(Captured on sidelines of Nagpur gathering in 2018)
While the one-size-fits-all formula may work well in the manufacturing industry, it doesn’t do so well in the field of education. This was the realization that lead to the constitution of what have come to be known as multiversities.
Today, such institutions abound through the length and breadth of the country - from Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh to Sadhana Forest in Puducherry and from Udaipur’s Shikshantar to Guwahati’s Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation.
The subjects they tackle with also differ as much as the geographies of these institutes. While there is Lemon School of Entrepreneurship for budding businessmen, there’s also University of Compassion. Abhivyakti helps common people become filmmakers and storytellers while Oasis turns boring museums into lively classrooms for kids.
Despite all their diversity, all these institutions are bound by a common thread - the will to keep learning a learner-driven process, increasing the sustainability quotient of all human activities and an increased connection to nature.
Several of these institutions have now formally come together to collaborate and take the movement forward. However, before that happens, let’s delve into the concept itself and the ideas that went into the formation of this educational revolution.
Goa-based environmentalist Claude Alvares believes that the current-day universities were peddling an education that had no soul. “All our university education is based on Western principles, borrowed from societies that are pathological, dysfunctional and on the verge of a breakdown. No wonder that much of what is learnt in schools and colleges is of little use in the outside world. Yet, at 25, they are expected to make a decision about the rest of their lives,” he says.
Another big grouse that he has against today’s education system is the obvious ‘unIndianness’ of it. All the syllabus is borrowed and imported from the West, says Claude, making universities into places of indoctrination. “Amid all this, India is losing touch with its own intellectual heritage, culture and traditions,” he added.
For Nitin Paranjape, the disillusionment with the Indian education system began with a question about the definition of random sample. Despite having an M.Sc. degree in statistics (a subject where random samples are often used), he could not answer this question. This drove him to write a letter to the chancellor of his university, asking to be stripped of his degrees.
“Universalization of education does not respect the dignity and individuality of the learners. Failure, trial and error which the conventional educational institutions regard as bad are the very cornerstones of learning,” says Nitin, when asked about his thoughts on the current pedagogy.
This is what Manish Jain calls ‘factory learning’. An alumnus of two Ivy League colleges and a former high flying executive, he has been at the forefront of India’s ‘unschooling’ revolution. “The prevalent model of education completely disregards what the learner wants. Instead, it assumes that all students are mere resources who need to be utilized in a particular manner,” he rues.
All this, he believes, puts tremendous pressure on all students - stripping them of their individuality and personality, while also breaking the connect they may otherwise have had with nature. In fact, Manish holds this educational structure for the widespread discontent, anxiety and depression among the young people in the present times.
Another former corporate executive for whom the world of intense competition no longer holds any charm is Deepak Menaria. A former HR head in a multinational IT company, he was frustrated to see that college education in India was unable to prepare people for what was needed from them at the workplaces.
Ask him to elaborate and he says, “Another huge issue in our country is parents choosing their kids’ career paths. That too, based o the current trend. This leads to mad rush towards certain courses like engineering and MBA, irrespective of the learner’s aptitude or interest in the subject.” He added that this means even the most talented people in the country end up in dead-end jobs that they hardly enjoy.
Some people from other Asian nations who had similar ideas about West-inspired structure of education prevalent in their countries came together in Malaysia in 2002. That’s where a few Indian organizations engaged in creating alternative models of education came forward, and the seeds of the Indian Multiversity Alliance (IMA) were sown.
Eventually in 2016, Global Ecoversities was formed with 80 member organizations from all around the world, and a year later the Indian chapter was formed. The Indian Multiversities Association started with 12 members currently has around 30 member institutions, at least 10,000 students have been enrolled till date.
In Nitin’s words, “IMA is an attempt to challenge the hegemony, monopolization and commercialization of education.” Or as Deepak puts it: “These are spaces where the stress is removed from the education process, where lessons are related to real-life situations and experiential learning is encouraged.”
Manish says that most of the organizations under IMA are also working on increasing the nature connect among its students. “Plus, the lessons there have no fixed syllabus, grading system or any other way of increasing the stress levels of the learners,” he added.
Claude simplifies it even further by saying, “Our belief is that young people don’t need to be told what to do but given a platform where they can do whatever they want to!”