Unveiling Mumbai

The challenge of creating the world’s first Social Sciences curriculum centred around the Maximum City.

Bright & tempting breezes; Flow across the island; Separating past from future; Then the air is still again; As I sleep with the fragrance of ignorance.

This past week, the rain lashed down upon the city, exposing its eternal unpreparedness towards natural phenomena while the media celebrated its famed ‘Spirit of Mumbai’, and fumed in dramatic debates about the corruption and apathy by its leaders. In these times, when I feel frustrated, I read these lines referred above, from a poem on Mumbai called ‘Island’, by Nissim Ezekiel. This gives me some comfort because it is then that I think about Ryka Mehra delivering the same lines as she spoke about her project, confidently to a TEDx camera and audience. It makes me feel a bit relieved because the video of her TEDx Talk has been viewed around the world. And finally, it makes me filled with hope, because everything about those 15 minutes of Ryka talking, from the subject to her confidence, to her analysis and her maturity are symbolic of 300 odd students who have experienced a unique program in the world. It is a validation of a risk taken in 2012, an experiment that led to an entire program, and a program that has since then impacted the community of this city. Mumbai: A City Unveiled.
This is the world’s first Social Sciences program that embraces the city of Mumbai to engage students and help them develop key 21st-century skills. And it has taken the whole village to raise this child.
Since 2012, when I entered a classroom for the first time, speaking nervously to a group of wide-eyed sixth graders that we would be studying this city, for the whole year, I was not so sure it would work. How does one convert personal passion and interest into an academic curriculum?  There was no rubric from Finland or any contemporary pedagogical think tank to draw inspiration from. But our students were really the source of inspiration. They’ve helped grow this program from its early baby steps to be a major contributor towards Mumbai’s legacy. Our first group of sixth graders from 2012, who are now in Grade 11, still remember the program as being memorable and a key driving force in their personal development as students and global citizens. It is they who have woken up a city from the sleep of ignorance.
We stress very much on the ‘hidden curriculum’ here in the Middle School, and I’d like to think that the MACU program has played an important part in fostering this sense of community. In our age, pedagogy must focus on skill development than content. But at the same time, it is important to develop unquantifiables like empathy, passion, curiosity, a sense of urgency and teamwork. The MACU program for Grade 6 aims to foster these, in every activity and lesson. The location of our school allows students to explore the city’s roots through many field trips. It has made studying the social sciences interesting again. Mumbai and its history, geography, culture, society have become more personal and more accessible to our students and through them, to our entire community. The program also includes a literacy element, which utilizes the incredible connections that Mumbai has to many works by luminaries such as Manto, Sudha Murty, and even Rudyard Kipling. We examine different sources for their reliability and perspectives, from newspapers to online media. At the end of each year, students create and showcase their learnings via a capstone project. This student-led exhibition is now one of the year’s most awaited events and has been covered by the media as well.
Since 2016, the program has aimed to take its learnings beyond the school community. Our student-led initiative has designed a plan to bring our curriculum to all of Mumbai’s classrooms. Ryka’s TEDx talk on behalf of her team was on this same project, where they created an entire textbook and re-designed our program to deliver it in the hands of students sitting all across the city and really, to whoever might benefit from it in the world. These ideas will be carried forward by future students in the program.
MACU is, therefore, more than just a curriculum. It takes learnings from the latest pedagogical practices around the world but really has its roots very close to home. It is personal, it is real. No matter where our students come from, what they speak, what they believe in, we work together for this movement. We act local, think global. Not to separate the past from the future, but to be the generation that binds them together. Not to sleep with ignorance, but to awaken.
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