By Shuchita Prakriti
The Vimukt Shiksha Yatra was a 7-day free-flowing learning journey focused upon exploring, questioning and expanding perceptions related to education. To venture into organizations started by individuals with a spark to create a better world. The intention of this journey was to weave together a tapestry of questions, answers, actions, and realizations, to make a shift from the current system that appears to favor convention, machines, and conformity over innovation. To interact with multiple organizations/initiatives/ foundations and understand the state of our current mainstream education system, and through that lens, the state of the world and the future that is being created for the coming generations.
37 participants of all ages and from all walks of life, (students, un-schooling or home-schooling families, individuals passionate about education and families considering alternative learning pedagogies), came together from the 14th to the 20th of May, in Himachal to co-create this experience as a collective.
This journey started on the morning of 14th May 2019, in Dharamshala, where the Yatris were invited to learn, explore and flow with everyone as they traversed their individual paths in the same direction.
On this journey, the first stop for the Yatris was Nav Gurukula, an organization dedicated to empowering youth’s lives by teaching them the hard skill of coding, using Self-directed learning as a pedagogy. In this session, held by one of the co-founders, Rishabh Verma, the nuances to the organization’s work, and the dichotomy of teaching young adults a skill/skill-set that made them employable mainly by corporates, while being an organization dedicated to deviate from the mainstream came to the forefront. Along with the challenges faced while wanting to, and providing youth with as much exposure as possible, while also engaging with the need to nurture them holistically.
That vision currently manifests as a 1-year residential program, while aiming to eventually expand into a co-ed learning space with mentorships provided for multiple subjects.
This was one of the many conversations that brought forth the nuances and layers to the organization’s work and was a live representation of the fine balance of living in a world run by a corporate system and the desire to live a happy life not based on monetary success alone.
The following morning the Yatris visited the Tong Len school, where they were received by the forever sunny “Guruji” who spoke about his trials, tribulations, and errors on his way to manifest a holistic learning space for underprivileged children. The vision held by him--that now manifests as a school integrating multiple learning pedagogies—was to foster healthy, kind, loving and empathetic individuals.
While reflecting on this interaction, Kejal, one of the two facilitators of the Yatra, shared how deeply touched she felt upon walking into a classroom and finding kindness, empathy, etc. to be individual subjects with equal weight as the academic ones
A rather raw and stark question that also surfaced during reflections was: Is it a privilege to be able to raise children into empathetic, loving, liberal adults? This question was carried over by the group and was answered for individuals in their own conversations and interactions.
On the way from Dharamshala to Palampur, the Yatris had their first casual, cozy conversation, with un-schooling parents and power couple, Saurabh Mittal and Preeti Mann. They shared about their journey from Gurgaon, the corporate and academic sectors, to a small, cozy house in Himachal over some delicious tea and samosas. The duo spoke about their interconnected vision to farm, work with youth and question one’s pre-conceived notions in an effort to understand themselves better. The couple regularly hosts retreats under the initiative QYON (Questioning Your Own Notions) where they facilitate and participate in powerful introspective exercises along with the other participants to emerge with a deeper understanding of themselves and the kind of partnership they create. (They gave a lot of the Yatris “alternative couples goals”!)
On the 3rd day, the Yatris interacted with 4 passionate team members of Aavishkaar Learning Centre, an organization aimed to nurture the natural sense of wonder and curiosity amongst children. They achieve this goal by creating practical and interactive experiment kits anyone can demonstrate/implement, for the seeming nightmare subjects of math and science.
The facilitators shared their experiences—both good and bad—in working with children and what the ramifications of a schooling system that doesn’t foster or actively encourage curiosity amongst children are.
“They never even asked or stopped to question why it was that they had to recite the multiplication tables a certain way! We have to ask them to slow down and encourage them to question these small things from time to time.” Explained Simran, a facilitator, and Aavishkaar fellow.
This invitation/reminder to slow down and ask questions, instead of passively receiving information adds another layer of richness to the entire learning experience for the children and allows for a companionship to form as the children and facilitators navigate the path of learning joyfully together.
Within this diverse group of Yatris, there were moments where the questions and needs of certain families or individuals could not be addressed immediately. So, just as the parents in the group began to get frisky, a cozy conversation with unschooling parents was held at Aavishkaar Learning Centre.
Sandhya--known well for turning every session she holds into one about math—demonstrated how she gages individual learning styles of students in a class and bringing to light the challenges she has seen students undergo in a rigid education system focused on teaching only one method of learning.
The conversation then flowed into her experience as an unschooling parent, where she divulged how rules were initially implemented for her daughter Shyamali (name check).
