Digantar Schools: Will we be able to continue them?


Digantar schools have been providing quality education and developing educational ideas and practices of significance for last more than three decades (read the Introduction below).

The schools now are in danger of closing down due to lack of funds. We have been in negotiation with a few donors but it seems support for running costs from 1st April 2014 onwards is unlikely to come forward.

We do have funders for modest infrastructural costs and our infrastructure for a small senior secondary school is perhaps acceptable. We also have some organisational reserves to run the schools for about a month or so. But beyond that we will be forced to close down the schools. That will immediately stop education of more than 500 children, majority of them being girls and about 50 of the girls being at the secondary and senior secondary level.

In case you happen to know any funding agency who might be interested in supporting the schools please pass this appeal with on, in case you agree with our view that the continuation of Digantar schools still have potential to contribute to educational thought and practice in the country.
With best regards
Rohit

A Very Short Introduction to Digantar: for schools

Digantar is a Jaipur based organization which works in school education. (Further details could be seen at http://www.digantar.org) Our motto is “Education for Equity and Justice”. We work towards this ideal through education that makes learners independent in thinking and action; so that they can contribute to socio-political and economic well being of the society.

We started as a small experimental school in 1978 and subsequently registered in 1987 as a non-profit society. Digantar schools are based on the belief that aims of education should be to make the child self-motivated and independent learner; to become a critical and contributing citizen in a democracy. Towards this end, we have been making attempts to conceptualize school curriculum, and pedagogic practices which could help the children develop their rational capabilities and exercise autonomy in learning. This we see as necessary for development of active and critical citizen in a democracy that has justice and equality as its basic values.

Digantar, at present, runs two schools, where more than 500 children get their education. Over last two decades, the schools got recognition as pursuing alternative pedagogic practices where the learners’ rational capabilities and capability to learn independently are respected. The schools can also be regarded to have made a modest contribution to thinking on the issues of aims of education, curriculum design, pedagogy and teacher education. It has helped us learn and develop our thinking in education. Taking forward the learning and experiments in school, we were encouraged to contribute in educational discourse in mainstream education system.

With the encouragement and support from some like-minded organizations, we began to work with different organizations, and governments. The nature of our engagements with other organizations and governments have largely been of resource support and training. Over the last two decades, we had opportunities to work with multiple organizations and various state governments. Some of the major projects that we have taken up and successfully completed in the last two decades include the resource support to District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) in Madhya Pradesh, evaluation of DPEP impact in Kerala and capacity building workshops for personnel from eight Hindi speaking states. Working with State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT), Chhattisgarh to help develop their textbooks for elementary classes, and subsequently to develop their Diploma of Education Programme for teacher education. We also had chance to play significant part in development of National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 and subsequent textbooks. In collaboration with Government of Rajasthan, and other agencies, we undertook a large scale and major project called Quality Education Programme, in Baran district of Rajasthan. The Programme focused on developing in-service teacher education programme towards realizing quality education. We have also been working with Azim Premji Foundation to mutually contribute to each other’s programmes and initiatives.

Besides several other works and programmes, one of the initiatives which we consider worth-mentioning as part of introduction is our collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in their innovative post-graduate programme in Elementary Education. We were one of five collaborators in beginning the programme with responsibility to develop curriculum, and course contents and teaching.

The purpose of this brief introduction of Digantar is to underline the fact that all this has been possible because of our schools. Digantar schools serve three purposes simultaneously.

1. They address the local need of good quality education in a community where female literacy was less than 2% when we came to work in this area in 1989. The overwhelming majority of girls in the area who have completed elementary education are Digantar students. There is a visible change in girls’ participation in education and mothers’ participation in decision making regarding their daughters’ education.
2. We learn from the experience how to run good quality schools at the same cost per-child as the government education system in Rajasthan. This learning enables us to develop new ideas in curriculum, pedagogy and teacher education. The learning from the schools is used in formulating our own projects and capacity building at the state and national levels.
3. The direct experience in running of the schools helps us develop ideas that contribute to national discourse on education and schools serve as a site for field exposure in innovative good quality education for several teacher education colleges, government projects and other organisations working in elementary education.

