Social change from within classrooms: STTI

Student Think Tank for India started in the year 2014, and was originally envisioned as a network of college students across the world, with the objective of promoting a culture of involved inquiry. The rationale for STTI was that an effective education should include spaces that promote civic engagement and critical thinking – and that if it doesn’t exist, we should create one. The benefits of are wide ranging – be it for personal, professional or civic reasons.
Throughout 2014, as we continued our discussions and research papers, we changed our question to ask: how can we create similar spaces in schools?

Over the last year, we have partnered with schools to set up clubs for students from class 9 to 12.  It’s an open space where we’re learning to raise and answer important questions abour social, economic, political and environmental problems.These clubs are led and organised by Moderators, usually college students or young adults. Our model is built on student initiative: participation is voluntary, and we choose topics that students want to talk about (See our sessions on topics ranging from gender to food systems to engineering education). As Moderators, all of us passed out from school not too long ago, and we’ve made a conscious effort to not turn this into a lecture series.

Untitled-1.jpg

Our discussions and activities are very interactive – using Project Based Learning, Service Learning and Thinking routines – so that students really think about the issues and form their own interesting questions and opinions. Basically, it’s a lot of fun. 🙂 Apart from regular sessions, we often invite eminent guests who conduct workshops, and take part in field trips to observe and understand the world up close.



(See our annual update of 2015: http://studentthinktankforindia.com/2016/02/29/2015-annual-update/)

What Do We Have Going For Us?

  • Global network: One of the most prominent STTI chapters is based in Purdue University. Besides this we have active members from UPenn and Cornell University. STTI is supported by professors and students from some of the best universities within the country and internationally.
  • Fast Paced Growth: We started with 2 school clubs in Hyderabad in 2015. Within a year, the enthusiastic response has led us to start 5 clubs in Hyderabad, and new chapters in Delhi, Bangalore and Coimbatore.
  • Recognition from Ashoka India’s first Youth Venture programme, which makes us part of a network of some of the world’s most pathbreaking social innovators.

How Can You Get Involved?

Currently, we’re looking for Moderators in all 4 cities. As a Moderator, you are required to dedicate 2 hours a week for a minimum period of 3 months. You can be from any stream of study, but the only real requirement is that you bring curiosity, and fulfil your responsibility as an educators: the last thing we want to do is pass on wrong/ incomplete information, or conduct boring and ineffective activiites. There will be a short period of training before entering schools, so that Moderators are able to better understand STTI’s vision, and the process of facilitating a school club.

What Is In It For You?

10269597_453993344811588_1917832873350029910_n.jpg

You will get to work with people across the country in the process of bringing about a change in a system that is so critical to the growth of our society. Along with the chance to impact the learning experience of many students and their schools, working with STTI is a frame to explore various professionally valued qualities: research, mentorship, networking, and entrepreneurship.
This opportunity is guaranteed to be a growth experience, and is structured as an unpaid internship with a letter of recommendation at completion. 

What’s the end goal?

No matter which career students choose to enter, they do it as engaged and critical thinkers. As citizens with a basic working knowledge of all the issues that the country faces, so they can channel their energy – in big or small ways – to solving them. All of us at STTI are involved in it because we are convinced that the value of real education lies in fueling this inherent passion of students .If you share this vision, we would love to hear from you!

IMG_0546.JPG

Write to us at studentthinktankforindia@gmail.com, and explore our past work at www.studentthinktankforindia.com. If you’re interested in applying to be a moderator, visit this page: http://studentthinktankforindia.com/moderators/

(Note: Credits to Isha Malik for putting together this great post!)

Advertisements

What was I up to in 2015?

Apart from college and general Delhi-dallying, I spent a good part of 2015 working with an amazing team of people – spread across the country, but connected by the belief in Why we need something like Student Think Tank for India.

Our Annual Update for 2015 (click on the image to read it) is a snapshot of where the organisation is right now, and where we want to go in 2016. There has been a good amount of growth since I wrote this report in January – the team is growing, schools are opening up to us, and we’re gaining more clarity on what we want this educational experience to achieve.

Happy reading, and I always look forward to critical feedback and questions!

Annual Update poster.jpg

 

Student Voice at #changethescript

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.

 

IMG_20160108_105039_HDR
Our hosts Mamtha and Rajesh

 

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 what is, 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.