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Photography in Education

Ravi Chopra

Education has continued to evolve, diversify and extend its reach and coverage since the dawn of human history. Every country develops its system of education to express and promote its unique socio-cultural identity and also to meet the challenges of the times.

The National Educational Policy marked a significant step in the history of education in independent India. It aimed to promote national progress, a sense of common citizenship and culture and to strengthen national integration. It laid stress on the need for a radical reconstruction of the educational system to improve its quality at all stages, and gave much greater attention to science and technology, the cultivation of moral values and a closer relation between education and the lives of people.

The introduction of systematic, well-planned and rigorously implemented programmes of vocational education is crucial in the proposed education reorganisation.

There are various methods for making the curriculum more interesting, enjoyable and child-centred. Attempts have been made using media like puppetry, theatre, songs, games, etc. In this direction I have used photography to make subjects like the environment, heritage, nature, people, festivals, places, etc., more interesting and meaningful for children belonging to rural areas, slums, streets, schools and tribal areas.

Photography mirrors reality, an art as well as science; it captures and reproduces reality with accuracy. Its services span the range of human needs, both practical and emotional. It plays a vital role in helping to preserve records of different fields of study, in preserving the cultural heritage, in business, industry, education, medicine, criminology and defence services, coupled with keeping a record of special occasions in day-to-day life.

In children, much like in adults, photography provides the thrill of catching and freezing a moment, a scene, a smile, a movement and looking back at it. It is a creative art involving the child physically and psychologically. The pride of reproducing a moment encourages the child to look at the world through his own eyes.

Communicating information without distortion is always difficult. Everyone approaches a new subject with a different and personal frame of reference. The special virtue of photography is that it eliminates ambiguity, allowing your message to be received with maximum impact. Add photography to words and fewer words can be used to convey more and better information.

Photography helps make education more interesting for children. It does so directly through slides, movies and other visual aids.

Experiment in Photography

My involvement with children began four years ago when a little girl of seven, living in a slum area behind my house, approached me to have a peep through the viewfinder of my camera. The sheer ecstasy of the little girl gave a new dimension to me. I decided to work with underprivileged children from the streets, slums, villages, remote areas and tribal communities. Over the years my efforts began giving the handicapped and runaway children, living with very little resources, a new sense of confidence and a job-oriented skill which would improve the quality of their life, their personality and life-style. It has aroused the creative instinct in them, providing a chance to contribute positively to society.

For four years I conducted a series of workshops in and around Delhi. My aim was simple: to teach children the practical aspects of photography and its potential in tapping their creativity. The idea of working with underprivileged children appealed to me immensely as I firmly believed that with this training programme, at least some of the children might turn this knowledge into small commercial ventures, creating job and business opportunities. The interest thus aroused might perhaps lead to an increase in social awareness and raise the standard of photography in India. This project would also give young minds greater confidence in their work and lead to self-reliance.

The workshop gave me an opportunity to expose the children to diverse topics such as air and noise pollution, water pollution, poor sanitation, common diseases, malnutrition, land and soil, wildlife conservation, deforestation, environmental awareness and pride in national heritage and culture.

The spontaneous response of the children and the photographs taken by them, encouraged me to seriously develop this project with like-minded organisations and people wanting to work with the underprivileged. My attention was drawn towards working in remote areas like the villages of Himachal Pradesh where the children are innocent, the scenic beauty intact and untouched by the influence of modernity. Armed with Snapper pocket cameras, donated by Agfa-Gevaert, and with funds from Unicef, I conducted the first photographic workshop in the village of Shalana.

Returning to Delhi with a new-found passion, I embarked on conducting further workshops on the New Delhi railway station platform, the slums of Govindpuri, Sangam Vihar, Raghubir Nagar, R.K. Puram and in schools run by the Delhi Administration. Through the World Wide Fund for Nature I also held workshops for the children of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Kendriya Vidyalaya and the Army Public School. I conducted workshops for tribal children and handicapped children of Maharogi Sewa Samiti (Anandwan, an ashram run by Baba Amte) in Maharashtra.

In the workshop for deaf and mute children, sign language was used for teaching. Baba Amte observed that since those children did not have much opportunity to express themselves, photography was the right medium for bringing out their creativity.


Throughout my experience, it was the problem of survival of the slum children that preoccupied my mind. It was evident that they lacked the necessary inputs and the socio-economic environment to cope with the demands of the educational system. Their living conditions made them disinterested in studies, constantly driving them towards despair and frustration. To give direction to the life of these children, I established a society called Disha, which started a photographic training institute to train street and slum children.

