At Centre for Learning (CFL), a small alternative education centre where I work, we often talk about how in schools and colleges, we have varied, well-defined roles; and how people start to identify themselves so dearly with their roles – teacher, one who is supposed to only teach, a student, one who is supposed to only learn. We talk about how we keep fitting ourselves into these little boxes – a box called nation within which we try to confine the essence of humanity; little boxes called schools and colleges, within the four walls of which, we are supposed to teach and learn; boxes that give us our identity and yet in the process ruefully separate us from the rest.
Peer learning is one thing that helps us look outside the boxes we have built for ourselves. It helps us acknowledge the gifts all of us have and are here to share, to acknowledge the freedom all of us have to learn from each other. One of the things we talk to children about is how teachers are not some special people to be found only in schools and colleges. They are all around us. We are surrounded by many interesting people with wonderful gifts, people who are not only doing interesting things but would be more than happy to teach us the same. They are not all old. Some could be of our age or even younger. And we constantly learn from them, from each other and from ourselves.
Leo Tolstoy says, “Education is the tendency of one man to make another just like him. Education is a compulsory, forcible action of one person upon another… Culture is the free relation of people.” Peer learning, I believe, helps us relate to people around us, to the process of learning, differently, a little more freely for sure. Last year at CFL, we started holding weekly workshops for children. During these workshops different people were invited to hold sessions for the children and us. The idea was to expose the children to other teachers apart from those present at CFL. A few parents also participated sometimes as teachers, sometimes as learners. As the year passed some children showed interest in holding workshops for others. The evolution was organic and it led to all children holding classes teaching others something new and interesting they had learnt themselves. Just changing the equation as to how the peers interacted with each other – in this case from classmates studying together to one child taking the class – produced interesting results. It made all of us look at each other a little differently, as both learners and teachers at the same time.
The whole process helped us redefine or shift our roles during the course of the learning experience, helped us look at ourselves as wholesome beings and not just the tag we are wearing. It brought us a step closer to the real world away from the so called efficient models of teaching and learning.
The author works at Centre for Learning, Secunderabad. He can be reached at [email protected].