Day 105: Pandemic and us

Ajangaon, July 2020

07/07/2020

Day 105

This morning we went beyond the little hillock on which the road climbs up immediately, from the coffee point where we sit during rides. It is a short ramp, about a kilometer long. It then descends into an expansive flat land until the next low rise hill range in the distance. The topology of this block in the district gives just enough work for a cycle that the rider can soak in the landscape and also enjoy the workout. Riding through one of the villages, I heard the milk guy riding his motorbike and calling out his friends to ‘watch out, corona is here’. He meant us, riding through their village. I am not sure if he meant that in jest. But it does appear that the pandemic has really managed to get even the deepest pockets of the country aware about its threat and turned then anxious about visitors. We weren’t visiting anyone though. It is just a ride route for us on our usual 30-35 kilometer rides in the morning. 

Later, we spent the day at the farm with some more sapling to plan and some weed removal from the soybean rows. Two new plants from the government-run nursery were planted – Indian Almond and Pongamia. The canopy and flowers of pongamia are a lovely sight to have by the gate, Reminds me so much of days in Bangalore during 2015-2017.

I have applied for Krishnamurti Foundation’s teacher training program. This year due to the pandemic, the course had to be turned into an online course instead of their usual residential program. It appears to be a good pretext to pursue structured thinking into education – ideas, thinkers and contemporary issues. The application process for the course presented a useful moment to reflect on my experiences in teaching and working in a school.

After a four-year stint as a teacher, I believe that to become a teacher is to come full circle in the loop of learning, experiencing, reflection and back to learning. This loop unfolds over the course of life for many of us. I chose teaching because I wanted to understand how learning takes place and what are the possibilities it holds for us as a society. As a student and a product of an education system many of us experience only some of the possibilities in becoming. Whereas, as a teacher one gets to see the larger canvas of possibilities and sometimes get a chance to shape them. Teaching appeared to be an effective path in enabling this engagement with learning processes and the education system.

I began as a teacher at Poorna Learning Centre to teach sociology and economics to senior secondary students. I taught there for three years. The flow of a typical academic year led to a wide variety of insights, new learning and more importantly, a range of questions on schooling, classroom, nature of knowledge, curriculum and methods in teaching. I have not had the mental space and time in those years to enquire and probe these questions and experiences. With this course, I would like to venture back into that space and find answers as well as reflect. I anticipate that the course’s broader aim of exploring the ‘role of a teacher in school’ will be useful in reflecting on my brief experience as a teacher. Besides, I have also felt a need to explore ideas in education that provide an alternative to modern education. Krishnamurti’s ideas and collective experience of Krishnamurti schools, I believe, can connect me to a wider, alternative perspective on education that I have felt a need for during my teaching years.

Between 2019-2020, I worked with GenWise, a company in education and talent development that offers summer schools as well as extra-curricular learning opportunities to children in school. As a mentor with them I developed and taught short courses on contemporary themes in sociology and economics. With the Covid-19 pandemic as the world went into a lockdown, GenWise began offering online courses. This proved to be another significant moment that made me question the purpose of education and whether the push for online learning can address the goals of learning. I am not sure.

Having said this, I have nothing against online courses. If it works for some learners then why not have them. The concern and key issue here is whether there exists a collective sense of responsibility among educators, teachers and ed-tech entrepreneurs in trying to address the deep divide and inclusion problem among learners. What claims to virtue does one have when all that the person can teach as a teacher is those who can pay and can afford to sit with a laptop in hand all day with food and care provided at their desks. A bit of reflection is all I hope for right now. 

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