Saturday, July 26, 2008

Learning Home

This was my 1st visit to "learning home". What is this learning home? Ummm… should I call it a school? Nope! Is it an educational institute? Yes… but it still sounds a very big word… I would rather say that it is a small and beautiful homely world - just for children!

Many of us must have experienced in our school days when just for the purpose of some inspection or any minor visit, we all were requested or ( scolded?) to sit neatly, in perfect rows, according to height, and then unanimously say " good morning" or " namasteeeee"…

Gone is that ideology! Learning home has no such army rules. When I was little awkward to enter a group, one small boy said, "hi! Come! Sit here with me!". such a warm greet! Then I joined them. I played a small game with those 1st and 2nd standard students, listened to their stories, songs.

The first thing I noticed was the harmony among those students and also between them and their "taai" ( don't want to call her a teacher!). All were active participants and no one was left out. They were thoroughly enjoying each and every moment. Songs were interesting with lot of humor and acting in it. All were moving, dancing, jumping, and clapping according to their own wish. If anyone doesn't want to move so much, he was free to choose his own way of expression by all means! The whole environment was as fresh as those little champs!

After some time I moved to another group of 4th standard students. All students were engrossed in writing some essay except one who welcomed me by his own style. " why are you here? Who are you? What is your name?" he fired with his AK- 47! I was little fumbled. Such an arrogant attitude! But before I could settle myself to give him a few answers, the same boy held my hand and said, " will you chat with me?".

His name was Rutu. Anyone can easily notice the difference between him and other children. He was sitting on a chair with few cut pieces of sponge. Rutu was unable to walk on his own or even sitting independently without support was not possible. He is a victim of "cerebral palsy". It occurs due to brain lesion in early years of life before myelination of the brain gets completed. Though he was not participating in classroom work, he was all with them! Everyone was taking his care. One small girl came and wiped his mouth. The other came and took all efforts to make him sit properly in a chair. Those small children were taking care that Rutu should never feel that he is not exactly like others, he has certain problems, limitations. If children of year say 7 or 8 can have such a high emotional quotient, why do grown ups not understand such small things? Do they think little more or not at all?? Don't know but " the little prince''(a book written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery) correctly says, " all grown-ups are like that"! I was taken aback by Rutu's knowledge about car. He was no less than any 4th standard student in that class room except certain motor skills. Today, how many children with cerebral palsy go to the school? There are many such patients coming for physiotherapy treatment in our pediatric dept. Very less parents are enthusiastic about their child's education. This attitude is because of physical limitations. So even transport, compliance of the school teacher pose a problem. But here, Rutu was getting mixed up with all. He was happy and energetic! I remembered one incidence from "Tottochan"( a book written by Tetstuko Kuroyanagi) where the headmaster of "Tomoii" school took all efforts to get takahashi and yaasukichan ( both had certain physical limitations) their best physical abilities. Afterall what is school? It is the first exposure to the external world. Here we learn not just the syllabus but also different ways to tackle the problem, different ways to handle the situation, different styles of behaviors, does and don'ts in a particular situation, different angles of looking at life. So, how can we ignore children with physical limitations? Mixing with all types of people, acceptance of minute adjustments and a very positive approach towards self and life! Rutu, along with all his classmates are really becoming " good human beings" !! No need of special lecture on " moral education"!

In one corner one taai was making hard efforts to make student learn some mathematical concept. Giving her as much time needed, leading her towards correct definition, giving her hints, telling her the same concept in different ways and if still not understood asking her to think about it and come up with her own logic! That girl then came up with her own definition and logic. I would not say that it was illogical but atleast it was difficult to understand for taai and me! At the end taai was somewhat successful in coming up with an acceptable definition.

There were many charts, drawings attached to the wall. One chart captured my attention. The title was " when do I laugh and when do I cry?" Children had written wide variety of reasons. Such an easy technique of self analysis! Psychology lessons start here!

Then I met Prerana taai Walimbe who is the head of "Learning Home''. She gave a brief idea about the basic principles and philosophy of "Learning Home''. We all must be knowing Ramesh Panse who is an educationist. He runs an NGO called 'Gram-mangal'. learning home is one of the educational institutes run by Gram-mangal. Basic principle on which it runs is " brain based education" and " multiple intelligence theory". To say in brief, it is a cognitive learning process. It takes into account child's various skills and intelligence and tries to stimulate them by variety of techniques. It tries to achieve multidimensional growth of the child. It means educating the child according to his/her need. Afterall education is one of our basic needs. It is a food for our brain! Learning home does not follow SSC board syllabus blindly. But it definitely takes into account what all abilities are to be developed for each standard student. So, they work to develop 'Abilities….. '

Examination methodology is different from that of typical 'SSC board' type. It goes on checking the development of a particular ability. No terms called 'pass' and 'fail'. Detailed evaluation of each and every student is given to the parents. This is possible because of less number of students and personal interaction with each student and parents.

At the end, while coming down from the stairs, I got the last shock! Many students were sitting in a big circle around our state map deeply involved in finding something.. I said 'bye' to them and one smart girl asked me, " do you know the names of the rivers which flow through Nandurbar district?" I just smiled and then came out with a masked face! I had definitely understood the need of many more "learning homes"!

