Cultural exchange is a very important value for our school. “A Wider World View @DHS” is a broad program encouraging and nurturing intercultural understanding, school exchanges and online connectivity, using tools like Adobe Connect. Our most recent guests from India – Raghav, Parth, Aryan, Vasudha, Anjali, Vritika, Aishwarya, Miss Tanu and Miss Kajal – greatly enriched our lives and week at school.
In January 2017, I visited the sub-continent with educators committed to the Asia Education Foundation: Australia-India Bridge Project and a return exchange later in the year. My goal, along with that of my exchange-partner, to establish a Memorandum of Understanding between Dapto High (NSW) and Bal Bharati Public School (Pitampura) in Delhi to facilitate student homestay experiences. We are very proud of what our schools and communities have achieved in such a short period of time. The spirit of friendship, intercultural cooperation, creativity and learning has been very strong and evident to our whole school community. The beauty of international homestay exchanges is that they are so multi-faceted and continue to develop exponentially, incorporating many other school projects where students grow as creative, global citizens. We value flexibility, the honest pursuit of knowledge and an open-exchange of ideas to grow these shared understandings.
Our school privileges student leadership, online communication, technology (supporting every student to BYOD – Bring Your Own Device) and seeking partnerships with individuals and those who can develop student skills or provide opportunities to have a “wider world view”. This exchange relied on Adobe Connect to video conference with India for 18 months in preparation for each leg of the journey. Our students have visited Adobe HQ in Sydney and run Adobe Days at school to learn video-editing skills. Documentary Australia Foundation has conducted workshops where students and staff work side-by-side to help develop skills. Our school motto, “Strive for Higher Things”, reflects our ethos and is complimented by three key words that grace our iconography: inspire, explore, create.
In 2017, I wrote excitedly about what I had witnessed on exchange in India:
Nukkad Natak is traditional Indian street theatre. Students have an opportunity to explore challenging social issues and develop a script and stage the play live in a variety of settings. I witnessed a performance by students at Bal Bharati Public School that stunned me. The quality of the ideas, script and theatrical skills of the young performers was exceptionally high. This exciting, ancient theatrical form will be a vehicle for our students to explore social issues of mutual interest. The ideas and scripts will be developed online as well as performed when we exchange.
Now, in May 2018, our students, collaborating with their exchange partners from Bal Bharati Public School, have performed Nukkad Natak live at Dapto Mall. The performance was a stunning success. Our drama teachers – Ms Richmond and Miss Kajal – worked collaboratively on making the script live. The challenging topic – the impact of domestic violence on women and children – was chosen by students and developed artfully with values we collectively share.
During the play-building workshops students bonded noticeably while working with the powerfully authentic material. Mrs Chhabra and I planned that this collaboration between the schools would be about the best of the new with the traditional skills and values that are so important to good communication. Understanding gesture, movement, voice, tone, status, power, silences, gaps, eye-contact, diction, relationships and the art of compromise will always will be of fundamental importance to performance (and life).
There were some moments during rehearsals when it was evident this was going to be a very powerful performance. My favourite moment in the play is when a character is being confronted for being abusive and advice is given to the assembled audience. The script says, “the institution of family enjoys immunity from public enquiry and intervention. If nothing else is possible, ring the door bell. This will distract the insiders and you might be able to save someone from domestic violence” and then the chorus chants:
If nothing helps, ring the door bell
If nothing helps, ring the door bell
If nothing helps, ring the door bell
It sent, as the cliché goes, chills down my spine and later, I would see the live audience at the mall also being noticeably effected by the powerful message of support for those who need assistance.
“Well done to all of your students! It can be quite confronting to stand in front of a crowd and perform, especially if a topic is considered taboo. They did a fantastic job. It appeared that the performance was well-received by the public also.”
Dapto Mall Management
The live performance had an appreciative audience who certainly had no idea of what they were about to witness. Our performers rattled tambourines and rang their bells, whipping up a crowd in the best traditions of the genre while the management made announcements over the PA. Those who gathered were treated to a genuine performance of traditional Indian street theatre. Challenging material, sensitively and artistically presented gave positive messages while clearly speaking out against domestic violence.
Our school always participates in the local White Ribbon Day Walk. It should be possible this year to re-envisage the script for another live performance at that event. The video and words can be used to promote the day online. I am certain our Indian friends would love to see footage of that performance taking Nukkad Natak to the streets of Wollongong. Ring the door bell!
You can watch the whole performance (thanks to Year 11 student Luke Bale who led the filming and editing of the performance).
Our school routine provides many opportunities for live performance at morning assemblies. The atmosphere is supportive and every once and a while we have a special treat. Not only were our Indian guests fine ambassadors for their school and country, they exuded creativity and flair in musical and dance performances.
Singing was in English and Hindi. There was a celebration of the contemporary and the traditional. Bal Bharati Public School has more than five thousand students. The audience for our Indian guests was not quite that numerous but well over one thousand students and teachers enjoyed being, purely and simply, entertained. Visitors to our school remarked on the atmosphere, spontaneously clapping along with the audience.
Experiences of School in Australia
Known as the ‘Hivve’, the portable classroom incorporates solar PV generation, real time energy metering, CO2 metering, data capture and communications to actively manage energy demands and control indoor environment quality.
It made sense for the Indian students to experience aspects of schooling that may not be readily available to them in Delhi. Our school has an extensive working farm and new environmentally sustainable classrooms. We are solar-powered and have a focus on STE(A)M. Our school site is in a stunning position and being outdoors, learning, bathed in autumnal sunshine made us all feel good.
We packed a great deal into the week. Students explored Aboriginal culture, design and practical craft-making skills. The principal and other staff members shared what they had learnt from their own experiences of exchange in Indonesia, China, Denmark, Korea, Italy and India. Students also had a special treat meeting “Nixie”, the school therapy dog.
Other Opportunities for Our School
Year 12 Hospitality (Food & Beverage) and Year 11 (Kitchen Operations), under the guidance of Ms Leighton and Mr Pfeffer, prepared the Indian Farewell Dinner in our re-purposed school library. This was a formal school assessment task with a difference. It was a major undertaking and the food was delicious. The students planned and catered for the various cultural and dietary requirements of the 34 guests. The library was re-envisaged for the event brilliantly well. The bright, flexible furniture and moveable shelves made it possible to create a salubrious space. The evening was a joyous one with music, dances, gifts and speeches.
Many projects coalesce when there is a school exchange. Often, answers emerge that were not originally envisaged as solutions to challenges. Our staff and students are very good at making ideas work that have not been tried before at our school. It is clear from the ambience that we were better fed and entertained by our our own students than in any restaurant.
The participating Indian and Australian exchange students were marvellous, as were our host families, who deserve special praise for the way they opened their homes.This exchange was particularly satisfying. The whole school community was able to play some part in enjoying what our guests had to offer as learning was made genuinely visible, at school and via social media. It was also pleasing that the many bureaucratic challenges for contemporary Australian educators in organising intercultural trips were overcome. There is great need for leadership, at the most senior level, to assist Australian teachers and schools to make cross-cultural exchange more ‘doable’.
Exchanges come to an end too quickly. However, in the era of social media, it is certainly not farewell. Friendships are sustained more readily with technology, especially when those new friends worked together on challenging projects of importance to the whole community – in India, and Australia!
Let the planning for a return trip in January 2019 to Delhi commence!
Most of the video and images from this exchange can be viewed in this album of photos.
Asia Education Foundation syndicated this post.