Building better communities

Pranali Sisodiya

A few years ago police raided a party near Sinhgarh Fort, Pune. People who were present in the party didn’t even realize for some time that they were being arrested by the police because nearly all of them were under the influence of drugs. Ironically, many of them were juveniles.

According to the National Mental Health Survey, the suicide incidence rate per 1,00,000 population for those below the age of 14 is 0.5, while the rate for those in the 14-17 age bracket was 9.52 – much higher than the national individual average of 0.9 per cent. This is to some extent because young people are not able to cope with the high expectations from parents and society.

The lack of social connect that we see in contemporary times tends to generate a highly individualistic attitude among children. Moreover, the intensely competitive education and examination system nurtures, promotes and tests only limited types of intelligences, mainly linguistic and mathematical, ignoring or suppressing social intelligence in children. This produces a highly stressed, individualistic and loner child; unconcerned and disconnected with society and social responsibilities.

According to Howard Gardner (developmental psychologist), there are different types of intelligences. Our education system does not pay sufficient attention to all these intelligences. It barely provides an environment where children can utilize their capabilities on their own. By the principle of ‘Use it or lose it!’, these intelligences gradually disappear from a child, knowingly or unknowingly.

To tackle this issue, five years ago, in 2013, Padmashree Dr. Abhay Bang (social activist) and Mr. Vivek Savant (MD, Maharashtra Knowledge Cooperation Limited) developed an educational process – Kumar NIRMAN. The idea was to develop a non-formal experiential educational process for children in the age group of 10 to 15 so as to inculcate in them universal human values, to sensitize a large number of children to various problems and challenges in the society and to let them experience the joy of discovering/inventing solutions and to act towards solving social problems. In the process children learn to cooperate rather than compete thereby helping shape their personality and attitude and also develop social intelligence which is usually ignored in a regular educational setup.

To attain the above objectives, Kumar NIRMAN has five guiding principles: 1) Learning through experiences, 2) Co-operation instead of competition, 3) Freedom of learning, 4) Multiple intelligence and 5) Life is an education.

Educational model of Kumar NIRMAN
Kumar NIRMAN enables children to experience the joy of discovering/inventing solutions to problems in their surroundings. A person above 18 years of age, interested in working with children in the age group of 10 to 15, and who has access to children applies to Kumar NIRMAN by filling an application form. If found suitable they undergo a telephonic interview. If selected they become eligible to participate in a Kumar NIRMAN training workshop. A Kumar NIRMAN executive trains the selected individuals over two workshops. The primary objectives of these trainings are to help conveners (the selected individuals are called conveners) understand the importance of universal human values, social intelligence, ‘learning through doing’, the development process of school-age children, and to understand the need, concept, working methodology and educational tools of Kumar NIRMAN.

After being trained, the conveners start working with their teams. Even as the training is in progress each convener is asked to form a team of 6-12 children in their neighbourhood. Teams gather at least once a week for Kumar NIRMAN meetings. During their initial meetings, team members play games, share their experiences, opinions about various things, and organize field trips to places nearby. Such activities help strengthen the bond between the convener and children, among the children themselves and gives them the opportunity to observe their surroundings. (This is the first step in the learning cycle of Kumar NIRMAN). Students from each team decide the name and team leader for their team. Teams maintain a team diary in which they write a summary of every meeting, the steps followed for any activity they did and their experiences after each activity. Gradually, the convener starts asking questions, getting the children to think about the various social problems in their surroundings and to find possible solutions.

Kumar NIRMAN emphasizes learning through problem solving. By exploring social relationships and interacting with their surroundings, children are able to formulate ideas, try them out, and accept or reject what they learn.

The convener facilitates the provision of time, space, and materials necessary for in-depth learning. Becoming skilfull at problem solving is based on the understanding and following the sequenced stages in the learning cycle.

Kumar NIRMAN emphasizes that activities undertaken, whether to understand or solve a problem, should align with any one or more of the steps in the learning cycle.

Rather than focusing on an activity becoming successful, the focus is on the learning that happens in the process of doing the activities. These activities are undertaken to tackle a whole range of issues from making bird feeders to solving the tobacco problem in the village. After a year of carrying out such activities (one cycle of Kumar NIRMAN), we organize felicitation and sharing events for teams. Children share their activities and learning experiences in this event.

