Mahila Shikshan Kendra

Curricula captures a vision and approach in a manner that can be transacted with learners. Curriculum development has been a critical part of Nirantar’s work. We have also worked with different organisations to help them develop educational material. In 1994 Nirantar collaborated with the Mahila Samakhya or Education for Women’s Equality (a national-level government programme for women’s empowerment) in Uttar Pradesh to develop a residential education programme for rural women — the Mahila Shikshan Kendra (MSK), the first MSK in the country. MSK was then adopted by the Mahila Samakhya programme and has since been expanded throughout the country. Today MSKs are spread across the country.

Between 1994 and 1997, we worked intensively with teachers and learners at the local Mahila Samakhya team in Banda to develop the MSK curriculum. Developing that first curriculum for the first MSK was a furiously frantic but heady experience. Nirantar members took turns to stay at the MSK, working till late into the night to prepare lessons for the next day. The hunger for knowledge of the learners, the nervousness of the teachers, the desire of the Nirantar team to develop the curriculum based on how learners were responding and what they needed… That exciting first MSK curriculum development proved to be a high learning curve both for Nirantar and for the local team.  The curriculum was based on the principlesof being learner-centered, holistic and feminist and non-judgmental approach.

The curriculum also sought to be redefine what is considered to be 'relevant'. In the context of rural development, rural women are constructed primarily as ‘development objects’. This construction accordingly determines that only development which is ‘useful’ is deemed to be relevant. And usefulness is generally defined as ‘that which directly betters their daily lives’. It follows from this that literacy is relevant, vocational training is relevant, and functional information (health, hygiene, government schemes, ways to improve cropping patterns, etc) is relevant. Development interventions for rural women have largely remained circumscribed by these parameters of relevance. In our curriculum, we sought to link personal experience to an understanding of larger social realities. For example, personal experiences of caste combined with the historical antecedents of the caste system and its evolution as a system of social stratification. We also redefined relevance by exploring areas such as popular science, and perhaps unsurprisingly found that rural women are no different from us in their innate curiosity and desire to learn new things.