Two days visit to the famous Sholai School at Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. If you were to ask why would someone visit one school all the way south of Indian into the wilderness? What makes it so special and unique?
Let someone who visited the school describe it for you… we are a team of educators from Mumbai. A team of four educators, holding different responsibilities right from designing curriculum to managing schools.
(Starting from left – Dr. Vandana Kumar, Dr. Archana Sanil, Dr. Anita Agrawal and Mr. Sahil Sayed)
We had only heard about a Cambridge School which produces its own electricity and doesn’t depend on any external agent for its survival. A complete self-sustaining school adhered to J. Krishnamurthy’s philosophy. It was enough to make us curious to go and visit the school first hand.
Day 1 – Interaction with the teachers
Firstly it was difficult to recognize between the teachers and the people in the campus. It was their home so they didn’t have to wear formals all the time, plus it was a Sunday. We discussed their timetable, a true combination of academics and life skills. 12 hours of academics in a week sounds too less isn’t it but the principal Mr. Brian Jenkins says it’s little too much! Teachers at Sholai as we expected, don’t come from a conventional teaching background, they sounded more of ‘explorers‘ to me. Surely the way they teach is amazing: students given roll numbers based on elements in the periodic table, science was all around them – which seed to sow in which season the students, have to decide; if the crop doesn’t grow everyone would be deprived to eat it a true assessment with real consequences. English being the only language spoken in the campus even the little once of age 8 spoke with clarity and confidence. In case someone is interested to learn more languages they can opt for weekend extra sessions. With so much to offer we were eager to know their admission process. It was interesting to know the concept of trial month. A child who wants to enrol in the school has to stay for a month, it for him/her to experience and decide then. Plus the child must fit in the school’s ecosystem, the school do refuse if the child doesn’t fit socially said the teachers.
Day 2 – Into the woods with the students
The student of IG 1 (Nevin) and IG 2 (Girija) volunteered to take us for the tour. Starting from the dining hall, were we enjoyed hot streaming coffees (grown in the campus) along with jaggery. We began by finding the source of heat for the hot beverages. Silver Oak wooden logs burning in the furnace with minimum smoke we could see. The material of the brick and the design of the furnace made it special. Moving to the source of water we could trace canals running throughout the campus. The students had explored the campus to make a map plotting all the available sources, using gravity they collected the water in different water tanks. Added gravels, charcoal and electrodes to construct a perfect filter tank. There was no waste collection van we could see coming to the school…may be because the school doesn’t produce any waste. They have a storage house nicely labelled with categories like plastic which they use it in road construction, paper which they recycle and metals which they tinker with. Oh, this is crazy! They don’t rely on external electricity supplied by the government. That’s right they don’t have to pay any bills. Nature is used to its fullest right from using the flow of water to create hydroelectricity to using human excreta for producing electricity using bio gas plants; they have n number of solar panels installed across 100 acres. On a sunny day they get to use their ICT or computer lab to its full potential. We found the students to be in perfect harmony with nature they make decisions as per the climate and weather. Farming being their bread and butter every student has their own plot to grow veggies. We saw tomatoes, coffees, mint, parsley, oregano, oranges…and we had them too on the lunch table. Boys’ hostel been across the river they literally cross the river every day to attend their classes. Carpentry, electrical work and mechanics is part of their hobby. It’s rare to see them sitting bored because they say there is so much to do. Whereas the kids in our cities feel without mobile phones there is nothing to do!
Our journey ended with a brief session with the principal Mr Brian. A man who says we don’t need to inculcate or expect from students rather be together with them to experience and grow. He did share his personal journey and experience interacting with J. Krishnamurthy and his philosophy of relationship. A visionary who worked in the field of education to create awareness of self and surrounding. According to him in order to impart a proper education they teacher to student ratio must not exceed 10. That we could see in the school of 52 students and 8 teachers. May not be feasible financially but remember their goal is to educate children.
Courtesy – To the future school leaders, an organization run by three enthusiasts (Dipankar, Shahid and Honey) who wish to bring change through education, they connect educators and school to exchange best practices.