Framework and aims of ‘Global Perspectives’
Global Perspectives [GP] is offered as a subject by Cambridge across Primary to A Level. At present, Pathashaala makes GP compulsory for grades 9 and 10, and offers it as a subject at A Level. The curriculum offers many opportunities for children of all ages to learn, in ways that are not only multi-disciplinary but also cross-cultural. Perhaps the deepest contribution of the curricula to Pathashaala is the scope it provides to build a learning frame where the outer world meets the inner reality of each learner and interacts with it directly and autonomously. The process of this interaction is anchored in reasoning and demands reliability of information and lack of bias in perspective. It also evolves an evaluative process that collects primary data and uses awareness and observation to sensitively construct proactive and sane outcomes to perceived global and local issues. This seems to happen in a variety of interesting ways, and always sets the stage for a transformative experience.
I am selecting and quoting here a few of the stated aims of the syllabus at IGCSE (Class 10) to validate this scope.1 The aims are to enable learners to:
- Become independent and empowered to take their place in an everchanging, information-heavy, interconnected world.
- Consider important issues from personal, local and/or national and global perspectives and understand the links between these.
- Critically assess the information available to them and support judgements with lines of reasoning.
- Communicate and empathise with the needs and rights of others.
I will be focusing here on the element of reflection built into the Team Project requirement of GP for Class 10. The requirement of the syllabus makes it imperative for the learner to work with oneself individually and collaboratively in a group, and this affords a rich scope for reflection, which is also mandated by the assessment framework. I copy here part of the requirement by Cambridge for this element for easy focus:
Team Project: Reflective Paper. At the end of the process each candidate will produce a written Reflective Paper (750–1000 words) focusing on:
- Their personal research for the project and their own work processes.
- The effectiveness of the outcome in achieving the project aim.
- What they have learned about different cultural perspectives of the issue.
- What they have learned about teamwork overall and their own performance as a team member.
- What they have learned overall from carrying out the project.
While this is a constructed frame and might be seen to curtail both spontaneity and agency, the topics around which issues may be researched and raised2— the scope and necessity of first evolving for oneself issues of personal concern; opening these out and finding collaborators; raising questions, discussing them, conducting primary and secondary research; finally, evolving a local concern that the group might then analyze and suggest a proactive outcome/ resolution—takes around a year of work and discovery.
Learning from urban and rural communities
Transacting GP involves working with rural and urban communities. As someone who has so far anchored the scope and vision of this subject at Pathashaala, I have been keenly aware of how large the scope of learning is, and how important it becomes to include the world. Questions raised by the LEs (Learner-Educators) at Class 10 and AS Level have fuelled our outreach initiatives. The Eco-lab at Pathashaala has widened into inter-disciplinary studies around environmental projects such as the viability of biogas for rural and urban communities; closed-loop waste management; green building opportunities; building awareness of rural health schemes; urban awareness of millets; empowering women farmers, subsistence farming, initiating and building home gardens in BPL (Below Poverty Line) rural homes and documenting indigenous knowledge of medicinal herbs. There have been deep and meaningful projects initiated around the death of a language; the right to a fair market; mediated conversations as an answer to conflict in a community and the right to pursue one’s passion into the world of work. LEs have explored prevention of child sexual abuse and domestic violence by evolving study-based models for empowering battered women and submerged child-survivors.
Learning from working together
Team projects builds resilience. We find individual group members shirking work in the team; being critical in assessing their own and others’ contributions; getting embroiled in inner conflagrations that throw up strong words and glitches in the project. As the poet Wordsworth said, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...”. When nothing seems to work, the self and its role in conflictual situations needs to be examined. As Krishnamurti says, “Who but yourself can tell you if you are beautiful or ugly within? Who but yourself can tell you if you are incorruptible?” Often it is this question which is expressed in different words that throws us into deepest reflections.
The dawning consciousness that there are no external arbiters, that one is truly and materially responsible for one’s thoughts, words, actions and reflections, often creates a meditative frame that sometimes transforms individual LEs. Some of the impasses occasionally lead to deep and painful questions that an LE might grapple with, and not find easy solutions. “There is not one person in class or in school or at home with whom I have a relationship that energises me...”. How would one then find the inner agency and let go of the fear of the unknown? Krishnamurti says, “I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be...free from all fears—from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself.” The journey that the facilitating EL (Educator-Learner) takes with the LE seems fraught with many possibilities which can be resolved only by uncompromising self-questioning.
