Learning From Wipro Partners’ Meet 2022

by | Jan 29, 2023

Education system of India – has it ever not been a hot topic? I can go as far as I can in time and recall the debates and discussions around it. Often, we talk about a topic or a word so much that it starts to lose its true essence and remains a buzzword. I was wondering if the same has happened with the ‘education system’ of India.

Last month, I got this opportunity to be a part of the 20th Wipro education annual partners’ meet to represent my organization, PRAYOG. I enjoyed the panel discussions, and the in-between conversations with people I was meeting for the first time. At the same time, I was also observing the larger, diverse group of people from across the country who had one thing in common – work in education.

Here are some things that stayed with me:

Children as researchers

I had loved the idea of people being the researchers of their own issues when I had first heard about it in Dr. Abhay Bang’s article, ‘Research, for whom?‘. This has to be the aspiration so that we don’t have to rely on any external organizations. Revisiting it in the context of children as spoken about, by the Nature Conservation Foundation was delightful. Back in Bihar, the children I work with, were already asking questions and had observations that our grown-up eyes couldn’t see.

Education and spirituality

It becomes critical to look at these two together, specially after putting things in buckets for so long. We have been keeping education, health, spirituality, and well-being in seperate silos. Whereas, integrating them could be more fulfilling. I recall the dissatisfaction of being taught everything other than understanding ourselves and our body. Sure, they taught me the anatomy of my body in biology. But I never knew why my hands would get insanely cold and sweaty before an exam or why my heartbeat would increase just when I’m to go perform on stage. No one teaches us to pay attention to our emotions, forget validating them.

These things started making sense when as an adult, I began reading about mental health, spirituality and well-being. Listening about the work of Shabad Shala was heartwarming. They emphasise on integrating oral traditions and spirituality with classroom education through a series of pedagogic experiments. Shabnam Virmani shared about it, covering the following:

  • The transformative power of Bhakti and Sufi music, oral traditions and how it can be holistic. It holds you and challenges you at the same time. The history student in me went back in the tumultuous times of Medieval India. When Bhakti-Sufi music was a source of solace as well as a medium to rebel against the conventional norms of social hierarchy. The timelessness of this tradition surprised me.
  • When we are fragmented, we feel broken. This could mean different things to different people. To me, it meant that when we see dichotomy and forget our oneness, when we belittle our existence and see ourselves through narrow discriminatory lenses such as caste, class, religion, age and gender, we are bound to feel broken.

There was another thread of thought to that discussion – We adults have gotten into the habit of making sense of and finding meaning in every single thing. ‘Not knowing everything’ can be okay, but we don’t let our children be comfortable with that. We want to seek answers immediately. Open-ended interpretations and curiosity to let things unfold make us uncomfortable. We take this urge of ours to our children and try to shape them accordingly.

Learning and literacy

How often do we encourage our children to chase learning rather than marks? I was sitting there half-intrigued, half-amazed when one of the panel members raised this question, “How can a child empathise with a fraction?”. I wish that we take this approach of teaching mathematics, so that the rampant fear of the subject starts fading away. A lot of focus on numeracy, literacy and learning outcomes tends to reduce the idea of education to something where one either knows it or doesn’t. Where you pass a verdict on a child’s smartness. By tagging them as literate and illiterate. The approach is exclusionary and flawed. It doesn’t take into consideration the individual needs of a child and their contextual background.

Learning is a broader concept of which literacy is only a small part. There are numerous children in our library who turn the pages of wordless picture books with awe and wonder. Does that not count as learning?

Education is probably the only space, where the primary consumer (child) does not have a say in what they consume.

This brought me to the larger question of “How much do we keep a child at the center of what we call education?“. I tried to know more about contextual learning. How can we do it in a better way? Our library at PRAYOG gives me a chance to explore this further. There are immense possibilities in terms of what a library program can do for learning among children.

It is these kinds of learning spaces that children, the primary consumers, are kept at the center. Where they can have a say in how/what/when they would like to learn. The real work then is to imagine and see how all this works out in a setup where multiple stakeholders are involved. Including government schools, teachers, and the administration.

I returned with a lot of food for thought and questions. It’s a good feeling. They are starting points to what could take shape further. Looking forward to making the most of this with a mentor, a library, the children, and a whole new geography (Bihar) to guide me through it!

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