“There were no rules on what she could and couldn’t do as such, as a young child, the only rule in place was that she was to come back home by sundown.” Said Sandhya
The traveling duo Siddharth and Smriti brought to light the necessity of exposing children to various environments to foster personal growth and resilience amongst children as they traveled around the country with their son in a car with a month’s worth of luggage. The couple also works with a variety of individuals (children, youth, educators and parents) and organizations under their initiative Soulify, with an aim to use storytelling, theatre and generating literature to facilitate bringing ideas into reality.
Jim and Pashwa’s sharing can be summarized in one statement that Jim made: “When our boys were born, we fell in love with them, and we didn’t want them to have to go to environments where people didn’t love them as much as we did. So, sending them to school wasn’t an option.”
The session ultimately gleaned insights on how parents must show up to truly support their children in order for the children to be raised in a healthy and loving atmosphere.
The final session held at Aavishkaar was that of Traveler’s University. The founders, Rahul, Aashik and Ashwini spoke a bit about their individual journeys and of the intention that brought about the creation of this initiative.
Having experienced the homogenization of education and its effects on indigenous cultures as a whole, the initiative hopes to explore traveling as a learning pedagogy to encourage cross-pollination and preservation of traditional wisdom. The trio also aims to encourage people to travel with an intention to form meaningful connections and gain valuable experiences as opposed to traveling as tourists.
By this point in the Yatra, the group was more settled and spaces for open and vulnerable conversations had been created. Meaningful and deep conversations were slowly permeating the group, creating a healthy cross-pollination of knowledge. Individuals were now tapping into the intergenerational wisdom of the group.
This shift in perspective was also palpable in the group during the session held by the power couple Vikram and Apoorva regarding their initiative Life Through Lenses. A heartfelt initiative started by the duo to sensitize people on the impact of human actions on the co-habitants of our planet. The group was in raptures by the raw energy and dedication of the duo.
The Yatris were also introduced to the Udaan initiative operating out of the Sambhaavnaa Institute’s campus. The two initiatives operating under Udaan are a primary school and an afterschool learning center.
Although the intention behind both the learning center and the school is to empower children and enable them to create the life they desire, the stark differences in the manifestation of that aim is apparent. The primary school focusses on academia and employs conventional schooling pedagogies to educate children. On the other hand, the learning center focusses on holistically engaging children and sensitizing them to their ecological and geopolitical environment.
This approach of working with children was tailored to the needs of a community that aspires the urban, material comforts available in the urbanized environment of a city.
“I don’t think it is right to blame the villagers when they aspire for their children to be conventionally educated and get high paying government or corporate jobs that provide them access to the urban materialistic comforts. It will hypocritical of me, an urban, educated individual to ask them to not aspire for the privilege and comfort I grew up with.” Observed Fatima as she shares about her work at the learning center.
With these rich, nuanced experiences in their hearts, the Yatris moved to their final destination of the Yatra, Deer Park Institute in Bir. Here, they met changemakers that aided them to zoom out and look at the bigger picture that is the current global system, of which education is a fundamental aspect.
Three change makers; Ashish from Sahaj Foundation, Anshul from Shoonya Farm and Manish Jain from Shikshantar Andolan shared their personal journeys that have led them down this path.
Ashish sparked the conversation by bringing to light the current state of the global market and mindset that fuels it. While Anshul brought to light the extent to which urban human lives are now controlled by a global market based largely on exploitation. The importance of self-reliance and the urgency to foster such systems, in the face of climate change and global warming. The farm that was started 3 years ago by him and his partner is now an embodiment of the changes that need to be made in order to achieve even partial self-reliance.
Solidifying what the previous two sessions had unearthed, Manish, on the final day of the Yatra, shared his wisdom gained over decades of work to radically shift the system and planted seeds of radical action amongst the Yatris.
The crux of these interactions has left many Yatris with this question: At the precipice of a global meltdown, how to individuals from all walks of life claim their autonomy from a mindlessly consumeristic culture and a market controlled for the most part by corporate businesses?
With these new lenses, learnings, questions, and concerns, the Yatra culminated with presentations where a group of people formed at the beginning of the Yatra to support one another (families) shared their experiences of the Yatra through poetry, dance, theatre, and good old-fashioned talking. Gratitude, critical feedback to improve the facilitation of future Yatras was shared along with a strong sense of camaraderie and companionship.
This Yatra has in no way answered the questions the Yatris started with or that sprung up during the Yatra, but has (hopefully) provided the Yatris with starting points, or tools to aid to their journey along with the bitter-sweet experience of living and learning with like-minded people.
With that, the 3rd Vimukt Shiksha Yatra has come to a close, having been refined for the 3rd time, like honey in a beehive.
By Pankati Jain
Vimukt Shiksha Yatra 4.0 was a week long journey of learning & unlearning, collective dreaming, reclaiming and re-imagining education. It was a journey where we explored a lot of our inner questions and reinstated what education meant to us. The intent was to visit initiatives/ individuals who have held these questions and are responding in their own unique ways and to see for ourselves how these ideas are transcending across space.
