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Project DEFY: Design Education for Yourself
What is Project DEFY?
Abhijit Sinha, Founder & Director of Project DEFY
India struggles with high rates of teacher absence and student dropouts in rural schools. Addressing this means finding ways to educate young people without the aid of government officials and teachers.
We also need to explore different learning systems that allow people to learn for themselves - with the internet at our fingertips, it's time to see what we can master.
This becomes all the more important in communities that experience marginalization. Marginalization, in effect, reduces not only the opportunities we may access, but also the confidence in doing so. Choices and the capacity to make choices are both attacked, and hence we see looping cycles of social problems, from child labour to women being denied access to education and work.
Simply presenting more opportunities seems to have a limited effect, when work is not put in to allowing the individuals to build their capacity to understand what they like and the life they’d like to build. These opportunities currently provided become further cycles of limited options, which tend to deplete after a point.
For a community to escape its marginalisation, it needs space and time. It needs some resources to play with and explore. It needs sources for information and people around to support, in an attempt to build their lives together.
At Project DEFY: Design Education for Yourself, the mission is to change the way people think and ignite individual passions so students can believe in their abilities to educate themselves, others and their communities.
With a computer at hand, the community customizes a makerspace that fits their own requirements, and develops its own learning space, called a Nook. Projects can be anything - artistic, technical, or other - to fit each student's own learning interests and experience.
Learners use the internet as their guide book for learning. At the Nook, all ideas and information are shared and can be further developed by the community, which in turn can find ways to boost their economy.
Everyone can learn and contribute, meaning all community members can adopt both the role of the teacher and the learner. There are no set roles or hierarchy. As such, this creates a pure democracy system, where each learner designs his/her own education, while within a community context and influence.
Nooks are not the final educational destination. They play the role of providing the space and time, and some resources to help people to try and understand what interests them and what their needs are. Students build skills they are most passionate about, and pursue knowledge that most interests them. Students try and fail and try again, without fear of judgement. Finally, students develop the confidence they need to make and pursue their choices. In essence, they learn “How to Learn”, and are supported by others doing the same thing.
Project DEFY is hacking the system from outside as well as within by partnering with organisations to build self learning spaces within schools and universities too.
The concept of Nooks (learning spaces) flips the power dynamics of education, and returns it to the people. It democratizes learning bringing it to its simplest necessities – needs and interests – of individuals and communities. It does not try to define education for others, but rather lets each person create their own definition for it, along with the outcomes they expect out of it.Impact
Project DEFY has more than 400 learners that can create their own learning spaces and define their own education. Learners at Nooks have created their own enterprises, selected higher forms of education, become photographers and freelancers. They have built skills that they find important and created curiosities in knowledge that interests them. Most importantly, they are now making their own choices about their lives, knowing that a space exists where they can always express, experiment, explore, fail and try something else, without needing any money.Scalability
So far there are 4 Nooks: 2 in Indian villages, 1 in an Indian city and 1 more in an Ugandan refugee camp. Project DEFY already have a further 25 requests from different communities in the world to create Nooks. Given the cost effectiveness of the Nooks and its extremely low-cost operations at $500/month, (cheaper than Indian Government Schools), it has the opportunity to scale. On a theoretical cost comparison, there can be about 8-10 times as many Nooks as there are government schools in India, at the same cost and accessing the same number of people.