Musings on Education, Learning and Schooling in the context of Imlee Mahuaa School

By Prayaag Joshi on Oct. 25, 2017 in Perspectives

The Context At Present

Imlee Mahuaa School is a day school located in Balenga Para, a quiet hamlet about 17 kilometres from the Kondagaon district headquarters in southern Chhattisgarh, popularly known as the Bastar region.  The School was established in August 2007 with the intention of providing a relevant and meaningful alternative in education to the people living in Balenga Para and its neighbourhoods.  The School is an accredited study centre of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).  It is also registered with the Department of Education, Government of Chattisgarh under the law for compulsory and free education.  The School has been established under a public charitable trust for financial and regulatory convenience.

In June 2017, 45 children were studying in the School.  The youngest child is about 5 years old and the oldest is about 17.  They come from Balenga Para, Kokodi, Jagadhin Para and Kodagaon villages and live within a radius of 4 kilometres from the School.  The children come in roughly equal numbers from the four villages.  27 (60%) of the children are girls, 41 are Muria tribals, 3 are from the Scheduled Castes and 1 from the Other Backward Classes.  43 children come from families whose main sources of livelihood are subsistence farming and gathering minor forest produce and their family incomes are below the official poverty line.  The remaining 2 children's father is a school teacher in a state owned school.  The School does not levy any fees or charges on its students for the services it renders.

The School has 3 members on its staff.  All are male. One of them, a potter lives in and commutes from Kumhar Para village near Kondagaon.  The second, a bachelor of education is a native of nearby Kokodi.  The third, also a bachelor of education resides in Balenga Para since moving there in 2007 with the intention of establishing the School.  He is also the author of this article, which is written entirely from his perspective.

Making A Beginning

The decision to situate the School in Balenga Para village was influenced by the author's notion in 2007 that the people of a village that is not connected to the electricity grid, has no telephone connectivity and is 90 kilometres from the nearest reliable hospital are likely to feel an acute need for a good school.  Balenga Para did lack such infrastructure in 2007.   Today in 2017, the village receives an erratic supply of electricity from the grid.  It is now a community of enthusiastic cell phone users that is still largely dependent on shamans and unregistered medical practitioners for medical advice and treatment.

The people of Balenga Para of all ages - men, women and children gathered in large numbers in their Ghotul premises one rainy day in May 2007 to meet and learn from the author about his ideas for the School that he wanted to start in their village.  They deliberated among themselves about the matter and approved the author's proposal immediately while emphasising that they would like the School to teach their children English.  They suggested that the new School could operate from the premises of the Ghotul until other premises were located and also arranged for a hut near the Ghotul to be vacated for the author's residence.

On August 22, 2007, the School commenced its work from the Ghotul in Balenga Para which comprises a mud hut, an open air meeting place with short mud walls, wooden pillars and a thatch roof and a little courtyard all enclosed within a boundary made of split logs of wood.  The School used the Ghotul for its activities until 2011.

The word Ghotul is also used to indicate the tribal institution that trained the village youth for life in the tribe.  Such training was imparted to all the girls and boys of the village who were not going to school, from the time they reached puberty until they got married.  This included hands on training in tribal song and dance during the time spent in the premises of the Ghotul from dusk to dawn every day and in different types of cooperative work in the village as and when required.  The youth were trained for a life based on subsistence farming and gathering minor forest produce.  Such life is very labour intensive and is heavily dependent on daily associations between the members of the community.  In Balenga Para, the Ghotul functioned as an institution until April 2010. Since then, its premises continue to be used by the community for meetings, wedding dances and for entertaining tourists.

Name and Curriculum 

The School commenced work with a rather long name - Imlee Mahuaa Naee Taaleem Centre For Learning.  The words Naee Taaleem reflected the Gandhian leanings of the author.  Imlee and Mahuaa - the local names for the tamarind and butter trees were included to reflect the reverence that the people of Bastar had for both trees and the central place that these trees enjoyed in the cuisine, rituals, livelihoods, beliefs and culture of the people.

