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Sunday, January 31, 2016

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.


Shantanu said...

The journey so far appears to be a job very well done. To survive for 18 years itself is an achievement, I can relate to it.

It will be a pleasure to get involved. I'm an ex banking professional from Mumbai. For almost 4 years, we've been staying on the farm. After experiments, we bought land between Bhopal and Jabalpur two years back. Our children aged 10 and 7 are being homeschooled.

I'd like to get in touch asap.