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No extreme highs; no extreme lows… just an all pervading sense of contentment, and the accompanying tranquility. This by no means is to say that all my challenges have disappeared or that I don’t experience the occasional frustrations.

Yet, as I move into a phase of life when my overall feeling is one of serenity, I return from time to time to a question that I have asked myself many times through my life… Does contentment keep me from striving, from achieving?

It’s a pattern that has existed all my life. I recognize what I need and should be getting, yet have typically never demanded it. I have not hankered for status or position, but it did not keep me from commitment and diligently working hard to ensure a job well done.

I remember my mother telling me often as she recalled her experiences as a young mother that she would have to come and see if I had woken up and needed to be fed, because I would not cry but would suck patiently on my thumb awaiting someone to come attend to me. But then is that not dangerous? To not have an instinct for survival? To not be able to ask for basic needs to be met assuring one’s essential well-being?

Didn’t this tendency mean I made mistakes in my life? Of course…Plenty of them! Do I regret those mistakes? In the larger scheme of life as I see it… NO!

Behind every ‘mistake’, choice and action was whole-hearted commitment. I held nothing back. And so I learned from every single ‘mistake’.

But then I think about the many children I have met and continue to meet. What happens if they are unendingly acquisitive and ride rough shod over any one in their path? On the other hand, if they are ‘content’, will they give up ‘the search’? Will they miss out on success because they lack the urge to ‘achieve’? Will being satisfied with what they have, keep them from asserting what is their right?

So what’s the line between insatiability and complacency? And how can we ‘teach’ children to differentiate between the two?

And how can we enable them to be truly content?

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The relationship between the children and the grannies at KNB PSSP has always been special. They became a member of The Granny Cloud family ahead of their becoming a part of the School in the Cloud labs and it was always amusing and heart-warming to hear the children share about their interactions with the grannies. Because of limited facilities just Grades 6 and 7 used to have Granny sessions.

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A Granny session – Before the SOLE Lab [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]

But with the building of the SOLE lab, [A4 Phaltan turns 2 today on the 3rd of Dec 2016] the children from Grade 1 upwards got a chance to get into this very special room… very much their own. The older children had participated in visualizing and designing it and all of them continue to take responsibility for decorating and keeping it clean.

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Visualizing the SOLE    & Cleaning the SOLE  [Photos: Suneeta Kulkarni]

Here’s an  an email I received this morning:

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Through these 2 years, the children have fallen in love with the idea of the SOLE and wait [rather impatiently I must admit!] for a full-fledged SOLE session. They have explored topics at their own initiative [e.g. the concept of independence] and explored topics brought up by the grannies [e.g. children’s rights]. When Big Questions [and not so big questions J] were posed they have jumped in with enthusiasm and made it their own wandering to into territories  [mangoes and butterflies & polar bears among them! ] that hadn’t been anticipated. The older children are used to being in the sessions on their own and delight in what they refer to as ‘mini SOLE sessions’. Because it all has to be wrapped in under 40 minutes! And the teachers at KNB have watched, seen the children’s engagement with learning and begun to consider using this with their own classes. The concept of the SOLE spreads….

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In SOLE sessions [Photos: Suneeta Kulkarni]

It was also the one lab where, ‘Granny’ emerged as a profession! When children were asked what they’d like to be when they grew up, there were several who enthusiastically responded ‘A Granny’!

So, the Phaltan SOLE lab is a busy place, a very busy place! Now back to being a self-funded SOLE lab at the completion of the TED Prize School in the Cloud Project, it isn’t wasting one bit of this resource. In the past few months, the Granny sessions have extended to include the preschool children and even teachers participate enthusiastically!

Watching from the side lines when her elder sister was among the first children to experience the wonders of the granny cloud, was Shruti. And she has begun to take on her future ‘career’ as a part time granny [she plans on joining the IPS – Indian Police Service] very seriously as she steps in to facilitate sessions for the preschool children.

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Our youngest Granny session facilitator! [Photo: Madhura Rajvanshi]

So as A4 Phaltan marks 2 years of their SOLE lab, we wish them all the very best!

