While everyone is talking about the pros and cons of Indian Education system, the innovative way founded by Shri.Jiddu Krishnamoorthy came to my mind.
I had the great oppurtunity of visiting Rishi Valley School near Madanapalle (AP) many times and its I should say I was very lucky to get a real insight into the system of education followed in the school.
The school looks like a village from a Bharathiraja film and it is said that the great location with majestic hills with a view of plush green valleys was hand-picked by the founder himself . The climate is pleasant throughout the year and a visit to the school is like taking a vacation in some exotic hill station.
The guest houses look like old Madras Bungalows and the dorms are in a similar style giving the entire place an old world charm.
You are surrounded by chirping birds which reminds you that the place is a bird sanctuary and any RVite passing by would stop and answer your queries about the birds.
The two aspects that impressed me are, there are no day scholars in the school (except the kids of the staff ) and so everyone is on equal grounds and the next one is that all the teachers live in the campus .This is a great advantage to the school as they can make a complete impact on the students without any outside influence. No day scholar telling her boarder friends " Hey..I went to a party yesterday and......" ..
What I saw was a homogeneous mix of kids from different regions and from various walks of lives ..you name them...they have them..diff languages..diff religions and diff races and even mixed races.... What a
blend ! It feels wonderful to see all these kids play together in great hrmony.
They have no uniforms, no exams upto 8th standard, have classes like yoga , batik , carpentry , bird-watching and pottery.
Visitors are not allowed to dip their fingers in clay :( while the students there were happily operating the electric wheel and were blissfully making pots and were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The happiness I could see in their faces... a million pounds cannot bring that. (This promptly sent me to Golden Bridge Pottery in Podicherry to enquire if there are any classes there...but no luck :( )
Although there is no uniform they have an unwritten dress code and wear appropriate clothes for different activities.Instead of exams , they have assignments and projects. I saw a 5th standard child ('fifthie' as they put it ) going around the campus asking other students what brand of shoes they were using and making a pie-chart with all the data collected. What a way to learn...! I mentally yelled at everyone who made me do tonnes of exercises in text books to understand the concept.
The classes are not always conducted in class rooms...one can see groups of student and a teacher seated under trees ,on stone benches or on long steps that are fixed here and there. The teacher would be in the centre while all the students would be seated around him/her in such a relaxed manner (as if they were watching a TV show! ). You can even see a bunch of them sharing the book with the teacher reclining on him/her.
Would you believe me if I tell you one little boy was swinging on a banyan (ariel) root during a class and the teacher was patiently calling out to him repeatedy? What rapport they have ..there is absolutely no fear or false respect in the children's faces. Just open minds and happy learning. I always think that only people who have a passion for children, nature and teaching go to Rishi Valley to teach there. There are many teacher who are RV products themselves.I have also seen some acadamecians who stay in RV for a few months and take pleasure in teaching the kids their subject.
Kids call the lady teachers and staff 'Akka' ..no 'Miss' ,'Ma'am' or 'Miss.Jones' there. They have a unique drawl to their 'Akka' pouring all their love into it. No standing up and bidding 'good morning's..just a 'Hi...Akkaaa.' . Even when I stop to talk to RVites ..their dialogues are always generously sprinkled with 'Akka's.
The library looks so inviting and using the Library is part of the curriculam and each child is expected to share his views in class.
Have you heard of a school which invites a teacher from the UK to tell stories and to teach the nuances of story-telling ? No wonder the kids had such great communication skills.
Importance of recycling and use of biodegradable material is not just a text book topic there and the use of plastic and polythene bags are prohibited.. Beats me how the kids dont complain but follow it in such a positive way.
Wild life preservation, enviromental awareness, appreciation of nature ,
kindness to animals are areas which are concentrated upon.Even the snakes (that are found commonly) are caught and taken away to be left loose in a remote area.
There is a hill called 'Astachal' and everyone gathers there at the same time every evening and in cloud of 'Sambrani' smoke to chase away the mosquitos sit there in absolute silence and watch the sun set. I was reminded of this
"The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together , the mountain and me,
until only the mountains remains."
____ Li Po
The education does not stop with the school but also extends to the hostel life.All the snacks the kids bring are collected together and shared equally. I was surpried to see that the living quarters are swept and mopped by the kids themselves . Dignity of labour at work. Most important of all...the boys are included too.I have seen teen-age boys doing the dishes with blaring music in the background and wonder of wonders enjoying the chore.
There is no topic that is taboo and the kids talk about anything under the sun with their teachers , all while walking around the school in the evenings.
Workshops are conducted by experts in the field.For example, Hindustani music by Bombay Jayashree....films by..who else but our ManiRatnam ,wild life conservation by Sekar dataatri are just a few in the long list.
But there are some criticisms about the system too...many ppl say that, these kids are brought up in a simulated environment and hence would find it difficult to face the real world. Well..I personally feel that the kids are fine and have no adjustment problems.After all being street-smart or pushy does not really help in the long run. Kindness, altruism, team spirit, generosity are no trivial traits and they never go unrewarded.
What better way to widen the mind than keeping them happy and making the learning experience a pleasant one..As the saying goes, if no learning is achieved , the teacher has failed more..It makes sense to see if the kids are in a receptive mood before teaching anything..
I sincerely feel that we should have more of these kinds of schools and also the final board exams should be modified to suit these schools.
I remeber reading an interview by actor Nandita Das in which she says her ultimate ambition is to set up a school like Rishi Valley. We need more of such people to better our existing system.