Masti Ki Paathshala — Concept Note
Conventional education and institutions that we call school today are beset with a lot of problems — use of force and fear to get work done, curbing curiosity, age based division, etc. The list is long. Those who are interested to read about these problems, and what could be the possible solutions, could read through these 2 blogs:
- Memoirs of a dropout teacher (Part 1) — An insider’s view of conventional schools
2. Memoirs of a dropout teacher (Part 2)
In order to overcome these problems, I am keen to start learning spaces called ‘Masti ki Paathshala’ where children can simply be themselves and learn what, when and how they want to learn. These learning spaces will be situated in the rural areas which is where I feel education is most needed. The endeavour is to run this parallel to the conventional education system and one day pose as a serious rival to the conventional system. While the immediate goal is to provide children with a friendly learning environment where skills will take precedence over theoretical learning, this venture has 3 larger long term goals:
- Leveraging the energy of the youth — Children and young adults have immense energy, which needs to be channelized in the right direction. It is unfortunate that a lot of our youth cannot realize their potential simply because they are not adequately skilled, which is both a personal and a national loss. This latent energy can be used for solving a lot of the problems that exist in the villages today.
- Livelihoods — Ensure that the young do not, per force, have to migrate to cities in search of livelihood. In fact, it is this migration that sucks the oxygen — the energy of the youth — out of all rural development.
- Development of a scalable replicable alternative education model — As mentioned above, force and fear are widely used tools in schools. Both fear and force lead to negative emotions such as anxiety, jealousy, arrogance, violence, etc. Therefore, it shall be our endeavour to develop an alternative education model which is child friendly and which one day could hopefully replace or parallel the model that we have today.
Concept — cornerstones of our learning model
- Hallmark of democracy
It is quite ironic that while conventional schools claim to produce responsible democratic citizens, their functioning is anything but democratic. To avoid this dichotomy, our schools shall be a hallmark of democracy — a place where children will have as much say as the adults. The schools will be governed by committees which shall consist of both adults as well as children. Each member will have one vote.
2. Learning based on problem solving
While we wish to establish learning spaces and spread education in rural areas, the larger vision behind these schools is to use them as institutions for development in the rural areas and beyond. The model of learning will be based on problem solving. Effectively, the students would be actively engaged in solving problems prevalent in the village and beyond. In this manner, not only will they further their own learning but also solve problems facing society. For children residing in rural areas who have faced neglect for generations and have lost all hope, this would be a great confidence booster. For instance, for running a communication campaign in a city, they will have to learn English, web development and communication skills. Thus, learning will be interdisciplinary in nature. Problems that the children could work on could be:
- Anti-smoking campaign in the village.
- Introduction of organic farming in the village.
- Setting up of co-operatives in the village.
- Setting up of a rural BPO.
- Waste management.
- Electrification, especially using renewable sources of energy.
- Taking up problems outside the village. These will of course require logistic arrangements and will therefore require greater planning.
Not only will this solve problems in the village, it will also expose the children to varied experiences. Conventional education, by being so detached from reality, gives the children no idea of their passions and interests. As a result, a lot of people spend their entire lifetime leading purposeless lives. By engaging children in ‘hands on’ work, they should be able to discover their raison d’etre. They could then take up that livelihood in their adult life.
3. Complete freedom to the child
Unlike most other people, we trust our children. We believe that children are responsible and have the capability to structure their own learning. In fact, learning is most effective when:
· It happens in an organic fashion, ie, the child learns when s/he is ready to pick up that particular bit of information / knowledge.
· The child takes ownership of the process, rather than it being forced on him / her.
· The child has the space and the freedom to pace their own learning.
· The child has the space and the freedom to decide what and when they want to learn.
This model of learning is not only more effective but is completely absent of all the violence that happens in conventional schools.
4. No curriculum, tests, marks
As mentioned above, we trust our children and believe that they have the ability to organize their own learning. Therefore, there will be no curriculum, tests and therefore no marks. Once these disturbing elements of the education process are done away with, children are relieved of all the burden and therefore should learn more effectively. Such an environment puts the child in the driver’s seat and would instill in him / her the confidence that is required for achieving their dreams. This happy and joyful environment should yield more peaceful, joyous and balanced adults.
