Mapping their city

A guest post from our intern Anjney Midha, who helped us with the mapping workshops held in Olcott School

Little hands crease the white chart paper, as fingers clutching felt pens and crayons dart about quickly, outlining squares and other shapes. I catch glimpses of symbols and colors; a cricket bat occupying a large oval in one corner of the sheet, a pair of hands clutched in a Namaste in another, and a large mustachioed face under a label titled ‘Watchman’s booth’.

All around me, children of the eighth grade at the Olcott Memorial School in Besant Nagar are busy mapping out their school’s campus in groups, developing their own unique symbols and keys, color schemes and layouts. Working together, they turn occasionally to Shobha Narayana, their English teacher, and Siddharth Hande, TC’s workshop facilitator for help. By the end of the session, maps emerge, each diagram telling a story of its own.

Maps are wonderful inventions. As a means of communication, they are invaluable. As navigation tools they are indispensable. And as the creation of children, they are telling of human psychology.

Transparent Chennai recently concluded its Mapping Workshop at the Olcott School. The session was the fourth and last installment in a month long workshop focusing on teaching children the power and value of maps as spatial, political and information tools, and helping them to map their own environments.

In addition to developing the children’s mapping skills by allowing them to plot their school campus, the workshop also involved introducing the students to basic mapping technology, such as GPS, satellite imaging and Google Earth.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of these workshops comes from comparing the hand drawn maps these children create. Each chart paper tells a different story, communicating nuances about each student’s life. One map is centred around a cricket pitch with sports symbols of volleyballs and soccer goalposts figuring prominently alongside. On another map, three students have meticulously drawn their classrooms, mathematical symbols representing their math lab, book spines iconizing the library and so on. On yet another map, the prayer halls are most dominant. The differences speak of innumerable nuances adults can only begin to guess at. Ask a group of adults to map their office, and the result is arguable predictable; here is the coffeemaker, here is the photocopier, that’s the washroom. And yet, with thirteen year olds, the activity yields diversity, bordering on art rather than science.

We often take for granted that maps are absolute, mere representations of fact. But our mapping workshop makes it clear from the perspective of children that maps are not simply a two-dimensional diagram, but arguments and dialectics, speaking to differences in land usage, lifestyle needs and spatial relationships. We look forward to working with school children in schools all over the city this coming school year to talk about maps, mapping, and representing space.

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6 thoughts on “Mapping their city

  1. Thanks for this update. Does the school have an “official” campus map? One that is provided to families or teachers. I wonder how that compares to the map created by the children.

    • Hi Eddie,

      Although this school is quite large, it does not have an official campus map. A comparison of the two would certainly be interesting though! My feeling is that while there would only be minute differences in the spatial locations of the buildings on the map, a comparison of the key would be the most revealing. For instance on one map that the kids made the symbol that they decided to use to denote the headmasters house was a tiara!

      What is also really interesting is that through these maps outsiders can catch glimpses of the different ways in which these children use these spaces for their play and work. More on this coming up soon!

  2. Pingback: Rising Voices » Transparent Chennai: Maps Helping Fishermen Claim Their Rights

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