Storytelling- The Art of Learning

May 15, 2010 Off By Pramathesh Borkotoky

With special inputs from Sankhya Samhita

Just recently, I came across an NGO by the name of Heritage Assam. Presently, they are doing some incredible work in association with UNICEF, Assam. Since I was very fascinated by their work, I decided to accompany them and see what their work is all about. I must say, it was a very satisfying experience for me; not something that I will forget in a hurry.

The project they are working on is named “Sadhu Sunu Aaha” which means “Let’s listen stories” and this project is specifically aimed for the children belonging to the tea-tribes. It is said that a child learns best in his or her mother tongue, but in India, with its multitude of languages, it is not possible to give education to every child in their mother tongue. We do have vernacular medium schools, but children of the tea tribes are at a disadvantage in these schools also. And that is because the tea-tribes of Assam are originally from various areas of India and they speak a different dialect other than Assamese in their respective homes, one which is not formally taught anywhere. And that’s where “Sadhu Sunu Aaha” plays its role, in making such children comfortable with the Assamese language.

Storytelling has traditionally been used as an interesting and effective way of passing knowledge through generations. Whether it be mythology or history, or even folklores, it has always been through stories that each generation learns the best about it. Learning can be interesting only when it is entertaining. Story-telling has manifold advantages, as it helps a child by increasing verbal proficiency, encouraging active participation, increasing willingness to communicate thoughts and feelings, enhancing listening skills, and helping them in considering new ideas. And if encouraged from an early age (the project targets children aged 5 years to 12 years), it would help them enhance their imagination and creativity, along with the confidence that even grown-ups lack to speak in front of an audience.

Keeping all this in mind, Heritage Assam took storytelling as a tool for teaching language to these children. The project started in November end, and till now they have had thirteen sessions, with sessions taking place on every Sunday. These sessions take place in twenty different schools simultaneously, in the presence of one story-teller, and one observer for each such session. The session begins by the story-teller telling them a story. Once the story-teller finishes, the children are asked to tell their own stories. The observer grades them based on the criteria of the amount of interest the child shows while the story is being told, how much the child can capture the story, and the progress the child shows as he attends more and more such sessions.

I attended one such session, and was pleasantly surprised to see how the story-telling was making its mark on the children. There was none of the awkwardness, or shyness that children tend to feel in front of a complete stranger. What I saw was a bunch of confident children, totally absorbed in their world of stories. So much that they could turn the mundane happenings of their day to day life into interesting stories of their own. In fact, some of them had shown progress after just two-three sessions, so I was told. It would do anybody’s heart good to watch those children weave stories, and narrate them to their friends, and even have fun while doing it. Without an ounce of self-consciousness, or hesitation.

And while the story-telling is making all these children fluent in the language and encouraging them to let their creativity take over them, the same set of people under the banner of Dissoi Valley Lion’s Club has thrown in another dimension, called “School Bag Library”, which takes learning to a whole new level altogether. In addition to these story-telling sessions, children have the chance of “borrowing” books from the collection of around 20-25 books that are brought to them during these sessions in a bag (hence, the name). This has been found to have tremendous impact on the children, as unknowingly even as they read the book, they are actually improving their reading skills.

Heritage Assam truly could not have come up with a more innovative way of making learning fun, and most importantly, so effortless to these children. To revive the almost lost tradition of story-telling, to make something as tedious as learning a language attractive and to make children want to read books, all at one go, is worthy of nothing but the highest commendations. It just goes to prove that most of the times, it is the small simple steps that lead to the most effective results. Here’s wishing Heritage Assam all the success in this as well as all of its future ventures.

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