Real and meaningful education

Last week unfolded itself in a very pleasant way making me more receptive and appreciative of the power of small – small towns, small schools and more importantly small steps to make the world better for our children.

This is about a school in Rishikesh that we had the good fortune to work with. Our initial reaction was that there must be a lot that we could contribute to the school, as they would not have very many opportunities of interacting with and learning from people outside the town. The reality was very different from our initial perception.

Today, when education shops with fancy infrastructure are preferred over innovative and sound practices, education has become a compromised commodity. Yet there is this completely unassuming school that is exemplary in its approach towards education, its children and towards society at large. The management, which is of a certain religious hue charges nominal fee from the parents, based on the principle of no-profit and giving back to the community more than it receives. Some of the exceptional features of the schools are:

  • Social Responsibility: The management runs another school for the economically disadvantaged, where the curriculum and resources (human and material) are comparable to this school. The students in this particular school do not pay any fee and get all supplies and nutritious snacks from its in-house bakery and dairy. There is constant interaction between the teachers and students of both the schools as equals in both curricular and co-curricular activities. What a wonderful way to instil a sense of social responsibility!
  • Health & Safety: The school has its own bakery and cowshed where they raise milch cattle to provide for milk product and healthy (unadulterated) snack for all children. What a wonderful teaching resource these two places can be while at the same time ensuring quality and purity of produce!
  • Environmental Responsibility: The school has its own sewer treatment plant and the filtration plant provides irrigation to their well-manicured and green lawns. What a wonderful way to inculcate a sense of environmental responsibility!
  • Belonging & ownership: The school has aesthetically designed waste bins all over the campus, in very child-friendly forms and the children have been taught to look after them. As a result of the carefulness of all concerned, especially the children, the bins look brand new, even after years of being exposed to the elements. What a wonderful way to instil a sense of belonging and pride of ownership of common areas in the school, among students!
  • Religious tolerance: The prayers in the morning assembly are taken from different religious texts. What a wonderful way to elevate religious tolerance to respect for religious diversity!
  • Conservation: Efforts are underway to set up water harvesting plant and solar heaters on the campus. What a way to instil respect and appreciation for water & fuel; two of the most significant and increasingly scarce resources, not to mention the environmentally positive implications of these measures.

Sometimes, as educationists the glare of flashy appearances blinds us so much that we overlook what it means to educate and be educated. Yet there are these little and yet very significant things that we can do to bring about a paradigm shift in how we do schooling and in instilling a sense of social responsibility.

This school in Rishikesh leads by example. It tells us that our institutions of learning should be more than passive mirrors of the society at large, but laboratories for shaping and nurturing the kind of society that we want to create for our children and ourselves.