School without walls
Symantak is driven by the conviction that every individual should be able to sustain herself / himself in one’s own natural surroundings and should be able to find educational opportunities and a proper liveilihood in their place of birth.
When their daughter turned three, Sachin and Minal, both city folks from Bhopal, decided to quit city life so as to evade its commodified education system and its effects on their daughter. They took to the country roads and Dhamapur, a small village nestled amongst the green mountains of Sindhudurg district in Konkan Maharashtra seemed the ideal place to head to. Sachin’s grandfather generously offered them the use of his family home. And so was born, Syamantak – the school without walls!
Syamantak is inspired by M K Gandhi and mentored by Dr. Srinath Kalbag, a scientist turned educator. All learning is concerned with an individual’s right to be able to sustain herself/himself in her/his place of birth. It is driven by the conviction that every individual should be able to live and learn in ones own natural surroundings and that nobody should ever have to leave their place of birth for the lack of a proper livelihood or an educational opportunity. All learning is self directed; based on interest; observation; exploration; and experimentation. Students live as a family, all housekeeping chores are shared amidst a cordial non intrusive ambience.
The residential program at School Without Walls is a contemporary Ashram – a commune of students. It is a 2-year residential learning journey and the third year is optional. Students can opt for any academic course from NIOS or open university.
Learning through Experiments
Students learn to grow their own organic vegetables, conduct experiments in horticulture practices, recycle and compost all waste, build their own toilet and sewage disposal system, construct a gobar gas plant linked to kitchen waste and the toilet, design their own buildings, make complicated architectural drawings, carry out constructions, identify flora and fauna and even handle snakes- fellow habitants to anyone who lives close to nature, analyze blood, soil and water samples, sew and knit and do much more.
The nuances of figuring out how things work, is done very simply by pulling things apart and then reassembling. Be it a cycle, generator set or a motor bike, there is no hesitation amongst any to have a go at dismantling it into its individual components of nuts, bolts, plastic, glass, wires and metal. The day also packs in time for yoga, dung collection for the bio digester and composting pits, organizing games for the children, maintaining accounts and nutritional diet charts.
A chart on the wall with stars against names tells its own story of innovations such as: a ferro-cement basin, coal from biomass, green-house, geodisc dome free of vertical support structures etc.
Students are awarded carbon credits for sustainable practices and are mandated to earn and learn through various projects undertaken on the premises or in the village. Education is in real life context and so are the projects. Cooking in the common kitchen and meal times are occasions for bonding, exchange of ideas and discussion.
Community work around the village is of many kinds: During the Ganesha festival, students collected the Nirmalya – degradable flowers and other adornments of the idols to be converted to compost. The festival generated 169 kgs. Of Nirmalya and 60 kgs of plastic. Students use festivals as an opportunity to spread a value related message, such as ‘smokeless Diwali’ and to connect with the local community.
Steps towards Sustainability
Production of superior quality vermi-compost: 12 tons per month. Soil and compost quality testing is also undertaken. Production of bio-mass coal and steam cooking experiments are on for refining output quality and quantity.
Cashew apples are wasted in the Konkan except in the State of Goa where it is processed locally into Fenny. Syamantak has devised a technique to dry cashew apples. These taste somewhat like dried figs/dates and can be used as a dry fruit after drying in the solar dryer. This throw away fruit contains 80% calcium and vitamin B.
Syamantak will be 8 years old this year. School Without Walls will be now known as University of Life. Apart from the residential program, there will be short term programs on eco-construction, organic farming, knitting-weaving- natural dying etc.
Re-printed here with permissions from Multiworld’s web magazine ‘Kamiriithu’ and Syamantak.