Within a couple of years of the establishment of the School, its children and the adults had moved to an open, reflective, adaptive, self-critical, independent and evolving approach in exploring schooling, learning and education, which still included the elements of Gandhian Nai Talim that they found relevant in their context.  The younger children were also finding it very difficult to remember the long name of their School.  So in 2012, the School changed its name to its present short version Imlee Mahuaa School.

The adults designed and adopted a curriculum that allotted equal importance and time to physical work, the arts, play, and academics in their daily, weekly and annual schedules and supported these activities with the requisite financial and physical resources.  They did this with the intention of facilitating the physical, psychological, aesthetic and intellectual 'development' of the children.  They tried to maintain a friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the School that was free of fear and punishment.  Moral development, competition, examinations did (and do) not find any place on this agenda.  As time went by, new elements such as freedom, responsibility, consequence and participative decision making added themselves to the way of life at School and individual members adopted different elements of the curriculum to suit their individual needs.  The author hopes that such a 'curriculum and way of life' will foster open, questioning, skeptical, dissenting, non-conforming, independent, understanding, intelligent, tentative and maverick hearts among the children and adults of the School.

Languages and their usage at School

In which language should we talk to each other at School?  Can the choice of the languages influence the atmosphere at School?  How should the expressed wish of certain parents that their children learn English at School be engaged with?  Should the mother tongues of the children determine the choice of language?  What should be done if no textbooks or few books are available in the languages that the children speak?  In which language should the children write their high school examinations?  When the School commenced its work with 2 children and 3 teachers in August 2007, some of these questions were just raising their heads.  Others cropped up later.

Since the School was admitting young children who spoke only Halbi and/or Gondi (languages that have no scripts and very few books written in them), it was perhaps necessary that one or both these languages should have been adopted as the initial language/s of communication at School.  But, the author and both the other teachers were unfamiliar with both languages and had given themselves no lead time to learn either of the languages before School commenced.  They were unable to use either language when School commenced.

So as a compromise and taking a cue from what some of the parents had requested, English was chosen as the initial 'medium' of instruction.  The teachers felt that if the children were adequately 'immersed' in English, they would learn it well.  This approach worked quite well during the first academic year as all the teachers were fluent in English and spoke to each other and with the two children too in English.

It was in the second academic year that serious challenges emerged on the language front.  Two of the three English speaking teachers left the School.  The strength of the children grew to 15 and the School hired its first few teachers from the local communities.  All the children and the new teachers shared a common language - Halbi.  None of them spoke English.  Suddenly, immersion in English became a daunting task.  Its usage was impossible in any interactions between the children and the new teachers.

As the School hired more local teachers and enrolled more children over the next few years, English immersion lost its teeth for various reasons - everyone including the author now spoke a common language - Halbi; learning English was unattractive for the  children and local staff because it had no application or  practical utility in their daily lives and they had no exposure to the language outside the School; the older children were getting better at reading and writing in the Devanagari script than the English alphabet and therefore found it easier to use textbooks and story books written using Devanagari; the local teachers were unable to make rapid progress in learning English which was very necessary for facilitating the immersion process at School; and many children had learnt the rudiments of Hindi, as it was a language that was closer to Halbi as compared to English.

So for a couple of years, Hindi was made the lingua franca of the School.  In 2010 the School registered as a Hindi medium school with the District Education Officer, under the law for compulsory and free education.  But that did not stop its children or adults from using other languages they were more comfortable with, according to their needs and preferences.  Halbi soon emerged as the most preferred language among the children and in 2016, it was registered as the medium of instruction of the School.

It is interesting to witness the rich quality of conversations in Halbi that happen in informal groups of children and native Halbi speaking staff at School.  Such richness is usually absent in conversations that include a non-native Halbi speaker like the author.  Perhaps it is the culture that the native speakers of Halbi share that contributes to such quality.

