Network for learning

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Seetha Anand

The Learning Network, which had its beginnings in Bangalore in 2003, explores various approaches towards holistic learning, offers opportunities to learn about new perspectives and strengthens existing efforts. The Network is a resource for interested groups, educators and parents seeking meaningful approaches to education. The main activities of the Network include an annual conference, workshops on special topics, topic-driven mini conferences, newsletters and an annual conference magazine.

This year, the 7th Annual Conference was held between the 4th and 7th February 2010 at Timbaktu Collective. Timbaktu is located near Chennekothapalli Village in the Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh. Timbaktu started in 1990 when a small group of development activists purchased a 32 acre, dry barren land to heal and regenerate it. They also formed a voluntary organization, Timbaktu Collective in 1991 with 3 team members who started working with 10 local villages. Timbaktu is now a 700 acre, agro forest habitat, partners with 140 villages and has grown to 110 full-time workers. Timbaktu runs a residential school for children from these communities who otherwise have little or no access to education and who are at higher risk of dropping out. There is also a day school where children feel safe and protected and develop their own abilities, pursue interests and have the space to play, sing, dance, laugh and learn different skills.

This proved to be an ideal setting for the group of committed individuals who gathered to attend the conference. There were about 120 participants from 11 states. The participants were teachers, trainers, parents, therapists, volunteers working in NGOs, NGO personnel involved in educational projects, teaching aid manufacturers, persons running learning centers for children, etc. At the conference, every day began with some physical exercise and meditation. All meals provided were nutritious, authentic and delicious, needless to mention that it consisted of organic ingredients! The more energetic among the participants had a daily trek to look forward to as well.

A quick recap:

  • Prof. Balambal made an interesting presentation on traditional board games and their role in value inculcation, motor skill development, subject learning, etc. This was interesting especially at a time when children are over exposed to the electronic media.
  • The Hippocampus Reading Foundation had a very fascinating presentation of their efforts in popularizing reading among children in rural and semi urban schools. Their journey towards this was not without difficulties. However, their sincerity has proved fruitful and their ‘Grow by reading’ program is showing the effectiveness of their efforts.
  • The team from Kaigal, an effort by the Valley School, KFI in association with the local farmers and community made an inspiring presentation on environment education. The Kaigal Education and Environment Program (KEEP) runs a centre in the picturesque Kaigal valley nestled amidst the hills of Palamner ghats in the Chittor forests of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Sumitra Goutama of The School, Chennai made a presentation on student experiences of social and environmental interactions that were the outcome of their senior school trips. She spoke about the school projects and non-certificate courses at their school. It showed how students can be made sensitive to the various dimensions of the society they live in, through observation, participation and contribution. These also provide a bridge between teacher reflective learning and implementation of social studies/general studies curriculum through active learning.
  • The presentation by the Haritha Association for Learning from Environment was definitely inspiring to say the least. Located in Palavencha near Khamman in Andhra Pradesh, this school has scaled great heights and delved into holistic and meaningful education. This effort by Haritha is a silent revolution in the field of education.
  • The Isai Ambalam school team from Auroville gave a demonstration of how difficulties in learning subjects can be overcome with proper teaching techniques.
  • Anjali Noronha from Ekalavya gave a talk on how to develop democratic concepts and practices while presenting lessons in class.
  • The Kanya Kumari Kalai Koodam led by Muthu Chandran presented a hilarious leather puppet show. He also explained a few details about making leather puppets and palm leaf puppets. His immense talent and effort won the hearts of all those present.
  • Aditi from Genie kids did a workshop on sex education. Children need proper guidance and awareness regarding this issue which poses an uncomfortable problem for parents due to its very nature. This initiative was an attempt to help parents and other adults dealing with children to empower them to deal with situations of abuse or awkwardness.
  • The Naandi foundation made a presentation of their efforts in Chattisgarh in involving the local community in providing quality education in the rural schools there. It was an elaborate exposition of how sincere efforts in helping children outside of school hours, went a long way in improving their performance. It also showed how the participation and active involvement of the local community is essential for the success of such a program.
  • The Ekalavya team had an interactive session of how classroom interactions need to be made democratic.
  • Geetha Arvind of Anubhava Science Foundation shared insights on how science education can be fun, thought-provoking and creative. She also shared the difficulties in approaching schools and teachers with their rigid mind sets. However, perseverance and patience can bring about changes for the better. Simple, cost-effective ways that enable children to understand and enjoy science is what is being explored by the Anubhava Science Foundation. This presentation was an inspiration to all the lone strugglers who are trying to make a change in the existing system.
  • The presentation by Valley School teachers emphasized the need to nurture sensitivity towards teaching children. Such an approach does have challenges, but a combined consistent conscious effort by the entire school and the staff ensures the nurturing of such sensitivity.
  • Yardstick which specializes in making teaching aids held a hands-on workshop on enhancing learning through activities. The activities presented showed that such learning would not only be effective, but would also be a source of joy and would develop individual thinking skills.
  • Anita and Reshma of the Learning Network had a session on exploring learning and knowing.
  • Rennis Joseph made a presentation on the cultural alienation and learning trauma of learners of English in rural India.
  • Swati Sircar did a presentation on algebra with 2-d materials.
  • “A Teacher’s Journey”, a film by Deepak Verma, depicting the incredible story of an unassuming government school teacher, Mukesh, was inspiring. This film is available with Ekalavya. Schools and teachers would truly benefit from watching this film. This film proves ‘where there is a will there is a way’; however, it does not diminish the plight of government schools and students.
  • Seetha Ananthasivan of Bhoomi Network gave an excellent talk on holistic learning about food and health. It was an eye opener to many and truly well received by the entire audience.

Overall the conference was one of intense sharing and learning, meeting and building contacts between the participants. The mood was friendly and informal. One could sense the genuine passion of the participants in their efforts to make education more meaningful, more holistic. The efforts, warmth, co-operation and attitude of the entire team of the Learning Network are commendable.
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The author is a teacher trainer and remedial therapist. As a participant at the Learning Network Conference, she conducted a session on the importance of movement-based lessons in schools. There were both theoretical inputs on the need for movement, as well as practical interactive demonstrations of how this can be achieved with children in different grades for teaching various subjects. She can be reached at [email protected].

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