Education Reforms: Curricula, Teachers, Parents, Children – Itihaas Annual Summit

Yesterday was a very insightful, introspective and compelling morning, being at the ITIHAAS’ 9th Annual Summit of Teachers and Educationists. Over 250 of them congregated in this annual immersion from across the country. Prof Poonam Batra, an eminent professor who has contributed immensely to the education space in the country, and Ms Prachi Agarval, noted developmental psychologist were the first ones to address the esteemed audience on the issue of, “Teachers and Curricula in the times of Educational Reforms”

It was a pleasure listening to Prof Poonam Batra of Delhi University on the shifts in the outlook towards education as the nation went on a roller-coaster ride that the ruling dispensations took the nation through, with their concept of nation and nationalism, paradigms of developmental economics, notions of secularism and tolerance! Here are a few of the salient points I managed to capture and tweeted live too.

Prof. #PoonamBatra #Teachers&CurriculaInEducationalReforms @ITIHAASKiBaat

  • Teachers have become one of the most marginalized, in a society that is hierarchical! #EducationalReforms are driven by #EconomicReforms. what are the #HumanIndicators? #Health #Education sliding further
  • #Teachers are catalysts in societal transformation. But #liberalization made the schools a market place #lessonplans, #studentprojects are being bought! #Teachers become #laborers #corporates who don’t understand #children and #education are packaging
  • #EducationPolicy is being pushed by #VentureCapitalists. #Teachers are no where in deciding what, why, when, where and how of #curriculum. #market has taken over #love, #affection too. Where is #Education? Where is development of #people?
  • We are focusing on #learningOutcome than #LearningExperiences #joy #child #Centricity has vanished! #Education has to be contextual, you cannot have global uniformity. Marginalization of #knowledge #context of course #Teachers.
  • #Child-centred vs #Discipline, #traditional vs #modern, why do we see only #polarity? Best way to learn is to have a non-threatening environment? Freedom means free to make mistakes, air opinions! Children observes your walk, do not talk!

Here are few points that I captured from Prachi’s sharings – @PrachiAgarval

  • Why do we go to #school? How many of us as #Teachers promote #questioning? Do we help the child to #realize his #potential? #developmental #relationship
  • Are we listening, understanding children? Are we co-creating? are we making children comfortable in committing mistakes? Helping them be compassionate? how many of us use our potential? How will we help children unearth theirs? #ExpressCare belonging, #ChallengeGrowth

Singers from TONK who have been championing the cause of education in country side, championed by dear friend Amir Abidi and his movement. The audience had the privilege of listening them.

I had short engaging interaction with the audience on  “#Perspectives, in the rapidly changing #world”.

Thanks to my dear friend Manohar Khushalani, an eminent theater personality and a Professor at IIIT Delhi, who went live on FACEBOOK while I was engaging the keenly learning facilitators and mentors in the auditorium.

#Education is so much more! It is not about syllabus and marks for sure!

I am summing up the three things that any #educationist or #institution should strive to facilitate in a #child………………………..

1. Desire to #learn, through life: Life-long #learner
2. Have #courage to push boundaries: #Discover more of self. Dare to make #mistakes.
3. Be #humble whatever you achieve: #humility

These will not only help one in the changing times, but also #facilitate one ride the #change. Be the #master of your journey and destiny. Be the #change-maker. #Impact the #world.

#Shivani  of @ITIHAASKiBaat nicely summed up. If you do not know #where you are #coming from; if you do not take pride in who you are,  #why and #How will you know where you want to go? Do we facilitate #integrity #compassion #courage #humility?

Smita Vats, the founder of ITIHAAS concluded in her inimitable style, exhorting the teachers to create their own stories that they and also the society will be proud of, and also facilitate children in a manner that their stories too become legends.


H H Dalai Lama – ‘Love and Compassion make all the difference’

It has always been a pleasure contributing to the spaces where children observe, introspect, participate, engage, discuss, debate and learn. One such movement that I have been part of as a volunteer, contributor and advisor has been ITIHAAS, an endeavor by a team of strong-willed and highly capable youth lead by Smita Vats and Shivani, has been doing a yeoman service for over 15 years now, in the space of Heritage Education for children. The movement now addresses children and institutions in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh while children from across the country travel to these states to soak in and also learn the heritage of our rich, composite nation.


There are many initiatives by ITIHAAS, year around, that engage the children, schools and the entire education community not only through their walks but also through facilitation of research in literature, music, traditions, livelihoods that are integral to Heritage.

