Logamathangi, a final year student doing her BSc in Business & Management at Birkbeck College, University of London, spent a couple of weeks at Isha Vidhya, Coimbatore in September 2015. Here’s her experience of this unforgettable period in her life, which transformed her perception of what education really means.
Logamathangi: Having gone through the UK education system, I felt I knew what a good education was and what it meant for a student's future. So, upon hearing about Isha Vidhya, I thought I had a lot to offer and decided to volunteer at the Coimbatore school – perhaps teaching English and maybe also taking some photos and short videos to aid with Isha Vidhya’s awareness campaigns on social media.
However, it was only when I arrived that I realised the immensity of what Isha Vidhya has already accomplished and its phenomenal goals for the future. I had nothing to “teach” as such, but I could observe and learn. From the dedication of the staff to the enthusiasm of the children, I was captivated by the intense involvement towards learning and the joyfulness with which everyone contributed to the process. So, I focused my efforts on capturing as much as I could on film.
An Education in Inclusiveness
Firstly, the inclusive atmosphere of the school is contagious! Immediately I was drawn to interacting with the students and teachers, and I was struck by the high standard of English the students were speaking, as I did not expect it from a rural school. The core subjects are taught as per the standard curriculum but in an exciting, refined and interactive manner and with computer-aided learning. I was impressed by the “Learning Materials” lessons (at the primary level) where the child chooses a particular exercise involving a certain set of skills he or she is required to develop. After an individual attempt, the child invites the teacher to view their work and upon successful completion of the task, with or without the teacher’s input, the child chooses the next task and so on. This self-initiated learning approach develops a healthy attitude towards education and transforms the child’s innate curiosity into a thirst for knowledge that in turn motivates the child to learn.
Speaking to the older students, I saw that they had an understanding of the different economic, social and environmental dilemmas faced by different communities in India and the world, that their generation would have to tackle. I also spoke to a member of the Scouts who described the social benefits of their activities, and a young student showed me his ideal ecosystem model.
Yoga is an Intrinsic Part
Yoga is an intrinsic part of the daily school routine of the students, with one break period dedicated to it. However, it is not performed as a purely physical activity, and surprising neither are the sports lessons! The sports room walls are plastered with information on how to play a variety of meaningful games with their corresponding social impact written next to them. For example, the “Stereotypes Game” had the social impact of “giving a voice and enabling communication”. During the games periods, playtime and lunchtime, the children play sports with healthy competitiveness and a sense of friendship and trust. I sensed the true spirit of student fellowship and the school’s natural ethos encouraged this inclusiveness and interdependence.
What really made a lasting impression on my mind was that the teachers are neither there to exhort the students nor to regurgitate knowledge. They are hundred percent there as participants in the student’s learning process, and they say they are learning too! They respect their students as much as the students respect them. From saying the salutation “Namaskaram” with pressed palms to finding solutions to the children’s problems, they do everything with a real sense of compassion. The other school staff also play an integral role in the day-to-day running of the school and they do so with no less commitment. For example, I was truly moved by the cook’s deep sense of devotion to serving highly nutritious meals every day. I felt everyone at the school was evolving day by day and becoming exceptional human beings in the process!
A Lasting Positive Impact
Looking at the state of education in India’s rural areas, I realised the extensive effort that has gone into making education an effortless and joyful experience for these children. Isha Vidhya enables rural children to gain access to higher education or employment, thus helping these children and potentially their associated communities to come out of poverty. They also actively promote education for girls. And so, having started volunteering with a narrow view of the education process, I ended by coming to terms with the fact that “modern education” as I knew it needs to change. Isha Vidhya’s contribution does not stop with their own schools. They also have a government school adoption program whereby they intervene in government schools to raise the quality of education there. Given time, the right resources (in terms of experienced staff and facilities) and support from donors and volunteers, I now believe Isha Vidhya can make a lasting positive impact on the education system adopted in India and in the lives of India’s rural children and thereby rural communities.
Now being back at home and wanting to contribute something towards creating awareness about Isha Vidhya's work, I am turning the footage I captured into a couple of documentaries and some short films for the Vine platform. I am incredibly grateful to Isha Vidhya for giving me the opportunity to have had such an amazing experience!