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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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What We Were Upto - October – December 2015

Rooting the school curriculum in the local adivasi culture has been an important concern for us. Use of the local Bareli language for smaller classes, the freedom to talk in their own language, singing folk songs are a routine part of school life of children here. Anniversaries of adivasi freedom fighters are also celebrated to re-enforce a sense of pride in the children about their society. This is important because the text books hardly tell anything about adivasi history.
Birsa Munda Jayanti
Children participated in the Birsa Munda Jayanti celebration held in Sendhwa. Acquainting children with Adivasi history is part of the formal and informal curriculum at Adharshila and is one of the key themes of the education programme. In school also children sing songs and enact stories based on the lives of Adivasi Freedom Fighters.

Indal is an adivasi ceremony performed by an individual or village on completion of a vow. The ceremony lasts the whole night. Branches of the Kadamb tree are erected and the village pujaara performs the rituals. Goats and hens are sacrificed. Villagers from many villages come to participate in the ceremony.
For the last three four years the stated machinery and Hindu religious organisations have been trying to change the Indal ceremony by saying that this is the Indra devata and no animal sacrifice should take place. They bring Brahmin purohits who do havans. This year they declared a big programme to make a temple of the Indra devata where the Chief Minister was also coming as the main guest.
The Adivasi Mukti Sangathan and other adivasi organisations held a meeting to raise awareness about the issue. The adivasi children from Adharshila prepared a play to show how the actual ritual is supposed to be performed with songs for the meeting.

Shivirs of senior children are a regular feature to discuss general interest topics, subject topics and art and craft. It has been seen that children become free in workshop mode and like to change the classroom format of learning.
·      History Shivir – The main purpose of this was to counter the mainstream narrative being spread about Muslims and to avoid misinterpretation of the history lesson on Mughals.
·      Kheti Shivir – This was four day shivir. The children went around the village talking to elders and farmers. They understood the importance of maintaining biodiversity in farming. They also learnt about traditional practices and seeds which are now lost.
·      Portrayal of women in children’s stories – The children were asked to critically examine the portrayal of women and girls in school texts and also other stories from the library. They also reflected on the status of women in their society during the shivir.
·      Lantern Making

A lantern making workshop was held before Diwali. This is gradually becoming a tradition as this was the third consecutive year. The senior children and teachers transfer the skill to the younger children.
Craft and Drawing Workshops
Many other craft and drawing workshops were conducted - Origami Workshop, Rangoli Workshop and Drawing Workshop
Nasha Mukti Diwas
A two day programme was held wherein each class did different activity – learnt songs, did a survey in the village to find the expense on liquour, heard stories of struggles to stop liquor shops and learnt about the ill affects of habitual liquour consumption.
World Food Day
Discussions were held around the theme of food security. Children were shown various types of millets. A lesson was made about millets in Hindi and English. Children took interviews of elders and came to know that people dont have most millet seeds.
Children are involved in all the work of the campus. Cleaning, cooking, farm, tending the cows and bulls, maintaining the gobar gas plant, cleaning solar panels, masonary repairs. Mainly this term children were involved in farm work. Some groups made their own plots and planted methi. The older children constructed steps on the entrance slope to stop the soil erosion.
Ten groups have been made and assigned different duties. There is a long list of ‘mantrees’ to look after various.

Farming Calendar
We reaped a bumper harvest of Louki. >5quintal froma 3 guntha plot
Worked on the calendar for 2016 on the theme of Farming. It became very tedious as we were not able to get good photographs. Many photographers didnt respond. At one point we left working on it as we were not sure about its sale as we decided that this year we will make it only if we get assured orders. It is still under the process and not sure if it will be printed. ..

Exercise-Play at Naatak Shivir, Pushkar, Rajasthan

The Naatak India Company directors were invited to do a theater workshop with youth in Rajasthan on the theme of child marriage. We conducted a seven day workshop during which the youth narrated their experiences through skits. The issue of child marriage was explored from various viewpoints and finally a play was made.
We are developing a new pedagogy for exploring real life issues based on the experience of the actors through theater – Explorations Through Theater.

