Holistic education in India
There is a school high up in the Himalayas that is probably the best school in India. The school is called ‘Space for Nurturing Creativity’ also known in the local community as ‘Shyamavan’. It is located 30km away from the holy pilgrimage site of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, India. In order to get here, you’ll need to hop on to the Kedarnath bound bus from Haridwar or Rishikesh and ride it all the way to the village of Khumera. Ask anyone in the village where the school is and they will point you to it. It is another 20 minute trek down the valley until you actually reach the place. You are greeted by an array of solar water heaters and a mural of Buddha that stands outside the library.
The kids who study here could not be more different from the ones we meet in the cities. The age group of these kids is between 6 and 17 and the first batch to join the school at 6 is now in the 10th grade. They have well-rounded personalities and handle all their daily chores and activities without ever once having to be told twice or reminded. Shyamavan is a residential school and the 25 odd students who study here also live here. The teachers at the school are all from the local region and they are committed to giving these kids the best life possible. In many ways it functions much like a large family rather than a school.
The students begin their day with a meditation session. Some of the older kids begin meditating at 5am and the younger ones join in at 6am. The joy of meditating in the absolute silence of this Himalayan valley can’t be explained with words. It is just the most fascinating experience, especially when you visit here as a volunteer teacher coming in from the chaos of the rest of India. It feels like something that you’ve always dreamed of that finally comes true. This place truly restores one's faith in humanity and you will always leave feeling refreshed in body, mind and spirit. After breakfast, the kids clean up the dining hall and get ready to start the days classes. Classes go on continuously during the morning session and you will see small groups of kids attended by a teacher in various parts of the school and in the garden. They learn all the regular school subjects and special attention is paid to each and every student to make sure they understand what is being taught. Kids are free to use the reference material in the library and can ask whatever questions they like. In the afternoon they have music class followed by Satsang and sometimes by yoga. In the evening the kids tend to the organic farm that provides most of the fresh vegetables and fruits that they eat. Most of the kids spend their evenings playing and reading. After dinner, they complete their homework and prepare for the next days classes. On Sundays, we usually watch a movie or a documentary in the evening. The school has an industrial size oven that they use to make vegan cakes as well as buns and bread for the students and teacher’s birthdays. Most of the electricity comes from solar panels on the roof. Water comes from a mountain stream that flows through the property.
The food at the school is amazing and it's one of the many reasons I love coming back here year after year. It is very fresh and prepared by a cook who works with 4 kids in a team to prepare the meals. There is a roster system for the cooking and cleaning duties and everyone gets a chance to learn these essential skills. The students working in the kitchen change on a daily basis so no one gets tired of the work.
As a teacher you only need to work for about 3 to 4 hours in a day and the rest of your time can be spent exploring nature, eating peaches, reading books and writing your journal. So, all in all, the kids here are much better prepared for anything that life throws at them than most adults who are out there in the workforce. They are more emotionally resilient and can handle stress in a mature and calm way. They can cook for themselves and clean up after themselves. They could even farm their own vegetables if need be. They have a deep and strong support system that the school provides for them and they have many other volunteers and teachers to help them out. Each student at the school can play at least one musical instrument and none of them are afraid to sing or dance in front of an audience. They all know how to use a computer and can even design building in Sketchup and Revit, apart from using spreadsheets and the rest. They are physically active and can climb even the steepest hills without breaking a sweat. They can do yoga and have mastered their minds through years of meditation. They know the value of fresh food and the value of nature.
This is what I call holistic education. It is how life intended children to be free, happy and unburdened by the worries of homework and parental pressure. I think we should all afford our kids the same opportunity even if they aren't lucky enough to study at Shyamavan. We can all make the best decision for them in the here and now and watch them flourish.
The school relies on the goodness of volunteers to help teach especially the higher classes and I would strongly encourage you to contact them, go there and see the place for yourself. They only accept monetary donations from those who have been there to visit first. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
@ Space for Nurturing Creativity