What we will have is a lot of talking and discussion. We will have a lot of writing, though none of it would be graded. We will have lots of workshops. Democracy being one of our cornerstones, all these activities would be optional. Since the children would be exposed to books, computers and the internet and varied experiences and activities, we believe that the desire to learn the 3Rs — Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic would emanate from within and would not have to be forced on them. Of course, while a child would learn to read and write in the conventional system from the age of 3 or 4, our children may learn to read and write much later. However, various research studies have shown that no such difference is visible by the time children reach the age of about 13 or 14.
Those children who would be keen to pursue higher studies would be offered the option and the help required to write the Open School examinations in Grade X and XII. In line with our underlying philosophy, these exams also would not be compulsory. Whether a child wishes to write these exams or not would solely depend on the wishes of the child.
5. Centre of Excellence model
While I am not really concerned about scale, I would be unhappy if all that we did was set up one school. That would be doing a disservice to our talents. Therefore, I am looking at opening up schools in various villages in a particular region. Given this, it would be a challenge to keep salary costs down and find so many suitable teachers and yet deliver quality education. To overcome this problem, a Centre of Excellence model could be experimented with. Each school would specialize in one or a limited number of skills. For example, we could have a music school, a dance school, etc. All the children in the region interested in learning these skills could enroll in these schools. Of course, this model would impose certain other additional costs such as boarding and lodging.
Alternatively, we may have the facilitators situated in a hub school who could then move around the entire region. Since we would want to get the model for the first school right, therefore these issues would be dealt with only at a later stage. For the time being, the endeavour would be to find suitable ‘managers’ who would facilitate the learning of children in the hub school.
- Will parents send their children to Masti ki Paathshala?
Our hunch is that while the children will love what we have to offer, the parents will have a lot of reservations about our model, given that there is no natural progression, no exams, no curriculum, etc. Therefore, the first few months will be crucial for us to demonstrate the benefits our learning model in very tangible terms.
2. What will a usual day be like?
While we all love freedom, it is not easy to handle freedom. It is always easier when things are structured and we are told what needs to be done. Therefore, it will be a challenge for the children to structure their own learning. More so, it will be a challenge for the facilitators to ensure that there are adequate books, equipment, access to the internet, games, activities, so that the children can occupy themselves through the day. Having said so, unlike in conventional education, it is not our endeavour to ensure that the children are occupied through the day. Development of free thinking requires plenty of unstructured time, during which the child could simply wander away into ‘dreamland’. After all, Archimedes made his discovery in a bathtub and Newton under an apple tree.
3. Logistic arrangements
We want our children to travel and explore, to solve problems in the village and beyond. All this will require logistic arrangements and significant funding. On the flip side, some of these projects may actually become income generating activities.
4. Problems posed by the State
It is quite possible that children undertaking projects could be viewed as child labour. This could be further compounded by the fact that these children will not be going to a conventional school.
The first school would be located in a village called Bhanwata, situated in the Thanagazi Block of the Alwar District, about 75 kilometres from Jaipur. The village can be approached via the Jaipur Delhi Highway, and is about 260 kilometres from Delhi. Bhanwata is a small village with a population of about 500 people, including 100–150 school going children. While Bhanwata has a Government school uptil Grade 8, and a Bodhshala (run by the Bodh Shiksha Samiti) that caters to children uptil Grade 5, quality of education is far from desirable. We are presently scouting for land in the village.
Funding / revenue model
Capital cost of setting up the school
The capital cost of setting up the school would be met through donations from individuals. While we will approach institutions, we are skeptical of institutions contributing for the following reasons:
- Due to the unconventional nature of our education model, it is unlikely that an institution would want to fund the construction cost.
- Due to the lack of operational history and therefore credibility, an institution may be unwilling to provide any funding, at least initially.
- More so, we would want individuals to contribute towards the setting up of the learning spaces, since we want more and more individuals to engage with rural India and with the poor.
Teachers’ salary and other running costs would also be funded through donations and institutional funding at a later point in time. While we may charge a small fee, given that most parents may not be economically well off, we would have to rely on donations from individuals.
So as of now, it is evident that this is pretty much a model that relies on funding from individuals, which could be both unreliable and volatile. Over time, we would have to seek institutional funding. All effort would be made to tap into CSR funding. At the same time, other models would have to be generated to raise funding. This could include students (with assistance from faculty and mentors from industry) themselves engaging in some trade and commerce which could help fund the school. This is also in line with our pedagogy — learning by doing.