Mansi Goyal: Discover Science through Nature
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
Sakad, Madhya Pradesh
With a Bachelors degree from the University of Michigan, Mansi Goyal has brought her passion for education to her partnership with Adharsila Learning Centre. At a school that uses education to foster youth consciousness and empowerment and dissolve the teacher-student hierarchy, Mansi is exploring what it means to teach and learn holistically.
NGO & Community
Adharshila Shiksa Kendra (Adharshila Learning Centre) was founded 12 years ago in the village of Sakad in western Madhya Pradesh by Jayashree Didi and Amit Bhai. Both worked for many years with different Sangathans (farmer’s/worker’s union). The activities at ALC range from everything from health, education, organic farming, plays, songs, leadership, community work, dialogue, and skills training. The main idea is to provide educational opportunities for Adivasi students, specific opportunities that in the larger society are denied to them, while at the same time engaging in activities that are relevant to their lives.
Much of the philosophical framework that guides the programming is the work of Paulo Freire – a Brazilian educator who worked with adult illiterate peasants and created with them a pedagogy that did not just encompass a person going from illiteracy to literacy, but was a process of becoming conscious of themselves in the context of others in order to change the situation of oppression.
For this pedagogy to happen, whatever is deemed as educational must be relatable to a student’s life. To be relatable is to be conceptually tangible, and to be that places one in a situation where they can become the actors, they can ask the questions, thereby creating the knowledge and guiding the curriculum.
It is not a top-down distillation of knowledge and rote-learning, but a continuously changing, sometimes contradictory, process that aims to be shaped by both students and teachers. The aim is to also break from the rigid line that exists between mainstream students and teachers, and encourage learning in a collective way.
The process of becoming critical and conscious, which is not found in mainstream schooling, is the key, because without it, people will continue to be living in a system that discourages the creation of the new and rather, prefers the status quo – one that upholds Adivasis as a ‘backward’ group of people. For this generation of Adivasis that are now entering schools, one of their challenges may be that of upholding their own identity and taking ownership of themselves, whether they will continue to live in the village and farm, migrate to cities for jobs, or create a new path.
There are around 120 Adivasi students here, from ages 5 to a few students who study in the nearby city college, mainly from western Madhya Pradesh and the Maharashtra border area, most all coming from farming families and families linked to a Sangathan or “Sanghutia” as they are locally known.
Most of the youth from Sakad and surrounding villages go to the local government school. Everyone is aware of Adharshila but there are differing views of it as it is in stark contrast with the programs of the government school. However, there is a strong connection between Sakad and Adharshila – our students go to the village and do Bal Melas, interview people about illnesses in their families and other issues, and have collected children’s stories from the older generation.
In addition to these projects, there is the school that is also run by students – everyday, the elder ones spend time as students, and as teachers for the younger ones, everyone takes turns to cook in the mess, participate in Shramdaan, and work in the farm. There many things to do and the space to enact new ideas.
As an Indicorps Fellow, my project is called ‘Discover Science through Nature’ and its objective is to create science experiments, classes and a curriculum that is driven by students. This means that it is centered around issues of interest to students and formed by their questions. The idea is also to de-mystify science and unpack the didactic way it is taught. At first when I came, however, most of my time went into teaching Math and English. Slowly I became the resident middle-school math teacher. I knew part of my time would be devoted to it, but I didn’t envision it taking quite as much time as it does. That had been one of the earlier challenges, but as I have picked up other things, it has been less burdensome.
We did two main projects in the past six months – one on the human body, specifically blood and diseases, and one on pollution. The most challenging part for me was getting over the mental fix of what the project was supposed to look like before it began. Meaning, the project is supposed to be a collaborative effort with students, not something I prepare beforehand and present. At first I would worry everyday about what I should do, and even when I had things prepared, things often changed and new ideas were created on the spot. It is necessary to go in with a frame, maybe a list of ideas and projects, but that frame must be loose and flexible. I have been the most happy when the initiative was taken up by the students and I facilitated. I remember one great discussion we had on pollution and the future of Sakad, that afterwards made me think, when this stuff is framed in the right way, the group can fly with it.
One thing that should be done with any of the ‘project’ related work I do here is that of documentation for Adharshila. If someone wants to pick it up with a future class they can at least have a foundation of material, something that may be used as a guide. This is something I must do, so that the good in it is not just alive while I am here, but also after I have left. It should be in a book-like form accessible to both students and teachers. I want also like to continue with the environmental related theme, and possibly work with a younger group of students. I find myself involved in different things here at school and outside of it, as my own interests shapes some of the things I do, these include cooking, learning Bareli, being in the farm, banging on drums and singing Adivasi songs, working in the library, and talking about health issues. Project-wise, my goal is to complete the things I have started and preserve and document them for the future.
Growing up in the US, I always had an uncomfortable relationship to India. I mentally shunned it, even though the US never felt like home either. Halfway through college, I realized the thing I needed to do was to be in India. Just be, none of this ‘development’ work. I have always had it clear in my head why I came here. The questions now are what to do with what I have, and what I have gained from Adharshila and Indicorps. I want to be connected to a school, a community, as a teacher/learner, and pursue a string of tiny things. I plan on staying in India after the fellowship, and I will formulate my structure from there.
Mansi Goyal, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow