By Manish Jain
That Indian education system is in doldrums and needs a overhaul of change. Lack of innovation is an oft repeated complaint in our daily lives. However, there are a few brave ones who take the step towards working on solutions to this grave problem. And, a small section of these bold warriors graced Nagpur with their presence recently during the second annual meetup of the Indian Multiversities Alliance (IMA).
For the uninitiated, these are projects that stress on learner-driven modes of education, increasing the sustainability quotient of the world around them and expanding the connection to nature and human consciousness among the learners. Though these values stand as the common ground on which all these organisations work, their areas of operation differ manifold.
While the one-size-fits-all formula may work well in the manufacturing industry, it doesn’t do so well in the field of education. This was the realization that lead to the constitution of what have come to be known as multiversities.
Today, such institutions abound through the length and breadth of the country — from Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh to Sadhana Forest in Auroville and from Udaipur’s Swaraj University to Guwahati’s Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation.
Several of these institutions have now come together to collaborate and take the movement forward in a gathering of the Indian Multiversities Alliance at Nagpur.
The meet took place between March 9–12, 2018, hosted by Nagpur-based Lemon School of Entrepreneurship (LSE). It was held in Anandwan, an institution which started as a lepers’ colony that has upheld the ideas of sustainability, social justice, rebuilding the local economy, increased synergy with nature and localised solutions espoused by IMA. Thirty five people representing twenty one organizations from all over the country attended it. This meet was also recognized as regional meeting of Global Ecoversities network for Indian Sub-continent and was supported by Ecoversities team and patrons.
The meet kickstarted with Manish Jain from Swaraj University of Udaipur, Claude Alvares from Goa and LSE founder Deepak Menaria introducing everyone to the concept of multiversity and the topics to be discussed over the next three days. “At one time, scholars from all over the world would come to India for higher studies because of the superior syllabus in our universities. But today, young people here are avoiding going to classes because we are serving them useless garbage there!,” said senior Claude Alvares.
Sunil Deshpande of Sampoorna Bamboo Kendra, Amravati was invited to speak about his experiences of working among the Kokru tribe of Melghat. “People usually equate development of tribal people with them forgetting their own history and traditions. We thought of adopting their ways of life instead and then looking for ways for economic upliftment of the community,” he said while explaining his vision of the project. All the participants were in awe of Deshpande’s centre which introduces the villagers to the tensile strength and other good qualities of the local bamboos. After this realisation, the villagers started utilising it all to make articles out of this material.
LSE also took the occasion to introduce its paradigms of learning through action, reflection and experimentation that their students go through. The idea is to equip an aspiring entrepreneur with qualities that traditional business schools shy away from discussing. “We are not here to produce graduates who would sell diapers and detergents. Instead, our students are put in real-world situations and undergo experiential learning. Thus, picking up skills required for the venture they dream of floating,” said chief Idea farmer and founder of LSE Deepak Menaria. Many entrepreneurs showcased their ideas as well as work to all participants as part of start-up Mela. The experience of enjoying Maharashtrian food in a very humble Indian way of “pangat” (ground seating) was very touching for the participants where LEMON team played the role of host and serving all visiting guests. The rest of the first day was spent on the trip to Anandwan, giving all the participants ample time and opportunity to mingle.
The next morning, they could see this sprawling institution which is as old as independent India. It was established to provide a home to people with leprosy, who were driven out of their homes and villages and left to fend for themselves at that time. Today, this model village is home to people with many other disabilities. Despite their physical shortcomings, the residents of Anandwan are financially independent, involved in industries like handicraft, textile and agriculture. It is a vibrant learning space and township.
The participants were overwhelmed to see the extent of entrepreneurial capability and grit shown by the Anandwan community members. They were all especially impressed to see Sahakuntala, an artist with cerebral palsy and unable to use her hands. She painted with her feet! Not just paintings, she did embroidery and murals as well, again with her feet. There were several other talented people around, some of whom performed during a cultural programme. Everything from stand-up comedy and mimicry to singing and dancing was done by the artistic villagers. Over the next two days, the participants ventured into several journeys within their souls as they saw the smiling faces of the residents of this township made up of people rejected and refused by the mainstream population, discussed the lack of self love in the world and learnt to look at the world from each other’s perspectives.
