“One day, 10 years ago, I was walking around the school early in the morning collecting the litter lying around and found matchsticks, junk food packets and things you would not associate with schoolchildren — that is when I realised the garbage can be the starting point of a conversation with children,” says Lakshmi Suryanarayanan, director, Olcott Memorial High School.

The school has a rule. Every child collects at least 10 pieces of garbage a day. “The idea is also to remove the stigma from waste picking, both students and teachers do it,” she says.

A unique sense of environmental consciousness prevails in this 116-year-old school that caters to the educational needs of children from deprived backgrounds. The regard for nature percolates to the study of subjects, including science. “We try to evoke the natural sensitivity in them, letting them grow at their own pace,” says Ms. Suryanarayanan.

There are no children trying to catch butterflies or dragonflies or children plucking flowers, but two children do run after a dog. “There is a chewing gum stuck on its fur, we are trying to remove that,” says C. Manikandan of class IX. Most children in school say they love nature, and hence they like science.

The dogs are very much part of the school and are kept clean by the students themselves. On spotting a snake, the students “call people who drive it away to its home, the forest,” says little M. Manivannan, pointing in the direction of the sprawling trees nearby in whose shade the children study. And the importance of food and water is stressed too and no one wastes any in the school.

“Science taught from books often is reduced to being a comprehension exercise, hence we try to move teaching to facilitated learning,” says Ms. Suryanarayanan. As children fiddle with the new laboratory apparatus donated to the school by the State Bank of India on Tuesday, she says, “We respect every child's psycho-motive ability to handle equipment, there will be breakages but that is how they learn to be responsible.” The equipment, worth almost Rs.5 lakh, were handed over to the school at a function in which SBI's General Manager (NW 1) S. A. Thimmiah participated,

“From teaching them to feel their breadth, bones and pulse, to helping them think beyond Paringimalai when it comes to mountains, we help them converge the worlds of thinking and exposure using pictures, videos, and practical lessons,” Ms. Suryanarayanan says.

The children also learn a lot from observing their parents, majority of who are either fishermen or domestic help in households.

The teachers are well aware of the psychological problems faced by the children. “We have to be their parents and mentors, and many a time, counsellors to their parents. They might not grow up to be academically brilliant, but I am sure they would be compassionate human beings, and that makes me proud of them'', Ms. Suryanarayanan adds.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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