Inclusivity is an ongoing process, and it requires active engagement and continuous improvement. When it comes to education and learning spaces, fostering an inclusive environment is paramount. Inclusivity goes beyond mere representation; it embodies the principles of respect, acceptance, and embracing the unique strengths and perspectives of every individual
In the last one year, as we went through the journey of creating open learning spaces for rural youth of Meghalaya, making the spaces as inclusive as possible was one of our biggest objectives. It has been a journey of learning, co-designing and listening to the needs of the community mixed with efforts to make better choices everyday.
Furthermore, education is a powerful tool that has the potential to transform lives of rural communities. However, ensuring equal access to quality education remains a challenge, especially for marginalised populations in remote areas. As part of the Chief Minister’s Youth Centre (CMYC) Project, we wanted to create spaces that put the power of self-determinism in the hands of the rural communities.
Inclusivity in open and self-designed learning spaces is a crucial aspect to ensure that everyone feels welcome, respected, and able to participate fully in the learning process. Our centres are spread far wide across Meghalaya. In the last year, we have had visitors and learners in these centres that cover almost every aspect that defines diversity. We met individuals who did not just push themselves, but challenged our idea of what potential these centres hold.
This not only gave us good experiences but also gave us a chance to test ourselves, test our design and be open to learning and iterations. Here are two stories of our learners that made us think about how we look at inclusivity.
In Pasyih Village, Dae Rymbai, 12 years old, and Firstly Joy Rymbai, 14 years old, are breaking barriers in education as they pursue alternative modes of learning at a self-learning centre. The siblings, who have hearing impairments, made the decision to explore non-traditional educational opportunities due to the limited accommodations offered in the conventional schools where they studied previously.
Located in their hometown of Pasyih Village, the community’s CMYC provides a supportive environment for students with diverse learning abilities. With a shared determination to continue their education, Dae and Firstly enrolled in the centre, confident that it would meet their specific needs and enable them to thrive academically and socially.
Recognising Firstly’s resilience and confidence, Dae drew inspiration from his older sister’s experiences. Fortunately for them, the CMYC fosters inclusivity and camaraderie among students through group activities and peer to peer learning, encouraging interaction and mutual learning. In no time, Dae and Firstly quickly adapted to their new learning environment, discovering the benefits of alternative modes of education. They found joy in visual mediums, interactive software, and hands-on activities. The centre’s curriculum prioritises project-based learning, enabling the siblings to apply their knowledge and skills practically.
The inspiring story of Dae Rymbai and Firstly Joy Rymbai demonstrates the power of determination and resilience. Through their shared experiences and the unwavering support of the self-learning center, they have transformed their challenges into opportunities for growth and empowerment. Their journey serves as an inspiration to all learners, emphasising the importance of pursuing dreams and making a positive impact on the world, regardless of one’s abilities.
How were they able to accommodate these learners? What kind of support do they provide?
Personalisation and Choice: Learning approaches at the CMYCs recognise that learners have different interests, strengths, and learning preferences. By incorporating elements of personalisation and choice, these methods enable learners to tailor their learning experiences to their individual needs, enhancing inclusivity and accommodating diverse learning styles.
Equipment of all kinds: The learning centres, the CMYCs, are usually equipped with a variety of tools for various trades and learning paths. Keeping in mind that each learner has unique needs and interests, in their pursuit of learning on their own terms, they get to choose their own learning tools and paths that they feel are tailored for them.
Participatory learning methods: Participatory learning methods in the CMYCs promote active engagement of learners, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or learning styles. By involving all learners in the learning process, these methods ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and contribute.
Different Learning Styles and Pace: Peer-to-peer learning approach at the CMYCs recognises and accommodates different learning styles and paces. Not everyone learns in the same way or at the same speed. By engaging in peer-to-peer interactions, learners can adapt their learning methods to suit their individual needs. This flexibility ensures that individuals with diverse learning styles and paces can participate fully, fostering inclusivity.
Empathetic facilitation process: The CMYCs are being run by specially trained facilitators who also serve the role of managing the learning spaces. These facilitators are highly sensitised in the need for empathy in our alternative learning spaces. They understand and acknowledge the emotions, challenges, and needs of learners. This creates a space where learners feel comfortable expressing themselves, building trust, asking questions, and seeking help.
When it comes to making a place inclusive for someone who comes with physical disabilities, we cannot debate the need of physical infrastructures and accommodations that ease their effort in participation or movements. But what we learnt from working with Dae and Firstly was that oftentimes, more than these big changes, smaller actions can go a long way in making them feel safe, accepted and promote a culture of understanding.
Meghalaya, as a State has a rich diversity in flora and fauna, geography, culture and other socio-economic factors. This becomes even more evident when you visit our different centres and interact with the learners and surrounding communities. The aspirations, dreams and needs are so different from each other that we are often awed by the ability of the fellows at these centres to engage on a regular basis.
Diverse perspectives and experiences are welcomed in our learning spaces. Knowledge, experiences, materials and resources that represent different cultures, genders, abilities, and backgrounds are deeply considered. This can help learners feel represented and valued, fostering an inclusive environment where everyone’s voice is heard and acknowledged.
The CMYCs also recognise that learners have different preferences and abilities when it comes to learning styles. Variety of learning formats are being offered, such as written materials, videos, hands-on activities, group discussions, and online platforms, to cater to diverse learning needs. Learners are hence free to choose the subject and format that works best for them.
“We believe that learning is unlimited, ageless and continuous.” said the centre managers in the CMYC at Samanda. “Nilla Sangma, a 50 year old grandmother has proven that age has no limit. All an individual needs is a space which nurtures one’s curiosity and appreciates their relentlessness” they said. As part of an early project, the first phase of a learning cycle in the CMYC brand of self designing learning systems, she is making a traditional muffler and hopes to go to other areas as the learning progresses.
Collaboration and group work is also heavily promoted in our learning spaces, as it promotes teamwork and the exchange of ideas. Group projects are often structured in a way that encourages equal participation and respects diverse opinions. Our CMYC centre managers are also there to facilitate and provide guidelines for respectful communication and conflict resolutions to create a safer and a more inclusive environment for all participants.
In most cases, young learners in their pre-teen years are not entrusted with power tools and heavy equipment due to safety concerns. However, in our innovative learning spaces, thanks to our peer-to-peer and group learning methods, these young learners can engage in carpentry and projects involving heavy-duty machinery without risking injury or harm, since the much older learners are there to help them.
The unique approach of peer-to-peer and group learning in our spaces allows us to create a safe and controlled environment for pre-teen learners to explore the world of power tools and heavy equipment. By fostering collaboration and guidance from experienced mentors, we ensure that these young learners can develop valuable skills and knowledge while prioritising their safety.