We are the Earth, through the plants
and animals that nourish us.
We are the rains and the oceans that
flow through our veins.
We are the breath of the forests of the
land, and the plants of the sea..
Linked in a web of community, we are
– David Suzuki
Aksharnandan, a school started by a group of individuals from varied walks of life, best exemplifies David Suzuki’s philosophy in its programme of school education for young Puneites. ‘Akshar’ means a letter and and ‘Nandan’ means paradise. These two words fuse to convey the essence of the school – an abode of joyous learning and enduring values. Vidya Patwardhan (fondly called Vidyatai by the children of the school), who initiated the process, believes that human-scale education needs schools that are small and firmly anchored in their communities, thus connecting the classroom with the world outside and integrating nature and everyday life situations into all aspects of learning. Learning at Aksharanandan is a dynamic and holistic process. Like life itself!
Located near the famous Chatushringi temple, away from the city bustle, yet centrally placed, Aksharnandan has a strength of around four hundred and eighty children, from all economic and social backgrounds.
The most striking feature of Aksharnandan is its walls. Our walls speak, says Rashmitai, the principal, and truly they do! The corridors and classroom walls are adorned with jute covered boards that display the art, drawings, crafts, poems, embroidery, interviews, creative writing and any number of interesting works that the children have created as part of their learning programme.
The emphasis in the different subjects taught at the school is, as far as possible, on the connectedness and relatedness of everything. No topic is viewed in isolation. For instance, if the class is being introduced to water, the learning would revolve around the uses of water, its origin, the water cycle, water wastage, water dependent life and enterprise, water pollution; water and its influence on human civilizations, stories and songs related to water etc. Such an approach relates diverse subjects such as maths, science, social sciences, art and culture. This is an unfragmented holistic approach to learning.
In its search for an activity to engage the 3H’s – head, hand and heart, Aksharnandan found the answer in cooking. Food and cooking are central themes and part of the learning is arranged around cooking. It starts from primary level with simple mixing of salads, making of fruit juice, etc and by the time the students reach senior level they are quite adept at taking care of their nutritional needs. The younger students maintain a small organic vegetable garden and older childreb do a bit of farming.
Roots in Local Traditions
The school promotes a curriculum and methodology that is deeply rooted in local traditions and culture. The medium of instruction in Aksharnandan is Marathi, which is the local language and the mother tongue of the children.
Aksharnandan believes that every language has its own beauty and is a window to a particular culture. Hence, Hindi, English and Sanskrit are informally introduced at an early age, through song and story and are learned with equal diligence and respect. The school believes that a truly universal mind can grow only when it strikes strong roots in the indigenous soil. Hence, it is only after a sound grounding in their mother tongue that the children move on to acquiring skills in other languages.
The school has an interesting way of closing for the day. Instead of sounding a gong or ringing a bell they play a song. It is an indication for children to finish their work, and gives them time to put back their spades and tools, tidy up the work area and get ready to go home.
Aksharanandan’s success in carving out a niche for themselves as a ‘school in the formal set up exploring innovative spaces within’ has been possible because of a committed core group backed by a team of enthusiastic teachers and active, involved parents.
Excerpts from Taleemnet’s research paper ‘Work and Wisdom of Vernacular Educators from India’ re-printed here with permission.Our wholehearted thanks to Centre for Environment Research and Education (CERE) which works to promote environmental sustainablility for providing research inputs for this article.