Man’s quest for knowledge is best served by nature
I recently visited a few alternative schools in Bengaluru, in south India. The purpose of visiting these schools was to learn from them so that I could replicate (if appropriate) some of their practices.
I was happy to see that kids learn without the fear of failing exams, ridicule by peers, or any such pressure from the parents and teachers alike. I was also happy to see that these schools are pretty much a community. At the schools that I visited, I saw the parents being an active participant. At Centre for Learning (CFL), one of the schools I visited, I was told that the dinner is always made by a parent. A CFL parent passionately told me how she would stay overnight on campus to care for the young kids. Everybody seems to know everyone in these schools, even though there may be a significant age gap.
However, what struck me the most is the necessity of having a forest on campus. The calm and serenity that comes with a forest provides the perfect setting for learning. I was told that The Valley School (a Krishnamurti School) had its art village right in the centre of the bamboo grove that you see in the picture above. What an organic setting for learning art and craft!! Unfortunately, the Forest Department tore down all the structures on the pretext that one could not build within a buffer zone from the boundaries of a Forest Reserve. Wonder when we will learn to separate the wheat from the chaff!
CFL in the last 2 weeks of every term does something called the ‘Mela’. Mela is unstructured learning around a theme that is chosen by the students and the teachers. This term’s theme was trees. So I saw a couple of the older kids perched up on a machan (tree house) and doing God knows what. Some were on the ground drawing, while there were other younger kids who were doing a skit.
A forest around provides for diverse ways of learning — about the plant life, the animal kingdom, art, craft, etc. But more importantly, it provides a holistic perspective to life. One tends to fall in love with nature and it is this attitude that helps one in making more informed decisions later in life. Come to think of it, the reason why we have challenges related to climate and global warming is because the physical spaces in which our educational institutions reside are so detached from nature. When children live in a conditioned environment right from their formative years, how can we get these children to be more conscious of what damages the Earth?
Apparently, I was told by a visiting faculty at Shibumi, another alternative school, is that the place with the highest biodiversity in the UK is actually the backyard of an Oxford Professor. This just goes to show that one need not necessarily have large tracts of land to build a forest like space.
Here is some eye candy for the nature lover. These are pictures that I took at The Valley School.
PS: This blog was initially posted on November 23, 2016