Guest Column: Responsibly Yours
by A Lajwanti Naidu & Gaurav Bhan Bhatnagar
Emphasis by ancient Vedic scriptures on travelling and its importance in modern education
By A Lajwanti Naidu
Our ancient scriptures from Vedic times have emphasised that practical and holistic learning can be imparted by travelling. The term ‘atana’ in Sanskrit literature means going out. Out of this derived the three most important words Deshatana, Thirtanaa, and Paryyatana.
• Deshantana means going out of the country for knowledge and economic gains
• Thirthana means visiting religious and spiritual places for Spiritual gains
• Parytanaa means visiting various destinations for knowledge and pleasure
To supplement the above deliberations, in Ramayana Rama and Lakshmana were sent to study with sage Vishwamitra and Vasishta. The Kauravas and Pandavas learnt from the great warrior teacher Dronacharya. In spite of the luxuries these princes lived, they were moved out of the comfort zone into a Gurukul to adopt themselves to guru shishyaparampara style of living.
In today’s modern world where devices are used for Development and Technology for teaching, a student is unable to comprehend the essentials in education. Therefore it is important for us to incorporate travel experiences in education sector. And not just another travel experience, but a responsible travel experience.
It is imperative that every student learns the A-B-C-D-E of Responsible Travel –
• Authentic learning
• Biodiversity learning
• Class room learning outside class room
• Demonstrative learning
• Experiential Learning
Steve Revington defines authentic learning as real life learning that encourages students to create a tangible, useful output to be shared with their world. Instead of vicariously discussing topics and regurgitating information in a traditional modality, students indulge in real life tasks, or simulated tasks that provide them with opportunities to connect directly with the challenges of real world.
Our greatest short coming in education in past few years has been to ignore the brain research that affirms implementing multi-sensory activities, pursuing meaningful tasks, and exploring a variety of skills that involve stimulation of the five senses. Neuroscience shows that using all senses maximises the learning experience. Optimal learning is interacting, innovating, exploring, and collaborating for meaningful outcomes while having ample time to nurture a greater depth of reasoning.
In an authentic learning model the emphasis is on the quality of process and innovation. It’s about allowing students to pursue individual learning opportunities that are unique to their interests, through real life processes. It’s about engaging in activities that students care about and can be immersed in a meaningful experience.
The academic curriculum in science talks about species of plants, birds, and animals. But the course books and even the modern visual stimulation based learning systems do not give practical experience. Thus nature walks and rural travel has to be a part of the education system. The United Nations Development Programme on education can help us better understand the value of biodiversity and the causes of biodiversity loss. It also gives examples of how educators and students can help conserve biodiversity. It aims to increase public awareness of biodiversity issues by inspiring stakeholders, including young people, teachers and media professionals.
One country alone cannot achieve sustainable development. It requires an intentional and sincere international effort. Indigenous knowledge systems developed with long and close interaction with nature should drive the modern knowledge systems. Scientific knowledge of the Earth’s history and mineral resources, knowledge of ecosystems and biodiversity, and the interaction of humans with ecosystems are important to help us understand how to manage our planet for a peaceful and sustainable future.
Activities like river rafting nature trails, Kayaking not only stimulate the child physically it gives a sense of responsibility to keep the rivers clean.
Classroom learning outside classroom
Traditionally, the education system in India was Gurukul based with Guru shishyaparampara as its pivot. Teachers like Droncharya or Vishwamitra wanted their students to learn from nature, which, in modern terms we call Wilderness education.
Several countries are now adopting to learn outside of the classroom. This kind of education system states that every young person (0-19yrs) should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development, whatever their age, ability or circumstances.
The next section below talks about practical implementation of Responsible tourism and role of a Responsible tour operator. However, before a student embarks on a journey to explore the world, it is imperative to get well versed with his own country and its people. Work of a Responsible tour operator is not only to build travel arrangements, accommodation, and coordinate a programme. Their work encompasses direct benefit to the social, financial and environmental well being of a place and its people. Their work is to design best practices, deliver trainings, standardisation of sustainable processes and initiatives at grass root level to enhance micro-entrepreneurship with minimal impact on environment and bio-diversity.
Students at a very young age require the knowledge, skills and understanding to live in and contribute to a global society. This begins with an understanding of the world in which we live, including the languages, values and cultures of different societies.
These activities help to develop self-esteem, self-confidence, decision making and independence. They also give young people the opportunity to experience other cultures, meet and develop new friendships and thus broaden their horizons, communication and leadership skills and practical knowledge.
Demonstrations can be used to provide examples that enhance lectures and to offer effective hands-on, inquiry-based learning opportunities in classes or labs. Current research suggests that not allowing young people to engage in independent mobility and environmental learning denies them the opportunity to develop the skills and resilience that they need to be able to be safe and manage complex environments. There are also indications that such restrictions have long-term implications for young people’s future development, health and well-being.
It is sometimes argued that exposing young people to any risk is dangerous. In fact, the opposite is true. Teaching young people to manage risks for themselves and take sensible decisions makes them safer. It also helps them to develop as mature adults, responsible and mindful of others.
Learning outside the classroom helps young people to develop the ability to cope with and experience a wide variety of challenges. It requires them to make informed choices and to understand and take responsibility for the consequences. It leads to a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. Risk and challenge can be provided in all learning outside the classroom contexts – from activities within school grounds, to adventurous expeditions overseas.
The challenges which young people face in many learning activities outside the classroom require the management of risk. Managing risk through appropriate planning, supervision, proper equipment and a regard for other factors such as the weather or the time of day is what contributes to making these activities safe for young people while still offering sufficient challenge. These activities not only give young people the opportunity to manage risk for themselves, but also provide wonderful opportunities for them to be actively involved in risk management planning.
