Every activity whether it is cooking, serving, cleaning up, gardening, repairing et al is shared by every child and teacher. The teacher child ratio is 1: 6. As far as the index of happiness is considered – it is higher than I have seen in any school.
A dark, cold night, a room on a hill shrouded in darkness, ensconced in the midst of nature – raw and untamed, a group of kids – wide eyed, holding their breath in anticipation, six candles lighting up the room, shadows playing hide and seek and standing in the middle Ramen the raconteur – a perfect ambience for a ghost story!
And that night of 11th September I spun a clutch of spooky yarns and the students and teachers of Sholai School hung on to every word and gesture with sublime attention. While the little ones hunted for laps to melt into and shoulders to lean on, their seniors wanted me to raise the bar (of spookiness) with each passing tale.
My wife Madhavi and I had arrived at the sylvan Sholai School, which is around 18 kms from Kodaikanal, the previous evening and were accorded a rousing welcome by the dapper and ever smiling Mr. Hemant, the Administrator of the institution.
Sholai School is best defined by the acronym CLOOAT (Centre for Learning, Organic Agriculture and Appropriate Technology). It has adopted the practice of rain water harvesting and electrification by solar electric panels. It has an organic farm, micro hydro-electric plants, bio gas plants, compost pits and a wind generator. The objective of the school is to provide holistic education and achieve a balance between academic and environmental concerns.
Sholai, which means tropical evergreen forests, was established in 1989 by Mr. Brian Jenkins who is British by birth. Mr. Jenkins is continuing in his role of a principal, guru, mentor and father figure and is respected and adored by everyone on the campus.
Madhavi and I spent four days – 96 odd hours of exciting, captivating and fun filled moments. Our guest room was 200 metres from the dining hall and our first walk at night to bridge this distance will remain etched in my memory. It was pitch dark and we had to negotiate a slender, emaciated path through thick undergrowth armed with a solar lantern. The sounds of the jungle, the shimmering fireflies lighting up the inky blackness and the sense of being alone in near silent communion with nature – it was a fantastic feeling.
The class rooms are perched on hill tops and are linked by a bridge over a river which has the reputation of breaching its boundaries at the slightest pretext. The bridge, which looked straight out of Nat Geo, had been built by the students.
My book Effective Parenting: A New Paradigm had been released a few days back and I had spent a couple of sessions interacting with the parents. As I watched the kids and their teachers in action I was filled with a huge sense of déjà vu. I had talked in my book about Five Pillars of Sharing, Caring, Fun and Joy, Healthy Living and Invaluable Values. Each of these facets of effective parenting are being followed at Sholai and with great results.
Every activity whether it is cooking, serving, cleaning up, gardening, repairing et al is shared by every child and teacher. The teacher child ratio is 1: 6. What better example of a perfect care quotient can you get? As far as the index of happiness is considered – it is higher than I have seen in any school. I spoke to children of all ages and from different backgrounds they were happy and were enjoying each moment. Sholai school encourages sports and I was delighted to watch a very different game of football in progress. This was the first time I actually saw girls and boys playing together – head to head and foot to foot!
As far as values are concerned the school offers a veritable bouquet. It has children from across the country and beyond, living in perfect synergy with each other and with nature. Dignity of labour is a credo which is an integral part of every child’s activity. Trust and togetherness, camaraderie and companionship, enterprise and innovation and complete absence of competition, Sholai has all this and more.
I conducted creative writing workshops and storytelling sessions. The kids participated with gusto, unleashing their creativity to my utter delight. The evening before I left I had the last round of storytelling which ended with a song by Madhavi and a dance by me! Slips of paper with the responses of the bright minds and pristine hearts were handed over to me and I kept them carefully like nuggets of gold.
Finally as I bid the Sholai scholars goodbye in their dining hall there was a clamour : “Mantra, Sir!”
Within a few seconds every kid and every teacher had joined me and the hall exploded with yells and shouts and collage of vibrant moves.
A clamour for autographs followed and I happily signed the books, feeling like a rock star in more ways than one.
As we made our way back after a round of hi-fives, hugs, smiles, sniffles and misty eyes I couldn’t help feeling that the success of Sholai vindicates my own paradigm of bringing up kids.
— Learning&Creativity (@LearnNCreate) September 26, 2014
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