Updated: Nov 12, 2020
All individuals are different from each other. Their skills, capabilities, limitations, each and every aspects are varied. Through education a child gets the platform to explore multiple domains. And with those experiences, the child shall journey in the directions of chosen interest where one can shine.
It is observed that our conventional education system is failing to address the areas of interest of the child or the education system in most of the cases is incapable of finding or guiding the child to reach their areas of interest.
And for the same reason, stories like that of Mihir Pathak from Baroda, Gujarat are to be celebrated. Mihir is a self-directed learner, and has been so ever since his school days. He has always been enthusiastic and curious in learning new things and would try to learn all that he wanted to learn, for himself. Here’s an account of how he figured out his interest in web designing and how he sought out for that knowledge.
During the summer vacation after 10th standard,Mihir went for a workshop on meditation, for which he had to pay 1500 Rupees as the course fee. Not having enough money to pay, he sought out for alternative options and the organization suggested that he could volunteer for them. He was given the task of translating their website content from English to the Gujarati. That was when he realized the possibilities of website making and technology. He started searching for where he could learn website making from.
He asked a few of his friends how he could learn web designing. They suggested that he go for higher studies like engineering, where they would teach him how to make websites. He then checked with some of his friends pursuing engineering, but they had no idea as well. Later, someone told him that if he finds a job in an IT Company, they would teach him to make a website. Mihir reached out to an IT company in his town and told them that his father runs a business, and for the promotion and digitizing of the business he wanted a website. He asked them how he could make it and how much it would cost. From them, he learned some general technical matters regarding domain, server, hosting, content placing, etc. With this knowledge, he approached a few other companies under the disguise of wanting to make a website for his father, but wanting to learn web designing in real. One of the companies later caught his lie and told him that he could have expressed his need rather than cooking up a story. He apologised to them and they offered him a marketing job as well, apart from teaching him web designing. He took contracts from schools, tuition centres, NGOs, etc. and developed websites for them at a low cost. At the age of 16, he started his own company.
Another fault of the mainstream education system is, if a child is interested in both Social Science and Physics they can’t choose both the subjects, but can choose only one discipline. Mihir was interested in Technology, History, Literature, and Quantum Physics. Even though he preferred to opt for the Humanities branch in his higher secondary, he was forced to choose the Science branch. In India, there is a stereotype that if a child chooses the science branch, they are brilliant and if the child is studying Humanities or Arts they are a failure. If a child gets a "good enough" mark in 10th grade, they don’t have the "right" to choose branch except for science. There is no value or importance for the child's interest. Mihir was also a victim of the same, but he was clever and skilled to find his own path. He realized that it wasn’t his cup of tea and decided to pursue his real interests.
Arvind Gupta is a famous Indian toy inventor and science expert. Mihir got inspired by his work and accompanied him in a few toy workshops particularly for children in rural areas. From that experience, he got interested in child psychology. As part of creating a project for children based on multiple intelligence theory, he got engrossed in it and started doing his own study and research regarding the theory. He started to know more about the technical aspects of teaching and learning processes and he connected it to the education system as well. He analysed the methods of teaching in the mainstream schools and observed that there was a problem. Coincidentally, he read books like Tottochan and Divaswapna. That motivated him further to explore alternative models to conventional education. From all these experiences he understood that he had his heart for working with children.
Mihir has always found his space in whatever he was interested in. Likewise, he found interest in a solar thermal technology plant; he taught at a computer centre and a primary school and as well assisted in a biogas plant of Muni Seva Ashram. It is gratifying to find one’s spaces of interest by oneself and see one fit well in those spaces, which is quintessential to one’s learning and self-development. Mihir, later on, worked with various schools and alternative education settings like Sarvoday Vidyalay in Dharampur, did a fellowship at Swaraj University, and worked with few homeschooler communities as well. Building one’s network and experience is quite important in any area and Mihir has constantly pursued his interests and sought out for the knowledge he wanted.
Currently, Mihir is working with Shishukunj School in Bhuj, Gujarat. Shishukunj is an educational setting which has a lot of differences from the mainstream education system. Firstly, there are no exams. A child’s learning can be evaluated and assessed without conducting exams. It is all about the relation between the educator and the child.
Shishukunj focuses on a fearless learning environment and holds the values of no comparison, competition and punishment. Schools should be places of peace and development. There should be no place for fear, whether it be regarding exams or from the teachers or because of the subjects. The fearless atmosphere can make the child peaceful, and a peaceful mind can learn things easily and enthusiastically. Competition is another factor which most schools promote. Shishukunj does not promote any kind of competition or awards. Even if one calls it healthy competition, it cannot be justified because at the end of the day it still resists the children from being friends with each other.. And a child doesn't need any prize for motivating them. An educator can motivate a child through the relationship between them.
One is to develop knowledge beyond textbooks and curriculums. Knowledge built out of ground realities and experiences form a better learning experience for the child. According to Mihir, "education is all about sensitivity in all aspects and an individual should have the quality of being sensitive”.
From Mihir’s story, one of my personal reflections is that exploring maximum areas and identifying our area of interest can make better results in our future and career. Here Mihir was successful in finding his way(s) during his school days. While our education system moulds the children to read and write lessons, it is doubtful whether it moulds them to live their life. Self-directed learning is a way of learning where the learner has more power and choice with respect to what, why, how and when to learn. Mihir is a self-directed learner and when he realized that the conventional system of education did not have a space to support his interests, he walked out of the school. This kind of courage and confidence is a great quality a self-directed learner requires.
There are many stereotypes in the conventional education system, such as students who pursue Science are brilliant and those who scored high marks, but students who pursue Humanities are dull and who scored less marks. This perspective should change, as this social stigma disallows a child who has scored well to pursue a stream like Humanities even though deeply interested. Our children need the courage to break these stereotypes and say no to them. Education is not something that one receives within the four walls of a classroom. Education happens through real life experiences.
To know more about Mihir Pathak and his work, visit: https://www.learningwala.com
Mina Farzana C is a resolute towards influential ideas. An epigrammatic writer and a perceivable listener to stories. She is currently pursuing her Master Of Social Work from Rajiv Gandhi National Institute Of Youth Devolepment in Chennai.