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Asha for Education organizes its 30th conference

May 2022
Asha for Education organizes its 30th conference

The 30th Asha for Education Conference (U.S.) was held at Georgia Tech on March 26-27, 2022.

[Left] Asha for Education Conference team at Georgia Tech.

The conference ran simultaneously with the conference happening at Asha for Education (India) in Pondicherry. This enabled speakers in India to present to and interact with attendees in the U.S. The hosts— the Asha for Education (Atlanta Chapter)—were represented by several student volunteers. Volunteers from Seattle, U.I.U.C., Delaware, Cornell, Silicon Valley, and NYC/NJ had traveled to attend in person while more volunteers from not just other U.S. chapters but also from Zurich and London joined the conference virtually.

The conference, besides panel discussions, involved in-depth discussion on Asha’s vision and future, especially the various issues and inequalities that have been exposed during attempts at online education over the past two years. Binay Pathak, President, Asha moderated the discussions and questions from the U.S. conference, while Rajaraman Krishnan moderated the discussion from India.

The first plenary talk by Simantini Dhuru from Avehi Abacus outlined the numerous problems and possible improvements to the current education system in India, especially issues that have come to light with the nature of online education. She suggested creation of some spaces for children to ensure a community even when teaching happens online. The discussion also focused on the importance of supporting government school teachers and helping them. Dhuru also talked about a curriculum that her organization Avehi Abacus has been developing for children. It covers not only subjects but also sensitivity and inclusivity training for students and teachers alike.

Professor Jitendra Shah talked about his work towards making Mumbai a zero-waste city. Using tools from GIS software, he is preparing a platform that would enable children from all parts of the city to engage in problems in their own community. Through this social involvement, he hopes to enable the underprivileged to become more socially aware and engaged.

In the second plenary talk, T. M. Krishna had an insightful discussion with his mother, Prema Rangachary, on equity in education. They discussed co-learning and how that would promote multicultural education and inclusivity. Krishna also suggested encouraging all forms of arts in the classroom. The speakers pointed out that the main issue in realizing co-learning is the central focus of the curriculum. Students learning or pursuing non-mainstream skills were not accorded the same respect from their teachers and peers. Traditional skills and cultures need to be promoted, not just a onesize- fits-all approach which would only lead to people sacrificing traditional livelihoods and heading to cities for sustenance. Krishna and Rangachary talked about the work being done at their school, Vidya Vanam, a school for tribal and underprivileged children in and around Anaikatti, a village in the foothills of the Nilgiris, near Coimbatore. The school seeks to nurture children by encouraging traditional knowledge base and providing platforms for exposure to mold them into leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The talk was followed by a panel discussion with Krishna, Rangachari, Krishnan, along with Arun and Poornima Venkataraman, the coordinators for Marudam Farm School. Together, they had an insightful conversation on the status of the education system. Inclusive libraries for marginalized communities were suggested to promote equality. The discussion then moved on to talk about the Right to Education (RTE) as a way to bring equity in education.

Sankar Halder from Mukti, an organization that works in Sunderbans for community upliftment and education for the underprivileged, focused his talk on sustainable practices in education. Some of the points mentioned in ensuring the sustainability of education projects were the “training of teachers” model, sponsorship programs, and involvement of the community in taking ownership of projects. Mukti runs schools, support schools, a book bank, as well as a technology institute to teach technical skills. They sponsor scholarships for meritorious students who are struggling financially.

—Sushil Verma and Agniva Roy

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