Independent Collective School takes the bold step of becoming Sri Lanka’s first formal educational establishment for alternative education
- Sri Lanka’s first formal ‘alternative’ school to open doors in January, 2024
- ICS will stand out from the ordinary as its curriculum includes a project-based learning experience
- According to global experts like McKinsey Group, the world will enter a completely different era post-2030
For Yasodhara Pathanjali, co-founder Independent Collective School (ICS), Sri Lanka’s first formal educational establishment for alternative education, homeschooling and alternative education has laid the foundation for herself as well as her children to explore the world through a different lens. ICS, which will start functioning in January 2024, in Kalalgoda (Western Province), will stand out from the ordinary as its curriculum includes a project-based learning experience with interesting subjects such as animal rights and welfare and creative writing. This School has its doors open for children between ages 4-18 years. With diversity at its core, even children with learning difficulties too can be a part of this exciting educational adventure. With no mandatory uniforms for instance, ICS is a unique, children-centred school that focuses on future forward education for students.
Homeschooling vs. Traditional education
“Having spent my whole life in alternative education, both as a child and as an adult who tutored, educated and coached, the passion and the knowledge has always been there to initiate a school of this nature,” Pathanjali said in an interview with the Daily Mirror. “This was even a childhood dream of mine. But the real push comes from parents who have been contacting me for years to seek help, as they felt stuck in a backward and harmful system with no choices,” she said.
Over the recent past, many parents have opted for homeschooling as they feel that children shouldn’t be competing against one another in a system that spoon-feeds the same subjects. “Homeschooling isn’t a ‘kind’ of education. It’s an opportunity for parents to create an education for their children. So it entirely depends on the parents, their intentions and abilities. To get the best education for a child, particularly a future forward one so that they can succeed in their adult life, we need to provide diversity of experience, practical and hands-on opportunities, real life exposure and responsibility and access to an education that takes their personalities, needs and interests into considering. This is what is termed as “interdisciplinary, trans-disciplinary and multidisciplinary” education by education experts. This is completely missing in traditional education. But it is very much possible in good homeschooling and modern (alternative) education,” said Pathanjali.
A vision for future forward education
UNICEF’s Global Framework on Transferable Skills discusses 12 skills which are deemed important in a child’s learning experience. These include cognitive dimension skills such as creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving; instrumental dimension skills such as cooperation, negotiation and decision-making; individual dimension skills such as self-management, resilience and communication and social dimension skills such as respect for diversity, empathy and participation. The key for setting up a future forward education system at ICS is that education for the future cannot be designed by “adjusting” education that was designed more than 150 years ago for the industrial era. “What we need is education that is designed solely on established, scientifically researched and expert backed methodologies to safeguard our children’s future.
The whole mess with the mainstream system is that they have been unwilling and unable to do this the way that experts have mandated it for decades now. And as the world changes faster and faster, it is our children who are paying the price for this. At ICS we have worked very hard to build on all the available science. We are the only school in Sri Lanka that will be covering each point on the UNICEF education mandate for future forward education,” she added.
Focus on alternative learning
Teaching subjects alone may not nurture children to adopt important life skills. The highly competitive education system has made children work hard for grades rather than learning subject matter and implementing them in their lives.“I really don’t think that the education that is expert and research mandated for future success of children should be called “alternative” anymore. It is modern education,” said Pathanjali. “According to global experts like McKinsey Group, the world will enter a completely different era post-2030. They predict that up to 30% of jobs will be lost because of AI before 2030. The IFTF report in 2017 stated that 86% of jobs that will exist post 2030 have not yet been invented. So with that in mind, we have to ask the question, how is traditional education actually equipping students for the future at all? The reality is that they are not at all. And we see that impact already in the current graduating generation, who are struggling to find work, struggling to cope with the working world and struggling because their qualifications mean so little. And we are not yet in 2030. So we are not seeing the worst of it yet. But it’s only 6 years away. So as a ‘modern’, future forward school, our focus is on making sure that at least our students are developing the skills and knowledge that is mandated by experts for their future success: Success beyond 2030,” she explained.
