One of the first three Ashoka Fellows, Gloria de Souza turned down lucrative business career opportunities to teach. She found an educational system that deadened student’s creativity, motivation to learn, problem-solving capacity, and faith in India. Gloria created and introduced modern experiential education that challenged students to think and to solve problems together instead of chanting facts. Her core contribution has not been to invent modern education but to adapt it to make it attractive to everyone in non-Western settings. Her patient work of adoption, persuasion, training, and organizing spread her impact widely. Eventually the government of India introduced her work into other districts, and UNICEF asked her to help first in Sikkim and then beyond. Other areas of India, in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East want Gloria to extend her program to their areas.
Who are your favourite changemakers from history?
Tarabai Moda is one of my favorites. She gave me my best lessons in an environmental approach that makes sensory awareness the key to learning by observation, enquiry, and discovery—indeed, to learning that lasts.
Tarabai Modak, who lived from 1892 to 1973, is another. She won the Padmabhushan award in 1962 for her original contribution to the field of education. She pioneered an approach that enabled impoverished rural children, and their parents as well, to learn from their daily experiences in their environment. She was 65 years of age, when she set in motion her project to educate adivasis (indigenous peoples in India) through anganwadis (a government sponsored child-care and mother-care center), believing that if children cannot reach school, school should reach them.
My exposure to Tarabai Modak’s ingeniously simple and inexpensive ways of using the learner’s available environment—to enable growth in learning skills and in the internalization of concepts related to maths, science, and geography—was my first experience of an authentic environmental approach to learning.