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ECCD

Who is Indira Swaminathan?
Akshayam, (loosely translated) is derived from the mythological Akshaya Patram, that vessel which always gives, flowing without end, and never runs dry. Indira Swaminathan is Akshayam.

From grade-school teacher to principal of an Air Force pre-primary and primary school; from conducting teacher-training programmes to running a research-oriented nursery school, Indira Swaminathan has worn many hats, and essayed numerous roles, of which one product is the Early Learning Centre.

Indira has travelled the world over, using her cognitive methodology to upgrade existing techniques in teaching. The Turkish orphanage where, besides teaching, she helped clear and set up a garden in a cemetery where WW II victims are buried. Enhancing family-child relationships through indigenous games, for ISSBD, in China. Innovative, multipurpose play materials for World Didacta, in Germany. The Aga Khan Foundation, which funded her cognitively-oriented programmes for pre-school children in the UK, USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, France, Finland, West Germany, Japan, and Malaysia.

I was in a school there (Finland) and I took a rope from my bag and tied it in a circle with a reef knot. This rope allows children to devise games like being in a bus, selling tickets or looking out of windows. They didn’t speak English but we were all playing and achieving the same things, as I did in India.

And closer home, with NCERT, the Indian government’s Department of Human Resources, the Kannada-speaking coffee-planters’ children in rural Manaad, and the Adivasi girls in Raigad, trained by her to become teachers.

More needs to be said about COPPC (Cognitively Oriented Programmes for Pre-School Children), and Indira’s role as Project Director.

Based on the Play House Nursery School experience, evolved since 1966, and several experiences applied to deprived rural groups and children with special needs, Indira designed COPPC for ICDS to draw out the potential of young children through the adult woman force in the community. Initiated in 1985, COPPC training was given to 140 child workers, including nursery teachers, Balasevikas, and Anganwadi workers and trainers. The ripple effect of this training, since, has extended to 60,000 Anganwadi and Balwadi workers, and over a lakh of pre-school children.

The list is exhaustive, and continues to expand; the sheer volume of Indira’s work rivals only her capacity and need to share. There are books on creativity for teachers, science for young children, play materials, videos on infant stimulation, toys, magazines, research findings, impact studies, and more.

My work is research oriented and this, the Early Learning Centre, is my laboratory. I’m still a student. I’m still learning.

Why an Early Learning Centre?
Younger children learn faster, the older ones are more value-driven.

As early as 1966, Indira Swaminathan recognised that the 0 to 5 age was a period of intense exploration. The immediate question then, was how to harness this creativity, and so the research-oriented Early Learning Centre began, exploring and incorporating creative and cognitive approaches to learning.

Providing freedom should be the fundamental approach in training children. An adult who interacts with children needs to be patient and sensitive to the child’s needs. He should forget who he is, that he is an adult.

What is unique about the Centre is that her students are of varying ages, and grouped together vertically, rather than laterally. Focusing on exploration, discovery, problem solving and creative thinking, an average day at Akshayam goes something like this:

Free time: Where the children are allowed time, to take stock of, and re-acquaint themselves with, the Akshayam environs. This, Indira believes, is extremely important, as the child learns to focus on the day ahead, rather than the teacher forcing and grappling for attention.

Circle time: The children share, sing and talk in this span; every child is given a chance.

Community time: Typically, the children spend this time getting ready for snacks, conforming and echoing behaviour acceptable in a community.

Quiet time: The introspective, library period.

Story time: With a focus on listening, and developing those skills associated with listening.

Giving time: The children are divided in to groups, where group dynamics and teamwork are the keys, not the task at hand.

Construction time: This is work time for the older children.

Brain time: The focus here is on brain-eye coordination.

Music time: Indira uses puppets and music to develop memory, rhythm, speech and creativity.

Quiet time: Taking stock of the day reinforces learning, and the children have a hand in planning for the next day.

I have the knowledge, the skills and the technique. All I now want to do is transfer these findings to others, because I know for a fact that they work.

Indira Swaminathan has been running Akshayam from her home since 1995. Chance meetings and the promise of warmth, comfort and interesting conversations lead you back for more. No wonder, the children call her Patti, grandmother.

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