I went to St Columbus’s school in New Delhi in the 1970’s, and enjoyed it. The Irish missionaries who taught there were dedicated and made learning fun.
And yet as good as my school was, I remained uncomfortable with certain aspects of it. I studied science, maths and english by choice. Why was I forced to learn Hindi, Sanskrit and painting?
The government dictated to the school that I learn to write in Hindi, I have never done that again after I left school. I regarded Sanskrit as a waste of time; I have never written, spoken or heard it since I left school. Inspite of a great drawing teacher, I never passed that exam or had any inclination to be an artist.
My school’s attempt to make me a linguist and an artist failed. I wondered if there was a better option. A school where you could study and do as you liked. A school where you were not forced by control minded governments and school authorities to learn and do things you had no interest in.
Count Leo Tolstoy spoke about it in 1862.
“What is meant by non-interference of the school in learning? — It means granting students the full freedom to avail themselves of teaching that answers their needs, and that they want, only to the extent that they need and want it; and it means not forcing them to learn what they do not need or want.”
“I doubt, whether the kind of school I am discussing, will become common for another century. It is not likely that schools based on students’ freedom of choice will be established even a hundred years from now.”
Tolstoy was right. It was only a 106 years later, in 1968 that such a school was founded in Framingham, in Massachusetts, USA.
The by-laws of “The Sudbury Valley School’ say, “the purpose for which this corporation is formed is to establish and maintain a school for the education of members of the community that is founded upon the principle that learning is best fostered by self-motivation, self-regulation, and self-criticism.”
The school starts from Aristotle’s premise stated over 2000 years ago, “human beings are naturally curious”. It allows its students to do what they like. If you have no interest in science and would rather fish the whole day, you are allowed to do just that. In fact you may fish for a whole year if you like.
Before you write-off that experiment as unworkable, please understand that the school’s existence after 35 years of its founding is a testimonial to its success. It does not get or ask for any financial or other support from the government and competes exceptionally well with ‘free’ schools run by the government.
The students, teachers and parents are all fiercely loyal to the school and swear by it. The school has been written about extensively and is admired by freedom loving people worldwide. Those who pass out are admitted to the best US universities with ease.
It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how the school works. Suffice it to say that it is among the most disciplined in the country. Everyone’s rights are respected.
Yes, you may fish the whole day, but if you decide to attend classes you must honour your commitment. If, for example, you fix time with the maths teacher to help you understand a theorem, you must attend and fulfill your promise.
The experience has been that when students want to learn, they do so in double quick time. There are boys and girls completely uninterested in maths until they are 12 years old and then suddenly get the urge to learn. When that happens, they learn in one year what students in other schools learn in 12 years of schooling.
This country would do well not to straightjacket education under the deadening weight of rules and regulations of a know-it-all bureaucracy. The need of the hour is to let private investment, including foreign, come into education unhindered. Who knows, perhaps then ‘Sudbury’ might be persuaded to open a school in Nepal.
The Himalyan Times