Learnings from IDEC 2018

The venue, weather, ambience and people around with their mindset and ideas are great. It reminds me of Film Festival. With different m

 · 14 min read

The venue, weather, ambience and people around with their mindset and ideas are great. It reminds me of Film Festival. With different movies screened at different screens/venue. You are free to go through the schedule, decide what interests you most. You don’t need anyone around. Just go and attend. So for last two days, me Abhishek and Rajitha are attending such sessions in 3 different halls and 2 outdoor venues. Whereas kids are on their own, to roam around, explore the place, participate in different activities like paper folding, pottery, tree-house making or just running after foxy, insects, planting seeds, or playing around, fooling each other, swinging, so on and so forth.
We were late for today's first session since we landed at around 8, took 1.5 hr to reach venue. And another 45 min to figure out the rooms and have breakfast and join the session. It was Yaacov Hecht’s Democratic Education. The questions asked to him were typical.

1. How do u evaluate learning?
2. How do children will discover their passion?
3. If there is a waiting list for admission how do u address to that?
4. What help can people expect from IDEC if they are planning to start a new school?

Group discussion by the Principal of Shri Aurobindo School Nepal.

In the session, there were around 15-20 students of std 8-10, coming from Shashvat Concept School, Amravati. The children had come for their school trip (50 of 500) We were little surprised to see that more than half of the crowd was from students side, also wondered what would they do in such kind of GD. But they were good. They asked questions and answered what was asked.

Like What is the role of teacher in a democratic Education system?
1) To find resources
2) To help children set goals
3) Identify interests of students
4) Should not be strict as well as not-pampering
5) Be friends with children and be like a parent
6) Show different perspectives of the things

Identify the problems that we faced, nature and diversity. What is the common origin of all the problems
1) Expectation
2) Desire
3) Habit to stick to conventional conservative thought process

Mansukh explained Marble Run Experiment setup by the kids.

What if students just enjoy, have fun?
1) Trust the child
2) Push environments (TV Mobile) So keep these away from children
3) Pull environment (Parents feel attracted towards certain type of education system
4) At Nepal school, the children are not allowed mobile phones till std 10. This is
compulsory.

So the question arises is, To what extent we can control/rule the children? There were many views expressed. If we dictate the terms it is against the democracy. Then how to deal with the problem? Rather than restricting, guide the child what's good and whats wrong about it. Help him/her take decisions, and these will be better abided to.
· Even for school, students should be the part of process of setting up rules. Scientific temperament, analysis of consequences should be discussed and students need to be liberated to take decisions
· (With mobile phones in use, there is also an aspect of connect and separate. Due to phones may be we are better connected to the world, but reverse has happened in case of near ones.)
· There is no manual on how a democratic school can run, but we can form groups together. One most important tool is group discussion. The decision taken can be wrong, but it will drive us in some way and we can rectify if time comes.
· The outcome of research is uncertain. We should be comfortable with uncertainty. We should be equipped for the daily needs and not wants.

Aarohi: Ratnesh – From Dependence to Independence to Interdependence

17/11/18
o Can u see the cloud in the notebook?
o Elephants move in herd and not outrun each other
o What is important? Knowledge or sharing?

Salient features at Aarohi:
1) No teachers
2) Knowledge is not important, but its sharing
3) Diversity
4) No Exams

When asked about parents perspective that they are worried about social and monetary security, hence think that it's better if kids turn up taking conventional professional courses and need to appear for entrance/ matriculation exam,
· Ratnesh said: Democratic learning is lifestyle. If u believe in it, come join us. If u want to take conventional route, those doors are open too. (His 20 yr daughter, not appeared for any formal exam yet, and is doing various roles, and is happy)
· Mansukh said, ask yourself what you want your kid to be: Happy, Healthy, Harmonious. These 3 imp Hs can definitely be achieved through democratic learning.
· What comes to your mind when I say INDEPENDENT?
o Ego, success, freedom, I am on my own, lonely,
o INTERDEPENDENT – togetherness, friendship, 2 way communication, helping
· Children at Aarohi, manage everything. They have different jobs to be done on rotational basis. – Managing Finance, Kitchen, media, Reception,

