For over two decades, Latha Rajinikanth has been addressing issues plaguing education. She talks to T. KRITHIKA REDDY about her school of thought.

It's like good old times again. The ashramas of the past are back. And Latha Rajinikanth hopes to give a new direction to pedagogy with inspiration from the ancient system. As she speaks with rare passion about their relevance in today's world, one thing is clear - learning is about liberating.

Rigid schedules, zero-tolerance policies, accomplishing academic pursuits at a frenetic pacethese are issues that have filled her mind for over two decades. And her search for answers is apparent in "Anandhavana", her dream school for "little people".

In the tidy office at her Poes Garden residence, tradition and modernity coalesce - the way it does in her well-nuanced approach to education. "Our puranas and shastras have spelt out the methods. But somewhere down the line, there's been a major shift in perspective - probably due to the invasion of cultures or changes in the system. Sadly today, we focus only on career-oriented education. But there's no assurance that a well-educated person has life skills. Otherwise, why would a techie shoot himself or, a student commit suicide? Is education killing our children?" she asks.

Approaching children's education with love and logic, Latha initiated reforms through the Velachery-based The Ashram, which she founded in 1991. "We have to think parallel, yet remain in the mainstream." So she designed her own model, TASSC (The Ashram School Specialised Curriculum), to help children handle the different phases in their lives with ease, and without the emotional jolts that come with the sudden transformation that they undergo.

"I don't understand why we treat children like adults. Why can't we just let them be? At Anandhavana in Saidapet, we have a session called 'Just Be' where kids are allowed to do whatever they feel like," she explains. In fact, to make Anandhavana a lovable second home for children (aged two to six), she insists that someone known to the child accompanies the child till he/she settles in. "I want the crying to stop. Children must not be scared of school. We have three sessions everyday, and a child is free to walk in when he/she pleases. A child behaves differently each day. This is not an office routine!" she smiles.

Continuing in reminiscent mode, the wife of matinee idol Rajinikanth says her moorings made her take up the cause of education. "My parents were philanthropists. My home was open to whoever needed help. It was one big happy family with relatives and the entire neighbourhood. Today's gadget-centric children fail to interact with people around them. We buy them branded toys and take them to posh restaurants. But something very simple is missing in their lives - people. And of course, the sheer joy of childhood. Some children have decided that academics is everything. They are stressed out and have forgotten to smile! It's here parents need to step in - teach the child time management and support the child through other activities of interest. I know parents who stop children from music classes because of the Board examinations. If a child is allowed that one hour for sport or the arts, he'd probably fare better in academics!"

Onus on parents

A firm believer in the fact that the onus is on parents to enrich the lives of their young ones, she says, "Listen to the child. Look at things from his/her perspective. What is locked up now will manifest itself as personality problems later. It's sad we feel less and think more these days. It's important to give children a strong emotional foundation so that they'll be able to handle all their future roles."

And that's what she tries to do in her schools - look at education for life through her TASSC model (ICSE curriculum). It lays emphasis on "right education for right living." Says Latha, "It's about moving ahead through the ashrama phases (Gokulashrama - 7years to 11years, Gopashrama - 12 years to 15years and Mathurashrama - 16 and 17 years) with supportive academics (from art and craft to life orientation and grooming) that mould the child to become a well-rounded personality."

Quick to comprehend the challenges facing today's children, she says in an emotion-choked voice, "The Board examination is not everything since it satisfies only the curriculum. We have to understand what a student is, what he would like to be and what he is capable of becoming. To me, there's nothing called failure. If at all there's failure, it's in the system. We have no right to call any child a failure because our methods of assessment are incorrect. Someone writes, someone corrects, someone gives the marksThe teacher who has been through the child's graph of growth is nowhere in the picture! A child's mind is abstract. How can we have a rigid system to evaluate something abstract? We put 40 children in a class and expect them all to be photo copies! Let's just allow children to be children. Listen to them as little individuals.