Anand Niketan, Wardha is a remarkable school. Run in the same premises where Gandhi started an experiment in education in 1937, it draws inspiration from his educational philosophy; and is playing a leading role today in redefining Nai Taleem (also called Basic Education or Buniyadi Shiksha) within the purview of modern curricular and Boards’ requirements. What follows is an interview with Sushma Sharma, who was instrumental in restarting the school in 2005 and continues to lead its growth and development today. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Could you please take us through the main points of your presentation?
Sushma Sharma: I was asked to introduce Nai Taleem and the role of textbooks in Nai Taleem. When I talked to Avinash he mentioned that Nai Taleem is used today in a limited number of institutions and people often look at it as a historical thing, so it would be good to share the historical facts and then go into the actual practice of Ananda Niketan – which takes inspiration from Nai Taleem philosophy or Gandhi’s ideas of education.
So in the first part of my presentation I focused on the history of Nai Taleem and its principles; and in the second part, I shared what we are practicing at the moment in Anand Niketan. I shared that we haven’t been able to bring the essence (of Nai Taleem) totally to what we are doing; but we are trying in that direction and we draw inspiration from Nai Taleem. I talked about how the school functions and how it takes care of the mind, body and heart; because that is how Nai Taleem looks at (holistic) education.
Usually we have more focus on intellectual development. And we don’t think of an individual – or the individual child – in a holistic perspective. I think the different-ness of what we do is that we take into consideration the societal factors which affect children’s lives and the nature in which the child lives. Also, we try to make children think of our relationship – human beings’ relationship – to nature, and different aspects and elements of nature. And (we pay attention to) the intellectual development of a child as well, which is essential.
And then I also talked about the work-based activities that we use; and demonstrated the kind of learning experiences we actually go through. What I focused on was how we relate to society and nature and how we do it by taking different issues that we see around (us). For e.g. we pick up some news items, or we draw ideas from a constitutional frame that we have to engage with or we have to be concerned about – when we plan our educational program. So (we ask ourselves) how do we take all these threads and create learning opportunities for children? And then we see what is the thought process that evolves out of it.
Towards the end of the presentation, I shared some of the children’s expressions on different issues. And I also tried to show that we (at) many times underestimate children’s capacity to think. And I think that children in Class 5 and Class 6 (or) 7, the way they express their ideas on different issues, it was – even people here thought – it was good.
They were questions at the end and a number of questions were asked about the challenges that we face today – there are a number of challenges I would say. We are not used to the idea of soiling our hands, for example; doing things by hand is not looked upon very positively in our society. Elite groups send their children to English-medium schools. And there they don’t have to really do things – productive thing – by getting their hands dirty. So, many times, even the lower middle class and lower class think that probably that is the right way of education – sending our children to English-medium schools and not soiling our hands, and not going to society or to the farm and learning from nature – all these things (they start thinking) would in some way be wasting time and not really helping our children to learn.
Over a period of time, (at our school) parents do understand that what we do, gives quality education. But they are also afraid – that if my child doesn’t learn English, then will he or she be in a disadvantaged position. And I would say that we had to really understand these economic and political pressures that parents, particularly from the lower socio-economic groups, go through. And we had to address them sensitively.
English is important. But it is very natural for the child to learn through (the) mother-tongue. That is the natural right of the child, which makes the child much more self-reliant and the learning process becomes very enjoyable. And the child is able to – without getting tired – explore multiple things because it becomes easy for the child to explore. The diversity of cultures, diversity of languages – all these issues need to be considered very seriously when we promote English as a medium of instruction. So we look at this challenge in this broad scenario.
I also feel that we have a number of new issues (challenges) coming up these days (which should be talked about in schools). For example, we have some constitutional values. But then we have to review the values such as freedom and how it has to be looked at today – when we have very few people taking advantage of the system and many others not being able to get the advantages of the so-called development that we quite often talk about.
So Nai Taleem – or any educational experiment that we do, or the school curriculum – it has to address all these issues. And it has to sensitize children about such issues as well and train them to not take everything at face value. We put different perspectives in front of children and then we make them think. How do they feel about all these issues with their own experiences and with whatever values we have considered as human beings or as citizens of this country – (as) very important to us – through our own constitution?
That is why we feel that Nai Taleem is not apolitical; but it stands for all. In that sense, it is for lokaneeti (public policy) as Gandhi would say. And I think we need to think of the Gandhian perspective on education because of the situation today – I think it is a very important and effective pedagogy and children can develop in a very beautiful way (with its help).