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How A Workshop In Chennai Changed My Perspective On Democracy, Education, And Citizenship

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The Barefoot Academy of Governance facilitated a two-day experiential workshop on ‘Education, Democracy and Citizenship’ which took place in Chennai on 2nd and 3rd November 2019, supported by Teach For India (TFI), Chennai.

Welcome meet

The objective of the session was to understand the convergence within education, democracy and citizenship, and to experience “Dialogical Pedagogy” as a tool to expand our critical understanding of multiple converging and diverging themes within a collective.

Around 30+ participants attended the workshop. A majority of the group were TFI Fellows, TFI Alumni Chennai, TFI Alumni Hyderabad, professionals and members from Voice of People. The diversity of the participants enabled multiple layers of perspective to the dialogue and made the process thought-provoking and interesting.

Introduction to Koodam

After the initial warm-up and the color-chit-name exercise, Dr Suresh, Director Barefoot Academy of Governance started the session by saying , “World is a complex place and as a fellow co-participants let us all be in a journey — towards building our critical understanding of this place.” He introduced us to the concept of ‘KOODAM’.

He said, “Koodam is a place which recognizes difference, diversity and respects conflicts.”

These types of spaces can be found in almost all the communities across our country and Asia. He informed us that we are all co-owners of the space, and we create the space with our own values.

Exploring different dimensions through small group discussions.

During the process of exploration, I observed that it was difficult to express our feelings. Possibly, over the years, we were all schooled to reject our feelings, and slowly, we have mastered the art to suppress it and park it deep within. But then, the question was — is it even important to locate our feelings and express them? We live in a competitive and highly cognitive world, then why understand feelings? How will that help me or someone else?

One of our co-participants voiced, “I feel liberated when I express my feelings; it is not for anyone else, it is for me.”

Prof. Pradip Prabhu conducted an experiential exercise:  The Card Exercise! During this exercise, the majority of us showed some patent behavior — where we showed how we are conditioned to behave in the context of a group task. To our surprise, many of us kept the self-interest at a higher priority than group interest. We understood that we are schooled to think winning means — “I win”.

This exercise gave me an understanding of how I see the world, how I behave in this world, and why I behave the way I do. The current schooling system across different spaces our family, our school and our workspace actually propagate the idea that “Having is the mode of being, and our action and culture transforms to accumulate more and more.”

Later, an alternative meaning was shared:

“We win by receiving and giving we win by seeing others receiving and giving we win by making others win.” –  Pradip Prabhu

Attributes of Democracy, Education, and Citizenship.

Later in the evening, we all started exploring different dimensions of democracy, education, and citizenship. All of us expressed the current understanding of these three words, and what we aspire for. The next day, we got a collective understanding of these words and how these words intersect with each other. We went through multiple layers of dialogue, the back and forth arguments, the agreement — the disagreement, the never-ending ideas. And the words that poured out of us showcased the true essence of a democratic forum.

It was an amazing sight and an amazing space to be in!

Later on, we did a role play where all the participants were sub-grouped into various social categories and were asked the following questions”

A. What does education prepare your children for?
B. Looking at other groups, what is the difference?

C. What would you want in your school system vis-a-vis other groups?

We were also asked to think about factors like:

1. Allocation of resources
2. Quality of teachers, the difference in the quality of teaching and lastly,
3. What stand do you take in the case of reservations?

This exercise summed up all our learnings  and established an understanding of why we need to express our feelings, and why it is important to take a stand as we speak. It helped us understand what is the meaning of diversity, and how to engage in a diverse platform; how important is it to understand the social context and construct to express the need; what is equity in the context of education; what is democracy in the context of education; does everyone have a say in decision-making, and what kind of citizens are we building.

The critical engagement within such diverse social groups gave me the hope that there is a possibility that Koodam as a platform, and Dialogic Pedagogy as a tool, can enable diverse social groups to engage and solve each other’s problems democratically as a collective.

This powerful exercise left me with a lot more questions than before and gave me hope to begin a new journey of knowing and unknowing.

I thank each and every co-owner of the space for such a rich experience and exposure .  I walked out of the space feeling delighted, hopeful, energized.

Cheers.

Reflections:

Charu Govinda, Voice of People

“Let me take this moment to especially thank Suresh and TFI Chennai folks for letting a few of us from #VoiceOfPeople (VoP) team to join the workshop and become part of this wonderful space called Koodam.

