No limit to learning

Emily Mignanelli and her filmmaker husband, Michele Brocani are promoting an alternative system of schooling

October 15, 2016 04:58 pm | Updated December 01, 2016 06:06 pm IST - Kochi

For MP

For MP

In her own way, Emily Mignanelli is changing the way people regard education. She runs two democratic schools in Italy, where teaching does not exist, only learning does. Eight years ago, when she set up a nursery, called Lilliput, in a public garden at Osimo, for children between one to three, Emily just wanted to give children a space where they could be themselves. “I remember I had felt uncomfortable all through my school life. It was much later that I learnt that school doesn’t prepare you for life,” she says.

Emily, with her filmmaker husband, Michele Brocani and son Vittorio, was in Kochi as part of their journey to a few Indian cities visiting schools offering alternative education.

She ventured into education when it dawned on her that she didn’t want for Vittorio what she had had in the name of education.

Lilliput follows the Montessori system of learning, which lays stress on the natural development of a child, and ‘Serendipita,’ her school for children between three and 10 years, follows a democratic system of education. Democratic schools seek to imbibe democratic values into education. “Basically it means, we cannot set limits to what a child is capable of learning.

Children can decide what they want to do. They can choose their activity, they can cook, run in the fields, climb a tree or study,” Emily says.

By the time a child turns 10, he or she begins to think critically and finds solutions. This is where the system empowers the child. “We teachers don’t tell them what is right or wrong. We don’t impose our thought processes on them. They sit together and arrive at their own resolution to a problem. It creates a healthy social dynamic and also helps them build their identity.”

The children don’t depend on text books; learning is encyclopaedia-based. “Contrary to what one might believe, learning is spontaneous. Children absorb concepts and language from their environment. They don’t need to be taught reading and writing and basics of mathematics. They start to read, write and count on their own. We just provide the environment with the required materials for them to use and explore. We are just facilitators,” Emily says. Every day, the children in her schools make different things together.

They often bring their own games to school and there are no hard and fast rules. The thrust is also on the teachers who don’t talk down to the children, which is why there are fewer instances of bullying in such schools. “Bullying is nothing but a child copying what an adult does to him or her,” says Emily, who did extensive research on alternative education methods before setting up her schools. In her many interactions with pedagogists and universities, Emily learnt that many of the problems children encounter in their childhood are created by the school.

The focus of alternative education is not on what the children do, but who they are. “We try to make the parents understand that first. In fact, we have to work more with the parents, educating them and opening their eyes to a new way of thought,” she says.

Michele, Emily’s husband, is planning to make a documentary on alternative education and he says its objective is to make people think.

“Education all over the world is competitive. It does not help you know who you are.” In Italy, where public education is free until 18-19 years, not many people realise the need for a different way of learning,” he says.

“What parents dependent on the public education system don’t often realise is that they end up spending much more on the child for additional classes, sports or counselling,” Michele observes.

According to Emily, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is increasingly bandied about in public discourses on education and child development, is not a real problem. “Only three per cent of the children actually have it. The rest of the children are misdiagnosed with ADHD; it is actually a dysfunction caused by the school system, which puts undue pressure on the child.”

Emily and Michele spent time at Bhoomi school in Kochi, which follows a Waldorf-inspired system of learning (also an alternative system). They would visit a couple of more schools in other parts of the country, sharing their competence to these schools, before leaving for Italy.

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