Sunanda Ali, Principal of The Peepal Grove School, an independent school in Chittoor district, shares her views on alternative education with Faizal Khan…
Q. What is the significance of alternative education in India’s educational landscape?
A. India is very large and very diverse. Each school is in a particular social and cultural context. It is not possible, practical or wise to look for a ‘one size fits all’ model, which can be applied to all schools across the country. Hence, the need for alternative education, where schools are given the opportunity to focus on educational goals based on their vision.
Q. Please comment on the role of critical thinking and freedom in the classroom.
A. There is no learning without critical thinking, and critical thinking can only exist in a school which encourages the freedom to question within the classroom. Teaching methods using collaborative learning within groups, discussions, more individual attention given to students, and less lecture-based teaching gives rise to more questioning and critical thinking. These methods can be used more often (due to fewer students in the classroom) in alternative schools to achieve learning objectives.
Q. What is the relationship between the student and the teacher in this method?
A. In an alternative school, teachers and students can form meaningful relationships for many reasons. One, as students are given the space to question, conversations on real issues can take place. Two, as alternative schools have fewer students, more contact is possible, and more connections can be made. Three, they can then relate to each other as human beings who have the desire to learn in common, and not relate to each other only within the stereo-typical frameworks of their roles.
Q. How does such a system prepare the student for the challenges of contemporary society?
A. In an alternative system, students can be encouraged to learn more about things which interest them. They can also reflect on life and themselves as human beings and consequently know more about their strengths and weaknesses. This often increases their level of confidence, as well as make them more rooted in their values which makes them less likely to lose their ‘sense of self’ once they leave school and face the challenges of the adult world. Today’s world, which encourages ‘networking’ and flexibility, calls for a more holistic model of education that is possible only in alternative school.
Q. What are the challenges facing alternative education in the Indian educational landscape?
A. The main challenge which alternative schools face is that the thrust now in India is to homogenise all school education. The attempt is to have one board examination for all schools all across the country. This is mistakenly thought to be the answer to the problem of poor quality school education. All schools in India cannot be made to follow the same pattern as their realities are so different. The best thing to do would be to allow autonomy to alternative schools (which desire it) and autonomy should be granted to schools on the basis of quality.
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