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Thursday, September 6, 2007

An invitation to become a partner in the Education

An interesting educational experiment is taking shape in a corner in rural Western Madhya Pradesh. The Bhils, Bhilalas & Barelas who inhabit this region are part of the country’s indigenous population. Even today most villages of the region suffer from lack of electricity, water, access roads, education, medical facilities etc.

The best land has been lost to non-adivasi/tribal settlers. From a forest based & marginalized agricultural economy; they are either becoming a wage based economy where the forest and land base have eroded. In places where agriculture has ‘developed’ (irrigation) they are getting into cash crops where the remuneration depends on the market. Administrative corruption is rampant. Exploitation of adivasi/tribal communities continue by petty officials, liquor traders & moneylenders. The forest amidst which they have lived a life of dignity has been denuded thanks to a century of commercial exploitation by the state. As a result the soil is eroding rapidly and migration to nearby cities is a common annual phenomenon.

Cash crop farming in the name of agricultural development, is pushing the farmers to debt traps and creating infertility of soil, due to the increased dependence on electricity, water, chemical fertilizers, pesticides & multi national company seeds.

‘Education’ has also brought in a change in lifestyle for those who have gone through school. The main opportunity this has offered is of government jobs in the lower rung of beauracracy. Very few are able to make it to senior government jobs or medicine, engineering etc. Civil services have also remained elusive. With the increased interactions with the market & mainstream society everything from clothes, attitudes, value systems, likes, dislikes, social structure, culture, housing, everything even the gods are changing!

One of the roles of education as we understand is to help people understand & cope with these changes or enable to chose or guide the path of these changes to whatever extent possible. We give the example of the sieve. Education must provide the mind a sieve to judge, what to keep & what to throw rather than giving ideas to follow the path blindly.

Primary education in the villages present a dismal scene. Many of the state schools in adivasi/tribal villages exist only on paper. Teachers seldom perform their duties, preferring instead to draw their salaries from the comfort of their homes. Even in schools where teachers arrive sober than drunk, the standard of teaching is abysmal. The curriculum bears no relation to the life of the children. The language & the concepts are unfamiliar. Learning is mechanical & is laced with brutal punishments. Students end up been alienated from their culture & villages and also grow up lacking in self esteem, self confidence, creativity & social awareness and also this type of education makes the educated youth feel that the only option in life is to swell the ranks of the unemployed competing for jobs that are increasingly unavailable.

More than 90% children who start school are branded as failures on the way to the 12th class. As a result there are thousands of children who have no opportunity to get even basic education. Obviously the fault lies with the education system and not with these 90% children.

We are convinced that education is a fundamental key to long-term transformation. We are convinced that education is one of the biggest weapons of change. A society was registered after the name of Veer Khajiya Naik, a freedom fighter of the area in 1998, in the name of Veer Khajiya Naik Manav Vikas Pratisthan. (The Satpura hills in Khandesh, inhabited by the Bhils & Naik tribes have been a turbulent area since time immemorial. For the safe passage of armies & trade the conquest of this part of Khandesh was crucial for all rulers with imperial designs as the main routes linking the south & the north parts of the country passed though this area. The brunt of these battles were faced by the Naiks & Bhils in terms of devastation of forests, agriculture & the loss of their hereditary rights. Veer Khajiya Naik was one amongst them. He posed the biggest threat to the British during the first war of independence in 1857. He along with 3000 men & women waged war against the British & gained control of the Shendwa -Shirpur section of the Agra – Mumbai national Highway. The British killed him in 1858. Khajiya is still worshipped by the tribals as a symbol of strength.)

Aims of the Education/Learning Programme

The aim, content & method of education is been redefined to help the adivasi/tribal children to realise their full creative potential & develop into socially aware & responsible adults, capable of leading their community on to new paths of community based & ecologically sustainable development.

To impart not just basic, but quality education; relevant & meaningful to the community’s collective life and helping the child to fulfil his/ her aspirations in life.

To equip the children with knowledge & skills while fostering a wider social awareness and a willingness to make personal sacrifices. And most importantly to make learning a very enjoyable experience.

To develop self confidence & self respect.

To learn how to learn & what to learn.

To stimulate the interest & curiosity to know & learn about new things.

To develop the creative potential of the children.

To be able to communicate orally & in writing.

To be able to make sense out of numbers.

To develop a synthesis of traditional wisdom & modern science.

Impart values, which help children face the challenges of the new world & to grow up with a sense of justice.

To document the traditional knowledge, history & culture.

To develop a new health system based on modern science & traditional knowledge.

To develop ecologically sustainable farming methods that is low cost & suitable for small land holdings in the region.

To develop new thinking based on gender equality.

