Swayam – a chance to meet alt-schoolers

Omnio Parenting is a group of people (adults and children) dedicated to the exploration of new ways of schooling and learning. Many of the people from this group are also part of Temple Of Excellence, a learning centre in Bengaluru where they explore new ideas in the domain of learning and education. Learning here starts from asking a question as basic and fundamental as – is there a difference between child rearing and parenting? Checkout their website for more.

They believe that learning happens right from the time the baby is in the womb. They have programmes for babies to toddlers to kids to children to young adults. Its best that you visit their website to know more.

I got an opportunity to see some of the people behind all this at their #Swayam program on 18th Aug 2019.

The program was an opportunity for different kinds of alt-schoolers to get together, showcase their learning, their creations and get inspired by each other. When Nandini found out about the program, she discussed with Advay and enrolled. Advay wanted to talk about his journey of learning flute at the event so, as soon as he registered we started working on how he can present his journey to the audience. It was his first stage performance! More about that later.

The program started off with a talk by Sri. Shivakumar Belavadi, fondly called as Babaji, who leads Omnio Parenting. Please take a moment to visit this website and read more about him: https://omniotemple.com/team/.

His opening talk at the Swayam event set the tone for the whole day. There are many things that were insightful in his talk. But I connected with him the most when he shared why we should explore other forms of schooling right now and why the “formal” schooling method that’s omnipresent may not be the best thing to offer to children.

“Formal schooling is built on methods that were invented to address training and development needs in the industrial revolution era. At that time it was important that the masses knew how to follow instructions effectively to produce results. Today we are far past all that. Children of today and by extension adults of today and tomorrow need to be equipped with more than just the ability to follow instructions. There is a massive need for creative thinking, innovation and sheer boldness to pursue subjects not necessarily introduced by schools.”

(sic) Babaji, Omnio Parenting

Watch Babaji’s entire speech on video here.

This is a sentiment that I very much share. Infact we had discussed about this exact sentiment when we had hosted Aarohi community satsang at home.

Our intention behind home-schooling Advay is not born out of a need to be a rebel against conventional schooling. Both Nandini & I are clearly aware of the value that a formal education system brings to young people. What we are not fully ok about is that today’s formal education focusses way too much on “subjects” and very little on “context” or “experience”. We want for Advay to have context and experience first, before he comes in touch with subjects.

Aarohi was a place where we came profoundly in touch with this process. That community trusts its children so much, that they really really live the mantra – “the learner knows what he/she wants to learn.” Children at Aarohi learn absolutely anything they want, for whatever length of time they want and to whatever depth they want. They are open to learning anything, including “formal subjects.” And when that happens, they may find the need to certify themselves. That’s where NIOS steps in.

Mr. V Sathish, Regional Director, NIOS RC Bengaluru was the next speaker at the event. He took us all through the opportunity of NIOS for alt-schoolers.

He talked about how NIOS came to be, what it was created for and how it has evolved over the years. From his talk we came to understand that NIOS is a flexible schooling system and university, recognised by the Govt. Of India, specifically designed for learners who want to explore learning on their own while at the same time still have the necessary certification required for registering to professional courses in the future and for jobs. Although it was initially intended to address needs of children who couldn’t afford a school, it has now expanded to address needs of children who perhaps do not want a school. I was surprised to learn that Mary Kom is a NIOS graduate!

Watch Sathish’s entire speech on video here.

It was then time for performances by alt-schooled children. I was swept away by many performances. Children who performed were performing in their choice of art or skill. They learned that skill all by themselves, because they want to and not because they were asked to. Nobody was perfect. Everybody was alive, engaging, awe-inspiring, refreshingly human and happy.

My son performed his bit. He narrated his entire journey of learning flute. We were asked to record a 30 second trailer + invite for his performance. This is what we had recorded.

Preparing for the performance was a learning journey in itself. Performance is all about engaging the audience and very little about the performer himself. Advay took a while to switch the focus from himself to the audience. But he was able to make that switch happen and put on a commendable show.

Advay met another learner, a 12 year old by name Athman, who also performed Flute. Athman’s performance was over-the-top-awesome. He was so fluent with in his performance that it was as if the flute performed by itself, simply by resting in his hand.

We then came to know that he has been learning flute for about 6 years. And that for the last two years he has been going at it quite rigorously. He practices flute for roughly 6 hours each day!! After watching his performance, Advay came to Nandini and said – “You know what? His quality performance is a result of his practice.” We were happy to note his insight. Advay spent a lot of time with Athman asking a lot of questions and generally getting inspired by a senior learner.

While the performances were happening inside, learners had put up stalls outside to showcase their creations. A group from Aarohi had put up a Aarohi-Ki-Dukan stall as well.

Aarohi Ki Dukaan is a platform for children at Aarohi to explore product making, product selling and entrepreneurship in general. As with anything else at Aarohi, business & entrepreneurship is not taught, it is uncovered by children. It is uncovered by trying, by failing and by succeeding and failing again. As opposed to most universities where practicals happen in the backdrop of theory, here theory is made-up during postmortem reflection of practicals.

Watch this video to get a glimpse of children trying to figure out costing.

We had Aarohi children showing off their skill in making containers out of coconut shells, to children teaching the process of making jewelry, to young adults selling self-made natural products for personal care.

In all, Swayam was a wonderful event. We were surprised to see so many people exploring alt-learning route. We were touched by all the learning energy and creativity. We also left with a sense of – “we are not alone in this.”