By Usma Dhammei

It’s a 7-member team in the thinking lab. They are experimenting on an alternate model in pre-primary and upper-primary education. They believe that the learning outcome from the current education model is quite abstract without any concrete skills that can be of help later in life. Although NCERT has reiterated its content over the past decade, the question is if it really caters to the learners’ needs.

Why spend 12 years in school when you are not gaining any life or work skills? Education is a crucial space. It has the power to shape the mind and body of a child. Hence, it is necessary that we, as educationists, question how we are shaping the children’s lives.

The team is a significant part of Tamarind Tree School located in a remote village of Sogve, about 120 km away from Mumbai. Nobody comes from the educational background that can be of advantage or disadvantage here. This might have made the team more efficient and at the same time, opens up the room for creativity.

As of 2018, there were 116 learners. The eldest group is between 14-15 years old and has been integrated with the education model since when they were at the kindergarten level. One of the unique facilitation at this school is the student-centric approachwhere the focus is on an individual’s pace of learning without any age barrier. Students have learning levels instead of classes- Lower primary, Beginner and Independent.

The core aim is to push the kid to become a responsible independent learner where they wouldn’t require supervision from the facilitator. Hopefully, the child would imbibe this practice in her/his life as well. The team follows the guideline of NCERT while recreating, contextualizing and integrating it into their Learning Management System (LMS), which is an online learning forum designed to facilitate independent engagement for the learners.

Life of the Thinking Lab team at Tamarind tree

The team reports at 9 am. It is responsible for facilitating the upper primary learners (12 to 5 pm). The mornings are usually for debates, discussions on tools, generating new ideas or structuring the courses. There can be fixed roles or changes in responsibilities of team members based on the outcome of the discussion. One needs to be flexible and adapt quickly to changes. On most days, the unfinished discussion/debate continues in the post-school session till 6 or 7 pm.

Most of the topics are decided spontaneously based on the learners’ behavior. For instance, “How do we know if the coding course would help the learner apply logical thinking in practical problems of everyday life?” or “How might we create interesting ways to comprehend the English language?”. If some of the kids are engrossed in games like Pub-G or Minecraft, how might we integrate significant learning from that?

There is no concept of break or weekends in this team. When at home, they are either working to create an upcoming course or experimenting with new interactive content. The team is also heavily engaged in the process of strengthening its education model.

Producers of Knowledge

One of the core philosophies of the school is to learn and produce knowledge, rather than consuming it blindly. The team has recently set up their own studio to produce their course content. While creating any course content, the members make sure that it is contextualized for the students. To learn more about the school model, you may check out this video:

The Assembly session: Space to incorporate meaningful takeaways

This session is usually held for half an hour before the other sessions start. The role of the facilitators here is to moderate the key concepts – sharing, reflecting and learning about things that would make sense in the life of learners. Some of the activities that take place are reading aloud the powerful stories, debates, Karaoke to improve English Vocabulary, Pictionary, Riddling or simply sharing experiences. To stimulate critical thinking among learners, there have been days where facilitators have moderated movie screening and debate on topics like “Should men also take part in household chores?” or “Should there be uniforms in School?” 

Most of the students here are from Warli tribe, who have a long history of being subjugated by the people in power. A lot of them haven’t had the opportunity to experience the world outside, not even Mumbai in spite of living so close to it. Their world view is largely limited to the Sogve Village.

There is hardly any scope for aspirations other than those of farming, working in the balloon factories or getting married at a young age. The school intends to expand their world view critically by opening the doors to at least have dreams of their own like other children in privileged positions.

Not colleagues, but a family

One can definitely expect intense arguments almost every day. There would be an argument or laughter over the silliest statement. Since all team members come from diverse backgrounds and ideologies, at times the discussions get extended to a point where the mind and body saturate but the enthusiasm stays alive. A newbie in the team would be specially hosted with Toddy (locally harvested palm wine) or locally available beverages and yummy food. For refreshment, the team takes out time for hiking and/or trekking the nearby hills, boat rides in the sea or simply hanging out by the riverside.

The team is responsible for every mistake and learning in the education model. The experimentation continues while new discoveries get unfolded alongside.

This blog first appeared on the India Fellow portal.