Kolkata girl Mahima Varma ushers in an effective visual program to equip city schools
Simple, empowered teaching is the need of the hour; if you’ve often wondered about the futility of formulaic textual learning, you’re not alone. Mahima Varma, who’s currently a sociology student at Duke University (and is also the daughter of the famed kantha designer Malika Varma) had a schooling like most Kolkattan kids - text-bound and often derivative. So, Mahima has joined her professor Dr Katie Hyde on a project titled Literacy Through Photography or LTP (a program of Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies) which aspires to usher in a comprehensive way of learning by combining words and images. “Photography is a more accessible art form, especially visually. And pictures resonate better with people, we can read them more readily. It’s also more engaging and we think LTP can help us achieve better results but in a different way, as we connect with the children on a deeper level. It’s meant to work as a tool which you enmesh as part of your curriculum to make it easier for students,” says Dr Hyde, who has been working with this educational design for more than two decades.
Dr Hyde has travelled to Brazil, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nepal, Zanzibar, to reach out to students and educators and enlighten them about this method; Mahima along with Dr Hyde recently held quite a few workshops in some Kolkata schools as well. LTP advocates for immersive learning, involving problem-solving skills and independent thinking. At a city school, for instance, kids of sixth and seventh grade were asked to use their hand as a road map to their life, and they were asked about the journeys they are taking and the ones that they want to take. In another stunning assignment at a secondary school in Tanzania, students were asked to depict the water shortage in their town with a photo. “We try to make it very interactive and there are several tools we use and create individual projects which focus on a range of subjects. Students have to interact with a theme and apply it in a larger sense, this makes the process very effective,” Mahima reveals.
LTP is one of the few methods which can benefit teachers and learners alike; in fact, Dr Hyde reveals that the workshops entailed quite a few sessions with educators from Kolkata so they could see the merits of this format. “Often we remind students that there’s no one right or wrong answer. If we use a word like ‘adventure’, it can mean something different for each person in the room. This understanding helps our self-expression, and that’s what LTP is about,” Dr Hyde remarks. The framework of this teaching tool streamlines the evaluation, application and analysis skills of young minds, making them better critical thinkers. “All my life I’ve received textbook-based learning, that’s often so dry, so curriculum-driven. But the beauty of LTP is that it’s so adaptable to any format, you can use it to teach almost anything!” says Mahima.