By Aditya Mani Jha
Ace journalist Neha Dixit visited TCLP-Agrasar yesterday, and held a masterclass for the attending children (and some adults as well!). Neha’s award-winning longform stories have been published in The Caravan, Outlook, The Wire and several other leading Indian publications.
From the outset, it was clear that this was going to be a busy evening, with questions flying thick and fast. Neha started by taking the kids through the basic tests of what makes a piece of information ‘news’. She discussed the parameters on which we judge news to be reliable and useful (Who did it? When? Where? How? Why? Why is this important?). The children were interested, in particular, about the distinction between real and ‘fake news’.
Some moments of levity happened when Neha asked different groups of children one example each of recent news. For example, an enterprising young boy said, “Congress won the maximum number of seats in Rajasthan because they did pooja in the Mahakaal temple!” prompting a round of laughter. This example was particularly instructive, too, because it allowed Neha to explain why and how news channels amplify selective aspects of certain stories—the factors that dictate this selective amplification could be political gains, the profit motive, personal likes/dislikes and so on.
This was just one example of the children asking rather pointed questions about a decidedly mature subject. One girl asked Neha if her parents had supported her when she decided to become a journalist — you only ask such a question when you expect the answer to be ‘no’. The children were smart enough to understand that there are certain professions prized/coveted by parents — doctor, engineer and so on (the same was true, Neha said, of her parents, who were initially resistant to the idea, before coming around years later).
But the most fun part of the evening came about once the group activities started — Neha asked different groups of children to come up with a brief news report each. The news had to be recent, had to have happened in their immediate vicinity, and had to be something that impacted their everyday lives. Several groups came up with thought-provoking, sometimes poignant pieces of news. For example, one group reported that at their school, a teacher had been roughed up by a group of students. Why was he beaten up? Because he had apparently used a cuss word to describe one of the boys in the class. Where did the assault take place? Right in the classroom. How was he beaten up? With the bare fists and feet of the children.
Why was this important?
Because, as Neha pointed out to the children, this news spoke to the atmosphere in the school, one which emboldened a teacher to use a bad word for his own student, one which ultimately proved to be unsafe for both children and teachers.
It was this vital context-building which really struck a chord with the children. As with Annie Zaidi’s democracy masterclass earlier this year, the response of the TCLP-Agrasar members was outstanding and reinforced the fact that these children have a lot to offer, and they are getting better and better at processing complex information in a short span of time.
Another memorable evening then, at TCLP-Agrasar.
[Aditya Mani Jha is a writer, journalist & volunteer TCLP-Agrasar]