INTER
· I – Involvement. Try involving everyone in every work, at least invite.
· N – Say No to certain things with reasoning. One No opens up many yes. Like he said no to make playground – so kids made one by themselves, no to classroom, no to fridge.
· T -Trust child completely for its abilities. Let him commit mistakes. Let them have an opportunity to learn. Like other academies advertise that they are “success institutes”, we say that we are “failure institute”. If you are happy in failing, do join us. If u don’t fail on ur own, we will make sure that you fail in your experiments, so that you really understand/gain out of it (Wheat/Ragi Chapati)
· E – Equity. Distribution of resources not on basis of equality, but depending upon who needs what
· R – Reasoning/ Questioning – Not just outwardly, but questions to ourselves.

To make interdependence happen –
1) Manage space
2) Cook together
3) Maintenance
4) In case of conventional schooling – these options are not possible, so include some unstructured, either in terms of time or resources or syllabus/studies, which will stimulate the interaction
5) Manage power (Disempower the powerful. So no principal, no authority, everyone gets one vote)
6) Look at nature. Obey its rules and responsibilities
7) Behavioural issues – There aren’t any with children. They are always there for adults
8) Changing leadership. Supporting to voice out concerns. If one is not able, he/she can seek help of others to voice out

Question: I know you don’t publicise your school, there is no campaign to attract parents. Then who will come to your school?
Ans: Towards parents à parents looking out for philosophy, alternatives
Away parents à Where children do not settle in regular school which makes parents to look for some alternative

Yaacov Hecht. Israel. Democratic Education Q & A

1. How to make children read and write
Ans: Don’t teach them anything. They will do on their own at right time (by many)

2. How to reassure parents?
a. Do not sell the school. Be practical with what you will be
b. Meet parents before. Convey Dos and Don'ts of expect
c. Talk about respective child to parent. They understand.
How Yaacov did it –
a. Parents are part of community/ parliament. If anyone has any problem, ask them to raise voice. Always say, ‘ Oh, that’s a good suggestion. Why don’t u raise in community meeting?’. If its valid, many will support. If not, it will fizzle out.
b. Send new enthusiastic and overwhelmed parents to old unhappy parents (In his school a bunch of parents had left, and he did same.) This brings the expectations of new down. It establishes the peace with old ones. They feel that they are still part of the community and they continue to help positively
c. Don’t close eye to parents query

3. How to find the balance between freedom and responsibility
Ans: These are the 2 sides of same coin. Discuss options with children. Give them freedom to choose. Make them aware that they are responsible for its consequences.
4. How will we com to know child is interested in what?
Ans: Giving him freedom and then Observing the child. The interest keeps on changing. We need to be patient
5. What if the current generation is not given any freedom in learning/democracy, how the future world be
Ans: 1. Children will realise in their late 30s and 40s what interests them, and then they will change the carrier.
2. If we remove all principles of democratic learning, the cycle will start once again where someone will realize there is dire need.

Annie: Be-Me: (closest model to LC, situated in city, started small, self-dependent)

Age group – 3+
One student is appearing for NIOS.
In 2017, 5 decided to appear for IGCSE. Annie asked ‘why?, what's the aim?’
Kids – “It's to early for us to decide what we want to do. It's better if we appear for exam, so if required in future.”
Annie: - But do u know it requires lot of efforts and money too. What if u then decide to revert back?
Kids: - We understand that it involves lot of money. We ask your permission to let us start. Pl pardon if we don’t appear. But rt now we feel it is needed.”
Parents permitted.
In next 3 month time they realized it's tough to finish in 2 yr. so they postponed the target to 2020. 2 of them backed out eventually. That too because they found something interesting. They realised studying that was more important than studying for exam. They justified. Rest of 3 are still continuing and taking hard efforts.
Methodology/curriculum setting: Generally a semester is planned.
Children set a target or course and ask someone to facilitate/ or facilitator gives them books/worksheets and helps in case of query. Review is done at the end of semester.
Setting up rules: First week of any semester is crucial for planning and setting up rules. In every decision making, children are involved.

