There is an excitement in the air as we approach 15th August. This year India celebrates its 75th year of independence and the country is gearing up to pull out all stops. Recently on my visit to present at the Computational Thinking in Schools’ Conference at the IISER, Pune, I came across an innovative tribute to peace and unity which beautifully embodies the tricolour at the centre of the Indian map made with flowers. It showcased to me the ground-up approach that India is adopting as it steps towards a new dawn of the digital age. At the Central Park in Delhi, a digital tribute is growing brighter by the day with individual messages contributed to those who made it possible for us to celebrate our freedom.

So why are we stepping into this new dawn with a focus on Computational Thinking in Schools? Having traversed the journey of Covid in the last few years has reminded us of the importance of solving problems as a community and coming up with solutions which are practical and can be implemented easily. This involves our children, our vulnerable members of society and those that are not able to take care of themselves. As we step into this changed arena, we want to ensure that we weave this heuristic (problem-solving) aspect into the way our children think from an early age, ensuring they explore mathematical and scientific solutions through a filter of empathy, respect, art, music and media. Our aim is to look at the wellbeing of the whole child as we build their numeracy and literacy skills to interact with the changing world around them. We want the learning journey to be a refreshing one that allows them to have a hope for their future.

This is delightful to observe in the classroom and at Shifa School, in one of the slum areas in Dehradun, the Grade 1 classroom has entered into its second iteration of the Sonrisa Learning Cycle. Having established the routines in the first quarter, the students and teachers are now beginning to enjoy the use of the reciprocal teaching, learning and assessment strategies to build learning capacity. The class is simultaneously learning about decimal and binary digits and enjoy the interactions with each other as they explain how the different number systems work. Having finally understood the concept it was fascinating to see a new student get an explanation about visual addition from a student that has used the reciprocal strategy for a few months now. Along with the hands-on unplugged aspect we continue to provide rich learning experiences from a perspectives of Human Computer Interaction and look at how students develop cognitive mathematical capacity with music and the interaction with the environment around them. Google’s experiment with the semi-conductor is an absolute favourite!

Before I left for Pune, it was an absolute pleasure to welcome three new schools to the Sonrisa Learning Centre cohort and I am excited to work with such dedicated and involved teachers and educators. Dayara Christian Academy is a beautiful school tucked away in Batwari, Uttarakhand and has for its vistas the Ganges flowing against the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas. Currently, it has 250 students and we will be working with the 24 Grade 1 & 2 students over the next few months to establish the Sonrisa Learning Centre. It was fantastic to run the first two sessions with the staff based on the child wellbeing framework and Mary Soren, the principal who hails from Jharkhand, had just as much fun designing paper helicopters with her staff.

Agape Mission school is celebrating its 42nd year and is located in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand in India. It delivers the curriculum based around the Indian School Certificate to 850 students from the local area and also has a sister school, Agape Pathshala, which it runs for the underprivileged children up till Grade 8. The school was started by Vachan Bhandari and is now run by Vikrant and Ramini Bhandari. The coordinator, Shalini Rawat has a wonderful group of staff working with her in the foundational years and in implementing the reciprocal strategies at the Sonrisa Learning Centre in for Grade 1 & 2. I loved the competitive spirit that took over as the staff teams competed for the the paper helicopter competition! They have had the in-class consultation and will start with the implementation process after the units tests in August, where hopefully the 42 Grade 2 students will be able to move into their new classroom for their learning journey.

Ferger Junior High School is the latest school to join the cohort. It was granted its government assistance in 1983 and is celebrating its 29th year. Located in Dehradun, Uttarakhand in India it delivers the Uttarakhand board curriculum to 85 students from the underprivileged local area. The school was initially started by Miss Ferger in the late 1800’s and is now managed by Ms Sherring and run by Mrs Sabina Dass. Mrs Geeta Mishra runs the combined foundational level class for Nursery, KG, Grade 1 & 2 and has some tremendous space and opportunity to deliver a rich Curriculum journey in collaboration with the Sonrisa Learning Centre.

As I travel through the Himalayas, the joy and peace that the hills bring is evident in the teachers and the educational leaders I meet. There is a song that is inherent in the mountains and you can almost hear the clapping of the trees as they welcome a refreshing change and help put a smile on every child’s face.