I enjoy going to conferences. Listening to the big names, getting to know about the hundreds of new things being carried out in pockets across our huge population. But education conferences — and education in general — has continued with the practice of not listening to its most important stakeholders: the children themselves.
Change the Script, Dream a Dream’s annual conference was refreshingly different. The event was hosted by children who are participants or graduates of their Life Skills programmes, and their confidence spoke volumes about Dream a Dream. Across the halls, you could see young children among the usual audience of teachers, principals, policy-makers. Vishal Talreja’s opening address highlighted the importance in education of listening to children – the rest of the conference proved it.
My favourite part of the conference was the Youth Keynote Panel, where students from innovative learning spaces responded to the question: What changes do you think our education system needs?
Now, I know we’ve thought about and responded to these questions way too many times – in arguments with uncles, in Sunday op-eds, in every education/employment conference and in the legends and myths of entrepreneurs. But I’ll encourage you to listen to a few snippets of this discussion, where students share their experiences and extremely valid criticisms.
We had Pallavi Gopal, Dream Graduate of Dream a Dream Program; Akshaya Aravindh, student of TVS Academy, Hosur; Arpit, a student at Muni International School and Soumithro Sarkar, Participant, Dream a Dream Program. I couldn’t capture Soumithro speaking. A big loss, because he was witty and pretty damn articulate.
The discussion was followed by a round of questions from the audience. Akanksha asked about how personalised, student-driven learning would drive excellence. Akshaya responded that following one’s interest brings out the best in a person, and that excellence can be defined in a thousand ways outside the frame of a 3-hour examination. I don’t entirely agree.
As self-directed learners, I think that we can easily use the practice of following our own pace & standards as an excuse to shy away from pegging our progress or abilities against any kind of standards. It can make us complacent and delusional, taking us down the vague hole of relativism, where nothing should be measured and everything is acceptable. A friend and I were in that obstinate place for a few months, at a time when we were out of school, and trying to chart our own learning paths, but we were lucky to have people keep us accountable, and in touch with reality. This is a common problem but not an inevitable one, and folks across the education spectrum respond to it differently.
A gentleman asked Arpit why teachers dumb down the standards a question, and answered it himself. They do it to cater the bottom-average section of different “intelligence levels”.
Even though that’s a valid explanation, it got me very, very annoyed. To which another educator responded, “Sir, students are not talking about whatis, they are talking about what can be.” I saw where that annoyance was coming from. It was an irritation I feel when explanations of how current systems work are used as speedbreakers to re-imagining those very systems.
Dream a Dream as an organisation sounds like it is built on an engaging base of student-centred learning, and they aren’t alone. More and more learning spaces and the people who build them are realizing that children need to be an active part of that process, not just as passive, end-of-chain consumers. (Favourite: Creativity Adda)
By the end of the session I was reminded of Nikhil Goyal’s writing, and StuVoice’s work across the US. In particular, this: On a field trip across America, they are collecting students’ stories of school, and ideas for education reform.