pinto

Teaching is doing and doing is learning. Teachers hold the ability to transform the relation of the child to the subject. Journalism will be intellectualised into history. Reason stands less chance in history. Silence can be used to contain one’s internal fascist. One should abstain from making rules for others.

cccc Language and conversations make one humane. Privileging of English over mother tongue will eventually contribute to the weakening in communication. Teachers need to respectfully pay attention to what the child says and should indulge in encouraging such conversations. Time management and time bound planning must be done. Learning should happen outside of cozy classrooms. Real-life experiential learning should be encouraged.

cccc We must search for the ‘literal’ truth through three overlapping narrative filters – layers of complexity. Most often, women delineate themselves from most of the action. Pinto writes about debilitating mental illness, the inner processes of which remain largely unknown despite much scientific advance. The author juxtaposes his narrative with narrative ambiguity. He opens up about his mother’s struggle with a serious neurological condition. Pinto examines through a minute spectrum some of humanity’s great concerns. He is especially interested in the nature of love, both romantic and familial.



Anil Sethi

Whatever is taught in history must sharpen the intellect. The teaching and learning of history ought to develop among pupils a range of abilities to identify socio- historical puzzles; fit in the jigsaw; advance fact based, evidence led arguments; confine arguments into a narrative; create a conversation among different perspectives and grasp categories and concepts.

cccc What should be the content of history taught in schools? What method can we use to teach history? What is the nature of historical enquiry? In order to get a vast coverage of history, the following six basic elements should be included: 1. Problems for Analysis, 2. Analytical point of view, 3. Explanation, 4. Evidences (facts of the case or sources) 5. Perspective, 6. Concepts or categories.

cccc History is remembered, discovered and invented. The students’ understanding of materials from which we construct histories can never be deepened if our teaching remains confined to a prescribed textbook. From where do we teach other than the ‘sacred’ text created for us by some ‘higher authority’? How do we go beyond the textbook while simultaneously maintaining its salience?

cccc In doing so, we introduce young people to the historian’s craft, a method of enquiry, useful in several walks of life. History is not stable. It is contested. When we give a perspective, we are trying to give a synthesised understanding. Different people experience different pasts in different ways. The only way to interpret conflict is through perspectives; going beyond the history set by the historians and connecting it with different disciplines. It would bring a wide difference in teaching.

cccc This led into a round-table discussion called ‘World Cafe’ moderated by Meena Malhotra, Director History for Peace – An Initiative of The Seagull Foundation for the Arts, Calcutta. She spoke on the importance of teaching and learning  History for peace and understanding, and to develop compassion and empathy for fellow beings. She also insisted on encouraging and engaging students in critical arguments. The History for Peace website was introduced to the gathering.

ccccIn the valedictory ceremony, Shri. E Ramankutty, Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan delivered the presidential address .The closing remarks were rendered by Sri Rakesh Saxena, Director of Shikshan Bharati, Mumbai. The other dignitaries present were the educational officers Ms. Meena Viswanathan, Ms. Renuka Menon and Ms. Sukumari Menon and Ms. Jaya Jacob, education officer and coordinator at the Education and Research wing Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Kochi Kendra.

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