Thus the Digantar Schools are contributing significantly to development of educational thought and practice in the country. It is generally recognised that continuous development of new ideas and practices are essential for healthy growth of any education system. For example the whole nation for last 3 years is grappling with the idea of Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) to better understand children’s learning trajectories and simultaneously do away with stressful and wasteful narrow examinations. Digantar schools are practicing such an evaluation system for last more than 30 years. Many of the pedagogical and curricular recommendations in NCF and RtE have been a normal way of running and organising schools in Digantar from day one of its inception.

As we all know, the funding environment in last decade and half has changed. Many of the donors have declared themselves to be direct implementers on the ground, thereby reducing Voluntary Agencies to the status of junior implementation partners without their own agendas. The other trend is to fund projects which bring about large systemic changes. There are very few, if any, who recognise that large scale systemic changes require ideas and practices concerning aims, curriculum, pedagogy and teacher education, that can be taken forward. The core ideas of change that NCF and RtE recommend are all generated and perfected at small scale schools in India and abroad. Drying out of support for schools that spot educational problems and develop solutions on the ground will emaciate the system in terms of new visions and ideas.

Digantar schools which have been running since September 1978 and have contributed to educational thought and practice in the country through last more than three decades are in danger of closing down after 31st March 2014. We have no supporter to continue the schools. It will immediately effect education of more about 500 children, majority of whom are girls; and will shut down one significant site of educational experiments.

Therefore, this introduction also becomes an appeal to seek further funding for these schools. If any reader happens to know a funding agency who might be interested in supporting such schools, we request her/him to forward this introduction and appeal to them.

Still hoping to continue the work we began 35 years back.
******

6 Responses to Digantar Schools: Will we be able to continue them?

  1. Aruna says:

    Dear writer, following response is with some concern and apprehension regarding the situation that you have described.I am not in a position to give any donors or any funding agency but would like to make certain suggestions as an outsider with some understanding of educational process and some impression of the funder’s dispositions. I have not visited Digantar school ever. But I recently visited an NGO which is catering to needs of differently abled children. This NGO runs a school, a day care center and certain special programs for people with disabilities like vocational training etc. I found that this is an extremely well funded NGO, even though at an outset the so called quality of education being provided did not seem to be well thought out (this may be an erroneous observation for a short two day visit) in terms of the educational experiences being provided for children in terms of pedagogy and curriculum. The institution gave a chaotic, routine school like impression. But it was certainly well resourced with personnel, infrastructure and special equipment. I observed that they housed a center for IGNOU and NIOS etc.
    To describe precisely this NGO appeared quite flexible a place.

    The point that I am trying to make is not that in order to attract funds a non profit institution with some serious objectives should compromise on its functioning but that the whole idea of philanthropy in a place like India converts into charity (on the grounds of Pity, sympathy, certain overt self satisfying acts of good will and largely for showing off). Now Digantar at an outset does not attract any of the above mentioned grounds (as per my assumption). And with present day educational scene a school either has to be a formal private, government (for poor) or trust school or a non formal elite, or special school as mentioned above. Digantar schools do not fall under any of the above criteria. It is a school with set ideology and philosophy which seems to be counter intuitive for a common parlance (especially for most commonest level thinking funding organisations). Now this situation leaves following options open:
    1)self sustenance through seeking fees from students
    2)Volunteership (personnel ready to work with no salary)
    3) To derive funds from other programs (like actually running some teacher training programs and offering certified teacher training courses to individuals and seeking fees from them, like a private institution)
    4)somehow collaborating with government for opening up centers like NIOS, IGNOU etc.
    5) packaging the Digantars programs in Flamboyant manner which can be convincing enough for the funders
    6) to rethink the schools ideology and philosophy with the principle of ‘something is better than nothing’

    I have surely made certain naive and utterly atrocious suggestions with no certainty of the fact that if these options were indeed sought by Digantar or no. This response is out of sheer apprehension and really mind boggling situation of education in our country. I seek forgiveness for making certain disturbing suggestions without prior permission or deeper knowledge about Digantar schools.

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    • Subir says:

      Aruna, You’ve captured the dilemma well. Digantar schools, apart from being manifestations of a kind of educational understanding that is clearly much needed in today’s scenario, are also historical institutions in their own right. Wonder if Digantar would be averse to ‘encashing’ this historical value by making the schools open for others to learn from, on a compensation basis? Like Aruna, advance apologies for any offense caused.

