School of cool
In a forthcoming TV show, children, with a little help from 'design-thinking' adults, take matters into their own hands
The anchors of The Children’s Scrappy News Service (CSNS) broadcast from what could pass off as a beach shack. It’s built with bamboo sticks, lit with fairy lights and its façade has bright-coloured umbrellas. This makeshift TV newsroom, near Mumbai’s Worli fishing village, with a street cart for a desk and a broken Fiat for seats, reflects the show’s DIY motto: making something out of nothing.
On the show’s first episode, which will premiere on Colors Rishtey in December, newsreaders Valesca, 12, and Dheeraj, 10—the latter still figuring out how to pronounce “electricity"—take up the issue of lack of playgrounds in India. The following episodes deal with matters ranging from plastic waste in the ocean to how to take care of grandparents. CSNS correspondents, reporting from far-flung corners of the country, interview people on the street, invite guests to debate sessions, and, most importantly, try to find solutions—each episode features a “call to action". In episode 1, for instance, CSNS takes up 10 playgrounds across India and wants to make them safe for children by providing toilets, clean drinking water and lights.
The stories are allocated like fun little tasks and the designs are subtler than one might imagine. The scrappy car race, in which children make cars out of scrap and take part in a race (which the girls of Tulsipur Jamunia High School, Bhagalpur, emphatically won) is aimed at encouraging girls to participate with boys at an equal level. “Girls are not often seen playing with remote-controlled cars, especially in a village or small town," says Padmini Vaidyanathan, director of The Children’s Scrappy News Service. She describes the show as “TV news meets late-night show meets game show. “We want to do what Sesame Street and The Muppet Show did for America in the 1970s," she adds.
CSNS stands out from other children’s content on Indian TV in its emphasis on aesthetics. The funky homepage of Scrappynews.com, the online extension of the TV show that offers many more activities and features, has the Mumbai skyline as its backdrop, with the grungy slum walls occupying the foreground; graffiti slogans “Kids Revolution" and “Once Loved Things" glow on them as a metallic mouse and an animated discarded table lamp walk around—it could be a page out of a stylized comic book. For Going to School, the education trust behind the show which encourages out-of-the-box entrepreneurial ideas in children, design thinking, colour, texture and light are of paramount importance.
Lisa Heydlauff, its director and founder, says the key to creating catchy, effective design for Going to School’s target audience lies in making something that is distinctly Indian, something that children will relate to. “One of the mistakes we make in education or children’s television in India is that we don’t use design cues. Whether it is the rain-washed lime-green walls peeling off or the pink light in a Rajasthan winter, the children in India are more comfortable in chaos, the clash of colours, rather than white spaces. It’s not the same as in other cultures such as the UK and US. And one needs to keep that in mind while designing textbooks or communicating ideas to children," says Heydlauff, who took was part of an 11 November panel discussion at the Godrej Culture Lab on “How To Separate Good From Bad In An Avalanche Of Children’s Media".
Heydlauff came to India 19 years ago to write a children’s book. She started Going to School in 2003 and has since made India her home. The Children’s Scrappy News Service is their latest effort. Its first season will have 13 episodes, airing every Sunday at 11am.