A Teaching Team In Mumbai Is Creating Next Generation Leaders Using Socially Relevant And Accessible Education
Project No.1 Of The Vasudhaiva Ride: Education For Change
Prashant Kumar, upcycling artist and machine enthusiast, and Ben Reid-Howells, community organiser and musician, are on a two year journey riding from India to Scotland doing projects for peace, sustainable living and community wellbeing. This is the story of their first project in accessible education, Bombay.
The Bombay Project.
Sai Baba Path Public School bringing innovative pedagogy to underprivileged communities of students.
The first project of the Vasudhaiva Ride was at Sai Baba Path Public School, a government school in inner city Bombay that serves the community of Jijamata Nagar, a nearby slum area. Sai Baba Path school has a unique educational program changing the way the local community experience education. Prashant and Ben connected with Meenal Srinivasan, part of the Educo team running this alternative form of teaching, and soon a project formed.
Ben’s background is in education. His last two years in India before starting the ride he served at Mahindra United World College, working to help the school towards its mission of making education a force for peace and a sustainable future. At UWC, Ben helped to develop the experiential education program and with it pedagogies (teaching methods) of project-based learning and service learning, making education a experience that centres around the learner and has the end goal of creating active, conscious global citizens. Ben left his work at UWC to explore different paths of creating positive change in the world, and was especially keen to work in contexts of less privilege.
For one week Prashant and Ben led sessions and worked with the teachers, students and families of Jijamata Nagar, a community brimming with hospitality and resilience. Their goals in this project were to assist in the school’s shift from traditional teaching methods towards learner-centric, values-based pedagogy; and to introduce students to concepts of ecosystems, environmental stewardship and upcycling.
Prashant showed students examples of living with nature and “How to use waste smartly instead of running from it”: upcycling workshops that showed students everything from bird feeders to lighting and seating, and explained the need to lower our demand as consumers of raw materials, instead shifting to a circular system of reusing and upcycling.
Ben led sessions that took students outside of the classroom, recreating an ecosystems web to understand the interconnectedness of all things, human and non-human.
Drawing on his work at UWC, Ben led a teacher-training session, in which they shared with the all-local, 95% female teaching team visions for socially relevant education and tools for making these visions a reality.
Ben and Prashant about Bombay Project
Ben: For me our time in Bombay was made worth it in those sessions with the teachers. It was a quietly amazing experience, working in a circle with these teachers who were learning a new way to teach, but one that totally matched up with their personal ideas of what teaching is really all about.
Prashant: It was a new experience for me. Education is not my profession and it was a satisfying feeling interacting with those kids in their school and their community. I could feel the strength of these young people who are our future.
Ben: We would eat lunch together on the floor of a classroom between session and talk about how students need to be more curious, learn through failure and express themselves freely about social issues. And they weren’t yuppie international school teachers: they were local women from the surrounding community, seeing their own roles as teachers in a whole new light.
After some time we shifted into the homes of the families of Jijamata Nagar. Here we saw the strength of this community, labeled as a slum, full of people passionate about wellbeing in their community and ready to share their food and home with us.
This is how it is with Indian hospitality which at the end of the day is a reflection of the people, usually women, who cook the food! The care people showed for us as guests, the kindness and love, it came out in the food. I think we each gained one kilo!
Session on Peace
What is peace? The young students took turns explaining the importance of listening to others, feeling compassion and empathy and expressing insights few professional adults could have.
What is the opposite of peace? Feeling angry, scared; being unkind; violence; murder; war. Prashant took the conversation deeper. If we live together, share the things we have, keep each other happy and burn down all the forests, is that peace?”
“Peace goes beyond the human agenda.” It is inherently linked with the wellbeing of plants, animals, the entire living and non-living world” – Prashant
Ben: We asked students what is required to engage in peace-work, and guided them to see themselves as agents for peace in their own lives, communities and school. And they spoke out. The students’ responses showed that peace means sharing the work at home, respecting each other regardless of gender, class or caste. Peace means feeling and being. It is an active phrase. We ended the sessions with the same conclusion: “it’s not too early to start the work of peace.”
Conclusions from the Bombay Project – Education as a force for change.
The Bombay Project taught Ben and Prashant that education can be a transformative tool to address the issues in the world today, but only if it is:
Relevant – in its own local context and in a wider global context, and actively preparing learners to address pertinent issues;
Value based – creating learners who learn to grow together and support each other; rather than to regurgitate knowledge and compete for high grades; and contains
Critical Pedagogy – teaching students to be critical thinkers: not to be formed by, but to transform problematic norms in society, industry and culture.
“We went into this project believing that such forms of education do exist but are only found in schools that can afford alternative programs, which means private or international schools. We learnt in this project that such transformative pedagogy can be delivered not only to a community of students from a slum area, but also by an entirely local teaching team, and this is what is needed. In order for education to be a force for truly transformative change, it needs to be present in the communities that arguably need it most: underprivileged communities, like the youth of Jijamata Nagar. And Educo’s work is one example of this.” – Prashant and Ben
One project ends, a second awaits
“We were honoured to give what we could to this program, and we’re excited to share the story of Educo’s work to other learning communities passionate about making education a force for peace.” – Prashanth and Ben
This was the first project of many to come on the Vasudhaiva Ride and it left Prashant and Ben feeling that they were going in the right direction. But it was time to leave the city behind and to hit the road for their second project. And so they said their goodbyes to the students, the teachers and the families that fed and hosted them, and rode North, making for Rajasthan where the second project awaited.
Follow the next story from the Vasudhaiva Ride: The Pushkar Project and the creation of an affordable house for INR 1 Lakh. Coming soon on The Logical Indian.