“We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors. We have borrowed it from our children”
Our children are born through us, but they are not ours. They are the manifestation of Life’s longing for itself. They are like flowers, each special in its own way. They are like mirrors, reflecting our thoughts and actions. They are like birds wanting to fly and explore the world. Children are learners from the minute of their birth. They are curious, intuitive, creative, inventive and a lot of other things. Unfortunately, their wings are soon clipped by the restrictions of our societal norms.
Children need time with themselves and with each other. They need to communicate with each other; they want to share and they want to do/explore on their own. In Maria Montessori’s explanation of the role of work in the growth of self-reliance, she explains that children need time to simulate the world in their minds, and need concrete material to make abstract concepts comprehensible. The children should have the freedom to do constructive work on their own. The process and procedure of handling the material and completing the task inculcates self-discipline, and responsibility towards the environment. Mahatma Gandhi dreamed of an educational system where children learn by doing different constructive work and derive learning, a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction from doing the work.
Our attitudes and concerns are influenced by our education. In the contemporary educational system, children are driven to learning by studying facts. They are pushed into nail-biting competition to be ‘on top’. It is a fight for ‘survival of the fittest’. There is no time for contemplation and reflection. And they fail to learn to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof.
This kind of education not only estranges the children from Mother Earth, it also makes them insensitive about their connectivity and dependence on Nature. It removes them from the importance of life-values and empathy for other people. It leaves them distraught, helpless and self-centred. From the first day of school, they experience their first restriction in their freedom of movement in the confinement to the desk and chair. Energy, which is normally consumed by children in running around and laughing happily, is dammed up. The children feel frustrated and express it either through tears or by show of violence. Frustration is a common emotional response to opposition. Related to anger and disappointment, it arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfilment of the individual will. Frustration can result from blocking motivated behaviour. Each individual may react in a different way. He or she may respond with rational problem-solving methods to overcome the barrier. If unsuccessful, he or she can become frustrated and behave irrationally and aggressively.
There is an awareness of how the present educational system affects the personality of the children and through them, the society. The internally assimilated lessons from the present educational system contribute to the callous attitudes of the children towards other human beings, animals and trees. In the present educational system, there is place only for competition. This is an extension of the ‘divide and rule’ policy introduced by the British in India. Competition fosters jealousy, hatred, injustice, greed and carelessness. No wonder the attitude of some of the youth today, especially in the cities where competition is more emphasised, is either suicidal or homicidal.
It is our responsibility as guardians of our children to review, re-examine and re-design the educational system itself and not just the content. We need an educational system that will help our children to become what they were meant to be for a society where co-operation, love and harmony will be fostered through care for the earth and all forms of life.
There is only one earth and now is the time to care for it by re-designing our curriculum to inculcate caring.
OBJECTIVES OF THE CURRICULUM
Natural Learning Process: To remove bookishness of knowledge and make the educational process at school also a continuum of their own natural learning process and life – which means that the primary medium of acquiring knowledge is experience (through the five senses and a sixth sense of logic)
Non-violence: To create an educational process that has non-violence at its core. In conventional systems there is an extreme imbalance of information and experience which creates dissonance and leads to internal and external violence. This curriculum is evolved with the idea of nonviolence as both the process and the product
Experiential Learning: To create a learning environment which Stimulates and Facilitates experiential progression of knowledge in the child’s mind.
Synthesis of Knowledge: Creating an attitude among teachers and other stakeholders of the curriculum process, that the knowledge process is organic and naturally needing (the learner) to cultivate the ability to connect and synthesize pieces of information, and that this can be greatly enhanced by making something with their own hands; learning is a continuous process and while crafting objects with their hands the children are able to relate to the concepts with understanding of their connections with everyday life.
Autonomy / Self-reliance: Creating a learning environment and process that incorporates autonomy and self-reliance of each unit – be it teacher, child, a class, the school and so on.This manifests in the curriculum process by necessitating the participation and ownership of both, the teacher and the child in the development of the curriculum itself thereby making it dynamic, evolving and responding to the situation at hand and a changing world and society.
Indigenous ways of knowing – Integrated / multidisciplinary: To acknowledge, validate and deepen dialogue with indigenous and traditional knowledge systems and ways of knowing. A key manifestation of this in the curriculum is the integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to subjects.
Self-knowledge: Character building by sensitizing the child to his/her own capabilities, strengths and weaknesses in a co-operative environment. Providing scope for children with lesser interest in academics to relate to the concepts in other ways and thereby inspire them to pay attention to academics.
