Our Story

 

It all began in 1952 on the banks of the River Narmada in a village in South Gujarat. Shanta Gandhi, an educator with eclectic interests, and diverse training in science, theatre, dance and politics had started working with a group of children in order to develop a curriculum that had relevance to their lives. The atmosphere was informal and the curriculum not pre-planned. It evolved naturally in response to the needs of that group and as a result of her interaction with those children. Children asked questions about their surroundings, and the process of finding answers (through games, songs and discussion) led naturally to questions regarding human evolution - how life emerged, why we are what we are, how our lives have changed from the past, and so on.

Later, the curriculum was further developed in an experimental school attached to the B.M. Institute of Child Psychology and Development in Ahmedabad in the late 1950s. Here again, it was not based directly on the formal school curriculum but supplemented it.

After a long interval, the programme was taken up in the 1970s at the Bal Bhavan, in New Delhi. Children who came there were provided an opportunity to interact with teachers, writers and artists, and to explore their surroundings through art, drama and dance, while all the time asking questions and discovering the answers. Unfortunately there was another long break before the programme was revived in Mumbai in the 1990s. Since then, the Avehi Abacus Project has developed three integrated packages of educational materials for students and teachers in the formal as well as the non-formal streams of learning. These are Sangati, Manthan and Saath Saath. The programmes are meant to supplement and enrich the existing school curriculum, and not to replace it.

In 1990, the Avehi Public Charitable (Educational) Trust (APC[E]T) initiated the Avehi Abacus Project (AAP) in Mumbai to strengthen the quality and content of education in primary schools. With Shanta Gandhi as Director of the Avehi Abacus Project, the programme was now tried out in a formal school setting.

In 1990, the Avehi Public Charitable (Educational) Trust (APC[E]T) initiated the Avehi Abacus Project (AAP) in Mumbai to strengthen the quality and content of education in primary schools. With Shanta Gandhi as Director of the Avehi Abacus Project, the programme was now tried out in a formal school setting.

At Bal Bhavan, the programme had already been structured to move from an informal to a non-formal setting; now, it had to be further modified for students in the formal stream. Both in the informal and non-formal settings, there had been no constraint of time or of rigid classification of learners according to age groups. These factors had now to be taken into account in order to restructure the programme for use in ‘regular’ schools.

For five years from 1991 onwards, the Avehi Abacus Project programme was developed and tested at the Mahalaxmi Hindi-medium Municipal School in Mumbai. Beginning with students of Class III, the programme worked with a group of about 35 children till their graduation from Class VII. Every week Avehi Abacus Project facilitators conducted an hour-long session with these school children, and tried out strategies to enrich the existing school curriculum.

Based on this experience, and the realization that sustaining the programme would require the active involvement of teachers, the programme was modified again. Between 1996 and 2001, detailed session plans and visual materials were provided to teachers from 25 municipal schools, 35 NFE centres and two private schools. Training workshops were held with these teachers who then used the Avehi Abacus Project materials in their classes. Their feedback was invaluable in giving shape to the final curriculum.

Thus when the Sangati series was launched in 2001, it was based on 10 years of experimentation with a variety of groups in different situations in the formal and non-formal sectors. This new series was packaged in the form of six comprehensive teaching-learning kits for Classes V, VI and VII. Since 2006, the Sangati kits are part of the school curriculum in all the 905 municipal schools in Mumbai for students from Classes V to VII.

The Avehi Abacus Project has always responded to the current needs of schools, education and society.

While working with schoolteachers to develop and test the Sangati material we felt the need to interact more closely with them. We realized that teachers needed to be encouraged to learn to look at their own roles afresh; that there is a serious need for educators to examine attitudes towards education and society.

The Avehi Abacus Project has always responded to the current needs of schools, education and society.

While working with schoolteachers to develop and test the Sangati material we felt the need to interact more closely with them. We realized that teachers needed to be encouraged to learn to look at their own roles afresh; that there is a serious need for educators to examine attitudes towards education and society.

Despite the occasional acknowledgement by the government of the need for reforms, teacher education in India has remained virtually unchanged since colonial times, reflecting largely the colonial view of the teacher as simply a transmitter of a set curriculum, where knowledge is a ‘given’. The emphasis has remained on pedagogy, on teaching methodologies, rather than on engaging the teacher actively in shaping the content of the curriculum to make it relevant and use it as a tool to achieve larger educational objectives. But recently, there have been many attempts at innovation in curricular structures and methodologies at the school level. Of these, the most significant is the National Curriculum Framework 2005, which calls for improvement and enhancement of teachers’ skills. At the same time, the Right to Education Act of 2009 has thrown up new challenges.

We realized that any effort to reach out to teachers must form part of the professional training that they undergo, from the earliest possible stage. In other words, a Foundation Course for pre-service training – a course that would focus on the teacher’s role and their vital contribution towards making education truly meaningful. Avehi Abacus Project thus responded by developing the Manthan curriculum for trainee teachers at Diploma in Teacher Education (D.TEd.) courses.

It was tested in two Government recognized D.TEd. colleges with 200 students in Mumbai during the period 1998 to 2000. On the basis of feedback received from trainees and trainers, the project initiated the process of reviewing and modifying the course from 2007. The project has been granted permission by the Maharashtra State Council for Educational Research and Training for implementing the programme in the Panvel DIET (District Institute of Educational Training) and 10 other affiliated colleges.

It is hoped that exposure to Manthan will lead to an exploration both of what is taught and how it is taught in schools so teachers will become reflective practitioners, motivated to play a central role in transformative education.

There has been a growing movement in India and across the world, fighting for equality amongst the sexes. While this is necessary at every level of society and within every social institution, young people are rarely made aware of how insidious and deep set our ideas of gender roles are, and how dangerous gender discriminations can be.

There has been a growing movement in India and across the world, fighting for equality amongst the sexes. While this is necessary at every level of society and within every social institution, young people are rarely made aware of how insidious and deep set our ideas of gender roles are, and how dangerous gender discriminations can be.

To fill this lacuna in schools, Avehi Abacus Project developed Saath Saath – Living together in harmony, a teaching-learning kit on gender and gender sensitivity. Saath Saath addresses a variety of issues, ranging from how our ideas of gender are constructed, to the pressure that both boys and girls face when required to conform to strict gender roles, to how gender disparity leads to violence. It also focuses on what it means to be an empowered person and how we can empower ourselves and those around us.

The Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE), Mumbai took the responsibility to support the dissemination and use of the kits. As part of this process four workshops were conducted for 145 teachers of 98 ABE schools during August - September 2013.

The kit has received positive responses in the schools where it has been used, as well as in mainstream media.