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Teaching values

Matinee at school

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Turn a bland moral science lesson into a movie and watch how quickly children learn the importance of good behaviour.

Never lie. Don't cheat. Respect elders. Be kind to the poor. Moral science lessons in school haven't changed in ages. Unless, of course, some drama goes into the preaching. That is precisely what Edumedia hopes to pull off with School Cinema. The Mumbai education firm has been creating some funcoated celluloid dos and don'ts in crisp 15-20 minute short feature films being shown in more than 300 private schools in India, Nepal and the UAE.

How do you teach difficult 12-year-olds the importance of being content? A film titled, All Is Well, shows Ayush, a rich kid who is perpetually unhappy and angry with everyone. . . his father, brother, teachers. Fed up, he runs away from home one night and ends up at an empty bus stop. There, he gets talking to Bhola, a child his own age who works at a roadside tea stall. They start exchanging notes from life - Ayush cribs about being bullied by his brother and having to suffer guitar lessons and Bhola grins his way through a beating from his malik and plays tabla on an uptured 'pan'. As night wears on, Ayush realises how lucky he is and gets back home, a changed, grateful, content child.

Thanks to technology, children know a lot but whether they understand or not is a different question. "Unfortunately, parents are not always there to answer questions. Grandparents, too, are missing from the lives of children. We are trying to fill this gap, " says Tabassum Modi, executive director of School Cinema.

It's not that schools have given up on teaching values and ethics but children are able to grasp a lesson or message much better when it is presented to them in form of a feature film with a storyline, characters and locations that they can relate to.

For instance, in one of the Mumbai schools, sixth graders were shown a film titled, Dedh Footiya. It deals with the subject of self-esteem and self-confidence in children who don't measure upto physical "standards". They could be overweight, dark, wearing spectacles, braces or, as in Dedh Footiya, short. The teachers and School Cinema coordinators were surprised by the children's reaction post screening.

"They admitted that bullying someone too short or too thin or too fat made no sense because nobody is perfect, " says Christine B'Lima, head of research at School Cinema.

Often, not just children but even parents and teachers need to learn. A parent in Mumbai confesses that while she teaches her son to respect elders, she often talks disrespectfully to her own mother-in-law in front of him. School Cinema has also produced films that target bad parenting habits. Red building Where The Sun Sets, for instance, tells the story of quarrelsome parents and how their discord affects their son, Arya. In the film Arya, a distressed seven-year-old, is shown watching his parents' verbal duels. You hear the doors banging shut as the parents storm out in rage and Arya can do nothing but clamp his ears.
One day he runs away to his grandfather's home and feeling his pain, his parents make peace. Directed by actor-filmmaker Revathy, the film won this year's National Film Award for 'Best Film on Family Values'.
The Finish Line teaches teachers an important lesson - to be unbiased in how they judge children. It tells the story of two budding athletes and their PT instructor. The teacher's bias ensures that the more deserving student loses out on a rewarding career.

Each film is researched by an in-house team that holds exhaustive interviews and discussions with teachers, parents, students and psychologists in order to get a correct perspective. Various filmmakers and freshers from film schools are roped in for film making. Parents need to cough up Rs 360 a year per child to be a part of the School Cinema experience. In Mumbai schools like Poddar Schools, G D Goenka World School and in Delhi, Blue Bells Model, Army Public School and Millenium School (Noida) have been showing these films.

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