Heritage is history. But in the pages of texts, history is a dry-as-crust subject. Architect Nilina Deb Lal wants to change that by trying to make the appreciation and comprehension of history, tradition and culture in our immediate environment part of school curriculum, and bringing it alive through workshops.
Since our heritage is disappearing fast today, Deb Lal feels it is doubly important to create an awareness among children of what is still there. For her, the history textbook is the Hooghly, and as students sail down the river, they will realise how the settlements came up on the two banks and how the waterways network facilitated the process.
Deb Lal, who has been involved in organising seminars on education and devising teaching aids with her parents, has been able to rope in three schools — Modern High School, Sushila Devi Birla School and another — to participate in her project, created in collaboration with husband, architect Ashish Sharan Lal.
The post-graduation course on conservation of historic buildings that Deb Lal did in 2001-2002 at York University provided her with the impetus to chalk out a proposal and send it to the India Foundation for Arts (IFA) for possible funding. It would also allow her to put her expertise into action. Meant to involve school students, initially, three themes were included in the programme.
Subsequently, it was whittled down to the Hooghly alone. It was meant for the 11-13 age group. Having won an IFA grant, she says in the first phase the emphasis is on developing the project and testing it.
Her ultimate aim is “developing a methodology for engaging children with their heritage. It is a way of finding out what excites children and what is an effective mode of communication.” She would like to figure out ways of doing workshops and the tools that can be used so that children learn from experience, and heritage and history are not just abstract concepts.
Devi Kar, principal, Modern High School, says it would be wonderful if the idea can be translated into reality. Kar has already introduced excursions for students to be acquainted with Calcutta but she, too, feels the need for “properly researched” courses.
Middle school students will be offered the course in both Modern High and Sushila Devi Birla School. However, Deb Lal does not want it to be just another optional subject, and is aiming at its inclusion “across the board.”