As part of the latest initiative, first in the series of Changemakers talk, His Holiness Dalai Lama delivered the ITIHAAS ANNUAL ADDRESS to the school fraternity… What an interaction, it was !!  Always a pleasure listening to His Holiness. It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with him too. Just observing him silently is good enough to absorb so much about purposefulness towards humanity…

As he was addressing the children, teachers and education community, laced with his inimitable humour, I made it point to tweet whatever I could gather. Here I collate my tweets and share for posterity. Each of the points that he shares are invaluable –

  • Every #child receiving #love, affection, hugs of #parents in #childhood, will grow to be a confident and compassionate adult
  • we, generation of 20th century created a lot of problems, your gen of 21st century, has to solve. Solve Disagreement by talking
  • Young generation, #brothers and #sisters, think how to build a happy and compassionate world, through education and learning
  • Through warm heartedness you will be able to resolve every issue in the world; love, forgiveness will help you to bring peace
  • Anger brings violence; conflicts need to be solved through dialogue; love others and respect them to facilitate. Create peace
  • Non violence, peaceful dialogue by you will create a peaceful and happy family, society and world228
  • #Secular #education needs to include moral #values, ethics; value of warm heartedness makes the difference to humanity
  • fear is part of human being; I train my mind through analytical #meditation; analyse the source of anger; you will solve
  • Positivity begets positivity, creates peace; work towards eliminating negativity; Ahimsa and Karuna can solve all problems
  • without inner #peace we cannot develop world peace? #Trust & #affection will beget happiness & peace at home and society
  • As an youngster, I can contribute to solving every problem with my small actions with awareness; environmental issues, example
  • People’s movement – I must think, I must talk, I must work – our vision, on sharing, can gather mass to bring change
  • All religions, all traditions talk of love, harmony. #India needs to take lead in promoting tolerance, forgiveness and peace
  • Different #religions may have different approaches for different people, but the final purpose is #oneness and #love
  • Be a kind-hearted and #compassionate person. #Education needs to just contribute for this one purpose. That is the basic value
  • I never saw my mother angry. Not just me, she cared for every child ….First teacher of love and compassion is my mother
  • Every teacher has responsibility towards every child.Yr love helps every child understand whatever U impart. Infuses Happiness
  • Secret of my youth. 9 hrs of sleep and rest of 15 hours with peaceful thoughts. Have healthy mind. Smile adds to handsomeness

He also interacted with students by taking their questions and responding. I shall get the complete video across soon…

I have not done justice to this event if I do not speak about the Live painting by Artist Vilas Nayak that mesmerized His Holiness The Dalai Lama Dalai Lama. I consciously did not do, as I felt I need to write a separate story on it. I shall.


Dargah Nizamuddin : A soulful journey within!

As part of my journey of life, I endeavor to contribute to movements and organizations in the spaces of education and culture, which are close to my heart, due to the impact they can leave on the values and character of an individual. One such organization that I mentor, facilitate and contribute to is ITIHAAS. ITIHAAS works with school going children predominantly taking them through heritage walks that awaken the sense of social responsibility in them. It helps children in understanding their current context with a perspective of past and future.

Recently a large delegation of about 50+ historians and curators from the museums of the US were visiting India and ITIHAAS was chosen to take this delegation on a heritage walk to help them understand the secular fabric of our nation. ITIHAAS took them to Nizamuddin Dargah, final resting place of Sufi saint Kwaza Nizamuddin Aulia, which is a place of worship that attracts followers of all faiths. Though India as a nation allows individuals to follow their own faith and also respect other faiths, not many would venture to step into the wsrohipping places of other faiths. This walk of historians from the US generated curiosity in me and I decided to join them on the walk.

I managed to capture elements from that walk, and stitched a short delightful video. Here is one for you.

You would have noticed a delegation of 175 brethren from our neighboring Pakistan in the Dargah premises, actively interacting, singing and dancing. It was heart-warming to meet them and interact with them. Hope both nations will throw open their borders for free flow of each other’s citizens.

The US delegation was in awe of the place and the walk. India with a written history that dates back to over 10000 years, for sure, can wow a nation that is just a 400 years old!

I was glad that I made it to the walk.

ITIHAAS : WORLD HERITAGE DAY 2012 – An inclusive programme for children with Disabilities.


I am very proud to be part of ITIHAAS. It is one of a kind movement to facilitate children be aware of their surroundings and rich cultural heritage. Help children to contribute to make their immediate context vibrant and valued.

Here is one more reason why….. how to help the marginal members of the society valued and involved..

