The primary objective and intent of our schools is to awaken intelligence in the educator and the student. This has to be kept in the forefront of all activities in the school —academic or otherwise—both at the time of design and at the time of implementation of such activities.
Although we do not have a blueprint of how to awaken this intelligence, we do know that one of the important factors required is an attentive state of mind. We also know that this attentive state of mind cannot be forced, ordered or planned. It can come into being under certain conditons—when fear is absent, when there is the joy of discovery, when the mind has a quality of quietness and is not preoccupied with achieving an objective or end.
Educational trips that form a part of the school curriculum are very valuable as they provide the students the opportunity of learning through travel, especially to places that they may not otherwise get to visit. Apart from this, the trips also provide relief from the drudgery that academic study sometimes becomes, an opportunity for close interaction with peers that students enjoy so much, and a chance for the teacher to observe and interact with the student in a structure different from and more informal than the classroom.
More important, however, these trips emphasize the attentive mind, enabling a sense of discovery and a quality of quietness. And this emphasis need not come in the way of such trips being ‘fun’, as they are meant to be.
How does one plan and organize a trip with these objectives? In this article I will outline six guidelines that we have found useful for such educational trips, giving examples from two trips that we have organized in recent years.
Plan the trip with a purpose
There has to be a central objective of the trip. Merely visiting a place for sight seeing is hardly adequate. A broad theme or a central question provides a focus for the trip.
- Visit Pondicherry in order to see the influence of the French
- Visit the Cauvery delta to study the features of a river delta
Design modules for observation and study of different aspects of the central objective
These study modules should allow for the children to work in small groups of four to six students and an adult. Each module should require the group to engage in various activities in order to study aspects of the objective through observation, inspection and interviews.
Some examples of the study modules planned are given:
- The influence of the French upon Pondicherry can be studied by
- Observing the buildings in the French part of Pondicherry.
- Recording conversations in the French-Tamil dialect spoken by many residents of Pondicherry.
- Features of the Cauvery delta can be studied by
- Keeping a record of the rivers and distributaries crossed, and making a map of them as one journeys through the delta region.
- Recording elevation of towns as one travels through the delta region, and then representing the towns and elevation on a graph to show the gradual descent to the seacoast.
- Taking soil samples and analyzing the components to understand delta soils and their fertility.
Record the observations through written as well as visual means
This is a very important part of the trip. Every participant should keep a daily record of his observations. These could include answers to questions raised by the teacher leading the group, responses to tasks set, or individual experiences and insights. Apart from the written and narrative record, sketches must be included as a visual record.
For instance, students could be asked to:
- Sketch a part of a building that is typically French.
- Sketch a view of the rolling fields of the delta showing the intensity of cultivation, canals bringing water and other features.
Sketching is an activity central to our objectives. It develops aspects of the brain that tend to be relegated to the background in an educational system that is intellect oriented and memory intensive. Visual articulation demands a deeper engagement with the subject and a new level of understanding is enabled in the student.
Most students (and adults) can sketch, but are inhibited from doing so. To develop this facility, students should be asked to make a sketch a day for at least three months prior to the trip. This activity will take only fifteen minutes a day, and within a few weeks every student will acquire the confidence to sketch.
Sketching as an activity slows down the process of thinking, making the eye follow the flow of pencil over paper, while coordinating with close observation of forms, outlines and textures of the subject being sketched. During these sessions, both prior to and on the trip, it is possible to demand complete attention to the task, seating the students separately so that the compulsive talking that they are habituated to is avoided.
Organize investigations by individual students
Each student should be allotted a topic for individual investigation that originates from actual observations. The investigation should require the student to cross subject boundaries and not remain restricted within the confines of a particular subject. This enables the student to see more links with his or her topic and appreciate that most real-life issues need to be approached in a multi-disciplinary way. The investigation should also trace the threads of the topic to the situation in the world today, and how it affects or applies to every human being.
A few such investigations and their implications are suggested below:
- How and why did the French come to Pondicherry? Possible areas that could be considered are: factors behind the colonization of the world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; compulsions caused by the demand to trade; the role of the World Trade Organization today.
- Why is there this war between Karnataka and Tamilnadu over the waters of the Cauvery? Possible areas of consideration are: genesis of the dispute, rainfall patterns, demands of development, sharing of resources.
Students need to be encouraged to lead off from the main trunk of their investigations and go up other branches.
For example, in studying aspects of the history of Pondicherry, a student may want to find out more about Dupleix or about Sri Aurobindo.
An investigation of irrigation in the Cauvery delta may lead a student to find out about dams and how they affect ecology, or the harmful effects of canal irrigation.
Draw out larger questions to be examined, where possible with appropriate readings from J. Krishnamurti
Some questions that have suggested themselves during the course of the two school trips referred to are:
- Why were the British and the French at war for hundreds of years? Why has there been a war somewhere in the world every year over the last five thousand years?
- What are human beings doing to the earth by their endless exploitation of its resources? What is the importance of having contact with nature?
These questions are intended for a reflective discussion among students and teachers. Readings from Krishnamurti on the causes of violence and war, or on man’s place in nature, can serve as a backdrop for the discussion.
Put it all together
After returning from the trip, the group should make a presentation to the rest of the school, bringing out the highlights, the observations, the investigations and the questions raised and discussed. This presentation can be made attractive with visuals, sketches and charts prepared by the students. We believe that work-reducing technological substitutes such as photographs and video recordings should be avoided. The act of sharing the multilayered, rich experiences of an educational trip would bring together its various strands and allow a certain consolidation of the collective learning that has taken place. The individual experiences of the participants we hope will, however, live on in their minds, and help them to appreciate more deeply the nature of looking, thinking and learning. In doing this they may come upon something of the quality of intelligence.
When someone is seeking... it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.
[Hermann Hesse from Siddhartha]