It is a philosophy and methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with students in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values. Experiential learning is also referred to as learning through action, learning by doing, learning through experience, and learning through discovery and exploration, all which are clearly defined by these well known maxims:
• Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis
• Experiences are structured to require the student to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results
• Throughout the experiential learning process, the student is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative and constructing meaning
• Students are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic
• The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning
• Relationships are developed and nurtured: student to self, student to others and student to the world at large
• The instructor and student may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of the experience cannot totally be predicted
• Opportunities are nurtured for students explore and examine their own values
• The instructor’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting students, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process
Realising the change – Experiences from a traveler and entrepreneur in Responsible travel
By Gaurav Bhan Bhatnagar
You will instantly relate to this if you are a parent. In the race to give your children the best modern education, have your children somewhere lost the connection to their land and its people? Are your children spending too much time on internet, phone, video games and less time playing real games outside? Are they facing relationship issues because all that they have experienced in the name of relationships is random friend requests and post likes on Facebook? Do they have lack of clarity about what to do in life, lack of patience, lack of capability to solve problems independently and lack of tolerance to life’s issues? Do you think that the more you try to give a direction to your child’s life, the more your child resists it as unnecessary and unwanted preaching?
I was once leading a workshop on travel writing for students when I asked them about where the vegetables and fruits come from? I was surprised to see blank faces. The students did not know that we get our food from farms. The students belonged to one of the top university of India. It makes me re-think about the kind of education we are delivering. When I asked them about what they wanted to become, they responded with answers like – Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Businessmen, or Engineer. But when I asked them about how their choice of career will benefit the people and what skills will they develop to solve people’s problems, they did not have an answer. They had never thought this way.
Students go through extreme pressure of studies, of building a career and earn a living, of getting influenced by glamorous life without knowing the hard work behind it. It is also important to keep them grounded. But that does not happen by giving them daily pep talks. It comes by exposing the children to various facets of life. And the best way to expose them to it is via travelling. Allow them to travel to far flung places in India and live with local communities. Allow them to meet new people and discover new places that no one has ever heard of. Allow them to volunteer, make mistakes, fall and then make things right themselves. Allow them to go through a process of self discovery.
But why should we do it? Parents have often asked me this question with a look of bewilderment on their face. They often ask me – Are you saying that travelling is more important than marks in school subjects? Are you saying that we should ask children to leave studies and wander off to unknown places? I certainly don’t mean to say any of those. What if I tell you to expose them to the right kind of travel experience that makes them learn life skills?
That is where Responsible Travel comes in picture. I visited Kumaon back in 2012 with a group of American students. We lived the lives of a local and each daily activity taught us a new lesson. We started with gathering food from the farms, cooked, and then served it to everyone in the village while the women sang local songs. I remember one American girl crying out loud. She had never experienced a sense of community and love. She hailed from a dysfunctional family where her parents never got along well and lived separately (although not divorced). She had gotten used to do each and everything in her life on her own. She had grown to be a person who was smart, strong and independent from outside but lonely and scared from inside.
During her interaction with the village community of Kumaon, she experienced the sense of belongingness and love. Although she was only a teenage girl, she had stayed away from the child inside her. She shared that she was now able to happily accept people into her life without the barriers of their economic background, race, religion and geographical location. She experienced a freedom which will catapult her career and life to another level. She had gone beyond the negative news pieces that she heard daily. She has gone beyond the barriers which people put around us by telling us how bad this world is. For the first time she wanted to go back home and hug her parents. She no longer had the need to be independent, strong (and alone) but a part of a community.
It has taken us years of hard work and sleepless yet excited nights to gather the still miniscule knowledge we have in Responsible travel. We have implemented standard operating procedures which include safety, responsible travel, sanitation, safety and a responsible system to distribute money that our customers pay. When children on our trips learn with excitement the basic practices of waste management, it leaves us with a satisfaction of having made a change in society. They also learn respect, contribution, living in a community, leadership, communication and love.
The west is currently going through the turmoil of broken relationships and lack of direction in life. Ironically, we are teaching our children to follow the west. I have got the best education in a convent school and then in an engineering college. According to what they said, I was ready to take on any challenge in life. Let alone any challenge of life, I wasn’t even ready to take on any challenge in my job when I completed engineering. I had grown up to be a person that hated India and wanted to migrate at the first opportunity. I had grown to be a self centered and arrogant person. The initial enthusiasm of getting a new job somehow helped me push through the first three years. But soon I was left with a sense of no direction, confusion, suffocation and other emerging societal pressures. My conventional education hadn’t given me skills to deal with such situations, but 5 years of travelling did. I gladly steered my career towards travel writing but not every student or a freshman in job gets a chance to do so. Why not train our children at a very early age?
Now what next? As a parent if you are considering exposing your child to life’s learning skills through responsible travelling, the next question is – “How”. Such a travel experience would generally take them through activities like exposure to local communities, wilderness education, training on communication and observation skills, volunteering, farming, exposure to environment issues, training on living a balanced and sustainable lifestyle and many more that develop their holistic personality. You can begin by approaching your child’s school and asking them if they do such activities. The Folk Tales (www.thefolktales.com) provides career growth, entrepreneurship and leadership programs for children that are activity based and trains children in life skills through Responsible Travel. You can begin by enrolling your child into one of such trips.
As parents we have seen tough times and have worked hard to earn a living. Naturally, we want our children to get the best. But in that process, do not forget to make them street smart. Make them a problem solver and an innovator, not a mere follower of the masses.