As the children touch, feel and work crafting and creating an understanding of the world deeper than ever before, they will blossom as individuals, sympathize with the environment and will help each other rather than compete with each other. They will learn to handle and care for simple tools improving their hand eye coordination, space organization and discipline. They will learn value of hard work, they will feel the contentment of creating something and their confidence and self-reliance will improve far beyond our imagination. The beautiful and useable articles they will create will make them see themselves in the work. Reflection, diligence and pursuit of perfection will become second nature to them. Something will begin to work up on their body and soul and they will grow up to be graceful, honest, creative, hardworking and content.
Like Herbert Read says “A child’s art work is its passport to freedom, to the full fruition of all its gifts and talents, to its true and stable happiness in adult life. Art and craft work leads the child out of itself. It may begin as a lonely individual activity, as self-absorbed scribbling of a baby on a piece of paper. But the child scribbles in order to communicate its inner world to a sympathetic spectator. ”
Rabindranath Tagore wrote , “If educational processes are created to aim for the unity of the whole humankind, the beginnings of this are in the growth of love of the baby for the mother, for the immediate family and ultimately to universal love. But the foundations of this unity are laid in creativity.”
The school is the place where the child learns to value itself and others.
The child also learns a value system that stays with him/her all through life.
In our view, the school is a place to sensitize the child, to build a culture of respect for nature and an awareness of his/her role in its preservation.
The total focus of all that we do in Puvidham learning Centre is to try to create an environment where the inherent sensitivity and intuition of the child is sharpened and encouraged rather than demoralized and snuffed out. Sensitivity to animals, to plants, to nature as an entity, to other people and to the inner personality or the self is kept alive through working with nature.
Sensitivity makes space for creativity and scientific discovery.
Sensitivity is the door to the formation of a philosophy of life and the guiding hand for self-discovery.
Our curriculum has evolved on this foundation but has included the story telling and singing tradition as a means of passing on knowledge effortlessly. The traditional schools rarely classified the subjects in the early school days. Learning was whole and was meant to be used to understand the life around the child.
In conventional schools learning has become fragmented and removed from life. It has been made as abstract as is possible and it is rarely that a child can make a connection between what he/she learns at school and what happens in real life.
It is our intention, through our curriculum, to integrate life and learning and help children to synthesize knowledge through the observations and experiences made available to the child in the school environment or the real life environment.
Keeping all these requirements in mind, we decided to classify our learning into five basic modules centered on the five elements: Sun, Earth, Water, Air and Space.
The five elements are essential for survival. The children learn the physical properties and experience these elements through their five senses.
We call this type of learning Experiential learning.
We all know that learning is much more accessible for practical use if it is experiential or has been acquired by doing. The basic essential concepts deemed necessary by the educational boards and institutions are incorporated in stories and songs and repeated and recited in class.
The children make concept drawings to express what they have understood from the stories and songs. Mathematical activities like counting, sorting, classifying, measuring, measured drawings, scaled drawings and geometrical drawings like the traditional Rangolies are all used to include mathematics in the class activities.
Discussions, walks, observations and questions are a part of everyday classes. Children are guided to speak about what it is they know about the element or the concept and then the teacher helps them to build on their existing knowledge of the same.
The children are divided in to groups. On an empty plot of land they decide and mark the part they want to grow plants in. They measure the plot and draw it to scale. They design the rows and decide what they want to plant. They calculate the quantity of seed they will need. They mulch, water and watch their plants grow. They measure the rate of growth, count the number of flowers and compare with the number of fruits. They observe and sketch the plant parts and the insects and birds that visit. Finally they compute the time they spent gardening and the quantity of vegetables they could harvest and make a cost analysis of their activity. They also learn to make natural pest control extracts and vermicomposting.
This type of knowledge synthesizing process we believe will empower the child and make him/her feel that their methods of learning which helped them acquire so much knowledge till they got to school is a valid method.
This approach has two main aims: firstly, to make the experiences that students have at the school relevant to the students’ lives, and to rural livelihoods in general. Secondly, the teaching methods should give value to the children’s own knowledge. Children already have a lot of experience of the elements that they have gathered while helping out at home, farming. This knowledge of theirs is generally brushed aside as useless.
By celebrating and using the knowledge that children have about the environment, and by presenting farming as a positive choice socially, the children from our school will have a more balanced perspective.
We do hope that the fact that they have had so much time to dwell on it will help them resist the parental and peer pressure to make money the sole object of their work.