The imagination: an unlimited and free resource for teaching!

ChildrenYoung people

by Tag McEntegart.

The PAX Project was a small peace-building education project started by CARE International in 1996 as part of its reconstruction work in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia after the conflict there. The PAX Project’s central concern was to promote and re-establish healthy, peaceful and reconciled communities throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Some of the legacies of war are the scars of trauma which can affect several generations. The nature of these scars varies from person to person and from group to group. Recognising and understanding this trauma is a necessary part of education for life. By working through theatre, the project used stories as a way of helping people to explore their lives, their traumas and the implications of these. As a result of new understanding, students were helped in the healing of these scars.

The work continues today because those involved wanted to keep it alive in their daily work. The project included both formal and non-formal education, developing materials for use in classrooms and with youth clubs and community groups. The principles used in this project can be adapted for all sorts of situations.

Using theatre as the main teaching and learning ‘tool’ was a new approach. The work introduced different situations with questions and problems and then helped participants to reach their own answers and solutions.

One person, with skills in using participatory drama as an educational tool, worked with local teachers to develop a manual of classroom lessons. These were based on the Bosnian curriculum and ensured that lessons followed the necessary subjects, length and teaching guidelines. This helped teachers obtain permission to take part in the project. It also made it easier for the work to be officially accepted. New and creative thinking was introduced through changing the approach to teaching and learning. The usual model in Bosnian schools was based on ‘memorising facts’ but the new model encouraged students to learn through using their imaginations and carrying out practical tasks. It changed the relationship of the students to their learning from passive recipients to active participants. Students showed improvements in emotional and social health, as well as significant educational progress.

The manual was called In the Garden of the Imagination – Sowing the Seeds of a Peaceful Future. Towards the end of the project this was formally accredited by the Ministry of Education for use in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s schools.

Six regional workshops were held, involving 350 teachers in addition to the 60 teachers involved in developing the manual. From these, volunteers were recruited to share the programme with their colleagues. Each volunteer agreed to introduce the manual and its methodology to at least six other colleagues. In this way, another 1,200 teachers and approximately 6,000 students were reached by the project.

How does the process work? 

Three aspects are developed for each lesson:

  • a story which will develop the theme of the lesson
  • roles which enable the teacher and the students to participate in the practical tasks set
  • preparation of simple materials from everyday objects that are available to the teacher – to help the students in understanding new ideas.

The Fox’s Judgement is a practical example used with a class of 8–9 year olds.

Advantages and principles 

The PAX approach builds on children’s natural skills, confidence and energy in playing, rhyming, word games, story-telling, guessing, singing and dancing. This is a very different approach to the usual one of encouraging children to learn by memory, repeating information and following complicated instructions, which often makes children feel inadequate.

The PAX approach takes the view that:

  • What we hear, we forget.
  • What we see we remember. 
  • What we do, we understand.

The Fox’s Judgement

A lesson for 8–9 year olds, based on a local folk tale, with the curriculum aim of Bosnian language comprehension. PAX Project’s additional aim was to examine the implication of the desire to take revenge.

The story

Students imagine the setting as a clearing in the forest where all the animals have gathered for an emergency meeting of the Forest Council. The students act out the roles of the animals, such as snakes, foxes, birds and others, including humans. The role for the teacher is the wise old owl, Chair of the Forest Council.

Setting for the drama

The drama begins just as the human is about to hit the snake with a stick. The foxes have decided the snake needs to be punished. The wise old owl flies over and prevents the snake’s injury or death. She then calls together all the animals and humans who live in the forest, for an emergency Council meeting to consider the case. They must consider the implications of the snake’s threat to the lives of birds and humans. They must also consider the consequence to the snake’s life of being hit with a stick.

The Council has to consider its opinion on a number of issues before reaching a decision…

  • How do the birds feel about the snake entering their nests?
  • How did the humans feel about the snake threatening to bite them?
  • How will the snakes respond if one of their family is killed?
  • What will these acts mean for the peace and future security of the wood?
  • One fox has already judged that the snake should be punished. Will the Council reach a different decision? What recommendations will it make to protect and increase the security of the forest?

Useful visual aids

  • a stick
  • a snake made from a circle of newspaper cut into a spiral with the head attached to a stick
  • a shawl or scarf to represent the wise old owl’s wings.

Tag McEntegart is a Senior Lecturer with the Centre for International Development and Training at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. She worked with the PAX Project for over four years, developing the manual In the Garden of the Imagination – Sowing the Seeds of a Peaceful Future in 1999 with the Centre for Drama and Education, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Printed copies of the manual are no longer available. However, for more information about the project or the manual, Tag can be contacted through CIDT, University of Wolverhampton, Priorslee, Telford, TF2 9NT, UK. E-mail: T.McEntegart@wlv.ac.uk 

 

Case study: Damage from elephants

A lesson for 6–7 year olds centred around an argument between an elephant and a mouse. The elephant had eaten and damaged most of the mouse’s field of corn. The students acted it out as a role play, while the teacher took the role of the fox who had the task of judging the conflict. The fox asked advice from the students in their roles as either elephants or mice. They discussed what had happened and what should be done in the future to avoid such incidents.

Case study: Strengthening children’s feet

This new approach to teaching was used for a physical education lesson in Republika Srpska with 8–9 year olds. The aim of the lesson was ‘Walking to strengthen children’s feet’. Usually, this lesson would be carried out in the playground, with the children marching up and down in lines like an army, with the teacher keeping order. Due to the weather, the lesson was held in a classroom, with desks pushed to one side. The teacher took each exercise and encouraged the children to use their imaginations. They had to:

  • imagine carrying a heavy burden on their heads
  • step like a ballet dancer
  • walk like a traveller in the wind
  • walk like an elephant and a giraffe in pairs
  • walk like a centipede as a whole class
  • pretend to be fountains of water in groups
  • walk like fashion models.

Every exercise was turned into play, and the children thoroughly enjoyed their physical education. What was usually a military exercise was turned into a lesson in which the children, with their teacher, imagined the joys of living.