Letter from Kamala Menon, Mirambika School

Freedom to learn.

There have been sweeping changes in education at the school level today. The Right to Education Act has opened the availability of learning to all without any barriers of time and duration. This, in itself, creates opportunities to learn everywhere and all through life. To make the best use of this opportunity and not lapse into the traditional mindset of “I am too old to learn” or “I know what to do, experience is the best teacher“, there is need for a more leisurely and self-paced learning mode.

In the very nature of the 10+2 system or the 12 year school + 3 year graduation +2 year post graduation and 4 year research period is built a very rigid and often unattainable control over learning. In the process of going from one level to another, time is spent on preparing for the run, taking a leap and falling on the other side, only to pick oneself up and run for another leap into nothing of great merit.

If this sort of controlled exploration of the learning process is re-organised in to a more flexible and interest dependent learning experience the whole “ JOY’ of learning would return perhaps. As one grows older, there is more and more need to explore, make mistakes and retrace steps. The 12-year school model offers only an introduction to the whole meaning of knowledge and skills. It is only after the 12 years of “Chhatravas” is over, that there is time to breathe and think through what to do.

Now any pausing or waiting is frowned upon and the names themselves GAP year, taken time off, doing nothing, reflect this. In the earlier days, when the ICSE schools would have their exams in December and the CBSE in March, there was a 6-month period before applications to University could be made. This was however not called GAP. The need to stop and think, reflect on choices, catch up with experience giving opportunities, travel, or just do nothing but self-study and reflect, is what every person wants and should by right get if quality education is to be taken seriously.

What are the opportunities during such a year apart from doing nothing, self-studying and reflecting, is another query that parents and children have. One is so used to having GAP YEAR OPTIONS lined up and different companies seeing the monetary advantage in offering opportunities, including living a rural life, that to plan one’s own choice becomes hard, as no openings may exist for the 16 year-old. Apart from which, is the concern that parents and  guardians have for the care and safety of these teenagers as the areas they choose to work in are not under any jurisdiction of child rights.

It is in such a situation that the concept of Free Progress needs to be a closely examined and institutions like schools
open their doors to those who do want to explore new avenues. It could be these centres in schools and colleges offering resources for music, art, drama, pedagogy, craft, photography, book publishing, masonry, carpentry, weaving, tailoring, English teaching and learning, which may provide space for our 16 year-olds to explore before they choose what they want to do in class 11 and 12 and those who complete class 12 to think about what to do in college and life. Given the safety of the home and resource centre, a year spent in study and reflection would certainly enhance the learning we have in India today.

Kamala Menon

– Some thoughts from a Free Progress Integral School experience at the Mirambika Free Progress School, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi Branch , Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi

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Letter from Dr. Mahesh Prasad, The Heritage School

Letter from Dr. Mahesh Prasad

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Letter from Claude Alvares, Multiversity

Why parents and educators should consider a “gap year” for their children…

One of the emotions we experienced as (“highly educated”) parents was the overall negative impact of the schooling system on our three boys. We found they were happiest when out of school. If it had not been for the compulsion, they would rarely have gone to school. At some stage, youngsters placed in such a situation – not just for a year but for an almost never ending decade – can experience a need to be set free from it all, for some time at least.

We discovered that the school never provided our kids with the opportunities to do the things they wanted to do or which gave them greatest pleasure. The school did not concern itself with their need to uncover and develop their own identity or personality. If any activity – whether or not desireable – was unrelated to the textbooks prescribed for them, according to the school it had no learning potential and for this reason was to be firmly set aside.

So when each of our kids completed school (either at the 10th or 12th), we set them free from all bonds for a full year. They would use the time to discover themselves, their likes and dislikes, with absolutely no compulsion or driving from our side. Basically, we wanted to ensure they got time – without the pressure of another year of study, or another examination around the corner – to come to terms with their own existence, what it meant to live in a society or country, explore its environment, interact with people of all ages, experience and expertise, and to consciously understand the idea that self-imposed discipline (swa-raj) is an inherent part of being creative and free.

All three experiments worked out satisfactorily. Each boy bounded out of the cage that school had become to explore total freedom. In the process, they slowly but unmistakably discovered their innate capabilities and developed these to use them as the basis for good, creative and satisfying work.

After the gap year, they found they had developed an ambivalent attitude towards the idea of going to college. They registered for graduation, but with our support kept to their own work and learning schedules. They discovered for themselves that the stuff they teach you in school and college may perhaps help you get a conventional job, but may not necessarily provide you with the vast resources that life makes available to human beings who have tasted freedom.

