Saturday, December 03, 2005

EFFECTIVE EDUCATION - LEARNING FROM CULTURES: PART 1

EFFECTIVE EDUCATION – LEARNING FROM CULTURES
by
B. Maheswaran

The following essay is primarily based on two articles :
Anita Rampal, 2000, Texts in Context, EFA 2000 review. Development of Curricula. Textbooks, and Teaching and Learning Materials, Indian Educational Report, ed Govinda, OUP, New Delhi
Howard Gardner, 1999, How cultures Educate, The Disciplined Mind, Simon and Schuster, U.S.


This essay is about my understanding of effective teacher-learning spaces. My primary understanding though is based on articles written by Rampal, A. (2000) and Gardner, H. (1999), I have incorporated other studies across the world. In the process, I have tried to draw the similarities between Rampal and Gardner’s writings. I have provided a few individual and group initiatives of alternative education by drawing their central guiding philosophies to attention. At the end of the process, I have linked these initiatives to my teaching practice in Mallya Aditi International School.

INTRODUCTION

"At present the universities are as uncongenial to teaching as the Mojave Desert to a clutch of Druid priests. If you want to restore Druid priesthood, you cannot do it by offering prizes for Druid-of-the Year. If you want Druids, you must grow forests."
(Arrowsmith, 1967)

One of my best introduction to the teaching-learning spaces happened in the late 1990s The scalding sun of April was scorching the ravenous scrub forests of this coastal region that the rest of the world calls Auroville. Auroville is a global village where people of all countries commune and do things that are close to their heart. For most people living here, nurturing and being in harmony the surrounding environment comes first. I first met Johnny in Auroville, when I visited the Fertile community to meet my friend Paul. I was welcomed by Johnny, a tall wiry man who seemed to be in his early sixties. Paul had gone visiting a neighbouring community. While I was killing my time going around the beautiful hamlet-like community, Johnny passed on a plate of Ragi biscuits that he had baked the previous day. I had never eaten such delicious biscuits before or after that instance. For most of his life, Johnny had been (and is still) involved in rejuvenating the culture of growing millets like ‘ragi’ and ‘varagu’. These millets are out of favour among the original inhabitants of this region, who were the traditional custodians of these crop varieties. In the recent times, a never-ending yearning for high productivity has resulted in farmers shifting from these traditional millets to hybrid rice varieties. But Johnny and his friends have for the last twenty-five to thirty years cultivated only millets, thus sending a message to the local community here. Johnny has mastered recipes with a traditional and modern mix that would entice any body to growing and using the traditional millets. Apart from the different varieties of biscuits, Johnny makes, ‘dosas’, ‘idlis’, ‘upma’s and many other healthy dishes out of these traditional millets.

One of the other best known initiative of Johnny was been developing an “Auroville diploma’ in 1992, that would award equal credits to croissant-making, bicycle maintenance or tree planting, as for other academic subjects such as science, mathematics or languages. This together would serve as the basis of an Auroville diploma which could slowly gain international respect. This initiative was a specific response to the needs of the Auroville community. Johnny’s response was specific to the resources borne by the surroundings. Every infrastructure of the community was made out of natural resources available around their living spaces. There were no concrete buildings, except a mix of concrete that went into the making of the windmill. Johnny still cycles around to Thindivanam in his cycle (which is about 35 km from Auroville).

I have never tried to delimit the scope of education, for it happens every moment, all the time and throughout one’s life. To me Johnny’s life is one of great education. People interacting with Johnny learn from him, his resources, from other members of the community, from the surroundings, from the implements he uses, from his demonstrations (which are truly scientific) and explanations on the basis of the choice of the materials and implements. Johnny learning community was not envisioned for a larger body of students.
Johnny’s is only one of the many independent initiatives that use the local context and culture to pursue effective learning-teaching (without even mentioning the word learning and teaching).

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