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Re-imagining Education

A children's drawing that is from an education institution and is creative.

A drawing by Tali c. 1995 of her pre-school aspirations.

What is education? In the development sector, education is often talked about as a silver bullet to society’s ills – and as the means to achieving an economically prosperous state. But these conversations sometimes overlook very basic questions about what education means – like who gets taught? Who teaches? What are we taught? Since the two of us (Tali and Sarojini) have both spent several years working with education organizations in rural and urban contexts in both India and the United States, we thought we’d take some time to chat about it in this week’s blog. For both of us, creativity is such an important aspect of education – so we centred our discussion around that. We’d like to discuss this with other people and would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to read and reach out! We’ve included some resources we hope are helpful at the end – maybe you can add your own.

Individual Reflections:

Sarojini: Picasso said children are born artists. The challenge is to remain an artist when you grow up. Education systems often don’t teach us to grow into our creativity, they show us how to grow out of it. This was certainly true of my own school-going experience – where I was part of a system that didn’t value independent thought or creativity. Education was about scoring well on ridiculous and arbitrary tests, getting into university, and eventually contributing to the financial economy. Education was not about learning.

After school, I attended a small liberal arts college in the middle of a cornfield in rural America. I majored in Religious Studies and Political Science. It’s here that I learned to think, I learned to engage, I learned to reflect. Education was not about the answers, I discovered, rather, it was about the questions. Education, I realised, is about resistance, it’s about questioning dominant narratives, it’s about taking chances, and education is inherently political.

Tali: I think in some ways my education was similar although maybe less overt. The first nine years of my education were in an insular Jewish day school that in many ways was pretty stifling. I still remember my English teacher, Mr.K, who was the only teacher who taught us empathy and critical thinking – which he did through literature and writing. We read books on and discussed topics like racism and misogyny. He was the teacher who first got me interested in worlds outside of the one I was growing up in. Years later, in a secular high school, I would take an American Studies class that examined American history through the lens of art and literature – instead of just secondary sources. I think these experiences made me realise how important creativity is to education, to fostering children’s abilities to question, to confront and to create their own stories.

Sarojini: It becomes clear then, that education that we value came from being challenged creatively, and not from imbibing “objective facts”.

From Left to Right: Sarojini in a kindergarten musical; first day of school; During Master’s at a protest. Locations: Mumbai & London.

Re-imagining education:

Tali: Obviously, that’s a very broad discussion because education – and what it means – varies so widely around the world. I think one of the most important takeaways I’ve had from my experiences working with education organisations is recognising how much children have to say and how important their voices are. I think some of the more powerful experiences I’ve seen are situations where hierarchy is done away with in the classroom, where children can ask any questions they want, and where education isn’t about test taking – it includes art and pottery and sports. I think the other thing we need to recognise is that education doesn’t only happen in schools. What children are learning to do at home is education, too. The stories and artwork children bring from home, that’s part of their education and growth.

Sarojini: I agree with you fully, and I’d like to start with re-defining the term “education” itself. When we think about education, and maybe this is just me – I think about structures, hierarchy, and institutions. I believe, on a fundamental level – education is the process of being and of discovery – of ourselves and of the world around us. Education is about learning – and learning is about dialogue, learning is non-hierarchical, and learning is about creativity.

On situations where you’ve seen these ideas of learning in action:

Sarojini: There’s a couple of instances that spring to mind. I work with a youth-led development agency. We work with young leaders to bring about effective changes in their communities. These are young people, leading initiatives, building connections, and making change. I could list specific examples – making masks and distributing them, raising donations to create kits of essential services and so on. So often we see education as a means to economic prosperity, churning out machines rather than leaders and thinkers. These young leaders inspire me because they used their education as a means to achieve social justice – which is what I think education, at its core, is about.

Tali: Yeah, I love that idea of recognising young people as leaders, understanding that we have so much to learn from youth – too often I think it’s assumed that elders must teach young people in ‘education’ when it definitely goes both ways. When I was working in Sawai Madhopur I was assigned a project of introducing curriculum modules into an education NGO that explored local history and culture. In that scenario, I was fairly ill-equipped to do that. Ultimately, it was the children who drove the development of those discussions – by bringing their stories, their artwork to the workshops we did and challenging existing narratives around the area they lived. Some of these children were as young as four-years-old and they had so much to say. I think it’s very limiting to think of ‘education’ or ‘learning’ as something that older people do for younger people – it’s a lifelong process.

Tali at various points of her elementary education near Philadelphia, USA.

Concluding Comments and Resources:

Sarojini: I think a good way to end more concretely, would be if we highlighted some of the resources that have helped shape our journeys with learning and education.

Tali: Yes! And for those of you reading (and thanks for bearing with us), it would be great to continue the conversation over social media or email – please feel free to reach out to Tali at or Sarojini at



Kissa Kahani Model Stories – Short film stories told by youth

The ArtsLiteracy Project Handbook – A great handbook of activities and projects for teachers and artists

World Comics India – Grassroots comics, which provide tools for creating cartoons for activist purposes in multiple languages 


Left POCket podcast episode on the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” – a seminal text by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire on reimagining the relationship between student, teacher, and society. This Patreon link also includes a link to a pdf version of the english text.

Barefoot College: an institution that does amazing work in dismantling traditional notions of education as being top-down

Formal education while a basic right, is also a privilege. Access to social privilege and caste privilege, masquerades as merit – leading to access to more and better educational and subsequently professional opportunities. This video highlights the manner in which caste-based discrimination prevents certain children from accessing education. I have also included Dr. Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste”, which talks about the need for education, the importance of education in the fight for social justice, and the political and social responsibilities that underpin education:

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