Education#iv Chapter 1 – History and Philosophy of Vigyan Ashram

Rural Development Through Educational System – A Report

Chapter 1
History And Philosophy Of Vigyan Ashram

The Origin Of Rural Technology System
The Head And The Hand
Real Life Education
The Vigyan Ashram Project
The RTES Proposal
Computers


The Origin Of Rural Technology System

If we go 1500 years back in history, India was not an underdeveloped country. India was at the forefront of civilisation, and having a fully developed exchange with the other advanced countries of that time. What happened in these last 1500 years, that India lost this front line status and slipped to the back benches?

The Head And The Hand

In those days there was no science, only natural philosophy. The difference was that philosophers observed nature and put down their thoughts as hypotheses.Science brought in the concept of experimentation – doing. From the time of Galileo, this “doing” became the basis of thought and science became a sequence of doing and thinking, a joint program of the hand and the head.Similarly, there was no technology, but only arts and crafts. These were skills and empirically gathered knowledge, passed down from generation to generation.

We had our rishis who contributed to astronomy, mathematics, grammar,philosophy and all the other subjects, where a single mind could contribute in isolation. Crafts like textiles, brassware, metallurgy, and even surgery developed in skilled hands. Metallurgy and surgery were then crafts. These crafts had no knowledge inputs from the thinkers, but only empirical observations from the craftsmen themselves. Thus, we did not have the coordination between the thinkers and the doers; between the head and the hand. Science is based on this head and hand coordination. We as a nation are poor in this head and hand joint action and have therefore lagged behind, in the present technology-dominated age. Technology today is the application of live science and even the empirical observations from the “doing”, give rise to further study in the thinking “science”.

Thus what India needs for its development, is this ability to do and think in coordination – the marriage of the head and the hand. If 90% of our population lives by the hand alone, then it is better for us to reach the head through the hand. We must adopt the “learning by doing” approach. It is also my belief that working with hand stimulates thinking. That concrete aids the abstract is the basis of this belief.

This belief is now supported by the extensive work of Jean Piaget, who devoted nearly 40 years study to develop his<clear=”right”> theory of development of intelligence in the child and the adolescent.<clear=”right”></clear=”right”></clear=”right”>

Real Life Education

These ideas about learning by doing led me to V. G. Kulkarni and his group in the Bhabha Centre for Science Education. A quick survey of city urchins who do real life, income generating chores, such as selling vegetables, distributing papers, milk etc. convinced us that these children are indeed smart, but that these chores do not help them in their school performance. This is because what they study in the schools, is very different from what they do in real life.

If education means training for the real life, then obviously the curriculum will have to be changed. V. G. Kulkarni suggested to me that this changing of curriculum would be difficult in the municipal school system where we had made our survey in Bombay. He advised me to contact J. P. Naik and Chitra Naik, at the Indian Institute of Education, Pune. They were then doing an extensive program on the Universalisation of Primary education. My letter to J. P. Naik stating my ideas on “learning by doing”, and my search for an institution where I could do this work, brought forth an invitation to visit their project sites and see for myself the work they were doing.

Early in 1981, my wife Mira and I visited the villages where the Universalisation of Primary Education, (UPE) program, was being conducted. Based on this visit and subsequent discussions, I decided to join the Indian Institute of Education,Pune. I also chose Pabal as the village where I would conduct my program,because being a drought prone area, it was a more representative village for the problems of India, than the other villages in their program.

It was also agreed that I would start my program on my own, but under the auspices of the IIE, would bring my own project funds and have complete autonomy in carrying out my program. I already had a name in my mind – Vigyan Ashram. “Vigyan”- because science is to me a religion and “Ashram” to represent a value system based on simple living and high thinking.Thus Vigyan Ashram was set up in Pabal.

The Vigyan Ashram Project

After this I formulated a project proposal called “Non Formal Science Education” and submitted the same to the Department of Science and Technology in September 1981. During the winter of 1981, I toured the Pabal area on foot, trekking through the villages around Pabal, staying overnight and discussing my ideas about a new education system with the villagers.

In 1982, I visited Pabal for three or four days every month, until December 1982, when I took early retirement from Hindustan Lever Ltd. as Head of Engineering Sciences, and shifted to Pabal.In Pabal, Sunil Kulkarni and I started the Vigyan Ashram activity in a rented godown, and took accommodation in the Harijan Vasti. Kulkarni was a young agricultural graduate with a lot of enthusiasm. I started with plane table survey with 8th standard school boys as part of work experience and later added the electrical resistivity method of water prospecting. R. B. Sudani, a rural development B.Sc. from Lok Bharati, joined us for animal husbandry work.Because of the drought conditions that year, we started our dairy and goats operations in Khairenagar village, about 5 kms away. Soon with the power connection being available, the workshop started functioning. Mr. Thingale,headmaster of the local school was our local consultant. We recruited local boys and started our program. Along with the school students we had non-formal students also.

