How Much Math.Do You Need To Be A Carpenter David Horsburgh, An Inspiring Educational Reformer

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David Horsburgh, An Inspiring Educational Reformer

David Horsburgh was an educational reformer famous for introducing and inspiring activity-based learning processes in India. India’s education system after its independence in 1947 was an offshoot of the MacCaulay education system that was designed to train Indians to perform clerical tasks in the colonial bureaucracy. Rote learning and memorization were encouraged along with submissive and passive learning with the main objective of enabling students to learn the fundamentals of the three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic in order to aid the acquired economic machinery. This type of education served around 12% of the population, which was the literacy rate at the time of independence. The vast majority of India’s population in the 1940s was illiterate and subjugated.

David Horsburgh arrived in India in 1943 as part of the Royal Air Force and was charmed by the idyllic rural setting of Chittagong in East Bengal, now Bangladesh. He returned to England and studied at the University of London. After World War II, he returned to India with a keen interest in educational reform. This led him to teach at Rishi Valley School and Blue Mountain School in Ooty, which follow progressive and more activity-oriented forms of learning. He also did stints with the British Council in Chennai and Bangalore. After decades spent in vibrant educational environments, he finally set up a highly innovative school in rural Karnataka in Kolar district called Neel Bagh in 1972. It was the realization of a sincere and passionate dream. His partner Doreen and son Nicholas helped him in this endeavour. The school had a broad curriculum and included gardening, music, carpentry etc., apart from conventional subjects such as maths and language learning. It reflected the versatility of David Horsburgh himself, famous for his charisma and exuberance. In fact, David Horsburgh was greatly inspired by AS Niell who was the founder of SummerHill School, another innovative school in England, where children could learn freely and without fear.

David Horburgh found that many students found school very stressful due to the pressure of exams and eventually dropped out of exams. At Neel Bagh, he set up a beautiful library with eco-friendly buildings on a 7-acre plot. The children learned with the help of activity based books carefully planned by David Horsburgh and his team as well as with the help of educational toys, puzzles etc. The teachers only acted as facilitators. All the students were poor inhabitants of Kolar district and its surroundings. With carefully planned activity enhancement resources and with the help of facilitators, the children flourished. This was the antithesis of what was happening in government primary schools in rural Karnataka, which had high dropout rates. They followed a boring and rigid curriculum with poor infrastructure and had high rates of absenteeism. Facilitator teachers who taught at Neel Bagh started their own school like Ms. Malathi, who founded Vikasana, another innovative school for the rural poor in Karnataka. Many state governments such as the Tamil Nadu government incorporated activity-based learning inspired by David Horsburgh into their curriculum. Thus, David Horsburgh was one of the leading educational reformers in post-independence India and has contributed to the slow transformation of education in India from a dull MacCaulay type of education to a cheerful and grounded approach in the activity.

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