Angan SOLE

The full import of the relevance of Taratai’s [Taratai Modak] ‘Aanganwadi’ and ‘Kuranshala’ [Meadow School] came to me only when I became professionally involved in the field of Early Childhood Education in the late 1970’s. Till then, especially as a child, it was something that I only heard my mother talk about, sometimes with Taratai herself. And visiting an aanganwadi was a holiday treat at Kosabad…

But the full potential of what could be done if the Aanganwadi concept was combined with SOLEs and the Granny Cloud was an idea that steadily grew as I had my first experiences with the Hole-in-the-Wall Kiosks in Sindhudurg [specially at Shirgaon 1999], and subsequently the first Indian SOLE labs in Hyderabad [2008-2009]. It was then that The Granny Cloud was born from Sugata’s [Sugata Mitra] idea of bringing in native English speakers to engage the children in conversation; simultaneously encouraging  the learning of a language and developing their abilities to question and explore and search. The SOLEs and the Granny Cloud continued to evolve emerging into the concept of the School in the Cloud with Sugata’s being awarded the TED Prize in 2013.

It was the ethos on which the original SOLE labs and the Granny Cloud were built that brought these two ideas together in my mind. It was the desire to reach children in disadvantaged settings/locations, with minimal, sometimes no resources [material as well as in terms of ‘trained’ persons].

The concepts of the SOLEs [www.theschoolinthecloud.org ] and the Granny Cloud [www.thegrannycloud.org ] are delightfully simple and doable and extremely effective even in well-resourced settings with every facility under the sun available to them. Because the context of working in collaboration, drawing upon the vast, unending resource of the internet is not only natural and relevant to the way we live, it is necessary for us to function effectively in the future ahead.

Taratai embodies for me a school of thought that chose deliberately to work in some of the hardest contexts of remoteness and disadvantage; a school of thought that took in the best of many other thinkers and philosophers [Montessori, Froebel, Dewey and Tagore included]. It embodies an independence in thinking that brought together many ideas in a way that was feasible and relevant for the disadvantaged contexts for which they were conceived.

In Taratai’s days, the internet was still way ahead in the future… today it is ever present. But the past and the future are connected; and we build on what came before. Hence the idea of the Aangan SOLE. The Granny Cloud will soon [in December 2016] be launching the first Aangan SOLE ever! SAMIDHA has been running, a small stand-alone SOLE for several years in an urban slum in Pune, and it has been harder and harder to run given financial constraints and community scepticism. Hence, Aangan SOLE! Grannies will skype in with the help of volunteers; and children will gather around a donated laptop around which ever ‘katta’ or open space available; even under a tree…

The trial [end November 2016] went well… 2 great ideas come together. Let’s see what lies ahead…

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Note: The word ” Aangan’ literally means courtyard in Marathi. India’s ICDS programme uses Taratai’s aanganwadi concept as a way to reach preschool age children and mothers across the country. Taratai and her team would set up ‘school’ in courtyards in far flung village hamlets and called it an aanganwadi, or when set up in a meadow for older children so as to reach the children of shepherds a ‘kuranshala’. A long overdue tribute to her subtle impact on my life…

I woke in the morning to calls and messages greeting me on the occasion of ‘Guru Pournima’. And I found myself recalling the many different people I have learned many different things from through the years.

There has been a sense of wonder and joy in much that was learnt, but there have also been bitter lessons. I skimmed through some pictures to find some that I could use for an album to remind me of some of the key lessons I learned from them. There were many pictures that evoked memories of times when I began to learn. Learning to be my own person, learning to be content within myself, learning to be patient [even more than I have a reputation for !], learning to be less gullible, learning to believe in myself, learning to be prepared for the unexpected, learning to have fun, to take care of myself, to find new strategies to cope with challenges and sorrow, to get up and start over when I have fallen, to reach out for a dream… and so much more. I haven’t always been successful but I have learned along the way, that I could continue trying…

It may sound trite, but for me it isn’t.. I have drawn from elders and peers and children in this process of learning. But it is life – all of it – that has been the biggest Guru of them all.

I come with a long history in Early Childhood Education. That brings with it a healthy respect for the need for varied and enriched sensory experiences. But in the settings I have chosen to work in, the reality is, almost always, very far from the ideal.

In encouraging, warm classrooms I’ve watched children peering over a teacher’s shoulder, occasionally even sitting on her lap as they lapped up the story, drawn by a kind and soft tone, and gentleness of demeanour…But when it comes to skyping with grannies over the internet, well, then… how can one even begin to provide for ‘touch’ and ‘smell’?  Yet, time and again, I am amazed at the extent to which a good, clear connection can point the children in that direction.

