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.