By Chinmayi J, Azim Premji University
Over the past few months, our worlds have changed substantially. Looking at the future, uncertainty looms large and there’s a new normal on the horizon. However, it is not for us to sit back and watch as the new normal falls into place but to shape it through deliberate choices. Education is a powerful channel through which these choices are made. In a world of inequalities, it offers hope and a chance for a better future for billions of young people.
Moving forward, it is crucial to understand how the pandemic is changing education as we know it and to model these changes for a better future. The Future of Education track by Arthan explored these areas by bringing together experts from various organisations to create shared meaning. While an untimely power cut and thunderstorm restrained me from participating in the final two events of the conference, the three sessions that I could make it to, left me with valuable insights and learnings.
The day started with Roshan Paul’s keynote address. In a short and concise speech, he struck a chord with each individual present through three themes that we often forget in the course of our busy lives – reinvention, living out loud, and our highest purpose. Reminding the audience of the power of choices, Roshan emphasised on how we need to keep changing and reinventing ourselves accordingly. The ones who change the world are not experts, it’s the ones who are open to changing with the world around them. He spoke about how while thinking out loud is familiar to us, living out loud is more impactful. Our actions need not always be a result of answers. At times, actions have to be undertaken as a question to understand its impact. Finally, he encouraged his listeners to take off from the realm of mediocrity by realising their highest purpose. Bringing the focus back to education, he established that education’s higher purpose is to establish world peace. All peacebuilders are changemakers and it is only when we act with this higher purpose in mind that we can bring sustainable change. In many ways, the keynote address shed light on the importance of the balance between praxis and deliberation. It was the perfect beginning for the day.
At the heart of the changes in social interactions in the time of the pandemic is our increased dependency on technology. The field of education is no exception to this. Hence, the first session of the day was a panel discussion on what lies ahead for EdTech non-profits. The panelists were Anant Bhagwati (Dasra), Bhanu Potta (Worldreader), Maharshi Vaishnav (Educate Girls), and Ratna Vishwanathan (Reach to Teach India). The session was moderated by Abhinav Mathur from Million Sparks Foundation. The foremost challenge faced by these organisations was that the home has become the school unit at this juncture. Consequently, parents have a more prominent role to play in the schooling of their children. They need to be sensitised regarding creating an environment conducive to learning in the house and the usage of technology. Maharshi pointed out that in a patriarchal society, it is important to empower the mother to promote the education of the girl child. However, technology is often in the hands of the patriarch. Besides, EdTech remains a largely urban phenomenon as of now. The pandemic has completely disrupted the learning of many children in rural India due to a lack of access to the internet and other resources. The organisations are experimenting to find out the most effective way to continue their learning.
Here, teachers and community volunteers have the potential to bridge the gap between availability and usage of study packs and such. However, these models are still being developed. The final point that held great significance was the requirement for collaboration and not a competition between civil society organisations. The need of the hour is to have effective networks rather than cut-throat markets. Moving forward, one can foresee that EdTech will have an increased presence in the domain of education, but it will mostly remain a part of a blended model to bring about effective learning.
The final session I was able to attend was the one I was most excited for. Titled ‘The Only Way Forward: Enabling the Alignment of the Head. Heart, Hand, and Soul, the panel discussion brought together Chandni Chopra (Simple Education Foundation), Neha Bhatia (SEE Learning India), Oli de Botton (School 21, London), and Suchetha Bhat (Dream a Dream). The session was moderated by Srishti Paliwal (Simple Education Foundation). The conversations emerging from this panel were closely tied with their lived experiences and involved the audience in various introspective processes. The central theme was the idea that schools have a social mission in addition to their academic mission. This meant that beyond intellectual growth, schools should also focus on the emotional, social, and personal growth of a child. In the philosophy of the heart, hand, body, and soul, as Oli explained, the head symbolised information, the heart stood for emotional connections and resilience, and the hand represented action. In an increasingly rationalising world, this is a powerful conceptualisation through the very fact that it brings into light aspects of emotion and action. Through this framework, the panel led their listeners to their own school experiences and asked what they would change. A common answer was to lessen competition in schools.
Promoting a culture of cooperation and understanding is much more conducive to growth and learning than a culture of ruthless racing. Here, it is important to understand that the school is operating within a larger social context with many things out of our control. However, change beginning from an individual is meaningful and central to our flourishing. To realise this is to take a moment from our busy lives, to pause, and to re-examine. Once we initiate this process of transformation and once again go back to looking at the world with child-like curiosity, we grow. When we grow, it almost always influences those around us. Creating nurturing communities that align the head, heart, hand, and soul goes a long way in an individualistic world.
Over the past few months, most of our lives have undergone drastic changes. As the world lurches to a pause, one thing is certain; things are not going to be the same anymore. While this momentary stillness is disruptive in many ways, it holds the potential for great change. However, as we recede into the comforts of the privilege we hold, it is easy to be blinded by complacency and detachment. Through the Future of Education track, Arthan gave me a platform to engage in something meaningful and in some ways, be a part of defining this new normal. Each speaker added to my learning significantly and brought a very nuanced understanding of the issue at hand to light. Seeing them engage with one another was consequential and insightful. At a time like this, when the world has been forced to pause, it is worthwhile reflecting on where we want to go. It is worthwhile acting on our ideals to create social change. In the words of the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Chinmayi was one of the participants of Arthan’s ‘Future of Education‘ track held on July 3, 2020 (as a part of our long-term initiative, Building Civil Society Organisations of the Future).
Check out our upcoming tracks on our website: www.arthanevents.com