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When teachers learn with the students

Parents are getting increasingly involved in the process of their children's education even as they search for alternatives to traditional schools. A scene at a school in Chennai Photo: M Karunakaran  

Satyavan hit a crossroads prematurely in life, when, at the age of 15, he chose to take the road less travelled. After scoring 70 per cent marks in Class X from a reputable school in Ahmedabad, he came all the way to Auroville near Puducherry, with the belief that he would build his future on the alternative schooling imparted here.

Several such contrarians have broken away from the herd to opt for schools such as the one in Auroville — a considered choice made out of the conviction that alternative education is superior to learning in conventional classrooms.

And, in the case of Auroville, the schooling experience has a certain spiritual resonance. “The vision we follow puts a great emphasis on nurturing the soul of a person,” says a spokesperson for Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research, an umbrella organisation of centres of educational research in Auroville.

Many students seek out Auroville, as Satyavan puts it, “after getting completely spaced out and lost in the conventional mould of the regular school.”

The most striking aspect here is that students learn in an environment devoid of pressure and with the freedom to choose what they want to learn.

Alternative schools in Auroville are grouped into the kindergarten, primary schools and the high school in a way that teachers get the space to address the specific needs of learners.

The simple philosophy is that small classrooms make for better and personalised teaching.

Where in regular schools the mind is considered the most important domain to be trained, here the focus is on integrated personality development — the physical, vital, mental, psychic and spiritual being. Auroville provides formal schooling up to the high school level, after which the theme shifts to informal education. Students can get apprenticed to a master of an art or craft.

“Many of our students excel in studies on joining mainstream universities or other centres of higher education. The system is now getting known among those looking for an alternative to regular education,” a teacher says.

“The activities are worked out for each student, and if a student wishes to learn something specific, that too is arranged. I chose to be here as I don’t fit in a regular school,” Priyamvada, a student, says.

The concurrent emphasis on physical education completes the personality development grid.

“Our programme for physical development caters to students from six different schools in Auroville,” says Rajeev Bhatt, coordinator at Dehashakti Sports and Physical Education.

No one method

In Chennai, The School run by Krishnamurti Foundation India is a favourite of parents and students. “My school’s greatest strength is that it did not conform to any one method of imparting education,” T.M. Krishna, Carnatic vocalist, says. Having graduated from this school in 1993, the artiste holds fond memories of his formative years spent on its campus and engages with the institution in different ways even today.

“While I can’t say it was any particular form of education, it was a well-rounded experience for me. The school provided all access tools for nurturing development in children, going beyond books and academics,” he says.

One of the biggest lessons he learnt for life, he says, is not to imbibe a culture of competition from a very early point in my life. “I remember how I took a trophy I had received in a music competition when I was about 10 to see my headmistress. She sat me down and explained how it really did not matter that I won the trophy, and asked me what I would have thought of myself if I did not win it,” Mr. Krishna recalls.

A fearless environment helping children be more expressive makes his school experience stand out even now, Mr. Krishna says. “Schools are essentially microcosms of society, and The School helped us all engage in discussions where even if we disagreed, there was no violence to it,” he says adding that the school instilled in children a respect for nature, with nature walks and other experiential activities.

The singer continues to keep in touch with the teachers and the headmistress, while his daughters study there now. “I conduct yearly workshops, engage in meetings with the school and also drop in for impromptu lunches,” laughs Mr. Krishna, giving a peek into the level of comfort he shared with his teachers. “Teachers, too, were learners there, and were part of the learning process,” he says.

While he admits to being part of the “collective community” that his school has turned out to be, where parents play active participants in their children’s learning, Mr. Krishna warns of the increasing micromanagement that tends to happen as well. “Parents, I feel, need to step back and stop micromanaging their children’s education. Let the school be and trust it to give a good education to your child,” he says.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 10:52:00 PM |

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