One of my fondest memories is of Sue reading a story to children from Grade 1 from one of our Hyderabad SOLEs way back in 2009. They were totally engrossed and kept trying to get as close to her as possible. When asked what they were doing, they said –  she has such “soft cheeks, such soft hair”. They wanted to reach out and touch her cheeks and stroke her hair….

Might this compensate just a little bit for children who would not have sensory experiences provided to them anyway?!

 

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Compensating for limited sensory experiences.Photo by Suneeta Kulkarni

 

This June [2016] we are fund raising to help get the School in the Cloud & the grannies to many more children across the world. Do support us. https://www.crowdrise.com/the-granny-cloud

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It was May 2009, and we had just launched The Granny Cloud. Through the  hottest part of the summer holiday, the children at SHS SOLE in the village of Shirgaon in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra scrambled to participate in sessions with the Grannies in their newly built lab. They climbed up on chairs and desks just to get a look!

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Anything to get a look! Photo by Suneeta Kulkarni May 2009

 

The brand new grannies were as excited as the children and it was the start of many warm and lasting relationships.

One of these young children was Gouri. She took  to the experience like a duck to water and it was hard for her to give the other children a go at the keyboard and computer. Over the first few months she would rush to school as early as 6:30 am so that she could chat with Anne. Then through yet another Granny’s support [Edna], Gouri and her friends participated in a fairly regular chat group with the children at Edna’s school in far away Melbourne!

Even after the school stopped having Granny sessions, the impact remained. She stayed in touch through my visits to Shirgaon and years later, when she finally had independent access to a phone connected to the internet at least intermittently and the occasional access to her older brother’s laptop, she rekindled her connections with several of the grannies from those early years. Today, she still seeks Rodger’s advise and remembers her time in the SOLE with the grannies very fondly. She articulates those feelings in her faulting but much improved English –

“I learn to keep trust on people… I learn to see with very positive approch towards the people… I can be able to understand between mentality of people… And I am trying for be frank with people … When I started to use SOLE that time I was 12-13 years old… That time I had little bit of knowlede of computer… Then I used to go SOLE… I enjoyed lot of thinks there… First I got a confidence that I can able to operate internate easily … And I understood that it is a wast treasure of knowledge… I can get lot of knowledge… Which helps me lot in last four years… I am getting very confident about computer and I can able to do all things related to computer rather than my other friends….  and video calls on skype gives me lot of very nice friends …when we were going to talk on skype with mediators like Anna, Edna ,Rodger we share much more things with each other related to festivals, studies, Indian culture and all… I remember those days when I eagerly waiting wednesday only for talking with Anna… Now a days I am in a very good contact with Rodger and we chat often on FB … I would like to take his opinion as a advice in some things… We are really good friends… “

 

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Gouri with Anne Dec 2009. Photo by Suneeta Kulkarni

Today, this youngster from a little village who only studied in the regional language [Marathi] has completed her second year year of Engineering College, with distinction, through Mumbai University.

As for me, I look forward to the messages that pop up on FB with her latest chat and the sound of her “MAVSHIiiiii” still reverberates in my ears as I recall being summoned to see her latest discovery all those years ago at SHS SOLE.

For another blog on Gouri do visit: https://www.theschoolinthecloud.org/updates/sole-inspires-teenager-to-follow-her-dreams

I would so like to make this a common experience. There are so many children out there who want and need the grannies of The Granny Cloud. This June 2016 we are crowdfunding to help raise funds to support this initiative. Do help us reach out to many more children across the world.

 

 

The first SOLE in India was set up in Hyderabad way back towards the end of April in 2008. Among the children who was smitten by the SOLE and all that it could offer was a young girl. It was a concept that was hard for many of the adults to digest and that meant that children didn’t have as much access to it as they wanted and could have easily had.

Still, she tried to be in the SOLE as much as she possibly could, looking quite woebegone when she had to leave. Yet even this limited access made a difference. Within a couple of months, she came up to me and said – “Aunty, you know what I have asked my mother to get me for my birthday? A computer!” and then added – “Earlier, I used to ask for dresses, jewellery, toys; but now all I want is a computer”.

Is this at least as telling as a test score?!

Uh Oh! Simon didn't say!

How else are aspirations changing?