The question asked most often by visitors to the Centre For Learning is, '...but how do your children manage in the Real World outside, when they leave this school?' There was a time when this question would perplex me - isn't CFL in the real world just as everything else?! But over the last few years, I have begun to think more about this issue, and I can see that there is a need to answer such a question in depth and with seriousness. After all, one of the purposes of schooling has always been to teach children how to fit into the adult world, to 'socialize' them. If we at CFL have questioned that as our sole aim, we then have to ask ourselves, what do we want our students' relationship with society at large to be, when they have graduated?
All through their education, it is conveyed to our students that one can lead a right life, a sane life, without cutting oneself offfrom society. There are creative ways ofliving in the world, finding a means of livelihood that nourishes (and does not destroy), and it is possible for the young person to create such alternatives with the support of the adults around. It is wonderful to see a young person living differently, free of the pressures and demands that society imposes (and most of us take on!). But how do we as teachers and concerned adults help our students make this transition between school and beyond?
When CFL first began, the oldest students were in the 11th standard, and questions of this kind began to come up in discussions with them. There were few happy alternatives available to these young people. Some of them were interested in academic undergraduate degrees, others were keen on following vocational paths such as art and outdoor activities. In any case, each had varied enough interests to make it difficult to find a college that would offer him/her sufficient flexibility. Yet this was a secondary problem: far more important was the feeling that wherever these young people chose to go, it would be very difficult for them to find the kind ofleisure and space for the exploration of the questions that we had raised with them. A typical college student in India spends eight hours a day in classes, besides having fairly rigid annual schedules and high attendance requirements. However thoughtful and serious a student may be, it is very difficult to sustain a fundamental questioning in isolation, and in the face of a continuous stream of contrary messages ('you have to look out for yourself', 'financial security is the most important thing in life', 'don't do anything different or adventurous if youwant to be happy', and so on!).
Faced with this situation, the teachers were loath to turn their backs, as it were, on the graduating students. They felt as if they had nurtured a sapling, watching over it and caring for it, but were abandoning it just before it could grow into a strong and beautiful tree. Thus the Post-School Programme (or PSP) was born, in 1994, with five eighteen-year-olds. These five have now 'graduated', and nine more are at present in the programme. In the last five years, we have learned a lot about the demands of such a programme. We are still learning, of course, along with the students themselves, and would like to share some of these insights with you.
The essence of the philosophy of the PSP is that we are taking responsibility for the growth and maturing of the individual as a whole. We see the purpose of the programme as having three dimensions - right living, right learning and right livelihood. Each of these needs to be explored with the students at some depth, in an attempt to create a truly valuable and viable alternative for these young people at this stage of their lives.
Exploring Right Living ...
Eighteen-year-olds the world over face tremendous expectations, from family as well as from society at large. To stand on their own feet, fmd a peer group, decide what they will do for the rest of their lives, settle on an identity and a set of values for themselves, and more. Once a week, the PSP students and some teachers meet for a dialogue class - reading Krishnamurti, talking about issues that are important to them and us. There is also a special threehour monthly meeting where more of the teachers join in a dialogue with the postschoolies (as they are called). Together we explore questions of relationship, loneliness, fear and conformity, sexuality, morality, achievement, how to live in this world and the urgency of change. Our experience has been that at this age, eighteen or so, the students are ready to form their own relationship with such fundamental questions. We continually stress that their role in these dialogues must be active, participatory, challenging each other while contributing their insights. Similarly, the teachers must be open, honest and humble, sensitive to the fact that students are sometimes less confident and articulate and need space to respond.
The teachers consciously make the PSP students responsible in a variety of practical situations. Through this, we encourage them to develop a competence in many simple life skills - getting things done properly, being on time, finishing jobs, being reliable, working co-operatively with peers as well as with older people, and so on. These qualities are neither automatically acquired, nor abundantly present in the population at large!
A tentative structure for the week ensures the following ingredients: time for learning a major skill, for pursuing one or two other deep interests, for general reading (reading lists have been preparedby our teachers in both fiction and non-fiction), for exercise, for dialogue anddiscussion, for interaction with the schools, and for leisure. We make sure the studenthas at least a day or two with no specificactivity scheduled - this allows both forquiet space and for spontaneous plans oftheir own to develop. The flexibility in theirschedule gives them an opportunity tolearn the right balance between structuredand unstructured time, between work andleisure, between intellectual and physicalactivity.
