Creative Learning: Education for Life

By Tenzin Norbu and Tansy Troy Leh, Sep 02, 2013
Leh :
Pioneers and heroes of Education - Maria Montessori, Ruldoph Steiner, Rabindranath Tagore, Satish Kumar to name but a few - have long been advocates of creative teaching and learning. To define this style extremely broadly, we could describe it as learning in which the student is encouraged (by the creative teacher) to take an inspirational starting point and follow it through in his or her own unique way, interpreting questions posed in the light of personal research and experience. As teachers and practitioners, we are getting better, by and large, at providing adequately interesting stimuli for our very youngest students in both India and the UK, teaching and learning through song, dance, kinesthetic activity, visual props, role-play and colour. However, it is often remarked that creative learning seems to get lost as children get older; learning by rote becomes the standard way and improvisation, initiative and originality sadly shunned in favour of jumping through the hoops of accepted knowledge in public examinations and over-zealous assessments. This can be true of both educative systems in India and the U.K. So how to address this dilemma is a big question?

Tanzin Norbu, born in Testa, Zanskar, enjoyed a varied and multi-cultural education, first in an open classroom under a tree in Testa (age 6-7) then in Manali (Junior and High School) next in Jammu where he graduated in Biology at the University there and finally, two M.A.s later in London, where he met his wife, Tansy. Tanzin is a firm believer that an education is not only about learning to read and write, but must go above and beyond these basic needs. 'We need to learn moral values, how to be a good character and become someone who can make a positive contribution towards a healthy society,' he says. ‘Creativity makes for confident and innovative learners and teaches students how to live a life, not just how to make a living.’

Tansy, a graduate of King's College, Cambridge, who worked for many years as a Creative Arts and Music teacher in both Upper TCV (Dharamsala, India), Druk Pema Karpo School (Shey) and Primrose Hill Primary School (London) and Tanzin decided the time was ripe to connect their respective cultures through a creative project which would link primary-aged children in both London and Zanskar, along with students from London's Royal Academy of Music.

The inspiration came from the epic tales of Ling Gesar, whose stories Tanzin grew up hearing sung by Village Elders through the freezing Zanskari winter months. Musicians Hannah Bishop and Chelsea Cowen interpreted Tanzin and Tansy’s script instrumentally, in two London primary schools, with four classes of children over three weeks. Tanzin introduced the land of his birth through slide-shows and games about Zanskari flora and fauna, instruments and customs.

The project then flew East, from Delhi to Leh, for Leh to Karsha to Testa and Phukthar, where Tanzin, an experienced trek leader, guided an expedition with a difference: a Creative Education trek with Hannah and Chelsea playing trumpet and flute and pack-horses loaded with baskets of instruments to leave behind with the children in the villages.

Kalsang, a current student at Jammu (also from Testa), translated the English script and songs in Zanskari; and the project trekked for fifteen days. The children of Zanskar were every bit as enthusiastic and as engaged as the students with whom the team worked in London: the singing was robust, the mask-making and painting delicate and imaginative. Composing in small groups with the musicians was a new experience for Zanskari students and therefore something to be developed.

Hannah Bishop (Trumpeter) found the journey to Zanskar to share her music with the youngsters of Zanskar particularly epic, since this was her very first journey to India. After travelling 11 days from London, she reports on her excitement at meeting the first group of children in Karsha. 'Chelsea and I were a tad nervous about following the script in Zanskari,' she confessed: but with plenty of eye contact and many actions from Kalsang, even the constraints of language were overcome. The KINSHIP team worked with three classes of children age 7-9, all of whom were audibly excited to witness brass and silver instruments being unpacked from music cases. 'There were many gasps and giggles. It looked like the children had never see anything like it,' relates Chelsea Cowen, flautist.

The children seemed to love learning the songs and echoes in many different keys floated around the school during the lunch-break after the workshop. Another thing Hannah and Chelsea noticed was how good the Karsha children were at sharing resources: 'They were happy to share a paintbrush one between three when we were mask-making, a few strokes each then pass it round: imagine children in the UK having such patience!' exclaimed Hannah.

The children's class teacher added that the children would remember the unique experience for a very long time! And hoped the team would return to offer the same again to Y1 and 2 next year.

Before moving on to Testa, the KINSHIP team left a basket of hand-held percussion instruments with the class, bells, cymbals, recorders, drums and xylophones, confident that their enthusiastic Class Teacher would bring this out and let the children experiment musically again once the team had left.

Tanzin and Tansy are happy to report that their initial hypothesis- that children thrive on creative, exciting, interactive learning- has proved true so far in both London and Zanskar. Tanzin took extensive footage of workshops in all the schools involved, and a short film is being compiled.
To conclude, Tanzin, Tansy and their musical volunteer team are keen to extend this project, involving increasing numbers of children both in the Zanskar Valley and London, developing an ongoing musical dialogue with teachers, children and their parents. Tanzin and Tansy would be delighted to hear from you if your class or school would like to be involved over the summer of 2014. Please visit their website for project information and contact details.