Diwali lights up schools

Despite alert levels forcing Diwali celebrations online for some schools this year, the festival of lights still brought a splash of colour and Indian culture to students around New Zealand.

Children in traditional Indian clothes playing it up for the camera

Each year the festival provides schools with an opportunity to bring Indian culture into the classroom, with many welcoming parents and the wider Indian community to share their knowledge of the festival as well as Indian art, dance, cooking and more. This year Diwali was celebrated from 4 November to 8 November.

One school forced to mark Diwali online due to Covid restrictions was Arahoe School in New Lynn, Auckland.

Teacher and Foundation Champion Corin Amstead says despite being online, this year's Diwali was still a community event with families creating cooking videos for students to try at home and students wearing their traditional clothing during online classes and sharing their experiences of Diwali with classmates.

Students also made diya lamps, made medhi (henna patterns) and created rangoli patterns through a math's lense by looking at symmetry, shape and colour.

Corin says exposing students from all cultures to Diwali encourages them to develop a "diversity mindset" and "empowers them to own their heritage, cultures, and traditions."

Kauri Flats School teacher Vicky Lui says having to celebrate online didn't diminish Diwali at her school. In fact, she says it provided an opportunity to make distance learning more purposeful and relatable.

"We made our literacy and numeracy distance learning all related to Diwali," she says.

"Through the different questions and learning activities, we explored the various parts of Diwali – the meaning, the cultural practices, the gods involved, food and traditions."

The school encouraged students and their whānau to get involved with a range of hands-on experiences they could do at home, such as making diya lamps out of salt dough, creating their own rangoli (sand patterns) designs and a having a go at bhangra dance.

"We also had a fun Zoom session with the theme of "Your culture" so that students could come and share something about their own culture," Vicky says.

"Many of our female students wore beautiful sarees and they also shared the rangoli art they had drawn."

She says exposing students to different cultures is key to preparing them for a globalised world.

"We need to teach our students about different cultures in order for them to learn from each other and understand [other cultures] better. To teach our students how to be global citizens..."

Adrienne Smith, who teachers a Year 3 class at Western Heights Primary School in Rotorua, says providing students with experiences that help them become global citizens was one of the reasons her class learnt about Indian culture over the five days of Diwali.

Utilising a teaching resource created by fellow Foundation Champion Krishna Ramadugu, Adrienne started each morning with Indian dance to get the heart pumping.

She says watching video clips of students in India taking part in Diwali festivities was a great way to connect her students to the experiences and lives of children in other countries.

"My student commented to me, 'So is it like we celebrate Christmas and Matariki, whaea, because they're celebrating with their Whānau, just like us?'"

Seeing other cultures helps her students to reflect on their own cultures, Adrienne says.

"They love seeing themselves as being part of a global world, which sparks a lot of curiosity.

"They start to wonder how they are similar or different. How are their dances similar or different, for example.

"Celebrating Diwali provides these opportunities for them to consider their own culture, what is important to them and their whānau."