Learning and education are often used interchangeably, but the two terms represent quite different and rather opposing mechanisms of knowledge building. While learning represents a self-motivated curious inquiry to gain knowledge; education refers more to the formal and hence structured systems of teaching. It is time and again proved that formal educational institutions like schooling, due to their inadequate content and methods, are not effective enough to address learning needs of all children. Besides, being standardized in nature, the formal education is not specific to culture and context of the student. Hence children are unable to relate their everyday experiences with what they are taught in the school.
Yuva Mitra has found a way out of this problem though its innovative programme called Bal Mitra, which is envisioned as a powerful framework for creating opportunities for learning outside the formal schooling system and a creative interface of the two, as this would be more beneficial for children, adolescents and adults.
Objective of Balmitra is to facilitate rural children’s life skills through creative learning spaces. Almost 4000 children from 20 villages in the age group of 6-15 years have been benefited from this programme.
Key activities under the same are:
Kheghar – Both school going and non-school going children come together for three days a week for two hours each. Khelghar encourages children to play and express freely. Apart from physical activities children also explore their creative abilities through drawing, handicraft, and clay modeling. Activities like songs, stories and free discussions contribute in developing language and communication skills. Children or youth above fifteen are identified as Khelghar Sathi, who organize Khelghar activities regularly on a voluntary basis. Total 40 boys and girls are trained to become Khelghar Sathi and their involvement in this work helps to develop their own personality and leadership skills.
Khelghar Bhavan – This is envisaged as a village based education center which will work towards developing conducive learning environment within the community. We plan to set up one Khelghar Bhavan in each village and so far these centers have been activated in seventeen villages. The center has a managing committee which includes representatives of Gram Panchayat, women, youth and children. The center plays an active role in promoting education and child-centered activities within the village.
Maitri Shibir, inter village get-togethers – This is a one-day programme to bring Khelghar children from various village together and facilitate sharing of experiences among them. These camps are planned with children’s active participation so as to build their abilities for planning and decision making. Camps activities and mutual exchange among children help them to enhance their understanding about local cultures, environment and natural resources. They also get to know about local social, economic and political institutions.
Wall paper – Various news stories in the daily paper always interest children. Therefore we encouraged children to come out with their own newspaper covering village level happenings and information that interests them. Every month a village level hand written newsletter is prepared by the Khelghar members which covers stories, songs and articles created by them. Balmitra, Gavmitra Times; these are names of the local wallpapers. Process of wallpaper making and sharing gives space of children’s expressions and facilitates their self-learning and thinking process.
Understanding village environment through Shivar Pheri – One Shivar Pheri is organised per quarter in each village to enable children understand their own village closely and inquisitively. Children are familiarized with local natural resources, livelihood activities, cultural diversities and traditional wisdom, through observation, interaction and experimentation. One theme is identified and explored in a visit. Help is taken from village elders, experts to understand and compile the information. So far children have explored wide ranging topics, such as cropping pattern, soil, river, vegetation, domesticated animals, hills, forests and so on. This activity helps to know in depth about ones’ own village, its history and geography. Local farmers, cattle rearers, vaidu (traditional healers) are involved in this activity as they have wealth of information about local resources and processes, which mostly goes undocumented.
Gammat Jatra, Annual get-together – This one day event involves Khelghar children from all villages and gives space for their free creative expressions. Gammat Jatra facilitates sharing of learning among children in various villages and builds their confidence. According to children Gammat Jatra is a way to enjoy and express themselves through fun and play.
Khelghar Savangadi Melawa, Get-together of ex-Khelghar members – Khelghar activity was started in 2001. The first generation of Khelghar members are now grown up individuals engaged in various occupations. Some of them are even married and have children. We decided to invite these Kheghar members for a get-together for self-assessment and to know how far involvement in Khelghar has helped them in actually dealing with their present life experiences and responsibilities. We were unsure how many would actually turn up for the programme. To our surprise the response was overwhelming and total 103 boys-girls participated in this one day programme organised on 1st May 2008. The ex-Khelghar members shared their experiences and thoroughly enjoyed expressing themselves through drawing and songs. We observed that they have imbibed learnings. Leadership qualities and social concern was visible in their expressions and all of them shared desire to support Kheghar activities in their village.
Computer Literacy Center – Computer knowledge has become an essential qualification in today’s age of information technology. However many children and youth in rural areas do not have access to learn computer. Most of them are not very well versed with English language either. Hence they have a complex in attempting to learn computer skills. In order to make these children and youth familiar with computer technology Yuva Mitra has started a Computer Literacy Center. To begin with we were supported by HDFC, Pune to set up 10 computers for the class. Total 113 youth completed the three month course of computer literacy. Presently the classes are taken in the Yuva Mitra office campus at Mitrangan. We have a plan to decentralize it and start computer classes at the village level so that more children are benefited. We observe that exposure to computer training has build confidence and self-esteem of the participants.