Me: What if children decide to play 6 hr of video games? As a rule?
Annie: You need to believe in them completely. We never say No to anything which is decided in community meeting. And believe me things take care by themselves. Like suppose u have 4 PCs and 12 children wish to play? They need to compromise. Suppose there are 4 more who wish to use PC for studies? They will raise an objection. But if nothing of that sort happens, u need to let them play. Automatically they decide one day, this much is enough.
There are phases, when kids study passionately, day in day out. Do some project. At the same time there are days when they just want to loiter around. And we are ok with that.

Me: How did u start?
Annie: 15 kids of Arohi, when Aarohi shifted to hosur, didn’t want to continue, as that would have been a residential school. Nor they wanted to go to conventional school. So we parents thought that we will soon start with our own. I was working in corporate sector that time. I finally quit. My daughter was 7. We started in 5 BHK house, where one of the parents lived. Since then, as we increased, we shifted to other place. Rt now our landlord is Amukta’s friend. They had a building, wanted to give only for educational purpose, and they needed money. So we give them handsome rent.

Me: Current fees?
Annie: Its 1.15 lac. We know its on higher side. But we are not able to bring it down anymore.

Me: what all workshops do u have?
Annie: We have Carpentry, basic electrical, pottery, full fledged kitchen. Kids keep burning pizzas there.
Someone: Oh, u let them have pizzas? No healthy food?
Annie: We don’t ask them, “Don’t do this. Or this is right or wrong. They figure out by themselves.”
But still, you have to tell them, else they will eat only junk.
With respect to all parents, and yes, they to confess their mistakes, the homes where kids are prompted for healthy food most, enjoy fast food the most.
But at the same time, if we give them the choice, and help them to come toward moderation, they manage it very well.
We had 14 kids enrolled for triathlon this year. We had kept a guest lecture of parent doctor. He talked about glycemic index, PUFA, Fibers etc. and told that those who need muscle endurance, this particular food is not good. All 14, on their own, quit fast food. We got reports from home. May be just for those 3 months, but they did. At the last race, they were so desperate, that they (5 children) carried chips packets for return journey. But only 1 ate. Rest came as that. So according to us, this is more important.
To quote another example one of the girls was undergoing weight reduction program, proper dieting, etc. But there was no success. So she came to me and said, ‘its not about the diet. Its more about self-control. I think I need to learn and practice self-control first. What else do you expect from the children?

Me: We see your model is closest to our idea. You wanted to remain in city, didn't want a residential school. So Do u want to advise us something?
Annie: Its good you are just 8, start small. But start. You will face many problems, but remember you will find solutions as well. And parents are the big assets. They understand and they help. Its not just for their own child. For example, we wanted kids to be taken for swimming practice daily for triathlon, for long and odd hours. We just asked for volunteer, and one parent was ready. His son was not in the event, still he took kids for practice for 3 months. Similarly when we were in dire need of space, Amukta came ahead. So things settle down. But its important to start. And grow eventually.

Me: Did you face behavioural problems any time?
Annie: We are inclusive school. So there is one girl who is autistic. She cant stand loud voice. Sometimes becomes aggressive and bangs on doors. So eventually other kids around her understood this problem

