CFL began in 1982 as a criticism of the ‘best’ mainstream, formal schools. Two contradictions forced us to think. First, when we loved learning, why did we hate our schools – and this despite the fact that we had the privilege to go to some of the so-called ‘best’ schools across the country! Second, if learning is fun, why did most people have to be forced to learn? Why did most people hate/fear learning? Most people who do study do not learn for intrinsic reasons but for extrinsic pay-offs. Education at most institutions was neither personally fulfilling nor socially responsible. At their best they socialize into the modern life-style and at their worst they domesticate and alienate.
We felt that the cure for these ills could not be addressed with cosmetic changes and that a more fundamental change within the system was needed. We enjoyed positive experiences with some excellent teachers – including our parents and made us realize what a difference a good teacher can make. This inspired us to try to create a place where learning could be fun.
However, through years of experience we realized that a criticism of the methods and the functioning of schools was not enough as it did not lead us to the results we had hoped for, that is self-realizing, self-disciplined, socially responsible individuals. We realized that education has been reduced to schooling and schooling to scholastics. Acquiring knowledge and study skills is not the core of education; it is one of the means of education best suited to the academically inclined. Privileging academics over all other means has meant misery for those who are differently inclined and has impoverished society by reducing the path of self-realization to a single track. Thus we began to question the very framework and concept of schooling.
Since then CFL has been an ongoing attempt/continuing enquiry to discover in theoretical and practical terms what quality education means as distinct from schooling, and to discover how to educate without schooling.
Meanwhile we also recognized that there is an overt and covert, witting and unwitting, anti-poor bias of the whole ‘education’ system and that it needed to be looked at seriously. We endeavour to demonstrate how education can empower all individuals – including those from the disadvantaged groups - rather than alienate them and make them unwitting collaborators in their own exploitation.
The underlying spirit of the journey has been to attempt to create as democratic space as is possible, which accepts individuals unconditionally and enables non-competitive, trusting relationships and participatory /negotiated learning.
The enquiry has been situated, in the last 30 years primarily as a reflective engagement with children, in the form of a Children's Learning Centre for learners between the ages of 3 to 18 years. Starting June 2013, Centre for Learning intends to start a new program for 14+ years learners. The program would attempt to provide them an enabling space that would help them to engage in a serious and deep reflection to discover their own interests, and pursue areas for study and learning that can become a personally satisfying and a rewarding career choice.