I recently asked Teddy to write a little about what good education meant to him. Although we do a lot more than run a school, learning and personal development is at the heart of it all. Below, Teddy explains how he interprets the relationship between school learning, the school environment, and the role of the wider community at large in learning. Teddy writes:
1/ KEY POINTS FOR A GOOD LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
When I was young, I wanted to be an architect…
The message delivered by my parents was clear : if you want to fulfill your dreams, you have to work well at school ! Which parents don’t say that to their kids ?! In a good proportion, it is a necessary pressure : Not enough, kids could take it too easy; too much, the pressure becomes insupportable.
Although, and it is the case anywhere, education has two origins : the one learnt at school and the one taught by parents. Both are complementary. One missing, and it is the all system of schooling that becomes unbalanced, and the chance to have kids « uneducated » or « bad educated » as we say, is higher. So, the transmission of knowledge from school and the transmission of values from families are the 2 main issues of children education to me.
Well, once we said that, the question could be : what is a good learning environment ? As an architect, I could simply and truly say that a good architecture made a good learning environment, especially true in remote area. Everybody is agree to say that a comfortable space to learn make kids more focus or more happy to learn, at school or at home. As adult, that’s what we think, and WE think like that for kids as well…
Concretely, let’see how it is going at Hunar Ghar :
Recently, and I would start by that because it is a wonderful progress, the Women Group is born. To me, it is the beginning of what it was missing at Hunar Ghar : parents education, to re-balance the system of schooling.
It is to me the first condition of a good learning condition : a school that teaches well and in a clever way like Hunar Ghar does and families aware of the work they ALSO have to do in term of education.
The first equation is simple :
GOOD school teaching + family responsibilities = GOOD learning SPIRITUAL environment
After this point, we could naturally say that it is enough, we could finally say that it is all what kids need to try to reach the « good education ».
Some people would say that a classroom is a classroom and there is no way it can contribute to kid better education. The other like me and EFL think that a well designed classroom and by extension a school is already a future success in term of education.
Our kids have the right to have nice schools, with all facilities such as cafeteria, library, playground, and so more to create a perfect environment of individual and collective mind development. So why every kid around the world wouldn’t have the chance to use this types of facilities? I mean, do the kids of Hunar Ghar deserve less good learning accommodation than the other small westerners ??
The second equation is as simple as the first one :
GOOD school teaching + GOOD INFRASTRUCTURE = GOOD learning PHYSICAL environment
2/ A SCHOOL NOT LIKE A SCHOOL
Since ever, architects design « beautiful », « interesting », « new » buildings in the hope that it gonna make users ( and themselves ) happy : happy that the construction is finally completes after a so long time and so much effort put into it; happy to get a beautiful building seen and liked by everybody, happy to use it comfortably like expected;…
The user is the structural key of the entire process, so building an architecture for kids force to a complete rethinking of the space. It is a basic return to the origins of a building, to its interior and exterior environment, which may be defined a places of total learning for young people. The perception of space that kids have vs the one adults have is totally different due to their mind ( not mature yet ) and their physical ( still small ).
Finally, what we try to create at Hunar Ghar is not a feeling of school ( adult perception of this institution ) but more a feeling of community ( kid perception of a living area ). That’s why it is a successful place to learn because kids don’t have the pressure of « to be at school » : the landscape, the school planning and the architecture make easier the sens of sharing : kids are not at school but in a place of exchange, a place of learning the life, a place of interaction as complex as it can be in an develop urban context. It is not because the situation takes place in a remote area that things cannot be complex ( in a good meaning ) : the classroom units spray on the site generate a flow of kid circulation very important to make alive the site : they use the existing stairways but they are also free to experiments other ways that their imagination can create. They are the actors of their own site.
In the theory of architecture, a circular space has always been seen as a very spiritual space, almost holy because of its heaven connotation; a space where everything is possible; a space of the imaginary rather than the real. On earth, people prefer straight walls with angles because it is more easy to furnished and live in. Which is understandable. But for Hunar Ghar, EFL tried to make circular space as a chance for kids to share a common education and be involved as the main caracters ( circular feelings : kids have the middle position so the most important ) rather than square spaces where kids look on the teacher on the same direction ( square feeling : kids are spectators and not actors ).
So the architectural choice of having round classrooms rather than square has also an impact on the learning environment : it can be interpreted as a space where the kid’s interaction is the most developed because the room has no corner and they face each other rather than look the teacher on the same direction, ignoring each other.
kids-students are the most important entity in the process of creation of a school. If they don’t have the central position, the design cannot be relevant.
How many kids hate going to school ? They rarely say that it is because the corridors are too wild, or the ceiling is too low, or that walls are too dirty. But we all get these impressions when we were young. As an architect, I cannot stop thinking that the quality of the concept and the quality of the construction have their own part of responsibility in the kid education…
3/ LEARNING FROM THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE SCHOOL
At Bakhel, the school is located in a place where climate leads to a very free use of space, one does not require intrusive technologies, but rather clear acts, which can be summarised in the protection from sunlight and in the attempt to convey air within certain limits.
Here at Hunar Ghar, the architecture presented itself primarily through the search of shadow and wind, primitive materials that, because of their essentiality, can become didactic media for children.