The yatris were set with an intent of exploring, understanding and taking back on ground learnings to implement in full or improvise some parts of the learnings in their own fields.
11 Yatris from different spheres of life gathered at Vadodara to start the journey as a collective, co-learn and co-create in the days ahead.
The yatra commenced on 16th September 2019 from Vadodara, Gujarat and ended on 22nd September 2019 in Pune, Maharashtra.
Total 14 sessions were held in the 7 days journey.
The yatris started the journey with lots of gusto and excitement for the Yatra and a pleasant anticipation was evident even though they were shared with a rough sketch of the Yatra. The first destination was Oasis valley, a centre for self leadership education that focuses majorly on character education and character building. The environment at oasis valley was very peaceful and eco-friendly and in contrast to the suburban world it’s adjacent to.
They have created their own forest within the 9 acre campus. We were taken for a tour to the farm which is managed by the fellows and people living there itself. We saw different varieties of plants and various indigenous practices like the ganga Maa Mandala, an in-house grey water recycling unit, farming of haldi ,red sandalwood,citron ,sweet lemon,aritha among many others. Then we all had an interactive session about Oasis Valley's practices on reimagining education, facilitated by few of the MHE (Misaal Honorship Explorer) fellows themselves.
In addition to briefing us about their flagship programs like the Dream India Camp and the Misaal Honorship Explorer Fellowship, they gave us more insight into their collaborative practices of community living and building financial as well as emotional independence within their self education model.
"Everybody who wants to learn is invited in Oasis"
The road back home was long but it passed cheerfully playing antakshari and sharing life stories. Some yatris shared that they loved the like mindedness of all co yatris. They felt like a family travelling together.
The next day we started with an invigorating session with Rohit Prajapati, an activist who has devoted his life on issues relating to water pollution, occupational health, organic farming, protection and conservation of nature, workers rights, and peace and justice among other things.
His talk revolved around understanding self and he used the metaphor of food and tongue to reflect on deeper realities- as to how we eat only for our tongue and not for the body and connected how this is similar to all our other practices including education where most often we only try to eat satisfy the superficial needs like results and output and forget the deeper essence and thus forgetting the meaning of education in itself. Engineering or medicine is just a by product, the main ideology behind education was to make us humans (Nagrik), and according to him that's what is missing in today's education system.
After this, Krishna bhai shared about Mithi Virdi Andolan, and their major works in the villages and communities, wherein people came together to bring awareness to the villagers and become a catalyst in the resistance against the nuclear power plant that would disrupt the villagers life. Their other work includes building toilet models which can segregate urine and fecal matter from the source and this water to be used for farming.
Our last session at Vadodara was Ulti Va, the People's Theatre Laboratory initiative which allows people to express themselves through art and be themselves. They believe in flowing against the flow. We also did some theatre activities with them. Shakti Bhai who is the main convener shared few thoughts with us and talked about his philosophies of life. He emphasized how it is important for people to know themselves. If we know who we are and what we want to do then nothing else will matter. Nothing should be done for the sake of doing and if it's not subtle it's not your thing to do.
Morning in Mumbai began with a reflection session with Kejal. The session was attuned to connecting us to nature and campus The Retreat House, Bandra. We took a short walk within the greens of the campus and dwelled ourselves in connecting to the beauty of nature.
Yatris also had a small discussion with Abhishek Thakore, co-founder of Blue Ribbon Movement, who shared his experiences on self learning, maintaining curiosity despite the conforming world and exploring how can we change the world.
In the latter half of the day, we had a session with Aspi Shroff. He is the chief member of Possibilities Communities which is a space dedicated to exploring self through self discovery, visualization, theatre, meditation, self empowerment interactions, play etc and to motivate others into sharing on and on. The session was very energetic and vibrant, facilitated by Aspi and Kabeer.
The main theme was to make us realize that nothing is impossible and how the important thing is that it is a positive attitude with which we need to look at life to make it more worthwhile. And also not to forget to listen to ourselves. Even though these are common thoughts that all of us know and try to practice, the manner in which the activities and games were conducted, it left a huge impact on each of us.
After this we proceeded to Dharavi, for the Dharavi Dream Project which was co-founded by Dolly Rateshwar(one of our co-yatri). It is an after school hip hop learning space that helps the kids in the locality to come out of their struggles and channelise their aggression in a positive space as well as helping them break their trance of drugs and addictions. It nurtures their talents as well as charge their aggression in a positive manner on the dance floor or through their music and rap. We heard the kids telling their experiences with the centre and they were very happy and excited to perform for us.