The author has recently renewed his efforts in English immersion since the staff and children requested that he speaks with them only in English.  This means that he talks only in English with all the children and adults in School throughout the day.  They talk with him in the language they are comfortable with and translate for the benefit of each other when any of them don't understand what the author is saying.  Many children do a lot of exploratory work using books and encyclopaedias that are written in English.   During their monthly meetings in 2016 and 2017 the children have consistently voted that the English language skills classes be continued.  These classes help them to learn and master specific skills such as understanding, speaking, reading and writing and to learn to use tools such as the dictionary and phonetics.

Hindi has evolved as the language for public examinations primarily because these examinations are not offered in Halbi or Gondi.  Children write their diaries and half yearly reports for their parents in Halbi using the Devanagari script.  They talk with each other and with the two local teachers in Halbi and with the author in Hindi.  As the Gondi speaking children grow older, they prefer to converse with each other in Gondi.  Hindi is rarely used in informal conversations by the children or local staff.  The School community converses in Halbi and Hindi during its meetings. Minutes are written in Halbi or in Hindi.  Children and adults write letters to children in other schools such as Junglee School in Munsiari and Lakshmi Ashram in Kausani in Hindi.  During the annual festivals of performing arts at the School where their parents are present, children use all the languages used in School enthusiastically in every format possible and especially in enacting plays, telling stories and reciting poetry.  

Thus, the School has evolved into a space that is devoid of any pedagogical prescriptions about language.  Its users make their own choices of language quite freely within their particular circumstantial limitations. The adults have learnt that holding the matter of language with soft hands is especially important to foster a space that is free of fear.  They also see that their own language is one of the few tools that young children bring with them to School.  Therefore being welcoming of their choice of language and easy about any (im)purity in the usage of other languages that the child is learning is imperative.  They see that children are eager learners of languages and do experiment with them better in informal settings, without suggestion and especially when they have a real choice of whether or not to use the language. 

Happiness, Freedom, Responsibility and Consequence

Within a few months of commencing work, it became evident that in order to do justice to a well rounded curriculum everyone needed to spend a long day at School (at the cost of time that they could spend at home).  From the second year itself the day at School stretched to 9 hours every day from Monday to Saturday.  Fridays were half days to allow everyone to visit the weekly village haat (market) and Sunday was the weekly holiday.  The School closed for a month in summer and on a few festive days during the year.

The children were divided into mixed age groups and elaborate weekly timetables were drawn up by the teachers for the different groups.  They allotted time to various forms of work (cleaning the premises, fetching water, vegetable gardening, cooking, meals, spinning cotton yarn, managing the library, teaching, embroidery...), academics ( subject wise classroom learning, freewheeling conversations...), the arts (pottery, performing arts, drawing, painting, music, reading library books, story telling, ...) and play (yoga, walks, games, excursions...).  Some activities were done in small groups and some by everyone together.

Being together for 9 hours every day gave a heady feeling of togetherness, but was taxing on those who were responsible for work at home.  Working in groups meant that the children were never by themselves.  Timetables made in the staff room and the emphasis by the adults that children be punctual and regular to School were insensitive to the needs and abilities of the children.  All this was out of sync with the freedom that the children enjoyed at home.  Everyone coped with the situation according to their abilities.

In adivasi society, children enjoy significant freedom at home from a very young age.  Parents do not insist that their children do or don't do certain chores.  Most adults go about their daily work allowing children to play freely by themselves from a very young age, only tending to their needs when required.Their approach in bringing up children is very 'hands off'.  Thus a child usually starts doing household work while playing and imitating the adults of the house do it.  When a child shows interest in taking up household chores such as fetching water or cutting wood or hunting for food, parents make or buy tools such as little pots, axes or catapults of the appropriate size for him/her.  He/she is rarely coaxed or forced to do such work and is just allowed to play or be with older members of the family while they work.  This is possible because children's play areas - front yards, back yards, neighbourhoods and farms are safe for children to be by themselves.  Nor are children forced to go to school.  If on joining a school, a child is unhappy with the school and doesn't wish to return to school, his/her parents usually respect his/her decision and allow him/her to be at home.  Clearly, a child that enjoys such freedom at home is very likely to feel out of place and be unhappy in a school that denies him/her such freedom.

