Experiments in Education
Perhaps the first experimentation in education in India happened with the founding of the Visva Bharati by Rabindranath Tagore. The university has mentored greats like Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen. Unfortunately, Visva Bharati is now no longer what Gurudev intended it to be, and has turned into another typical university of today.
However, there are some newer experiments with ancient systems (although western) like Waldorf and Montessori in India at the school level. The purpose of education is much more than grooming students in survival skills. If you want the child to break from the set pattern of learning and travelling the trodden path, then alternative systems of education like Montessori and Waldorf are worth exploring.
Although children groomed in these schools learn to read only in the third standard or so, they are a myriad of skills that will prepare them for the comprehension needed for reading and writing. Says Ritu Shalini, parent of a bright girl studying in class VII who studies in an alternative school, “I used to fret and get anxious. All around, children write and read by the age of five. However, for my child, there seemed to have been no end to free play, drama and gardening.” She adds, “In her case, formal reading and writing skills settle in only by the age of seven or eight. However, she then became a voracious reader. She reads many books just for pleasure.”
Alternative schools are directed by a strong philosophy of education and life. Each one has a different philosophy. They have a limited number of children in each class, which creates a relaxed atmosphere of learning.
In India, customary places of learning like Gurukuls and village schools offered a solid grounded education process over the centuries. Later, schools copied from the industrialised western world that focussed on creating homogeneous personalities who could fit into industrial societies. Alternative education started as a rebellious and creative reaction to this mass-production approach that took over education across the world by the beginning of the 20th century. This movement believes the whole being must be addressed, not parts. Maria Montessori, an Italian educator and physician, was one of the pioneers who brought in a dramatically different system of education. She initially worked with orphaned children in Italy. She conceived a system where teaching is a response to the child’s initiatives.
Though India is known for its Gurukuls, there are a few lesser known schools in India that offer a completely new system of education. Mainstream school can result in students turning up much like assembly-line products. Teachers can always see to it that it does not happen, but the system, unfortunately, does not provide enough scope for such an approach.