What is in store for the kids?
At ICS, which has been initiated as a project based learning school, or an interdisciplinary school, all subjects are taught via projects, with each project providing education across multiple subject areas. “For me Math, Science, Language, Creativity and Psychology are topics that have to be across every single project, because without proficiency in these we cannot succeed, no matter what industry we enter. Before we even started work on the school, we carried out an extensive market research to understand what Sri Lankan parents felt were missing from the education provision. Two key factors that came up was that children need to be able to explore and develop skills and experience in diverse areas that interest them, rather than be limited to the usual subjects. The other was that traditional education severely lacks any form of life skill development that we all need to actually function in the real world. So these are two key areas that we are very keen on building at ICS. We want our students to go out into the world the most interesting, competent, accomplished and diverse adults possible,” she said.
The curriculum at ICS will be assessed by Cambridge Examinations. “From the outset we wanted to base ICS in proven methodology, in real systems that can deliver future forward education to our students. Because the last thing that parents need to do is gamble on their children’s future,” Pathanjali continued. “So we made sure that every element of ICS is science backed and that our affiliations are all to the highest standard that they can be. Part of this was getting a teacher training curriculum from the US to train our teachers with. Another was our journey with Cambridge. When we explore the Cambridge ethos it was clear that it really aligned with everything that ICS stands for, in that it was about assessing the child and preparing them for a future without all the harmful elements that usually come with it,” said Pathanjali.
Importance of educational reforms
Academics and educational experts have been calling on successive governments to bring about educational reforms. But these requests have fallen on deaf ears. “I still don’t understand why this hasn’t been done,” she added. “In vast majority of the world, out of 195 countries I’m not even sure if at least five of them have started a proper programme of reform, even though experts have been calling on it for decades. “The most urgent calls have been made during the last 5 years, such as the UNICEF mandate which identifies 7 points as necessary for children to succeed beyond 2030, and calling for state level change, have fallen on deaf ears. Our children can’t afford to wait years and years for proper updates to education, because their entire ability to thrive in the future depends on it.
“I have been speaking to so many teachers and heads of schools in Sri Lanka in the last few weeks, with them asking me to advise them on rolling out elements of ICS in their own schools, and supporting the creation of environments for children to really develop. And I’m glad to take part in this work, because ICS will never be able to cater to all children, so in order to improve conditions for as many children as possible, we have to get involved and share the insights that we have at ICS,” she said.
Addressing learning disabilities
Many children with learning disabilities are left out of the mainstream education system due to lack of shadow teachers and experienced teachers. “I have so many parents reaching out to me with children who are Dyslexic or have ADHD or are on the Autistic Spectrum. The sad truth with many of these ‘conditions’ is that they are only conditions because we pit children against each other; we force them into unnatural education which goes against every natural learning instinct they have. Prof. Peter Grey, of Boston University, speaks much about this; about how education is now structured in such a way that it actively destroys a child’s natural ability, curiosity and interest in learning. How we then judge those children and label them and go on to ultimately punish them by reducing their ability to access success in life. I’m a mum of a Dyslexic child myself, and I see just how much better the situation is when the education for that child is personalised and designed just for them. How much better it is when they are not constantly labelled and compared. And every child should have this opportunity,” she affirmed.
Balancing work and life, especially while looking after a newborn is no easy feat, but Pathanjali is braving all challenges for the betterment of children. “The sheer workload is a major challenge. And it will continue to be hard work. Particularly as my youngest child is still only 1. The next few years are not going to be easy sailing, but the impact we can create, the way we can change the lives of our students and the way we can revolutionise education in Sri Lanka even in the tiniest way, is worth every commitment on our part,” she said.
A message to parents
“During the past two years the world has changed unrecognisably with the advancements in AI, and the changes will now get faster and more prominent in the next few years. All the research and expert guidance is there for any parent to access, that shows them that what traditional schools are offering is substandard. And it is being offered to their children. So for me it’s not that we need to convince parents to look at different education methods and systems. It’s more about asking what will happen when parents do wake up and demand for future forward education, and there aren’t enough provisions for children,” she said in conclusion.