Me: Oh.. so they don’t make noise?
Annie: No.. They do.. But they go to some other room. They give her the space.
Similarly, there are 3 deaf kids in school. But we told their parents we don’t have anything formally structured for them. But they said, there is only small window, which u can use to train them. So we told the parents, u will need to appoint another trainer for them, and they did. The children are fine. Others have accepted them as it is. My daughter’s best friend can't hear a single word without aid. But none of them is really bothered.
Me: In our Diwali run, I faced this problem where a couple of twins didn’t respond to whatever I said. They were constantly holding the ball in hand. Neither they were playing nor did they allow others to. And so we faced big fights. These girls were constantly playing with hose pipe attached to some fire safety valve. 2 different people came multiple times to warn us not to do that. But nothing. They kept on doing. I wanted to reason it out, but nothing. They had a constant stare in their eyes, I felt difficult to crack it.
Annie: Its because u gave them the options. You should tell them the non-negotiables. And then ask, what they would like to do. Maybe then that was not the problem. I will also suggest you a course on non-violent communication, We did it recently. Where in they tell you exact words/ sentences to speak. Like.. I did not like… so and so.. We always ask kids to stay away from fire. But that’s exactly interests them. So we told them, playing in close room, without supervision is potentially harmful. But due to their urge, we started taking them out in small groups and exposed them to fire. That was a ritual for a couple of weeks. And one day, we asked them, come, let's make fire, but none was interested. Suddenly that curiosity was over.
Rajitha: do you face these issues?
Annie: Oh yes. We have kids being really naughty. Speaking bad words. And that happens. This week only, someone called me asshole. I told him its not done. You have to respect me.. as any other human.. and I will not take it anymore. So he just ran away.

Rajitha: So at times u have to assert.
Annie: Yes very much. A few days back, we had a wave of speaking bad words. So what we did is we included this activity in our literary club. If you want to use bad words, standup comedy, it's only in the club. And once u sign for it, you should be open to face the similar words. And to our surprise, exactly those kids signed for it, those who were playing mischiefs.
Me: Any course you would suggest for me to undertake?
Annie: non-violent communication course by Marshall Rosenberg

Days at Neelbagh

Prasad, Nagabhushan, Nagarajan, Amukta Mahapatra
Started by British – David Horsburgh.
  1. 30 Kids, from age group of 6-21. Few trainee teachers, residential school, high school as well as college affiliated to state university.
  2. School in remote rural area on a hill.
  3. Free environment. No grades, Learners learnt at Individual pace.
  4. In a big hall (about 20 X 20 ft), everyone used to study, sometimes helping each other.
  5. There was no competition, only cooperation
  6. No tests, but scope for self evaluation
  7. Once a week, question hour (1 hr decided slot) Where u can question about any process, philosophy, person, self
  8. Shared ownership (3ft by 6ft land given to each member to grow whatever they wanted to, and take care of it. Daily duty roster including – sweeping/cleaning of place, arranging stuff, putting flowers in vase, library maintenance, shopping, cooking, serving)
  9. Homework to be done in school, self-decided, to be finished without supervision
David had worked with education department, was author of books published by Oxford University Press. He wrote textbooks and Workbooks. He was multilingual (Sanskrit, tamil, Kannada, Hindi). The environment was conducive for learning

Prasad did his XI to graduation there. He studied history, political science, literature. Amukta was trainee teacher. He used to refer to syllabus subscribed by university. But studies using library at Neelbagh. Amukta and other akkas just helped him and others. Though there may not be any expert in required subject, trainee studied, discussed, directed the students. Outside syllabus many aspects like languages, arts and crafts, drama, pottery, ss, dispensary, journalism, building was covered.

Local folks used to come with fights amongst themselves which David used to resolve, that too amounted to learning.

(Session was by Prasad, but all were contemporary to him, all 4 had very warm and fond memories of the place. It was very nice to listen to them)

Q: When you come out of such a place and you end up being into rest of the world, beaurocarcy, how do you perceive and bridge this gap?
Prasad: After graduation I was placed in a govt job. I did it for 5 years. But I quit it finally and went into education sector, starting my own NGO, connecting with people. That was my way. But we have a gr8 diverse alumni. One is Professor of English in? Chennai university, one is doctor, one has carpentry business, one does organic farming, Amukta ad rest 3 work in educational sector, so on and so forth..
What you stick to is the values you have learnt.

Naga: Its all upto what you desire to be. If you wish to stay in system, not just you can, but you can survive with your values and virtues. Because you decide to.
If not, you can set up your own.

Q: Did u not try to replicate Neelbagh?
Prasad: what I did outside Neelbagh, is I replicated the principles and values. I created interest in all my ventures, made all jobs enjoyable, worked on principles of cooperation and sharing. I feel that way I am taking Neelbagh ahead.

Poorva Bhave

Poorva is the co-founder and a facilitator of the Learner's Collective Foundation

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