By Sunita Chawan*
‘Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world’ — Nelson Mandela
Education is of prime importance for everyone, even the people who have not gained education in the past wants their children to be educated. School forms the basis of the children’s education and where they spend their maximum time. But are schools properly educating the kids? Do schools think of holistic development of the children? Are the children learning about what is happening in the world and what are the changes that are been made in country’s laws? Avehi Public Charitable (Educational) Trust (APC[E]T) had launched Avehi Abacus Project (AAP) in 1990, an initiative aims at empowering children to develop a comprehensive view of the world, beginning with their immediate reality. They want to promote innovative/new approach over the traditional/conservative one. AAP adopts a syncretic approach. They seek to establish a space within the school system but outside the rigid syllabus.
Simantini Dhuru, director of Avehi Abacus Project, is a document filmmaker and has won many awards for her work. She has been actively involved in various human rights and environmental movements as a media activist and documentary filmmaker. She has been a member of several State and National policy making bodies and she has contributed her Avehi Abacus experiences, helping to modify and improve school and teacher education curriculum.
Avehi Abacus Project (AAP) has currently three primary projects – Sangati (Togetherness), Manthan (Churning) and Saath Saath (Living together in Harmony).
Sangati is the flagship program, launched in 2001, entails teaching children in the age group of 10-16, on how to integrate the science and social sciences subjects that they learn in school to obtain a deeper understanding of the lessons. In addition to enhancing the children’s analytical skills, the program also helps them in building their self-confidence, developing their observational competencies, and enabling them to make better decisions. The courses developed as part of Sangati emphasize the importance of critical thinking, informed & sensitive decision-making, values and living in the society in harmony with one another. The courses are categorized into themes that have interlinkages with each other to ensure that the children learning a holistic manner. The courses were developed after 10 years of experimentation in various schools across Mumbai and the surrounding areas. Inputs from several teachers and school administrators helped in shaping the modules during the early stages. Since 2006, Sangati has been integrated into the official timetable of all 905 municipal schools in Mumbai city, for classes VI and VII.
Manthan is a pre-service training that is developed to equip student-teachers and teachereducators with skills that they could leverage in designing curriculums and interacting with students to change their perspectives about society and education, through the process of teaching-learning. This is done by assessing and addressing the gaps in theory and practice. Even today, teachers tend to emphasize on the pedagogy and mere transfer of knowledge to the students. However, it is equally important for them to engage with students, help them shape their careers, and play the role of a mediator between the school, the learners, and the society. It is offered to people enrolled in Diploma in Teacher Education (D.T. Ed.). Currently, it is being used in 17 colleges across the state of Maharashtra, India.
Saath is a teaching-learning module that is developed for middle-school children to spread awareness about gender equality. Even though the gender justice has evolved over the past few years, there is still immense scope in the Indian context for improvement. This module, therefore, attempts in addressing several issues such as the idea of gender, the transformation that our bodies undergo during adolescence, pressure that children face due to stereotypes, and gender violence. Additionally, it offers ways in which individuals can empower themselves with the help of certain legal and social constructs. In 2013, Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE), Mumbai integrated Saath Saath to about 280 schools under its purview and organized workshops to orient their 150 teachers.
During COVID pandemic, education became inaccessible to people because of the digital divide. Avehi Abacus Project (AAP) contacted students and teachers over the telephone and managed to reach 15,000 students during this time, much lesser than their reach in normal times. AAP volunteers began teaching in community centres, open grounds, and religious places. They also distributed 1st volume of self-study workbook of their experiential learning curriculum called Sangati to those students who could not attend online classes.
Simantini Dhuru has been always concerned about holistic development of children and with AAP she is collaborating with schools to provide experiential learning which helps students to increase focus, learn at rapid pace and improve their skills.
*PGPM 2020-22, IIM Bangalore