DECCAN HERALD, Friday, September 28, 2001

Small steps to big goals

Concept schools like the Poorna Prajna Shishu Vihar at Alanahalli in Mysore have the advantage
of providing need-based education, which is the future of quality education
in India, writes Suma Tekur.
The Poorna Prajna Shishu Vihar at Alanahalli in Mysore is better known as Tarakka's school. Not long ago, Tara Gopinath, her sister, Malathi and a friend pooled in their resources and started a school to cater to the needs of needy children in their neighbourhood. The school differed from other schools in its wholly informal nature.

The stress is on grooming students from the very roots. Students here, have no need to dread exams at the end of every academic year nor are they under pressure to complete a task within a specified period. In other words, every child here is given due importance and is encouraged to learn things at his or her own pace. What is more, there is no tuition fee and uniform too. Food and books are both provided at school.

Tarakka’s school follows its own syllabus. Its students range in age group - four to fifteen and all study in groups. Each study group is comprised of seven to eight students. English is used as the medium of instruction in order to help students join the mainstream. Such students who fail to pick up English by the seventh class are encouraged to continue studies in Kannada. The regular government syllabus is introduced only when the student is mentally prepared. Even then the subjects are treated as simple stories.

Manju is a typical student of Tarakka's school. Along with her friends Pramodini, Thelma, Triveni, Shilpa and Sanjana, she begins her regular day at school with the music class. It starts with "Om kar" and a few Sanskrit shlokas followed by classical, folk and light music. The day is thus begun on a peaceful note. During the course of the year, the school holds various cultural programmes. Pottery, tailoring, gardening, puppetry and dance are taught. Students are taken on excursions and even Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated.

Presently, the School has 33 students and six teachers. With most of the parents-segment of the school being illiterate, there was initial hesitation in enrolling their wards. Things however seems to have changed. "Seeing her so active is such a relief. She has become so bold that she speaks so well outside, all the doubts have vanished", says one such parent of her daughter.
The school also aims at grooming its students to act as change agents, such that, respective students families too are motivated and educated. There are a number of government schools nearby Tarakka’s school and one can see a definite difference in the working of the two systems. The unique teacher - student relationship in Tarakka's school enables them to bring about change. Tarakka herself opines that families of her students have changed and the second generation is improving.

Tara Gopinath was a teacher in a formal school for 13 years. The concept of education advocated by David Horshborough, hailed as the Father of Non-Formal Education held her interest. Her true motivator, however, was her own sister, Malathi, who encouraged her to start on with what she believed in. The inspiration took roots and the Poorna Prajna Shishu Vihar was born in 1984. The school walls are decorated with clay tiles made by the students themselves. The wall facing the road depicts the story of Pied Piper.

Voluntary organisations like Action Aid, CRY and Ratan Tata Trust have all played a role in the development of the Poorna Prajna Shishu Vihar, the latest contributor being the Asha Trust. A library facility tops the immediate requirements of the school.

Concept schools like these have the advantage of providing need-based education, which is the future of quality education in India. The predominantly rural structure of our society calls for a decentralised educational scenario. Tarakka’s school has definitely made a great start in this direction. Which ever way one sees it - the original motto remains the same - providing quality education with the limited resources available.
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