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  2. Rohit Dhankar says:

    Aruna and Subir,

    Thank you for your comments and no apology of any kind is needed at all. Your comments and suggestions are very welcome, really.

    We have got some respite, now an old friendly organisation (WATIS) has advanced support for a limited period, about 4 months. But we have to find a more sustainable solution, and fast, within a breathing space available. So help generate ideas and strategies.

    Some response below.
    Aruna’s comments:

    1) Self-sustenance through seeking fees from students: we may think of a 50-50 ratio. It will not be our first option, but if are in danger of closing down may change the character of schools to admit 50% children for fee and 50% for free. But we have no experience in it. Any further suggestions?
    2) Voluntary workers (personnel ready to work with no salary): I am very apprehensive of this. Will either turn the work into a cult or will not sustain. I was never a volunteer, no one in Digantar ever was.
    3) To derive funds from other programs (like actually running some teacher training programs and offering certified teacher training courses to individuals and seeking fees from them, like a private institution): Like Digantar schools our training has nothing spectacular. It is rigorous, gruelling, myth shattering, and puts people off. They take three years after the training is done to realise its value. However, we would be willing to organise some pedagogy workshops.
    4) Somehow collaborating with government for opening up centers like NIOS, IGNOU etc.: Hummm, any suggestions on how to go about it?
    5) Packaging the Digantar’s programs in Flamboyant manner which can be convincing enough for the funders: we have no objection to a truthful presentation, but there is nothing flamboyant about the schools, so cannot do that without telling huge lies.
    6) To rethink the schools ideology and philosophy with the principle of ‘something is better than nothing’: rethinking on ideology and philosophy has always been open. I believe the picture painted of Digantar as with ‘fixed ideology’ is wrong. The problem is that to change something (i) one has to show the weakness of the existing idea/ideology/philosophy. (ii) present one which is better. There are many changes in Digantar which are made on this basis in past three decades. For a more radical change people have to put in intellectual efforts. However, “something is better than nothing” is a democratic society is a dishonest principle. We are open to any kind of debate on this anywhere. Is surviving on the principle of ‘something is better than nothing’ as education for weaker sections in a democratic society worth it?

    Subir’s Comments:

    “Wonder if Digantar would be averse to ‘encashing’ this historical value by making the schools open for others to learn from, on a compensation basis?”

    Hummm, if by “encashing” you mean earning money to run schools in a transparent manner. Absolutely no problems. But, how to do that? Any suggestions Subir?

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  3. chintavishta says:

    Dear Prof. Dhankar,

    Asha for Education http://www.ashanet.org/ is an organization that helps raise funds for educational initiatives, especially alternative schools, like Digantar in India.

    Warmly,

    Mary Ann

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  4. Jyotsna Lall says:

    Dear Rohitji

    I read your blog with a feeling of deja vu.

    It seems only the other day when you had asked me to start thinking about a school that would cross subsidize the Digantar schools and then ICICI stepped in.

    I still think a cross subsidy model is workable – maybe through an in-situ arrangement in Kho and bandhyali like Aruna mentioned.

    Personally speaking, I am dismayed at the idea of Digantar schools closing down – new people do join the development sector, they need to learn about education – principles, pedagogy, management etc etc and without Digantar schools there will be a void.

    I also write with an advance apology if I am offending you – I think this might be the time to look at the way Digantar is managed. We have had this discussion so many times when I was working there that I even know the shape it will take 🙂 I will say Rohitji you always step in at the time of crisis and you will say that others need to take charge and take the idea forward – and the truth is that even now at the time of crisis you have had to step in. I am not sure that enough has been done to let others take charge.

    I honestly dont have any other ideas apart from the ones Aruna has mentioned. We could also explore the idea of resource schools in CBSE (again an old idea) that would would give funds and flexibility to Digantar.

    I am also confident that something will come up… how I don’t know but I honestly don’t see you giving up the idea of Kho and Bandhyali. 🙂

    Best

    Jyotsna

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  5. vishnuagni says:

    Rohit ji, what is the amount needed per year to sustain the 2 schools? And how much per student per year would that translate into. I dont have any ideas for a sustainable solution as of now….but maybe some individual/ company contributions can keep things going till some solution can be thought of- 3-4 people in my company offered to make some small donations when I forwarded this article

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