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Vimukt Shiksha Yatra

Vimukt Shiksha Yatra 3.0

By Shuchita Prakriti

The Vimukt Shiksha Yatra was a 7-day free-flowing learning journey focused upon exploring, questioning and expanding perceptions related to education. To venture into organizations started by individuals with a spark to create a better world. The intention of this journey was to weave together a tapestry of questions, answers, actions, and realizations, to make a shift from the current system that appears to favor convention, machines, and conformity over innovation. To interact with multiple organizations/initiatives/ foundations and understand the state of our current mainstream education system, and through that lens, the state of the world and the future that is being created for the coming generations.

The centerpiece made by the young participants of the Yatra on the first day at Dharamshala

37 participants of all ages and from all walks of life, (students, un-schooling or home-schooling families, individuals passionate about education and families considering alternative learning pedagogies), came together from the 14th to the 20th of May, in Himachal to co-create this experience as a collective.

This journey started on the morning of 14th May 2019, in Dharamshala, where the Yatris were invited to learn, explore and flow with everyone as they traversed their individual paths in the same direction.

Yatris at the nearby river in Dharamshala after an intimate initiation ceremony on the first day of the Yatra

On this journey, the first stop for the Yatris was Nav Gurukula, an organization dedicated to empowering youth’s lives by teaching them the hard skill of coding, using Self-directed learning as a pedagogy. In this session, held by one of the co-founders, Rishabh Verma, the nuances to the organization’s work, and the dichotomy of teaching young adults a skill/skill-set that made them employable mainly by corporates, while being an organization dedicated to deviate from the mainstream came to the forefront. Along with the challenges faced while wanting to, and providing youth with as much exposure as possible, while also engaging with the need to nurture them holistically.

Yatris interacting with students from Nav Gurukula, understanding their day to day lives

That vision currently manifests as a 1-year residential program, while aiming to eventually expand into a co-ed learning space with mentorships provided for multiple subjects.

This was one of the many conversations that brought forth the nuances and layers to the organization’s work and was a live representation of the fine balance of living in a world run by a corporate system and the desire to live a happy life not based on monetary success alone.

The following morning the Yatris visited the Tong Len school, where they were received by the forever sunny “Guruji” who spoke about his trials, tribulations, and errors on his way to manifest a holistic learning space for underprivileged children. The vision held by him--that now manifests as a school integrating multiple learning pedagogies—was to foster healthy, kind, loving and empathetic individuals.

The ever sunny “Guruji” speaking about his journey and how the school instills qualities such as empathy and kindness within the students of their school on the second day of the Yatra

While reflecting on this interaction, Kejal, one of the two facilitators of the Yatra, shared how deeply touched she felt upon walking into a classroom and finding kindness, empathy, etc. to be individual subjects with equal weight as the academic ones.

A rather raw and stark question that also surfaced during reflections was: Is it a privilege to be able to raise children into empathetic, loving, liberal adults? This question was carried over by the group and was answered for individuals in their own conversations and interactions.

The power couple Suarabh and Preeti sharing their journey with the Yatris on the second day of the yatra

On the way from Dharamshala to Palampur, the Yatris had their first casual, cozy conversation, with un-schooling parents and power couple, Saurabh Mittal and Preeti Mann. They shared about their journey from Gurgaon, the corporate and academic sectors, to a small, cozy house in Himachal over some delicious tea and samosas. The duo spoke about their interconnected vision to farm, work with youth and question one’s pre-conceived notions in an effort to understand themselves better. The couple regularly hosts retreats under the initiative QYON (Questioning Your Own Notions) where they facilitate and participate in powerful introspective exercises along with the other participants to emerge with a deeper understanding of themselves and the kind of partnership they create. (They gave a lot of the Yatris “alternative couples goals”!)

A comprehensive map of mathematics from Avishkaar Learning Center

On the 3rd day, the Yatris interacted with 4 passionate team members of Aavishkaar Learning Centre, an organization aimed to nurture the natural sense of wonder and curiosity amongst children. They achieve this goal by creating practical and interactive experiment kits anyone can demonstrate/implement, for the seeming nightmare subjects of math and science.

The facilitators shared their experiences—both good and bad—in working with children and what the ramifications of a schooling system that doesn’t foster or actively encourage curiosity amongst children are.

Yatris during the sharing session at Avishkaar Learning Center on the 3rd day of the Yatra

“They never even asked or stopped to question why it was that they had to recite the multiplication tables a certain way! We have to ask them to slow down and encourage them to question these small things from time to time.” Explained Simran, a facilitator, and Aavishkaar fellow.

This invitation/reminder to slow down and ask questions, instead of passively receiving information adds another layer of richness to the entire learning experience for the children and allows for a companionship to form as the children and facilitators navigate the path of learning joyfully together.

Jim and Pashwa in a conversation Yatris during the un-schooling families’ session

Within this diverse group of Yatris, there were moments where the questions and needs of certain families or individuals could not be addressed immediately. So, just as the parents in the group began to get frisky, a cozy conversation with unschooling parents was held at Aavishkaar Learning Centre.

Sandhya--known well for turning every session she holds into one about math—demonstrated how she gages individual learning styles of students in a class and bringing to light the challenges she has seen students undergo in a rigid education system focused on teaching only one method of learning.

