Schools that are scripting change (April 18 is World Heritage Day)

New Delhi, April 18 (IANS) Education is the key to conserving a country’s cultural heritage and it is manifest nowhere as in India, which has been playing with non-formal education models since early historical ages and is now touching modern schools with their regimented eduction systems.

Beginning with the traditional Vedic gurukuls, ancient universities like Taxila and Nalanda, monasteries and madrassas, there has been a gradual return-to-the roots movements in the last three decades in academia.

Boarding schools are falling back on traditional knowledge systems for holistic education and a growing number of niche schools are serving the mind and body of students with consciousness study, heritage awareness modules and formal education to churn out the quintessential Indian – culturally balanced, rooted and progressive in outlook.

As this year’s theme of the World Heritage Day as declared by the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is “Heritage in Education” and its “Expressions in Diverse Geo-cultural Contexts”, IANS highlights five educational institutions that have been the hub of knowledge and have promoted traditional systems.

Five schools that are scripting change:

* Transition School in Auroville, Tamil Nadu

It is an oasis of green peace, cultural diversities and divine consciousness that brings out the best in every child by harnessing innate talent pools with traditional and global curricula mix. Founded in 1984, the school is inspired by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The school aims to promote human unity and a learning environment for children from 15 countries with an international faculty. The ambience of the school is informal – students pursue their callings some time in the lap of nature or in classrooms that are large open spaces for community kinship. The school’s motto is multi-culturalism and the 160 students between 6 and 14 years of age cohabit on the strength of the cultural synergy. The study programme includes traditional and non-formal subjects like awareness of body as well as knowledge of three languages – Tamil, French and Sanskrit. The school is one of the few to offer the contemporary Sand Box creativity module as a study option.

* Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan, West Bengal

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Knowledge is free. Visva- Bharati, India’s first open school founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 with his Nobel Prize money, combines education with ecology, culture, arts, heritage, globalisation and sustainability. One of the primary objectives of education here is to approach the west from the standpoint of pan-Asian unity. The university is a cultural education centre where students and scholars can study religion, literature, history, arts and science of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Islamic and Christian civilizations. Tagore’s legacy of cultural expressions – through his writing, music, arts, social awareness and world views – enriches it. Visva-Bharati for first-timers comes as a freedom shock with its non-formal study spaces in the open, under the shade of trees and in green nooks dotted with art works and quaint heritage buildings. It draws students from across the world for residential school and university education.

* Ramakrishna Mission in Narendrapur. West Bengal

An institution on the outskirts of Kolkata, it uses the philosophy of its mentor Swami Vivekananda as its beacon – “a life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas”. The seer had often said that what India wanted “is an education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one’s feet”. The school prides itself on its Indian value system, promotion of Bengali culture, compliance with social hierarchies in the monastic ranks, spiritual education, co-curricular and sporting activity. The regimen is rigorous and the lives of the novices (students) are almost as spartan as the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission, who manage it. The school is known across the country for its exemplary academic standard and quality of education.

* Druk White Lotus School, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir

An award-winning eco-friendly school in the icy heights of Shey, the ancient capital of Ladakh, it is built of wood and natural material in the middle of a vast Himalayan rugged wilderness and has been inspired by Gyalwang Drukpa, a spiritual leader of Ladakh. Built on a sustainable model, the elegant school allows local children to live across two cultures – the traditional Ladakhi Buddhist way of life and the modern mainstream. The students study Bothi – the local language – English, Hindi, science, maths, creative arts, Buddhism and sports. They learn livelihood skills, including team work, presentation and leadership through formal and non-formal activity. The school has been honoured globally for its sustainability and energy conserving design.

* Rishi Valley Education Centre, Bangalore, Karnataka

The scholastic activity of this holistic education institution is powered by J. Krishnamurti’s philosophy of balancing the inner and outer worlds of students. The school, in its manifesto, says its mission is to “inculcate love for nature and respect for all forms of life, to create an atmosphere of affection, order and freedom without fear and not to condition students to any particular belief, either religious, political or social so that their minds remain free of fundamental questions to enquire and learn”. The arts are an integral part of students’ life in Rishi Valley School. Students sing, paint, sculpt, embroider and master woodcraft. The school is on an eco-sustainability model, having converted a barren hillside into a lush campus with natural water conservation, reforesting barren hill slopes, soil and moisture conservation and wasteland development that extends to more than 21 villages in the neighbourhood.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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