ByÂ Pooja Malhotra:Â
The educational journey for any child must include opportunities for exploring and learning through planned outdoor experiences and practical exposure. Does the current education system in our country provide creative, inspiring and enriching practical knowledge? Or does it confine a child’s world view to information offered by textbooks within the classroom? Some educators see practical work carried out by students as an essential feature of education and learning. Others however, have raised questions about its effectiveness as a teaching and learning strategy.
Arguably, our modern system of education has been quiet successful in repressing the natural energies of children because it requires them to sit still in a disciplined manner, curbing their instincts to fidget or move about and focuses them to pay attention. It is commonly believed that only maintaining such a discipline can allow you to unravel the secret held within your books; secrets that might not reward you now but will supposedly prepare you for the future world of adulthood. Most educational institutions have closed off the realm of learning through practical experience in the urgency to open up our minds to the world of books.
Though some educators feel an inherent need for nurturing curiosity, spontaneity and playfulness in students through experiential learning, in practice most schools & institutions of learning continue to prepare them for the ‘real world’ within their four walls.
Defying these norms, Adharshila Learning Centre, an alternative school, situated in a tribal village in Madhya Pradesh firmly believes that art, craft and creativity is vital to their learning curriculum. The school has 150 children of which about 70 stay on the campus. They are gaining knowledge and learning concepts through craft, organic farming, theatre, singing and more. The children are enthusiastic about participating in agitations, going to villages around the centre, writing books, documenting local history and folk literature. It is a very lively school and the most unique feature is that the children help younger children to learn. The students of this unique institution have tried to explore the effectiveness of practical work by filming a short video about what makes their school so special and then, sharing it with teachers & students belonging to schools in urban areas and analyzing their response & feedback. You too could post your comments and give your valuable feedback about this unique ‘trikon khidki wala school’ after watching this wonderful filmÂ made by the students themselves, as a part of a workshop conducted by Kavita Das Gupta.
The video documents how teachers at Adharshila focus predominantly on developing students’ substantive scientific knowledge, rather than on simply memorizing facts listed out in textbooks. The methodology practiced here facilitates understanding of scientific enquiry procedures by moving beyond the four walls that enclose the blackboard, benches & desks. Practical work has been highly effective in getting students to do what is intended with physical objects, broadening their horizon and giving them the environment to develop their own unique way of thinking. Once exposed to a certain concept, the children are then motivated to use the intended scientific ideas and reflect upon the data or knowledge that they’ve collected. The students are free to learn and they easily overcome the cognitive challenge of linking observables to ideas; tasks are rarely incorporated explicit strategies to help students make such links…The ideas simply flow in this 5th Space that has been created within a centre for learning and it is this 5th space which initiates learning through experience.
At Adharshila, one of the prime features of education that set it apart from most other schools, is that it involves practical work–activities in which students manipulate and observe real objects and materials. ‘Seeing is believing’ is considered as being central to the appeal and effectiveness of education. It helps students to develop their understanding of the subject whether it is science, mathematics or history and enables them to appreciate that the concepts that they are learning are based on evidence and logical reasoning. Students are given the opportunity to do exciting and varied experimental and investigative work.
Most students and teachers (of urban schools) who watched the film were simply touched, moved and inspired by the video. “Your concept of ‘learning by doing’ is wonderful. The students are doing things and gaining hands on experience; there’s no better way of involving children in the process of learning. In our school, we verbally teach students that ‘this is a hibiscus tree or a banyan tree and the best a child, sitting in the classroom, can do is to imagine what it would look like. Our system of education fails to impart the kind of practical knowledge that a student could gain by moving beyond that boundary”, said an experienced teacher. “According to me, the highlight of this film is that it’s not about rural children or urban students; it’s about listening to your heart and having the freedom to do what it tells you…and that calls for courage & you have shown that courage!” shared another viewer. “This is not just a film; it’s a challenge to our education system. As I see it, children at Adharshila are not taught, they are left to learn, they are contemplating what they are doing. To introduce such a concept into the system is a challenge”, said another teacher. To know more about their response, and also to share your own view point, I invite you to watch the full documentary here.
The uniqueness of this ‘trikon khiki wala school’ lies in the fact that it is laying the foundation towards being ‘self motivated individuals whose actions are guided by their inner calling and conscience, rather than by what others say or do’. It is more than just another centre for learning; it’s an experiment in education, a children’s space beyond books…a 5th Space!