Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A RIVER Runs Through It: Random Thoughts On Schooling

I was going to say ‘random thoughts on education’ but changed my mind, not only because it seemed too grand and large, but also because when we say ‘education’ we usually mean ‘schooling’.

In Which I Get Annoyed

The previous week’s issue of The Week (June 11 issue) has an article on schools in Chennai. Unlike the reporter, I wouldn’t like to fling pithy labels around to describe the kind of schools these are supposed to be, but one of the schools the article talks about is The School. Here’s the portion of the article that has caused such indignation in me:

‘J. Krishnamurti said in one of his speeches: “It is the concern of these schools to bring about a new generation of human beings who are free from self-centred action, to bring about a mind that has no conflict within itself and so to end the struggle and conflict in the world.”

‘In contrast to this ‘commune with nature’ school the American International School…’

Am I missing something here? Can anyone see it? How does ‘commune with nature’ follow what JK had to say about education?

‘Commune with nature’. Sheesh. But I should have known better than to read on when I saw the beginning:

‘Education is no longer about just getting plugged to classrooms, listening to the monotony of a teacher’s drone. It’s all about students realising their potential, and generating pools of skilled man power.’

Oh my god. As if getting plugged in isn’t bad enough – welcome to the machine and all that – schooling is now about ‘realising potential’; from which, naturally, it follows that the realisation of potential is primarily a refined method of ‘generating pools of skilled man power.’

And clearly, this is why we need alternative schools.

The RIVER and the Valley

But while on the subject of Krishnamurti and education, one of the things I admire most about the Krishnamurti Foundation India is the way it stretches itself in all directions. People often talk about an alternative education; the sub-text is that this education will be available for the privileged. It is hard to imagine that a radical, engaged kind of teaching might be available to the poor or disadvantaged.

Initiated by The Rishi Valley School ,The RIVER project, about which more here, here and here, attempts to do just that. I’ve seen a film that attempts to document one such school in progress. I’ll link to it later. While the film is well-meaning, it is in what is happening in these rural school classrooms that the magic lies.

Imagine a school which is, in effect, one room. The school has been built by the very people for whom it is intended – the children of the village and the teacher who will be their guide. All around you are shelves with filled charts, boxes and all kinds of teaching aids. There is no blackboard. The children – boys and girls – are anywhere between three and fourteen. Through the day, each child works at something different. Someone is learning the Telugu alphabet; one child is helping another with some math that they had done just the previous week; when the teacher has to teach someone else, she asks one of the older children to help out with someone else. Geography is taught mostly outdoors. If they can be persuaded to, the women of the village come to evening school.

It sounds idyllic. It probably isn’t. The teachers must have some trouble persuading the people to allow their girl children to continue studying once they are thirteen. Or to let their children into school at all instead of working in the fields.

It sounds idyllic but it happens. In several villages across Andhra Pradesh and in other States, RIVER schools are thriving.

Can you imagine a regular run-of-the-mill school of the kind you or I attended where children are vertically grouped and allowed to study what they like, how they like and at their own pace?

Stumped (for an answer)

A few days ago (when I began this post but had to abandon it) I was asked, “Frogs have sticky tongues, don’t they?”

“Yes,” I replied. “That’s how they catch flies. The flies get stuck on the tongue.”
Next question (you didn’t think there’s only be one, did you?): “Then how come, if the tongue is sticky, it doesn’t get stuck to the frog’s mouth?”

That was when I was stumped. Any answers, anyone?


david raphael israel said...

I was (another thing I didn't know) unaware of this Krishnamurti foundation's educational projects -- interesting. As a graduate of a salubrious "commune with nature" school ;-) (among other reasons), I'll be curious to find out more about this.


Anonymous said...

Just as spiders don't get caught in their own webs, frogs' mouths don't find their tongues sticky!