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Kilkaari: Igniting Learning and Welfare Through Joyful Education

The first few years for any child are their formative years, and an environment of playful learning can ensure that curiosity and a sense of enquiry gets ingrained at the very outset of this lifelong journey. Experience this story to understand more about the inspiration and the impact such an initiative, that borrows its name from the laughter of children, can create.

Chandigarh, a city in the northern part of India, known as one of the first successful experiments in urban planning and architectural design of a newly independent country - is witnessing another exciting and meaningful experiment. One that is aimed at transforming the future of learning and is taking shape within the hallowed halls of government schools across the city.

Think colours – think creativity – think boundless energy.

Welcome to the enchanting world of "Kilkaari," which is no ordinary educational project – but a journey that's all about crafting experiences that resonate with the laughter, wonder, and infinite curiosity of young minds. It’s about having fun while learning.

Born from an ‘aha!’ moment

Government schools in Chandigarh have been welcoming children aged 3 and older since early 1960s, kickstarting their educational journey. However, fresh winds of change have swept through the education landscape with the introduction of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) in the National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020. With the NEP change came a call for a complete revamp of pre-primary education, encompassing a full three years of early learning.

Individuals from ‘Arpan,’ Infosys Chandigarh’s CSR wing have also been on a mission, where they are not just shaping the future of technology, but are also a force for social change, lighting up the lives and minds of little ones right from the start.

Team Arpan had been working on the ‘Pathshaala’ project for several years, aiming to fill knowledge gaps in primary schools, and that’s when they stumbled upon a revelation - the gap in knowledge started right at the pre-primary level. This 'aha' moment coincided with NEP 2020 resulting in the foundation of Kilkaari.

With support from Infosys Foundation, this initiative brought together a wide range of entities across the board to bring to life a shared vision of the Department of School Education, Chandigarh. Kachi Sadak Foundation, which is focused on education reform, and volunteers and do-gooders from Arpan came together to make this a reality.

Learning beyond conventions

More than an academic endeavor, the initiative emphasizes holistic development, covering physical, cognitive, language, socio-emotional, sensory, creative, and artistic aspects. At its essence, Kilkaari takes an innovative approach to education, focusing on viewing it from a child's perspective.

From sitting space to ceiling height, it's all about their experience… We want them to love being here. Monika Sharma, Kachi Sadak Foundation

Monika Sharma from Kachi Sadak Foundation vividly recalls Kilkaari's beginning: "When NEP was launched, the government approached us. We researched for six months and crafted this design," she shares while sitting at the heart of Government Primary School in Dhanas.

She emphasizes the child-centric nature of Kilkaari, detailing everything tailored to children's comfort. "From sitting space to ceiling height, it's all about their experience," she adds passionately. Sharma's vision extends beyond mere schooling; it's about nurturing curiosity and imagination. "We want them to love being here," she expresses with a spark in her eyes.

“Every space has been created keeping in mind the developmental aspect of the children,” adds Navdeep Singh Sihag of Infosys, who apart from being a cybersecurity expert, believes that change can be brought about when people come together.

The program has introduced four prototype classrooms at two of the government schools - spaces that are thoughtfully designed to accommodate the constraints of classroom size, with most learning corners and artifacts being movable to ensure flexibility.

Sharma deeply believes in Kilkaari's transformative power, expressing, "Learning isn't just about discipline; it's about nurturing opinions and perspectives."

The team poured their hearts and souls into the project, understanding the community's needs and nurturing the innocence of every child they touched. "If we don't connect with children, preserve their innocence, we will have humans who we hate," Sihag passionately emphasizes.

It is important to understand the social and demographic environment that a child is coming from Franey Sood, Kachi Sadak Foundation

But this effort wasn’t all smooth sailing, notes the team: convincing parents, bruised by past disappointments, to trust again, was a significant challenge. Furthermore, they had to bring in the teachers into the fold and ensure that they are aligned with the unconventional teaching methods and can take the learning forward.

"It is important to understand the social and demographic environment that a child is coming from," says Sood, and incorporating those learnings in the local environment is also very important.

It took the team over a year of relentless effort, but they succeeded. They built trust, one smile, and one understanding gesture at a time, making sure every child felt safe, cherished, and ready to conquer the world.

The ASER 2022 by Pratham revealed a rise in overall enrolment rates despite pandemic-related closures. However, while India boasted a very high school-enrolment rate—more than 98% in 2022, children's foundational learning levels have consistently remained low.

Reflecting on Kilkaari's impact, Sharma beams: "Attendance increased by 30% after its introduction… From Chandigarh, we aim to spread Kilkaari to other states too."

Teaches – the core transformative agents

"The perspective is not from how a teacher wants to teach, but how a student wants to learn," says Franey Sood of Kachi Sadak Foundation.

Having said that, Kilkaari goes the extra mile by investing in its educators! They've meticulously planned engaging workshops and training sessions for nursery teachers. These aren't just about teaching methods; they're about turning teachers into mentors who guide young minds with patience and passion. These sessions equip teachers with the tools to craft an enriching and illuminating learning environment.

Kanupriya Joshi, Principal of GMHS-Kishangarh says the Kilkaari project has been a game-changer for our classrooms, reshaping our entire perspective. “We've shifted our focus—for instance, realizing that board writing isn't the crux of children's learning. Parents are thrilled; they feel their kids are reaping the benefits of a private school education.”

