From Mainstream to Multiversities
Written specially for the Vikalp Sangam website
Most universities around India have been operating like a centrally controlled funnel where only knowledge from a single certified source is considered valid. This is usually called the ‘mainstream’. However, in various corners in the country, there are centres — like ships sailing against the winds of ‘factory schooling’ — working on diverse ‘alternative’ ways of education. With the common goal of re-imagining higher education in India, some of these alternative universities recently got together to form the Indian Multiversities Alliance.
The Indian Multiversities Alliance aims to harness the collective wisdom and imagination of different organisations to give the youth more learning opportunities and choices than the ones currently available in the current education scenario. It aims to generate meaningful responses to the deep crisis of relevance facing the Indian education system.
Twenty-five educators from different parts of the country met for three days from 21st to 23rd May 2017 at Swaraj University, Udaipur to organize the first meeting of the Alliance. Reva Dandage, co-founder of Swaraj University, Udaipur, shared, “The purpose behind forming the Alliance is to share pedagogical innovations with each other, deepen collaborations and opportunities, and to help mentor new alternative university projects which respect peoples’ diverse knowledge systems that are starting up around the country. There is a need for a learning revolution in higher education to respond to the various challenges the world is facing.”
While each of the alternative universities differed in their duration, focus and age range, the participating initiatives shared a common pedagogical vision of being learner-led, re-connecting with nature, living more sustainably on the planet, rebuilding local economies and the deepening of human consciousness. They respect many diverse streams of knowledge and learning coming from many sources, starting with valuing the learner’s own experiences. They have varied programs and designs to cater to different needs of learners and local communities. Many do not require previous academic degree or diploma to join. For instance, Bhoomi College, Bangalore, runs courses on sustainable living and holistic education where their core is built on understanding self, soil and society. Lemon School of Entrepreneurship, Nagpur enables the students to go through a process of ‘boundary-less ideation to ideating with boundary’ as they develop new social business ideas. Here, the generation and selection of entrepreneurial ideas are done by the participants themselves with a view of benefitting people, planet and profit.
It was exciting to see so many multiple models present during the meeting. The focus area of projects ranged from the fundamental thoughts on the role of our five senses in learning, to experiential entrepreneurship, to community media, to slow food, to digital learning platforms, to transform learning in the cities, etc.
There were discussion sessions, games and activities: Day One included sharing of personal journeys as well as a ‘pecha-kucha’ visual presentations of their initiatives. Day Two was for Open Space where different sessions were offered by the participants for each other — on strengthening digital technology applications, building a mentorship network for new projects, expanding collaboration and synergies, and new pedagogy experiments inside and outside the classroom.
Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation, Delhi said, “Several online sites and apps like Coursera can potentially disrupt the current stagnation of our universities and give more power and choices to each learner.” Rishin Chakravarty, MindTree Global Learning Centre, shared how a community learning space centred around the kitchen can be built and his experiments with this in Bhubaneswar. A walk was taken around the scenic campus where participants were asked to discuss the ways in which they keep their own personal learning edges sharp. Abhishek Thakore, co-founder of Blue Ribbon Movement, Mumbai, expressed, “There is a real need to keep ourselves as radical educators from stagnating.”
Day Three was for projects the Multiversities Alliance could take up in the future such as a Multiversities Travelling Yatra to experience different alternative universities around the country and a Youth Connect Sammelan, where young people from different initiatives can come together to explore the variety of innovative sustainable livelihoods emerging across the country. The organisations also plan to carry out certain activities around a common theme PAN-India on a pre-decided date. Viral Patel, Oasis Group, Baroda, spoke enthusiastically, “A platform has been created where people can exchange ideas, and take them forward for a national level systemic change.”
One of the main purposes of the Alliance is to enable young people to have unlearning opportunities which are not available in the mainstream. For example, the Slow Food Youth Academy is planning to organise food journeys across the country for food enthusiasts, farmers, chefs, healers to look more holistically at our food systems. Sumi Chandresh said, “Young food enthusiasts will get to see the process of tribal and local cooking and farming as well as interact with five-star hotel chefs.”
The Alliance hopes to share their insights with educators around the country and to create a critical mass of thinking and action. Deepak Menaria, Lemon School of Entrepreneurship, adds, “What is important for the Multiversities Alliance is the thought process of being open to innovation, non-conventional and new ways of education. Even people from conventional learning set-ups could learn, share and synergize with us.”
It also hopes to chip away at the isolation of sailing the ship against the winds at one corner in the country. Ishita, Bhoomi College, spoke reflectively, “There is a feeling of a growing sense of community which we have been lacking until today.” She added, “The people here have come from different places and are working on different projects, but the overall direction of thinking is similar.” Hemang Panchmatia, Mumbai People’s Un-versity, with a twinkle in his eyes, said, “I have met my tribe.”
Abhishek Thakore felt strengthened by the gathering and remarked, “We needed this strength and energy. This is an important first step. Something very powerful is being born here.”
For more information, visit www.multiversities.net
Some of the initiatives represented were:
Swaraj University, Udaipur www.swarajuniversity.org
Lemon School of Entrepreneurship, Nagpur http://lemon-school.
Madhyam Dhoot, Nasik http://www.abhivyakti.
Bhoomi College, Bangalore http://
Mumbai Peoples Un-versity, Mumbai http://www.brmworld.
Puvidham Institute of Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Living http://puvidham.in/
Auro University, Surat https://www.
Oasis Movement, Baroda http://www.
Shaishav Children’s University, Bhavnagar
MindTree Global Learning Centre, Bhubaneswar
Swadharma, Auroville, http://www.
Contact the co-author Manish Jain