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A world of difference

mumbai Updated: Nov 26, 2009 01:15 IST
Neha Bhayana
Neha Bhayana
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Every morning the teachers at Tridha school in Vile Parle stand at the classroom doors, warmly welcoming each student. They hold the children’s hands, smile, look into their eyes and sometimes even whisper a quick question like, “What is two times two?” into their tiny ears.

Not far away, at Shishuvan school in Matunga, students greet their teachers by their first names when they meet them in the corridor. When teachers enter their classrooms, they are not expected to get up and say, ‘Good morning, Ma’m.’

It’s not only the greetings and the teacher-student relationship that are unconventional at Tridha, Shishuvan and other so-called “alternative” schools. Their methods of teaching are also a far cry from the usual class work-home work style. There are no textbooks and most of these schools do not have tests until class five.

Sahyadri School near Pune, to which some parents in the city send their children, for instance, does not have exams till class nine.

“What is necessary is learning in the classroom and evaluation of skill,” said Principal Amresh Kumar. “This can be done without marks. They are not essential for a good education.”

One would have thought that schools that do not set store by class 10 board exam results as an indicator of success, may not have many takers among Mumbai’s marks-oriented parents. But surprisingly, the schools say that the demand for their education has only been increasing.

Tridha, which started with 20 students in 2000, now has over 250. The Indian Education Revival Trust, which runs the school, plans to start a new division to accommodate more students. From the next academic year, the school is also moving to a bigger and better campus in Andheri (East).

Shishuvan, established in 2001, has 1,300 students, including many from Ahmedabad, Chennai and Delhi who stay in the hostel attached to the Gujarati-medium division.

Rishikul Vidyalaya, another school that has a unique educational model, located in Bandra, started with 13 students in 2002 but now has 405 students. Moreover, its students come from as far as Colaba and Andheri.

“Parents in the city are more aware and want their children to get a more holistic education,” said Mallika Kotian, the principal of Rishikul Vidyalaya.

All these schools work on a child’s overall growth, based on a solid understanding of the child’s moods and needs at various stages of development.

That’s why the kindergarten classrooms at Rishikul Vidyalaya have mattresses so that students can take naps if they feel sleepy and punching bags so they can release their pent-up energy. “If a student feels restless during class, teachers allow him or her to go out for a brief sprint or run,” said Kotian.

Ringside view

At one class in Tridha, the students are standing in a circle and practicing their tables by clapping their hands and tapping their feet to a peppy beat. They use dandiya sticks as the numbers get bigger.

In another class, kindergarten students are washing dishes after enjoying home-cooked snacks. Head to the compound and you see the class two students cautiously walking backwards on a slim wooden beam, propped up by two chairs. The teacher is training them to achieve a sense of balance.

“We try to engage children in fun activities with the aim of educating them, not entertaining them,” explained Ruth Mehta, one of the trustees.

But does this system of education, make it stressful for children when they have to compete with students from other schools in the class 10 board exams? “It is a bit difficult for them to adapt when they first give exams in class 7 but by class 10 they are well-prepared,” said Mehta.

Kumar points out that Sahyadri students have got an average of 80 percent in class 10 ICSE exams in recent years and many have scored over 90 percent.

Parents who send their children to alternative schools need to be clear about their priorities, said Chandrika Patila, whose six-year-old son Arsh goes to Tridha.

“I am not bothered that my son still can’t recite A to Z. It matters more to me that he can identify a centipede in the garden and pick it up,” she said.

Alternative schools also don’t believe in the usual kneel-on-the-floor or finger-on-your-lips kind of methods to discipline students. When teachers at Tridha encounter a noisy class, they start playing a musical instrument or clapping their hands in a rhythmic beat. Often, they find class calms down.

These schools teach children about the consequences of their actions, rather than mete out punishments.

“If a child acts violently, we reason with the child and try to understand the cause of the behaviour,” said Rishikul Vidyalaya’s Kotian. “We ask the child to express himself by drawing or write a letter of apology to the classmate he has hit.”