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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.
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