We wanted to figure out the per acre yield of vegetables on our Center's organic farm. So with great enthu I took the Amazon and Nile group children ( Age 12 -14, roughly 6th and 7th grade) on the farm. This I explained to them and after a frantic search of the campus and inquiring from the adults we were able to find ropes and an old steel tape, left on the campus by a mason. Children divided themselves in groups for various vegetable plots viz. kaddoo - pumpkin lauki- bottle gourd, gilki - gourd, bhindi - ladyfinger and chavli.- beans.
It started on a good note as most children knew that to calculate the area we need length and breadth of a rectangle. Discovery 1 - the plots were rectangles. But one was not. It was a trapezium. This group had to struggle the most. Later on the groups also struggled with this problem in the class. This stage of measuring and multiplying to get the area of the plot was fairly easy. The main problems were like how to write 34 meters and 50 cm. in decimal form and add ? Should we write 34.5 cm or 34.5 m ? After multiplying, how to write the answer - 214.65 m/cm or sq. m. ?
And one more thing - the steel tape was broken. Its marking started at 30 cm. It took some time to figure out that the meter that we were measuring was actually just 70 cm. Also it was easier to measure with a stick rather than a rope, that I had suggested.
The next steps were very sticky. Firstly we had to convert the square meters to gunthaas - the measure used by organic farmers around us - especially those associated with Dabholkar and the 40 guntha experiment. One guntha is 100 sq.m. for this conversion children had to go back to the 5th class problems eg. 5 pencils cost 10 rupees so what is the cost of one pencil. Sounds easy but with numbers like 259.78 sq. m it looks impossible to children. Any way once one or two smart guys had done it they taught the others. They learnt this after doing similar simpler problems ( at least at that time they did it. Actually I cant say that they learnt it). Then they had see the mess register and figure out the total amount of vegetables produced and find out the production per guntha. And finally the production that would happen on one acre. One acre is 40 gunthaas.
After toiling for two - three hours one group got the result. The other groups got frustrated and left it. They tried it the next day with help from a senior who teaches them maths.
The best part of all this was the result. The realization that we had produced quite a lot. Though we have to check the record productions for veges but the figures were pretty high for us, considering that we started from a totally barren peice of land. Most of the veges. went to about 20 quintals ( 2000 Kg./acre). The pumpkins were about 40 quintal an acre. Costed at Rs. 20/ kg this means Rs. 40,000/acre which is very good income as compared to other crops( not counting the marketing problems).
All the children were wide eyed and didnt believe their answers. Anyway it led to a discussion with the elder children about the usefulness of the school syllabus which does'nt teach to earn from their own resources. We are able to produce veges for the school mess - 120 children and adults - enough for 3-4 months. How we wish that some children opt to learn this instead of blindly following the school under societal pressure. Maybe someday...someone....