When the principal of the college called us for discussions because our sons could not be found in class or were located more frequently in the college canteen, we reassured him that our sons were disinterested in superior grades because they had their own schemes and were working those. Once the principal found the parents had no tension on this issue, they were much relieved and felt a burden had been lifted off their shoulders. We were never called by the principal again.

As parents, we do recognise that there are reasons why adults feel compelled to send their kids to school. We did so ourselves. But having done so, we say give the children a break – at least for a year – from the punishing and depressing schedules of these institutions. During that break, their “learning” from textbooks might decline. However, their conscious experiencing of life’s processes, social activity, personal sense of worth, capacity and responsibility will expand to its limits. The joy they will experience will be boundless. They will never be the same again.

In the case of our three sons, all chose independent careers which they created out of thin air. The first became a self-trained herpetologist, wrote a book at 16 called Free from School and followed it up with another book, The Call of the Snake. Free from School has inspired hundreds of other parents to take it easy on their kids as well.

The second son turned out to be a self-trained musician, while the third self-trained himself into an apple-computer expert by the age of 18.

In all three cases, it is the gap year which gave them the time they needed to think and decide wisely. Compare them before that to kids drowning under a regime of academic studies poured relentlessly down their throats, almost choking them. After the gap year, they were no longer gasping for air and had learnt in addition to fly, on their own, with marginal assistance from their parents. In fact, compared to other parents in similar circumstances, we emerged undebted to any banks or money-lenders for this manner of encouraging the children to grow needed only the very modest means available to ordinary middle class families in this country.

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Letter from Gurveen Kaur, Centre for Learning

As you know I’ve been facilitating learning spaces for the past 30 years. Since the last few years I’ve been urging all students to take a ‘year on’ from academics to take the time to listen to their inner self and to take time to experience life first hand before going for any professional training. To take a year to discover what they really want to do and explore that – away from what others tell/expect them to do. After all it is their life!

Parents usually reject all suggestions for taking a gap year, thinking it a waste of time. The students who get good grades are also reluctant to take this break as they think that they will be left behind.

I strongly advocate a ‘year on’ for all children for several reasons. I think after years of doing as they are told in schools and at home, with most of their time spent studying, all young adults need time off to figure out what they want, where they are headed and to just get a break from a regimented, totally dictated life. Without this break too many students’ turn rebellious or burn out in the next few years exhausted from years of studying and preparing for examinations. If most youngsters don’t know what they want, it is because we have never given them the time to discover who they are and what they want. Nowadays most students have no respite even in the holidays when they are rushed into summer camps packed with fun activities and/or extra tutorials. Not having unstructured time to themselves makes them dependent upon others and the TV for constant amusement – without which they are bored and uneasy.

Without any time off to figure things out for themselves, our children drift into college and take up courses they have no interest in based upon what we tell them or based upon what their peers have chosen. Then for the rest of their life, they get locked into careers that they have no interest in. Careers most of them follow feeling tortured and trapped. They are neither able to enjoy their work nor give it their best. Thus we don’t just condemn our children to a life of misery but condemn society to a battery of indifferent workers in all walks of life. People who are not self-motivated but need to be prodded, pushed or carried through till their spirit breaks and they’ve no energy left to do otherwise or to rebel. If we want our children to survive, enjoy their life, do their work well and have some peace of mind, we need to encourage them to take at least a year to figure things out for themselves.

So when my own daughter reached 10th class I told her to take a year off. She refused to even consider the idea with the explanation, “I will be left behind and all my classmates will get ahead of me.” I did not think insisting at that point would have helped, so I let it pass but we kept returning to the possibility now and then. After her twelfth I again told her to take a year off but again she wasn’t open to the idea. She went through her graduation but I could see that her heart wasn’t in it – even though she had chosen her subjects and was getting good grades. It was only after her graduation that she decided to take a year and a half off. During the year she spent most of her time doing nothing, reading, listening to music, watching films, sleeping to goofing off – and, mostly alone. She seemed to be doing nothing and had even me worried with the amount of time she spent alone. She returned after the year clearer about what she wanted to do and much more focused and self-motivated.

Not enough children are allowed to take up this suggestion but most of those who did, emerged energized, self-motivated and clearer about their path. Our children need our support to take this time to figure things out for themselves as it is absolutely essential for their well-being. If we really care for our children’s’ well-being and happiness we owe it to them.

Gurveen Kaur
Centre for Learning – A Place Where Learning is Fun

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Letter from Tenzin Dorjee, Sambhota Tibetan School

Letter from Tenzin Dorjee

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Letter from Kiran Bir Sethi, The Riverside School

Letter from Kiran Bir Sethi
Letter from Kiran Bir Sethi - 2

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Letter from Dr. Satish Inamdar, The Valley School

Letter from Dr.Satish Inamdar

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