New Delhi: Centre for Civil Society (CCS), India’s leading think-tank advocating social change through public policy, organized the 10th School Choice National Conference (SCNC) on ‘Alternative Education: Philosophy, Practice, Policy’ at Silver Oak, India Habitat Centre. The eminent panel consisted of leading policymakers, researchers, academics and education practitioners such as Sugata Mitra, Professor, New Castle University (UK); Anil Swarup, Former Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Government of India; Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan, Founder, Katha; Chandra Bhushan Sharma, Chairman, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS); Gitanjali JB, Co-founder, Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL); Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, Professor of Education and International Development, London University; Vidhi Jain, Co-founder, Shikshantar; Santhya Vikram, Founder and Managing Director, The Yellow Train School; Anju Musafir, Founder, Mahatma Gandhi International School; Supriya Joshi, Founder member, Swashikshan; Deepa Avashia, Questologist (School leader), Riverside school; S Gopalan, Accounts, the Valley School; Ajay Kumar Singh, Associate Professor, Centre for Education, Innovation & Action Research, TISS and Neeraja Raghavan, Founder-director, Thinking Teacher.
With an overarching theme of ‘Alternative Education: Philosophy, Practice, Policy’, SCNC 2018 kick-started with the keynote address by Dr. Sugata Mitra renowned for his ‘The Hole in the Wall’ experiment. Talking about the experiment he said, “Children in self organised learning environment can learn anything by themselves.” He also pressed upon the need to meticulously review the education system which is producing ”British clerks from the 19th century” and said that teachers should be friends and not be guides or supervisors. Following the keynote, the inaugural panel, ‘Philosophy: Education beyond conventional classrooms’, explored the philosophical/pedagogical foundations of alternative education in the country, deliberating whether the shift from conventional to alternative schooling today is a response to the established failure of mainstream schooling in engendering competence and critical thinking among students. The second panel ‘Practice: Experiments in alternative education’, explored efforts to redefine conventional schooling practices both within the framework of established learning sites, and outside of it. Drawingfrom a rich tradition of alternative educational practices in India, the session was a conversation with practitioners in the space to examine the success, challenges, scope of experiments to address some of the key challenges in the education sector in India today. Highlighting the critique of the pro government, non-inclusionary policies, the final and culminating panel: ‘Policy: Examining regulatory frameworks’ debated the policy framework for alternative education in India, heard perspectives of education experts and explored the involvement of civil society in creating and shaping opinions that govern the thriving model of alternate education in the country. Anil Swarup, Former Secretary, School Education (Government of India), opined, “It’s not important to have another education policy in this country, we already have too many. What we require is action.”
Bringing together intellectuals, industry experts, educationists and research scholars, the conference culminated with the valedictory address of Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan sharing her experiential insights and leaving our panellists and participants with enough ideas for some fruitful introspection.