A learning facilitator is basically an evolution of the teacher in a school as we have experienced. The teacher is often responsible for a couple of topics & to cover the prescribed syllabus in the set window of time. Whether she goes about it creatively or engagingly or morosely is a matter of individual style & circumstances. A learning facilitator, on the other hand, is a curator of experiences & weaver of comprehension. I shall proceed to explain this as best as the image I hold in the alcove of my mind. Beyond this point, however, I shall not provide a comparison with the image of a teacher that the reader or I hold in our minds.
A learning facilitator (LF) is best witnessed in the environment of a Local Ecosystem Education (LEE) space. To know more about what I call a LEE, please read this post. I’ll summarise it as below:
Local Ecosystem Education engages an individual’s ecosystem & community in providing the vital learning necessary to support his/her mental & physical agility as well as psychological sensitivity in order to keep him/her vitally curious & creative into whatever s/he wishes to grow
Since a LEE focuses on the individual in the context of the ecosystem (& thus, focuses on the entire ecosystem), there is sufficient space to be a curator & a weaver. This is simply impossible in any other form of schooling or learning space.
The primary responsibility of a LF is to create a safe space for a child (and I shall restrict the elucidation of the role in the context of learning children). Learning must be safe both physically & emotionally for the child. While the intent is not to prevent all scratches & wounds, clearly dangerous & detrimental elements are to be disallowed & avoided. In this, the LF creates a space for conversation with the child as to why something is not safe while realising that conversation is no guarantee for safe behaviour. The LF also educates the community in focusing on the safety of the child as they engage in providing learning spaces for them. E.g. a carpenter engaging the children in his work cannot be unaware of or casual about sharp implements lying around. To understand more about why safety is not something you negotiate with, read Raffi Cavoukian’s piece in the The Third Teacher (if you don’t have the book, you can still read it in the sample on Amazon.com).
2. No imposition of ideology:
Following close behind is the conscious decision not to impose an ideology on the trusting minds. A LF in the role of a weaver of comprehension should carefully refrain from hurriedly concluding the child’s experiences. If the child has witnessed a domestic quarrel, to thrust on the child that all men are violent or all women manipulative is not a healthy learning process. If the child has witnessed pests affecting her plant, rushing to suggest strong chemical pesticides etc. is detrimental to the child understanding the role of pests & how to co-exist. If the child is puzzled about religion & local tradition, to thrust on the child atheism or another “better” religion is devious. A LF creates space for the child to explore these, occasionally challenging the child on some naively drawn conclusions & patterns. The LF engages other community members to safely reflect on these thereby educating the community on the influence they have on the children (and hence, to be mindful of their behaviour) as well as making it easier for the child to seek learning from the community.
3.No Artificial Boundaries:
A LF must acknowledge that a child’s experience & influx of information is not compartmentalised & shouldn’t be forced into artificial boundaries of subject headings or degrees of importance. Life is the lesson & subject. Each element of a child’s experience weaves into earlier & newer ones. Physics is not disallowed where Biology seems to reign. Violence witnessed at home extends to reflection about violence meted out to animals & birds as well as bullying & resorting to physical oppression of dialogue & perspective. Studying the human cardiovascular system abounds with opportunity for exploring numeracy, race, geographical effects, yoga (or tai-chi), Shakespeare’s usage of the phrase “see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold” (Sonnet 2), first aid for hypothermia & so much more. There is experience & there is comprehension. And comprehension widens as experience abounds. To create boundaries in order to make it more “manageable” for the teacher creates a cognitive exclusion process which justifies skipping some aspects of Life.
