Can work be a motivation in itself?
What should be the parameters for choices in your life... Money? Fame?
Do you want to compete or relate?
Who decides for you - the trend, marks, parents, social pressures or yourself?
What are the options for your future?
Do you study/work only for 'success', or for the joy of knowing?
Have you ever really explored your Self?
These were some of the questions the Gap Year College (GYC) posed to youth when it began in mid-2007. The GYC was meant to be an alternative education programme for youth (aged 18 years and above), to help them explore their interests, understand things from fresh perspectives, learn new skills, and be otherwise mentored so that they came to possess a deep sense of confidence and leadership skills. This, it was envisaged, would help them explore beyond the beaten path, and excel in almost any area of life. The idea was that youngsters would take a year off from 'mainstream' education after school/college and spend that year in an intensive, immersive programme of organic learning at the Gap Year College. The programme was located and hosted at the campus of an NGO involved in education in the Jaunpur area near Mussoorie, Uttarakhand.
The 'curriculum' at GYC was divided into 5 broad areas:
1. Critical Analysis & Evaluation
3. Body, Health & Nutrition
4. Environment & Ecology
5. Creativity, Design & Skills
The way these areas were explored was through a range of intensive and immersive workshops that the GYC students attended. There were workshops focusing on life-skills, food, theatre, creative writing, notions of identity, film-making, music, design methods, carpentry, Gandhi, health, and ecology. There were field-trips, excursions and projects. There was a daily regimen of yoga, campus maintenance and voluntary work. And the diversity of activity was no dilettantism; it was neatly tied together by a clear and communicable vision of a sustainable, wise and empowered life. The workshops organised for the GYC students were also open to participation from outsiders.
There were problems too: The year-long programme didn't seem financially sustainable, yet we neither wanted to take external funding nor to raise the fees; it was difficult finding students, for parents, schools, society, all discouraged youngsters from taking a gap year and 'wasting a year'; of those who did join, some were 'problem kids' who the parents found easier (and cheaper!) to ship to us than keep at home; and because of the intensive nature of the residential programme, the programme administrators ended up with a particularly breathless schedule and were kept on their toes 24x7 for months on end.
Meanwhile, since the GYC workshops were open to external participants, many older and maturer people began to enroll for the workshops. This was in a way natural because of the depth of content, the excellence and enthusiasm of the (mostly visiting) faculty who facilitated the workshops. It also helped the GYC financially to have additional paying participants for the individual workshops, since the GYC was a 'non-funded', self-supporting programme seeking to cover expenses entirely through student fees. So, what we had wished for in the more distant future, began happening sooner than we had expected; with increasing numbers of older and maturer people coming to participate in individual workshops, we were turning into a desi, more proletarian (and inexpensive!) version of Schumacher College!
So, the longer programme was closed after the first year, while leaving a 'modular' 3-month residential student option open for those who wanted it. And our metamorphosis continued towards becoming an open, self-growth learning space for maturer students; (in a recent workshop, the average participant age was 32 years!).
For the last two years however, the GYC had turned 'homeless', since the NGO in Mussoorie where it was originally hosted (and housed) had undergone a change of heart and direction, and was no longer interested in the programme. This led to the GYC being in the doldrums, with only the occasional workshop possible on the campus of a friendly institution, and an inability to admit longer-term residential students.
However, exciting times lie ahead. The evolution of GYC continues. We have just moved to the culturally fecund and densely forested region of Malnad, in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. That should translate to more workshops, camps, field-trips and other co-learning activities at a vibrant holistic education centre in a beautiful locale!