THE SCHOOL WHERE I WOULD LIKE TO GO BACK AND STUDY
School is a place where reality can take a back seat, and can be introduced gradually, piece-meal. I do not mean that students should not be exposed to the real world. They should be, but the interesting part is that it is inevitable. The world of ideals is neither so real nor inevitable. Hence, the student should live the world of ideals before she is exposed to the inevitable reality of the world. I shall proceed to describe the school I have in mind. I have created elaborate plans for this school and pray that one day I shall also create the finances to make these plans real. Or come across a column in a newspaper asking me to speak my plans!
What parents need to know:
Parents need to accept that their child's future is a combination of the effort that schools put in and the effort that they must consciously exert at home and in places other than the schools. The school and the parents need to sit together and agree upon the different values being input to each child. This helps deprive the child of confusion. Mostly a child is exposed to one stream of belief at home and another in school. Values and opinions clash and the child is unable to choose one over the other or blend one with the other. It is vital that the effort in bringing a child to a level maturity, where she is able to make conscious decisions on differing grounds, be aligned at home as well as at school. Parents need to commit to the set of values and rules decided upon.
Parents also need to present their shortcomings (with assured non-disclosure from the school) on various fronts like monetary, social, domestic etc. This helps the school customize the treatment of their child. It helps if the school knows what can be expected from the family.
Parents should refrain from expecting to know the relative position of their ward on academic and other grounds. This point shall be elaborated further in the pages to come. It is important that parents do not request such information either from their child or from the teachers. Relative progress and relative performance is strictly confidential to the school and should not be disclosed by any member of staff.
School administration and sundry:
Fees shall not be charged (or some minimal maintenance charges levied). It is binding on the student to pay her fees once she is capable of doing so. If the student escapes from repaying to the school the school has not been able to infuse in her the value of giving and returning. In this case the school has not done their job and shouldn't expect any fees.
The school will hold ties with certain corporate offices which agree to donate liberally or take charge of maintenance of one or more components of the school infrastructure. E.g. company/firm/organisation A might accept responsibility for the procurement and maintenance of all the office "wood" like desks, cabinets, chairs etc. and company/firm/organisation B might take responsibility for maintenance of all electric fixtures. These ties will be non-obligatory and the school is not bound legally or morally to include children of individuals from such corporations in their roll. Special treatment shall not be awarded to children of individuals from such corporations once they are a part of the school.
All the staff of the school shall be included on probation and on the successful completion of which they shall be called "Educators".
All educators and individuals on probation will agree to conduct their sessions with the students in the presence of video cameras. These recordings will be used only in enhancing the educator-student relationship. The tapes are sole property of the senate of the school which comprises the principal educator, a group of in-house child psychologists and a few voted members from the body of educators. These tapes shall be used to capture best practices as well as honing the teachers' skills in presenting material during the sessions. All educators are strongly encouraged to record conversations with students so that their problems, complaints or issues are captured and can be worked on jointly. The issues might be controversial but the student shall not be/need not be made aware of the fact that many heads have worked on solving the problem at hand. The student and the educator taken into confidence shall be the only two individuals who will be directly interacting on the specific issue. It is nevertheless mandatory to understand these issues as they would recur and we could have a stronger understanding of the issue and be of greater help to the student.
Most classrooms will be collapsible with desks collapsing into the floor. This allows converting a set of classrooms into a large hall on a need basis.
School starts at 7:00 a.m. and end at 7:00 p.m. This relieves many parents of the guilt of not being there when the child returned home (say, at 3:00 in the afternoon). The child is also happy to see the whole family waiting for her when she returns. This also gives parents some time to discuss matters which they would rather not do so in the presence of their children.
The most prominent characteristic of the education imparted is absolute improvement of each individual. Every student will be party to her performance and the areas she needs to improve. She shall not be aware of whether she is first in the class or whether she is one amongst the top 10 students of the class. She shall be discouraged to work in comparison to other students. She will be encouraged only to improve herself on an absolute scale. If she is weak in math, she will be informed that she needs to practice more of solving problems with fractions, geometry etc. She shall not be told that she is weak and most of the class is ahead of her and hence she needs to work hard. This forms the basis for healthy competition, where an individual is only concerned about performing to their best ability. Each student's potential will be tapped to completion. This is not restricted to the academic domain. Sports, art and other in-curricular activities follow suit. We cannot hide the abilities of a child while at play. If she can play soccer well, she will show it. The educator needs to bring the child in alignment with her game of interest and talent. This might not be entirely possible in the academic portions of the curriculum as the child needs to be exposed to a variety of subjects during the formative years. Parents shall be made aware of the child's areas of strength and weakness on absolute terms and not using words like "she can't spell properly. Look at ABC's papers; he spells so well."
