The boy who understood education

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 03 Dec 2017 11:22:55




BABAR Ali epitomises what education should mean -- to anyone. In his mid-twenties, this rustic-looking young man stands taller than his own frame, but is all the time shrinking within himself, terribly uneasy talking about himself, telling his own story. Yet, his presence has a mesmeric effect on the surroundings. To address the Sixth International Principals’ Educational Conference 2017 he came to Nagpur, and won over every heart with his transparent honesty and integrity.

His story is now known to many. He was just nine years old, and went to a school 10 kilometers away-- by bus and on foot -- in Murshidabad area of Bengal, near the Bangladesh border. What he studied in the school thrilled him. So, back home, he would collect kids in the neighbourhood and teach them what he had learnt at school a few hours earlier, his own sister being his first student. Thus, at 9 years of age, Babar Ali became the world’s youngest Principal of a school which he eventually named Anand Vidya Niketan (House of Happy Learning). That was 15-16 years ago. By now, Babar Ali has become a legend in education, having given education an altogether different meaning.

Unfortunately, in our schools or in our homes, any such entrepreneurial idea is never encouraged when our own kids come up with one. We are rigid with our idea of what education should mean. We do not wish our kids to engage in any experiments. And conducting ourselves in such a manner, we often do not let many, many a Babar Ali to emerge from our ecosystem.

In fact, this is also the story of Bill Gates. This, in a way, is also the story of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. This is also the story of Baba Amte whose first ideation about Anandwan did not
penetrate into people’s heads for some time.  This is the importance of the metaphor called Babar Ali. He believed that he must tell his friends what he learned in the school, and he carried out his plan successfully. His father refused to understand the idea. He tried to drag the boy out of it. Later, however, the father understood the boy’s work and went along. Now, the story is altogether different. And it is the story of a boy who  understood education, its meaning and its purpose. We do have Babar Alis in our midst in good numbers. But we never look for them. Or, in other and negative words, we look for them only to snuff them out.

This is the tragedy we invite on ourselves collectively even though we do not know the meaning of what we do. As I visit schools in good numbers and meet children and teachers and parents in big numbers all round the year, the one thing that strikes me hard is that all of us -- the families, the schools, and to an extent children -- are quite
happy with whatever we are doing. None of us wants any
experiments, any digression from the dotted line. We do not realise that this way, we are actually negating the meaning of ‘education’. Babar Ali makes one realise this lacuna in a very pronounced manner. And even when one feels terribly short on fresh ideas, Babar Ali’s company makes one feel
better about oneself.