Amazing, amazing school.

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The Ananya Sikshandra Trust operates a school on the outskirts of town for 45 children who otherwise would not attend school a tall. Admission is based on this criteria—if the child can be admitted and remain successful in any other school then they should not be attending Ananya. Rather, this school is a place for children who do not or cannot fit into the traditional mold of Indian schooling. As a result, they have a very negative opinion of schooling—often as a place where they are beaten.  In fact, for the first cohort of students, the teachers explicitly told them that it was not a school but rather a place where they could come and have some fun and maybe learn some things. The entire concept of “schooling” was too frightening.

The school was founded by Shashi Rao, a Ph.D. graduate of the Educational Leadership program at Penn State. She returned to Bangalore after her degree wanting to make a difference. Her school is based on the premise that the traditional Indian model of schooling colonizes children and creates boundaries rather than opportunities. The Ananya School has no set curriculum—rather the children choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn. As they explore issues of interest to them, they learn how to embrace academics and gain the skills that they need. Subjects taught at Ananya include Maths, Kanada, Hindi, English, Science, Social Skills and Computers. The teachers have been trained by Shashi Rao herself in alternative schooling methods. In Shashi’s opinion, an Indian B. Ed. Is one of the worst degrees that one can receive to become a teacher. This English class below was taught by George. The boy closest to him had just started at the school a month ago.

The school’s website provides the example of a boy who turned cartwheels about the campus. He was unable to sit still. So the staff let him turn cartwheels and taught him as he was spinning by. Over time, he slowed his body down long enough to sit traditionally in his subjects and to begin to learn more deeply. Shashi’s philosophy is if the student aren’t paying attention then the teaching is wrong, not the kids. The curriculum must change to engage the children in learning.

I observed classes focused on Kannada, English and Hindi.  The classes are mixed ages and grouped based on the pace at which kids learn.

   

In the lesson above, the kids were looking at common spices. They knew the names of the spices in their local languages and they were practicing learning the Hindi names.  Most of the spices were not familiar to me!

Based on the alternative curriculum and alternative teacher certifications, Ananya cannot be considered a “school” officially by the government. This lack of conformity to tradition is a growing problem because of the Right to Education Act that mandates that all children must be in a school. Since she cannot certify her school without giving up the fundamental premises that make it special, Anaya is facing a dilemma. The paradox is that the government requires that all children must be in school and therefore cannot be at Ananya Parents must produce a letter from their children’s school to receive their governmental identity card (equivalent to a driver’s license in the U.S. and necessary for basic business transactions). Yet, governmental schools do not follow up on why children are not attending schools and just mark them absent. Thus, by mandating that the children attend school, the Anaya kids would in fact not be in school. So the law made with great intentions is actually prohibiting the best/only schooling experience available to these children. Also as part of the requirements of RTE, ALL schools are expected and required to host a certain percentage of poor children—even the wealthiest schools such as the CIS where my kids attend. It is suspected, however, that these schools will never take on poor children and will get out of this requirement via bribes or other disregard for the laws. (IN fact that happens already given that most international schools do not teach class in Kannada through grade 5 but that is a law as well!) .  One potential hope is for Ananya to partner with schools who do not want to fulfill their obligation to poor children. Take them on officially but allow Ananya to provide the actual schooling.  The politics of this situation are fascinating but also worrisome for the Ananya kids.

The campus of the school itself is magical. I stepped out of my car and felt a sense of calm and peace spread over me. Most of the classrooms are merely thatched roofs with a concrete floor underneath. The children themselves built the classrooms and they are very cozy spaces. The one fully enclosed building hosts the computers and science lab. This building was donated by GE and the computers were donated by Adobe.

I received a tour of the facilities by Lakshmi.

She is the daughter of a maid of one of the donors to Ananya. She had been held back from school until she was 10 by her mother take care of the two smaller children in the family. AT the urging of the donor, she only recently enrolled Lakshmi in school. The girl was super bright. I watched her in Hindi class. The teacher had cups of common Indian spices. The kids new the Kanada names for all of the spices but not the Hindi names. The children were taking turns learning the Hindi names for the spices. Lakshmi memorized them almost instantly and had to be hushed from giving the answers to other students. The worry with Lakshmi is whether she could “catch up” given that she is starting schooling five years late.

Originally the school offered not exams at all, but the children started to ask for them, so the teachers agreed to let them sit for the governmental exams. They performed terribly on these exams initially because the experimental  learning experiences that they had did not align with the bounds of a standardized test. As such, Ananya has included test taking skills as a part of what it teachers to students interested in learning this information. Test taking skills will be necessary for students planning on moving onto higher education.

The small campus also includes boys and girls dormitories that look much like the summer camp bunks. The children come to this school from all over Bangalore and live at the school during the week. International volunteers serve as supervisors of the dormitories. The children must go home on the weekends to give these counselors a rest, even though the conditions in their homes is often very troublesome. The campus also has a kitchen, outdoor showers, bathroom facilities, and a place for the children to wash their own clothes. Lakshmi proudly showed me an SUV that had been donated to the school. “That is the car of our school!” she beamed.

The school welcomes children up until age 14 in its traditional format. Sometimes the children enter 8 or younger. These children tend to gain sufficient time in schooling that they can sit for the 10th grade governmental exams and receive acceptance into higher education. Children who do not arrive at Ananya until age 10 or older often lack the time to develop the sufficient academic skills to move forward in the traditional educational system. For these children, Anaya is developing a project-based curriculum. If the cannot pass their exams, they cannot receive a basic certificate/diploma that is the ticket to even the most basic of jobs. Given this struggle, Ananya is choosing to help to foster entrepreneurial skills in these youth so that they can learn of ways to earn their own funds.

This boy was taking an exam, but often interrupted by young boys giving him hugs.

I watched two teams of children present their projects today. One team was planning on making bamboo key chains, sandwiches, beaded jewelry and badam milk and selling it at local colleges. The second team planned on selling three types of sandwiches (simple-cucumber and tomato, potatoes; lemonade, and painted pots made out of coconuts. Their presentations included PowerPoint slides. Each student spoke of their personal strengths and weaknesses, the business plan for their team, and a cost analysis of the raw materials versus potential profit of their ideas.  The teachers provided feedback on their presentations. The students will be presenting these concepts to donors/investors next week who will come to the campus.

Please consider donating to this AMAZING school!   DONATIONS can be given at the following link: http://www.ananyatrust.blogspot.com/

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2 responses »

  1. Dana – this is such an inspiring story and you’ve done such a great job of capturing its essence. Hats off to Shashi for taking on such a daunting challenge.

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