ITIHAAS celebrated, WORLD HERITAGE DAY 2012 with ASI – An inclusive programme for children with Disabilities.
18th April, 2012, Purana Quila, New Delhi

The Archaeological Survey of India celebrated the World Heritage Week on 18th of April, 2012 in collaboration with the Indian Traditions and Heritage Society, ITIHAAS. To take our commitment to Heritage Education forward, ITIHAAS organized a special study tour for 500 children with disability on the World Heritage Day, 2012. This was the first ever such visit of the Purana QUila organized by The Archaeological Survey of India and ITIHAAS. ITIHAAS, an educational trust active in the area of heritage education and working with school students since 2004, conducted a study tour of the Purana Quila for children with special needs. This
was the first such Heritage Education programme in the country which reached out to the Hearing impaired, those with Visual impairment, autistic children as well as those with special needs. The study tour brought alive the dead past for these children by making them active participants in taking our heritage forward.

The program began with the lighting of the ceremonial lamp by senior ASI officials, Dr. Gautam Sengupta, Director-General (ASI), Mr. Mohammed K.K., Regional Director (North Zone), Dr. D.N. Dimri, Superintending Archaeologist (Delhi Circle) and Ms Smita Vats (Founder-Director, ITIHAAS). Address by the guests was
followed by a song, composed and sung by one of the ASI officials from Mysore.

The event ended with the children getting certificates of appreciation from the ASI, study material and worksheets by ITIHAAS and refreshments. The children enjoyed the programme thoroughly and it was equally appreciated by their teachers, guardians and facilitators.

My Journey features Smita Vats, Founder, Itihaas.

[ITIHAAS came in to being in the year 2004. It was born out of a concern that children were getting increasingly alienated from their Traditions and Heritage.

ITIHAAS re-introduces children to their heritage, which is tangible and intangible, by walking them through their past. ITIHAAS is about telling stories. Real stories, that take children to a land that is not far away, but right next door, sometimes buried in our backyard and on some occasions, ensconced in our living memories.

More than 100 schools in the NCR region participate regularly in ITIHAAS programme]

When started and what were the initial hurdles?

  • When I started what I am doing now, it had no name. It was a huge challenge -understanding tradition, heritage. We work with school children..
  • I was only the one, but the schools would ask where is the team?
  • Two kinds of people you meet initially –
    • One kind of people- just meets, realizes and acknowledges your work and potential
    • Another kind will always be suspicious about you
      • Are they really doing what they claim?
      • Are they only making money?

What do we do at ITIHAAS?

  • We take children, mostly school children, to heritage walks…
    • Children knew about Berlin, world trade centre, Big Ben etc, but they would not know about Lal Qila and chandni chowk, our own backyards
    • We work with 2.5 lakh students from October 2009
  • We ask schools how many you would want me to take. Schools may say 200
    • We have to cater to their demand
    • Should we take teachers for the walk..
      • Teachers did not work, neither historians worked, children got bored
      • We went to get theatre people and locals in the areas where we work..
      • How do we bring feelings and emotions to hook children..
      • Today we have a CAR mechanic, many student volunteers etc who take students around
  • Give experiences that make them explore more..
    • The traditional trades and professions of the yesteryears like kabootarbaaz (bird trainers), kalaiwala, dhunaiwala etc.
    • Orissa – Bone healers in Kalipuraghat in Orissa..
      • When children complained about headaches, we thought of how to introduce tribal medicine and knowledge
    • Sheila Bhatia – Punjabi, Opera theatre – only one of her kind

Why did you start with private schools rather than Government schools..

  • I have to have a viable endeavour to help those who cannot afford
  • I have to sustain to give others a career choice in Itihaas

Where did it all start? You judge a person by seeing what he does in the free time

  • When the school wanted me to have a File for bio, I did not have a file as I did not want to do things blindly…I think the seed was sown there and it was nurtured in many ways..
  • 1983, I fell from 6th floor to 4th floor, broke my back…. Was bed-ridden
  • I love to travel. Surabhi, the programme on Doordarshan with Siddharth, I used to enjoy. Turning Point by Girish Karnad / Naseeruddin Shah on DD was a revelation
  • I never want to get more than 60-70 percent, because I want to go to Debate, theatre, elocution… etc..

Were you different from childhood? How were you nurtured?