Parents and educators will discuss strategies for improving areas where the child is weak. If lack of interest is the major factor, then interesting ways shall be designed and will be implemented at home as well as in school. This serves as constant improvement of the presentation methodology of the subject. In-house psychologists will also be available for discussing strengths and weaknesses of the child. If this activity is not scalable, then we could abstract the concern to a generic level and discuss it with all the parents and not only the parents whose children exhibit the strengths or weaknesses.
Apart from these events where obvious problems are discussed, there will be periodic sessions held at different venues where all members of the school administration and parents will interact and review methodologies and other practices of the school. Final decision about the incorporation or exclusion of practices will be in the hands of the senate.
Students will get to interact occasionally with individuals from different walks of life. They might, say, meet with an architect and a scientist one month, a banker and a sportsperson in another month and so on. These personalities will be encouraged to discuss the entire lifecycle of their career or lifestyle. The students will be exposed to the pain and the fun that are part of a specific path. These sessions are designed to break myths about a lifestyle as well as reveal the lifestyle to those unaware of it. This helps students make an intelligent choice when they need to.
Punishment will be presented as an expected consequence of an individual's choice of action. Every student should be aware of what they will receive for the action they choose. Only constructive punishment should be handed out. If a student has not done their homework, then the student should be made to complete it after class by skipping a session that they might enjoy. What needs to be driven home is that work must be completed and certain sacrifices will be made when situations demand them. No physical punishment will be prescribed. In addition to the homework left undone, the student might be asked to solve more questions/problems in the subject. This ensures that the student finally benefits from the punishment, too. The student should also be discouraged from making excuses by discussing the cause of the problem and providing possible ways in which they could have indulged in whatever kept them away from completing the work, as well as completing the job. Fear of punishment should be removed. This is the first step towards inculcating a passion for truth. As a scholium, there will be no homework. All the work and exercise that the student needs to complete will be completed within school premises. If the parents desire that the student needs to return home early, then they take responsibility of carrying homework with the child. The work given to the child will not be monitored nor help provided. This will encourage individual thinking. No book or notebook will be carried home.
Annual programs should be held where educators meet and brainstorm about newer strategies. Training sessions for the educators should be held before the academic year commences in order to prepare them for the task at hand. This could involve subject related training, subject presentation training, evaluation training and others. Initially these could be done by an external body, but later it should be passed on and external bodies should be used only to inject a fresh stream of thought and ideas.
Every year the senate and a few others should interact with children from other schools in order to know what they want or don't want.
A few counselors, who are part of the school, will be part of different sessions on academic subject as well as part of the students' play time. This allows children to bond with someone external to their classmates and open up with their problems. These counselors could be educators who aren't occupied at that particular hour.
Once every 2-3 months groups of children from different levels (a.k.a classes or standards) will be taken out on excursions to places which reveal a different world from what the students are accustomed to. These might be villages, sanctuaries, industrial towns, etc. These excursions would last for 2-3 days. This will expose the children to different issues that exist in India but were never brought to their notice. The mix of student levels ensures different outlook to the same scene that they view as well as cross level interaction which is usually lacking in many schools. The spots should also be educative. Possible venues are coal mines, potter's village, technology parks, natural reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, etc.
With 12 hours a day for the child, we have enough options to include as activities and curriculum. Some are listed below.
Initial 3 years (post-kindergarten) will be focused on making the child enjoy coming to school. All the activities will be centered on making them enjoy. The other quality of the child that needs to be fostered is the inquisitiveness. This needs to be built during these putty years by pushing the child to explore why and how things happen around them. Moral lessons need to be provided as stories and plays enacted by students of higher levels. Truth should be presented as a lovable quality which makes everyone a better person. This cannot be stressed enough. The initial years in school should strongly emphasis the need to be honest consciously. This can be linked to the constructive punishment paradigm. These need to go hand in hand. The primary reason for deviation from speaking the truth is not truth itself, but the fear of the consequences of truth (usually presented as a punishment).
