A Step Away From Traditional Indian Education ft. The Learning Wala STUDIO
What good is education without its application? Education in our early years of life is important and we are constantly told to focus on our studies to build a better future for ourselves. But how much does our education system really teach us?
In a year, around 6.5 million students graduate in India and only 45.9% of them are employable. One of the reasons for this huge gap is lack of practical knowledge. For the most part of our education, students are pushed to focus on getting good results and scoring high while the real knowledge and learnings get sidetracked.
With the education system currently in place, students are encouraged to focus on exams regardless of their interests in a particular subject. In a world where having a degree is much more valued than having skills that speak for themselves, we have Mihir Pathak, who proves that conventional learning isn't the only best way to learn.
Coming from a humble household in a small town like Padra, in the Vadodara district, Gujarat, Mihir Pathak was once a student of conventional learning just like the masses, who chose to drop out to learn not alone but with many more students like him.
Learning cannot take place without the right environment and the right mindset for it, and the initiative by Mihir, the Learning Wala STUDIO, provides that platform and an environment where students can explore, learn, and put their knowledge to use at their own pace. The entire focus is on getting them skilled for real life.
How it all started
After completing his 10th grade, Mihir wasn't sure of what was next for him and wanted to take some time to figure out his interests. He always believed there was a world outside the books where he could learn through experience. He wanted to study the arts but was persuaded to study science instead. The knowledge that was being provided at his school wasn't enough to satisfy his longing for experiential learning, so he decided to find it outside his school. Vadodara was a new place for him, coming from an unknown town, and many things in that city fascinated him, including the technology.
Mihir found out about websites for the first time after he came to Vadodara during his 10th grade vacations and was amazed by the possibilities of a website and its worldwide reach. He was curious to know how a website is made and wanted to learn all that went behind building one. So, Mihir started to approach various website designing agencies as a customer and started getting insights on their processes of building websites until one finally caught him. Upon hearing the truth, the agency did not get rid of him but instead offered him a job in marketing and would also give him an opportunity to learn more about the building of a website. This was the beginning of Mihir's journey of practical learning. After learning about website designing, Mihir decided with some of his friends to start his own website making venture. This was the time when Mihir started indulging in different volunteering programs.
Mihir's love for learning, teaching and children
With the money he earned from his marketing and website designing ventures, Mihir decided to get into social work. He started volunteering for different initiatives like Ramkrishna Mission, Vikram Sarabhai Cognitive Science Centre, and different schools where he taught children from different age groups. This is where Mihir discovered his love for being around children. "While I was volunteering, I figured that when I am with children, it is very fulfilling and satisfying. It is the place where I feel alive", said Mihir.
Mihir longed for a place that would satisfy all his interests in drama, technology, and literature, and the Muni Seva Ashram, Vadodara, gave him the platform for it. The Ashram, which housed a hospital and schools starting from primary to higher secondary, was the perfect opportunity for Mihir to explore himself while guiding the rest.
After his 12th grade, he started teaching language to the 1st grade students and computer and theatre to the older students at Muni Seva Ashram. Here, he got an opportunity to experiment with project based learning where the students wouldn't depend on theory alone but would practically learn how things work in the real world.
Mihir has contributed to the multi-level multigrade programme for 1st to 4th grade students where participatory learning was a priority. He also created a community science lab and a computer lab at the Muni Seva Ashram.
He also worked in the tribal area of Gujarat, Dharampur, for three whole years, where he conducted projects with the students at the Sarvodaya Vidyalaya. The aim there was to empower the tribals enough for them to be able to sustain the urban world and enhance their lifestyle.
The Learning Wala STUDIO
The Learning Wala STUDIO is an initiative started with the aim of promoting self-directed learning. Tired of the conventional education system, Mihir thought of an urgent need for ventures where young children get space to explore their interests before they decide what they want out of life. "The initiative offers different types of learning through workshops, experiential learning camps, yatras, and learning festivals to get more involvement from students. "We take up projects related to topics like filmmaking and computer learning and create workshops on those particular topics.", said Mihir.
Mihir, who is the sole worker behind the Learning Wala STUDIO initiative, collaborates with various firms in order to conduct 'Learn with Fun' workshops and experiential learning camps. When a student becomes a part of these experiences, they not only learn about the particular topic, but they also learn to explore the topic from various lenses of drama, science, literature, and much more. The initiative offers workshops in diverse fields like theatre, farming, coding, computer and any other skills that a student wishes to acquire.
When the heart is in the right place, everything else falls into place
Mihir believes that the reason for his success in these ventures has been the support of the people around him who have always stood by his side in all his initiatives. “One of my favourite memories is when we were planning an experiential learning camp and there were a lot of unknowns, such as accommodation, and many people came out to help for the cause, and everything just fell into place, and we were able to organise a successful camp”, he fondly recalls.
Over time, many situations crossed his path where he was challenged with difficult situations, but his motive never budged an inch. He was always clear about his vision, "We are not just learning for ourselves, we are learning for a better world.", and that is what inspires us all. Giving for Good Foundation salutes Mihir Pathak’s will to break through the conventional education system and create a safe space for students to learn, grow and explore their interests.
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Bhairavi Hiremath