Art- The Tool to Transform- Part 2
Extracurriculars are not extra.
“What has been the life changing moment for you?”
“I was asked to host our annual function last minute. All my friends and their parents were in the audience. All of them clapped and hooted for me and for the first time I had the confidence that I could be someone.”
Anand is doing diploma in Civil Engineering with the scholarship from Pathshala NGO. He studied in a municipal school till 8th std and unlike most of his friends who dropped out after the same, he decided to continue his studies and now aims to become someone. He attributes this passion to one event but as a person who worked with him from his formative years, I can say it was because of many activities led by Pathshala NGO in his school.
The New Education Policy announced that extra curriculars will become mainstream and not remain extra. That was one divine moment of happiness for a person like me who has spent a decade, almost, in promoting education through performing acts or activity based learning. I distinctly remember an instance from my first job where I was handling student affairs of a group of Colleges. Veteran thespian, Kapil Dev Shukla had come to conduct a workshop. The director of our institute tried to boast in front of him, “We want students to excel in extra-curriculars as well and not just academics.” He instantly got a reply, “Extra-curriculars are not extra rather academics.” There was a sound of mic drop which I heard.
A recent Ad by Unacademy shows the learnings from IPL and for me, it covers the essence of how we need to relook and understand education.
As the schools now move towards using the word “holistic education” casually to charge higher fees and offering a platter of extra-curricular options like polo ground, robotics lab, wall climbing etc, it is important to sew extra-curriculars in the academics not just for the sports period. While private colleges have already moved towards diversity quota and they give a huge weightage to exceling in sports or activities, corporates are now realizing the need as well. A friend working at Cred told me that standup comics standout in their hiring process because Kunal Shah (founder) believes that they understand the audience (target market) really well. If I had a cred point for every time Kunal Shah has been a trailblazer, I would still be calling friends asking what to do with these points under lockdown. Seriously bro. The bigger issue at hand is a lack of research behind such initiatives. Can specific activities inculcate specific skills for a specific job? If yes, that can have a profound impact on improving learning outcomes, promoting sports and arts, designing office spaces in accordance with games vs skills, and HR practices. While research will take its own sweet time, there are certain instances I can share from my journey so far.
I was on a panel where we were discussing importance of activities for students and in the audience we had more than 100 students who were studying day night to become a Chartered Accountant. One of the brave hearts decided to put across with a deadpan delivery, “I love piano. But I have to become a CA. How are they even related and why should I make time for piano?” Fair question. For a nation still struggling with teaching basic calculations, why should students make time for performing arts. I decided to ask him a few questions.
“Does music require some understanding of balancing sur and taal?”
“Does music require a lot of practice?”
“Does music keeps giving you more and more new knowledge of it with age?”
“Interesting. Does CA require some understanding of balancing debit and credit?”
“Does being a CA require a lot of practice?”
“Does CA keeps giving you more and more new knowledge of it with age so you have to stay updated?”
“Interesting, you were right. I could not find similarities.”
The entire audience erupted with claps and got the point we were trying to make. Everything we do is interrelated. Albert Einstein used to play violin. Edison and Bell played Piano. Before you say that that could be just correlation and not causation (I am aware and I am working on it), over the years I have noticed certain activities polishing or inculcating skills which are required in professional arena as well. For example a lot of engineers and finance professionals excel at table tennis (or vice versa). A lot of sales people have had done drama in their school or college. Infact I shall share some stories wherein motivating students in some extra-curriculars gave extraordinary results.
In 2012, I had to choose a contingent for a business fest and a first year student, Gaurav, came to interview for the marketing event in the same. He was nervous, clueless, and all over the place. He had no idea what marketing was but was ready to learn. He shared that he had never been that good with academics nor had ever taken part in any activities. Coming from a traditional Marwari family business background, the only aim was to continue that business and even for that, he needed to learn how to sell. I decided to take the odds and took him for the trip. We did not win but Gaurav showed intent for learning. Post the trip, I asked him to start and lead the drama club in college. When I was in college, street plays and drama helped me learn a lot about emotions and storytelling, the two must have skills for sales. I hoped the same in this case and it worked. Soon, Rangmanch, the drama club, was taking paid projects of street plays; Gaurav’s communication and selling skills took a hockey stick growth. He shared a story wherein he went to a temple in Rajasthan and when he saw the donation box there, he looked around and observed that there is prasad getting packed. Instead of putting money in the box, he left his visiting card as his family business was of packaging machines. Two months later, maybe when they were counting donations, he got a call from the temple and he converted the machine sales. Today, he has grown his business multifold.
Similarly, there is another story I feel proud of. Imagine you join a college and within first month you are suspended for being the most notorious one and pranking the institute multiple times while disturbing the faculties and their classes. Those are the students I always loved. Gopal, suspended one, had a group wherein daily schedule included mundane tasks like smoke, bunk, break stuff, or scream, well 18 is such an age. I decided to get him a part time job as a Pilates instructor at a gym. The owner was my friend and he decided to mentor Gopal. This kept Gopal occupied in all his free time and paid him as well. Within a few months, he hardly had any contact with the previous group and his class presence improved. Now, the question was of what next. What if he drops the job and goes back as this was not out of a passion rather to earn some income and a skill. We were organising an event wherein senior students would lead the freshers for winning a prestigious trophy to be the best class. I decided to gamble on him and made him a Leader of one of the classes. All the other class leaders were the high performing, acad-excelling all rounders. After a roller coaster ride of a month, Gopal’s team won the overall trophy. I had never seen him happier and that emotional. Once he realized he can do anything he wants, he opened up about his desire for being a chef. We got him a chef mentor. A few months later, he dropped out of college and became a chef in Goa. Today, he runs an event company.
There are many such stories from this college itself. Would those students still be successful if not for these activities? Maybe. Why not? They disagree. For them, these were life changing moments to find themselves, their passions, their future, and to give them HOPE. That’s the power of arts I think. All of this is not to say a person can not have a career in the specific art itself. Ofcourse yes, nothing better than that. The purpose of article was to show how these are interrelated. One looking for a career in dramatics can also use a sales job to polish the drama skills. I used my job as a member of human family as well as the corporate one to collect content for my standup bits. (If my boss is reading this, I am kidding, please don’t cut my pay.)
The NEP will take its own time to roll out but we can take the right hints about where the future is taking us- far away from two one za two. The onus is on the stakeholders especially teachers to not restrict their thinking to their subjects and use the wave of digitalization to transform while understanding the needs of a student. If Anand can find his calling from simply hosting an event, I am sure we can ignite passions in many. It is time to bring the playground to the class and do something extra.