Apart from the moral education, children should be introduced to the need to imagine and create images of what they hear and see. Exercises like closing their eyes and hearing recorded sounds followed by painting them or writing about them or speaking about them would help them develop their creativity and help them in imagining abstract topics which they are introduced at higher levels. These exercises should be a part of every level in the child's life. They should become more structured as they progress through different levels.
Another value that needs to be inculcated is selfless work. Students should be encouraged to make notes and then drop them in a box. Then students will randomly go and pick up some set of notes. This will ensure that all students collect proper and complete notes. Such exercises will ensure that everyone works towards completion and satisfaction without much of a desire for credit. Sharing credit and placing the other person ahead of oneself in the list of credits are very important qualities for a healthy atmosphere, be it at work or at home.
Every student is responsible on certain days for cleaning and maintenance of the school. Making sure that the staff room has filled water bottles, cleaning of the premises, raking and mowing the lawns and other chores will be done by the students as well as the educators. This ensures that a respect for maintaining one's property is part of one's system. Educators will double up as monitors, to ensure that no accidents occur. Any machine being used will be only under the surveillance of the educators. Everyone including the principal educator has to perform these chores. Hence, the school shall not hire hands for maintenance of school property. Students at higher levels will be trained in more involving maintenance activities like polishing and varnishing wooden items, repairing electric points, etc.
On weekends or on some weekdays, students will be involved in teaching less privileged students from the slum area or from the economically backward communities. This trains the students in teaching and presenting their thoughts logically. They also get a chance to give back to society. A respect for what they have will also sink in.
Explorative and real world topics will be discussed before abstract topics are introduced. The higher levels will have their share of less intuitive subjects/topics (e.g. complex numbers and electromagnetism). At the lower levels every presentation will involve novel ways of presenting the subject with real objects and models and colours. Video presentations and webcasts available on the internet should be utilized for completing the picture in the child's mind. At the logical completion of certain subjects constructive projects could be designed to allow the child a chance to translate the picture to real models. The academic content of presentations at different level should be based on the criteria stated below:
1. Is this topic clear? Can this be modeled and picturised immediately?
2. Would it be easier for the preceding topic to evolve and fit into the succeeding topic?
These criteria will be used to decide which topic will be introduced at what level, as well as the order of introducing topics within a level. Innovation and creative thinking must be encouraged at every point.
Yoga should be introduced from the first day in school. The initial years should concentrate on making it fun and ensuring that the child's body stays supple and flexible. As the years proceed, the asanas should get stricter and more complex. The philosophy and ideology behind yoga should be gradually introduced.
The food provided to the children should be a balanced diet such that they get all the nutrition but nothing fattening or harmful in the long run. The idea of a healthy diet must be brought across as something healthy and fun and not as something boring and undesirable. The diet should go in tandem with the physical work that a child does. Serving food and clearing of tables are also part of the student's activities. Table manners and dining etiquette would also be part of this exercise.
Art should be an essential part of every level's education. Every student must involve herself in some form of art. It could be music (vocal, instrumental), dance, painting, sketching, writing, oration, pottery, etc. Certain educators known in their respective fields will be requested to educate talented students in their art form. This is essential for every student. No student will be turned out from the school without being adept at some art form.
The same would apply to sport. Every student should be encouraged to be competent in some sport activity. This can be board games or outdoor games. Video games are not included in this list!
There are other values that need to be inculcated in the child. These could include hospitality, patience, traditional values and respect for another person's tradition. These too should be a part of the curriculum in different and novel ways.
The most important part of the curriculum is developing analytical reasoning. Students should be involved in solving puzzles and real world problems ("What should we have done in order to prevent WW-II?"). Studying how things work, and the thought process behind many inventions in this world will help create a mindset for innovation and creativity. Puzzles should be from a wide range of subjects including math, logical reasoning, etc. General knowledge should also be presented to the students and quizzes held regularly.
The day should also contain slots where children get to surf the net (well monitored) as well as watch television (cartoons, Discovery, Nat Geo, CNN and BBC documentaries). Weekly movies for different levels should be organized. Not every week does every level get to watch a movie.
In the final levels at school, students are encouraged to investigate schools of philosophical thought and interact with select people in society who have been prominent in discussing philosophy. This would be an optional activity although some sessions will be for all.
All these fill the 12 hours at a wonderful place that we shall call school. Every day.
There are a lot more to specify and implement in a good school. What has been listed is where we start. What remains is to be evolved based on how these designs fit and fall into place.