As time passed, the author sensed a growing sense of weariness and disquiet among the children.  Attendance and punctuality were suffering.  Attention spans were waning in the classrooms.  Children were asking whether they could leave early for home.  There were more unhappy faces around the School campus than ever before.  During School discussions, there were fewer children who said that they enjoyed School.  Something had to be done urgently.

Once, during one of his classes with the oldest group of children - Soorajmukhi, the author had to step out to attend to some urgent administrative work.  When he returned to the classroom towards the end of the period, he found that the children had spent their time quite peacefully by themselves.  Some had continued to study, some had dozed off and some had started playing.  But everyone greeted the author with a broad smile on their faces.

Learning from that experience, the author started allowing the group to spend increasing amounts of time by itself and observed that the happiness levels in the group soared and the children continued to spend their time responsibly, peacefully and in order. The children of Soorajmukhi soon started designing and modifying their group's weekly timetables together with the author and very soon they were spending their entire day at School without any adult supervision.  Some of them wanted to design their own timetables and they got such freedom.  High attendance, punctuality and happy faces were back in Soorajmukhi, and this was not going unnoticed by the rest of the School.

The experience in Soorajmukhi started a discussion in the School that addressed many related questions and some new ones...Should all the children enjoy the freedom that the oldest among them had got?  What would their parents say when they heard about this freedom?  What would teachers do the whole day if children spent time by themselves?  How much time should the children and adults spend at School?  How should they spend such time? What time should everyone come to School and when should they go home? On which days during the week should the School remain closed?  When should the School have vacations?  Should attendance and punctuality at School be insisted upon and should the benefits that the students and members of staff received from the School be dependent on these two criteria or any others?  Who should determine the answers to these questions and take decisions on matters that concerned all the children and staff?

Children and adults spent long hours deliberating on these matters, and decided that they would take decisions democratically, that each one of them would have one vote irrespective of his/her age.  It was decided democratically to grant freedom gradually to the younger children to determine how they should spend their day at School.  Decisions on other matters were also taken democratically and were documented.

It was in 2015 that all the children got the freedom to take decisions about how they spend their time at School and which activities they participate in.  Since then every child has determined through everyday at School what he/she does from time to time.  We see no pattern in which the children allocate their time to different activities.  We do observe however that every child is busy throughout the day and is always engrossed in whatever he/she has chosen to do at that point in time.  Since 2015, no child has ever complained of being bored or not knowing how to spend his/her time.

That the children enjoy such freedom in School has been communicated to their parents in more than one meeting.  Parents of new children are also apprised on this matter when they admit their children to School.  Parents have consistently stated that they are happy that their children get (or will get) such freedom at School.  

15 children out of 60 were withdrawn from School during the year that ended in March 2017.  14 of them live in nearby Kokodi village located on the state highway.  They are all studying in different state owned schools in Kokodi now.  Most of them are young children who depended on their school mates to bring them to School.  Their parents said that since these older children had left the School, they had no choice but to withdraw their children from School.  An older boy left the School because he felt that there were inadequate teachers in the School and another left because his friend was leaving.  It is also possible that some  were withdrawn because their parents were concerned that their children were learning 'nothing' at the School in the atmosphere of total freedom.  It is interesting in this light to note that a couple of parents from Kokodi who are employed in state owned schools continue to send their children to the School.

The freedom that all of us enjoy is teaching us a very important skill - taking decisions (and being responsible for ourselves).  In this process many of us are becoming increasingly aware of the responsibility that this freedom is casting upon us - that of utilising our time well.  

