I remember that during my Class 10 board exams, our principal advised us to not leave any answers blank in the papers. He brazenly asked us to concoct answers that would be merely rehashing the exact words used in the question. I had forgotten about this piece of “advice” until the graduation ceremony for the students of Class 10 at Prakriya Green Wisdom School, where Seetha Ananthasivan, the founder trustee spoke about life being much more than just exams.
If ever there was a good time to use the idiom diametrically opposite, then this would be it.
This incident from my childhood had stirred in me deep unrest about the conventional education system and its narrow focus on success and achievement of a particular kind. I had questions cropping up in my mind including what education should be about. I had felt stifled in a system that didn’t nurture my creative spirit, which didn’t value the artist in me. And instead chose to only invest in what it deemed to be my intellect. I had wondered then whether there were educational institutions that looked at the child holistically.
But like many others, I had to hunker down to the gods of conventions that approved of nothing less than a degree in Engineering leading to a cushy job in the IT industry. The time I spent in the industry was deadening my spirit. All the old questions resurfaced along with deeper questions about the purpose of my life and what really is meaningful for me. Fortunately, thanks to my son, I had the opportunity to take a break from work. During this period I explored my real passion – crafts – and found my true calling. I realised that I needed to value the artist in me and find the time and space for expressing myself. In many of my conversations with my husband (who himself is an academician), the idea of deeper immersion into the area of education arose. I could feel a need for me to be in tune with the needs of our son when it came to “educating” him.
I had naturalised my role as a homemaker and crafter by the time I joined Bhoomi College’s course on Holistic Education. And to be honest, I was not really sure if the course at Bhoomi was what I really wanted. However, I decided to give it a try. It turned out that the space gave me the freedom to express my thoughts, feelings and actions unfettered of judgment. The diversity in the group, the strong bonds we made, and the immense sense of calmness that the silence at Bhoomi brought was as important to me as the course itself.
The emotional bonds that were formed mostly during the “Inner and Outer Ecology” programme gave me a lot of faith in surrounding myself with a like-minded community. The physical space itself seemed to subconsciously add to this feeling of community. This building of a community is something that I shall cherish the most. When people are in a non-threatening, non-judgemental, peaceful space, they tend to be more at peace internally, and that reflects in their approach to themselves, others and the community at large. I believe this to be the key element of experiential learning offered at Bhoomi College.
As the course began, “where is this going?” was the question that I would be left with at the end of the day. But once I began to connect the dots between the different sessions and through the modules, I began to appreciate the modality and the design of the course. Bringing the group together first through deep and immersive sharing and then focusing on the major aspects of education really helped foster a strong sense of collaboration in all of us.
Learning And Unlearning!
As part of the course, we were exposed to concepts like Multiple Intelligences theory, Learning Styles, Blocks to Creativity, Strengths theory, Brain Science Research, Active Learning Methodology, Circle Time etc. Observation sessions at Prakriya and field visits to different alternative schools enabled us to have a hands-on experience and sharper understanding of the varied processes and practices at these schools. One of the field visits to Jane Sahi’s Sita school helped me look at language very differently. Jane made language learning seem very easy and as something that could be integrated through stimulating activities like a puppet show. One of my main learnings from all the field trips was that education is not only what I went through during my school days. Visiting such alternative schools helped me unlearn the rigid definition of schooling that I had held on to for a long time. It also made me realise that a conscious and sensitive teacher can co-create a conducive learning environment.
But what it did more than anything else was a fresh look at education itself! I realised that my strong opposition to uniform/standard benchmarks in the conventional educational system was valid. It was heartening to know that this belief was solidly grounded in nature’s principle of respecting diversity. I felt reaffirmed and energised. I committed to honouring each child’s unique and distinctive gifts and strengths. The rebel/ non-conformist in me found a cause and a voice.
Embracing the crafter in me…
My Bhoomi community helped me embrace the crafter in me without any sense of apology. They made me realise that working with crafts was, in fact, a holistic experience and held far more truths than the three-dimensional product that was created. One of my liberating moments was when in one of our discussions, this fact about crafts being second only to agriculture as a sustainable livelihood option was presented. I was elated because I could see crafts beyond my personal passion and interest. Bhoomi helped me in anchoring a deeper commitment towards crafts, something which I derive my inner energy from. All the efforts paid dividends when I got to set up my first ever crafts stall at Bhoomi Utsav – an experience of a lifetime, in many ways.
From the place I was on the day that I gave my interview at Bhoomi to now; I feel more ready to explore and experiment with the work I do and am more open to getting out of my comfort zone. While there are areas that I have still to work on, the Holistic Education course has helped me to a great extent when it comes to approaching and teaching crafts from a holistic perspective. I consciously bring in the learnings of Bhoomi into my class at Prakriya. Like giving freedom to explore the answers to a craft, rather than instructing its step by step procedure. Integrating subjects into crafts, including storytelling and history of the craft, or becoming a co-learner by enabling student-led sessions.
Now that it has been almost an academic year since I joined Prakriya, I have personally seen a shift in some of the children. One of my students who was extremely kinesthetic now sits down for sustained durations and enjoys crafting. Many of the children have started to appreciate and gift handcrafted items to their family and friends. There is also a rejuvenated curiosity and enthusiasm in them to want to and explore newer crafts and ideas. Having been witness to these transformations around me has led to shifts within me as well.
Bhoomi has given me so many beautiful memories – the people, the space, the delicious food, the wilderness of Sharavathi and so many transformative experiences and insights. The detour that has crafted my life has now made me a Bhoomi co-traveller for life.
Smitha Vk is the founder of Hasthakala Creations and an alumna of Bhoomi College’s Holistic Education course.