These pit stops of these journeys were the formal sessions of the meet where all participants spoke about the work of their respective organisations. Some of the new members of the IMA also discussed their ideas of projects that were still being thought about. There were many open spaces for participants to propose and discuss new ideas and projects. A Few important threads that eventually got converted into smaller focused group were :
- To take forward the idea of a Gap year and make it a more concrete concept which could essentially open doors for many youngsters to explore gap year and explore who they are and what they want be. In relation to this, there was a discussion about travelling as an important part of learning and how to develop more travel yatras for people on a gap year.
- Another discussion thread was around mentoring and incubating more education-based innovative startups ideas to push the engine the change forward. Participants gave feedback on the Multiversities Startup Kit.
- A few participants focused on identifying more projects which are functioning as Multiversities around India and getting them to this alliance. There was an estimate of 5000 learners currently being served by the alliance annually. A question emerged of what could be possible if we grew the alliance to 100 Multiversities over the next one year.
- The Humans of Multiversities was another project being discussed whereby we would tell short personal stories about founders, faculty and learners within the larger ecosystem and share these on social media platforms and the new website.
- It was decided that India should have a separate website for learners living in india and input was taken on the new multiversities website.
- There was discussion around the next meet and many participants volunteered to host the nest meeting either at Baroda or Auroville or North east India.
- The upcoming Global Ecoversities meet in Udaipur was also discussed where members of IMA join as part of hosting team
There was also a full-blown session on the guiding principles of Multiversities, around what are the common ideas that unite us. A short note was revised based on inputs from all the members.
After coming back to Nagpur, the participants had the chance to meet with local Nagpurians who were working on projects similar to theirs or could help their cause in some manner.
These ‘outsiders’ were made a part of this year’s meet, with the intention of introducing the work of multiversities across the country to the general populace. They had overwhelmingly positive reaction to this parallel stream of education flowing by them. Here are a few of their reactions:
Bhagyashree Deshpande, runs a school on a farm for village children: “Meeting the people here and hearing their ideas has had a deep impact on me. It is a rare chance for people who do not identify with what the mainstream preaches. It is inspiring that nobody here is saying, ‘This is the only way to do things.’”
Shalini Arora, social activist: “People are now getting tired of the conventional ways of learning, earning and living. They are looking for alternatives. I am pleased to have learnt of many such alternatives through the IMA. This is how learning will evolve in the future and it is happening right in front of our eyes!”
Neeraj Shah, CEO of an education related firm: “In today’s world, the most difficult thing to do is lose our fears and shedding our inhibitions. But, here are people who have proven that great things are possible when we overcome such insecurities. I loved to see the world from their point of view and learn about their extraordinary journeys.”
Here are the reflections at the end of the meet that some of the participants had:
- Bhila Thakare, Abhivyakti Media for Development, Nashik: “I felt like being a part of a revolutionary movement during all the discussion sessions. People from varied backgrounds brought different perspectives which was a great stimulant.”
- Sonika Gupta, Swaraj University, Udaipur: “I realised all over again how people usually feel trapped by the rigors of the ‘real world’. While most people would look at the multiversities here as an escape, they are providing much needed respite and succour to so many by giving them the courage to reclaim their lives and means of livelihood.”
- Shilpika Bordoloi, Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation, Guwahati: “In my area of expertise, physical theatre, I touch upon educational philosophies. But here, I got a whole new perspective by learning of the heartening journeys some of the other participants had undertaken. Overall, it was a healing and wholesome experience!”
- Mukesh Ashar, Lemon School of Entrepreneurship, Nagpur: “I surprised myself by expressing myself in a way I haven’t in the past 20 years! The associations built during the meet was priceless, especially because I came to know that the world is full of unselfish people.”
All the participants were grateful for the presence of two special little girls amongst them. (Thank you, Rishin and Rajni for the practical demonstration of benefits of unschooling through Coco and Durga!)
Nashik Abhivyakti Media for Development
Guwahati Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation
Bangalore Bhoomi Network
Banswara Mukt Dhara Multiversity, Breaking the cycle
Hyderabad Hyderabad Trails
Nagpur Lemon School of Entrepreneruship
Goa Multiversity Online
Vadodara Oasis Valleys
Bhopal Oasis Social Innovation lab
Bilaspur Prakriti Organics
Auroville Sadhana Forest
Melghat-Amravati Sampoorna Bamboo project
Mumbai/ Leh SECMOL/HIAL
Udaipur Swaraj University
Udaipur Travellers University
Ahmedabad Youth Movement