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Educational model of coexistence

In Shiksha: My Experiments as an Education Minister, Manish Sisodia recounts his experiences and experiments while supervising education in Delhi, with a blow-by-blow account of an amazing transition story. Excerpts:

I visited a school at Patparganj village the day after swearing-in as the education minister of Delhi. This was my first surprise inspection.

I found the doors and windows broken, fans broken and electrical wires dangling. I asked the principal about the condition of the school, to which he replied, 'Sir, as you know, most of the students come from the slums out back. They spoil everything. You must know what kind of children come here.' With this one answer, I caught the pulse of the disease. It is this attitude towards underprivileged children and their social and economic environment that has made the school system fail. We have taken the responsibility to educate these children, but we complain about them and say they aren't up to it. That means that only if the children were intelligent and came from an intelligent environment, would we give them an intelligent education. What we don't understand is that we too can work towards creating an intelligent society through education. But what can be done? This is the root cause of the problem. While we have to find a solution, we cry over the problem being a problem. This was my first lesson as the education minister. I understood that while getting the doors and windows fixed was one task, reorienting the approach of educators was more important. Reforming the education system of Delhi and creating a new society through education was my mission as the education minister.

To achieve this, I needed a team and nothing could be better than one made up of officials of the education department because they had both the authority and the experience. However, they lacked initiative and direction. From the initial meetings at the Delhi secretariat and my surprise inspections at schools, these officials realized how serious we were about education. We weren't just interested in dusting off the rusted structures but getting them on track and making them run smoothly. That was the mission of the Aam Aadmi Party government. My first challenge was to present a blueprint for future plans to all my officers, from senior ones in the education department to those at the district and zonal level. This was done to have a frank and open chat with them and help them understand the importance of all the structures and systems around education; to explain what was lacking in the education we were offering and in which direction and how to progress in the next five years.

To me, the only solution for all these challenges seemed to be the 'Jeevan Vidya Shivir' (Life Education workshop), which is based on the 'Madhyastha Darshan' (coexistence) model inspired by education-philosopher, A. Nagraj. As soon as I was sworn in as the education minister on 14 February 2015, I contacted my old friend Som Tyagi who had been working on the 'Madhyastha Darshan' based education system in Chhattisgarh and many other states and asked him for help. Owing to health problems, Som Tyagi had been confined to Raipur for some time. He had also not organized any workshops in this time. However, he couldn't turn down my request, and on 14 March 2015, we invited all the education department officials, university chancellors, etc., for a day to the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) headquarters in Defence Colony, Delhi. This was done to understand our aim vis-à-vis education – our aspirations, the purpose we had in mind and to pinpoint the gaps. We also had to understand how far behind in practice we were even from the half-baked aspirations that were set earlier. The aim of this daylong workshop was not just to summarize but to present these aspirations in a meaningful way and examine the shortcomings of the current system. We had a long discussion on these subjects. Organizing a day-long workshop on such a vast topic and with so many highranking officials was no mean feat. During the courseof the discussion, we realized that all the attendees had noticed the shortcomings in the traditional way of imparting education. I was present throughout and suggested that they participate in an eight-day Jeevan Vidya Workshop for further discussions. A residential workshop outside Delhi seemed like a good option. The entire education department landed at Abhyuday Sansthan in Achoti village, 24 km from Raipur, in the very first week of April. Including me, we were a total of fifty people – the education secretary, education director, regional director, deputy director, zonal director, SCERT officials, university vice chancellors, directors and officers of the Department of Higher Education and Department of Technical Education.

This was a unique experiment in governance – a newly appointed education minister with his team members from the education department on an eightday workshop away from the daily rigmarole, in a village away from their city, discussing how education could and through education, the country and society could progress along the path of development. It was a new experience for the officials and especially for those from the education department whose entire teams, branches, departments, junior to senior, stayed together for eight days. The discussion was only around education – from the time they woke up, had breakfast, all day long and then at the dinner table, till they slept. They had no other work for those eight days. Freed from their everyday chores, they were present at the workshop not just physically but mentally too.

I am sure you'd want to know what the discussion was on. If I were to put it in one sentence, I would say it was a discussion on the model of education that would inculcate the concept of coexistence among students. What is this model? To understand that, you will have to participate in the workshop at Jeevan Vidya Shivir. I cannot explain it in a few words but to quell your curiosity, all I can say is that the current model of education is competitive, where every student is taught that the biggest proof of their learning is their ability to race ahead, leaving all their classmates behind. On paper, we are giving education in classrooms but in reality, these are war rooms. This is the reason why every child is put in the rat race to leave the others behind. And after school, he/she is stuck in this race. In this model, either every person is working under someone or trying to get someone else to work under them. Here the basis for progress is conflict or exploitation. There is no scope to make it wholesome or to coexist. This is a model to raise children for the market to develop human resource. That is probably the reason why in our country we do not have an education ministry but education is looked after by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The other state education departments in the country also suffer from the same malady. There too, in the name of education, men and women are being raised as resources.

(Excerpted with permission from Shiksha: My Experiments as an Education Minister; by Manish Sisodia; published by Penguin. The excerpt here is a part of the chapter titled 'Education as a Foundation'.)

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