Educating Sita

‘Hello, 4K. My name’s Catherine. You know Lynne – she was here this morning and that,’ she says pointing to me,’ is Jenny.’


‘Good afternoon, Catherine, good afternoon Lynne,’ they sing song. One tall boy, with a gold stud in one ear turns and peels a paper football off the wall next to him. The, ‘Good afternoon Jenny,’ is more ragged as thirty heads swivel around. Some smile. Some just stare. We are in Tyssen school in Hackney. I’m working with environmental project ecoACTIVE http://www.ecoactive.org.uk and I’ve come to observe a session in action.


‘So, what were you looking at this morning?’ asks Catherine. Classic teaching technique. Recap, recap, recap. I few hands go up.


‘What were you looking at with Lynne on that table?’ A few more hands go up.


‘Oh, oh,’ says one little girl, Sita, is jabbing her arm at the ceiling, lifting up off the red carpet. I can see her shiny patent shoes.


‘Yes?’ Catherine says to a smiling boy sitting near the front.


‘A radio. It had a handle and you had to turn it.’


‘Oh really? So you had to power it yourselves. Interesting. Anything else?’


‘A fan. It was a fan and we blew on it,’ says another.


‘And what did the fan do?’


The patent shoe girl is practically levitating. Oh, oh, oh.


‘Yes?’ says Catherine to the boy who’d peeled the football off the wall who has just put his hand up.


‘My aunty is called Jenny.’


There is a moment of silence in the class. One of the reasons my attempt at a teaching career failed is that I never mastered the ability of laughter suppression. He has a serene calm face. About a foot taller than the other children I understand a missing piece of ecoACTIVE equipment had been found in his pocket at lunch time. Someone had put it there.


‘Is that the answer? No I don’t think so. It was a wind turbine. A mini wind turbine.’


Catherine talks about electricity, where it comes from, how it is made and how it gets into our schools and homes.


‘So how does it get into our homes? Does it just walk along? Do you ever see electricity strolling along the road?’


‘No,’ the group cries.


The patent shoe girl is still jabbing and pointing at the ceiling. Finally Catherine turns to her.


‘Yes?’


She freezes, then looks up the traitor arm. She probably did have an answer when she first put up her hand. But not now.


‘How does electricity get into our schools?’ Catherine gently reminds.


‘Umm… strings?’


‘What like this?’ Catherine points to a string of paintings pegs across a corner of the roo


‘No,’ the class cry in glee, incredulous. Strings indeed.


‘Wire. Wire, isn’t it miss?’


Yes. Indeed it is Wire.


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