That children are astute decision makers is reflected in their decisions to request for adult involvement only in areas where they are significantly limited in helping themselves or learning on their own.  That they are confident decision makers shows in the consistent refusal by some very young children to accept invitations from adults to learn skills that are likely to be useful to them in future or by some older ones to leave School because they felt that it was not the right place to prepare for a certain career.  That they are responsible decision makers is exemplified in their decisions to allocate more time to academics as they grow older if they are interested in pursuing careers that will require them to pass public examinations.  And that they are mature and bold decision makers is indicated in their lack of hesitation to choose careers such as subsistence farming despite parental pressure to pursue employment, in their decisions to take or not to take public examinations depending upon the importance of academic skills and certification in their chosen vocations, and in their decision to buy the freedom to continue to come to School by surrendering to parental pressure that they take public examinations.

At School, we have not discussed freedom in the context of responsibility and consequence in detail.  That has not been possible yet because we still have amongst us a large group of young children that is not naturally attracted towards abstract intellectual discussions.  But we all do deal constantly with the possible consequences of every decision that we take, be it climbing the wet branch of a tree on a rainy day, deciding to stay back at home for a couple of days to help build a boundary wall, remaining engrossed in playing marbles for several days or to not go on a long excursion though a close friend has opted to go on it.  We are learning to take these decisions with responsibility and to live with the consequences that accompany them.

Work

One of the first few decisions that we took when we started School was that we will not engage 'support' staff who only do the manual work (that all of us adults and children will partake in such work) and that we will pay all paid staff members the same rates of remuneration irrespective of their age, qualifications or experience.  We have never needed to review either of these decisions.

The nature of the work done at School has changed over the years according to our changing routines.  Work has mainly evolved around the theme of 'roti, kapdaa aur makaan' and some School essentials.  It has included kitchen gardening, purchasing foodstuff, school consumables and vegetables from the market, filling water, cooking and cleaning, dividing and serving food, cleaning and repairing the premises and facilities, helping with the construction of new classrooms , spinning cotton yarn, mending clothes, embroidering handkerchiefs, making clay pots and toys, fetching clay from the fields, covering library books, managing the library, teaching, banking, book keeping, financial accounting and maintaining records and documents.  Now that about 25 percent of our children are teenagers we are in the process of introducing various trades that could be useful in our rural context to become economically self-reliant such as food processing and preservation, composting and making plant nurseries, carpentry, masonry, electrical wiring and repairs and metal fabrication to our platter of work. 

All of us have always participated in work at School very enthusiastically.  When we are at work together, lighthearted banter akin to that at play abounds.  However, over the years, children and most staff have hesitated to initiate work.  Left by themselves children across different age groups have preferred to only play or explore, sometimes oblivious to their own basic needs.  Once when we left it open to all to decide whether they would like to participate in the daily cleaning of the School, all except two 14 year old girls and one adult opted not to participate in such work!  Our observations of children's relationships with work have often left us pondering over the appropriateness of compulsory work for children in any context and have guided us towards ensuring total freedom in this area for the children of the School.

Taking Decisions Together

Very early in the life of the School, we started trying to take decisions that concerned life at School through mutual discussions.  To start with, the discussions took place among the adults and soon we started involving the children in these discussions.  Our local staff was not accustomed to participating in discussions and making decisions in groups.  They have taken several years to say what they feel openly in meetings.  This is true with the children too.

Most of the children and staff are still not comfortable thinking aloud, articulating their points of view and setting out reasons that support their views.  Very few bring questions to meetings for discussion.  So usually the more articulate ones among us voice our questions and also try and explain the possible alternative answers to them and the implications of those alternatives as objectively as we can.  Then, there is a show of hands in which there is always enthusiastic participation, everyone irrespective of age enjoys a single vote.  A decision in favour of an alternative that has secured a simple majority is never guaranteed.  Sometimes, there is a demand to take the decision that the minority favours but usually we try and build a consensus.

