Adharshila Learning Centre is a unique school for adivasi children in Madhya Pradesh that views education as a tool for liberation...and a place of fun.

The Adharshila Learning Centre was started in 1998 by the Veer Khajiya Naik Manav Vikas Pratishthan.

The children have an active role in running the school.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Solar Prakash - Finally follows his heart


Prakash was one of the 32 adivasi kids, the first batch, who came to stay and learn at the Adharshila Learning Centre in 1998. I still remember him in his green shirt and knickers, sucking his thumb. Dark, short with bright eyes.

His flair for things mechanical came to the fore when we were going on a trip and found that the zip of our handbag was broken. Promptly some one in the crowd ( which was a permanent feature in the verandah, more so on a special occasion of our going) said, “ Prakash can do it”.  And in less than 10 minutes he did something and the zip was moving freely. 

At age 10 or 11 he was one of the children who had their own individual programs and did not follow the class routine. He went to class as and when he felt like. The main thing in his program was origami. He was a master at it. He was able to follow complex diagrammatic instructions of origami books and make things. We even contacted some friends to keep him as apprentice but didn’t work out. Besides learning origami he took a class in Adharshila on origami and also went to a Public School in Sendhwa to teach origami. But still sucking his thumb. In those days we tried to make individual learning programs for children, if they too agreed.

Prakash testing and repairing a solar lantern at Adharshila

He was a regular candidate for the model making for the annual function exhibition for parents. He was invariably in our house late nights helping in school chores, binding books, repairing kerosene stoves with Jayashree, watching me at the computer. He was the natural choice to help the guy who came to install the first solar panels at Adharshila or the electricians and plumbers who came to do fittings. Since then he became the local maintenance in charge. From this he graduated to changing bulbs, fuse wires, checking faults when some room didn’t have electricity which could be as often as every day. By the 10th grade(which he did as a pvt. Candidate) he was the Chief Electrician at Adharshila (of course there were limits to his fiddling).

By the time he was in 10th class he had apprenticed at many places - Takli Karyalaya, Dhule, Maharashtra to make a Solar Cooker. At Sampark, an NGO in Jhabua, MP, to learn about solar fittings, at the workshop at IIIT, Hyderabad, at a TV repair shop near his village. ... This is part of the philosophy of Adharshila to place children, according to their interests, in places where good work is happening. It is part of making children strong and as much a part of the learning pedagogy.

We already had a dream (like all foolish  parents) that how Prakash will be working to solve energy problems of the villages of his area when he grows up. How he will learn while working with the best people in the field of alternative energy. Accordingly we advised him to do ITI diploma after 10th as he was not being able to cope with science and math subjects. But this he refused due to the influence of a bright student, the unofficial mentor of most students whose main mission was to put everybody on the regular school track rather than follow one’s interests(which was the crux of our advise).After 10th he was at Adharshila through 12th and also in his first college year helping out at Adharshila while studying in the town. By now he had become more adventurous. His spirit of adventure overtook his skills and he was responsible for ruining many chargers, solar lamps, speakers, torches and we were wary of letting him handle such fancy stuff, alone. Learning, we consoled ourselves. Hadn’t we heard stories of discovers and scientists breaking clocks, radios and other home gadgets in their childhood ?

After school we again tried to convince him to pursue his interests by interning for longer periods at various organizations working in alternative energy, solar, mechanical workshops etc. We had a long plan for him for the next 3 years of non institutional learning through apprenticing. But now he wanted to experience college life and got admitted to the useless degree college of Sendhwa for a BA course which he hardly attended. (He didn’t take math in 12th as he couldn’t cope with it). By now we had learnt many lessons and understood what peer groups mean ! So we had become more resigned than disappointed.

Hey this was supposed to be an inspirational success story ? Wait. We are almost there.Anyway last year he went to Indore and got himself admitted to MA Hindi ! What ? Why ? Because his bosom friend was also going to Indore for the same course.. But thankfully in two months he realised that he was on a blind trail and when we asked him if we should look for some work for him in the areas he was interested in, he finally said yes. Vow. At last!!Now through friend of friend of friend we got in contact with the person who runs THRIVE, a company making solar lamps and like his name Prakash is now working with them for the last two months. We are keeping our fingers crossed. Will he stay ? more importantly will he go beyond soldering and master its science and engineering aspects also ? Will he be able to or inclined to use his skills more usefully than just for his livelihood ?
Prakash at THRIVE with Abhishek a 10th class student at Adharshila

There are other stories like this, and we hope they will keep happening but by no stretch this story can be said to be the genral story of children at Adharshila. This shows what we are striving for. This is what all schools should strive for. This shows that it is possible without a regular school, school books, in remote villages.. anywhere.

Its a very long journey. For us, its hope and patience. His journey has just begun. Most children don’t reach this point which may or may not come after 15years of schooling.  Can every child be like Prakash ? Can we build institutions which take out what the child has in him?