·        Attended the SRUTI meet in Uttarakhand
·        Two day meeting to frame a response to the New Education Policy being promoted by MHRD. The meeting was organised Nayee Taleem Sangh, Wardha

Pro Reservation Rally
Reservation is a big issue for adivasi students. After the anti reservation stir in Gujarat and other places the adivasi students and other organisations took out a pro reservation rally in Barwani, the district headquarters. Teachers and ex students participated in  the programme.

Recognition of Work
The year end was an ego boost time. We were awarded the Mary Patil Smriti Puruskar by Mukt Shabd Prakashan, Mumbai and the Nayee Taleem Samiti, Wardha. It was an honour to speak in the same hall where Gandhiji held the first teacher training of Nayee Taleem teachers in Wardha.

An article was published in LiveMint in the special Giving Issue on Diwali - http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/hrgTu2CmdYZERoR1TaBc0M/The-school-on-the-hill.html
As a response to the article Adharshila received almost Rs. 1 Lakh in donations.
Another article was published in the Deccan Herald - http://www.deccanherald.com/content/517100/brightening-lives-tribals.html
News reports of the Award functions were published in Marathi newspapers –

Volunteers and Researcher
Three MA Education students from Azim Premji Institute. Besides teaching English, Math, Social Science and Science subjects they engaged the senior students in discussion on depiction of girls and women in stories which led to a general discussion on women in adivasi society. Another volunteer was teaching the Mughal Invasion chapter in History. We realised that the chapter was adding to the mainstream anti muslim narrative . This led to a lot of discussion and a workshop on the issue with children and the volunteers.
Another researcher stayed with us for a month to observe the behaviour of children for his PhD.
A friend from Sendhwa is helping in English teaching in the primary classes.

·        Rekha and Anil Kumar, Patna – to understand the Adharshila model before starting a school in Bihar.
·        Adivasi Teachers from Bhagwanpura tehsil of Barwani district to buy adivasi literature.
·        Friends from Gwalior
·        Rakesh, filmmaker from Barwani

·        Adivasi activists from Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Who Owns Adharshila ?

Adivasi Leaders with Adharshila children who showed them around.

The main question that confronted us at the beginning of the 2016 session was - 
Who owns Adharshila ?

Adharshila Learning Centre was started in 1998 with a very clear understanding that it has to be built and run with the support of the community through Adivasi organisations in the area. It was seen as part of a larger struggle of the Adivasis to improve their lives. We were clear that it could’nt be just a 'project' on the NGO pattern with it's life linked to the life of the project proposal. 

The beginning was made with very concious particiapation of the Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, an adivasi rights organisation, which decided to work for the education of adivasi children.   A Society by the name of an adivasi freedom fighter – ‘Veer Khaiya Naik Manav Vikas Pratishthan’ was registered which comprised mainly of adivasis.

Though money was sourced from outside to buy land but the materials for the initial buildings was collected locally by  the, Sangathan. People from many villages were mobilised to do ‘shramdaan’ to build a hall, kitchen and a house. Hundreds of people participated in the construction work. The people of Sakad, the village where Adharshila is situated, worked at night to dig the foundations. Khumsingh a senior kaaryakarta of Adivasi Mukti Sangathan stayed at the site for almost a month to overlook the construction.

Meetings were held to discuss the curriculum which ‘Our School’ should follow. Most people felt that farming, animal husbandary, primary health etc. should be part of the curriculum. That children should learn about adivasi culture and be allowed to use mother tongue in school were other concerns. These discussions happened at a basic level and did’nt develop to deeper understanding of educational issues as the regularity of meetings was an issue.

The people who put their children in the first year were mostly kaaryakartaas who had a clear understanding that this was not going to be a normal school. Children will be allowed to learn at their own pace, learning while exploring the surroundings and definitely not confined to classrooms. They also said that we will not put our children in Govt. jobs. These children will grow up to work for the upliftment of the society. Idealism was high.

One thing was very clear that this was an Adivasi School being built by adivasi and its curriculum will also be different taking into account the life, culture and problems of adivasis. A curriculum for social change was key to the concept of the school.

Over the years we made many attempts to involve the community leaders and parents in the running of the schools. As we have said in the beginning most parents were kaaryakartaas or community leaders so they were motivated to do something. Though many committees were formed and consultations and meetings held but no proper system came out of it. The relationship of the karyakartaas with the sangathan affected their relation with the school. Coming for meetings regularly from long distances was a problem. The main thing was that nobody had any experience of running a school. It didnt occupy an important enough space in their minds to make extra efforts. They thought that running the school was for the literates and what could they contribute to it.

