So many signs of confidence: Suneeta Kulkarni. Suneeta is Hon. Director of The Granny Cloud.
A remark I’ve heard very often from Grannies about children in many of the Indian labs/centres is about how polite the children are. Nodding their heads, saying ‘yes’ to any question, acquiescing to any suggestion.
Yes, indeed they are polite. But I’ll be happier still when some of that ‘politeness’ falls by the wayside. Because, you see, what this initial politeness masks is an automatic deference to adults, to authority. To disagree, to express an opinion would seem presumptuous… and possibly lead to unpleasant consequences. That has been the unfortunate experience for many of the children still in the throes of a typically stifling existence surrounded by authoritarian, even intimidating adults.
Yet children are naturally curious and explorers at heart. So, presented with the opportunity to speak with ‘strangers from foreign lands’, it piques their curiosity and they jump at the chance of this novel experience.
And from my Indian perspective, I am delighted to see the inhibitions shed within the first few minutes of being connected to a Granny. Vying with each other to get attention or get a word in as they jostle each other in a usually friendly manner.
Anything to get a look!
But there’s a catch. If there’s an adult [teacher or coordinator] around, the children often turn to them for approval, or at least check for any signs of ‘disapproval’. And at the very initial stages when the limited fluency in English further curtails their ability to share their thoughts, they often make do with the sweetest of smiles and lots of ‘yeses’ and ‘nos’ to get through a session.
And as they move from their very first Granny session to a second one, then a third and then a fourth…. The giggles burst forth more easily and the few words they have increase to a sizeable number… Telegraphic, monosyllabic speech moves into short sentences. Requests for particular activities are thrown your way. Children who were sitting off camera, at the back, or even at a distant computer come forward and participate with the others..
Yet there is still the “Yes Ma’am”, “No Sir” that much of the conversation is couched in. There is still the deference to what you might say. There is the strong desire to ‘not hurt you or your feelings’ that underlies this politeness, even when they have begun to feel at ease and recognize that the warmth and gentleness and fun and challenge of a Granny session are not passing wonders….
The impact is all too apparent. As part of the TED Prize SinC project, we had planned on assessing the impact on children’s confidence. [This had been a key, remarked upon change from the very first time Grannies were connected to children as part of the SOLE OGEF Project – [http://solesandsomes.wikispaces.com/Research] as well as later when PSS started Granny sessions [ http://thegrannycloud.org/we-can-do-it-the-children-at-pragat-shikshan-sanstha/] Former nervous peeking in at the door for an assessment session transformed into striding in with a smile, asking for assessments, and even initiating conversation.
But formally assessing the children for changes in confidence wasn’t possible! Because the change was too big, and too fast. During the SinC project even before we could get around to a baseline assessment, the change in the children’s demeanour and participation were only too obvious.
A variety of manifestations of the children’s confidence were visible their body language [e.g. Moving toward a more prominent/convenient location in front of the camera from where they are more easily visible to an emediator/Granny], in their verbal interactions [e.g. Responding freely to questions, [without worrying about whether their answer is ‘correct’] as well as in their actions related to SOLE session tasks [e.g. Connecting to an emediator on their own – not waiting for an adult to make the connection/place the call]. And there were newer manifestations of politeness [Thank you, Sorry, ‘BRB’ when they were texting and so on].
Still there was, more than occasionally something missing. A certain guardedness remained, borne not of fear but a misplaced idea of ‘respect’ and many years of having been told that their own wishes and needs were not as important. It reminds me of an anecdote from one of the Hyderabad SOLE labs I often share with grannies when I have my initial chats with them.
‘A group of 13 year old girls from a sheltered, fairly conservative background used to have sessions with Diane, one of our young Grannies from Brussels. And they loved those sessions often extending beyond the allotted time, spilling into their Lunch Recess. After a couple of such occasions, they approached me and asked for help. They wanted the session to end on time [even though they were reluctant to halt the interaction; they were having such a very good time!] because then they got hungry and didn’t get any extra time to have lunch! The idea of saying this to Diane was abhorrent because it seemed impolite! And though I shared with Diane what had happened, I told the girls they had to tell her themselves. It took them another 4 sessions before they gained the confidence to share their need.’
Seems like such a small thing… yet within the context, we knew it was a big achievement. The day they expressed their need, we knew we had achieved a key breakthrough. This was an important manifestation of confidence. And one that I hope will continue to be manifest in children’s interactions with the world at large… in the years to come.