Learning by Doing
Night Schools and Shikshaniketan, the day school
In 1974 the SWRC began its work with out of school children and ran three experimental schools, It proved that first, teachers needed to relate more to the community, second, the best teachers belong to the community, which was more important than a degree in school education. Third, the out of school child comes to a night school, where aids and examples are drawn from what is familiar to the child. Government had handed over the schools for the period, the project was sponsored by the Centre for Educational Technology, NCERT and the district Administration . These schools evaluated by the NCERT, Regional College in Ajmer were vindicated in their approach. The schools were handed over to the Government in 1978, but night schools continued to be run to attract children who did not go to day school.
The Shiksha Karmi programme of the Government of Rajasthan was drawn from this successful project. Young unemployed but literate youth were recruited to run schools in many locations in Rajasthan. The Rajasthan Government expanded the coverage to the whole state. SWRC continued to be engaged with the trainings subsequent to this for over a decade.It was also involved with the initial discussions on the Lok Jumbish Project.
The fact that children donot come in such large numbers to the night school any longer, is a justification of the total approach of the SWRC and growing awareness of communities. More children are enrolled in the day school and the night school numbers have dwindled to take care of the most marginalised kids, who remain out of school for economic reasons. Some of the schools were shifted to small revenue villages or a hamlet with no school.
More than 80 such night schools have been set up for the benefit of working children. Nearly 1,200 girls and over 1,500 boys, who tend cattle or engaged in other work during the day, attend these schools after dark.
Most of these institutions — more than 68 — are powered by over 200 solar lanterns. These lanterns are maintained by rural solar engineers. All teaching aids and learning materials used in the night schools are made from waste materials.
Instruction is informal and the curriculum is focused on practical knowledge and experience. Since most children tend cattle, they learn basic animal husbandry, along with reading and math. Children attend night schools for five years. Parent, teacher and committee meetings are held regularly, often more than once a week. Children monitor their own schools by electing their own representatives.
The Children’s Parliament, for monitoring the night schools, was a novel idea. It was based on the belief that giving power to the children who benefit most from the school, is the best way of ensuring its success . It also made children aware of political structures and processes, such as elections, campaigning and the process of voting. The parliament went a step further and built in genuine participation and accountability. Devaki as PM went to Sweden and met the Queen. They exchanged notes as heads of their respective institutions !
This form of education-related activism provides a heightened awareness of the system, its workings, and avenues for redressal of local grievances.
Teachers Training, a very important aspect of the Barefoot College’s educational programme, does more than just look at pedagogy. The interest spills out to create awareness of the Panchayat, the smallest unit in a democracy, and of understanding their role in development. Workshops at the College’s main campus or various field centres help prepare barefoot teachers for the night schools.
The Mobile Library goes from village to village. Children from the night school or volunteers from the community issue books from the library. Availability of reading material helps to establish the habit of reading among the night school students.
The Formal School
What began as a demand for better school for staff children began a process through which a new school got registered under the required Act. The President was chosen and the school ran in a participatory manner, where the headmaster was the only in matters of administration different from other teachers. Regular meetings, trainings and interaction with the staff continued to be a feature of the school. In the initial years, the large number of attendees to the school was local children from the 3 neighbouring villages of Phaloda, Harmara, Patan, and of course the bulk came from Tilonia village. The school excelled in pedagogy as well as other activities and became the focus of attention as far as Ajmer. Villagers from Tilonia started withdrawing their children from other schools to admit them here. Most of the children who qualified for the ‘Navodaya’ – a special school for talented children set up by the government – were in majority from one school – Shiksha Niketan. Many children now in Shiksha Niketan are second generation attendees. The children also won championships and games, and for extra-curricular activities like theatre. Initially, all teachers were local, unemployed youth, much in the manner of the original CET schools, run as an experiment by the SWRC. The Shiksha Niketan alumni are now in a variety of government jobs, studied further to become engineers, architects and get a firm hold on their economic future.