Humans have been a nomadic species for centuries before cultivation and settlement came in. We followed the course of nature, moving places as seasons and sources of food changed. Each time, the movement being guided by the need for protection, comfort, and ultimately survival. It was never an aimless wandering; each journey brought with it learning and skills that ensured and hold credit to this day for the human species having survived and progressed to the standards that we hold today. In interaction with nature, we learnt to make fire, build tools, follow the elephants to water, construct homes as birds build their nests, predicate a storm. The core being that learning accompanied movement. Travel, was a way of life.
Travel has come to mean different things in today’s time – one travels for work, one travels for leisure, one travels in search of better jobs/homes, one travels to get away, one travels to experience life and culture. And then there is ‘educational travelling’, an aspect of school curriculum that is progressively becoming more and more popular. Most schools have for a long time had an annual school/class trip. This is usually a 2-3 day trip that a class takes together, mostly for leisure but sprinkled with some focused learning elements (visits to places of historic or cultural importance, dams or factories, etc.). Then there are day trips to museums, exhibitions, parks, local historic sites, etc. Most often these trips are justified to the school administration or budget department as having curricular significance and as being part of the ‘syllabus’ requirement. One finds it difficult to convince the school authority or even oneself as a facilitator as to the significance of travelling as part of the child’s schooling experience beyond the framework of syllabus and curriculum.
What does it mean to take a trip? What does it mean to visit a place? What does it mean to travel? What does it mean to wander? Can these questions and discussions that follow find a space within the walls of a school? Could travelling be about just travelling and not necessarily about focused learning outcomes? Could a visit to a historic monument be just about visiting the monument…being in the presence of an ancient architectural marvel…could it be about just admiration…could it be about a visit that inspires one to want to know about the monument, it’s construction, the period it was constructed in and whatever else that it makes one think of…could this inspiration be a result of the unhindered admiration and not the reason for the visit…could this inspiration come to just a few and not necessarily every child and could this be something the facilitator could accept…could it be that a child is blown away by the architecture, another by sheer size, another by the art on the walls, another by the colours of the place, another by nothing at all…could we as educators be willing to let the travel be different things for each individual?
A certain trip comes to mind while I pose these questions. While working in a school, we had taken a two day trip; we called it the ‘Beach Walk’. And that is exactly what it was; it was a 37 km walk along the beach from Bhatkal to Marvanthe (Western Coast, Karnataka). The day started with a train ride from near the school to Bhatkal; this was a first ever train ride for some of the facilitators and students! One can never erase the memory of that image; of the lit up faces, child and adult alike, at that first sound of the wheels trudging along the tracks. Being a coastal town, there were none in the group who hadn’t been to a beach; not that that made any difference to the excitement in the voices and strides of each one of us on seeing the distant sea and feeling our feet sink into the sand that first step! The next two days saw us walking, running, sprinting, and dancing our way through the 37 kms! Chasing the crabs left behind as each wave receded, splashing around in the waves, chasing one another, picking shells, taking naps under the beach trees, frisbee games or just plopping down and being blown away by the sheer vastness of the ocean marked the routine of the walk. At two points, we were ferried across a wide river flowing into the ocean by the local boatmen. One of the boatmen took us right into the ocean before he dropped us off at the other side of the beach!! A boatful of children and adults squealed with excitement at the unexpected boat ride in the ocean waters! The boat man also went on to speak to us about his family, community, and even the working of the fishing market and fishing in the ocean! We were even provided with free refreshments and a place to rest along the beach by a youth group during the course of the walk.
Now, before we set off on the Beach Walk, we had a two-three week Ocean Study. We tried to work in the theme of oceans into various things we did in class; we got in books from the library, made a few charts, and watched a couple of videos. The idea was to have a theoretical understanding about oceans and its various aspects and the Beach Walk to supplement that learning. However, the morning of the Walk, we decided to let it go. We decided to let the Walk be whatever it turned out to be for each child and adult. And well, that’s what the walk was…it was about crabs for some, was about the taste of sea water for one, was about sharing the experience of leaving home while we walked for one, was about shells for some, was about helping a fisherwoman with her fish basket for one, was about counting the number of blues in the sky and ocean for one, was about being surprised by ‘free’ refreshments for one, was about taking charge of younger members for some (without being directed or asked to do it!), was about counting the waves and coming up with the observation that ‘it was every seventh wave that was the largest’ (and it actually seemed to work each time we counted!) for one, was about being dazed by the starlit night sky, was about sleeping away from home for the first time for one, was about noting how the beach sand changed its texture every few kilometres, was about the train ride for a few, was about having walked all that distance for some and many different things. And in being all these magical moments, a unique moment for each, the Beach Walk moved away from its initial conceptualization as an ‘educational’ trip to a travel experience that shall remain an experience of its own accord, whether or not it contributed directly to the syllabus and curriculum. Then again, what is the curriculum but a coming together of experiences as these…experiences that move, inspire and excite the mind; the child and the adult alike.
If the world be the school, and the child/student and the adult/facilitator be the learners, the travel be the schooling, the travel be the learning, the travel be the experience.
The author used to work as a facilitator and is currently on an exploratory break. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.