How art makes low-income kids future ready

28 April,2024 06:14 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Phorum Pandya

A Mumbai non-profit, currently top contender for the President’s Innovation Challenge at Harvard University, is all set to launch a pilot art curriculum across 20 civic schools in collaboration with MCGM

An educator trained by Saturday Art Class conducts an art session with children in Pune

In 2016, fifth-year architecture student Chhavi Khandelwal conducted her first art class for 30 class 2 students at Shankarwadi MPS school, Jogeshwari East, in collaboration with Manasi Mehan, a Teach for India fellow. The students had come prepared to draw a mountain, river and sun. The typical drawing we have all scribbled once as students.

But, Khandelwal asked the kids to feel the paint. "Mummy gussa karegi," one student said. By the end of the class, each of them had dunked their palms into paint and transferred the print onto paper. "Manasi strung all the artworks together into a banner. When the students questioned this, we spoke to them about teamwork. Soon, the class became a space for students to express what they were feeling," says Khandelwal, who calls her meeting with Mehan, who is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Education from Harvard, serendipitous.

At the time, Khandelwal was pursuing a thesis hypothesis that art can change lives. "I had worked with communities in Dharavi and Behrampada, where children from low-income groups hated going to school. The impersonal teaching method was proving counterproductive," says Khandelwal, who was wondering whether art could be a deconditioning component to make education more relatable and personal to children.

At the end of the academic year, the art students turned the school hall into an exhibition centre to showcase their art as an ‘End of Year Exhibition' for parents and teachers. "In that moment, we realised this cannot be restricted to just one class."

Monitoring and evaluation manager Tanushree Patel (right) chooses artworks to be put up at End of Year Exhibition 4.0. Pic/Anurag Ahire

By 2018, they took up a small office in Vile Parle and co-founded Saturday Art Class (SArC), a non-profit that uses the art integration approach in education for lower-income and government schools in India.

"The children used to call it Saturday Art Class, and the name stuck. With resource constraints, we began with a volunteer-run system and looked for fundraising opportunities to build the organisation," smiles Khandelwal.

Cut to 2024. Saturday Art Class has a presence in 13 states, including Tamil Nadu, Kashmir, Nagaland and Gujarat, and works with class teachers from target schools. A multi-lingual WhatsApp bot has 3,000+ educators receive art class plans, resources, supplementary training and support. Today, they have adopted Shankarwadi MPS as their official centre under two associates who are building research on the impact of visual art and social-emotional learning.

This year is doubly special for the duo. Next week, SArC is set to receive an official contract from Mumbai's civic body, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). With this, they will be on board to design and implement the art education programme across 20 BMC schools in the city.

Rukhmini Bhatia and Chhavi Khandelwal

"Schools, even in a metropolis city like Mumbai, do not have a robust art curriculum. A class teacher is adept at teaching mathematics and science, but not many can teach art. Our objective is to get arts and social-emotional learning into the mainstream and study what happens to the overall development of the child [when it is done]. Creativity is innate and the children take to it. You have to be able to facilitate," says Khandelwal, adding, a team of associates will track how the curriculum is being implemented and train the teachers.

Programme lead Rukhmini Bhatia, who has curated the curriculum for the MCGM project for class 1 to 5, says, "We have mapped our lesson plans to match the BMC syllabus. For example, we will teach the kids about colours by observing the works of say, Peter Max and Yayoi Kusama. We have made room for Indian art forms such as Warli and Gond art, as well as global artists, including Romero Brito, who works well if you want to teach the kids about patterns."

A typical class will begin with the exploration of an art topic or an artist's work, and move to imagination and creating in groups, pairs and individually. During the sharing, they pose inquiry-based questions. "This helps us understand their thought-process and reasons," Bhatia explains.

The organisation has been selected for President's Innovation Challenge (PIC), a project that celebrates innovators from all 13 Harvard schools, who are transforming ideas into impact. Mehan along with support from the team back home, pitched the intervention by SArC for PIC and emerged as one of the five semi-finalists out of over 350 applications from around 38 countries.

"Pursuing higher education in that intellectually stimulating environment has allowed me to weave this passion into an international fabric," says Mehan, who continues to contribute to the growth of Saturday Art Class by applying the learnings from class and peers to the organisation back home.
"Contenders are selected under the Social Impact Student Track which is for ventures that address critical sectors of social and economic inequities, climate change, sustainability, education, preservation of arts and culture, among others," says Mehan. The pitch is a contender to win the Bertarelli Foundation funding of $515,000 to be announced on May 1.

Having concluded End of Year Exhibition 4.0 yesterday, Khandelwal and Mehan have a lot to look forward to. "The main goal of education today is to provide agency to children, give them the ability to voice their thoughts, and be future ready. In a world dominated by AI and the Internet, we need to instil in them the ability to solve problems creatively," Khandelwal concludes.

‘I draw from imagination'

Hazrat Ali Shaikh (left, in red), who has been attending Saturday Art Class for the past three years, holds up an artwork with his friend

Every Friday evening, Shahani Parveen Shaikh's 11-year-old son, Hazrat Ali Shaikh, reminds her to add his crayons and drawing book to his packed bag. "Hazrat was a rather quiet child; I couldn't tell what he was feeling. He started attending art class in class 4, and today, three years on, he comes home with his creation, and tells me what the teachers taught," says the Jogeshwari East resident.

Hazrat says, "Mujhe suraj banana accha lagta hai," parroting his favourite colours that range from mango orange to yellow and green. "Didi taught me how to follow my imagination. I sometimes make things out of paper. Once, they spoke to us about cleanliness too."

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!
life and style sunday mid-day
Related Stories