We all joined the workshop as individuals with open minds rather than VoP members. And what an exciting and memorable experience it was!

Personally, it was a much-needed intervention at this point in my journey as a concerned citizen, and I’m too grateful for the opportunity to see/listen/understand/discuss/reflect with different flavors of interesting minds on the matters of concern and interest. Thanks to each one of you too for participating in the true spirit of Koodam, and hopefully we will be able to keep that spirit alive in us.”

Asra Fatima, TFI Alumni

“As part of the Hyderabad Koodam, I have seen how authentic dialogue plays out in different setups—group of teachers, a group of (teaching+non-teaching) staff, group of HMs.

It was inspiring to meet a group of parents (Voice of People) who stood up against an unfair decision taken by the school management for their children. The group continues to work towards spreading awareness about the need for ‘participating in democracy’. It re-iterates that it is definitely the people under attack who can make their situation better. It makes me feel hopeful about my journey ahead with the Hyderabad Koodam.

My line of thoughts continued to Day 2 with the discussion on the existence of the right to express in present-day India. After a long, confusing discussion, I realized that the right to express exists, but it’s not easy. The mere act of expressing will not qualify anything as the truth/as rightful.

I will have to hold my stance against all opposition. Am I willing to take all the pain?

Freedom exists. Am I afraid to pursue this freedom?

Is this fear causing me to deny the very existence of freedom?

I am thankful to the Chennai Koodam for the enriching for two days. It was amazing being part of another Koodam.”

Sreejith, India School Leadership Institute

“The name of the workshop was very intriguing, and that was one reason why I had signed up in the first place. The introduction of the speakers and the opening was something that I enjoyed personally. Mainly because most of the crowd was Teach For India and I was looking for people and spaces that would have other representation and voices as well.

Some of the perspectives shared put some of us in a tough spot, and it had raised the question of what are we really doing, and is there any need to make at least a small change in the work that we do. For me, the session was one where some of the questions that were deep in my head were pulled out and put out there. Unfortunately, the middle-class mentality has seasoned us to stay away and voice out things. I feel this is just a beginning on many rational discussions and debates for me to participate. I felt the concept of KOODAM could be a little alive, but due to some prejudice, many of us were playing a safe game. Still, a larger segment of people are just playing by the rules of the hegemony, even in our head. That’s what makes me sad; maybe that’s the battle I need to fight—not against the hegemony outside, but to educate people around me about the hegemony in their heads. Really delighted for the opportunity and looking forward to KOODAM spaces to collaborate.”

Dushyant, Entrepreneur

“You’ll know when you have a child”, my father used to say. I never thought that he was referring to anything beyond exasperation of managing a particularly naughty kid, while, all the while, he was trying to instill in me what a sense of duty tastes like. I grew up fairly privileged, hardly wanting for anything and never had to pledge allegiance to anything severe or shoulder unavoidable responsibilities. Whatever roles I discharged were done with a quaint amusement at having to exert and exhibit my skills, and not because there was something intrinsically sacred about it or deeply personal to me.”

I linger with words as above, dithering to express exactly the exaltation that I experienced this weekend to which the phrase “sense of duty” does justice. As I reflect, and freely use the word ‘I’ freed of modesty — of the happenings of this weekend, I cannot help smiling at this newly learned emotion: a sense of duty,  and it feels good! Simultaneously eliciting joy, sadness at the state of affairs, an ember of anger at the status quo, vexation with quiescence, yet, a glimmer of hope— relieving one from chains of righteousness and shattering an ego built on “giving”. It’s a mixed bag hard to describe yet tangibly experienced.

Hardly can one come to such an epoch in life with just reading. The elements of the workshop, the camaraderie of the fraternity engaged in a similar pursuit, incisive discussion on topics varied and vast, a collective synchronization of hope — all orchestrated masterfully by the duo, a guru-shishya (teacher-student) themselves, have dented a lasting effect on the psyche. I came out fully energized and in a daze-like mission-mode to take the further steps. I hope to switch in my priorities and the way I view certain things. I feel like I’m under immense debt to the two personas whose mere audience and proximity accorded new courage and motivation in me. A thank you would be simplifying the gratitude.

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