The network of alternative schools sounds like a very official body and the meetings to be very formal affairs. While the original idea was to form a body to lobby for education reforms, it became a group of individuals interested in meeting and sharing the work they do. These are people associated with institutions, who meet once a year. There is no sponsorship and all take time off and spend their own resources to come and be a part of an intense discussion for two or three days. There is usually a broad theme which informs the meeting, but there is also personal sharing of the past year and of questions that arise as a part of the work. The meeting is usually hosted at one of the institutions and everybody stays together in dorm-like settings.
This year the meeting was at Anand Niketan, a school run by the Nai Talim Samiti, at Sevagram, Wardha. The theme was Work and Education- a topic very dear to Mahatma Gandhi’s heart. He founded the Nai Talim Samiti to consider how education could be funded, as he believed that the then policy of using duties on liquor sales to fund school was morally wrong. The discussions for the present day schools also come in a context where education has become just a training institute for entrance tests and degrees. For all alternative schools, education includes work related to the school space, the care of the classrooms, materials and gardens. But what does it mean to include meaningful and productive work as a part of the curriculum? What kind of work? Will it take away from the necessary academic learning? What will parents say? These were the questions discussed. The starting point was a note circulated by Anu and Krishna of Thulir, an educational resource centre for children and young adults, in Tamil Nadu. The discussions rambled, partly because like all good teachers, each of us immediately thought of our students and came up with opinions. This meant that the ideas were being considered simultaneously for 8 and 15 year olds. We also could not agree on what could be added, what could be dropped. But the important part of the meeting, for me personally, was the ideas it generated and which I could carry to my school for sharing with my colleagues.
Apart from the discussions around the theme of work and education, there was sharing of techniques, readings, philosophy and personal reminiscences. The high points for me were meeting the new young members, listening to Shri Vasant Palshikar talk about the article he wrote on Nai Talim, chatting with friends till late in the night, watching the teachers of Anand Niketan meeting at 10 PM to learn techniques of teaching languages, and the beautiful singing, and other activities of the children of Anand Niketan.
For the people from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the meeting started in the train on the way to Wardha, and continued on the way back.
The author works with Centre for Learning, Bangalore. She can be reached at email@example.com.