Digantar feels that the aim of education should be to develop rational autonomy, sensitivity, democratic and egalitarian values, dignity of labour and skills. We believe that the purpose of primary education is to make the child a self-motivated and independent learner. We feel that every human child is capable of learning to live in society, defining her goals for life, finding ways of achieving the chosen goals, taking appropriate action, and of being responsible for the actions taken. Every human being has a right to decide for herself and is duty bound to be responsible for her decisions. When a society denies this basic assumption in equality, exploitation and oppression become acceptable in different ways. The sharing of benefits of social cooperation and control over the mechanisms of distribution of social goods becomes tilted in favour of a few. The development of rational autonomy of each member of the society perhaps is the best way of ensuring justice. There is no way, save education, to help people become autonomous and reasonable.
Sensitivity to all other forms of life that share this world with us is an integral part of rational autonomy. Human life is possible only in a social situation. Similarly, life itself is possible only in a complex web of mutually sustaining life forms. This leaves no choice for human beings other than to be sensitive and respectful to all forms of life. The richness and emotional depth that love and respect for all creatures and plants brings to human life is an added but equally important reason to include sensitivity as an important aim of education.
A society, of equal beings who can all think and make their own decisions, would require a great deal of mutual understanding, respect and negotiations to find optimal ways of sustaining itself. Thus, an ongoing discourse among citizens is a necessity in any democratic society. An unconditional respect for all human beings as equal partners and commitment to keep this discourse impartial and rational are perhaps the most important democratic values. Any discourse, to be rational, needs to have some shared criteria for decision-making. To sustain and use such a discourse profitably, the participants would need to have relevant information and ability to think critically. Again, education is perhaps the only means to develop these abilities in citizens.
A variety of material and socio-cultural goods are necessary to sustain human life, as we know it. The production of these goods involves labour and skills. Each one of us should be able to contribute to the production of these goods. The complexity of skills needed in present day society needs no illustration. Therefore, education cannot afford to ignore development of various skills and a positive attitude to use them.
Digantar is an organisation striving, and with reasonable success so far, to develop educational opportunities for all children based on these ideas.
Digantar’s search for alternatives in education began on a very small scale with a small school in 1978. The teachers of this school had trained under the late Shri David Horsburgh, who also guided the school in its initial years.
The first ten years of that small school were a good grounding in understanding elementary education in general and classroom practices in particular. Digantar felt that it is the rural children who continued to be deprived of good education. We therefore began to focus on rural children. Digantar was formally registered as a non profit society in 1987. We began work in the villages on the outskirts of Jaipur. Currently, Digantar’s rural education programme runs in three villages and over 600 children study in these three schools. We also run a programme for out-of-school adolescent girls called Pehchan in Phagi block of Jaipur. The Pehchan programme also works towards improving the quality of education and school environment in government schools.
We have also worked with several government programmes as a resource support agency. Some of these are Alternative Schools Programme of Rajiv Gandhi Prathmic Shiksha Mission, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh; Janashala Programme, Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi; District Primary Education Programme, Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi, SCERT, Chattisgarh; Lok Jumbish Sahaj Shiksha Karyakram.