Among other ways, Abhijit describes mainstream education as a self-fulfilling prophecy, much in the way as one could imagine a Software Programmer who programmed 10 robots, and instructed them to further program 10 each, following an unending spiral that expands exponentially. After a few generations, the Programmer is no more, but the robots keep programming more robots, programmed to program even more. Each robot believes that the program is the ultimate truth and programming new robots an honorable job in the robotic society. However, it is still bound within the walls of its programming and cannot understand what it cannot imagine.
Abhijit was a robot too.
But any programmer would tell you that any program has the possibility to have bugs or errors in the programming. A small shift accidentally made in the coding can cause the program to fail and the robot to misbehave. Abhijit believes that he is one such bug.
He is not the only one, there have been many bugs. They screamed and shouted. They gave speeches and wrote books, telling the robots that what they follow is mere programming, and not the only truth. But the world of robots could not be bothered to listen. Bugs would come and go, and the robots would keep their faith in the one and only system.
This is how the industrial system of education has lasted the last 400 years or so. Abhijit is not very good at shouting. Nor does he have the discipline to write a book. So he took a different route.
He decided to reimagine the learning system (not necessarily education with its agenda. The difference, however, is for another debate) from scratch. Ignoring all that we know about schools and schooling. Ignoring the assumption and experience (and programming) that books, exams, teachers and classrooms make learning happen, he started playing with the fundamental fabric of learning or education (ignorantly blaspheming the robot culture).
He started his experiments in 2014, trying to understand what kind of learning would happen if learners would decide for themselves what, how and when they learned. What would happen if the community of learners were to run their own learning space, where they decided the schedules, rules and routines? Where learners were not just children but anyone with the will to learn and a need to grow and develop in their lives.
The Nook was born; a learning space where anyone could learn anything, anytime and based on their own individual needs, interests and curiosities. Where instead of competing with others to get the top scores, they collaborated to help each other to succeed, just like one must in real life.
Abhijit created Project DEFY, a non-profit organisation, together with the most brilliant minds he could find, who had similar discontentment with mainstream education and were more than willing to break the rules of the educational monoculture we find ourselves surrounded by.
So far, DEFY has developed several Nooks and University learning spaces, in different geographies Asia, and Eastern and Southern Africa, enabling several thousand learners to reclaim their learning and take control of their own futures. They do not have to be just another brick in the wall or a robot with undying faith in the programming.
Abhijit hopes that while DEFY attempts to challenge head-on the education systems we are confronted with, he also believes that the efforts of DEFY will encourage and inspire many others to also play with the fundamental fabric of education and create new models of learning and learning spaces as opposed to making incremental changes to the same education system that was never intended for intellectual enlightenment, but rather creatively designed for the corporate slavery of the middle class.