A learn-force raring to do

Ratnesh Mathur and Aditi Mathur

Lockdown could mean freedom.
When the lockdown due to Covid-19 started, one general thought in the media and education circles was (quoting from one article), “Millions of children around the world are suffering the loss of learning.”

Now, as schools, colleges and universities are turning online, the buzz is, “Covid-19 is going to change education forever.”

The first ‘worried statement’ is gravely untrue. Millions of children around the world are NOT suffering the loss of learning.

Millions of teachers around the world are suffering the loss of teaching. Children, meanwhile, are merrily learning what they like to and want to learn. Some are doing craft, some reading, some playing games and many even participating in housework! Coronavirus has brought the gift of self-directed learning for millions of children!

Children today are no more bound by the chains of forced curriculum. Maybe we need to look at this situation, not as a problem for education, rather as a huge opportunity for empowering the learners.

Yes, we need to change education forever. No, not just tinker it here or there. No, not just shift teaching online. No, not make the children slave to digital devices.

Some children could merely be spending their time on digital gadgets playing games or watching videos and movies. Loads of children, in that sense, are not learning.

Most people see this as a problem.

Unfortunately, the education system has conditioned the children to believe that they cannot decide what to do with their time. We have actually converted them into consumers. All learning is dished out to them (in various forms designed by teachers and textbooks and AV content) and they are supposed to simply consume it. We have been conditioning children to believe that only school or teachers can groom them. We have been making them believe that they are incapable of living their lives.

You see, this is the problem, which was created much before lockdowns happened.

But by nature’s design, children are producers. Just watch a two-year-old rummage through his house in search of explorations the whole day. The two-year-old needs no curriculum, no teacher – he is constantly learning from things, from people and from his ingenuity. He is a factory which produces learning by the minute!

As children grow, we move them away from the natural dynamism of being self-directed – to teacher, curriculum and system directed. We convert our prolific producers to habitual consumers. No wonder all they can think of during lockdown is gadgets, TV or the expression, “I am bored.”

But we see this as an opportunity. A huge opportunity, massive potential energy waiting to explode. Imagine millions of children and young adults, a huge workforce (or let us call it learn-force) waiting on the bench, raring to do (and learn) something wonderful in their lives.

All they need is a spark and we would have the biggest learning fire going around the world.

For example, say YOUtube announces a YOULearn (or something like that)

Asking every child (in this world) in the age of 0 to 17 years to upload at least one video where he or she teaches the world what he or she knows – it could range from teaching somersaults, to how to make pancakes, to how to giggle without much reason and shoo away the blues or how to solve quadratic equations or how to sketch a puppy using toothpaste or their theory about aliens – anything!

YOUlearn becomes a challenge and a rage that every child thinks he or she HAS TO BE a part of. Rest, we leave to each child’s ingenuity on what and how they make this video.

After lockdown, so many online courses are being offered, but only by adults. Why are children not teaching what they know? Why do we not have a zoom web-conferencing for kids – kind of zoomkids – kids teach the world – free!

The above is just one example.

We’re sure if we are ready to embrace the self-directed learner in every child, if we are ready to acknowledge that all learning (and not just the school curriculum) is as beautiful and valuable, then we can create many such environments where our little producers can create the magic of learning.

So here is what we propose – let’s us all talk to biggies – governments, google/youtube, media houses, and yes, the schools and tell them that covid-19 and lockdown donot mean we have to now shift schools/teaching online. It’s time for a paradigm shift in education.

We have a choice – as to how we look at education, at children and their abilities and how we can learn and live very differently from what we were doing till 2019.

Imagine all schools which are nowadays keenly teaching online – change the format to each class being taught by one or few children. Each subject-topic is announced in advance, a team of children collaborate among themselves and then at a pre-decided time for the online class, they teach the rest of the class. Maybe, another group prepares the homework for the topic and yet another group prepares the test at the end of the month.

Online or offline, in the classroom or in labs or on the grounds – the moment we get children to lead, not just others, but themselves, we are making them leaders, we are giving them responsibility for their learning. That responsibility will be the biggest learning for the children.

Our experience is that children not only connect with children much better, they make better teachers, and they learn much more. They suddenly have a purpose to not just their learning, but to themselves.

Which is why schools should seriously look at not just children teaching within their classes but teaching-learning happening across age groups. Perhaps children forming clubs based on their interest – could be a programming club or art club or maps club or poetry club, etc. The idea is simple – synergy is the most potent energy.

Since each child is good at something , this will also force us to enlarge our scope of curriculum, embracing all learning – be it music or maths, embroidery or electronics, geography or gymnastics as equal. It’s time to tell the children that A R Rehman is as important in our life as Narayana Murthy. It’s time for us to let them believe that every career is as wonderful, that RJs earn and live as beautifully as CAs.

We, as educators have the onus to open up not just children’s lives, but also parents’ perspectives. We can showthe parents, simply by what we do and how we do, that education is not a preparation for a career, rather an empowerment to make each child realize his or her joy in life.

And we realize that in this paradigm, the role of the teacher becomes so much more important and so much more exciting. In fact, we cannot anymore call teachers, teachers; they are now mentors – they now coach, guide and facilitate the learner, teacher and leader in every child.

And mentors most importantly observe, most of the time. Mentors observe not just what children are learning, but how they are teaching and learning from each other.

Mentors observe whose potential is untapped. Mentors observe what children are not aware of in themselves and show it to them and their parents. Mentors observe what skills and knowledge are more relevant to children and society today and welcome their inclusion in the whole learning process (for example video making today is as important as writing).

Mentors obviously mentor children (and not the subjects). Mentors mentor learning (and not tests and exams). Mentors mentor the joy of doing (and not merely acquiring facts). Mentors mentor collaboration (and not running out each other in some rat race).

Most importantly, mentors mentor each other, the whole school turning itself into a learning community, each supporting the other. If you can, and we think you should, invite parents to be part of the school-community, not as customers, but as co-learners, co-doers and invaluable resource people.

This could just be the beginning – the moment we see education as a co-creation of life, co-learning becomes our chosen paradigm and all energies and systems can celebrate in this joy of togetherness.

Start by inviting children to this party called life.
After Covid-19, let us have Co-live-20.

Aarohi is an Open Learning Community for learners of all ages, open to all kinds of interests, abilities, styles and content areas. Learning by doing what one wants, how one wants, and self reflection. It is a Community to co-live, co-learn and co-support each other. Aarohi’s Campus is in a village near Hosur in Tamil Nadu (55km from Bangalore). More about Aarohi: https://aarohilife.org.

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