Alternate schooling in India
Alternate education implies that education will not be by rote, there will not be regular examinations, only the teacher’s word about whether the child has measured up (to what) and then at a certain age he will be deemed fit to enter the world and fend for himself. Chances are that he will be a miserable failure in everyday material life because he will not get a job and will consequently not earn much money. On the other hand he will still manage to be happy because he is capable of a strange faith in his own self, of his ability to do differently and he will earn just enough to scrape by with a strange satisfaction of life being really good. The question, however, is that, is it such a bad idea to think of getting a degree or two so that one may get a well paying job and consequently earn more money? In India, the number of unemployed people is equal to the number of people who slave eight hours a day for just two meals a day.
Shantiniketan, was originally an ashram set up by Devendranath Tagore in 1863. His son experimented with a tiny class of students in 1901 that eventually evolved into the Vishwabharati University. Tagore wanted classes under the wide blue skies and that is how they are held! There are stories that tell of how the man himself had to try and keep from getting drenched in the heavy rains that characterize the Bengal monsoons and was not very successful in a particular Shantiniketan hut because it was built around a tree and the rain seeped in one no matter where one sat. The range of studies is wide, with an emphasis on art, music, dance and the humanities and if the student’s mind wanders from studies it is sure to wonder about the thick lush trees or the cosmos.
Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE), an integral part of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, does not award any degree or certificate to its students after they graduate and the Government of India has only recently recognized the academic competency of its alumni. That does not in the least diminish the intelligence of its students and their ability to lead a more fulfilling life. This is a centre for research in education and it provides education from kindergarten to college levels of study. It teaches Humanities, Science, Languages, Engineering Technology, and Physical Education, and has facilities for learning drawing, painting, handwork, music and dancing (Indian and Western), dramatics, and arts and crafts. There are also, facilities for practical and manual work, and several libraries and laboratories.
Kanavu, a school in Cheengode village, the Wynad district of Kerala focuses on imparting education to the tribal children in the region. J C Baby who started this school works with tribal children and they learn from Mother Nature. Renowned educationist Gijubhai Badheka was deeply influenced by ancient Indian methods of teaching and opposed the conventional schooling system. He studied the subject of "how to provide a good education to children", and wrote a lot of books to get across to people, his views on improving the education system. "Divaswapna" or Daydreaming, and Education in Primary Schools are two of his very popular books. Dakshinamoorthy Balmandir set up by him in Bhavnagar achieved a great reputation, and continues to be a good school.
How do alternate centres for learning help children compared to the ones who study in regular schools? At the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE), the aim of education is not to prepare the individual student to "succeed" in life and society but to increase his perfection to the utmost. In keeping with these aims and ideals, the Centre of Education awards no degrees or diplomas, one of its objectives being to provide an atmosphere where knowledge is sought for the sake of knowledge, for the building up of the character, and above all for the joy of learning.
How are alternate centres for education harmful, then, and who do they harm? Sri Aurobindo says, “the acquiring of various kinds of information is only one and not the chief of the means and necessities of education: its central aim is the building of the powers of the human mind and spirit, it is the formation or, as I would prefer to view it, the evoking of knowledge and will and of the power to use knowledge, character, culture, -that at least if no more." While doing this, it is obvious that our children may not “succeed” in ordinary life. If our children of the new millennium find this not conducive, so be it.
The fact is as long as the child is healthy and happy it has an enormous capacity to be plastic. What they do need, though, is a set to parents to grow up with and not a nanny, then the parents cannot blame the school if the child learns words that he should not or shows aggressive or negative behaviour. Research has shown that concepts of caring, sharing and forgiveness are taught to children easily if there are grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins at home. They learn the meaning of unconditional love from their grandparents.
It is seen in the last five years that parents of toddlers are increasingly getting disillusioned with schools and prefer to teach their children at home till a certain age. Sending the child to a summer camp or a study camp for every set of holidays is another practice that leaves the child with no room to be alone. Good for the parents as they do not have to think of new methods to amuse the child but the individual in question is not left for a moment to himself. Children day dream a lot and they are always heroes in their dreams. My five year old son, for instance is always a ‘Power ranger’ or ‘Spiderman’ who is rescuing people in trouble. This imagination has built in him a lot of confidence and a very positive attitude. He can also amuse himself when he is alone and is equally happy with friends around. Yet, every fifteen minutes he needs a break to ask us if we still love him. Upon hearing the expected ‘yes’ he throws his arms around us and hugs us tight.