Having a fresh start on our second day in Mumbai, The Blue Ribbon Movement was next on our list. The system runs with the energy of young people who worked on civic change, aluminae of BRM have come together to form this youth led movement and as a part of this they are doing different alternatives in learning, expression, action and dialogue to make the world a better place.
An interesting simulation activity was played with the Yatris to understand the Sarvanumati process better. The Yatris shared, it seemed easy before but it took a lot of time for the decision to be made with everybody’s Anumati. Some also felt the happiness after the decision was made. One of the yatri shared that she simultaneously realised a lot of layers deep beneath the process including collective intelligence, empathy etc.
A reflective session was facilitated by the Yatra organiser Harsh , where we explored and connected with the wisdom of our own bodies through free movement in connection with mother earth. The yatris had great reflections from the session.
As we reached the Sunrise Community Center, the kind of vibe the physical learning space gave us was very different. The city vibe was altogether a different experience for the Yatris because unlike the previous visits where we met and interacted with people working in different spaces with different agendas, Pune was more about exploring 'unschooling' in detail by meeting and interacting with families who are practicing the same.
Our first session was with veterans of unschooling, Urmila and John at their home. Starting with introductions, John shared a story of little opossum to set the context. Being a good storyteller as he is , he had the Yatris captivated with his manner of storytelling and it was a treat to listen to him.
They shared their experiences of unschooling their children, the ups and downs and their learning journey. John also shared about unjobbing and ways we can introspect on our priorities and decide on our outtake of life. Being parents of 3 unschooled children, who started this way of life way back in 1992, they are quite the veterans in this space. The calmness they carry on their faces is what we all got most attracted to.
We got the chance to meet with quite a few unschooling parents in Pune. Conversation with them was more about their ongoing journey of unschooling their kids. They shared that their aim was not target oriented but more focused on building their learning ability. The discussion soon became very heated with the topic being of interest to most and somehow it felt like we were left with more questions than we went.
But one thing was clear for everyone. Unschooling or homeschooling or whatever other labels we give it, there is no set practice for it. For all those who take it up as their way of life, have their own way of doing it as this is different to each child and each parent. The important thing is not to infiltrate it with others practices and do what's most relevant to you. We realised that we could surmise it to other practices of education we follow in our own spaces as well.
While the yatra reached its last leg the mood of yatris was very calm and relaxed. Chatting, chilling and bonding on a juice tapri they started the second last day of the Yatra.
The day started with a session by Aarti on Conscious Connections who led an interesting discussion among the group about ceremonies and the significance of rites of passages in life. According to her ceremonies are transitions and it is very important to know, understand the essence and follow or personalize our own ceremonies consciously. And most importantly the people involved should be conscious about the process.
Post lunch we had our first session with Sharmila. She shared about her current research in travel as a pedagogy in learning. Her interactions with these great travellers and people involved in the river journeys broke a lot of her paradoxes about life in general and especially about schooling. She advised us that we should be travellers and not tourists. She is also a mother of 3 unschooling kids. Hearing her sharing about her unschooling journey was very interesting and gave us a practical picture of the process. Respect for the child and the belief that the child is an individual are 2 important factors to be kept in mind for an unschooling parent. We should never forget that the child can make his own decisions - if to summarise these were the main ideas that Sharmila translated to the Yatris through the session.
After a small tea break and chilling session, we came back to the circle to be listening to Seema, another unschooling mother, who with her family runs an organic store and works and learns with organic farmers. She shared how they not only have a consumer-producer relation with the farmers, and how it’s more of an emotional connection with them. They as a family live with the farmers to understand their techniques and solve their issues. She shared how they are receiving and living in so much traditional wisdom now.
The Co-founder of Sunrise Community Center, Manoj shared the history about the intentions behind starting the centre and how it was in the first years. After that the kids took over and one of them facilitated our meeting. Then the kids talked to us about their experiences of the centre and how the centre benefitted them. They also explained to us the different practices they follow at the centre like how they practice sociocracy as a decision making model, how self directed learning and co-learning are their key processes and described methods and other practices.
With no lights and no water on the last day of yatra gave us an actual feel of a 'yatra' so to say.
The last and most energetic session was taken by Manish Freeman, who believes in collaboration rather than competition. With some of the energizers, dancing moves in circle we all tried to co-operate and enjoy the games. These gamethon as called by Manish aims at building teamwork, trust and confidence within the group. Another important takeaway was how to hold space for others and for ourselves consciously.
Abhishek, our co-yatri shared that when there was no electricity and water and our session got delayed, yet how everyone responded to the situation, how some of us went to other houses and asked for help and people actually helped was amazing to see.
Goodbyes are hard, they are harder, if the journey before has been so beautiful.
But as Nidhi rightly voiced everyone's sentiments when she said "somewhere it doesn't feel like an end. It is like we have all just met now and there are endless possibilities of crossovers and collaborations ahead, that this can only be called the beginning.".