As India and the world face a completely unprecedented crisis due to spread of Covid‐19 virus, our social institutions have great opportunity to bring in the right order. You, as Principals, can influence the entire education system to not just deal with the current emergency but also build foundation to face such difficult future events.Yes, you have your anxieties and fairly so. Yet there is tremendous window to rethink many things.

Covering the course. With more academic days getting lost, you may be wondering how will you catch up when the country reopens. Don’t get consumed by this incredible demand. Rather leverage certain untapped resources. What about those fringe agents who also have experimented huge deal on education? Can the homeschooling community be involved for some lateral solutions? Can outfits that have built high credibility around learning through art, music, cinema, quizzes, gardening, informal setups and so on be summoned for handy toolboxes? Let the focus forever shift to ‘learning’ from ‘schooling’.

It takes a village to raise a child. Everyone knew that it is not school’s responsibility alone to teach the child, yet no big breakthrough was coming in. Let us relook at the various symbiotic relationships – human to human, human to nature and nature to nature – that can share the burden of child’s education. Time to move beyond the customary parent­‐teacher meetings and invite parents to a much deeper and long‐term relationship. Can they really become your partners in the child’s education? The school must engage with the parents to understand source of child’s temperament, rhythm, habits, mindset and inclinations. There has to be a synergy between the home environment and school environment. Parents indeed are vital to build a learning community. Exposure to diverse kind of parents and their vocations will allow children to deeply appreciate and respect the differences.

Hand-­Heart-­Head. Head centric rote learning must give in to experiential learning. Now is the time to reintroduce ‘learn by doing’, to tilt the balance away from head heavy theoretical education. Therefore, hand is placed before heart and head. Activate the triad of children, parent and teacher to work on problems that they see in their community and geography. Textbook cannot be the only source of knowledge, but should support children to construct knowledge through all sources around them, such as people, their vocation, their environment and so on.

Kitchen can be an immense learning resource. Our homes, and especially the kitchens inside our homes, remain the most underrated and underused place for child’s development. Kitchen is perhaps the best lab one has at home. So much of experiments go on there and with real tools. Children must take part in the kitchen work and there can be no better time than this to get started. Tell the parents of your school to include their children in kitchen work. Not only will they learn one of the most important survival skills – cooking – they can learn STEM through classification, organization, quantities, proportions, thermal conductivity, chemical reactions, audits, optimization, hygiene, timing, nutrition, and even home remedies for many more. They will also learn about interdependency, collaboration and joy in community work.

Upkeep is a course in itself. Upkeep of our space was perhaps done by helpers till now. It is now time to take this task on as a lesson in space management, time management and self-management. Until we learn to manage our own space, and understand how little time it takes to do so if we all work together, we cannot possibly learn to manage our selves. Inspire the teachers and children to take responsibility to manage their class rooms, labs and libraries and help them to manage their environment better in the future. They will also be able to understand the importance of mundane work like cleaning toilets and class rooms and appreciate the effort it takes to keep spaces hygienic thereby generating respect for the service providers. Already there are instances of schools providing space and time for gardening. It is also important to know how we can easily make cleaning agents like bio enzymes and soaps! That we can grow herbs that heal! The world needs a paradigm shift! And you can facilitate this if you choose.

Build resilience for climate change. For years, we have now heard about climate change. UN talks about it. Researchers do it. More and more governments are taking actions now. Perhaps nothing affects our well being more directly than climate. It is only a matter of time that ‘climate change’ will find its coveted place in school curriculum. While that happens, prepare yourself, your teachers, your school to celebrate ‘contribution’ more than ‘consumerism’. Now, because of Covid-­19,we are forced to minimize unnecessary consumption. Imagine if this becomes the new normal. We will have a much better planet for ourselves.

It’s also the time to embrace technology – doesn’t matter it is Internet based or not. Group video calls, conference calls, simple voice calls can help in effectively communicating with each other. Make judicious use of it to work with the students and parents. At the same time, sensitize parents about possible trauma that can happen to children because of exposure to age inappropriate content.

Covid-­19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. Spread love and lead by example, as you always have.

We are witnessing an unprecedented event in our shared history that Corona Virus is unleashing on mankind. A lot of things have changed during the last few weeks. Most of our governments, communities and citizens are taking drastic measures to deal with the situation. Along with many other places, our schools and playgrounds will remain closed for some time. Getting restricted to home can become quite stressful for all, more so for the children. As there is uncertainty around, it will be good to have some awareness and tools to face the current situation.

