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We Have Everything We Need Already: Community Control of Education

Bold ideas for discovering education beyond traditional systems.

Photo Credit: Manish Jain


Shilpa Jain has served as a full-time “learning activist” with Shikshantar, an India-based people’s movement which aims to regenerate “living and learning communities” grounded in diverse cultures and languages, as opposed to a stultifying colonial-legacy education. Shilpa continues to be part of a movement to nurture different modes of learning, to reclaim and share knowledge that reflects community wisdom and values. What’s at stake is nothing less than who controls information and interpretation, what values are propagated, and what kind of society we end up with.

After her time at Shikshantar, Shilpa worked with Other Worlds, and she now serves as Executive Director of YES! in California, working with youth changemakers and organizers.

Shilpa Jain | Rajasthan, India and California, USA

At Shikshantar, we are trying to support the shift from a money-dominant globalized culture to a more small-scale, relationship-focused culture. 

My grandmother never went to school, she never knew how to read or write, and she was such a wise and brilliant woman. She was incredibly creative, could come up with songs and dances and games right on the spot. She had tons of practical knowledge on herbal remedies and healing practices, and she was the most environmentally conscious person I know. Nothing ever went to waste; she would always make something out of anything. For her, everything was connected, and all life was important, from the ants, to the dogs, to the cows, to human beings. Because of her, I started asking about and looking for more of that kind of grounded knowledge.

My activism has always been defined by what’s doable rather then what are we fighting against. What are the positive things we can create in the world, and how are they being created right now? I’m interested in supporting people where their passion is now, as well as trying to unearth their passions through a process of listening and dialogue. There are a thousand entry points to challenge this system and shape alternative possibilities.

Shikshantar means “transforming the way we live and learn.” It encourages individuals and communities to reclaim control over their own learning processes and through that, reclaim their heads, hands, and hearts. Shikshantar’s philosophy springs from the Gandhian principle of Swaraj, which refers to self-rule and radiance-of-the-self. It’s individual and community self-realization and contribution.

Shikshantar supports localization to bring economy, ecology, and education back home. It starts from the premise that we all already have the things we need for contributing to the well-being of our place, whether they’re monetary resources, in-kind materials, our time, our energy, or our home. When we bring these into the flow of sharing as a community, it can serve and support all of us. Believe it or not, but I do: we have everything we need already.

We also support people who want to look at possibilities for learning outside the monopoly of schools and colleges. All around our communities are an abundance of resources. They come in the form of artisans and artists, farmers and business people, home-makers and spiritual guides. Each brings wisdom, creativity, curiosity, imagination, skills, vision, and experience, which can be shared across generations.

For example, Shikshantar considers the entire city of Udaipur [Rajasthan] to be a “learning city.” Children, youth, adults, and elders are engaging in exchanges, community dialogues, unlearning workshops, local media, etc. They’re challenging the dominant model of urban living – with its consumption, waste, alienation, and pollution – and figuring out how to live differently.

I work a lot with families on creating different learning spaces in their neighborhoods, like workshops and festivals. We do all kinds of things: theater workshops, dance workshops, music, cooperative games. We make a lot of crafts with waste materials like coconut shells, rubber tire tubes, discarded paper, scraps of cloth. And we’re into natural and ecological city living – rooftop gardening, rainwater harvesting, solar cooking, bicycle blending. Artists, farmers, healers, and cooks offer their skills to public venues and interactions.

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