In the middle of the room stands a wooden box, bright and colourful. The box has five peepholes with metal caps. When the caps fall off, the magic begins.
Little feet crowd around the box, eager to learn about ducks, health, faraway lands and Akshay Kumar.
The magic box is the bioscope that has made a comeback, finding its way into city slums, where it is being used as a teaching tool for children.
While children in private schools make PowerPoint presentations and download Shakespeare on their iPods to make studying more interesting, children in balwadis (pre-schools) in slums across the city are excited about the age-old bioscope.
Balwadis are reporting a 45 per cent rise in attendance this year after they introduced the bioscope. There are 100 balwadis in Mumbai using bioscopes.
At Amchi Balwadi in Malad, barefooted children with vermilion-smeared foreheads, go into a tizzy when the bioscope is wheeled to the centre of the class.
“Children are allowed to look through the bioscope on Mondays. Attendance was very low on Mondays, but because of the bioscope, children look forward to the first day of the week,” said Vandana Manjeraker, a teacher there for 11 years. “We have even made cut-outs of Bollywood stars to increase the appeal.”
The bioscope comes with a kit of slides of the Galli Galli Sim Sim programme. While the teacher changes the slides, supporting audio clips are played in the background.
“A bioscope has novelty value and we have re-purposed it with educational value,” said Priyanka Zutshi, programme director, Sesame Workshop, India, the only organisation that manufactures educational bioscopes. “We had earlier provided children with TVs and DVDs but the bioscope seems to be more popular with them.”
Sesame has tied up with seven NGOs in the city who distribute bioscopes to the balwadis.
“Teachers have gone beyond their brief and made their own cardboard slides to teach several other concepts. Mondays are now the children’s favourite day,” said Suvarna Phadtare, coordinator, Pratham, one of the NGOs that have tied up with Sesame. They have provided 50 bioscopes to balwadis.