Local Ecosystem Education

This is a short essay on a manner of learning called the Local Ecosystem Education (LEE). I had initially called it Community Driven Creative Education, but it fell short of the need to include the flora, fauna, geography & lore of the place.

LEE recognises that a predefined enclosure, called a school, with recruited staff, called teachers, following a preset lesson roadmap, called a curriculum, fails to admit & give due weight to the infinite learning outside of these boundaries. The dignity of the learning that a weaver, a pharmacist, a lark, a postman, an accountant, a cowherd, a patch of farmland, a mechanic, a farmer, a leaf or an iron-smith can provide is acknowledged & included in a LEE. Thus, a LEE challenges the age-old belief that only a few designated individuals are “teachers” & education requires one to go to a “school”. Everyone has some learning to offer & all learning is useful. Most importantly, a LEE declares that the community contains enough to educate a child & keep her vitally curious, mentally adroit, physically agile & emotionally sensitive & rich & distancing the child from her immediate ecosystem & community (via some disconnected curriculum) is a disservice to the goodness & relevance of living together.

LEE recognises the error in prematurely categorising a child’s experiences into “useful” or “not useful” (often, based on a curriculum). LEE recognises the opportunities lost in not drawing on the interconnectedness of all experience & phenomena. This drowns the curiosity of the child under the weight of a learnt system of “required” & “wasteful” filters. LEE suspends imposing any such filters.

LEE provides a rich ground for the child to absorb the life around her as a whole using her rich imagination & intelligence to extract patterns not imposed by text-books or teachers. The adults in LEE are merely there to ensure the safety of the child & in providing a secure environment to experiment, explore & comprehend.

ecoeduA LEE is not anti-curriculum (for the sake of being anti-curriculum) but believes that any curriculum can be eventually realised & doesn’t need to be met every quarter or annually. This allows a LEE to adopt & adapt to any curriculum while still being true to the capabilities & wholeness of each individual learner. Hence, a child might be working out Chemistry experiments of a conventional contemporary 9th grader while studying language lessons of a 5th grader & learning ballet with his senior colleagues & applying Math in the community market with the sharpness of a 10th grader. How the child eventually acquires a range of learning is largely defined by the child’s receptivity. Yet, if the child never stumbles on the need to study or explore the benzene ring, she simply doesn’t have that information which her colleague in a mainstream school might have acquired.

A LEE actively includes the immediate ecosystem in the learning of the child. The child is encouraged & supported in connecting all learning back into the ecosystem & community. The child is involved in the policy making of local bodies & engaging in the upkeep of the community. She is sensitive to the challenges in her local community & the tension therein. She is gearing to being an active citizen & representative of her voice & the voice of the voiceless. She has her feet in the local mud & knows it as well as her palm. She is familiar with the plants, animals, reptiles, birds, seasons, rivers, hills & the issues relating to them. She is learning to be actively involved in her community & ecosystem & in doing so, she learns the principles of the physical, the political, the economic & cultural world that surrounds her.

A LEE constantly helps a child realise the relevance of a learning. He doesn’t learn graphing purely as an academic requirement but to be able to study the trend in decreasing forest cover & visually represent his point of view. He doesn’t learn literature (starting from local artists to Shakespeare, unless you live in Stratford-upon-Avon) because everyone says you should, but in order to better understand the aesthetics of the written or recited word. He is constantly gathering tools & creative skills to be able to be a better citizen in this world as well as put his capabilities to best use. Most of all, a LEE helps a child realise the interconnectedness of a community & ecosystem & ensure the dignity of mutually beneficial & sustainable coexistance.

A later post will go into the role of the Learning Facilitator (LF). We will also discuss how a community can be engaged in the learning process.

It might help to see why is there a need for this & how is it different from earlier approaches.

LEE is closest in approach to, yet different from Place Based Education (or, PBE, as outlined by Prof. David Sobel) in that it strives to engage the members of the local community & expands the notion of the school to be the entire community & village/town/city that the children live in. In PBE the children & teachers reach out to the community. The community’s problems are now the grounds for learning & experimentation for the children & teachers. In LEE, the entire community is the school & the student learn from the members of the community. While the “why” of engaging with members of the community is predetermined by the students & teachers in PBE the “why” is not predetermined by the students in LEE. While in PBE, the students might approach a carpenter to understand local woods employed & where the wood is obtained from, in LEE the students spend time with the carpenter because they can learn carpentry while the learning facilitators (LF) would help the students connect their experiences in carpentry with what they saw on the river walk into a learning about friction, load balancing, local art, effect of water & chemicals on wood to local songs or tales about wood etc. In PBE, depending on the curriculum, you might miss out learning from some members of the community. In LEE, the entire community is included in the year-round learning of the child.

In being so designed, a LEE, after a span of time, can be completely run by & managed by a community without the need for external agencies & changing priorities of governments & decision-making bodies that might be. That an entire community is invested in the education of a child instills a very different spirit in that child as well as the community’s conduct & behaviour in the presence of that child.

The hope of a LEE is to move away from acquiring information, or skills which are employed mindlessly into understanding life & owning the necessary capabilities to create a mutually (for all members of the ecosystem) amicable living.

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