Some of us are unhappy about the current education system. Some of us believe that there can be better ways of growing up, of learning and of education. Some of us just crib about the current education scenario. Some of us have stepped out of the beaten path and have joined a growing movement in schooling loosely called alternate education or alternate schools.
Most alternative schools have essentially questioned two basic assumptions that the conventional schools follow: What education is for – the purpose of education and how education / learning can be imparted to children.
First, the purpose of education is to have a utilitarian value and second, the way to learn is the learner’s way to learn. And this is what alternate education is all about.
The first idea is simple. Education needs to be meaningful. And meaning has to come from inside the child, emanating from his or her desires, interests, goals, and aspirations. The fact that children can have goals of their own can be surprising to many, though this is common. A child of one year shows us complete clarity in what he wants to do at any point of time. At all times, all of us are driven by some goal. Though at times this goal (of child) may not be acceptable to us adults.
Realise that in a conventional education a child is supposed to have artificial goals like exams, peer competition or teacher’s praise. But typically the focus of alternative schools is to empower the child to envision his own goals. Because once the child is driven by her purpose, there is no limit to what the child can learn!
The idea of following the way the child wants to learn is something most schools and teachers have struggled with – precisely because we always wanted to teach them our way. But that to me is often like swimming up the stream. Wouldn’t it make sense to swim with the child, the way he or she can most effectively learn? This obviously raises the question of how much can one customise learning?
This is easy to do when we leave the one-method approach and let the child explore various options. The nali-kali open learning program (implemented in primary schools of some villages by govt of Karnataka)) is an example of how this can work. Internet, by definition, is an open source of learning and we know how so many of us learned our way. Alternate education is actually an alternative in learning - a plethora of options for the child to learn from. Hence our (educators) work becomes not to teach but rather labour in preparing multiple cuisines and then serve learning buffet style. There are a number of other alternative schools across the State.