Friday, July 20, 2007

Design inside education: A strategy for India

Yesterday I was invited to speak to a group of school teachers at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad about the need for placing design inside education if we are to bring change and effectiveness to the way our children are groomed to face personal and professional challenges as they pass through the education processes in the days ahead. Riverside School
The pdf file of my presentation to the teachers can be downloaded from my website link here.

Riverside School is setting new standards for primary and secondary education in the city and it is being noticed for the change that their efforts and style of functioning is bringing to the behavior and confidence of their very young students. They seem to be doing something right. Founded in Ahmedabad by Kiran Bir Sethi – an NID design graduate – a graphic designer turned educationist, it is now showing clear demonstration of the results that can come from using design principles and sensibilities at all levels of the school’s functioning. The infrastructure, the curriculum, the style of teaching and the content and delivery are all child friendly and not parent or government dictated as most other schools in our region tend to be. Being a designer herself and an educator by experience and choice, she has been able to create a unique framework of relationships and models of action that are a test-bed for a innovative new school experience for both child and parent as well as for the teachers who choose to work with Riverside, and now more schools from far and near want to learn the methods and have signed up for teacher training and curriculum sharing arrangements and the influence is growing rapidly. Kiran has now launched a campaign to make Ahmedabad a child friendly city by a design strategy called “Aproch” which can be seen at this site below. The Riverside School with design inside now promises to make the city child friendly – and next the country? APROCH

So what is this “Design” that Kiran and her team are managing to put inside education at Riverside and is this something that can be extended to more levels of education across India. Last year I asked this question along with my teaching colleagues at NID when we set the theme of the “Design Concepts and Concerns” (DCC) course for the Foundation programme students at NID. The course that is now called DCC was previously labeled Design Process (DP), Design Methods or Design Methodology (DM) in the past having been borrowed from international traditions of Bauhaus and Hfg Ulm as well as the RCA driven movement in the UK in the 60’s but I changed the name after teaching it for many years when we realised at NID that design was not just about concepts and skills and techniques but it was also about feeling and values which were at the heart of all the thought and action, irrespective of the discipline and the field of enquiry. In this DCC2007 we chose the theme of “Design inside Education” and assigned five batches of students areas of focus that included “Pre-school education in India”, “Primary education in India in the Rural and Urban sectors” respectively and the other two groups looked at issues and perspectives that would influence the “Education of youth in India”, all based on their own fairly recent immersion in the Indian school system from their personal journey through it.

Students were taken through a series of assignments that I have outlined in my paper titled “The Avalanche Effect”, which can be downloaded from my website and these assignments took them through the DCC course from articulating and visualizing their personal experiences, their collective experiences by brainstorming, followed by model building to understand the structure and content of the educational system as it applied to each of the focus areas that were assigned to each of the five groups. The first assignment had them sharing with us their school experiences which revealed both the pleasures and the traumas of school systems in India as scenario visualizations, some elevating and others shocking by the expressions that were shared in the class. During the class we all made a trip to Riverside last year and our design foundation students were both surprised and excited by the fluency with which the little kids from Riverside took them through the school and explained its working methods and teaching content and style, all with a great deal of confidence and pride.

Model showing: Issues of Pre-Primary Education

The DCC class of 2007 that set about exploring, researching and imagining alternate scenarios that could help them build models and identify design opportunities across each of the school educations sectors that had been assigned. The models suggested deep understanding and empathy and these led to each group exploring numerous design scenarios that could transform the education sectors in India by addressing imaginative and innovative alternatives for infrastructure, products, procedures, services and communications opportunities in each of their groups assigned projects.

Model using a tree metaphor: Issues of Rural Primary Education

This five week assignment was for the student a journey through the design landscape from the macro and the micro perspectives which is in keeping with our design philosophy of macro-micro design action from policy to the very minute details, all of which have to be in perfect fit and balance if the design is to be truly successful as a whole and not to be seen as fragmented parts.

Model using "Nataraja" and Creeper metaphor: Issues of Youth Education and Renewal of existing systems

Education is just one of the 230 sectors in which design can be used at the macro-micro levels of action and I do hope that we see it being used more in India in then days ahead. Other themes in the past for this DCC course have been macro issues such as “Impact of Globalisation” (2004), “Khadi as an Ideology for Design” (2003), Retail as an Emegring Experience (2001), pictures of which can be seen at my website from this link below. Others which are not yet on the site include “Creative Industries of the Future” (2004), “Six Design Institutes for Six Regions of India” (2005), “Response to the National Design Policy for India” (2006), “Design inside Education for India” (2007) – each year we took a new theme and this went back many years, but are still to be documented, hopefully soon on this blog. For instance “Home Office and New Services” was the topic for the 1996 batch of foundation students which was particularly memorable, but others will also be reflected upon and discussed in the days ahead.

The author's home page can be viewed at this link Prof Ranjan's website

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