Published: 25th November 2019
This six-time National Award winner from Bengaluru is teaching life skills to children through cinema
Syed Sultan Ahmed, a six-time National Award winner and the MD of LXL Ideas, believes that cinema is a unique medium to teach children
Syed Sultan Ahmed is a known name for his initiatives of imparting life skills to children. And he does it through cinema. Syed, MD and Chief Learner, LXL Ideas, believes that cinema is a unique medium to teach children. "Taking an interest in cinema does not mean watching movies of all genres. It means watching the right kind of cinema that sends the right messages to children, who can also pick up filmmaking skills in this way. LXL Ideas and its projects, like School Cinema and International Kids Film Festival, have played a key role in kindling this particular interest in children," he says. Excerpts from an interview:
1. How does one impart life skills in children through cinema or cultural festivals?
A lot of knowledge in the past was acquired from books. But today, we live in a world where a lot of content is relayed by the audio-visual media. It is the only medium that children can relate to and are naturally drawn to them. Secondly, storytelling is one of the powerful art forms that can help teach children and motivate them. It is unfortunate that we use it only for the sake of entertainment. We have not exploited it enough in the education sector. To this end, I run a project called School Cinema, where we produce films that are only meant to teach life skills and these are highly entertaining. We are one of the largest producers of short films in India.
Not just children, our films are meant for teachers also. For example, one of our short films, Thankless Job, which will be screened at the Goa Film Festival 2019, is about a young teacher whose friends are all IT professors and when they meet up, they make fun of her and her profession. Many people look down upon the profession of teaching, but in reality, it is a profession that makes or breaks a child's life! This film is specially meant to motivate teachers.
2. We assume that the path you've chosen might not have been an easy one. What are the challenges you faced en-route?
To be fair, there are some people who like fresh ideas and believe in new concepts. The key is to be patient. In my case, I am on a constant look-out for principals and owners of schools who might believe in my concept of educating children through cinema. There are a few trendsetters who really want to experiment and then, others will follow. The education system in India is all about doing well in exams and scoring good marks. Hence, the most common thing that we hear from principals is that they don't have the time. A lot of the times I have asked them 'If teachers and educators are so busy teaching, then why do children go to coaching centres?'.
But sometimes, even if the school is ready to have a different curriculum that includes cinema and other 'fun' elements, parents ask them to focus on studies instead of these activities. It is also parents who put pressure on students to follow the conventional style of learning. I think when this attitude changes, the education system will also see many changes. I aim to make education more fun and relevant.
Children watching movie during IKFF (Pic: Facebook/IKFF)
3. You are also an advisor to the MHRD, CIET-NCERT and other educational institutions. What suggestions have you made when it comes to the psychological development of students?
A lot of the times, I talk to them about bringing down the stress levels of children and get them to focus on overall development. Predominantly, I encourage them to give more weightage to life skills, sports, dance, etc. Once students get to classes X and XII, schools remove all extra-curricular activities from the curriculum and ask children to focus only on studies. But activities like sports or dance are actually major stress busters. By doing so, you are building more stress on them.
At the same time, children also sleep less and work more. Sleep is important as it is one of the best antidotes to release stress. It is these areas that I usually give advice on. One of the factors that I had highly recommended in the new National Curriculum was to decrease the vast curriculum by 50 to 60 per cent. And the Central Board of Secondary Education has agreed to cut down their curriculum by 10 per cent, which is a good sign.
4. What is literacy according to you in the context of the 21st century?
The literal meaning of literacy is to be able to read and write. A few years ago, it was a big deal for everyone because knowledge could be acquired only by books. But today, knowledge is available through an audio-visual medium. According to me, literacy is not just reading or writing but it is gaining knowledge through audiovisual communication.
5. Apart from programmes for children, do you have programmes for teachers and principals?
Yes, we have a magazine called Mentor, which is available especially for teachers. The idea is to share some of the best practices in education with the larger community of educators. As teachers will not go to other colleges and learn, the best way for them to learn is by reading about experiments and activities in different schools. Mentor Connect is another programme where we host school principals and discuss the research we have done. This year, we will be talking about, 'Will the human connect exist in future classrooms?'. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, my concern is if there will be a human connect at all in the future.