This blog ia about a path breaking experiment in reimagining schools.
As you probably know I have been working on two issues related to schooling and children.
Study of the cognitive damage of modern schooling and the biological process of making sense of the world.
My 25 years of experimentation with children, adults, literate and non literate communities has lead me to a small school in the outskirts of Pune called Sadhana School run by an NGO called Sadhana Village working with rural communities nearby and mentally challenged people in that area. This school has agreed to allow me to implement my understanding of Biological processes to reorganize their school. (The ngo has 80G so that there would be tax deduction)
The new model once implemented can be sensitively incorporated in any other schooling system making sure that it is not turned into another methodology.
My first session got over and it was from 27th June to 2nd July. I am also documenting the process with the help of friends from FTI. In fact we used two video cameras and 5 digital cameras to document the process. The teachers were also documenting various activities of children. We will soon upload some videos.
The school is English medium. So we are trying out ways of getting children to learn English by understanding the way they learned Marathi.
Another interesting aspect is to explore how to use digital tools to enhance learning. For example the use of digital camera, voice recorder etc might help children to enhance their observation. So we are also requesting you to donate these if possible.
About the school
The School is in the outskirts of Pune (40 km) called Sadhana School run by an NGO called Sadhana Village working with rural communities nearby and mentally challenged people in that area. As of now the school has children from 3.6 years to 7.6 years ie. From junior KG till 2nd standard. The school is English medium and has 6 teachers and 6 ayas. There is no fee but has to pay Rs 100 per month for transportation. They have a bus for transportation.
The Task :
The task I have set is to totally revamp what happens in school to accommodate the biological and natural flowering of the child. So that school then becomes a space for reflection and for experiencing various phenomenon in their immediate world.
The Basis of my Study
The basis of my study lies in the understanding that Modern man knows the world through words and is transformed by it. Years of dependence on the written word has already transformed his cognitive structure thus leaving him to live in a conceptual world. The condition today is so grave that one would be bodily present but mentally absent… Experiencing the world demands the presence of the whole being with all its faculties’ senses etc. whereas written words do not demand the participation of the sense or the body. In absence of true experience the words are doing proxy experience.
Hence I believe that Language is not a cognitive tool but a tool for communication .Human beings re creates knowledge every time & all the time and this ability must never be undermined.
• The school is a place to learn .What we learn outside is not important
• The teacher is the only one who knows and gives knowledge.
• Knowledge is divided into language, science and art
• A child must sit immobile and in silence in order to learn.
• Learning happens the moment the child is born or may be from the time of conception.
• Learning is a biological process and is implicit and non-quantifiable and learning is an autonomous process.
• Child is born wholistic and experience the world in its totality. Beauty is integral aspect of the being and language is for communicating the ‘knowledge’ the child experiences.
• Only by engaging and experiencing the world does it make sense of the world.
Effect of the present day system on the Child’s being:
The physical, psychological and cognitive damages the present day schooling does to the child are enormous so much that the natural learning process and the schooling process are almost in opposition with each other. The divisions and fragmentations that the adults create confuse the child.
1. The learning mind is transformed in to the learned mind.
2. Openness, doubt, humility is replaced with rigidity, certainty and pride.
3. Spontaneity and freedom is replaced by planning and control.
4. Democracy is replaced by authority.
5. Trust in oneself is replaced by dependency on the expert and machines.
6. Originality is replaced by imitation and second hand beings.
The misunderstanding of the process has increasingly given rise to spaces that are detrimental leaving modern spaces unfriendly for the child and causing cognitive dissonance and restructuring of the natural cognitive structure.
So much so that the psychological growth in children and biological growth are at variance.
Traditional spaces due to less interfereance from humans has been supportive of the natural growth of children. What ever interference humans did with nature was not with an intention of conquering nature but respecting and being part of the natural processes.
How children or humanbeings make sense of the world
Children are born with capacity to make sense of the world , see the world as a real place and also experience the world as wholistic and integrated.
Children are guided by the biological and natural process of making sense of the world and Children are helpless as their external conditions dictate what they learn and become.
How We will make this change:
The change has to happen at several level. So the first and for most challenge is to address the very idea that children come to school to learn.
Ideally I would want to drop the word ‘school’ from the name of the school. But it may be worthwhile to keep the name and change what happens there to bring back the original meaning of ‘school’which is leisure and to educate means to draw out. It could be like the spaces for children in earlier communities. (Morung of Nagas or Ghotuls of Baster etc)
• The Experience
Experiencing is learning. Children do not learn from experience but learn ‘THE experience’. There is no time gap.
Play, work, learning are divisions of the modern adult mind which get imposed on children. Children do not make these separations. Play is the way they make sense of the world.
Through play children learn qualities and values for being in the world. They re-experience what they observe, eg: The first thing the child learns is to be a mother.
Humility, innocence and awe are values with which the child embarks on this journey. It helps them to trust, to experience the beauty and to learn to experience the phenomenon of the world.
Any sign of authority would teach the child to be authoritative. Love, care, respect, openness, co operation is what children should experience. Children compete with each other but the balance is lost when adults become the judges. Leaving children to judge themselves is the only way to help them to be just.
