The Great Discovery!

When I woke up today I knew it would be a good day. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was what the kids at St Catherine had in store for me at their Discover session! As I was walking to the class, extremely nervous, a couple of girls ran up to me and said “Merry Christmas Didi!” I immediately felt their warmth and gave them a big hug! When I walked into the class it was absolute mayhem. One particularly naughty boy came upto me and asked, “Bag kahan se liya? Acha nahi hai!” (where did you buy the bag from? It’s not good at all!) I burst out laughing at his honesty. Bewildered by the number of kids, I found myself to be lost. Just then Raj beckoned me to come inside. “Come in! You’ll soon get used to the chaos!” he smiled.

To my relief I saw Aadit, one of the other mentors. “What are you teaching the kids today?” I asked him. “We’re doing Gamified Math! It means we will be teaching the kids about profit and loss and simple interest via a big game!” I gave him a blank look because I couldn’t imagine even one game which would do this. Think about it. I give you 25 rowdy kids who are roughly 14 years old. How on earth do you teach them something as boring as profit and loss? But soon enough the class started and now that all 3 mentors were in their element, the noise died down. “Okay kids! Today we will divide ourselves into 3 teams! Let’s go, what are you’ll waiting for?” screamed Devarsh.

The kids scrambled to make their teams. Now that there was one mentor per team all the volunteers sat down to explain the game to the kids. I was sitting with team 1 and listening to Raj. “So I’m giving you Rs 500 right now” he said, handing them chits with amounts written. Promptly the little boy receiving it counted to see if it was correct. “Now, when the bank gives you a loan of, say, 10% then tell me, how much is the interest?” he went on. Before I could struggle to remember the formula for interest, one girl in pigtails screamed “PNR divided by 100!!” “Yes! Absolutely correct! So that means in the end of one year how much will you repay the bank?” Raj looked at the kids, waiting. “Rs 550?” a small voice asked him. He smiled and nodded.

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The whole point of this game was that each group was given Rs 500 in the start. Then the mentors would ask them some questions which would help them earn some more. Then they would conduct an auction for 3 items: colour palettes, pencils and sketch pens! The teams had to buy and sell amongst themselves and try and make a profit! When Aadit explained the whole activity to me, I realised that these so called ‘less fortunate’ kids were in reality more fortunate than us because they had the opportunity to understand maths in the most fun way possible. All I had done in school was mug up a formula that I couldn’t recall.

Now it was time for the questions! Devarsh was prepared to read them aloud. “If 1 kg of potato costs Rs 10, 1 dozen bananas cost Rs 24 and 1 kg onions cost Rs 18, then how much for 2.5 kg potatoes, 20 bananas and 3 kg onions?”, he read out in one breath. The kids frantically scribbled the data onto bits of paper and started calculating. As I sat there watching the 2nd group work, I realised that today they were not only learning maths but also acquiring skills of team building. What a wonderful way to develop life skills! There was an instant spirit of competitiveness amongst the three groups as they frantically tried to answer all the questions!

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Now it was time for the big auction! All the 3 mentors got down to explain the concept of bidding to the kids and they were visibly excited! As soon as the bidding started the groups went crazy trying to raise the prices and outbid each other! Group 3 turned out to be the smartest as they bought palettes priced at Rs.110 for Rs.120! I popped into another class for a bit after this because I heard they were designing their own cities! When I walked in, 3 children were holding up a sketch they had made of their dream city and were explaining the logic behind it. It simply blew me away! Their city had everything in it. From a school to a hospital to a playground to even a metro line! I wish our politicians were this good at designing! The mentors were pointing out some obvious mistakes in the designs like how the hospital was near the metro! But as we know kids are always smarter and they had an explanation ready for everything!

I then asked the kids for a picture and the smiles on their faces made me so happy! What a fun way to learn civics and governance! I head back to my class to see how the children were getting on! When I entered, it was pandemonium. It was almost as if those kids had been let loose in some playground! They were screeching on the top of their voices trying to buy and sell the products to each other. I noticed one particular girl called Vaibhavi! She was literally on fire! She would just not sell her sketch pens at anything below Rs 500. She could put those hawkers at Hill Road to shame with bargaining skills like hers! We all sat down for a bit letting the kids fight it out.

Aadit turned around to me and said, “It’s overwhelming isn’t it? Working with these kids?” I was feeling exactly like that: overwhelmed. “How do you make sure everyone understands what’s going on?” I asked them. “You know it’s not possible to make each and every one understand the activity but we try that at least half of them do enjoy it. But there always will be some who will sulk in a corner” Raj told me. In spite of saying this I saw him go to his group and explain patiently for the 10th time how could they could win. I was struck by the fact that the mentors do everything and more to make sure their Discover sessions are a success. If you thought a corporate job was tough, wait till you experience teaching. The level of patience shown by them is unparalleled. Oh, but the satisfaction you get after seeing your kids succeed is unparalleled too! Beats any remuneration you would ever receive from a corporate job hands down!

As the session was wrapping up, barring one group, the others were able to make a profit. So within 2 hours the children had learnt how to make a profit and the concept of interest, all through a fun game! Just when you thought the day was done, out came their ‘Discover Diaries’! Whatever they would learn in each session would be carefully documented by them in their diary! They carefully jotted down all the important points learned diligently and  meticulously in a manner we’ve never done during school or college or our pre-work training programs.

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With this my first MAD session wrapped up and I was exhausted. The energy levels, the joy and the learning had been something beautiful! But in spite of my battered condition, I felt a sense of belonging, a sense of satisfaction because today I had been a part of something good. Something that added value to the lives of these kids. As I was heading back home, I couldn’t help but smile as the stories began to form a beautiful picture in my mind.

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