The Importance of Open School for Traditional and Marginalised Communities
Traditional communities who have their roots in the soil as farmers, landless agricultural labourers and tribals, or in the coastal regions as fishers, are first generation learners in standardised education. We often presume that these local communities are without knowledge. However, Paolo Freire and others have always drawn our attention to the need to educate ourselves about the rights and privileges of these communities, and how we must in fact learn from them.
Industrialisation has meant that peasants and tribals are reduced to one category, that is cheap labour. A theory of beauty is inherent in their lives. This is part of the craft and artisanal traditions of which they are representatives of. Luxury markets in India and abroad define the use of these traditional skills as essential to the goods they produce, whether in leather, shell, gems, metals, cloth or wood. Designer culture sees these as necessities, and makes good use of them. Khadi, handloom and mirror work are seen as desirable within the capitalist framework of couture culture. Let us proceed to imagine then, that the brutalisation of these indigenous communites happens when they are deprived of access to food and shelter.
School education is seen to be the way out of an imposed poverty. It is believed that if these communities receive a standardised education, then they will be able to negotiate out of the difficulties that they face as impoverished communities.
Since smart cities cannot be built without cheap labour, clearly the State represents an industrialised world view as a total social good. However, there are many who believe that subsistence economies (those who live on the food they grow, or the fish they catch, or the pastoral and nomadic communities who live frugally in their habitats) must be supported. This is because the earth is organic and resplendent and must be protected for its multidiversity. Not surprisingly, the aspect of niche culture as being protective of the earth becomes a point of view that is seen as activist and ecologically sensitive. We are quick to presume that the genocide of the peasants and tribals through deprivation is a necessary aspect of industrialisation to which the Nation State has been committed since independence. However, the West is mortified by its own history, and in many parts of Europe and Asia, green movements have been more than successful.
Craft and artisan communities depend on the environment for their livelihood as well as their sense of well being. The diminishing of state concern for agriculture, so visible to us. is a very short sighted perspective. With climate change, it is necessary to address the needs of the farmer in a different way. The farmer with small landholdings is actually investing in other crops which might survive unseasonal rainfall. While he loses his wheat, bajra, rice, peas and pulses, he might still have his sugar cane crop standing. Mushrooms too are being harvested around the year, as the temperatures can be maintained artificially.
The costs of schooling are very high for such communities, and once crops like cotton or ginger escalate or drop, the farmer’s fortunes fluctuate.
Formal schooling comes with lots of costs, including certification for teachers and students and blackboards, text books and uniforms. Alternative schooling actually provides children in marginalised situations with the possibility that they can pass the Open School exam at the learning pace that is suitable to them. Open University further extends the possibility of their entering into professional occupations. Artisan communities would benefit from the ways in which the skills that they need to promote their traditional arts were rated more positively. Design schools teach weaving, pottery, block printing and upto 40 other skills for a cost which is beyond the average middle class Indian household. If these skills are so relevant to conspicuous consumption in urban society, then why should children of rural communities be made to feel that they have no place in society.
A child refused to go for a maths exam, and was severely punished by her parents. Her father tied her to his motorcycle with a rope, and was noticed by journalists visiting the village to report on some other case. The father was jailed for a night, and when interviewed he said that his child only liked to do craft, and everything else was boring. Alternative School Education is promoted by networks of activists all over the country, and it uses Montessori or Rudolf Steiner or J. Krishnamurthy methods to innovate with education, attending to each according to his or her needs. With the massive cuts in education, and the blocking of opportunities for the poor. to accelerate urban development and industrialisation, it won’t be surprising if there is revolution or state repression, as these go together.