Today, we hear a lot of buzz words: environment, eco-friendly, go-green and so on. Eco-consciousness needs to be inculcated into our next generation and the best way to instill values into our children is through right schooling.
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Let me narrate the sterling example that my school set in the early 1960’s. This was St Thomas School, at Mandir Marg, in Delhi. Our principal was an enlightened lady, who, through many practices followed by the school, inspired all of us to be aware of our environment, not be wasteful and to respect the dignity of labour. We all wore uniforms made of khadi. These were sensible: either a skirt-and-blouse, or a salwar-kameez, with no tie. Sensible, considering our Indian climate, was it not?
All our notebooks were colour-coded: yellow for maths, green for english, pink for social studies and so on. These books were supplied by a shop located within the school. We were prohibited from covering the books with brown paper.
Further, at the end of the year, if there were any pages left over in the notebooks, we could not buy new notebooks for the new class till those pages were used up. We had to staple the used pages of the notebooks and use it for the next session.
Our text books were handed over to us by our seniors, and we in turn gave our text books to our juniors. All of us were allotted ‘classroom sweeping duty’ by turn. We had to either stay back or arrive early and complete the job. This automatically instilled in us, the habit of not littering – ultimately we were the ones to clear the litter. We also had to compulsorily do a stint of service in the nearby dalit colony.
Basic life skills
All of us were taught the basics of cooking (that too, on a coal stove), the basics of laundry (including wash care of pure wool and silk garments, starching and ironing), the basics of sewing, knitting and embroidery, and the basics of first-aid, health and nursing. By the time we entered high school, all of us knew these basic life skills.
We could opt for the lunch provided by the school at a nominal cost: a simple and healthy lunch of freshly made tasty dal, roti, vegetable and rice, served on low, long tables, around which we sat on the floor.
Bhajans and Rabindra sangeet in a Christian school
In a supposedly ‘christian’ school, we learnt many popular bhajans and Rabindra sangeet, as well as hymns and inspirational prayers from all religions.
Our teachers taught us how to speak, read and write both English and Hindi with the correct usage and grammar, as well as pronunciation and intonation. Our science teachers taught us the subjects showing us the practical applications of each principle. History and geography were made interesting by the use of interesting stories or even films. And for the ‘bugbear’ maths, we had the sweetest, most patient teacher who could make the dullest student understand the subject.
Even our Physical Training (PT) teacher used to indirectly instill in us the basics rules of health – she used to stand in front of the school taps, preventing us from drinking water directly after a strenuous session of games. Only after five or ten minutes could we go and drink water.
Our drawing teacher too, used the principle of ‘re-use’ – we were provided newspapers and inexpensive powder colour for our drawing and painting class. This teacher was not just anyone who did not know anything about art or art materials: she was Mrs Hore, the wife of the well-known artist Somnath Hore, and an excellent artist in her own right.
Our annual school days were marked by plays staged by various classes, where we used materials/ costumes available at home/easily created by us. Yet, our school was renowned across Delhi for our biennial marathon operas on themes such as ‘Gandhi’, ‘United Nations’ and so on, where the whole school participated.
These were specially created shows where the entire opera was in the form of mime and there was a narrator taking the audience through the various scenes and events depicted. These were truly professionally presented, yet with minimal expense and props.
Like other schools, we too had our school magazine, sports day and so on. The focus was on the overall development of the child into a model citizen of the world, rather than a narrow focus on achieving very high marks in board exams. In fact, special classes were held – not for the bright students to achieve higher marks or ranks, but for the weak students to help them get through the board exams. Never did my school filter out students in the pre-final year to show a ‘100%’ result. The failed students were accepted as any other student, and encouraged and helped to perform better.
Not a fictional account of an ideal school
Of course, there was never any question of ‘donation’ at the time of admission. All these everyday actions and examples set by the teachers in the school, were literally engraved in our minds, and remain so till today.
This is not a fictional account of an ideal school. It is a factual report of a school that followed Gandhian principles. Our school showed that Gandhian principles are relevant and practical. Gandhiji once actually walked on the school grounds. Perhaps he left behind some of the spirit of his teachings for us to follow. ⊕