Stayed for some days at Navneel’s home. He always insists that I should stay there permanently but I always denied. This time I agreed to stay for couple of weeks. Navneel asked me if I would like to visit his son’s school. I immediately agreed because I wanted to know the modern techniques people are using to teach now a days.
During my mid 30s I have heard many incidences where teachers have gone to jail for punishing students and Students attempting to harm teacher physically, mentally and financially. The last hope for a job seeker was to get into teaching profession in schools. Only advantage was if you get an opportunity in government school. You get good salary and at the same time you have to work less number of hours in a day as compared to other jobs and you get more holidays. Although in private school the situation was different. Although teachers were paid less but they had to work extremely hard to ensure parents do not complain anything about school. So I hardly had any expectation from this school visit. Navneel decided to send his son to a government school. The most disappointing fact was that, it is a boarding school. I was very unhappy about this decision which Navneel took. How can you send your kid to a boarding school at this age. I know the quality of food and care they take in boarding schools is pathetic.
We took public transport because Navneel never bought a car of his own and my Maruti Alto was dead since last couple of decades. We reached a stop from where we had to walk one hundred meter to reach the school gate. Gate was almost invisible due to big trees all around. We entered inside the gate and found there were no building. Only huts here and there. I asked Navneel, “So it is Gurukul type. Teaching under the trees. huh!”. Navneel said “Yes, it is Gurukul but Gurukul does not only mean teaching under trees. There are many things which makes Gurukul different from western education system.”. I kept quiet and continued walking.
A young, smart-looking gentle man was coming towards us. Navneel introduced me saying that he is the Acharya who will take care of his son. He did Namaste to me which I had to reciprocate. I was very much confident that they just tried to replicate the old Gurukul system. I started enquiring about the teachers qualification. I was surprised to know that he has Rishi title (Doctorate) and has done research on best ways to teach children between the age of 7 till 9. He looked pretty young and dashing. He started explaining me the admission and education method. He said, “Every student has to go through Vratopanayana before getting into the school. Irrespective of their caste, sex, religion and country of birth”. I thought, “What non-sense? Vratopanayana is for Hindu Brahmin Boys. In my view doing it for everybody irrespective of cast, sex, religion and nationality is a religious crime. But did not say anything.”. He continued saying, “This is the initiation ceremony to attract the child towards organized learning. This is also a ceremony where Student, Teacher and Parents take a vow to abide by all rules which are meant to help child become a knowledgeable, responsible citizen of prosperous Bharat as well as whole world.”.
I asked, “So, What curriculum you follow to teach the child?”. He explained, “We do not have any fixed curriculum. We observe the child for first two years. In this period, we tell stories and ask them what they understood and answer their questions. We take them to various implementation sites and encourage them to ask questions and finally ask them to tell us what they observed. Based on their observations and specific angle of observation, we figure out the subject which the child is more interested in. We rank the subjects of interest and those subjects become the primary curriculum for the child. We also identify the manner or the method which helps the specific child to learn faster. We use that method. We also make sure that the child experiences the importance of the subjects which he or she did not show much interest throughout, so that he or she does not completely ignore those subjects.”. I found it interesting. I asked, “So, what is the medium of communication?”. He responded, “Mother tongue of the child is the primary medium. We do encourage them to learn other languages as they grow up. But that is only based on their interest”. I curiously asked, “You do not teach them to speak in English? How will they get good job if they do not know proper English.”. Acharya responded saying, “We teach them to speak and they choose which Language to speak. English is no longer the only language of business communication. With enormous local job opportunities what is most important is to understand mother tongue.”. Navneel added, “Baba, we communicate in our mother tongue in my office.”. I enquired, “You speak in Bengali?”. He said, “No, Gujarati”. I immediately corrected him, “But your mother tongue is Bengali.”. He smiled understanding my concern and said, “Mother Tongue is the language spoken in the mother land (Matrubhumi) and spoken by mother (Maa). So Gujarati and Bengali both are my mother tongue, and then comes Hindi . Have you ever seen me making any mistakes while writing or speaking in Bengali. That is because I love my Mother’s language too. If you learn the language that you hear all around you well, then you can master any other language easily.” I believed him because he is good in Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi as well as fluent in English.
I wanted to see the school premises. Acharya took me for a round. I saw kids playing everywhere, in paddy fields, on top of trees. In some places one teacher is telling stories to some kids and in another place kids are building their own hut, milking cows, repairing solar driven vehicles or reading books of their interest. People of various religion are practicing their religious rituals and Acharya is trying to help them understand the reason and benefit of those rituals.
I saw 14-15 year old girl came with a small container. She opened the container near a paddy field. There were many small insects came out of that and went into the paddy field. Then she took a palmtop and started doing something with the stylus. I went near her and asked, “So, enjoying Video game near a paddy field?”. She did pranam to me and said, “No Dadu, I am monitoring the nutrient value of the soil. I have sent some robotic insects into the paddy field and they are examining the soil and sending the signals back to this device. This project started 4 years back. We are almost nearing completion.”. I asked, “You developed this? No way!! This is amazing.” She said, “With Acharya’s guidance and support of my seniors, I am trying to.”. I was amazed my the innovation at this age. But Acharya explained me, “This is just one our of several hundreds of innovations these kids are doing. This is because they are allowed to imagine. We do not teach anything here, we just shape their imaginations and interests”. I asked, “So, what is the success ratio? How many percentage of students pass every year?”. He laughed and said, “Who are we to fail anybody? Our motto is to succeed in life.Once we think the child is ready we let the child go to pursue further education in universities or if they wish to earn then we facilitate them in that as well. There is no specific age for a child to complete his or her education”.
No age, no English, no curriculum. It looked like a joke to me. But Navneel had already made up his mind. I have no say here. I liked the idea but was not sure whether it will work. I can accept all these but Vratopanayan for all was little too much I thought.
– Stray Dog