By Praharsh Patel
It was a Sunday evening when I, along with my parents and my sister Mukti, who is pursuing her final component of PhD thesis on ‘Attrition of Teachers’, was enjoying a holiday out in our balcony. I was watching the movie The Summerhill. It is a story about the Summerhill School in England that was established by Prof AS Neil and is the first democratic education school that began with the intention to provide a way within an education system that works to develop young kids in areas of their interest, and at the same time, giving them full liberty to explore and experiment in an open field without binding them to restrictions of classrooms and books.
Mukti, while writing her thesis, suddenly paused and exclaimed,
“The current education system has made slaves out of kids. Knowledge is sidetracked by marks and grades. Learning is conquered by burden. Students’ interests are built around their parents’ will. What’s worst, everything is valued in terms of money where societal values themselves have no worth. My field research shows that none of the four pillars of the current education system — students, teachers, parents and school management — are happy with the way education is being propagated in private schools. Students are unhappy as they are taught and forced to learn things they don’t want to learn. Parents are unhappy as their kids are not “successful” even after spending almost all their earnings and savings. Managements have difficulty in managing the expectations of teachers as well as parents. Teachers are in a miserable condition as they are forced to show “results” over actual incarnating values and interests in students.”
She looked at her 3-year-old son Sattva, who was playing happily with his grandparents, and sighed away.
Being a firm believer in burden-less education and the importance of one developing their profession out of interest, Mukti has great faith in democratic education. Her stern belief also got me to explore more about democratic education. Being an easy goer, I was watching the movie The Summerhill to explore the idea of democratic schooling. When the movie ended, I asked Mukti, “Can we try this concept here in India?” This was enough to spark the ever-enthusiastic Mukti, who decided her goal post PhD. There was a long way to make this dream of an alien and free way of education to get accepted and trusted in our society that has defined students as kids who sits in a classroom and reads books.
After a long struggle of debating with experts, convincing our own parents about our idea, building a team to work with, finding a suitable place to start, and getting parents and students who trust the democratic education, we finally founded our school in Bhuj, Kutch, on 14th June, 2019. We were not just inaugurating a school, but also accepting how each child is special and has the right to make their way to success.
The school kickstarted with the first cohort in June, and have had a great journey to date. Many experts, professionals, educators etc. have contributed towards shaping the first year of curriculum and developing minds, skills and interest of kids. There are many questions about how to make the system full proof and sustainable. These questions are yet to be answered. Having reflected on our school’s one year of development and brainstormed a few questions with education experts, below are a few highlights of our discussion.
Education is meant for us to learn about your own self — to understand our interests, disinterests, liking, disliking, expertise, drawbacks, etc. When education gives a chance not only to understand your own self but also to develop your own self, then it is democratic education. It is a realisation where everyone has the liberty to develop themselves and everyone is equal.
Multiple detailed discussions and debates on the curriculum of a democratic school, child psychology, activities, and many more things defined ‘Prayaas: The Democratic School’. Democratic Education is the education of one’s own choice, where students have the liberty to learn things they find of their best interest and in a way that is of best interest to them. This is a way of education where a student has the liberty to explore, and develop his path and career as per his interests.
In short, “Democratic Education is an education system where kids get their own identity, they identify their competencies, get an environment to help them flourish in their own interest, and respect the freedom of others. As a result, they develop themselves, their families and society as a whole.”
Democratic education cannot be implemented until all stakeholders (students, teachers, parents and management) are equally associated with the decision-making. The best way to learn is to associate one’s self with nature and the democratic school cannot stay stand-alone without nature. Students shall behave, understand and obey equality, respect and liberty. It is essential to understand that everyone has the right to fulfil their dreams. For democratic education to be effective, teachers should be facilitators, and not be authoritarian in their teaching. They shall continuously evolve and learn new things.
The involvement of all strata of society is a must in order to make students aware of righteous societal norms as well as have an understanding of what is right and what is wrong. The way to deliver knowledge shall not be bookish or have monologues. Students learn well through involvement in projects.
All students shall be self-motivated to learn and shouldn’t have to force themselves into knowledge overload. Every person has different abilities and ways of learning. The democratic education is accommodative of different personalities and ways of being. There has to be a frequent exchange of thoughts in form of awareness sessions and expert collaborations to broaden our perspectives.
Humans are less inclined towards democracy, and autocracy has a major role to play in their decision-making. Introducing democracy in education is far more difficult than the society out there. Here, lack of morality and discipline are major factors against the success of democratic education. And contrary to the centralisation of power, schools shall be decentralised as much as possible so that they have the liberty to develop their own curriculum, activities and engagement students.
Teachers are the key to successful implementation of democratic education. Hence, utmost importance has to be given to teachers’ training and help them align themselves with their goals. Another challenge can be how to bifurcate students according to their levels of understanding.
Finance and trust are the two main aspects of sustaining a school. Finances can be managed through innovative fundraising or fees, but the most important thing is building and maintaining trust. There shall be a continuous loop of information exchange among all four stakeholders. Openness, feedback and visibility of learning are important ways to build strong trust. To sustain anything in the long run, the start or base shall be firm. A democratic school can only be sustainable if it has a firm base and strong foundation.
‘Prayaas: The Democratic School’ is being built by keeping the above key aspects in mind as core values. The school is challenging the orthodox way of teaching and learning, and envisions creating better citizens in the future.