Monday, July 3, 2017

Published as Communities and Education by the Financial Chronicle in Bengaluru, on June 12th 2017

Local Communities and Alternative Education: Constructive Examples

South India has had a long tradition of thinking about school education. The network of schools which has taught village children, and provided a wholistic sense of being, has continued to proliferate. The Right To Education Act of 2009, while being an immensely important measure to provide democratic and free education, did have certain rules about the kind of books, paraphernalia and certified teachers employed. Schools run by voluntary organisations for tribal children and rural children, including dalits, quite often could not meet these requirements. As a result, the children passed their examination through Open School, which then became a boon for those who wanted to enter the professional world.
Rural schools run by NGOs often attempt to provide a wholistic education, which is quite different from the mainline schools which promote rote learning, competitive attitudes, and disciplinarian methods. In these schools, the teachers are often trained previously in Theosophical Society, Waldorf (Rudolph Steiner) or J Krishnamurthi Foundations. They come to their tasks with a certain enthusiasm, discipline and commitment. Ideologically, they are infused with the idea that ecology, sensitivity to environment, sustenance,  mother tongue  education,learning of art and crafts, and knowledge attained through conversation, formal interaction, play, experiment, and freedom are immensely important. This frees the child’s imagination, allows him/her a non-hierarchical relationship with teachers and guides, and most importantly releases the innate ability that human beings have, to ask questions.
Art and Theatre, music and photography as skills allow children to understand that uniqueness is as important as collective efforts. Whether it is jewellery making, production of art work such as maps for Geography and History, or simply understanding horticulture and irrigation through practical techniques, the child is given free space. It is often argued that this  nurturing of individualism, integrated with team work, is possible only in schools with small numbers. Yet,  the idea could have been made to work with  urban neighbourhood schools, with adjoining parks.
Children crumble under continuous surveillance and testing systems. Parents know that every child has needs which are to be recognised by the teacher. Mainline schooling promotes the idea of the talented child versus the mediocre child, which is painful for both parents and students. The new policy of having Board Exams in Primary and Lower Level Secondary School is a frightening turn of events. Children will be put to the hardships of public exams much before they have even developed their personality. They will be forced to cram, and even if they are successful,  their attitude towards the world in general will be marked by fear and/ or aggrandisement.
Since they experience climate change, economic recession brought about by instability in crop production, empty wells and irrigation tanks, young people already fear the future. Their sense of well being is accosted daily by the news of murder, rape, drunkenness, wilful violence, suicide, normlessness…the list is endless. To be inured to their vulnerability as young children facing a rapidly changing world, and to impose the hardship of Board Exams at such a young age is an act of pedagogic cruelty. Children are optimistic, they accept that adults control their fate.  The severe load of school books injuring their spines was noticed by Society, and the regulation of books taken to school everyday came into force.

When young people first come to college, they are so stultified by the Board exams, that first year B.A syllabus is presented as a simple entry point into the discipline. This allows them to enjoy being at University, make friends, learn a new technical language, and also participate in college activities like sports, theatre and politics. Now, Universities are also being targeted by the State, so that with Budget cuts in Education, Privatisation of University Education is putting it out  far out of reach. RTE presumed that by making school education compulsory, all children would have access to  basic human rights, citizenship being  an array of obligations and privileges. By crushing young people with formal examinations, the path to equity is blurred.
Alternative School educationists understand that not all children can accept the pressures of knowledge production. They are given multiple skills, including weaving, farming, animal husbandry, technical skills, silk work rearing, carpentry and so on. These are not seen to be lesser attributes, rather, the child is encouraged to understand that the tactile world, as much as the cereberal world is defined by his/her involvement in it.
In Kerala, a house wife’s revolution, supported by the State and Scientists has meant that every woman believes that she can grow organic vegetables to feed her family. This has been immensely successful in Ernakulam, Aluva, Kasargod, Ponnapra, Trivandrum, the epicentre being Palakkad. Many alternative schools in Tamil Nadu and Kerala seriously believe that children can be socialised to think about garbage recycling and food production.

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