To instil strong secular beliefs & respect for all the religions & their history.

To question existing superstitions in society.

To learn, understand the beauty of music & dance.

The dreams & hopes are actually endless, when we dream for a better world.

Dreams apart, we are also rooted in to our present. The behaviour & reactions of seemingly educated & civilised people during communal riots, the ongoing war in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, the conspicuous consumption, rampant poverty, degradation of the ecology & environment & disrespect for the millions of flora & fauna which co-exist with us in this universe in exchange for short term goals have raised very serious questions, besides others about our educational system-formal (school/college etc) & the informal (society & other influences).

What have we taught our children? Or what is that we couldn’t teach them? Is violence, intolerance, selfishness, conspicuous consumption a natural out come of our schooling? Is there anyway to influence the society towards rational thinking? What kind of values do we want to inculcate to build a strong, fearless but non-violent society? How does one impart values & a sense of justice? Has schooling become irrelevant as far as imparting values or making good citizens is concerned? These are serious questions which all of us concerned about our future & our children should address & not just leave it to politicians & governments.

We realise that the market forces, media, & societal influences are very strong forces shaping the behaviour of children & adults. It is very difficult to fight these forces. We have seen these forces overtaking the influence of the school many a time.

We have also seen the difficulty that most parents & teachers have in understanding & accepting new ideas. Probably much, much more effort & time is needed.

All these events reinforce the fact that education is not about books & exams. It is tragic that we have reduced it to literacy. The worst part is that the parents are so greatly influenced by the mainstream education that it is very difficult to convince them that there can be an alternative to what goes by the name of education today. To be true, as of now there are no alternatives. More so, if our lives after school are going to be determined by paper qualifications then there is no recognition of talent, skill or intellect with out paper qualifications.

It is this dilemma & lack of real options in life that has forced us into a dual system of giving board exams on one hand for recognition & following a different curriculum to try & be relevant in between. Constantly our nerves are on the tenterhooks & we keep biting our nails comparing them with city kids & wondering what will happen.

To create an alternative for others is one thing, but trying to practice it is a different ball game altogether. There are a lot of theories about these issues but very little of it has been practiced. There are many practical difficulties in preaching freedom & trying to run a child centred school with which we are grappling with daily.

The teachers/felicitators also have doubts about new ways of dealing with children. Many times they feel threatened. So it is a very big learning experience for all of us.

To develop this alternate educational model a residential school Adharshila Shikshan Kendra (Adharshila Learning Centre), Shendwa (Shendwa is situated on the Agra – Mumbai highway is one of the biggest cotton mandi (market) in the area), was started in 1997/98, to run the education programme.

The school uses creative & stimulating experiential methods, to make learning a pleasure & develop a spirit of inquiry amongst the children. Teacher/ felicitator training & development of teaching material is also done in Adharshila.

Your Support

Funds for the schools are raised from various sources. The running costs of schools are taken out through non-institutional sources. A fee is charged from the children in the form of cash or grain. Many times the parents help by voluntary labour or building material. Friends pitch in with donations & sponsorships @Rs 6000/- per child. For capital expenditures we have taken institutional funding. Our emphasis is on raising funds from individuals as this provides an opportunity for people to get associated with this work & they can contribute in other ways too.
We would like you actively participate in this project & make it a success.

You can help the adivasi/tribal children’s education programme in many ways

Be a volunteer with us for whatever period you want, to share your skills with the children.

A contribution of Rs. 6000/- a year will look after the full expenses of one child’s education. (Cheques / DD’s should be made in favour of ‘Veer Khajiya Naik Manav Vikas Praristhan’) Donations of any amount on any special occasion in your family will go towards infrastructure building.

Books for the library (In English or in Hindi)

Educational aids, games etc

Stationary materials (including computer stationary), Colours etc

By spreading the word & involving your friends in this effort.

By buying & promoting the various hand made products which the children have been making for fund raising like cards, jute bags, cell phone covers, etc

For further information about this new initiative in education &learning please visit us at http://adharshilak.tripod.com/adharshila.html or contact us at:

Contact persons:

Jayashree/ Amit (+91) 07281 283221 (Shendwa) (+91) 9425981606

(+91) 011 22541930 (New Delhi)

Postal Address:

Adharshila Learning Centre,
Village : Sakad, P.O. Chaatli,
Via: Shendwa, District: Badwani, Madhya Pradesh. India.Pin: 452 666.


Anonymous said...

it was unique experience to tour adharshila learning centre. it was great movement to see adharshila work online. keep it up. This project will help thousands of small booming buds to grow lovely flower.
pravin (Sruti) and Rupali

Adharshila Learning Centre said...

Thanx Pravin & Rupali