Hooked on Learning

Sheel

The Learning Network, an eclectic mix of organisations and individuals interested in holistic learning, held its 5th Annual Conference at Chamarajanagar, Karnataka, from Jul 20-22, 2007. Teacher Plus reports…

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Chamarajanagar is a little over an hour’s drive from Mysore – a bustling town with its own charm. Held on the premises of the school run by the Deenabandhu Trust, the Learning Network conference this year included over 30 discussions, presentations and workshops spread over three days. Coordinated by a group of volunteers, these discourses, however, were neither theme-bound nor dictated by any perceived need, but determined by the participants themselves: the Network is a forum for creating awareness on innovative ideas, education methods and resources; for sharing one’s own experiences, opinions and expertise; and for engaging others in discussion on matters that are of interest to oneself. An exceptional attribute of the Network is informality, which enables one to function with minimal reserve, facilitating easy exchange and assimilation of new ideas.

Among the issues that were highlighted were teaching methods and resources, teachers’ issues and school administration issues. While Gananath of Suvidya threw light on the various notions that impede the learning of mathematics and took people through various simple practices and aids that can help children understand the intricacies of this subject, the team from Navnirmiti discussed the universalisation of maths and illustrated the effectiveness of their methods and resource materials. Geetha Arvind, an interested individual, initiated a discussion on the learning of science, and Sishu Milap followed it up in another session with their experiences of teaching science through experiential methods. Rajaram and Vidya spoke about the online resources available at Vidya Online, while artist Ranjan De took others through a session on using art and craft as means of meeting the demands of the curriculum. (This in a unique space demarcated as an open space, for people to engage in further discussion on what had been presented, or to bring up subjects that were not on the agenda: a space that allowed the freedom necessary to growth, a space well utilised by participants severally or in groups!)

US-based Dr. Shelley Thomas gave an introduction to Total Physical Response Story-telling (TPRS ), a new method of teaching/learning proven to help in learning language effectively, at an unprecedented pace, and now being used at the Isha Home School in the teaching of Science and Maths as well. Sunita Rao of Kalpavriksh presented the work done in the B R Hills with children of the Soliga tribe – meeting learning objectives while showing clearly how it is imperative – and possible – to learn from our surroundings and live in harmony with nature. Saraswati and Rajalakshmi shared how activity centres within schools have made some headway in bridging the gaps in educational opportunities that children from underprivileged backgrounds experience, while Ananth Kumar of Divyadeepa Trust explored the relation between the child’s emotional health and her learning capacity.

Lata and Ashok from IDEAL presented their findings as to what children in villages know before they come to school, and how children learn up to the age of 6. The team from Pachasaale brought to the fore the need for education relevant to the situation, particularly for out of school children – the necessity of involving communities, of establishing connections between what is learned and what vocations are possible. The team from the Sanctuary Schools, Kaigal, highlighted the need for teacher enrichment as a necessary step to learning. Noted educationist Jane Sahi, in her keynote address, spoke of creating spaces for “collaboration” between the teacher and the child, and between children themselves. A team from NIAS reflected upon issues that have emerged from their experiences of working with the government primary school system: issues of quality, innovation, capacity building and systemic reforms. The well-known educationist, Prakash Burte, explored the connection between equity, equality and quality of education.

School management issues and the role of school development and management committees also came up for debate, as did a discussion on the limitations of large scale interventions. There were some hands-on workshops too – on understanding adolescents, writing by and for teachers, inclusion and appreciation of diversity, and using stories as a means of teaching/learning. Parallel discussions took place ubiquitously – over breakfast, lunch, dinner, in the shuttles that ferried us to and fro, in the rooms… the enthusiasm was unmistakable.

Exhibits and displays by various groups added flavour to the remarkable fare.

There was learning even in the arrangements that the hosts had made – learning about hospitality, from making arrangements for stay to food and travel, that happened for the staff and children of the Deenabandhu Trust will last a lifetime. Not to mention the entertainment that the hosts organised – if shepherds from the surrounding areas presented a traditional dance propitiating Siva one evening, complete with dress code, shell ornaments and bear-skin head-dresses, a dance troupe was called in another day, to present other folk dances.

Of course, issues related to education, and to the Indian education system, are numerous. At the end of the conference, one came away with some answers, certainly, but also with pertinent (and impertinent!) questions that had been planted there! The Learning Network lived up excellently to its purpose yet again – in its fertile soil, people and organisations shared their experiences and learned from each other.

Detailed information about the conference is available at http://www.learning.net-india.org/ini/data/activities/conferences/july2007/july2007-agend.php

For more information about the learning network, contact info@learningnet-india.org