Published: 24th June 2020
This teacher set up a WhatsApp group to teach her students farming during the lockdown
The Hindi teacher from Mar Thoma Public School in Kochi has used WhatsApp to teach her students about the basics of agriculture and how to practise it at home
A Hindi teacher for the past 20 years at Mar Thoma Public School in Kochi, Sarita Vijayakumar has been a blessing to every student who's come her way. Her love for language aside, this teacher has grown even more beloved for her famous green thumb. As president of the school’s green club, it has become a rite of passage for each batch of eighth graders to learn the basics of farming through her training that occasionally spills out of the classroom, into the nearest farms and gardens.
When the lockdown hit, Sarita wondered how to keep her students' love for agriculture alive. “I thought I could teach them farming through WhatsApp!” she says, “I religiously grow a few plants and vegetables in the small space I have in my own backyard. I could not just stay locked up at home idle and I knew my students would also like to find a productive way to spend their time. I spoke to the principal Vanitha Harikumar who loved the idea and extended her full support.”
PEST IDEA: Sarita has introduced a fertiliser that students can make at home
Initially, they decided to stick to one class of ninth graders. Sarita spoke to their class teacher, following which she created a WhatsApp group with 35 students. “These were students I handled when they were in the eighth grade. They know my ways, so they were quick to warm up to it. We had worked together previously on a number of activities like collecting newspapers, plastic carry bags, old clothes and making soap, which we would distribute among the local underprivileged families,” says the teacher.
Sarita began by introducing them to a krishi (farming) calendar. She taught them the particular time and type of soil that is needed to grow specific plants and vegetables, and how to prepare the soil. Since some of the students lived in small apartments, she taught them to make their own miniature farm using old plastic bottles. She taught them to cut them in half and fill them with soil. After planting a seed in these makeshift grow bags, they are hung with rope on the terrace.
FARM BASE: The students will continue to work on this after school reopens
The teacher, who hails from Pallikkara, says, “The students got involved very easily. Many of them began growing basic vegetables like spinach and beans on their own. Some kids who have a larger yard indulged in farm activities and others improvised with the space they had. They would send pictures of their progress and were eager to know what to do next. No matter how busy I was, I would make time to answer their queries. It was wonderful to see them embrace it like that.”
Sarita plans to resume their small classroom farm as soon as classes restart. She has given her students an assignment that she calls ‘Lockdown Farming’ where each student has to write an essay detailing their experience. On June 5, with the help of a few other teachers, Sarita planted a small farm of curry leaves in the school’s campus. Her hope is that a little patch of green will be waiting to reward the students for their hard work when they finally return to school.