15 May 2011

A curriculum for rural children

Author: hashcookies | Filed under: NF Institute, Taleemnet

The present schooling system and its curriculum have not changed fundamentally over the past 200 years. The current system owes much to the thinking and prejudices of its originator, notably, T.B. Macaulay (an English Governor General) who prepared its foundation note in 1835. This inheritance from a colonial leadership was merged at some level with the recommendations of American educationists, most notably the Committee of 10, set up by Harvard in the 1890s.

The objectives of the Macaulay system are specific to India and do not reflect the concerns of the education system from Macaulay’s own country.

As a result of these controlling influences, the curriculum for learning receded further and further away from real life – and from learning in and from real life – to learning in artificial environments called classrooms where children are now fed huge quantities of so-called knowledge from text books for a decade of their lives and more. The lessons from such text books have very little direct or meaningful connection with the living world outside school walls. The ultimate result leads to a cramming of facts and information and an almost complete debunking and downplaying of any experience outside the text book.

Activities that do not connect with the text book (but which are often more important for personal growth and enjoyment) are labelled ‘extra curricular’ and are generally considered to be a waste of time since they detract from the enterprise of earning marks or grades. These are the sole objective criteria relied upon by the education system to grade individuals.

Though Macaulay’s objectives were very clear and explicit in terms of the demands of the colonial system he represented, the objectives of the education system today start out in several directions. Though the philosophies of education speak of life-based and skill-based learning, the downward thrust of the curriculum is to discount manual skills, inculcate negative values about the farming profession and agriculture, create and patronise false hierarchies about various kinds of work or occupation and further stratify social aspirations and goals.

Whilst the creation of the factory model of schooling is eminently suitable for a society that wants a subservient, trained and disciplined labour force or ready material to service huge and faceless government bureaucracies, it can scarcely respond to the needs and demands of the bulk of the population which face life with very little assistance from the system.

Schools existed in India prior to the arrival of the British, just as universities were primarily founded several centuries ago first in India at places well known like Nalanda, Takshila, etc. There is a specific requirement of every society to transfer its traditions, values, learning, wisdom and techniques to the next generation. This the cultural system in India has successfully done for over 5000 years. The disruption came with the forced introduction of the colonial system of schooling.

It is without doubt – without going into the question of where the colonial system is good for the children of those residing in cities – that this system cannot be in the interest of those children who reside in the countryside.

This simple truth has been noted by several thinking and caring individuals, from Gandhi to Rabindranath Tagore, Vinoba Bhave and others.

The Nai Taleem system drawn up by Gandhi is almost an ideal system of learning for life and social transmission since it enables children to earn while they learn and encourages them to develop necessary expertise to survive in their village environment.

At Multiversity we have thought it is about time to design a radically new curriculum of studies which would disassociate from factory model schools unable to extricate themselves from Macaulay’s concerns and concentrate instead on a programme of learning and practice that would equip persons in the rural areas with the necessary skills and capacities to thrive in rural environments without being forced to migrate to cities.

The curriculum would also depart from the normal compartmentalization of knowledge that has become a negative illness of the modern education system and which was introduced by Macaulay’s Minute and the Committee of Ten Report.

Thus the primary objectives of this project would be to create a framework for a curriculum of studies that would be suited to the needs and aspirations of persons who wish to live in the rural areas, work on the land and create for themselves meaningful niches for fruitful and productive life and not be forced to leave this environment with a sense of defeat and then migrate to areas where they would always be in a sense dependent and marginalised.

The curriculum would be a complete curriculum and would envisage access to all persons from the age of 5 to 15.  It would cover a parallel conceptual course of studies with interdisciplinary experience and based on a sound, basic understanding of several issues. The traditional divergence between art and science would not be supported or endorsed and learning would become free and based on human interest.

There are several eminent educators who have worked on this theme in the last half century (including the Nai Taleem work done under the auspices of the Nai Taleem Samiti).  All of these at some stage or the other – some more comprehensively than others – have drawn up relevant curricula during the course of their work.  In most of the institutions run by them, there is demonstration of greater vitality of interest and involvement of the students in acts of learning compared to sterile, monotonous practices adopted in modern schools.

The project intends to recover from all the experiences important elements that could be stitched into a common framework of meaningful studies.

By the end of the exercise (which will take about a year) we hope to generate an existing framework of study which could be given over not just to the government and education departments, associations of teachers, education societies, etc, but also to the farmers’ associations and other interest groups servicing rural populations. It would interest all those who wish to see that education is not a burden everyday to be enforced on children but a joyous exercise in which their children can enthusiastically participate with the active support of their parents, literate or illiterate.

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