A student once again….

Ritika Chawla

It has been four years since I went to college or sat behind a desk. I worked in a corporate setting where everything was about ‘donkey-work’ and stretching your body and brain beyond normal human standards. When I couldn’t handle that anymore and decided not to waste my life on meaningless things, I turned to teaching. So for the last two years, I stretched myself physically and emotionally beyond what I thought was possible for me. I taught, I learnt, I shared, I cared. I understood that life wasn’t complicated and that we had the power to simplify it. This I learnt from my students who day after day, fought with society, parents, rains, bad roads, sanitation and water issues, to make it to school each day. Two years of being with them and now I am back to where I started. Sitting in classroom number 307, behind a desk in the second row, doing or actually trying to do my master’s in education from Azim Premji University (APU).

I was on my way to doing an MBA in communications management, when I heard I had cleared the interview at APU. And so I took a detour and landed in Bengaluru. When I joined APU two months ago, I was amazed. I was sitting in a classroom with people from different backgrounds and age groups; the youngest person in my class is 20 years old and the oldest around 45 (or maybe more!). That wasn’t the only unusual thing about the course – that I was sitting with mummies and daddies, to attend the class or that there was atleast one person from each Indian State in my batch. But how everything works at APU was surprising too.

You didn’t have to call your professors Sir or Ma’am…for Rahul was Rahul and not Rahul Sir. You could walk up to any faculty member and have a chat about anything, even conversations on weather (as long as they meant something) were welcome. We didn’t have ‘terminal’ exams! Nah, we write assignments based on our learnings and create posters based on our reflections, and get graded on that. While the Indian government is still not very sure of the grading system and removing marks, APU is already doing it. Our assignments hold grades and not marks. All my life I saw friends of mine competing with each other, while I competed with myself, but now it is not about competition, it is all about making yourself better everyday with everything you do. I don’t see competition but I see encouragement when someone in class makes a point, I see people sitting beside people and having discussions about the world and hoping to change things one day.

Well, with philosophy of education as one of our subjects, we all have turned into ‘philosophers’. Not only do we question the education system and share our views on it, we question everything, even the existence of pencils by asking ‘what do you mean by pencil?’, ‘how do you know something is a pencil’ and ‘what are you assuming when you call something a pencil?’…..three questions and normal people think we have become insane!

Don’t get carried away by my philosophical questioning…we do normal stuff as well….we watch movies every Friday in the movie club, we share poems and try to learn new words from different languages, celebrate Independence day and Teacher’s Day, visit schools every week as part of our assignments, meet intellectuals from various fields and hear their experiences during colloquiums and Kaapi and Charcha hours, sing, dance, play badminton…..The difference is – we don’t do anything alone. We share and learn and learn from our sharings. In this beautiful, culturally, socially and educationally thriving gamut, I am busy finding myself. I think it is great to be a student once again!

The author is an ex-fellow of Teach for India. She is currently pursuing her MA (Education) from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. She can be reached at ritika.chawla@apu.edu.in.