In the recent past we have taken most decisions by consensus.  Where it has been difficult to build one, we have found ways of accommodating everyone.  Where that has failed, we have postponed the decision making to another date.  All decisions are documented, signed by a child elected by rotation to the Chair and are read out and confirmed at the next meeting.

Some of the decisions that we have taken in the last few years following these processes are:

  • Binding each other to spend an hour together every day doing a variety of  activities;
  • Purchasing bicycles only for children who are at least 12 years old and only if they have spent at least 3 years at the School;
  • Delinking attendance and student scholarships;
  • Doing away with vacations during the academic year 2016-17 and reinstating them during the next year;
  • Requiring residential guests to stay for at least a week when they visit School.

As of June 2017, we have granted ourselves the freedom to determine on which days we come to School, what time we come, what time we leave and how we engage ourselves while at School.  We have decided by consensus that School will remain open from 10 am to 4 pm Mondays through Saturdays and that all of us will spend two hours between 11 am and 1 pm doing things together.  We decide at the beginning of every calendar month the 'classes' if any, which will be offered in School during that month and the terms on which those classes will run.  

Though many are not articulate, children and staff have shown that they can be good listeners, very sensitive to each others needs, sensible and fair in taking positions.  They are not shy of changing their initial positions on a matter after hearing an alternative point of view and participate enthusiastically in the final decision making irrespective of their age.

The School, Society, Learning and Education

At School, we are all increasingly aware that our work is influenced by the expectations of the parents of the children who study there and the individual preferences and abilities of each one of us.

Most of our parents expect the School to help their children to become proficient in communicating in Hindi and English and in passing recognised public examinations.  Clearly, they look at School as a place that will help them acquire skills and qualifications necessary for pursuing (in the future) employment where such qualifications are a prerequisite.

Each child's preferences are different from another's and they change from time to time, especially as the child grows up.  In January 2017, we asked every child to list the three activities at School that he/she liked best and doing which he/she spent most of her time.  Playing and reading story books emerged as the top two preferences from among our 60 children.  At present, in July 2017 we see our children preferring to play on the slide, in the sand, chess, marbles, carrom and 'namak chor' with their friends, to learn to play the harmonium, the flute and the tabla, to read story books and encyclopaedias, to learn to read English, to learn to cycle, and to go out for walks in the rain.  Unlike adults, children seem to live in and are concerned primarily with their present.

The children and adults at School have often discussed this divergence, and work to find ways of accommodating the expectations of both these 'stakeholders'.  E.g. The School has started giving home assignments to the children in deference to a request by some of the parents.  However, the children (and their parents) know that it is not compulsory to do the homework.  The staff assess the homework and report to the parents whether or not their child has done the homework and about its quality.  During a homework distribution meeting, several children accept their assignments and several others decline them.  Such an approach allows us to take steps to meet the expectations of the parents without encroaching upon the freedom and happiness of the children.

We are often asked - If you don't conduct any classes, do the children at your school learn anything at all?  What do they learn?  How do they learn?  It does not take us or a keen visitor to notice that in fact the children are learning a lot of things - information, skills and experience just like children in other schools are.  They are learning to question, and to seek answers to their questions.  They are learning all this from books, classes, excursions and games, from their friends and the adults around them, and from their own exploratory experiences in the world that they live in.  They are also deciding freely what they want to learn and what they don't, from whom they want to learn, where they want to learn and when they want to learn.  Thus they are also learning to decide and be self-reliant.

We are also often asked - How will children from Imlee Mahuaa School fit into the mainstream when they grow up?  We have several responses to this question.  One of them is that the 'mainstream' itself is a collection of myriad varied approaches to living life in which there is space for everyone and that the School and its members are all part of that mainstream.  Another is that during the last 10 years, about 75 children have left the School to study in nearby state owned schools.  All have progressed to subsequent levels and have coped well with their new schools.  Yet another is that some of us do hope that our children will not even try to fit into the so called mainstream but will chart out their own courses of life which will shape the mainstream!