The engagement of the local population is an extraordinary method of connection with the territory in its institutions, such as school : in this way, the children learn the link between study and emancipation, between manual building and design, and cultures, efforts leading them to imagine a better world; the self-building, the dialogue with the population, the contact with apparently different worlds, contribute to a solid education for the kids, who are thus encouraged to see the school as a living space, as a physical manifestation of its students and teachers. Le Corbusier said : our task ( the one of architects ) requires the participation of everyone, in an orderly way, and not topsy-turvy : hierarchically and not denatured by artificial doctrines ( when the Cathedrals were white : a journey to the country of timid people )
Concretely, when we built the 3 last classrooms with a new way of construction ( bamboo for the roof or multi-windows for the walls ) the idea was obviously to show to people that another way was possible. Because in the local area, everything that people learn is mostly based on personal experience, get involved local villagers into the process of construction made then directly and concretely learn different methods. Then, having kids watching the job-site and sometimes helping for tiny tasks made them understand why the system of schooling is important. Also, seeing me, a foreigner, everyday at school, could give to kids this energy and desire to explore areas further than the one hour close-by city…
Finally, the best learning environment is the one that give hope and dreams to students. These dreams that can become true thank to the education. Having kids happy to come everyday at school with a strong open-mind and independence is definitely due to the quality of the learning environment : what it is taught ( education ) in a good environment ( architecture ) with the support of the local communities ( integration )
I finaly find some time to write about the 2 weeks I spent a Hunar Ghar at the begining of march. I was so glad to see again the people that welcomes me some years ago when I arrived to built with them the extension of the school… : smiling faces; kids yelling my name from very far in the landscape; or villagers coming to me with the local namaste ( ramram) ( hello), all those tiny things that are so important in those areas and when you come back for the second time 2 years after… I felt very good and confortable : unhabitants and I recognize mutualy each other from close, from far, after some time… whatever the « how », there is still this feeling of respect, untouched, between them and I that I could imediatly feel when I arrived at Mandwa or Bakel.
The 2 weeks passed very fast for sure. But we managed to plan some work for the coming months with Buriah, Gopal and Deepak, such :
finish the extension of the interns’accommodation ( still need to build the bathroom and the kitchen );
define the platform where we gonna set up the solar reflector for the solar cooking;
approve the location of the 2 independant stairs ( one that gives an access to the learning center – yellow room – and another one that gives an access to the workshop – red room – );
recover the school latrines with a proper roof;
Fix the water tanks to make them more waterproof ( 2 of them are suspected to leave the water going away because of some cracks ! );
and some other smaller things ( changed some things there, fixed some cracks here,… )
On the top of that, spending some times with villagers was also very important in order to keep strong the relation we have with all of them. I would like to specialy thanks Buriah and his family who welcome me for several nights and several diners in their humble house…
To conclude, I would like to say that the school is going well in an architectural point of view : what we build 2 years ago is still there and very healthy ! The bamboo roof structure of the 3 classrooms is still as strong as at the begining; walls seem passing the time without probem; all the system of stairways and circulation is now completely improved and the water harvesting system fully works in rainy time…
Only good news so far, and so much more for the future of Hunar Ghar…
Of course I met some new people and among them Neha, this wonderfull intern who makes an amazing work with the women of the villages around the school.
All of those extarordinary local people, all of those buildings, all of those situations, all of those cooperations, and of course all the teachers, Deepak, Ed and Ash, the trutees, and all the students make Hunar Ghar everyday….
Hi! I’m Neha and I’m thrilled to be part of the Hunar Ghar team this year! Since this is my first blog entry, I’ll just give a little information about me and my project. I was born and raised in a small town in New Jersey, and just graduated this past May from Duke University. I have always been interested in biology, but during my time at Duke, I began to learn about the huge spectrum of other factors that also affect health. I designed my major in Global Disease Control to understand the range of economic, social, and biological health determinants and to study how to enable health changes globally. Along with a passion to eliminate health disparities, I have a strong interest in education reform and I have worked on several education projects involving social entrepreneurship, English as a Second Language (ESL), and global health. I’ve also been a part of community health and education projects in Uganda and Latin America, and I’m extremely excited to bring all of these experiences to India, a country I’ve always felt a strong connection to.
This year, I am part of Indicorps, a fellowship program that brings together committed volunteers of Indian origin and grassroots development organizations in India. Through Indicorps, I have the awesome opportunity of partnering with Hunar Ghar, and I’ll be here in Bakhel for the next year. Our goal is to establish women’s groups in Bakhel, creating a space to engage and empower women in a male-dominated community. Through the groups, we hope to enable women to make their own informed health, social, and financial decisions.
After a month-long orientation with Indicorps in Ahmedabad, I arrived at Hunar Ghar in the second week of September. These first two weeks here have been a crazy and fun process of learning about Hunar Ghar and the Bakhel community. I’ve had a great time getting to know the Hunar Ghar staff and students, and I’ve spent several days visiting homes in Bakhel and meeting a variety of community members. There’s so much to learn about how everything works, from governance to the health system to social dynamics, and every day I’ve been discovering something new. Another main focus has been improving my Hindi and learning the local language, so that I can begin building relationships with the women here. In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with women individually and designing a survey to understand women’s current lifestyles and and what they aspire to change. I’m so excited to see where the project goes, and will keep updating as the project progresses with more details, but for now, that’s all- as they say in Bakhel, pasi avo (I’ll be back!)