The conversation then flowed into her experience as an unschooling parent, where she divulged how rules were initially implemented for her daughter Shyamali (name check).

“There were no rules on what she could and couldn’t do as such, as a young child, the only rule in place was that she was to come back home by sundown.” Said Sandhya

The traveling duo Siddharth and Smriti brought to light the necessity of exposing children to various environments to foster personal growth and resilience amongst children as they traveled around the country with their son in a car with a month’s worth of luggage. The couple also works with a variety of individuals (children, youth, educators and parents) and organizations under their initiative Soulify, with an aim to use storytelling, theatre and generating literature to facilitate bringing ideas into reality.

Jim and Pashwa’s sharing can be summarized in one statement that Jim made: “When our boys were born, we fell in love with them, and we didn’t want them to have to go to environments where people didn’t love them as much as we did. So, sending them to school wasn’t an option.”

The session ultimately gleaned insights on how parents must show up to truly support their children in order for the children to be raised in a healthy and loving atmosphere.

The final session held at Aavishkaar was that of Traveler’s University. The founders, Rahul, Aashik and Ashwini spoke a bit about their individual journeys and of the intention that brought about the creation of this initiative.

Traveler’s University Founders Aashik, Rahul and Ashwini sharing about their initiative

Having experienced the homogenization of education and its effects on indigenous cultures as a whole, the initiative hopes to explore traveling as a learning pedagogy to encourage cross-pollination and preservation of traditional wisdom. The trio also aims to encourage people to travel with an intention to form meaningful connections and gain valuable experiences as opposed to traveling as tourists.

Yatris exploring their surroundings as a part of the exercise to learn more about their environment at Sambhaavnaa institute

By this point in the Yatra, the group was more settled and spaces for open and vulnerable conversations had been created. Meaningful and deep conversations were slowly permeating the group, creating a healthy cross-pollination of knowledge. Individuals were now tapping into the intergenerational wisdom of the group.

Vikram from Life Through Lenses holding a session about other life forms that co-habit our planet and the impact human actions can have on their lives

This shift in perspective was also palpable in the group during the session held by the power couple Vikram and Apoorva regarding their initiative Life Through Lenses. A heartfelt initiative started by the duo to sensitize people on the impact of human actions on the co-habitants of our planet. The group was in raptures by the raw energy and dedication of the duo.

The Yatris were also introduced to the Udaan initiative operating out of the Sambhaavnaa Institute’s campus. The two initiatives operating under Udaan are a primary school and an afterschool learning center.

Although the intention behind both the learning center and the school is to empower children and enable them to create the life they desire, the stark differences in the manifestation of that aim is apparent. The primary school focusses on academia and employs conventional schooling pedagogies to educate children. On the other hand, the learning center focusses on holistically engaging children and sensitizing them to their ecological and geopolitical environment.

Fatima and Sneha sharing about the Udaan Learning Center

This approach of working with children was tailored to the needs of a community that aspires the urban, material comforts available in the urbanized environment of a city.

“I don’t think it is right to blame the villagers when they aspire for their children to be conventionally educated and get high paying government or corporate jobs that provide them access to the urban materialistic comforts. It will hypocritical of me, an urban, educated individual to ask them to not aspire for the privilege and comfort I grew up with.” Observed Fatima as she shares about her work at the learning center.

Yatris learning about the Deer Park Institute

With these rich, nuanced experiences in their hearts, the Yatris moved to their final destination of the Yatra, Deer Park Institute in Bir. Here, they met changemakers that aided them to zoom out and look at the bigger picture that is the current global system, of which education is a fundamental aspect.

Three change makers; Ashish from Sahaj Foundation, Anshul from Shoonya Farm and Manish Jain from Shikshantar Andolan shared their personal journeys that have led them down this path.

Yatris at the Shoonya farm

Ashish sparked the conversation by bringing to light the current state of the global market and mindset that fuels it. While Anshul brought to light the extent to which urban human lives are now controlled by a global market based largely on exploitation. The importance of self-reliance and the urgency to foster such systems, in the face of climate change and global warming. The farm that was started 3 years ago by him and his partner is now an embodiment of the changes that need to be made in order to achieve even partial self-reliance.

Yatris in a conversation with Manish Jain from Shikshantar Andolan

Solidifying what the previous two sessions had unearthed, Manish, on the final day of the Yatra, shared his wisdom gained over decades of work to radically shift the system and planted seeds of radical action amongst the Yatris.

The crux of these interactions has left many Yatris with this question: At the precipice of a global meltdown, how to individuals from all walks of life claim their autonomy from a mindlessly consumeristic culture and a market controlled for the most part by corporate businesses?

With these new lenses, learnings, questions, and concerns, the Yatra culminated with presentations where a group of people formed at the beginning of the Yatra to support one another (families) shared their experiences of the Yatra through poetry, dance, theatre, and good old-fashioned talking. Gratitude, critical feedback to improve the facilitation of future Yatras was shared along with a strong sense of camaraderie and companionship.

This Yatra has in no way answered the questions the Yatris started with or that sprung up during the Yatra, but has (hopefully) provided the Yatris with starting points, or tools to aid to their journey along with the bitter-sweet experience of living and learning with like-minded people.

A gratitude circle to wrap up the Yatra!

With that, the 3rd Vimukt Shiksha Yatra has come to a close, having been refined for the 3rd time, like honey in a beehive.

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