4. Curator of experiences:
A LF moulds the environment according to the receptivity of the child. In this he is a very sensitive curator. Based on the child’s curiosity & engagement style, he introduces experiences (in the form of games, excursions, exercises, reading, etc.) that will nudge the child to explore more. A “chance” event of a mechanic opening up a car engine in the corner of the learning space is a nudge placed for kids to go squat near the mechanic & learn from him how gears work & about the central axle & so on. A meeting with a local musician can expose the child to voice modulation, local music & instruments, etc. A “chance” episode of watching an aged woman climb stairs can help kindle conversations & design experiments in accessibility requirements as well as develop a sensitivity to differently-abled individuals in a community. An excursion into a dark cave could create the need for light sources & thus, transforming & storing energy. A trip to the farmer’s market might help model supply & demand & the environmental impacts of only catering to supply & demand with disregard to sustainability. These experiences are not merely a function of the age or other such indicators. These are based on the appetite of the child as well. To translate this to more common terms, a child can be learning 8th grade literature while working with 4th grade Math & 7th grade Science & 5th grade History & display the maturity of a 13 year old in matters of community engagement while being a paladin for pigeons & the local vegetable that is being removed from farms because of (lack of) urban demand. The LF will curate the appropriate experiences (different ways of improving the receptivity to Math, for instance) for this child who is all of 10 years.
5. Weaver of Comprehension:
While not all experiences are served by the LF, she creates a necessary pause for reflecting on these to distill a better understanding of the world around the child. The learning is both for the child & the LF. This can well be a group activity (with many LFs & learners reflecting together & drawing inferences, etc.) or one-on-one or meditative. In ensuring the weave & heft of the fabric of learning, the LF channelises that child’s thinking & reflection in a constructive manner. The family is safely & securely engaged as is the community. The entire community is invested in the growth of the child. The LF ensures the experiments of the day & the past aren’t sporadic activities but are precipitated into principles of the physical world which can aid further construction of the understanding of the working of this world. If a conclusion is not useful or is premature, the LF will devise creative ways to help keep the child exploring. The poems & tales that the child has read are reflected upon & better understood from the points of view of craft, human condition, perspective & import. This also opens up avenues of creating newer experiences (via experiments, excursions, reading, etc.) & continue learning.
6. Integrating the Ecosystem:
It wouldn’t be a LEE if the ecosystem was not included. While a lot of information can be shared via text & video, experience of the local ecosystem (flora, fauna, culture, history, geography, issues, capabilities etc.) cannot. Text & video of distant phenomena (e.g. geographies, folklore, politics & histories of remote continents) should follow the experiences of the immediate ecosystem. It would be ironic if the child is unfamiliar with the seasonality of the nearby river but knows the length & ox-bow lakes formed along the Yangtse or Nile or Ganges (assuming that these are not the said “nearby river”). To understand the soil type & the native species (plants & animals) is vital to all conscious growth, innovation & preservation. This also includes creating a kind & cruelty-free environment for the animals of that geography. This requires the LF to be intricately familiar with the ecosystem, food seasons & folklore of that place. One of the most vital ways of incorporating this is by involving children in food production (vegetable gardens, etc.) as well as in restoring the greenery of the community (which has most likely been removed). Another way is to move away from raising animals & birds for the purpose of food (unless the geographical conditions make growing plants very difficult). Definitely, not raising them for meat/leather trade will help be better connected with the ecosystem.
7. Channelise Energy:
A LF is adept at channelising frustration, anger, laziness & disillusionment towards a better & more relevant learning. To know how to channelise the abundant energy of the child into a constant window of curiosity & constructive communal participation is the skill of a LF. She, of course, involves the entire community in realising this thereby not making it an exercise in chastising a uniquely disposed child. Other children are also exposed to the experience of including & accommodating differently “designed” individuals without making it an exercise in shaming or isolating.
This might seem like a tall order for a LF. It really isn’t. All these are the traits of a creative, intelligent & caring adult who has under his wing a child. This is indeed a tall order for a teacher of a class of 70 students. But an LF is creative in involving an entire community in this effort & hence, this is sustainable. This goes to remind the reader that LEE is a truly sustainable model of raising children as a whole & integral part of the community. Hence, a variety of people can & will play this role (of a LF) in an individual’s life. While a child could share experiences/learnings with another child, they aren’t expected to take over as a LF. This is a huge responsibility to place on those delicate shoulders. A precocious child might very well act like a LF at one instance, but there should not be a lowering of focus on that child’s learning & growth thereafter.
In a subsequent essay, I will describe ways in which a community can be better involved.