Described as a “third-generation prodigy” by the Hindustan Times and “a Bangalore woman changing the way children learn” by Femina Karnataka magazine, Bindu Subramaniam is a singer/songwriter, entrepreneur, author, and music educator. She has been performing on stage since she was 12, and her first solo album was critically acclaimed and nominated for a GiMA (Global Indian Music Awards). Bindu is the Dean of the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa), an institute that trains musically inclined children to become professional performers. In 2014, she started the SaPa in Schools program, an initiative to create an ecosystem for music education in India. SaPa in Schools works with over 30,000 children across India.
Bindu chairs the Bangalore chapter of the All India Management Association’s Young Leaders Council and was a delegate of the Australia India Youth Dialogue in 2018. She was also invited to Israel in 2018, as part of the delegation that contributed to advancing India-Israeli ties. Bindu has a master’s degree in law from London University, a master’s certificate in songwriting and music business from Berklee College of Music, a Montessori diploma, an MPhil, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Music Education.
As much as we crave new experiences and surprises, we are wired to live some part of our lives with at least a degree of predictability. We have a preferred seat on public transportation, and we claim our “spot” at cafes we frequent – even with the days of assigned seating left safely behind in our past.
All of a sudden, our conversations are laced with uncertainty. We don’t know if social distancing will last six months, or eighteen months, or less. We don’t know what this will mean for travel, or businesses, or live concerts. All we know is that we want to “go back to normal.” Now.
While we all want to wake up tomorrow to be told this was all a bizarre dream and that we can travel and gather and socialize to our heart’s content, there is no mental health benefit to this kind of expectation. All it does is keep us on edge. The best we can do is turn to our old friend, predictability, and try to work it into our new lives. We have to get used to the new normal.
This is especially true of education, where almost every school and college has announced that classes will be online “temporarily.” What does this mean? Expert opinions range from a few months to a year online. Some are playing with the idea of holding classes on alternate weeks and learning online the rest of the time to maintain social distancing. The landscape of learning has changed; and for better or for worse, this change is here to stay.
Educators are working harder than ever to ensure that students are still building the skills they need. They are setting structures and routines, prescribing new learning models, and trying to track progress online. And with children losing out on the vital components of community and playtime, teachers are also trying to boost mental health and holistic development.
Our team of musicians, educators, and administrators have been trying to create meaningful experiences for children who may be feeling confused, isolated, or just bored. It has now been two months since we moved all our classes online, and we would like to share some of our insights with you:
Don’t forget the arts: Understandably, parents are still trying to limit screen time for kids. In our efforts to keep children from becoming tech-obsessed however, we should ensure that we’re not cutting them off from the things that matter. Subjects like community music add value in a truly unique way – building cultural literacy, encouraging empathy, nudging students to draw parallels between what they learn and the “real world,” and more. Parents and teachers should continue to keep the arts alive and help children develop these qualities as much as they can – even as the term “community” now gets a new meaning.
Make it fun: Learning from home doesn’t have to mean sitting in front of a screen and listening to lesson after lesson. Teachers can make the classes hands-on and include projects for students to work on away from the screen as well. Here in the world of music education, we’ve added a musical instrument-making component. Children learn to make simple shakers with things lying in the kitchen and bring it to their next class. It’s a refreshing break from endless screen time.
Keep them engaged: In some ways, online learning makes it easier to track those concrete learning objectives we carefully laid out at the beginning of the year. Assessments are easily modified and mapped to track progress. Things like attention span, however, are harder to track -, particularly in a live class. We try to keep younger learners’ curiosity alive in different ways. For instance, when we’re teaching a song from Kenya, we ask students to find the place on Google Earth. We suggest that you work in a quick online quiz or game to keep students on their toes and listening throughout the class.
Above all, remember to reinforce this extremely important message: it is not expected that you “win” this lockdown. We’re in the midst of a crisis, and it is perfectly normal to struggle to adapt – whether you’re a teacher, student, or parent.
We must embrace the new order of things, but this is far from a productivity contest. We’re in this together.