It’s been some time since I judged a children’s competition and it’s always something I like doing. Last year, I was one of the judges, along with Prema Kasturi, co-convenor of INTACH, and D.H. Rao, the heritage buff, at an exhibition by various school students, held at Padma Seshadri School, K.K. Nagar. There was also a wonderful exhibit by the peon in the school and we lauded him for his efforts. In such competitions, the children’s enthusiasm usually rubs off on you and many a time it is also a learning experience.
So, a couple of weeks ago, when Vincent D’Souza called to ask whether I’d be keen to judge a multimedia presentation on the heritage of Chennai by school students at Sastri Hall, I readily agreed. The objective was to encourage city school students to explore the city where they lived, focus on one aspect that interested them – buildings, monuments, religious places, housing colonies, cinema houses, schools, lakes, forested areas etc – and make a multimedia presentation. The contest was open to children of classes 8 to 12, and each school wanting to take part had to send a three-member team.
Padma Seshadri, Nungambakkam, with a one-and-a-half-member team (there were only two boys and one boy did most of the presentation), walked away with the first prize; the second and third prizes went to all-girls teams – Sri Sankara Vidyashram, Thiruvanmiyur; and St Columbans, George Town. Lady Andal and Kavi Bharathi Vidyalaya, Tiruvottiyur, were ranked fourth and fifth.
Overall, the teams performed well, save for Asan Memorial and Jawahar Vidyalaya (Ashok Nagar) who really didn’t do their homework the way they should have and occupied the places at the bottom. The team from Asan, with a subject that was worthy of a decent presentation, had not even visited the place and in my books the team should have been disqualified. After all, the whole idea was to get children to visit places, meet people, explore, ask questions and learn something. And not seeking help from the Internet or Google.
Despite the overall performance being fairly good, no presentation really left a lasting impression. A couple of teams had some wonderful subjects – Bridge House, Gun at the Fort, Hamilton Bridge – and they gained points for considering such subjects and researching them but their presentations did not quite match up.
Then there were others who talked about Senate House and Ice House, subjects that have been flogged a great deal, and it was no surprise then that their presentations were insipid. There were others whose presentations seemed almost like a PR exercise for the institution or school they covered. Chinmaya Vidyalaya students made it appear as if they were reading out the school prospectus or newsletter; another school did a similar job with the Ice House. They had lost sight of heritage and lost their way.
The other thing was that most students showed slide pictures, had a script running and narrated with a monotonous drawl. There was very little use of video or podcasting. In today's world of citizen journalism and OhMyNews, our children have a lot of catching up to do. Also, several teams started well, showed promise, but lost their way. I'm sure students, and their teachers, will take this as a learning experience and come up with a much improved all-round presentations next year.