“Maybe what we understand of people and children, about how they have to be educated has been wrong all along. There is something missing from our education system, which is why no one asked them what they wanted to learn”. These are the words of Mr Abhijit Sinha, Founder and CEO of Project DEFY, an initiative to transform conventional education into a series of choices a learner makes. The project tracks back to when Abhijeet was assisting an organisation in Banjrapalya village. He observed that despite the lack of internet facility and resources, children in the rural pockets of India were curious enough to fiddle through technology and find their own ways of using mobile phones and laptops. On observing further, he realised that if learners are allowed to decide what they want to learn, and are given the right kind of resources, they can achieve their goals without any need of formal education or even teachers.After a few experiments, his approach led to the creation of the first makerspace by Project DEFY – “Define Education For Yourself”, where learners were allowed to express, experiment and experience different aspects of learning by themselves, without any external support. Soon people started observing the initiative, appreciated the idea and eventually joined him. He now has a team of 6 core members with a lot of supporters from various communities and learners.
The team later launched their flagship program “NOOKS” (originating from word “Nukkad”), a school without teachers set up in order to encourage people to learn, make projects and explore their choices. “Everybody can teach something of their interest. So, why don’t we choose to be a teacher and as well as a student?” says Abhishek. A casual day at any NOOK involves a diverse range of activities involving artistry, sports, technical projects and a lot more, where learners collaborate and help in each other’s projects. The scenario at any NOOK is ever-changing.
Since first NOOK, Project DEFY has successfully constructed 7 operational NOOKS spread all over the country, including a NOOK setup in Refugee Camp of Uganda. A single NOOKS centre costs around $500 or Rs 30,000 per month and runs for nearly 50-100 people. The funds for operational are usually driven by CSRs funds along with personal donations from different parts of the country. With requests of setting up NOOKS from various countries around the globe, the team is now trying to collaborate with donors or funders who would come on board to support the scaling up project. Team Project DEFY has gained appreciation from platforms of the likes of MIT for providing a new perspective of education.
Being a team of strong feminists, Project DEFY later launched another initiative called the “The Waking Dreams Fellowship for Women”, under the leadership of Megha Sharma Bhagat, Co-Founder of Project DEFY. The team believed that no girl should be cast aside in the ladder of success because of gender discrimination and felt a need to provide girls with the opportunities that seemed impossible for them. The initiative offers financial support and mentoring to few girls every year to pursue their dreams. With such help, girls not only benefit themselves, but they stand out as an inspiration for their community.
Self-learning is the new form of education that liberates people from conventional ideas of education and Project DEFY is setting up a great example of how to put that to the right use. It’s a marvellous attempt towards bestowing knowledge among the common masses, moreover underprivileged parts of the society. The participation of ever-increasing learners is evident of the success of this concept and has led to motivating more people, regardless of the age brackets.
CII Foundation’s Woman Exemplar Program recognizes exemplary grassroots women change agents who are working to transform excluded and disadvantaged communities of India in the fields of education, health and micro-enterprise in India. Every year 15 finalists are chosen, and 3 are declared winners, with prizes of Rupees 3 Lakhs to the winners and access to a six-month mentoring and leadership process to all finalists. Click Here to know more.
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