Web Exclusive | Book Review

Web Exclusive | Book Review

Transforming schools empowering children; Arun Kapur; 253 pages; Rs480; Alternative schooling in India; Sarojini Vittachi & Neeraja Raghavan; 266 pages; Rs360; Sage Publications

New Delhi: Cocktail conversations and dinner table ramblings invariably find themselves veering towards the state of the country’s polity or the kind of schooling our children are experiencing in the name of education, learning and preparedness for a ‘global existence’.

The two books under review very aptly address the latter concern. While one builds a case for alternative schooling, drawing on case studies and interviews to corroborate its viewpoint, the other suggests a middle path, wherein within the confines of mainstream schooling, how educators can build in processes that allow a child to discover talents and interests best suited to his/her capabilities, without at any stage, diluting the joy of learning.

Is it possible to teach creatively, incorporate composite teaching methodologies and break down conventional forms of pedagogy that willy nilly find themselves entering class room structures?

If Arun Kumar, an alumni of Doon School and the founder-director of Vasant Valley School in New Delhi is to be believed, the answer would be in the affirmative.

He immaculately spells out why the “one size fits all" kind of school that was necessary post partition no longer holds true. Recognizing the potential of children who are differently abled, educating them in an environment where the pulls and pressures of a tantalizing external world are always interfering and building a faculty where the common perception of “anyone can be a teacher" is met with a passionate denial, ‘Transforming schools empowering children" puts the spotlight on how schooling can be an extremely challenging “business" to run.

The book written simply makes for a fascinating read for educational institutions, teachers, parents and students undoubtedly, but also for ordinary citizens who are often found lamenting over the state of education in the country and the irrelevance of concepts that are mindlessly drilled into the heads of students whose focus is how to up their percentage in the annual exam and crack the various competitive exams, but not on contemporarizing learning per se.

Starting out by placing present day education in context, it traces the relevance of schooling and how its complexion has changed in the new millennium.

It looks at “educational processes" that facilitate lifelong learning that is far removed from rote learning. Vasant Valley School, known for having an offbeat curricula has since inception given a lot of space to both teachers and students to experiement and evolve. Exams too take on the form of ongoing evaluations and assessments and are nowhere a terrorizing year-end nightmare. “Teacher development" figures prominently and forms the crux of their brand of schooling.

An important chapter is where Kapur talks of how schools complement parenting. While he does believe that a school shapes the child’s knowledge curve, he is categorical in stating that much of a child’s values come from home. The partnership model between teacher-student-parent is outlined emphatically with very doable pointers.

Broken down, the narrative in both books is easily relatable with sub heads within chapters that conclude with summaries. There are ample footnotes, pie charts and bar diagrams that illustrate impactfully. And thankfully, both are devoid of didactic sermonizing with examples and recommendations placed within the Indian context.

Alternative Schooling in India goes a step beyond by serving as a ready reckoner for parents and guardians who are looking for answers on alternative schooling and having made up their mind are wanting to zero in on a school of their choice. An exhaustive repository of institutions, it highlights their USPs and even tracks some of the pass outs.