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Hiwali: The land of no connectivity but a million connections!

By Vaibhav Naik

I’ve been very sure of what I have always wanted, whether it be my personal or professional life. But this one day spent at a faraway village, made me question a lot of things that I thought were true!

Imagine a place with no network, no connectivity, no internet. Imagine a place that seldom has electricity and is populated by not more than 150 people, who might have never seen the inside of a school. This is a common scenario in a lot of remote villages in India.

Imagine a small village like this, 75kms away from Nashik.

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Here’s a little map of ‘nowhere’

Now if I tell you that there’s an 8-year-old kid here who knows tables up to 625 or another 12 years old who creates mini fans out of beer cans or 43 more little kids who could do so much, would you believe me? I couldn’t believe it either!

A few weeks ago we celebrated my father’s 51st birthday. This year, he wanted to do things differently. He has been an active contributor to GIVE Welfare Organisation since his last birthday and wanted to spend it with kids from the foundation. Mr Ramesh Iyer (the founder of the organisation) was kind enough to invite us to Hivali and take us around. When we reached the village in the morning, there was a beautiful procession happening. It didn’t feel different from any other village I had ever visited.

As we turned the corner, our perception of the village turned around too!

This is what we spotted!

The village was made of hues of dull browns and greens and in the middle of nowhere stood this beautiful lush green wall, filled with vibrant colours. When we came closer, we found that this was a school’s garden that the kids had built themselves. On taking a closer look, this is what the wall looked like:

They used waste plastic bottles and coconut shells to create beautiful little planters for their garden wall. I was surprised to see how they had set up a drip irrigation system for their little plants! They created fence decorations out of anything and everything that they found: used cycle tyres, old pipes, scrap metal, etc. and painted it with every happy colour possible. But what truly blew me away was the entrance to the little school:

This has to be the prettiest little gate I have ever seen! It beats the little Paris café entrances that we find so breathtaking.

Keshav Gavit Sir, the ‘Rancho’ to this ‘3 Idiots’ school, warmly welcomed us to his school. A school that he had created with the kids in the village for them to learn what they wanted, how they wanted. A safe place that allowed them to explore the worlds of science, literature, go on adventures with historical figures and much more!

This was a school for 45 kids in the age group of 3–14 years, with a single teacher!

What he has developed, is a brilliant way to teach all ages together! He teaches the elder kids and the elder ones teach the younger ones and the younger ones teach the youngest. In schools and education conferences around the world, peer learning is given a lot of importance. It is said that peer learning and facilitation-based learning are one of the most effective ways of learning and are supposed to be the way of the future.

“Peer learning is not a single, undifferentiated educational strategy. It encompasses a broad sweep of activities. For example, researchers from the University of Ulster identified 10 different models of peer learning (Griffiths, Houston and Lazenbatt, 1995). These ranged from the traditional proctor model, in which senior students tutor junior students, to the more innovative learning cells, in which students in the same year form partnerships to assist each other with both course content and personal concerns. Other models involved discussion seminars, private study groups, parrainage (a buddy system) or counselling, peer-assessment schemes, collaborative project or laboratory work, projects in different sized (cascading) groups, workplace mentoring and community activities.

Formalised peer learning can help students learn effectively. At a time when university resources are stretched and demands upon staff are increasing, it offers students the opportunity to learn from each other. It gives them considerably more practice than traditional teaching and learning methods in taking responsibility for their own learning and, more generally, learning how to learn. It is not a substitute for teaching and activities designed and conducted by staff members, but important addition to the repertoire of teaching and learning activities that can enhance the quality of education.”

— David Boud, Stanford University Professor.

A man living and having grown up in a village himself, has been able to achieve what universities and schools around the world have been talking about achieving for decades. His way of teaching involves all the 10 different models mentioned above! This way of learning is a major reason why an 8-year-old girl knew tables up to 625 or another 12-year-old boy could create mini fans out of beer cans. The elder kids can teach much more to the younger ones than what is set out for their age. They are able to grasp better, retain better and the elder ones can gain their fair share of revision while teaching!

Keshav Sir and the kids wanted to build a school that had learning everywhere. Wherever you looked, there was something new to learn. I think this is such a big life lesson for kids. Even in post-formal education life, one needs to constantly keep learning and learning is everywhere. Wherever you look, you can learn something new around you!

If you think this is the true beauty of the school, here’s what we discovered in the first room!

This is a fully functioning JCB robot that works on a battery. It lifts small objects with the help of a hydraulic system that they created with an injection syringe!

This is a fully functioning tractor that the kids in the photograph created with nothing but waste cardboard, old plastic disposable pens, ice cream sticks and a small motor that they extracted from a discarded machine. The remote was procured from an old remote control car.

To the left is a fan made out of a beer can, in the middle is another fan and to the right is switchboard made out of a used motor oil bottle. These are just a few examples of all the things that the kids have made there. To my surprise, the entire electrical work for the school was done by the kids themselves!

This is what the classroom looked like when you looked up!

This is what it looked like when you looked down! Every single inch of space was used to create learning experiences.

The people in the village might not be as educated as the kids, but they didn’t cease to amaze me either! Every door of the village house has it’s eldest daughter’s name written at the entrance with a very nice slogan/ saying. This showcases how evolved these people are. They understand and respect the system that the teacher is trying to build and try to support it in the best possible way.

Pawar baba, headman of the village donated his land to build the school and the garden. He is also a farmer in the village who comes from a very humble background but had it in his heart to voluntarily donate the land for the growth and betterment of the village.

A day at Hiwali, changed my perception of education and true learning. It’s not about the board, the school building or even the kind of facilities. At the end of the day, what really matters is the quality of learning that the child is receiving. It’s the excitement and need of learning that the teacher can instil within the child that really defines the kind of life they will be leading. This is exactly what will define the future of the village, the state, the country, even the world!

The next Prime Minister or the next astronaut or the next IAS might be sitting in this class now. The way they learn, the way they understand will define our future as a society, as a human race! Let’s try to place learning above all and create humans who can think, process and create!

If you would like to be a part of this learning movement and support other villages become like Hivali, you can donate to GIVE Welfare Organisation on this UPI ID: Q53743538@ybl or connect on: +91–9822477971

GIVE Welfare Organisation has adopted 106 villages in Maharashtra and is working broadly in the fields of education, sanitation and humanitarian development.

Ps- When a brain starts thinking or doing, it starts making at least a million neural connections to make it happen!

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