Mili and her three teammates chose to work on water, food and agriculture. As often happens, one of the first roadblocks was that of assigning roles, which often becomes a source of heartburn and conflict amongst group members. Mili wrote in her reflective paper:
I always make a detailed plan and follow it, so that no confusions exist. Though this was a strength, I found that it made people feel pressurised and driven which made them resentful. Initially, I felt very angry and sad but I learnt to relax more and take in everyone’s views and work with everyone’s style. I also learnt to validate what I was bringing. Sometimes, things didn’t go according to my plan, but I feel the result was better.
Her group mate had a different view:
Often Mili had to do many things. This happened repeatedly and I don’t know exactly why? But I know it wasn’t fair to her. On my part, I think one reason for this could be because I did not do much work outside the class unless it was asked for.
A third member actually brought an initiative which went unacknowledged in her group, which she recounted in her paper, but could not share with her group:
Communicating was a big problem for me, as I was not able to express my views clearly. For example, in the very beginning, we had decided that our aim would be organic farming as a solution for unsafe food. Personally, I had an unclear picture of it, so I suggested that we should start again. At the time my suggestion was rejected, but later when we went to the project coordinator, she told us to start from scratch! This is what I had said, and so I did not understand why it was not considered when I said it. Sometimes I have wondered if it was because of my poor language skills, or because I did not think it out clearly for myself first.
Another teammate, who was absent for a long period of time and only engaged peripherally with the process despite many invitations from within the group and from the facilitator, had this to say, “When I think of my contribution in this group, I realised that I sometimes felt jealous of some contributions. But after some time, I realised I could validate my own contributions like bringing people back on track in a discussion or help making slides for the presentation ....”
A group of two, who were united by a common interest, were at loggerheads over many issues that had nothing to do with the project. This left them both critical of each other.
My key learning was that, building a working relationship and sticking to it was hard because sometimes I found myself really wanting to make a comment that was disadvantageous to my teammate and making it. I was later able to reflect on whether this was necessary at all. I learnt to build self-control through this challenge.
Her teammate Jaspreet had this to say:
My teammate and I found that our previous personal differences set us apart, and we were unwilling to engage with each other. Therefore, we decided to develop a function-based working relationship, since both of us were interested in this topic. Due to the nature of our team, one of the benefits was that I developed the skill of adhering to a functional relationship and the boundaries that were evidently set by it. As time passed I found that our communication was not staying within those boundaries. I reacted to how my team member was engaging with me by cutting myself out of the process and not engaging. During the discussions that followed, I realised that I was focussing only on the specific actions of my team-mate that I felt were not necessary, and I learnt that I was not thinking of my reaction, contributing to the already existing problem.
Resolutions of their personal conflicts through mediated conversations found resonance in their interaction with a neighbouring village where young people were fighting with each other over many perceived cultural differences. Neither of the LEs spoke Tamil, but their questions were translated and discussed in small groups in their presence. The patti manram (a form of debating tradition in Tamil Nadu) they organized was very popular. This was one good example of mediation in conflict resolution.
On the other hand, a team of two who were reasonably in harmony with each other seemed divided through the process of the collaboration in unique ways. For example, after delivering a good project that seemed well collaborated,
I could not put aside my problems from outside and inside the team project. Distractions from the outside also stopped me from concentrating on the work, and during those times I just let out my emotion sometimes through futile arguments, which affected the team’s ability to work together. While I would be sitting without working, my teammate would work by putting aside the problems and I never appreciated her for that.
The journey in a school is unpredictable, but there is genuine reflection when there is a learning moment. Does this moment of reflection hamper performance? It does not. It focusses on holistic learning which seems to go with the spirit of the course. Thus, there are many discoveries on the anvil, at Pathashaala. But what distinguishes the whole process is what
“To be alone is to be related.”
1. https://www.cambridgeinternational.org/Images/252230-2018-2020-syllabus. pdf
Conflict and peace, Disease and health, Human rights, Language and communication, Poverty and inequality, Sport and recreation, Tradition, culture and identity, Water, food and agriculture.