Observation, curiosity, attention, patience, intelligence, abstraction, codification are the skills that a learner needs and this can only be developed by actually engaging with the real world. In an open ended knowledge quest children learn to be open, spontaneous, intuitive, for planning, exploratory and experimental etc
Single most important aspect that needs to be addressed is to keep alive the observation quality in children. Senses are the two way door that needs to be opened to experience the outer world in its beauty and truth and the inner world for awakening sensitivity and sense of beauty. Tools like digital camera, Video camera, lense, telescope, mirror, periscope, microscope etc would help the children to observe and document the world. Drawing also help to see the world keenly.
• Spatial Reorganization of Schools
Children experience whatever space we create and present day schools create fake spaces with unreal knowledge, insulated from the real world. Organized spaces in schools such as classrooms and labs are detrimental to growth, one for the word and other for the fragmented and out of context experience.
The basic philosophy is to re organize the space or create a cognitive environment that is in line with the biological and natural propensities of human being. Thus the school just becomes an extension of non school spaces and does what they do naturally. Children need freedom to play and need things to play with. Usually anything from broken utencils to bottle caps would do. So there has to be lots of ‘waste’ for children to play with and those needs to be things that they are familier with. The montessory materials or adult made toys would only tend to control the activity of children. Toy is anything the child makes to enhance their play.
The class room situation needs to be avoided and an opportunity be given for natural grouping among children. Children from rural areas are not genderd the way it happens in urban spaces. So naturally girls and boys in mixed age groups play.
• Sharing & talking
Children should be encouraged to talk and share what they experience. ‘Teacher’ could also take part in this sharing and introduce a few words, numbers, quantity, quality etc. The ‘teacher’ needs to be a keen listener who has to pick up words that are frequently used for writing it on the wall. The Black board needs to be enlarged for everyone to write or draw. Also perhaps extended from vertical space to horizontal space.
Too much focus on self expression will only make the child more egoistic and proud thus moving him away from humility.
Children are perfectionists and are actually competing with themselves. This is what will teach children about discipline
• Addressing various aspects of learning:
In the present schooling children are made to see the world through language and it is through words the phenomenon of the world is explained to the child which is fragmented and disconnected from the child’s experience of the world.
The children need to experience various phenomenon of the world and this enables the development of the cognitive structure and this in turn helps them to understand the processes of life. Things are happening around them all the time.
But schooling rewires the cognitive structures and a linguistic based cognitive structure is formed where it is through language the world is understood.
Language: The language needs to be re claimed as communication tool. So language will be taught to children as naturally as possible based on the natural way of acquiring language skills. The clues to teaching language in an English medium school will be taken from how children naturally learn their mother tongue. English words will be introduced by observing and studying what children are doing. Language will not be broken up in to alphabets, unconnected words nor will grammar be introduced.
Science & Numbers: Science and numbers must be taught in an unalienated manner where learning results from doing & experiencing .eg: Instead of introducing Numbers as 12345678910 like we all were taught, they must find their relation to the quantitative aspects of our life. The natural sense of number, direction, quanity, measure ment etc need to be understood.
Beauty & Aesthetics: Children are immersed in the beauty of the world and what ever they are doing has the element of beauty in that engagement. Art as a separate subject will destroy the totality of this quality in children. Allowing children to engage with the world freely would awaken the senses and the aesthetic sensibility. Only thing we can do is to broaden the awakening of the sense by participating with them in order to experience the world. Drawing probably would help children in keen observation by shifting the focus of drawing as self expression to drawing as observation.
Role of the Teacher & Parents
The toughest task will be to re-train/re-orient the ‘teachers’ and parents to understand how children make sense of the world or BE in the world. Parents of today have greatly lost their biological instinct of being parents and have turned into teachers. Both need to understand the wrong in ‘teaching’ and become learners.
The teacher has to be open, flexible, loving, caring etc and the parent has to become a true parent whom a child can trust for their loving care.
The teachers need to be attentive to the subtle signs of everyday events lived by their students. The teacher, by being with children needs to be able to identify generative words according to their phonetic value, syllabic length, and social meaning and relevance. These words represent the everyday reality of the children. Reading and writing thus became grounded in the lived experiences of children.
The teacher requires deep ability to make interpretative sense of the phenomenon of the day to day life of children in order to see the pedagogic significance of the situations.
An important threatening aspect of the role of a teacher is Power. In a learning space power needs to be given up so that it allows the learning space to become more democratic not allowing authority to seep into the system.
Authority makes one believe in knowledge and in fact there is no knowledge. There is only learning. Democracy brings in respect for people, respect for autonomy, respect for independence thus defining the core values of the space.
Children should address the teachers as dada and tayee or any other terms of endearment depending on the local dialect and not Sir, Maam, Miss, Teacher, Aunty which are terminologies alienated from our cultural roots.
Teachers must have interest in a subject not for teaching but for learning and for doing and they should involve themselves in doing things ,stitching, cooking, farming, drawing or making things..etc
Application of methods are detrimental to spontaneous quality which is a very fundamental necessity for the being human. The attempt is not to create yet another methodology which could be copy pasted to any schooling system and if this exploration becomes a method it would defeat the purpose. Hence along with the children, the ‘teachers’ also need to be provided with a possibility for an environment where they can be spontaneous and human.
This humungous task would require a whole lot of likeminded people to collaborate and we are seeking all kinds of inputs- intellectual, physical presence, monetary and material support. Other equipment required is one digital projector, 15 digital cameras with video facility, voice recorders, 5 computers, lenses, microscope, periscope, telescope etc