The Sangathan leaders also somehow did’nt undrestand the importance of this work in their larger work of societal change. Hence they kept themselves at a distance. Partly it was desired also that they dont meddle in the daily affairs as we were wary that it might develop into an employer – employee relation with the teachers and other staff. But the expectation that they will keep in touch with children and devise an institutional sysem to manage the problems of the school didnt happen. Whenever there was a problem we approached the kaaryakartas and mostly the problems were solved. It worked at this level but a system didnt evolve where in regularly the kaaryakartas would meet to discuss the problems of the school.

Running an institution means lot of dirty work like collecting fees, mobilising more funds. Looking for teachers was also one main agenda as we realised that most adivasi students who had passed school did not want to stay in the village and the renumeration that we were giving was very low as this was seen more as working for the society rather than a job. Mainly their participation was sought in financial matters after the initial meetings about the philosophy of the school, curriculum etc.

The admission process was totally done through the kaaryakartas. This was one thing where they could exercise some power and participated enthusiastically. But refusing a child became a presige issue sometimes.

After the first three four years we somehow abandoned this process as it was not taking any real shape. But once a year we insisted and got the Sangathan Karyakartaas to stay the night with the parents on the Annual Day. They saw the work of the students through a very elaborate exhibition and also saw children perform on the stage. The school year, problems, challenges ahead were discussed. It became a general body meeting where everybody voiced their concerns heard the report and left the school to us and the teachers.

Another aspect of involving the community to run the school was to develop a team of adivasis who would run it – teaching, administrative, fund raising, everything. This by and large is happening, though there is a lot of scope for improvement. A lot of effort has been put in into this. Due to lack of funds we function with very skeletal staff and this means that there is a lot of load and diverse responsibilities on the same people. It is difficult for them to do multitasking with diverse types of things ranging from class preparation to farming, to looking over the kitchen, health etc. But the school runs on the shoulders of this team. Fund raising is one thing which they are not doing on their own though they have tried their hand at it.

One great thing that has happened over the years is that children are fully involved in running the school. It is not just the weekly newspaper or fortnightly 'swashaasan' meetings where they freely air their views about the problems in the school but they do a lot of work required to keep the school going on a daily basis from cleaning the campus, rooms, cooking, farming, looking after the cow, operating the floor mill, maintaining electricity and myriads of things that come up.

Inspite of the active role of children and teachers in running the school the question of the ultimate ownership of the school hangs in the air. This year we revived the discussion of ownership with the local adivasi organisation.

A meeting of Adivasi leaders was convened at Adharshila in April 2015 to discuss the question. About 25 leaders from Maharashtra, Gujrat and Madhya Pradesh came to attend the meeting.
After a tour of the school activities given by the students and observations by various leaders associated with Adharshila Learning Centre it was resolved that –
  •         Adharshila Learning Centre could serve as one of the models to develop Learning Centres for adivasi children.
  •         That there is need for centres like Adharshila Learning Centre
  •         It should be upscaled so that more children can benefit from the effort.
  •      Funds for running the school should be raised primarily through friends in the community and outside.
  •         The number of children should be increased by 25 every year.
  •        A committee to look after the work of Adharshila was formed by the name of Adharshila Vikas Samiti
  •         The Samiti would raise a fund of Rs. 5 Lakh for doing additional arrangement for increased number of children.
  •      Two more meetings were held with the committee members to get into the habit. Some small efforts at fundraising have been started by individual members. It has been decided to suggest to the organising committee Adivasi Mahasammelan to donate  the  that extra food material and fuelwood to Adharshila.

The Challenges Ahead
  •    To routinise the meetings of the Adharshila Vikas Samiti
  •    To involve ex students in the school committe and other programmes.
  •    Establishing the Samiti as the main body responsible for the growth of the school
  •    Create a sense of ownership amongst members of the Samiti and the team at Adharshila.
  •   Create awareness amongst the committe members and Adivasi leaders about the issues involved in the Education Debate and defining a curriculum.
  •     Strengthening the team at Adharshila – teamwork, innovation and creativity, total involvement in work, taking hard decisions.
  •    Get some experienced people to stay at Adharshila.
  •   Fund raising through these committees.