Vishwalaya is concerned with Primary Education at the Rural Level: How to energize the Rural Primary teaching system so that Rural Children not only gain an Education but also become enabled to find an alternative to drifting to the towns in search of livelihood. Rural education as it is has nothing to offer that will make children proud of their village, their heritage, and their culture. On the contrary, all they have is the irresistable dream of a “better” life in the towns. This creates a vicious circle, where educated village youth leave the villages and thus deprive the village of the benefits of their education that could be put to efficient use for development. A new paradigm of rural education should be one that prepares the student to adjust psychologically and physically to his or her own village and engage in an occupation that relies chiefly on rural resources.
True to Ram Rams dream of creating a paradise where all types of nourishment are available for the children, Vishwalaya has developed methods of alternative holistic education to teach the children to be well-rounded people using methods that appeal to children from difficult backgrounds. These methods have been very successful, and eighteen children in Vishwalayas program will sit the examination sponsored by the Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board this year to receive their Secondary School Leaving Certificate (S.S.L.C.). Out of the three children that took the exam last year, one child passed with a mark of 54%, and we hope to have successful results this year as well. The teachers working with Vishwalaya have been developing a curriculum whereby any child, irrespective of their previous learning level, could attain the necessary education through 10th grade within three years. Their goal for the next five years is to develop an alternative learning system specifically targeted towards children coming from difficult backgrounds who have no family support system and a history of discontinued schooling at various levels.
Once our educational methods are refined and formed into a cohesive unit, and we achieve substantial results in terms of the childrens performance in tenth grade, we plan to propose this system for shelters run by the government where children do not have many opportunities for education to break the cycle of their past.
Theatre and Creative Arts
Theatre can be an interesting and effective means to teach children. Inspired by previous attempts, including that of noted poet Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, we have been using theatre and other creative arts to reach out and educate children from difficult backgrounds since 2000. Our theatre program began as a method to bring literature to the children, but now has evolved into a tool to educate them about other important subjects, such as cleanliness and health. The children are involved in every aspect of the play, from script-writing to acting to set and costume design. After perfecting the play, the children travel around the area to perform the play for audiences such as government high schools and in other venues around Dharwad and the greater Bangalore area. They have received much acclaim for their plays – see an article about them in The Hindu! See also our page on previous events for a summary of some of our previous plays.
We prefer theatre to other art forms for several reasons, including its universal appeal and the importance of make-believe in a childs everyday learning and growth. It has been found that children through the make belief of play acting can be persuaded to learn any subject and to be motivated to approach these subjects with an open mind. While theatre may not be the solution to lifes problems, it can certainly be an efficient method of education through its use of multi-faceted skills and its stress on individual participation. Theatre, through its use of role play, helps children to develop empathy for others and to be able to feel, through playing a role, what different kind of subjects can be like.
Another aspect of theatre as an educational tool is its ability to integrate diverse art and craft forms which have their own values as income-generating vocations. In addition to being an educational tool, Vishwalaya has used the arts as a medium for vocational skills as well. In 2005, when Vishwalaya decided to expand and formalize its Art Resource Centre, a group of Indian and Japanese artists pitched in to create a fundraising art show on their behalf – see the article.
One alternative educational method in Vishwalaya is the focus on language. One of the main emphases in the childrens education is to acquire proficiency in basic languages such as their mother tongues, Hindi, and English. This is essential from the standpoint of our country and to be part of the modern world. Vishwalaya has started a printing press to publish childrens books and educational materials in the many vernacular tongues of South India. We have also published some of our own student-written plays, which were performed all around the neighboring villages and towns.
The Vishwalaya ashram is located on fertile farmland, and farming is used as an educational tool as well. Not only do the vegetable gardens provide food and medicines, but they also provide a soothing mechanism with which to nurture a growing child from a difficult background. Farming provides a means for the children to work in and understand the intricacies of nature. Since 2008, the ashram has been located on a four-acre mango orchard, where a small patch for a vegetable garden has been cleared. Each child has his or her own patch which he or she carefully tends.
The children at Vishwalaya take many trips in order to teach and learn more about their surroudings. Traveling helps the children to experience and understand life in different places, with it the people, culture and life style, thus understanding the diversity, uniqueness and interdependency of existence. When they have a play prepared, they travel to local venues to teach what they have learned through their play about various aspects of geography, history, science, and mathematics. At other times, they take recreational trips to local sites to learn about history, religion, and geography, and also more exciting trips like their trip to Gokama, a holy city on the west coast of India in the state of Karnataka, where the children were taught to swim by several professional scuba divers, or their trip to Sathoddi Waterfalls, to experience the wonders of nature.
Since June 2006, we have started a school with a formal 3-year program, both for the children of Vishwalaya and from neighboring villages. The school year is timed to match the agricultural year, with the children helping to grow their own food at the ashram at the same time as acquiring other learning. The following is the curriculum for the school, incorporating all our alternative learning methods in a fully holistic manner: