How alternative schools score better than regular ones in India

[Book extract] Free existence and absence of an authority is what is most distinctive about these institutions.

 |  5-minute read |   24-06-2016
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A group of class two and three students at the Centre for Learning, Bangalore, point to the swing in their classroom and ask me if I can swing or climb the coconut tree next to it. I answer that if they teach me, maybe I could.

A kid steps out of the group, his neck out, hands on his hips and tells me, "If you haven’t learnt it yet, let it be. It’s complicated!"

I burst into laughter but am amazed to see such little confident ones who could probably teach you a thing or two about life itself.

Students at the other schools I visited are no different. Be it Rajghat Besant, CFL-Bangalore, Sita School, Tridha Rudolf Steiner School, Inodai Waldorf School or Patha Bhavana in Santiniketan.

The usual grimness that one sees on the face of children when the word "school" was uttered was absent. At Rajghat’s green landscape, while I saw some children sitting under the tree by the Ganges, reading, some others were busy collecting stones for a game of cowdie, or four stones that they were to play later in the afternoon.

When a bhaiya, as young male teachers are addressed at Rajghat, asks them not to be out in the October heat, the children reply was that their constitution is too strong for it. Bhaiya laughed and went his way.

This free existence and absence of an authority at alternative schools is what is most distinctive about these institutions. The mind of students at these schools is actually bereft of fear. But that does not imply that respect for others is absent.

This fearless existence coupled with innovative ways of learning have benefited many that have gone through it. At the Rajghat Besant School, generations have been enrolling to learn the alternative way, the principal tells me. At other institutions, many students have come back to teach at their alma mater.

And new fan clubs are forming. Many parents who have seen the dark side of present-day schooling in India - the suicide rate among students, the violence on and among children, the failure rate, the consciousness of the economic divide at a tender age etc - swear by alternative schooling methodologies, their ideologies and philosophies.

No competition and non-comparative assessment

These schools base learning on co-operation - helping each other, working with each other and learning from each other. Given that in most alternative schools, there are no exams till the eighth standard but individual assessment of students by teachers which is shared with parents, the need to rank children in the class disappears.

Children are allowed to learn at their own pace, sans the examination stress. Emphasis is laid on strong understanding of the subject.

Also, since alternative schools follow a continuous assessment policy, it helps the teachers work better and closely with children. Assessment is non-judgemental and results are not displayed in the class or school.

Evaluation is purely used for teachers to know the level the learner is at, so as to extend teaching accordingly and to inform parents about the child’s progress.

Contextually adapted and flexible curricula

Most schools have a flexible curriculum and respond to the needs and contexts of the learners. These schools keep fortifying, modifying and building their ways and adapting to new ones. There is no fixed template providing the schools with many opportunities to revise the curriculum.

Several alternative schools don’t follow textbooks except for languages and mathematics. Teachers are encouraged to create their own learning material, sometimes involving children too; letting the child understand the process of learning is part of the overall educational process.

The belief is that adhering to textbooks could get the children into rote learning mode which is not encouraged.

Lack of pressure

A big advantage of a flexible curricula and no examination policy is that students can learn without being under pressure to perform in examinations. There is no rigid timeline to finish the syllabus. A child’s pace is central to all activities. This also means no homework or heavy school bags.

Besides, activities like drawing, singing, farming, gardening, clay modelling, weaving, knitting, painting etc, give children a positive avenue to direct their energies.

In the lap of nature

Be it Tagore or Krishnamurti or Waldorf, all philosophers of alternative education emphasised on learning amidst nature.

Most schools except the ones located in cities like Mumbai, have an exceptionally green cover and beautiful landscape like the Rajghat Besant School which is located on a beautiful 300-acre campus with ample green cover, overlooking the confluence of the rivers Varuna and Ganga, in the ancient pilgrimage city of Varanasi.

altsch-bd_062416013025.jpg Breaking the Mould: Alternative Schools in India; Westland; Rs 183.

Healthy student-teacher ratio

A small class size with a maximum of 25-30 students in most cases, the student-teacher ratio is good. Teachers know the students personally, understand their background, their leaning styles and are involved in ensuring that children learn. Learning is not fixed as per a daily timetable.

At many schools teachers stay beyond school hours to help children with studies, sports and curricular activities. At alternative schools which offer residential facilities, teachers share the hostels with children. Direct communication with students is the key. Teachers are trained to deal with children patiently and in a sensitive way.

In many cases, teachers do not hold a degree in Bachelor of Education but are highly qualified (PhD or Doctor of Philosophy in some cases), working with the school as they believe in the philosophies and strength of alternative models of learning. Many parents have also quit their respective jobs and joined these schools as full-time faculty members.

Students are taught to respect authority but not be fearful of it. This fosters a healthy and friendly relationship between teachers and students. Given that teachers are addressed as didis and dadas or bhaiyas, students develop a rather friendly approach to faculty members. This helps eliminate fear of authority.

Teachers are also available on campus most of the time which gives the students a comfort factor. In some schools, there are no hierarchies and students address teachers by their first names.

(Printed with publisher's permission.)


Kalpana Pathak Kalpana Pathak @pathakkalpana

The author is a journalist with Mint. Breaking the Mould is her first book.

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