The question that has bothered us the most however is the question of our education.  This is a question that only a few ask us.  When we ponder over what education means to us, we do feel that it is about understanding and being constantly aware of how we human beings are made, how we think, our emotions and our ego and its clever ways and our relationship with everything in the world that we live in.  

We see that the society of people that lives immediately around us (one that we all belong too) is one that lives very closely with nature, that has traditionally understood nature quite well, that has learned to live in harmony with nature, that has preserved nature and its bounties over countless centuries quite admirably, and one that has understood the insignificance of man in the overall scheme of things.  The needs of this society continue to be very basic and its inclinations non-acquisitive and non-accumulative.  Its relationships with the natural 'resources' that it harnesses continue to be reverential and wise. E.g. Cattle reared for agriculture are not milked because the milk is reserved for their young ones.  Poultry are slaughtered for meat but their eggs are never eaten.  Unfertilised eggs available in the market are however consumed.  Trees are never felled to be sold, but are occasionally brought down if wood is needed to build a new house.

The people of this society live in exemplary peace with each other and with themselves.  Those who quarrel when they consume excessive alcohol work quite happily with each after the effect of the spirit has worn off.  Family enmity and honour killings are unheard of.  Nudity is passé and gender based offences, domestic abuse are rare.  Gender based foeticide or infanticide are non-existent.  The gender ratio is overwhelmingly in favour of women.  People are remarkably liberal, accepting, tolerant and understanding.  Men and women hold relationships between them lightly and effortlessly.  Pre-marital sex, live in relationships, polygamy, separation and remarriage, house-husbands, moving to and fro between gender based work related roles at home, in the fields and in the forest is very common.  Women who have separated from their husbands are always welcome at their maternal homes and are under no pressure to return to their in-laws.  We have a neighbour who was once anxiously running around to ensure the safe delivery of his new live in girlfriend's baby whom he had not fathered.  These are also people who hold their own (and others') lives and deaths quite lightly.  They recover well and quickly from the bereavement of their near and dear ones, can bear great amounts of pain without complaining and often take impulsive decisions to end their lives when they are subjected to emotional or physical pain that they cannot bear.  There are fewer adjectives in the Halbi and Gondi languages than in other 'developed' languages.  There is little stigmatisation in this society and these people are less judgemental than their 'civilised' counterparts.

We see that the society in which we work as a School comprises a group of very peaceful and happy people, who seem to live more in the present than their 'civilised brethren' and have a harmonious and relatively non-exploitative relationship with everything around them.  They really practice 'live and let live'.  They have culture.

This society also faces the onslaught of civilisation and the world of adjectives, values, principles,ethic and a perennial preoccupation with the past and the future in which civilisation thrives.  Formal education, employment in the civilised world, electricity, television, mobile phones and broad roads are powerful carriers of the overwhelming civilisational influence to the society in which our School is based.  Graffiti entered our village in 2017 and we expect gender based stereotyping, dogmatism and gender based crime to follow soon.

In this light, we feel that on the one hand our work at School on the real educational front has been made easy by the rich cultural inheritance of our children.  Perhaps we need to do nothing on the educational front except ensure that our children do not abandon their inheritance.  Perhaps we also need to help them find ways of understanding its worth and its wisdom especially in the wake of increasing pressure from the 'civilised' world (that includes us adults too) to conform to and to ape its ways. That is the tough part.  But perhaps that is all we need to do about real education at Imlee Mahuaa School.

The author (Prayaag_joshi@yahoo.com) is a Founder Teacher of Imli Mahuaa School

Read a Marathi translation of this article, published by Paalak Neeti - इमली महुआ - स्वातंत्र्याची शाळा (शिक्षण, शिकणे आणि शाळा यावर चिंतन)



Story Tags: Adivasi Gonds, adivasi, alternative learning, community, empowerment, tribal, tribal education, kitchen garden

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