Imagine a youngster leaving the comforts of city life and moving to a village. What does he do there? In Abhijit Sinha’s case, he started a school. Not just any school, but a school without a teacher.
“I worked with an IT company till I realised that the job wasn’t giving me any sort of satisfaction. There was an NGO called Jaaga which was moving to Banjarapalya, a village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, for a project. I moved with them. And that’s how Project DEFY (Design Education for Yourself) started,” says Abhijit.
The NGO gave Abhijit a room and a couple of computers to begin with. Slowly, children from the village started coming in and learnt to use computers on their own. They also figured out how to play games.
“When I saw this unfolding in front me, I decided that playing games should be the least interesting thing that these kids do. And so I started encouraging them to make things. I also introduced them to the internet,” he says.
The children started taking up small projects. They learnt to build things, identify problems, and find the solutions to these problems online or from each other.
Abhijit’s initiative became a big success.
He had not only children, but teenagers who dropped out from school and elders from the village, coming and making things at the space, which was later named Banjarapalya Makerspace.
In a Makerspace, people learn everything from painting to science, from music to farming, and from dance to technology. The community customizes its own space and uses the internet to guide it.
One of the first things the kids made was a vegetable cutter with a bucket and some old knives. Slowly, they moved on to much more ambitious projects.
When people want to build things, Abhijit and his team don’t directly help them.
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Instead, they encourage the people to find the solution to their problems from the internet.
For instance, there is a man in the village who wants to make a boat that will detect the level of pollution in the lake.
“He started making the boat with cardboard. Then he realised it would sink. Now, he’s making it from some other material, after researching online,” says Abhijit.
Abhijit has now become an advocate for classrooms without teachers.
He feels most children aren’t learning much in school anyway and it’s always better to learn using practical methods. Project DEFY has very low costs. Most of the material used to build these projects come from trash.
“It’s a scalable model. This is sustainable rural education. To make this happen in other places, we just need a willing community and a space. With a little push, they can get started,” says Abhijit.
In recognition of its efforts in the field of education, Project DEFY won the Global Junior Challenge, an international award, from among 1,600 other educational programmes.
Abhijit and his team are now working towards expanding this concept to other centres in Ballari, Nellore, Mattanchery, and Mangaluru.
Project DEFY is raising funds to replicate this model in other places. It also plans to develop a full-fledged mobile truck, with a creative space, that the members can deploy in various villages around Karnataka. To contribute to the fund, visit its page on BitGiving.