The project also aimed to enhance the artistic bent of the children’s minds and help in increasing their technical abilities. The use of the camera was encouraged not only as an instrument but as a means of acquiring a fresh perspective on the world around them. A child interested in making photography a career can venture into any branch of the art like commercial photography, institutional and specialised photography, photojournalism and press photography at a later stage. The main themes chosen for the workshop were:

1. Documenting urban life, monuments, nature, etc.

2. Environmental awareness

3. Imparting an artistic and aesthetic outlook

4. Vocational training

The project was initially discussed with voluntary organisations and professional photographers. Sponsors were located and target areas identified. The children who were to be involved in the workshops were chosen after judging their IQs, educational standards, etc. The work schedule was planned according to the availability of their time. The workshop dealt with the following topics:

1. Basic theoretical knowledge and practical training.

2. Darkroom work.

3. Picture composition.

4. Handling of different subjects.

5. Commercial application and picture presentation along with total personality development.

Unexpected results were noticed. The children took the project very seriously and showed keen interest in photography. They started seeing their surroundings with a new outlook, which generated confidence among them, created a feeling of creativity and strengthened their desire for self-expression. They went around with cameras and photographed whatever caught their fancy. This inculcated a relationship between them and their environment. The processes and the chemistry involved in developing, printing, enlarging and composition of photographs intrigued them. Children from different social backgrounds and economic status worked together in groups, thus enhancing the feeling of individual and community development. While photographing historic monuments they were linked to their past and developed a desire to conserve these for future generations.

The slide shows and documentaries shown to them helped them to understand their rights as human beings and their responsibility towards their environment. Visits to news-paper establishments gave practical demonstrations of the actual use of the visual medium.

There were difficulties encountered during the project as well. I had to look for cameras, which were ultimately provided by a reputed photo goods manufacturing company on a returnable basis. I had to arrange for the equipment and chemicals to set up a workable darkroom.

Case Studies

With children from slums

Six workshops were organised in the Govindpuri slum of South Delhi, in which I trained 96 children. Govindpuri is situated about 20 km from downtown Delhi. It is the second largest slum area in India after Dharavi in Bombay. In its vast number of jhuggis, some 35,000 people live. Children in the age group of 12-18 years were given basic knowledge of photography and its practical aspects.

The initial week was spent in teaching the basics and theory. The next week was devoted entirely to the working of the camera and its functions. This was followed by picture presen-tation and the commercial aspects of photography. Then came the practical sessions, where children started taking photographs and were taken on photo excursions to various sites.

An exhibition of photographs taken by these children during training was held in Govindpuri itself for the benefit of the residents and the guardians of the children. The exhibition drew a large number of visitors. Many parents from the adjoining jhuggis approached me to conduct similar workshops for their children. It had obviously aroused a lot of interest in the media, which was amply proved by the coverage in almost all the national dailies.

This was followed by a two-week refresher course for trainees on the basis of their interest. On seeing the response of the children the local NGO also funded a darkroom in Govindpuri for the benefit and use of these trainees under the guidance of Disha. It is now fully operational and is being used by the young shutterbugs. A complex was provided to Disha by the local government in the Ekta Vihar slum cluster in South Delhi to conduct vocational training courses for youngsters living in the nearby slums. This programme was started in January 1994 and was funded by Unicef.

With school children

Children from the Army Public School, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya and Kendriya Vidyalaya in Delhi were involved in workshops of two weeks’ duration each in which they were given environmental awareness through photography. This was sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature, India.

The children took this project very seriously and showed keen interest in learning and understanding all the aspects of photography. During this training they started seeing their surroundings with a new, involved outlook which generated confidence in them and resulted in strengthening their desire for self-expression. The relationship between them and the environment manifested itself in various ways.

The experiment amply proved that children possess a unique faculty of expression and creativity and only need the right guidance and encouragement.

Success Stories

1. Virender and Ramesh, who had run away from home in U.P. two years earlier and lived on the New Delhi railway platform working as coolies, are now working as darkroom assistants in a studio in Paharganj and also freelancing in photography. Their lives have become meaningful and happy. Ramesh says, "If I had not met ‘Sir’ at the railway platform, I could be back at a corner somewhere selling drugs or killing somebody for money".

2. The photographs taken during workshops were displayed in an exhibition by schoolchildren in their schools. Photographs were used in school magazines. Twelve selected photographs were sent by the United National Information Centre, Delhi, to be displayed as resource material in a conference at Bogota, Colombia, by the United Nations Environment Programme.

3. Krishna, who lives in the Shastri Market slum in R.K. Puram, was employed as a photographic instructor in Hansraj Model School in Delhi after the completion of the workshop. In the evenings she sells vegetables in the main market.

4. Horilal, from the same basti, has opened his own studio in the Moti Bagh area. He was earlier working as a kabadiwala.

5. Tulsi Ram, Tofeeq Ahmed and Rajpal, belonging to the Dr Ambedkar slum basti, have been assigned to make photographic case studies of different types of low-income urban settlements by USAID and Unicef. Various agencies like the Aga Khan Foundation and Navjyoti have engaged their services from time to time.

6. The trainees from the Sangam Vihar resettlement colony and the Govindpuri slum area have formed three cooperative groups to cover the various events in their localities.

7. Exhibitions of photographs taken by children have been sponsored by the Delhi Administration, Unicef and IGNCA from time to time in Delhi.

8. An exhibition on the socio-economic condition of the Aravalli hills was developed and designed by the trainees of the R.K. Puram slum basti with Disha and rotated among schools and colleges in Delhi. This was widely acclaimed by the press and the public.


My experiments with children from different backgrounds proves that photography can be-come a rewarding and enriching method of learning. It also keeps children occupied with an a vocation while contributing to their creative expression, self-confidence and employment potential.


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