INNOVATORS IN SHIKSHA: INTERVIEW WITH PANKAJ PUSHKAR

By Fatema C <fatema@sambhaavnaa.org>

Shri Pankaj Pushkar, is an Indian political leader and deschooled ex-MLA. He represented the Timarpur constituency of Delhi during the period of 2015–2020. He has been an explorer of Gandhian Buniyadi Taleem along with being an educator of Political Science for the past 16 years. He has also been involved in co-authoring of the NCERT books on Political Science.

Listening to Pankaj ji was like a song of philosophy. Creativity Adda has been a major breakthrough in the metamorphosis of his life. He is a happy and cheerful soul who seeks to live life to the fullest. As I ended my conversation with Pankaj Ji, he blissfully sings the song:

“Aaj kal paau zameen par nahi padte mere, (I soar high in the sky these days)

Bolo dekha hai kabhi, tumne mujhe udte hue” (Tell me if you have ever seen me flying)

Pankaj ji, please share about your personal journey with alternative education?

Most of my childhood went by self-learning. I was lucky to grow in a family of simple people yet progressive thinkers. My father used to manage a small school named Bal Bharti in Gajraula in Amroha district of Uttar Pradesh. Once the school management meeting was going on in my house while I was playing. The discussion was about the school library. Suddenly my father turned to me and asked, “Bittoo/Pankaj, what do you think? Shall we do it this way?” I was humbled. The fact that my opinion mattered shaped my personality eventually. My father had a child-led approach towards education. We had books on Kashinath Trivedi, Zakir Hussain, Gijubhai Badheka, Gandhiji, Tagore, Lohia and Maria Montessori in our home library and I was consistently encouraged to engage with them.

Bal Bharti was a non-registered primary school. So I didn’t have a certificate when it came time to join secondary school. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. I got a gap year for more than 6 months as no school would accept me without a certificate. This was my first experience with the cold bureaucracy of the education system.

Some of my family members were politically inclined so discussions around politics were common in my house. I would say from 1984 onwards my journey was influenced by the social and political happenings of the country. I realized that the school system was not preparing children to become a responsible citizen or a good human being. Gandhiji’s Nai Taleem started making sense to me that education is ‘the moral cultivation of a person’; it is not just about crafts or charkha. My first public activism was as a volunteer for an eye donation research foundation. These varied experiences were good enough to help me understand that the right kind of education is something fundamentally different from what schooling was trying to impose.

For my daughter, I was looking for a community that aligns with my vision of education; people that are bringing these ideas into practice and help in raising conscious children. I found the Research Centre for Integral Education and Human Values called “Mirambika” that is situated at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi. It was a free progress school based on the philosophy that each individual comes into life with an evolutionary purpose and corresponding potentialities: educating means drawing out this potential.

I believe that the real education lies in the chemistry of the relationship between one seeker’s heart and another seeker’s heart. The process and possibility of that communion is real education. Education is not the name of a book or a subject or a syllabus. The question arises if this relationship is possible in our current schooling system? Do our government school teachers have the freedom and interest to connect with the children in a free and organic manner?

Why did you start the Creativity Adda in Mukherjee Nagar School?

My search for the right kind of education and child rights was on for many years prior. I was aware of the initiatives of Shikshantar Andolan and was regularly following their Swapathgami and Vimukt Shikha Newsletters.

In 2015, I started working as the MLA for the constituency of Timarpur where Delhi University is situated. As a legislator, I was a member of every School Management Committee in my area. I had seen that Creativity Adda was already successful at the Commercial School in Dariya Ganj. So I decided to meet Manish Jain and Ashish Tiwari with the possibility of starting Creativity Adda at a Timarpur location.

The government school in Mukherjee Nagar was the most ill-reputed. Complaints like children throwing stones, fighting with each other and often getting into physical altercations were common. Around 2000 residents petitioned the directorate of education for the closure of that school. We took the challenge of starting the Adda in this government school with permission from the administrative and political leadership of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

I started Creativity Adda there with the hope of channelizing students’ energies in the right kind of activities and to help demonstrate that it is possible to build a more robust platform for deep learning in government schools. Aam Admi Party has been trying to build a platform for innovation in the education system in Delhi and I wanted to add to this effort by bringing in other dimensions.

How do you think Creativity Adda nurtures the growth and learning process of children? What makes it unique?

First and foremost, Creativity Adda caters to government school children who don’t have privileges of adequate support to nurture the talents hidden within. Many of the efforts in innovative and holistic education in our country are mainly available to the well-off sections of society.

As we have experienced from past efforts, sporadic extracurricular activities can not build children’s confidence in self-designed learning. Adda offers a space for daily practice and dedication. This is critical for developing deeper skills and understanding and having the time to work on meaningful projects.

Third, there are 5 learning hubs like Community Media Lab, where kids learn photography, graphic designing and filmmaking. There is another hub Slow Food Junior Chef Academy where kids learn to cook new recipes and to love exploring food and farming. In the Design Studio and Makerspace, kids learn skills like robotics and arduino, carpentry, upcycling, sewing, repairing electrical products and the list never ends. In Sports and Fitness hub, children learn skating, table tennis, carrom, badminton and more than anything else, the art of being. Recently, children in the Music and Dance Academy have started learning sound editing, recording and sound engineering on GarageBand with Mac computers. And we keep adding new opportunities all the time. These hubs have emerged following the interests of students.

