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Freedom for Growth

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collapse if we continue the business as usual educational approach, and blithely let students think there is no imminent catastrophe coming in their young adult lives. It is totally irresponsible and uncaring to lead them astray in this manner.

Strangely, two Indian educators had this clear 90 years ago and out it into practice as best they could in a small way in remote villages of Bengal! The practical implications of the freedom to grow model: as applied by the Siksha-Satra experiment, involved fundamentally a vision of the rural student as an important member of his community and whose education could have a significant impact on his own immediate family and village. This is a pressing need even today, although the problems are no longer quite the same. If rural India loses its farmers to the glamour of the cities, who will grow the food one wonders! “The playtime of young life is not an unmeaning thing. It is intimately associated with the demands of a strenuous future, even though for the time being some of the worries of self-preservation may be borne by the parent”. Basic premise. We forget this and give them a toy world to play with, forgetting that when we were small it was always a grown up world we craved! “The aim, then, of the Siksha-Satra is, through experience in dealing with this overflowing abundance of child life..to provide the utmost liberty within surroundings that are filled with creative possibilities, with opportunities for the joy of PLAY THAT IS WORK- the work of exploration, and of WORK THAT IS PLAY- the reaping of a succession of novel experiences.” Basic aim. Between the ages of 6 and 12 Elmhirst believes that the child is most absorbed in gathering impressions through the senses especially that of touch. Hence the emphasis on use of the hands, as apprentices in handicrafts and what he calls housecraft (housekeeping). The child acquires skill and wins freedom for his hands in the workshops. Only after some experience in these fields will he be ready to actually record, relate, dramatize and synthesize the discoveries of the senses. “Until the child has had intimate touch with the facts and demands of life, it is surely unfair to demand long hours of concentrated attention upon second hand facts and figures, wholly unconnected with anything he has hitherto encountered and taken note of in his real life”. Yes! On top of housecraft (hygiene, cooking, cleaning, latrine care and so on) some special crafts are encouraged, ideally to be sold and also to be of use in the home. The child will realize his own hands can create objects for his self preservation (e.g. sun dried bricks, pottery, weaving, dyes, carpentry, basket work, tailoring, watch repair, cycle repair, block printing, grinding cereals, making oils, or musical instruments and so on). Any of these require some science, some business, and plenty of confidence. Outdoor crafts like keeping poultry, caring for the water supply, preparing seed beds, irrigation and so on are also intrinsic, and of economic benefit to the population at the same time. The garden plot, which for many rural children is a familiar activity, can be experimental and also ideally profitable. Text books, class room and laboratory go by the board as the child keeps his records of his plot (English), and the accounts (Maths), gets to know about the land fertility (Geology) or the use of different natural manures (Chemistry), the control of plant pests (Entomology) and how birds help or hinder (Ornithology) and in fact it can embrace the planet (Ecology), all from a small plot. From garden plot and workshops out into the wider field of life: excursions can be made to so many local centres of activity, Post Office, brick kilns, station and goods yard, jewellers and watchmakers, carpenters and timber yards, factories, rice and oil mills, Police station and Jail, shoemakers, tailors, and many more. In each of these there is an art, a science and some element of business, tools to be handled, men to be met, room for imaginations to be kindled and future change and improvements to be made. “The school must be a laboratory not merely for the absorbing of knowledge or for producing sheltered hot house growth, but for giving out, for adventure into the realm of practical economics and self preservation, of self discipline and self government, of self expression in the world of spiritual abstraction and  human welfare”. (L.K.E) I have tried to explore a variety of angles on the same theme which is where education should go from now on, in such a way as to maximize the potential in each child for imaginative thinking, which is what the future hangs on. The Sikhsa-Satra model is one among many, the Inquiry method pioneered by the ground breaking book of the 1970s Teaching as a Subversive Activity, John Holt’s How Children Fail, and discoveries of other leading lights in education, have been presented here. But it is for each country and each teacher to apply the ideas to their own context. My hope is that not a single teacher should remain who is satisfied with the old paradigms in education which up to now have put most of us to sleep and allowed massive events like famine in Africa (ongoing and continuous and worsening) and Fukushima to go unnoticed.

Acknowledgments:  

Sahitya Chayan: Rabindranath Tagore, Pioneer in Education Delhi 1994.

John Holt: How Children Fail Postman and Weingartner : Teaching as a Subversive Activity 1971 Schooling the World, video by Economics of Happiness.

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