Coimbatore: The road leading to the Isha Vidhya School in Coimbatore district is a narrow one flanked by coconut trees, fields and the hazy outline of the Velliangiri mountains beyond. The setting may be vaguely bucolic but the school—a sprawling building painted white and orange—is a welcome surprise.
This school is one of the nine rural schools set up by the Coimbatore-based Isha Foundation’s outreach programme—Isha Vidhya.
“The vision of Isha Vidhya was to create rural schools that don’t feel and deliver like rural schools,” says C.P. Vishwanath, academic director, Isha Vidhya.
It is late afternoon and the academic day has just ended. A long, orderly line of middle-schoolers troop towards the large yellow buses parked in the front yard, leaving footprints in the loosely-packed earth.
A few tarry awhile, offering us a warm namaste and a big smile before hurrying ahead to keep up with their other classmates while another bunch decides to escort us around the school.
Bharath, who studies in the 8th standard, is one of them. He takes his guide duties very seriously.
“The blackboard in every classroom in the kindergarten section is shaped differently,” he announces proudly, reeling off the various shapes—those of elephants, fish, hippopotamuses, etc.—as he walks past the row of sunny, brightly-lit classrooms.
A sense of joie de vivre pervades most of the school: from physical elements like quirky blackboards to fun posters, stacks of yoga mats and interesting wall art to a rather animated school band practice taking place two floors below and a spirited football game in progress.
Started to provide high-quality school education to children who could not afford or access it, Isha Vidhya celebrated its 10th anniversary on 5 November. This milestone was marked by the hosting of Isha Vidhya’s first annual conference titled “Innovating India’s Schooling,” which saw the meeting of the finest educational minds in the country at the Isha Yoga Centre in Coimbatore.
Union minister of human resource development Prakash Javadekar, who was present on the occasion, said: “Education should be creative and interesting just as Isha Foundation is doing through its various education initiatives.”
The Isha Vidhya initiative supports 7,100 students directly, providing full tuition scholarships to around 61% of students and subsidized education to the remaining. In addition to this, it provides critical interventions and logistical support to 516 government schools across Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
“India is home to a fifth of the world’s population so education is of supreme importance in the country,” said Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of Isha Foundation and Isha Vidhya, at the conference.
“Whatever is going to be there in the next 25 years is determined by what we are going to do now in the field of education,” he says.
“When we set about creating schools, I wanted to create schools that children wanted to go to. What is the point of creating a school that the child doesn’t want to go to?” he says.
Isha Vidhya is trying to ensure that the whole process of learning is joyous and child-centric, says Vinod Hari, project director, Isha Vidhya. “It is not just about writing exams, scoring marks and getting jobs,” he says, pointing out that many of their students were first generation learners who often had no access to intellectual stimulation at home.
Ashtalakshmi, who has been teaching in the school for five years, says that the continuous training she has undergone has taught her how to control children without beating or scolding them.
“We use a lot of activity based learning here to keep them engaged,” she smiles.
And these methods appear to be working: the pass percentage of students in the Isha Vidhya Schools who wrote their 10th standard public examinations this year was 100% with an aggregate of 86.6%.