Having been associated with people’s movements for almost two decades, Amit and Jayashree realized that struggle and constructive action had to go hand in hand. They were also clear about working in a non NGO framework. So in an attempt to figure out a model based on people’s participation, in 1998 Adharshila Shikshan Kendra was born with the help of the Adivasi Mukti Sangathan. It was evident that mainstream educational systems were merely giving out facts and information, with the essence of learning entirely missing. Adharshila was envisioned as an alternative leaning centre.
Adharshila Shikshan Kendra
(Website, Naatak India Company)
Adharshila Shikshan Kendra is located on a hillock in the village of Saakad, 6 kilometres away from the town of Sendhwa in Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh. Upon entering the premises, one is greeted with words like “Why?” “What?” “How?” painted on the pillars of the main hall. The essence is to question, which is encouraged through various fun filled activities. There is hardly any wall that has been left blank—images of freedom fighters reminding one of the influences that shape the thought processes at the school; the names of common chemicals painted in Hindi, so that students can learn tough spellings easily when they pass by. The idea is to have words and concepts surround the children as they move around the campus so that they become familiar.
While Adharshila is formally run by Veer Khajiya Naik Manav Vikas Pratishthan, Amit, Jayashree, Badri bhai, Devika behen, Majali, Shewanta and Shanta oversee the day to day activities. The 13 year old learning centre also has senior students as informal monitors who look after the daily affairs of the school—be it taking charge of the dining hall, getting a broken shed repaired, or leading younger children in their project work. (Adharshila Teachers)
Adharshila has a dynamic group of supporters with a constant influx of volunteers who have left their impact on the learning centre, sharing important lessons and insights with those at the school. (Visitors)
In 2010-11 there were 100 students living and learning at Adharshila, the majority being from tribal communities. The students are part of different groups depending on their age and their ability to grasp what is being taught. The kindergarten group is called Beej (seed), while the other groups are called Yamuna, Kaveri, Brahmaputra, Krishna, Amazon, Nile and Octopus. Regular discussions and focus on critical thinking make the children aware of their own society and their tribal identity.
The standard text book format is avoided, making way for students to learn following an interdisciplinary process. Educational materials have been developed so that children can learn on their own as it has been found that children are more serious when they work on their own than in classes with a teacher.
While the younger kids keep the classrooms and school grounds clean, the older kids maintain the library, handle electrical problems, run small shops and a school bank, and even treat their sick or injured classmates. The curriculum has been kept flexible so that academics, world issues, practical skills and cultural heritage can be combined into a wholesome learning experience, while keeping the joy of learning alive. (Programs at Adharshila)
Inspired by Paolo Friere's ideas of popular education, the founders, Amit and Jayashree, have untiringly striven towards inculcating a hunger for learning in the children by getting them to be aware of the issues faced by their community and the world at large. Most of the students are children of farmers and hope to innovatively expand organic farming initiatives which constitute a significant aspect of the learning at Adharshila. (Organic Farming at Adharshila) Many of the students who studied here are now studying in college and continue to be associated with Adharshila in different ways. One senior team member of the centre has started a school in a very remote village in another district about 200 km away. Two other schools are being run by teachers trained at Adharshila.
The Right to Education Act of 2010 poses a problem to schools like Adharshila. Since now all the children below the age of 14 have to be enrolled in a registered school and the Act does not include alternative schools, students and parents are left confused. Even if they prefer the freer and more enriching atmosphere of Adharshila, the Act is forcing them to choose the formal system. Efforts are on to evolve a suitable solution.