We are proud to share a letter we recently received from an organization we have been working together with over the last few years, Nibedita Seva Mandir. We are happy to have others along with us on our journey to question and explore what kind of education should be available to children.
In Search of True Education
It was the year 2002. A few of us assembled within the folds of Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nibedita’s ideals to create Nibedita Seva Mandir. Primarily, we chose to centre our activities focusing on the education system but the exact nature of our actions in an urban set up were still then not clear to us. It was necessary to conduct a survey on the prevalent system.
We conducted our first survey among the slum dwellers of the Panchanantala railway colony of Dhakuria. Our aim was to assess whether we could accommodate children who had been deprived of a formal education into a formal system. The survey to be conducted was of small stature, but our findings surprised us. We were taken aback to see at least 200 guardians and their children waiting for us along the railway tracks under the blazing sun. Each one of them wanted to study but didn’t want to go to the school!
Among them were the drop-outs, the disabled, victims of discrimination and those who couldn’t attend schools due to poverty. Most of them declared that they abhorred schools, they didn’t like going to schools. That day we felt several queries arising within us. We felt the need to question…
Is the formal education system prevalently practiced really suitable for all classes of people of our society?
Have we been able to create a truly favourable environment in schools for our future generations?
We started visiting several schools just out of personal interest. We observed the emotions and feelings of the school-going children, while they were entering and leaving their school premises. We went into dialogue with the teachers of different schools. We found that no one had bothered to give a thought to how a system of imitative education and a profession/ vocation associated with knowledge (acquisition and dissemination) could transcend to a process that aims to perpetuate happiness. No one we spoke to felt that acquiring knowledge and disseminating it could be the source of happiness.
But we were fortunate enough to know about a school running in the heart of this city, a school that HAD given a thought to the above concept. Shikshamitra, a little school in the city, had started. Though most of its students came from the near-by slum and were drop-outs, it was a sheer pleasure to see that how they were enjoying their studies and doing hands-on activities. We met and talked with Sudeshna-di, the head of the school. We understood from our first day at Shikshamitra that the teaching-learning process going on here did not adopt the imitative approach. Rather the school has adopted a need-based approach that has been prepared absolutely keeping in mind the psychological needs of the children. There is a subtle flow of discipline but it’s not unnecessarily stressed upon. This revealed to us that maybe we were on the look out for this kind of a system for the children of our Education Centre.
In spite of her hectic schedule Sudeshna-di extended her help to us. Not only at the beginning, but later on, whenever we approached her with our plans and programmes she never denied us. With the cooperation of Shikshamitra our children have undergone a lot of trainings in the subjects related to real-life. These trainings have led to a growth in their personality and have also given them an edge over others in the walks of life. I narrate here a few of their experiences:
- Maura, a teacher of Shikshamitra, a foreigner, taught our students to create art out of trash, waste materials. The end product was a collage. During our annual exhibition while answering the query of one of the visitors, a Class VII girl student of our centre replied that the tiny waste materials in the collage resemble the marginalized people of our society. If they can be connected correctly, as in the collage … only then can a spectacular society be created. These words came from her own understanding, no one had put the words into her mouth. The characteristic teaching method of Shikshamitra team had taught her to think in this manner. I take this opportunity to inform you that this girl is a resident of a near-by slum who had lost all hope within the education system, but today she is fighting all odds in her family to keep striving to study and presently she is a higher secondary examinee.
There are many other such instances.
- Very recently we had conducted a creative writing class with the help of Shikshamitra. Prior to this class our students used to face difficulty in expressing their views through writing. Today, however, they are able to write long answers aptly and with ease. Moreover, they are now quite actively choosing topics, writing and editing them on their own for their wall-magazine.
- With the help of Shikshamitra, the children have set up a library in our centre, which they themselves operate.
The students of Nibedita Seva Mandir who had once been trailing behind and losing their footholds in the formal education set up, who had been living a devalued life in the eyes of their family and the society at large have awakened. They are establishing themselves in their family and society, basing themselves on their self-confidence and esteem. They are earning respect and dignity.
The search for the education system that started eight years ago, has reached its vision and clarity, thanks to Shikshmitra’s free and active cooperation.
The efforts of Shikshmitra must transform into a greater movement so that in the days to come, along with the formal learning system, students can be encouraged to savor the taste of true education. Only then can the construction of lives be fulfilled.