    • I was allowed to be different by parents…
    • Instead of “Jai ramji ki uncle”, I would say “Jai Sitaji ki” which annoyed him and mother did not scold me
    • Came from a family where Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a regular visitor…all freedom fighters used to troupe in for discussions
    • So many people keep pouring at home and discuss; they all left a great impression…
    • I always felt that what you really enjoy is what you should do
      • Social cause, fighting for the underdogs etc
    • Love for our country came through due to discussions, being part of culturally-rich childhood environment
  • In school directed and acted in: Riders of the Sea – by JS Singe.
    • Went to British Council Library to do research for it
    • One of the judges for the performance was Faizal Alkazi
      • He called me for a play ‘Manic Dipression’
    • Then Jan Natyamanch.. Habib Tanvir, Hashmi, Joy,… etc happened
    • Zhaadu, poncha (sweeping, wiping, washing socks also happens…)

It all led to media studies from Jamia and explorations in film making, that in turn led to life defining experiences

  • Sheila Bhatia film – Some times you have to camouflage (women in theatre.. UGC funded when we wanted it to make)
  • Life was about making films
    • Pre-scripted stories (Mullah nasruddin)
    • 100 documentaries…
  • Documenting issues and causes – Chittaranjan Shadangi, Medha Patkar, Narmada andholan etc
  • Then the accident of fall happened. Bed ridden.
    • Chittubhai called me to come to PURI for tribal cure. No objection from home
    • Kalugudaghat, stayed with a sister of 24 activists
    • Only eat green leaves
    • The healer uses heated rods…
    • In 3 months I came back cured…
  • Aaj Ki Naari on Aaj Tak…Scindia episode
  • Then one fine day theatre happened to me in a big way again ; Theatre offered biggest lessons for me..
    • Amal Allana, daughter of Ibrahim Alkazi chanced upon me
  • §         King Lear with Manohar singh… I was Lear..
  • §         Acting can be magic.. but film making can make one selfish..
  • §         A methodical actor like Manohar singh changed everything on the go…
  • §         Trust that develops between two people is unparalled
  • §         Trust in making a film is not as much
  • In all serials, the women has to look good..the home should look good..
    • It is regressive, Women are sitting and talking, Stories are being decided on Logistics.. Four episodes in a day…
    • Udaan, Asthitva are rare kinds
  • I was surround with news and issues that you really want to do…
    • What is that you really want to do?
      • Gandhiji – Fast on to death….putlibhai used to fast for a lot of things
        • He used to walk when in London during school days…
        • SO walking and fasting became greatest weapon.
        • Gandhi used charge autograph and put it in the Harijan fund
    • I am not sure whether there is more learning in giving facility or more learning in not having the facility..

So theatre/film making dealing with real issues and travel happened in a big way

  • Theatre has not touched our generation,
  • Theatre was a community affair, Now cities being spread out…..
    • NSD – Chamku.. raghuvir yadav carried as dead body. No body part was in control ..
  • Meeting people was my forte – Jaipur, Gujarat – Interviewing Narendar Modi
  • Learning while traveling…
    • Food, people, vibe, safe and not safe, respect the city…
    • Cloth on the head in the walled city

That has been the journey of life that has influenced me perhaps to explore, share and facilitate young children.

What were the initial challenges and how did you explore?

  • What do you do to help students to remember the heritage and history..
    • We could not have built Red Fort without science and arts, so integrate the walks with all relevant information interestingly
    • When a child observes things around, a beggar, in Nizamuddin ka Darga talk about the challenges and reality of the nation
  • Actor knows how to get attention, how silence impacts, who to connect etc. Actors speaks to the last person in the audience and not to the first one.. Actor connects to each one.
  • Theko from Meghalaya could not read English, so had to translate..
  • You need language skills…

What was the response from students…

  • Itihaas has been working with age 5 to age 18
    • There are many schools that are very regular
    • A child who has been part of Itihaas, is writing a book on Delhi..
  • 98% people like it on the first go, rest say rasta gandha tha, jaga gandhi thi
  • First year 40 came, today 300 coming
  • School from Gurgaon -123 children came
  • Now we walk over 18000 children every year from about 100+ schools

What do you call yourself?

  • Social Entrepreneur –
    • The funders ask us what is your impact

Learnings –

  • Think Big… you must be versatile
    • One must not be mortgaged to one thing
    • If it can bridge the gap between what you like and profession
    • Be the change that you want to see…
  • As long as you are versatile and innovate quickly…ability to be spontaneous it makes difference…

[My apologies: Though Smita visited IWSB over a year ago, I managed to give a shape to her My Journey talk only now. I apologize for the delay in tracing the documentation of that talk. There are a few more which I will locate.]

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