Every morning, the teachers at the Aditya Birla Integrated School, Fort, gather to discuss and evaluate the progress made by every student. Once the school day begins, some students go for occupational and sensory therapy; others are counselled for behaviour issues, while a few attend animal-assisted pet therapy sessions that help them open up to their peers.
At Inodai Waldorf School, Andheri, a teacher spreads sand on an illuminated board and a group of toddlers gathered around it are asked to write the letter recently taught to them.
It is not just the teaching styles that are unconventional at these schools and other so called ‘alternative schools’. Their approach to education is different. There are no textbooks and most of these schools do not have formal tests until Class 5 or 7.
In its second year, Aditya Birla School caters only to children with learning disabilities and those who are academically and even emotionally weak. The school is not affiliated to any educational board. “Students get all kinds of therapy under one roof. Parents don’t have to spend on it separately,” said Dr Zirak Marker, chief executive officer for the school and also a child psychiatrist.
The newly opened Kohinoor American School, near Pune, which is attended by some students from Mumbai, has cosy armchairs, bean bags and some pillows on the carpet; it’s up to the students to pick any comfortable corner to sit in. It follows a child-centred learning style popular in the United States. “Schools usually require students to sit still in a space for long, but we don’t want to restrict them,” said Mehran Akhtarkhavari, the school director.
The school, which follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, does not look at Class 10 exams as an indicator of success. “There is a concept-based online assessment at the end of the middle years programme, but it is not a requirement,” said Akhtarkhavari. “We encourage them to take it, some do and some don’t.”
These schools have found many takers among Mumbai’s marks-oriented parents. Inodai Waldorf School, which has an educational model based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, started out with only nine students in 2011 and now has 170 students. “Parents in the city are becoming more aware about alternates to conventional schooling. We get parents who are against rote-learning,” said Bindu Chowdhary, school trustee.
“We believe that the inner needs of an individual change every seven years and teach according to that,” said Chowdhary.
The schools said they understand students’ needs at various stages of development. At Somaiya School, Vidyavihar, punching bags are placed in the school for students to hit at or embrace, depending on their mood.“We give importance to students’ voices,” said Parveen Shaikh, principal of the school. “If a child is unhappy with a teaching style, she can walk up to the teacher and tell her to change it.”