Creating leaders and followers of tomorrow

School students as Organic Farming Minister

The well-being of the masses is dependent upon the capability, sincerity, vision and wisdom of the king or ruler. It is rightly said in Samskrit “Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja”, which means that the residents of a country are a reflection of the type of rule they experience. Conversely, it is also true that the subjects get a type of ruler that they deserve. The linkage between the ruler and the citizens is beautifully explained in the words of Chanakya, “If a king is energetic, his subjects will be equally energetic. If he is reckless, they will be reckless likewise.” It is important to have a visionary leader as well as sensible followers for the whole machine called the ‘society’ to run properly without any glitches.

India has a continuous tradition of illustrious kings such as Lord Ram, Yudhishthir, Chandragupta, Vikramaditya, Krishnadevaraya, Maharana Pratap and Shivaji Maharaj, whose reigns were characterized by freedom, progress, peace and prosperity for their subjects. Indians have also time and again united to overthrow oppressive and inefficient kings.

In today’s era of democracy, the quality of life of the citizens and the development of the nation greatly depend upon the type of policies framed by the government and implemented by the bureaucracy. Enlightened citizens will vote for a capable government and a capable government will further enable its citizens. Thus, it is very important to groom the future citizens from a young age, so that they can exercise their democratic right in a judicious manner, later as adults. Exposing school students to the workings of a democracy is a good way to start this process. The Students’ Parliaments conducted in MIT Vishwashanti Gurukul Schools (VGS) are a good example of such an effort to mould leaders and followers of tomorrow.

To Groom Informed Citizens

Students’ Parliaments are conducted in MIT VGS primarily to introduce the students to various social, educational, economic and environmental issues at the local and global levels, which require good governance to tackle. Further, this activity aims to create awareness among the youngsters about parliamentary democracy that is followed in our country, since sustainable solutions to problems depend upon how good the government functions.

As said by Bernadette Devlin, an Irish civil rights leader, “My function in life is not be a politician in Parliament; it is to get something done.’ Taking inspiration from the Inclusive Neighbourhood Children’s Parliaments run by Neighbourhood Community Network (NCN) in Tamil Nadu under the leadership of M R Ravi Shankar and Edwin John, Students’ Parliaments in MIT VGS are elected by the students themselves. Students from standard 8th to 10th participate in this, which serves as a platform to express their issues and concerns. The objective of this activity, which expands the students’ horizon, is to help them understand the practices and processes followed by elected representatives to live up to the aspirations of the people. It also makes them responsible, disciplined and motivated future citizens that are aware of their rights and duties.

Students’ Parliaments are expected to bring systematic thinking and working styles among the participating students, along with character development. They are also expected to develop attributes such as problem solving, effective decision making, team spirit and effective communication, leading to personal growth.

Extra-curricular Experiential Learning

Students’ Parliaments in VGS are conducted under the title “Ignited Minds – Future Leaders of the World”. This activity is a part of the ISA (International School Award) of British Council, which is followed in VGS. Typically, about 120-130 students are involved in this activity spread over two months during an academic year.

This activity is a good example of experiential learning, since students get hands-on opportunity to run a mini parliament. Apart from covering subjects such as social sciences, science, maths, ICT and English through real-life applications, the various tasks undertaken in the parliamentary sessions enable holistic learning by understanding the linkages between different disciplines and the need for a broader outlook to find lasting solutions. For instance, problems and solutions pertaining to school issues such as sports participation, computer proficiency, waste management on campus, transportation options and student health and development, are discussed, which enable students to apply multi-disciplinary theoretical knowledge in practical situations.

After a prayer, the introductory sessions create a grounding before the actual activity begins. Objectives behind conducting the Students’ Parliament and the need for setting up various ministries, are discussed. Thereafter, the members of the parliament are elected by students through the system of sociocracy (everybody’s consent). Portfolios are assigned, including the Prime Minister, Deputy PM, Speaker, and ministers for Parliamentary Affairs, Health, IT, Food, Transport, Art & Culture, External Affairs, Organic Farming, Sports, Student Development, etc. This is followed by an oath-taking function.

Action plans are made by various ministries depending upon the requirements, budgets are discussed and allocated and an implementation strategy is chalked out through relevant policy formation. Each ministry comes out with a manifesto, while the Prime Minister typically undertakes responsibilities such as providing leadership, smooth functioning of the parliament, reading out inspiring biographies, signing resolutions, ensuring interaction among ministers, keeping updated about new developments and attending trainings. The various ministers perform tasks pertaining to their portfolios.

MIT outdoor session 

Use of Innovative Methods

Group discussions and brainstorming sessions among teachers and students are an integral part of these parliaments, based on the NCN method. Skits and plays are organized. Sociocracy principles are used to find solutions through discussion and consent among students. Everybody’s opinions are important and are accepted. A facilitator explains the qualities expected from various ministers. After understanding the same, all participants play their role in electing the Prime Minister and his council of ministers, under the guidance of the facilitator. They write the names of their preferred candidates on paper. This is followed by open discussions and each student can reconsider the names he has written. After as many such rounds as are required, the ministers are chosen based on mutual consensus and the facilitator’s guidance.

In line with the NCN practice, the following type of questions are asked during the activity: What kind of a world would you want to live in? What do you think needs to be done to achieve that world order? What prevents that world from becoming a reality? What does it mean to have power? How would you gain the power?

Every year, a link school or a partner is chosen for give and take of information. Recently, Ambassador School, Dubai was the partner for the activity. Their students participated through Skype sessions to share their experiences with VGS students. Some of the initiatives of Ambassador School during their Students’ Parliament were as follows. Ministry of Environment handled tasks such as waste management, feeding pet animals and running a solar energy campaign, while Ministry of Sports conducted inter-house matches, inter-school matches (cricket and basketball) and the sports day.

To understand the actual working of parliaments, including the procedures followed, videos of the parliament sessions of India, UK, USA and some African countries are shown to the students. Internet is also widely used to gather relevant information. Outdoor group activities in the serene school campus, including the election process through sociocratic principles, are conducted in groups of about 30.

Outcomes

As they say, “The proof of the pudding is in eating.” Any successful activity stands in testimony of the original action plan. It has been observed that most of the objectives set by the organizers of the Students’ Parliaments are realized. Most importantly, students are enthusiastic about the whole initiative and emerge as confident, young leaders. This is very much evident from the action witnessed in the question hour of the Students’ Parliament. They realize their capacity to handle tasks, which will propel them towards responsible and successful citizens that together build a great nation.

Meticulous records of the activity are maintained through report book, attendance register, minutes, PPTs, correspondence emails, etc. for future reference and improvisation. Mr Ravi Shankar found the PPTs made by students to be very impressive, while Mr John found the entire proceedings to be encouraging. Documentation through newsletters, social media, feedback forms, etc. also goes a long way to assess the success of the activity. Experience till date shows that activities like Students’ Parliaments play a vital role in perpetuating and enhancing the democratic spirit of the country.

Author works as the Content Developer-Curriculum & PR, MIT Group, Pune.