BENGALURU: At 22, Abhijit Sinha who had just finished college was like any other engineering graduate in the city.
A decent job at a swanky IT firm, where he toiled 9 to 5 during weekdays and partied hard during weekends. But something just didn’t seem right. “I somehow did not fit in the 9 to 5 schedule. I felt insignificant in the larger context of the work,” he says.
Six months later, Sinha quit the Bengaluru-based software company in 2013 and followed his true calling — teaching . He has since not had a salary or a real employment.
In 2014, Sinha started an unconventional school in Banjarapalya, a small village in the southern outskirts of Bengaluru under Project DEFY .
The school however isn’t anything of the ordinary. For starters, there are no teachers and the system is based on peer-to-peer learning model, where participants learn whatever they like from each other.
“The learning happens by sharing knowledge. The local community, the visitors, your friends, the Internet are the teachers for you - while you are also a teacher for others,” explains the Mumbaikar.
Sinha has built a makerspace ecosystem where children and adults can learn almost anything they like — painting, music, math, science, farming or technology.
“Do you use calculus every day? I don’t. But the point is I can learn calculus if I really want to. The problem with the traditional education model is that it offers 10 subjects with as much diversity as possible, with hope of at least 1% retention or possibility for use,” he says.
“What is more important is to take up something that I really want to learn, or create something and learn the pre-requisites then,” he adds.
Sinha’s project lets children and adults (who also come to learn) create their own learning paths and decide what they want to make. They then find the information and skills they need to learn for it, either from people around, or from the Internet, or books.
This unconventional mode of learning has made several innovative makers out of the young minds at this school.
“My favourite innovation is this taser that a 19-year-old made out of an old electric mosquito bat that women could use for their safety. Cost almost no money, just a broken bat. he is now a Ashoka youth venture fellow with this project,” says a proud Sinha.
The children at this school get frustrated initially while transitioning to a regular education system, where they have to stick to time tables and a fixed curriculum picked for all and not customised to their liking.
“The contrast is not just about the skills they learn, but also of the atmosphere. The children start comparing the hierarchical and fearsome methods of the school to our much more relaxed and self-directed methods. Nobody will scream at them or hit them if they make a mistake here. However, then as all things mature, they get used to this contrast,” says the 25-year-old.
Sinha affirms that the transition to conventional education is okay when it comes to college as the students would still carry forward their thinking, imagination and curiosity inculcated during their stint at Project DEFY.
Sinha presently has built two such learning spaces — Kaggalipura in Bengaluru and Badge in Mangaluru. Students from the two villages attend the learning sessions here, irrespective of what school they belong to, or even if they don’t go to one. As many as 250 participants have been part of the space so far.