Note: In case you wish to become a convener or have your students participate in the Kumar NIRMAN programme you can find out more detils by calling: 9767488337/9503060698. Contact or write to [email protected] You can also read more about Kumar NIRMAN and its work at http://www. mkclkf.org/kumarnirmanhttp://kumarnirman.blogspot.in or visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyych9cNzX3mm7v3hV8D9IA, the You tube channel of Kumar NIRMAN.

Tobacco-free village!

The children from team Siddheshwar were gathered for a regular meeting of Kumar NIRMAN. They discussed the problems of their village. Tobacco consumption was a major problem. The meeting went on for an hour and at the end of the meeting, the children decided to do something about this issue.

First, the students directly approached the men who consumed tobacco and asked them to stop. The men obviously ignored the students. Then the children wrote and performed a drama on this issue and displayed posters as well. Still nothing much happened. Then, the children started talking to the tobacco vendors to try and convince them not to sell tobacco, but that also failed. There were three pan thelas in the entire village. The students decided to study the issue more deeply. They approached the vendors again and became friends with them. To study the issue, the students designed an interview schedule for the three vendors with the help of a convener. They collected data which included the names of the different varieties of tobacco available in the pan thelas, the cost per sachet, the amount of tobacco sold by the vendors in a day, the amount spent on daily consumption. After gathering this data, they calculated the total amount of tobacco sold by the vendors in a day and the amount spent on daily consumption for a month. The figure was in lakhs. They approached the gram sabha with this data and presented it in front of all the villagers. The children suggested that this huge amount could actually be spent on education or health. A few members of the gram sabha did not heed to any of the children’s suggestions saying children did not have a right to speak in the gram sabha. Instead of being disappointed and giving up, the children started studying their lessons of civics. They realized that there is no provision that stops children from raising issues in the gram sabha. They went back to the gram sabha. Finally, the villagers took them seriously and the entire village agreed to ban tobacco.

Inculcating the idea of gender equality

The Agnipankh team from Jalgoan district gathered for a meeting on the occasion of 26th January. This team belongs to a village from an extremely remote place. During the meeting, students along with the convener started talking about Republic Day. The discussion veered towards the Constitution, human rights and equality. The team then started talking about the different rights provided by the Constitution. One girl from the team asked if the Constitution granted equality to everyone why did inequality still exist? Another girl continued saying, “In our village, ownership of everything like house, farm, animals lies with our fathers or grandfathers only and this is injustice to our mothers and grandmothers though they also take equal responsibility of the household.”

The team decided to do something. During their discussion, they came up with a unique idea – sending letters to their mothers; usually all post was received only in the father’s name. In the next meeting, the children prepared decorative greeting cards and posted them. One day, the postman arrived in the village shouting the names of women. All the men became furious and suspicious. But when the women collected their post cards and opened them, they found nicely decorated greeting cards. Then the children told their mothers about their idea. The next day, the students told the convener that their mothers were very happy and a few even had tears in their eyes.

Reinstalling the bus stop board

One day, in the village of Parbhani district, a girl studying in 4th class fell down from a bus and fractured her hand. A few children from a Kumar NIRMAN team were witness to this incident. They shared this with the entire team in their meeting and they started seeking reasons behind the accident. Then one student shared that earlier there was a board (mentioning that this was a bus stop) by the state transport department in front of the school, but that the board had broken a few months ago. Bus drivers no longer stopped at the school now and the girl tried to get off a running bus thereby breaking her hand.

The children decided to solve this problem. They took this issue to the sarpanch of their village. With the help of a painter, the students prepared the bus stop board and fixed it in its earlier place. The sarpanch was with the students. Then they visited the state transport department and submitted an application requesting a stop at the school.

Till date, Kumar NIRMAN has given opportunities to 130+ conveners and 1000+ students to work on various problems around them and to perceive the joy of learning through doing.

After a four year journey, we are receiving feedback from conveners and parents telling us about the positive changes they have noticed in the children who participated in the programme. These children are now sensitive to the problems in their surroundings. They are becoming co-operative while working in groups.

The author is working as Regional Coordinator and Executive Team Member of Kumar NIRMAN, a joint initiative of NIRMAN, Gadhchiroli and MKCL Knowledge Foundation, Pune. She is also the co-founder and General Secretary of the Vardhishnu Social Research and Development Society, Jalgaon. Vardhishnu has been established with an aim to work on specific social issues through study/research and implementation based on the findings. Vardhishnu is working with out-of school children to enrich their educational status. She can be reached at [email protected].

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