There is no imposed curriculum here to bind or constrain the child. They are free to explore as many areas as they want for 3–4 daily hours after school timings. They are encouraged to move outside of the four walls of schooling and start seeing the world as their real classroom.

Lastly, at Creativity Adda, the relationship between the child and the facilitator is the most vital aspect of the flourishing environment. Like my father did with me, the facilitators ask the kids for their opinions and their ideas for what they want to learn and explore together. There is a lot of trust that has been cultivated in the Adda. We see the children against whom complaints were common in the local area are now becoming self-disciplined and pursuing their interests diligently.

What is the impact of the project? Please share some inspiring stories of the Creativity Adda.

Creativity Adda is a space that nurtures the hidden possibilities of every child. I am sharing a few stories, but many other stories are blooming everyday in the garden of CA.

I would begin with my hero Golu who comes from a challenging background. He was just 12 when Kamran, our Skating coach, motivated him to pursue skating. Soon, he became a skating champion and won the state level junior championship in Delhi (where most of the students were from elite private schools). Mr Manish Sisodia, the Deputy chief minister, took a selfie with Golu and shared it on his Twitter handle with the hashtag #educationrevolution in Delhi. The experiences shaped his personality and he is growing into an independent and responsible person. Golu is a person who gives me hope that this world can be beautiful and someday extra-ordinary inner potential of ordinary human beings will rule this world.

Hanuman lives in a slum near the school. He is a special child who doesn’t speak, so no school has a heart large enough to provide space for him. But the Adda is inclusive and welcomes all children. His mother told me that Hanuman loves spending time in different hubs. Every special child is differently abled and so is Hanuman.

Sakib is another of my dear friends who is in the slow process of elevating oneself from a learner of the Adda to a facilitator in the Skating hub. He has shared his passion for skating with many other young friends in the spirit of peer-to-peer learning. With confidence from Adda, his confidence in academics also grew. Sakib is now pursuing his graduation from Delhi University in BA Sanskrit honours. I have developed a very intense relationship with many CA learners and Sakib is one of them.

Faizan was a shy child and a back-bencher in the government school. However, when he came to Adda, he chose dancing. I learned from him that dance is not just about following steps, it’s a powerful way of expressing yourself. Plus it cultivates the art of creativity, self-management and enthusiasm. I am constantly amazed by the amount of talent that exists in government school kids and saddened by the fact that there are not proper opportunities for them in the system.

Harjas is our young miracle boy. He is currently an 11 year old homeschooler but has learnt so many skills in the last 3 years that he is way ahead of his peers. Harjas attends 3 different hubs: makerspace, cooking and skating. He excels in all three of them. His favourite has now become cooking though. He has learnt over 30 dishes and his specialty is dahi poori. He is exceptional in the makerspace as well. Harjas has recently created a censored blind stick. This stick alarms the blind person about any obstacle around him. This is a very thoughtful creation. We also showcased it to an NGO dedicated to the blind people and they were very impressed by it. He also excels in robotics and electrical repair, carpentry and arduino coding.

Beyond these stories, there are many inspiring students who have gone on to start their own little entrepreneurial startups with photography, dance, music, electrical repairs, organic farming, art, etc. They are not only able to sustain themselves but also are able to give work to others.

How have you personally grown from being part of Creativity Adda?

I am a blessed seeker and live life with the hope of a future filled with joy and justice for all.

A famous Hindi writer Muktibodh says “mujhe bharam hota hai ke har chhaati me ek aatma adheera hai, aur har kisi ke andar ek chhupa hua heera hai.” (Every person has infinite possibilities that want to come out; the need is that we patiently listen to those possibilities from every child.)

Being in the political scene, one can easily become cynical and lose hope. When I see children living their life to the fullest by creating possibilities, it gives me renewed hope. When you become a part of a space like the Adda and dive into the river of possibilities, you are elated, you soar high in the spirit out of cheerfulness, and that’s a happy contented life. Creativity Adda is a garden of hope, where thousands of flowers are blooming.

I also personally love going there and playing table tennis with the kids. It allows me to keep my inner child alive and flourishing.

Why hasn’t the AAP government supported models like the Adda to spread all over Delhi?

Creativity Adda is a beautiful, powerful and positive concept. It is a win-win situation for anybody who loves children and understands the challenges of factory-schooling. Creativity Adda does not work by top-down force or compulsion. When the right time comes, I believe other government school leaders will also accept the idea of Creativity Adda. Nobody can resist Creativity Adda as Adda can add value to every school and community of Delhi. The AAP Delhi government is soon starting a mini-version of the Creativity Adda called Hobby Hubs.

In the meantime, the Creativity Adda is a fantastic model for education foundations and CSR to support. With such a small investment, you can get so many valuable transformations in the life of children and communities. I believe that it is a real game-changer that gives real power to the learners to lead and actively shape their own futures. This is particularly important in a world where uncertainty and unemployment are on the rise.

Thanks Pankaj Ji. Wish you all the best.

The Creativity Adda is a democratic free learning space for ages 12–19 in Mukherjee Nagar Boys Senior Secondary School in Delhi. It runs daily and seeks to nurture practical skills, leadership and creative learning and living. It is supported by Shikshanter Andolan, Mukherjee Nagar SMC, Dharampal Satyapal Foundation. Contact Ashish Tiwari, Director, to visit.

Fatema C is an autodidact, environmental educator, camp organiser, a homeschooling mother and a travel enthusiast. She lives at Sambhaavnaa Institute of Public Policy and Politics, Himachal Pradesh.

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