... right learning ...
Each student in the PSP has a particular skill through which he would like to make his livelihood. In some cases, it is an academic pursuit like mathematics, literature, geography or international economics; for other students it is weaving, pottery, cooking or organic farming. But for almost all, there are other areas of intense interest - sometimes but not always related to each other. One student was interested in cooking and organic vegetable gardening, another in mathematics and theatre/ drama, yet another in mountaineering and writing. We begin with a brainstorming session with the student, making a list of the various learning experiences he would like to and should have, and a list of the resource persons we can contact. For his area of main interest, over a period of time, thought and discussion go into creating a rich curriculum, wide in scope and deep in exploration. Where needed, a comparative review is made of the syllabi from some of the better universities in India and abroad. A rough plan is made for two years, which often includes apprenticeships outside Bangalore. Plans are also made for long trips either within or outside India - with the focus being learning more about one's discipline or craft from diverse people and cultures.
For most students, it is useful to get a degree or certificate in their area, so they enroll in distance-education courses (for example, from the Indira Gandhi National Open University and the London University), or in short-term vocational courses. We assign an adviser to the student, who can guide her as to what skills to obtain, when, and from where. The adviser, an expert in the area of interest, does not necessarily teach the student, but provides the 'big picture' to help her grow into a truly well-rounded professional. Each student also has several tutors, experts from whom she receives actual instruction.
Most often we have contacted people from institutions of higher learning to help the student. In learning skills and doing projects under the guidance of excellent professionals, she gets the flavour of an apprenticeship, going deeper into subjects than perhaps a regular college education would have allowed. In India in particular, research and teaching institutions are usually separated in such a way that undergraduate students rarely get to learn from someone active at the frontiers of their field. But we have found that such professionals are happy to give of their time and resources to our PSP students. This list is growing every year, and CFL has made many friends through the Post-School Programme!
... and right livelihood
One of the crucial areas of support a PSP student receives is in choosing a livelihood. The primary force in this choice is the student's o~n passion and talent; our task'is to ensure that he gains a competence and confidence to be excellent in his field. The strength of the PSP will lie in our ability to demonstrate that it is possible for these students to become excellent cooks, ecologists, agriculturists, potters, etc., able to earn a comfortable living in society. But it is important to stress that we are not trying to encourage students to take up unusual, exotic careers, or glorifying one particular career over another. Stepping outside the mainstream, as it is called, is not just the external aspect of what you do for a living. Rather, we would like to define it as being outside the mainstream of consciousness. One may be a brilliant weaver or potter, but as long as the 'self' is active, one is no different fundamentally from an engineer or banker. Right relationship with one's work is the most important thing. The students must bring their own sensitivity and questioning to their profession, which can only yield greater creativity and the possibility of change in these areas.
I have observed that each PSP student looks at his or her profession in a unique and sensitive way. The mountaineer is concerned about problems of waste disposal in mountain ranges, and the general insensitive attitude of ambitious climbers. The economist is interested in why economic theories don't discuss basic human selfishness as an explanatory variable. The cook would like to learn how to grow food organically, and how to cook traditional recipes that give attention to health and nutrition. The weaver wants to learn about traditional methods of weaving and how to revive these practices. The mathematician is interested in modelling Gaia theory and agricultural practices. The artist enjoys making botanical illustrations because of his love for nature. The designer sells items made from used or recycled paper.
Where are the first batch of postschoolies now? One has set up his own design studio and runs a successful business in Bangalore. Another works for a publishing company in Chennai, and writes books on nature and mountaineering. Two are in the U.S. in graduate programmes in mathematics and international economics. One is studying English Literature and plans for further study in England. The sixth student switched from a commerce degree to one in pure mathematics, having discovered a love for the latter while in the PSP two years ago.
The Post-School Programme is our attempt to help young adults begin their journey through life, and I hope I have been able to give you a sense of how it works.