Her top pick? The Rang Manch activity, erasing stage fright and building confidence in kids to engage with others. NEP's shift towards addressing children's needs instead of fearing board exams is fantastic, she adds.

We've shifted our focus—for instance, realizing that board writing isn't the crux of children's learning. Kanupriya Joshi, Principal, GMHS-Kishangarh

Dr. Manjeet Kaur, whose inputs were sought to design NEP 2020 insists: "Every proposal must impact students directly."

For the Mission Coordinator for the pivotal Government of India’s Samagra Siksha scheme, the connection to education became deeply personal when her granddaughter stepped into pre-primary schooling.

It's this spark that drives her beyond mere observation, diving deep into the reality of schools. While rote learning saddened her, she beams with pride at innovative changes—like schools banning erasers to ignite fresh learning.

It takes more than a village

People from different walks of life came together to make this project a success.

Sood says the team got local carpenters and artisans on board for the project for their unique perspectives. Who better than them to understand what would spark joy in these kids at school?

"Throughout the design process, we valued their inputs. They take immense pride in their contributions. These projects became a way to engage the community," she noted.

Lalan Kushwaha, a passionate carpenter with an eye for creativity, was tasked with an exciting project: crafting a unique Ludo dice stand. Rather than sticking to the usual, he aimed to make it stand out.

Hailing from a middle-class background and being one of three brothers and a sister, Kushwaha embarked on his journey, juggling work and studies. His dedication led him to complete ITI training, and now, as a father of two kids, he cherishes his role in both his family and his craft.

Initially, a diligent follower of instructions, Kushwaha soon began injecting his creative inputs into projects. He'd offer multiple innovative options for each carpentry assignment, finding immense joy in this newfound approach.

I find immense joy in spending time with children, addressing their unique questions. That's my driving force Satish Bhandari, Infosys

At the beginning, understanding how to tailor projects for children proved challenging. Yet, Kushwaha quickly realized the key was to make them captivating and engaging for the younger audience. For instance, his suggestion to use wood instead of metal for a stair railing at Kishangarh school created a comfortable seating spot for kids, allowing them to observe their teachers during lessons. Witnessing the children revel in these spaces brings Lalan an incredible sense of fulfillment.

Reflecting on the project, Kushwaha sees it as a beacon for schools. “These projects aren't just about carpentry for me; they symbolize a whole new way of learning, something that deeply resonates with me and my family,” he says.

Change has touched every corner of the classrooms, sweeping through like a breath of fresh air. The teachers, always excellent, are now embracing innovative teaching methods. The school grounds, forever welcoming, have become cleaner and more vibrant, adorned with lively paintings that bring life to the walls.

Roshni Tiwari, one of the parents, says GMS Kishangarh is a central part of their lives has seen its remarkable transformation. Evolving into a modern hub of learning, its pre-primary school has seen a change that is nothing short of magical.

"All my four daughters have walked these school halls, and over the past few years, I've witnessed an incredible transformation," she says with a proud smile, adding that her youngest daughter loves the toys and games in the classrooms and her love for the colorful paintings on the walls is evident.

"As a mother, I feel children should have such an environment," says the proud mother. "Every parent wants their children to have good things and grow well for the future."

As many parents like Tiwari admit that financial challenges disallow them to send our children to private schools, the possibility of being able to give their children quality education seems like a serendipitous opportunity.

The spirit of giving back

For the ones giving their time and effort, such as Satish Bhandari, a volunteer from Infosys, involvement in various NGO projects isn't just a duty; it's a source of immense mental satisfaction.

"This classroom, the one where I'm sitting right now, has undergone a fantastic transformation, step by colorful step." Conventionally, while private schools have witnessed remarkable growth, government schools have lagged. But Kilkaari is trying to change that.

"I find immense joy in spending time with children, addressing their unique questions. That's my driving force," he shares. Bhandari firmly believes that mental strength is the key to unlocking happiness and conquering life's challenges.

Kachi Sadak’s Neha Kulshrestha, an unstoppable force of passion and energy, is a vibrant advocate for the joy of learning and the magic of childhood innocence. "Everyone should pitch in, even just a drop in this ocean," she stresses, highlighting our shared responsibility in shaping the future.

What motivates the team? "Every child, irrespective of their economic background should have the right to receive better education. It shouldn't be a privilege," says Sood, adding that education has the capacity to effect change in the lives of children, their families, and the entire future of the society.

And it can all come true, because a whopping 15,000 pre-primary students across Chandigarh are about to dive into these meticulously crafted learning havens.

Kilkaari has also supercharged over 100 pre-primary teachers from Chandigarh's government schools, turning them into designers of mesmerizing learning spaces for their students! Not stopping there, they've also introduced over 300 Anganwadi workers to the art of creating kid-friendly environments for these eager learners.

In a world where education can often feel like a chore, Kilkaari is a breath of fresh air. It's a lively, energetic dance of ideas, laughter, and endless possibilities. It's not just changing classrooms; it's transforming lives, one giggle, one question, one discovery at a time.

So, here's to Kilkaari – where learning is not just a lesson but a dazzling, lively, and utterly delightful journey that every child deserves to experience!

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