The request for an article on ‘how to sustain alternative ideas of education’ has come, ironically, at a time when the small alternative school that I have been working in for the last 40 years is in the process of being closed down. A number of such small schools associated with the Alternative School Network in South India have closed since the RTE Act of 2009.
It is vital to identify key elements of an authentic education. This should not be confused with the survival or not of alternative schools as they have evolved within a particular historical context in the last 50 years. How can ideas of non-violence, inclusion, co-operation, differentiated learning and equity be supported in the present context?
Gandhi’s ‘talisman’ urges us to think whether our actions will restore to the weakest and poorest “a control over his [her] own life and destiny”. In other words, are the practices we are advocating deadening or sustaining a shared life?
Formal schooling offers certification but this is not necessarily to be equated with greater opportunities, meaningful learning, or the building of a more just society.
The creation of less institutionalized, open learning spaces for teachers, students and children, both within the school and outside it could be one way forward to complement, supplement, and even challenge mechanical schooling and prescriptive teaching.
We need to increase access to resources such as a dynamic library for critical and shared reading, writing and image making. We need to create spaces for craft activities and experimentation using natural and re-cycled materials. Outdoor spaces or a garden could become places where nature can be explored, enjoyed and cared for.
An example of an open-ended, imaginative activity might be to make “a museum in a box” where things from the immediate environment – natural or human-made – are collected, sorted, explored, and shared. Such a simple and inexpensive activity could help us to be more observant and attentive, to make connections and to share and learn from each other.
Alternative ideas in education may be best sustained by recognizing that any practice – big or small – has its impact on supporting or undermining a more humane society.
The author has been working in an alternative school for the last 40 years. She has authored a number of books related to language teaching and art education and has worked part time at TISS Mumbai and APU Bengaluru. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.