-Mukta Gundi

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First attempt: What does Arun Deshpande do?


What is Sustainability?
If we analyse our way of living we see that we need energy for fulfilling many of our needs. Everything that we do is driven by energy. Let us look at our most basic needs.

1. Food:
Energy of the sun is used by plants and through photosynthesis it is converted to certain carbon derivatives, which we can eat. If we pluck a fruit from a tree and eat it, we get some energy. It is nothing but solar energy in another form. Energy is required for our sustenance. However we do not always pluck fruits of the tree and eat it. Sometimes, we also eat Alphonso mangoes which reach us all the way from Ratnagiri. A lot of energy is required, for preservation of these fruits, transporting them all over the world etc. Thus much more energy is expended in post production work.

Where does this energy required for processes such as transport etc. come from? Today most of this energy comes from fossil fuels i.e. petrol, diesel etc. So, today our lifestyle is completely dependent on these fossil fuels. Our entire existence is possible only because of fossil fuels.

Can we keep living he way we are today (totally dependent on fossil fuels)? The answer is a clear NO because of 2 reasons that I can think of.

a. The fossil fuels are limited: Fossil fuels are formed by the decomposition of vegetation over millions of years. That means the fossil fuels we are using today took millions of years to form. Either we wait for a million more years before the next deposit of fossil fuel is formed or we find some way in which this cycle of millions of years be reduced to a sustainable time period.

b. They are environmentally hazardous: When does something become environmentally hazardous? Firstly it is poisonous the second reason is a little involved. I will need to elaborate.

If we observe things around us, everything in nature is cyclic. Elements such as carbon, nitrogen etc. flow through a cycle. Let us take the example of carbon. Its present in the air as Carbon dioxide. Plants take in the carbon dioxide and convert it to carbohydrates. When we consume plants, we get carbohydrates which when oxidized, release energy and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide returns to the air and the cycle completes. If we break this cycle, then we will not be able to sustain.

Life depends on the flow of energy and materials. If we break this flow, life cannot sustain. Our Current life is not sustainable.

With this background, we need to ask the question, are we living a life which is sustainable? If not, then what should be done to make it sustainable.

There could be a hundred ways to make our lives sustainable. It is necessary that we start thinking in that direction. Arun Deshpande has done just that. He has also started implementing some of his ideas.

The project at Ankoli is a step towards establishing a model of life which is sustainable.

As I am wondering about sustainability and writing about a new lifestyle altogether, I feel that people who wrote the Ten Commandments or the religious books must have gone through a similar exercise. It is exactly like setting up a code of living for which I believe the religious books were written. The difference is that the codes that we are about to set will have to displace the existing lifestyle. This makes it all the more challenging. Arun kaka has taken up that challenge!!

As I understood, he is not just trying to develop a sustainable model, but also fighting against the prevailing lifestyle. The idea is of a 'Rurban Lifestyle'. The motivation is that urban and rural lifestyles, each have their own shortcomings. Let us develop a lifestyle which eliminates the shortcomings of both these and is sustainable. Just to name a few, the shortcomings of the cities are that they consume much more that they produce, they are environmentally hazardous. Simply put they are extremely unsustainable. On the other hand, the current village system has its own shortcoming, such as lack of education, social problems (caste, andhashraddha etc).

Another very interesting thing to keep a note of is that many conclusions that we will draw will be in line with Gandhi's philosophy. I have not done an in depth study of Gandhi's philosophy but the little that I know has a lot of similarity. Also what was the motivation behind Gandhi's philosophy is not know to me but our motivation is sustainability. I would like to treat this similarity as a coincidence at this point. :))

First I will write about those things which I understood well

1. Water: A very important requirement. For water Arun kaka has developed the project of Water Bank. As the name suggests it is a place where you store water. Keep all the excess water that you have. What ever water comes in the form of rain is stored in the water bank. The water bank is designed depending on the no. of people it is made for. It is lined with a plastic sheet, so that water does not percolate. (Yes it is different from Pani Adwa, Pani Jirwa). On the contrary water is pumped out from the wells and stored in the water bank. A particular chemical is put on the water which minimises the evaporation of water. This water is then used for the farming as well as domestic needs.

2. Housing: Arun Kaka has developed fantastic dome structures which can be made out of bamboo. They are also called geodesic domes. They are very strong structures and are environmentally friendly. The best part is that we can build our house on our own in one day :)))). So Housing is a solved problem.

Now some of the things that I am still unsure about.
3. Food: Hmmm.... We need to grow what we need. Or all that we need must be grown in our Panch Kroshi. This needs more elaboration. Ankoli junta, help me out with this.

4. Other Needs: This is where the real challenge is. How does one's needs such as education, health etc. get satisfied. Actually this aspect puts me to think about another very fundamental thing in today's world. That is MONEY. What I am thinking about is that if all people start living like that, what will be the source of money?? Basically what will be the medium of exchange. I am actually stuck here, because in this kind of lifestyle i don't see any occupation or dhanda which will fetch me money.I have reached a very dreamy conclusion, that the new medium of exchange will be energy.

**I really need to understand this MONEY thing.
Well this much for now. More in a few days as I myself build a little clarity. Those who visited ankoli please add to what ive written.