It’s official! Bathroom schooling comes out of the closet.

You thought I was kidding when I said that we do bathroom schooling.  (Here and here.)  I wasn’t. Well I was but then what would my non-kidding answer be?  Kidding was better than splitting hairs over whether I was homeschooling or unschooling.  Eventually I latched on to slow learning, not least because I was fairly sure it would never be used to market a school, unlike so many other mottos like child-led learning or curiosity-driven learning that start out progressive and end up serving commercial interests. I was pretty sure I would not have to ride by a double-sized, muted pastel coloured billboard in Mumbai and see the words “Slow Learning” staring back at me.

And so I did it. I talked about it, wrote about it, even went on youtube.

Watch that mass displace … Eureka!

Watch that mass displace … Eureka!

But for a homeschooling style that defies such publicity, you can’t beat bathroom schooling.  No pictures, no videos. We can’t write much more about it than that it happens, and fortunately we don’t need to either. Once you mention it, people understand because they also do it. Everyone does it.  No one talks about it.

Until now. Going live on Radio One Chennai along with Hema Jain, Sangeetha Sriram told the world about a moment in the life of her 5 year old, who gained an insight into multiplication while going to the bathroom.  Amidst the oohs and aaahs regarding the little one’s discovery and excitement, there was no surprise on the location.  A friend of hers even commented, “yes, most Eureka moments happen on the throne.”

So there you have it. In a long tradition going back to Archimedes and beyond, the bathroom is a place of learning worthy of respect and dignity.

Sadly, it is the case in India today that not every child has a bathroom or even a decent latrine. It is not necessary to go to the bathroom in a bathroom but a hygienic and safe place to go to the bathroom is becoming hard to come by for an increasing number of people, urban and rural alike.

* * *

The RTE campaign has highlighted the needs for bathrooms in schools and no one disputes this. But for the sake of education as well as health, hygiene and dignity for all, we must demand bathrooms out of school as well.

This is not as simple as it sounds, for it means first securing homes for all. Homelessness, however is increasing daily. According to the Working Group on Human Rights in India, one million people are displaced every year for so-called development projects. Only a fraction of these people get adequate rehabilitation. The projects benefit the haves while increasing the number of have-nots. See India uproots most people for ‘progress’

The Land Acquisition Act of 2011, far from alleviating these problems has only made it easier for corporations to acquire land not only for public purposes but also for private gain, through Special Economic Zones, Special Investment Regions and other Special things that continue to allow the rich to accumulate land, water, natural and economic resources and displace the poor.

And not to be snarky but it is the so-called educated who are in charge of these projects and these policies.

Apart from development-induced displacement there is displacement due to internal conflict and natural calamity and very poor if any rehabilitation.

I did not set out to write about land rights and housing rights, or even the right to bathrooms as part of right to education, but you see it’s all connected.

And also quite simple.  At home, school and in any public place, no one should ever be unable to access a bathroom. When you gotta go, you gotta go!

Postscript:  I had no answer when my daughter asked me about the following news item, why would the government do this?  I haven’t come across any follow-up on this news item and do not know whether the situation has improved in this village, but unfortunately it is hardly unique in illustrating official indifference towards civic amenities such as sanitation and education for the common people.

In Sept 2013, NDTV reported on a government school in Madhya Pradesh that operated on the premises of a toilet complex.

The RTE campaign site quotes the report:

Manasa, Madhya Pradesh: In a town in Madhya Pradesh, 90 children in uniform go every day to a women’s toilet complex that they call school. Classes are interrupted whenever women need to use the bathrooms. The children are made to turn the other way and wait till the women are finished. “It is very dirty and smelly, but no one cares that we are forced to study in a bathroom,” said Tina, a Class 5 student of the government-run primary school in Manasa town.

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