By August, two diploma engineers, (both from the same village), Dnyaneshwar Khaire and Subhash Yewale, and a local blacksmith’s son, Ashok Harihar had joined us. Five acres of barren land on a hillock outside the village was leased to us by the Govt. of Maharashtra. By end of September, we had the first constructions ready. A 240 square feet house for myself, my wife and her mother. An office room and a common kitchen, and an open shelter for the workshop were the existing facilities when we shifted operations to the present campus in the first week of November 1983.

With more non-formal students, we built more house units, started water prospecting, agricultural and workshop services. Even as we were forming the course content, we were building our campus. By 1985, the campus was fully operational. We finalized the syllabus and submitted it to the Director of the State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, for approval as a technical subject. The approval came a year later with retrospective effect. In this we had considerable help from Mr. V. V. Chipulunkar, the Director of Education, Maharashtra, Anil Bordia, Secretary, Dept. of Education, Govt. of India and Balkrishnan, the Director General of CART (as CAPART was called then) who was funding us after DST, from April 1985.

The first batch of non-formal students completed their training and were recruited as trainee staff to teach more students. This was a formative period,when our program was dictated by what the local people asked for, and what we could do for them.

The features that evolved out of this real life situation, were multi-skill training,more practical work and less stress on class room teaching, and services paid for by the community and students being paid for useful services rendered. It was difficult to get technical aid from outside, in the village, at least not as fast as we wanted. We therefore forced to learn many things by ourselves from books,hearsay and trial and error. Functionality was the main target and quality took a back seat. We started poultry services and petrol engine repairs for pesticide sprayers.

The same staff handled both educational and developmentalaspects of the program. Later this was split into two separate sections.

In our search for staff, we had a masters student from the industrial designs section of IIT Bombay, Vijay Kumar K. P, who came for a visit, volunteered for 2 months and then opted to stay on. He was creative, energetic, sincere, and a natural leader. Joining in December 1985, he rose to be the Deputy Director and then Executive Director from April 1990. His sharing of the management tasks helped speed up the development program.

The RTES Proposal

By 1987, we submitted a project entitled “Rural Technology through Educational System.” to CAPART. We had also submitted the same project to MHRD for information. CAPART and MHRD decided to fund this project jointly. This project commenced operations in October 1988. Our local advisory committee had identified three schools, in Loni, Dhamari and Kanhersar, all adjacent villages. However the management of the Kanhersar school was too slow in their decisions and we went ahead with only the other two. After the project proposal was submitted, we approached the Mukhai school, which was 4 kms beyond Dhamari and which had a technical section earlier. Both Mukhai and Dhamari were very small schools with only one division of 25-30 students and often less than 20 reached the SSC level. We thought the two could be combined and treated as one unit. They would share the equipment and the students could go to the other school for half the number of practicals. After the program started, we soon discovered that this arrangement was impractical. It was very difficult for the students to travel 4kms every other week and a lot of time was wasted. So we asked the respective villagers to collect funds so that the other half of the equipment could also be installed in the school in their own village. Soon both schools had all the equipment and the teaching staff were given bicycles, so that the staff and not the students did the traveling. Thus this experience demonstrated how two adjacent small village schools could share facilities and get a technical program in the village at an affordable cost. We also showed that villagers would be willing to pay for the infrastructure for they can see the benefits from a system like our “Rural Technology through Educational System” (RT).

Among these three schools, the Dhamari school had no state grants and was running on funds collected from the community. The Mukhai school had rented accommodation spread in different locations and had no campus of their own.Only the Loni school was a proper school with a big campus, and a large number of students. Both the Loni and Dhamari schools who had a campus collected money from the community and built separate work sheds for this program. In this they were helped in saving costs as also in getting technical services by the technical staff and students of their own schools.The construction of steel trusses, doors and windows, and the furniture for the new work sheds was made by the staff and students. This was an excellent example of the RT system reducing costs and bringing development to the village.

Computers

We believe in using the best that technology has to offer, but not for glamour,what matters is the functionality and cost effectiveness. We see our selves as modern, technical and progressive. So when computers were coming in, we considered them but we did not see how we could use them. Even when Mr.Ashok Jaitely, Deputy Director General, CAPART, suggested we buy computers, we did not accept the offer, for the time had not come yet.

In 1988, Ashok Kalbag gifted us a Spectrum home computer, that we could use with a TV and Tape recorder. Playing with this, we discovered a program, “Finance Manager” that made our accounts simple. So we looked around. We met Shri Arjun Wadkar (Bajijkaka) who introduced us to Innovations Bombay, who gave us a interface to link the Spectrum to a disc drive, monitor and printer. This cost us Rs 17,000, at a time when no PC (Personal Computer) was available for less than Rs 30,000. With this we computerised our accounts,used word processing for our status reports and all correspondence, and brought in spreadsheets for costing, salary statements, and data files for dome sale records etc.

The computer was useful, for it made our job simple. It paid for itself. Now we needed it to work in Marathi so that our local boys could also use it. We saw the potential that even if they couldn’t understand all the details, a program could do it for them, and they could achieve results by using the computer. In short,the computer would upgrade the skills that these boys could put in their management work.

This has been our view of computers – a way of helping the local youth to do skilled jobs, for which they hadn’t yet acquired the skills. It will not displace labour, it will upgrade skills.

 

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