Transformations big and small

At its heart, education is a transformative process. It moves us from unknowing to knowing, from confusion to clarity, from glimpsing the surface of something to seeing the layers beneath it.

Or it should be.

The core of the educational project however, often gets lost, or deliberately hidden, inside the plans, structures and processes that are built to house it, within the pages of the wordy policies that are written to contain it.

From time to time, there are moments that attempt to open up our thinking, to break apart the crusty layers and rearrange them, or even dissolve them in the hope of rediscovering, making or re-making that core.

This issue of Teacher Plus tries to find some of those moments and tell some of the stories of imagining, or reimagining education, both at macro and micro levels. It tries to get at the revolutions that enable the transformative process that as teachers we seek to be part of, within our classrooms.

We look at the long history of education policymaking by the Government of India, from the hopes of a young independent nation captured in the Kothari Commission Report of the mid-sixties to the more reflective deliberations of the National Curriculum Framework of the early 2000s, to the most recent National Education Policy of 2020 – a document that combines the economic and technological anxieties of our age with the desire for inclusion at scale.

We look at intellectual and philosophical movements that have changed the way we think about teaching and learning and how children grow in mind and body. We look at the space of the school and the classroom and ideas that have shaped those spaces. And finally, we listen to the stories of individual teachers and their own journeys to discovery, and the ways in which these have influenced their pedagogies.

We began planning this issue around the theme of “revolutions” in education, and somehow nurtured the idea that we would be able to document a series of big shifts, significant and visible milestones that could show us how schools, curricula and indeed the entire infrastructure of education (not just schooling) had changed over the years. But as the articles began coming in, we realized that this was not some bulldozer carving out a single defined path that we could clearly see. Instead, it was a multitude of small, often barely discernible trails, going in many different directions but ultimately converging on the larger purpose of change. This change could be at the systemic level (as in the case of policies) or at the individual level (as in the case of a teacher finding a specific tool that works for her). It could come from creating enabling conditions (the Mid-Day Meal scheme, toilets for girls) or recognizing and addressing vulnerabilities (through legislation such as the Right to Education Act).

As Prakash Iyer remarks in his article, there is no single revolution, but a “million mutinies”. These battles in defense of the big ideas – equity, fairness, accessibility, relevance – actually take place in the everyday lives of teachers and children, in the form of many small skirmishes around such things as language, textbooks, projects, assessments. So Pradita Nambiar finds her transformative moment during a school assembly, while Simran Luthra finds it in the wisdom of John Holt. Others, like Madhulika Sagaram, discover it in a sense of history, of knowing where indigenous paths to knowledge begin. Praveen Kumar describes the huge perceptual shift that took place in the Telangana Social Welfare Schools, while Kanupriya Jhunjhunwala interrogates our readiness to implement the vision of early childhood education laid out in NEP 2020. These are just a few of the many ideas this issue explores.

Transformations in education also happen in less visible ways, such as in modes of assessment (moving from marks to grades, from summative to continuous assessment), textbook content and design (incorporating ideas of social justice and stories from the margins), and time-tabling (giving sports and arts more time).

And they don’t stop happening. As we face newer and greater challenges – from climate change to rapid urbanization and loss of livelihoods – education too needs to constantly reshape itself to allow for the kind of transformations that will make us adaptive and resilient, even as it equips young people with the mental, physical, and emotional tools they need to survive and thrive.

This issue gives us a sense of how teachers are doing this, one classroom, one child at a time, as well as some glimpses of how as a nation we might think of creating the systems and policies that will support parents and teachers to achieve their own revolutions.

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