By Rupali Joshi

Sitting in the shade of inseparable Chikoo trees, the sunlight peeped from spaces transforming the ground into kaleidoscopic patterns. I hear distant voices lost in the serenity of this place. The wind hushed a melody of embracing leaves. On a quiet corner, stood the Tamarind tree, so distinct and still in perfect harmony with its surroundings.

The last few days of continuous movement had been exhilarating for me. I traveled from the plains of Aravallis in Udaipur to the mountains of Nainital back home in Uttarakhand and then to my final stop in Dahanu, Maharashtra, my home for the next one year. A relatively small town which was unknown to me before becoming a part of this experience, a piece of shoreline softened by the mighty Arabian sea in the west to the impressive Sahyadri ranges to the east. The anticipation of joining Tamarind Tree, the organization has traveled with me all the way.

Tamarind tree is dedicated to the tribal children of Dahanu, philosophies of which revolve around the concept of Open education, which as I learned, is the way we should produce, share and build on knowledge. People here strictly abide by this practice using Open Education resources (such as Khan Academy, Wikipedia, Scratch, etc.) and host their own Learning Management system (LMS) My Big campus, which has courses, content and forum for children as well as facilitators. All these are supporting pillars of digital literacy. This lifestyle is made effective by the introduction of a digital medium at the initial stage of children’s learning. According to the Tamarind tree, “Open Source is a way of thinking – a way of life”

They believe in a world where knowledge is freely available to all.

“Knowledge must be like the air we breathe, and people everywhere should have the freedom and choice to create, remix, rebuild, share and distribute this knowledge.”

This take hasn’t left me ever since!

Coming from a ‘traditional’ way of being educated, this concept in itself was alien to me and it was new to figure out how it loops within the depths of understanding and/or experience by practice. Like any one would, I also did my research before joining the organization; read everything I could, tried to understand as much as possible, but in all honesty, I couldn’t really grasp it. All it took was an 8-year old with the right motivation and a computer to put me in my place.

During the first few days here, I began questioning my education; I began counting the shortcomings, the ways it has restricted me. Ironically, it is this education that got me where I am today. This experience until now has also left me with a curiosity of how things would have been different with a new approach.

Knowledge is meant to be shared. That is how it grows. We have probably heard or used this phrase in one of our own conversations, but honestly, how many times in our life have we really practiced it? I began wondering if we are really that blinded by the boundary of our “education” that we don’t see whether it practices what it preaches. After all, a education system can’t be a static arrangement of tools that empower a single way to learn. It must empower multi-vectored communication, and it must work further in developing tools for the next generation of learners.

This is what the Tamarind tree is working towards, this and so much more in an unconventional manner. Everything is designed with thoughtful precision, for example, the meals that are served, apart from being nutritious, contribute towards conscious learning for the students. They listen to recorded menus every day with voiceovers of one of their own. They understand what they eat and why do they eat it.  This is a daily practice and small detail make a big difference altogether. The students studying here are mostly first generation learners. The curriculum practiced, promotes learning by thinking. Here, the students are not bound by mandatory books. They strive towards being independent which is achieved by a curriculum designed in a way that initiates motivation and curiosity building. They are digitally sound. Ask a student in standard 3 and he’d be able to navigate you through Khan Academy or Scratch. Their practices are making me think more. Each day I take back a lot from these children than I probably can give at this moment.

I have always been a learner, never an educator. Here, the roles are not fixed. One can be both an educator and a learner at the same time.  These kids made me realize the importance of questioning and being questioned. They constantly question everything.  All this reflects the amount of hard work and thought that has been put by the founders, Michelle and Hemant, and their team at Tamarind tree. I couldn’t remember the last time I questioned something just because…

For the lack of a better term, I think this is an existential crisis for me. Was it the hypocrisy of our system or a flaw of self? How did I miss out on such crucial detail?

This is supposed to be a year of realization, a conscious effort, but when reality hits you – it hits you harder than anticipated. As of this moment, it has been an enlightening journey and consuming all of it might get overwhelming at times, mostly because of my lack of understanding about my surroundings. Things like these really strike you hard. Until now, I was amidst the known but by this cultural shift in the education system, I’m now determined to find out more.

As I recollect the words of Confucius “When I walk along with two others, from at least one, I will be able to learn…”  I believe this is me doing my bit.

This blog first appeared on the India Fellow portal.