Bangalore – 560 062
Phone: 080-843-5201, 843 5356
Tucked away from the city’s bustle, off the Kanakapura Road, on the outskirts of Bangalore, are a cluster of unassuming buildings. This is Vikasana, a village school, which draws its inspiration from David Horsburgh’s philosophy of learning. Children learn here at their own pace and from observing the environment around them. The school has 30 children in the age group of 4-16 years. Vikasana is pioneered by Malathi, who trained under David Horsburgh. Four staff assist the children in their learning activities.
Dutifully following the teaching of Horsburgh, the school was constructed by the beneficiaries themselves. Malathi says that local people. Children, volunteers and associates assisted her in the construction work. “David of course had planned the buildings and built major parts with assistance from his assistants from Neel Bagh”.
The school buildings were built using locally available materials: stone pillars driven into the ground, country fried bricks with mud plaster and a wooden raftered roof with tiles. There is naturally plenty of scope for adding spaces as the need arises. Malathi speaks of flexibility of space as an important criterion – a good roof and floor within which almost any activity can take place. The building has low windows and the cool interior displays paper lanterns, collages and crafts that are in delightful contrast to the bright light outside.
While building their domed play-home, all the under-tens pitched in, using waste ceramic beads to decorate the surface and make seats and niches. This has given the children a sense of ownership and they take extra effort to keep their niches clean and decorated. (Professionals among well wishers contributed with plans and inputs on structural details).
Nyla Coelho: How would you describe Vikasana?
Malathi: Vikasana is a rural centre of education that provides free education to children of all ages from the surrounding villages. It is a learning space for the village rural children to come to for as long as they desire. There is no fee, children learn by doing and through participation in activities. There is a great emphasis on environment care, tree planting, nurturing one’s space and interests, working with one’s hands and self directed learning.
N.C.: In what way is learning here different from other schools?
Malathi: The child’s learning is facilitated and then allowed to proceed at its own pace without fear. There is total freedom to take time, to explore, decipher and learn. Learning takes place through singing, theatre, playing, traveling, building/construction work, reading, writing, drawing, sewing, pottery, woodwork, nuturing the surrounding, cooking, dancing, discussion. Many spaces are created for both adults and children to learn.
N.C.: What routine does the school follows?
Malathi: On a regular school day, children and adults come to school at 8.30 a.m. Everyone begins with their daily duties of watering the trees, gardening, cleaning the classroom, putting flowers in the vases, cleaning their shelves, windows etc. 30 duties have been identified, one for each child on a weekly rotation basis.
Formal activities start at 9.00 a.m. with singing songs in many languages: Kannada, English, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, French, German and Italian followed by yoga, specially designed for children. Till about 10.00 a.m. children work around the campus caring for the earth and trees, drawing water etc.
From 10 onwards up to 3.30 p.m. academic subjects are dealt with, with two breaks in between. A short break for milk and an hour for lunch. They learn three languages: Kannada, English and Hindi. Subjects like mathematics and natural, environmental and social sciences are also taught. There is a library for the children to use.
From 3.30 p.m. till 5 p.m. everyone is engaged with handicrafts, games or play. Handicraft materials, textbooks, notebook, are all provided by Vikasana. At 5 p.m., sprouted gram or upma is served, after which the children go home. At 6.30 p.m. about 8 to 10 senior children come back to do their studies, library or reference work. This is voluntary and unsurprised. They bring their supper along, sleep at the school and go back in the morning.
Wednesdays are special days for the children. The children do cultural activities, conduct experiments in science and write the center’s newspaper.
N.C.: Is emphasis given to any particular activities?
Malathi: At Vikasana, handicrafts are given special emphasis. David always felt that children should be given an opportunity to handle things like wood, cloth, paper, stone, clay. Materials have their own laws. Through handling them, a physical-mental harmony develops (you may call it discipline). A child begins to apply him/herself to the task with total interest and involvement. An aesthetic sense develops, the heart and head co-ordinates, the mind stops wandering. Calmness develops at that time of doing without words (you may call it meditation).
So, handicrafts are integrated into the daily process. Children make pots out of clay and build kilns. School walls are painted with murals. Children also sew bags and dresses for themselves, build and repair buildings, make tables and shelves for their classrooms, grow flowers and vegetables.
N.C.: Is the learning structed towards preparing children for the certifying examination?
Malathi: Not in the conventional sense. However, children who are interested in taking the government level exams at the 7th standard and S.S.L.C. level are given the necessary help by way of coaching and enrollment as private candidates in the govt. school. Those who do not wish to sit for such exams are encouraged to develop their talents locally or at other voluntary organizations such as Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi, Akruti and Mrichakatika in Bangalroe. So far eight children have taken the S.S.L.C. exam and are continuing their education at various levels.
Two girls are employed as designers in pottery units. One girl is currently teaching at Vikasana itself.
N.C.: How would you sum it all up?
Malathi: The emphasis has always been self sufficiency. It is hands-on work that gives the students confidence in things they have learnt!
(as told to Taleemnet in Goa ,March 2004)