A Rewarding Journey Uphill

  • By Thamarai Selvan (MA Education, 2013-15) first published in Karvaan 2017

Travelled all the way from Madurai for a two-year program. It was a big risky decision which I made in my life when my wife was carrying our first baby. I came to the university with the mind that, if it suits I can continue if it does not suit, let me quit and continue my previous job. It was surprising to know that many people left their high-paying jobs and chose social space as their future career. Thus, the crowd was a mix of those in their late 30s and 40s, and some who just got out of their under graduate program. They engaged in different interests (geography, economy, social and linguistic) and the army comprised of people from J&K to Madurai. The single factor that threaded them together was that they were guided by a passion towards building a better society.

The welcome note for the batch was organized and a panel discussion was also arranged. Few faculty and students talked about the life at the university for the first year students. Finally the Man of the Field Mr. Peri, (with a long kadhi kurta and jolna bag) came and shared his experience from North East Karnataka. It was a representation of what is happening in the field (at the foundation). It made my mind to freeze there in the campus, “Yes, we have come to the right place, we can stay here”. If we didn’t listen to him we wouldn’t know whether we would have continued or not (in Azim Premji University) who quit our job and took the two year program which is serious and academically rigorous in nature.

The next two years went at lightening pace with variety of academic engagements starting from readings, assignments of varying nature – like film making, travelogue, on-field assignments, preparing materials and story cards for minority languages, reading aloud and arranging story festivals for children, regular two-year school visits, travelling to field institute for doing field research, teaching in and after school children’s program (for two months) for our own understanding of subject pedagogy, staying at an alternative school for two weeks to understand their vision of schooling and how they are integrating subjects and transacting the curriculum which they conceived and agreed upon and also conduct a small level research based on the way in which teaching learning happening for a particular subject not to mention the 40 – 60 GB of course and course aligned material (I just checked my folder size and this is after deleting and organizing files). When you read the course material and come to class it will be an wonderful session if you not read the paper it will not be a participatory and you will be a mere spectator (passive observer). It was fun and at the same time enriching experience when people will be contesting social theories with their own personal experience it is similar debate between structure and agency.

It was a two year journey of theory and practice. Normally in many institutes and university, they have few faculties who can think out of the box and come from multidisciplinary background but in Azim Premji University most of them are of this kind that’s why it stands alone in alumni’s mind forever. This university is unique because as an institution it thinks like an out of the box academic institution and provides all the facilities and exposure to students. Since it is a university it has the flexibility and placid system to approve or disapprove or grant a program for study so it is convenient to offer liberal programs to students or professionals who want to come to social space with some balancing academic and practice. Almost for all my course I have done field work (I think except PoE). Which helped me to develop a holistic understanding.

When I started my practice it was a chosen and deliberate decision to start with APF which aligned with my personal vision on education, society and social change. When we graduate out of a program and started practicing we found that there is a big gap between the course and the practice. That’s customizing the strategies and approach which suits in the area (geography, local culture…) in which you work. We may have studied many approaches and research papers which succeeded in other parts of the country or world, in education domain or teacher professional development in particular. But when it come to a teacher’s classroom you have to customize based on that particular classroom’s needs. Here, you have to understand the teacher, the pupils, the head teacher, the local educational administrative officers, the community and many more…

So as a practitioner, we need to be very humble and patient before we started reacting or working in given situation. We have to initially observe how things in the field work and how can we contribute to the team or organization better. If we keep that in mind and start working it will give us a great pleasure when we are in the social field. But if we start looking and theorizing and begin critiquing things with an ideal state and critically looking at everything, it will become a danger for us as well us for the organization.

So as a graduate of the university we need to think twice before making a statement or generalizing things or making a judgement. This kind of a behavior will draw people’s attention too, and they will begin to listen to us. This way, we can make constructive changes, easily. It is a great four (2+2) year journey which I am continuing (from university) at our foundation.


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