In one of the conferences around education, an eminent speaker made a passing statement, “Child is not going to participate in deciding anything anyways”. And no one questioned it.

No one even paused to think about it. We have decided that children don’t need to be consulted or asked about how would they want to learn, what would they want to learn, what sense do they make of the world. We don’t even allow them to participate in structuring their lives.

Till a child is 3 years old, she is free to learn things the way she wants, free to be curious about things she gets pulled towards. But after that she is put in a system where for now approx 8 hours in a day for next 12 years of her life she would be asked to be interested and curious about what we adults/ experts have decided for her. She would be free to question and debate but within the framework that we have decided for her, and not the framework itself, giving her an illusion of freedom.

But it need not be like this. We can try to bring about a change and create more humane environment for our children. We can learn from a few who have tried to –

  • Leo Tolstoy, in early 1800s, started a school for the children of poor peasants in Yasnaya Polyana, where he taught himself. While this venture lasted only about three years, it represented the concerted effort of one of the world’s most famous literary figures to alter the state of Russia’s educational system.
  • For over 20 years Gijubhai ran a child-friendly school in his native Bhavnagar, Gujarat. He wrote a small book called Divaswapna (meaning to “day dream”) recounting his year long work with children. You could read the book here.
  • Rabindranath Tagore went on to create, abode of peace, Shantiniketan. Here he started Patha Bhavana, the school of his ideals, where children were free to live and learn from the beautiful surroundings.
  • Sosaku Kobayashi from Japan started a school called Tomoe. Kuroyanagi, one of the students, wrote a beautiful book called, Totto-chan, the Little Girl at the Window, describing the values of the unconventional education she received at Tomoe Gakuen. The space got bombed during the WWII and never recovered.
  • A.S. Neill in 1921, founded Summerhill in England. The space runs as a democratic community. Members of the community are free to do as they please, as long as their actions do not cause any harm to others. All lessons are optional, and pupils are free to choose what to do with their time. Neill believed that “the function of a child is to live his own life – not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, not a life according to the purpose of an educator who thinks he knows best.”

‘A Little Grove’, is one another attempt to give children a chance to participate in designing their own lives. Here we dream of a way of life where there is no compulsory schooling and different ways of knowing and learning are encouraged, wherein there are spaces where people come together to share and learn from one another, wherein artists, farmers, scientists, activists, musicians and people well-versed in any other discipline are willing to teach someone who wants to learn at a nominal cost, wherein the knowledge that would otherwise be freely available is not boxed in grandiose buildings and sold to people at exorbitant prices. A way of life wherein irrespective of their age everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.