Accept it first. The first thing to do in this situation is to accept the situation. That there is a pandemic lockdown. That it can go on for quite a while. Accept that for some time, children will treat it as vacation. Accept that children are as worried as their parents. Every time, the parent goes out for panic buying, the child picks up a cue. Every time, a Corona virus news item gets played, the child also hears it. Every time, the parents talk over phone about impending doomsday, the child gets a hint. It’s quite upto the parent to maintain calm, because only then will the child feel comforted.

It’s home and not school. ‘School from home’ is a bigger and relatively a much newer transition than ‘work from home’. Neither you nor your children were ready for this. Children would need time to ease into the home environment where the expectations have suddenly changed. Unless your child is a self‐directed learner, online programs can become quite overwhelming. Set a routine that has big blocks dedicated for one integrated activity. A schedule with every minute planned out could also back fire. What may take place from 9am to 9:30am today, could just as well happen from 10am to 10:15am tomorrow.

Don’t get too hung up on a routine either. One day, your kids may want to spend all day exploring the cobweb in balcony (life sciences), or spend the next week trying to make a brand new dish at kitchen (that’s STEM -­science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Let them discover and love learning. Let them lead. But keep them away from the android. Allow them time with computers to explore their interests.

Know your child. This is a great opportunity to know more about your children; what do they like doing, what are their fears, how do they learn and so on. Now is the time to make stuff together – even jugaad types, cook, make and playgames, do laundry, do dishes, mend things, watch documentaries, read to each other, dance, sing. Do all the things that you never really have time for. If you can, stop watching news on the TV and getting consumed by the myriads of Whatsapp messages.

There must be opportunities at your home – to organize or reorganize things. Do that together with your child and it will make you feel good. We sometimes forget how much learning takes place just by living life and playing games. With how stressful the world is right now, it’s important to remember to enjoy each other as much as possible.

Utilize the role of household chores in developing life skills of management of time, space and self. Allow the child to prepare the time table. Be liberal, treat your children as individuals with huge capabilities, help them and watch them surprise you with their achievements. Working to manage the house gives them confidence that they are dependable and able to manage things on their own. This self‐reliance will go a long way in helping them after the lock down.

Teachers are also “humans”. While many schools are prompting their teachers to stay connected with students during lockdown, they also have a life that is as much affected. Yes teachers will carry out their duties, but as parents this is the time to empathize with them. If some days, scheduled calls don’t happen or there is change in the plan, accommodate it.

Reorient to the new world order.The world may not be same in the aftermath of Covid‐19. Yes e‐governance, e‐commerce, e­‐schooling, e­‐medicine might come back with even more fervor. But we will see a major shift in responsibilities. Individuals will have to take more charge of their learning. This is a magical opportunity to reorient ourselves towards self­‐learning and learning about the self.

Do whatever it takes to bring you all through this well and you will have given them a far greater education than they can get on a mathematics or a grammar website.

Promoting Quality Education Beyond the Best Known Cities

Preamble

Democratic, independent India has made significant progress in several spheres in last seven decades. However, this progress has been asymmetric. Some regions have made more progress than others. Economic progress has been a lot more in South and West. And within regions, the bigger cities seem to have leapt ahead of smaller towns and villages.

We have noticed that access to good schools and progressive education have helped children from less privileged families to break social, economic, and community barriers and earn their rightful place in society. Such progress has been specially visible in last 25 years when professionals from middle and lower middle class backgrounds have excelled in science, technology, business and sports. This has led to a growing middle class and long list of middle class icons from diverse parts of the country.

However, the current model has issues – and unless we appreciate those, our problems may remain ahead of our potential. Burgeoning cities that are difficult to sustain, growing dependence on jobs that don’t exist, the most coveted college seats limited to the privileged few, and an emerging glass ceiling for those who lack exposure, are leading to asymmetric progress. Most often, those who go ahead are blessed with privileged access to quality education.

At Klorofeel Education, we have chosen to create and nurture excellent schools in small-town India, beyond the most privileged districts and regions. And we agreed to begin at Brahmapur, Odisha.

The journey so far

Having seen the traditional classroom approach of chalk and talk not yielding results beyond 20% of the students, we have experimented with different methods. We have tried games and projects, quizzes and social problem solving, excursions and immersion programs, role playing, debates and surveys, workshops and clubs – all with a view to engaging a larger segment. We have explored with structured curriculum and flexible, empowered environment and controlled ones, focused and diverse learning goals. Planned influencing beyond classroom hours, worked with goal focused incentives, custom targets and group learning, experts and mentors young and old.

Not the least, we have introduced technology: e-Learning, tablets, leveraging on internet content and remote instruction, and observed its varied impact in different contexts.

Experiential Insights

We understand there are no silver bullets, and all approaches succeed in different ways, depending on context of student, teacher, community, environment, resources, learning goals, time available, …

It dawns on us the significance of diverse weapons in the Mahabharata, and how everyone played a role, not just Arjuna. Even in medicine, we understand that Quinine or Sorbitrate, effective as they are, will be relevant only under specific conditions. The search for the touchstone or the Elixir of Life was elusive. So be it for education.

Still there are relevant insights we gathered on the way:

  • Motivation is critical, so also the role of the teacher and the learning ecosystem
  • Focus on the Heart and Hands in education is important (not just the Head)
  • Connections across knowledge domains accelerate learning
  • Diverse learning goals often work better than single minded focus
  • Freedom and choice help when they come with tracking and accountability
  • Connecting today’s learning with the child’s immediate environment leads to non-volatile learning.

We learnt creation of memorable experiences, how to repeat without being boring, and seamlessly inducing joy into the learning environment.

Key life skills like problem solving, initiative, openness to perspectives, creative and critical thinking, questioning and curiosity, project management and collaboration enhance the learning experience. It is better our children learn them early rather than later.

We understand much of these are not “new” or path breaking discoveries. Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, or Tagore have documented a lot of these and we just need to imbibe what is already known – the difficult part is in applying these in our context.

Building blocks of Education

  1. We will focus on Building Curiosity, rather than just sharing knowledge.

Curiosity implies a lot of skills, including Questioning, Thinking, Debating, Creating one’s point of view, Communication, Collaboration … It is built on traits like openness, respect for diverse perspectives, initiative, perspectives, comfort with ambiguity, confidence in accepting “I don’t know”, willingness to explore, …

We believe the teacher’s (and the parent’s) endeavour must lie in creating curiosity in the pre-teen years. Once the child is curious, she is inspired to find her path, grow and shape her own wisdom and she becomes an empowered learner. Excellence is a likely consequence, and the journey is enjoyable too. Without curiosity, learning becomes an arduous task.

  1. Practice, Failure and Persistence are critical traits in a learning journey. The educator’s job is to create an environment where the child is motivated to struggle, explore, often fail, reflect, and learn. We need to ensure our children learn to try and fail without fear – introspect, and grow. Our children will cherish the joy of self discovery more than being fed the right answer, will remain open to doubt and multiple possibilities, over the infallibility of their solution.
  2. We will learn from Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s concepts of Integral Education, and draw from their wisdom to shape the lives of our students – we will draw the best in our children, so they discover their purpose, and carve their paths with confidence. This leads to a variety of “beyond classroom” curriculum. How much of the standard curriculum till Class 7 can be delivered through games, puzzles and quizzes, being with Nature, outdoor activities, surveys, and public problem solving? We will work along with the parent and the community to achieve this together. Real education is not limited by the perspectives and wisdom of a designated teacher. This is an objective we are already pursuing – and Klorofeel Education will be proud to share this “Beyond Classroom” student-centered pedagogy a few years from now, drawing on innate strengths and aspirations of the child.
  3. Our students will learn through Problem Solving. They will be exposed to issues and problems in the community and environment around them, and will be engaged in solving relevant issues.

Today, students assimilate diverse concepts and it is expected they will use these to solve problems in the real world in future. However, they may not have learnt to connect these concepts, and probably never applied these. Hence many don’t find their formal learning relevant when faced with real problems.

We need to flip the framework. Instead of preparing them to be problem solvers of the future, we need to mentor them to solve problems today and thus get acquainted with the craft of problem solving, the underlying concepts, and their inter-relationships. And when they solve problems around them (not those in the lab) they learn relevant skills, apart from building a sense of pride and connectedness.