A school for change

For growth and renewal of education Santhya Vikram  

“We all know how right to education has become an important part of the national discourse. I wish ‘Right to Childhood’ becomes the primary impulse for educational reform and that the pursuit of celebrating childhood becomes the preoccupation of every teacher and every school.”

Santhya Vikram is passionate about encouraging progressive thinking in education. And her school Yellow Train has become an example that needs to be emulated. Recently, at a National Conference at Raipur, Yellow Train’s case study was presented to over 600 School Leaders and paved a way for more people learning about their work. Institutional leaders regularly visit her school to know more. The organisers of the Inspiration Festival at IIM-Ahmedabad also visited her school and felt that Yellow Train’s story needed to be told to more people. Santhya was invited to speak at the Inspiration Fest, an educational initiative that brought together educators from across the country and abroad to share and learn from each other. Excerpts from the conversation:

The Inspiration Festival

It is a festival where people come to get — well —inspired. This time the focus was on education. They had invited people doing pioneering work in education across the world. Most of them were Ted Speakers or had established themselves as change leaders in the areas they were involved in. There was Pankaj Jain, once professor at IIM and MIT; Aaron Eden, a well known educator from the United States; Roman Sterns, a Stanford-educated educational leader; Kiran Bir Sethi from Riverside and other illustrious speakers. There were over 400 people in the audience largely educators — school leaders, professors and teachers.

There was inspiration everywhere. As you walk in, a poster reads, ‘The road ahead leads to some unusual schools’. I was sitting amid a few hundred people — educators, authors, counsellors, musicians, historians, social workers...

The highlights

I loved the campus and the auditorium. To see pictures of people who have spoken there from the Dalai Lama to Abdul Kalam and to deliver a talk in that space to such an esteemed audience was quite an experience. Everyone had a story to tell. There were so many people working towards social change in various corners of the country in diverse fields. I met people working with monks and nuns, authors, historians, social workers and music educators. We often feel despondent that our country has so many issues. But meeting these people who are making a difference in their own way shifts your perspective. Small drops make an ocean. And it feels very humbling to be a small drop in this ocean of change we are all striving towards.

The stand-out speakers

They were all extraordinary. Aditi Gupta gave a powerful talk. She is a Ted Speaker, a social entrepreneur who works to spread awareness about menstruation though her initiative Menstrupedia. The plight of girl children in rural India even today is sad. Aditi’s educational material is being used extensively in India, Nepal, Latin America and Africa to bring awareness and change. The other story was that of Pankaj Jain who chucked his micro-finance career and his teaching at IIM and MIT to create Gyanshala. What started as a programme for out-of-school children in the slums, 15 years ago, has grown to 1550 learning centres in nine cities covering 45,000 children where the focus is on low-cost, high-quality education. Vikramjit Singh, a critically acclaimed Heritage Activist, spoke on ‘Where did we go wrong in teaching history to our children?’ There were many stories like this. It is really hard to pick one or two.

Schools that are Changemakers

Green School, Bali, The Riverside School in Ahmedabad, The Isha Homeschool and the Yellow Train were showcased as change makers. I am a great fan of the Green School Bali — also called the Greenest School on earth — and known for what it has created in sustainable living and learning practices. The Riverside School and Kiran have won many awards for their innovative work and the Isha Home School too.


I noticed how everyone feels a need for change in our education system. People see how our current system can no longer serve the children to meet the future. There is a growing dissatisfaction and a genuine search for alternatives — even among mainstream practitioners. This is good news.

And some of the things that I see schools doing are travelling to other schools and learning from best practices, becoming more democratic with teachers and children, putting creative thinking and collaboration ahead of academic work and most importantly staying open to new learning and possibilities.

People often express surprise that, in a small city like Coimbatore, there are takers for a progressive ideology like ours. I talk with great pride about the community of parents who are deeply convinced that there is far more to education and childhood than preparing for examinations. Our deeply committed and passionate teachers are the real custodians of the Yellow Train promise and they are the biggest reason why the school is able to be in the real service of children.

The outcome of festivals such as this

I see meaningful collaborations and initiatives. A forum has been established for schools across the country to come together and learn from each other. There is also a network of alternate and progressive schools being established which will serve as a support for schools wanting to re-invent themselves. I see dialogue between the government-run schools, NGOs that work in this space and the progressive school community. In my mind, the biggest value coming out of these initiatives and conversations is the strength that the teacher community can find for growth and renewal, which is otherwise in great scarcity.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 8:51:16 AM |

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