Recently the neighbour’s son, a lad of about 14 quizzed me about the Pythagoras Theorem. Pat came my reply, leaving me mighty pleased that I remembered the theorem after almost three decades. Little did I know that an eye opener was about to follow: The young guy’s next question: “Did you, actually, ever, use it in your life?” A famous quote by Benjamin Franklin succinctly sums up the essence of education: “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I remember; involve me and I learn.” Having said this, how much that we learn prepares us for life, and which fraction of that was involved learning?
Over the past few years, ‘alternate’ pedagogic tools, techniques, curricula, and even schools have evolved. The Papagoya Kindergarten follows the Norwegian Curriculum, and offers a play-based learning programme for children from ages 1 year to 6 years. Using play as the medium, they are guided by 7 core learning areas that ensure that children are exposed to holistic development: Communication, Language and Text; Body, Movement, Food and Health; Art, Culture and Creativity; Nature, Environment and Technology; Quantities, Spaces and Shapes; Ethics, Religion and Philosophy; Local Community and Society. “The mainstream educational system is fraught with flaws and is focused on academic achievements, while doing nothing to build the skills required for a child to thrive in today’s ever changing world. Alternative learning options often begin as a rejection of traditional teaching, and seek to change the assumption that all children are the same and learn in the same way. The role of the adult in steering the learning will always stay relevant, and guide the children to use their agency and voice in meaningful ways,” says Helen Issar, Co-Founder, Papagoya.
Mana is the mother of a 7 year old. As soon as her son was born, her husband and she were sure that they wanted their child to grow in a life nurturing environment that would enable his own unique self to blossom. Her son studies at Aarambh Waldorf. Says the young mother: “It was so reassuring to know that the teachers cared as much about his overall development as we did. Since the past four years, they have worked hand in hand with us to strengthen his physical being - ensuring he eats the right food, sleeps at the right time, has enough free play without screens, and grows feeling secure with loving boundaries. When he entered grades he was ready for learning, to sit, focus and follow instructions. The foundation is built and now the building can rest on it well.”
What makes individuals 'choose' alternative schooling, amidst overflowing contemporary options? In a nutshell, it could well be the disappointment with the education imparted due to its detachment with the challenges that life eventually throws at us. The current need stands for a learning that enables a child, and not just imparts education as a stand-alone entity. “My experience as a student in various schools across India was very disappointing, and while I completed a degree as a Chartered Accountant it was only to later realise that it was not a life path I enjoyed. I was determined to give my daughter the kind of education that would ensure the sanctity of the wonders of childhood, give her a chance to know herself to some extent - learning that would help her grow and meet the changing needs of childhood. This is was the main reason behind choosing alternate schooling,” says Nomita, mother of a 7 year old.
For students, alternative schooling holds a promise of exploration and discovery – not that this is something they would not normally have access to in a contemporary set-up, but perhaps the alignment with life, its numerous challenges and expectations, as well as the pace at which learning is imparted, play the key differences. Says Siddha Murada, a Class XI student, KFI Sahyadri School: “The KFI school is a place for exploration for both teachers and students. It helps us connect with the world of knowledge, while connecting within ourselves. It shapes our thinking to look at and understand the outer world without prejudices. The learning is experiential and holistic; there is much effort being laid on the connection of humanity with nature. The culture of care for the self (both physical and mental), of our peers, society and of the environment is integrated in the learning process.
So, how is teaching approached in order to make the learning experience empowering and holistic? A teacher teaching at an alternative school explains: “Picture this: every 2-3 days, a new letter of the alphabet enters the classroom to breathe, live and play with the children. The children will hear the story of an enchanted TREE deep in the jungle...climb a tall TREE with tangled twigs and sing about it...stand like TREES with their arms outstretched on the sides...all to discover the letter T around them and within them; at the end they trace the letter T in the air and write it in their books. No, we're not just awakening their brains to the existence of the letter T, but awakening their hearts, hands and souls to their inner imagination and the potential and joy of learning something new. That's what the curriculum is designed to do.”
Wikipedia describes (based on references) an alternative school as an educational establishment with a curriculum and methods that are non-traditional. If non-traditional facilitates preparedness of future decision makers for a dynamic life, but with values and ethics, then this could serve as a solution for our education woes; however, the crux remains, as summed succinctly by Dr. Parth J. Shah, Director, the Indian School of Public Policy, and Founder, Centre for Civil Society: “As an education policy researcher and as a father of a young son, I have come to believe that what is called alternative education should become the mainstream education. One can think of any education system with adult-directed learning at one end and student-directed learning at the other end. The current mainstream education is all adult directed; we need to move far more towards student-directed education.” Yes, the time has come.