There are a lot of opinions regarding the standard of education in India and the efficiency of teaching methods in schools today. Reniscience Education is an education consulting firm that has its finger on this pulse and is attempting to revolutionise the Indian education system. They work with teachers, children and schools to bring highly engaging, self-directed learning experiences inside and outside the classroom.
“Reniscience Education LLP is an education consulting firm born out of a desire to promote learning that is empowering, joyful and relevant to the learner,” states Founding Partner Purvi Vora. “We believe that all teachers are capable of teaching in this manner, no matter what their constraints. Our goal is to encourage and support these efforts at every level – classroom, school and curriculum. By empowering, we mean practices that foster choice and voice, that free the learner from ONLY one way of knowing, that create an emotionally-safe culture, that support meaning-making, that allow learners to feel successful and bring a high level of engagement through the learning process.”
Reniscience Education was founded in 2011 by two veteran science educators – Purvi Vora and Sangita Kapadia – who are determined to take science education in India into the 21st century through every opportunity that comes their way.
The City as Lab conference (being crowdfunded on Ketto) is one such attempt to provide children from marginalized communities an opportunity to participate in authentic research about their city. In true Project-Based Learning fashion, students will generate their own research questions, collect and analyze data, write a research paper that will undergo blind review and then present it in front of an authentic audience of educators and scientists.
“We have followed three basic criteria in selecting students for our first City as Lab Research Conference,” explains Purvi. “They must be from 5th to 9th Std, they must be enrolled in a government school or an NGO-supported programme, and they must be willing to work in groups of two to four.”
City as Lab is a three-month long research project that culminates in a day-long event on Sept 20th at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum in Mumbai. Students are guided by their teachers in generating research questions relevant to their lives and their city, collecting quantitative or qualitative data, analyzing the data, understanding the implications of their research, writing a research paper, revising it post-feedback from the panel and finally presenting it to an authentic audience. Since the teachers are continually supported through training and on-going coaching, the hope is that they will be comfortable and enthusiastic enough about the pedagogy to continue using it in their classrooms post the conference.
“Teachers undergo an initial day-long training programme that takes them through the process they will subsequently take their students through,” Purvi clarifies. “They then regularly submit their students’ work to us and we provide immediate feedback and suggestions. In addition, our coaches also conduct demo lessons in their classrooms to model the process, as many teachers struggle with setting norms, facilitating group work, differentiating, pushing student thinking without imposing their own ideas, etc. We have a team of five coaches who are in charge of certain schools and are always available to answer questions that teachers may have. In addition, we have created detailed lesson plans for every step of the process. These lesson plans span about 40 hours of teaching time. These are made available for free via G drive or hard copies.”
On the subject of making learning more effective, she states, “We need to invest in our teachers’ on-going professional development. For too long, the focus has been on teaching and we need to start thinking about LEARNING. In the 21st century, learning no longer means completing the syllabus, covering content and doing well in standardized tests. If anything, this is a huge disservice to our children. Students need to be equipped with skills like critical thinking, information fluency, effective communication, creativity and a problem-solving attitude. The purpose of schooling should be to develop resourceful, ethical citizens who have a high degree of agency. To do this effectively, we need teachers who meet the same criteria, and to achieve that we need professional development that is effective, backed by research and models best practices.”
Purvi continues, “We need to stop viewing professional development through a workshop model, which is often disruptive, discontinuous and expensive. Teacher education needs to be turned on its head, no matter the board (SSC, ISCSE, CBSE, IB…), to make it completely relevant, joyful and empowering for the teachers!”
On girl child education, the educator comments: “Even today, and especially in India, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) remain male-dominated fields, not because of a lack of talented women but more often than not, because of the expectations from family, peers and society about what it means to be a girl. When I told my parents I wanted to be an educator, their response was ‘that’s a great career for a woman.’ I fail to understand, to this date, what makes it so ‘appropriate’ for girls. As if our girls don’t face enough pressure already to look, dress, eat, walk and behave a certain way, the hidden messages in the everyday, ‘harmless’ things we say to them (sometimes with the best intentions) further limit their aspirations, passions and potential contributions to the STEM fields.”
Having led a charter school in Mumbai for three years, admission time has always provided Purvi with first-hand evidence of the bias that parents have. “Daughters were happily enrolled in our school while the boys were sent to ‘better’ private schools that demanded fees,” she shares wryly.
But the current state of affairs has not dampened the educator’s spirit nor diluted her vision for the future. “Our vision is that we start viewing education as a serious profession that requires thorough training, expertise and on-going professional development; that it becomes a profession that attracts talented, intelligent young people who are passionate about teaching and learning; that we accept the fact that today’s children and tomorrow’s adults need to be critical thinkers, participative and empathetic citizens with a high sense of agency… and that all of this has to begin in our schools. Our vision is that schools become places where the true LEARNING is the focus for every child, and the PROCESS of learning is empowering, relevant and joyful for every stakeholder. Our attempt is to contribute to this change in our own way by partnering with organizations, schools and individuals who are ready for change.”