Jagriti Yatra Day Three: All the roads lead to education!

The day started with a wake up call followed by a ‘fire drill’ to equip us for any fire accident. We, then, had a great breakfast on the platform of the Dharwad station in Karnataka.

The day was dedicated to education where we met three individuals doing three different things in the field of education. There was Sachin Desai with his ‘school without walls (and teachers); Vishnu Tirth with his tool to ‘measure learning’ in kids; and Adam with his school Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya for unfortunate kids.

Sachin talked about a philosophy where he believed our education system doesn’t really educate rather it is focused on things that doesn’t quite help when we need it. We know how to add two numbers but we don’t quite know, as kids, why do we add. There is too much pressure on young minds to achieve things through hard core academics which stunts innovation.

His school is open for one and all and kids learn with themselves in a kind of community based learning where students themselves are teachers and get involved in community works and learn academics through actual work which Gandhi’s Nayi Taleem talks about. Parallely, the students take ‘open school’ exams for their respective classes and get degrees as well.

As a group of Yatris who are looking to build enterprise, it was a mixed experience as far as the idea and business model goes. The sustainability factor in the economic and social sense doesn’t quite seem great at this point of time. Sachin’s is a new startup idea. It is a school with good intentions but we need social acceptance for the ‘educated’ individuals to help them earn livelihood once they pass out. At the same time issues of funding are apparent as well.

When we talk of alternative education system, we must also realise that these individuals will have to survive in a society where conventional (however bad it is) education is the driver of the economy. You get a job when you get a degree however farcical that is and however less you know the subject. No one is ready to accept individuals without degree but good skills. If that exists, it is as rare as O negative blood group when you need it.

I am all for education which shifts emphasis from the job-oriented academics which almost takes humanity out of education. But to make it feasible, as a social enterprise, we ought to focus on making it mainstream and work for the acceptance of individuals who come out of these schools.

We can’t just go on saying that the education system in India is shitty and my school is great, it gives society ‘educated’ individuals in the real sense of it. We will have to accept the fact that the is a need for a parallel structure where these ‘misfits’ can fit in.

SECOND ROLE MODEL of the day was Vishnu Tirth of Educational Initiative which designs tools for assessment of ‘learning’ in school kids in maths and some languages. The philosophy behind this business idea was that people get degrees, excel in exams but do they learn exactly what they aim to?

His assumption was that they don’t. So his friend and he collaborated to design a test system which asks students certain questions and look if they follow a pattern in answering it. After a lot of data analysis, selling his idea to public schools, offering workshops for teachers, he kept on improving the system as per him.

The business model is financially quite sustainable and he gives it free to the government schools. The problem, he said, lies in the thought process of school owners/principals who are notoriously poor at organisational and structural levels in the field of education. They never think of changing the existing system nor push teachers to look for the betterment.

He was focused on finding the science of learning and how to measure the amount of learning that a kid has after years of schooling. He said that all people who start alternative education assume that their way is the best way but it is not unless you have an authentic tool to measure learning.

However, here he was fundamentally mistaken and perhaps don’t the same which others did: assuming that his was a better idea. I have no issues with his financial model and earnings but thinking that his assessment tests are THE tests, he is clearly not on the side of logic. He is assuming that his design is the best where as his design is limited to only few subjects and you cannot judge two students’ learning with the same assessment paper as they have completely different educational circumstances. What if your ways of assessment is not even understood by the kid?

It is easy to run a business and earn money but colouring it as a tool of social change appears farcical when it goes over the top. Vishnu did the same. And then there is another great issue with his system,

When the government takes exams, it publishes results, it gives degrees, what will your assessment do when the kid is going to write the same thing in exams irrespective of the tests that he took? Here, as well, we need to make that assessment tool main stream and incorporate in to the exam system to actually judge how smart the kids are.

Anyway, I preferred not to ask question to any of them as Sachin was still unsure of where his school will take him and Vishnu was convinced that his design was the best design. And when I ask questions, it seriously turns quite ugly.

I chose to discuss the same with my group members as well as many others on train and we agreed that there is a need in to see into the finesse of the models. It’s one thing to be proud of a system or belief that you follow but at the same time we need to look for its sustainability as well.

After this session with Vishnu Tirth, we came across Adam, who looks after the #KalkeriSangeetVidyalaya which has a dual curriculum: normal academics and Hindustani music. It was the Kalkeri campus, self sustainable, nature friendly and open area where two hundred underprivileged children studied music and academics.

I was quite astonished when a six-year old kid, with a hell lot of confidence, asked me, “What is your name?” He was bare foot, in dirty, torn clothes and I, in formals with horde of others, couldn’t believe that such a young kid asked me in English. It’s not unusual to hear English in Karnataka but he was just six. I asked him whether he knew Hindi, he said no and that he was comfortable with English.

We chatted a bit about his school and other things and moved on. Adam told us how his passion for music and social work made him do what he does: managing the school. With 15 foreign volunteers offering to teach, he is a busy man who has to do a lot to get funds.

He didn’t have any alternative thoughts on education, he didn’t twist the pattern, but his kids knew how to play tabla, violin, sitar, harmonium and none of them have ever failed in the 11 years of its existence.

This is social service. Kids who leave the school go on to do masters as well. There is a sustainability here in the social sense. Twenty five kids get enrolled each year and he thinks to have at least thirty five so that there is a balance between the number of kids who leave and join.

We got back to our train around six and had a great discussion in a group of twenty. The best thing about this Yatra is diversity in the physical and demographic aspect and hence there is a diversity in thoughts as well. I see young people who really think about society, feel about its issues and know what is plaguing us.

They are connected to real issues and in sync with the reality. This connect is missing in the young people in Delhi. Most of them don’t care for politics, social issues and all they think for society is distributing sweets to orphans on one day! That won’t make them happy. To make them happy, make the society a place where they can be free from being card board cut outs. Do something that impacts life in real sense and which can be sustained.

I also met a guy from Bihar who was doing his research on contribution of prostitutes in social development. We discussed a lot in the issues of prostitution and discussion widened to the LGBT community. It was great to see myself surrounded by quite a lot of people and patiently hearing me, asking me questions on Indian culture, mentality, the conservative society, whether it’s an illness etc.

One thing is sure that I am not going to meet so many like minded individuals who are not pseudo intellectuals but have either done great works in society at such young age or are motivated to do something serious. And mind you, they have some ideas which is just brilliant to hear.

I wish these young kinds who I talk with, guide and mentor, execute their ideas as soon as it could be done and help themselves, their communities and in the process the nation to be a better place.

#JagritiYatra2013 #VerticalEducation #AlternativeEducation #Kalkeri #SchoolWithoutWalls

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