In 1998 a chance encounter at a conference in Fort Lauderdale USA was instrumental in facilitating my first visit to India and a long association with teachers and other friends in that country. This initial meeting proved to be significant in establishing an enduring friendship that continues to be important in the support of my work during regular visits to Bangalore.
Satish Inamdar is the director of The Valley School, a unique institution outside of Bangalore and located in lush tropical forest where bauhinia, palash, neem, banyan, jacaranda and amaltash trees provide shelter and homes to more than 250 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles and a numerous mammals. The school serves a group of children drawn largely from privileged homes who are encouraged to explore the environment and to learn from nature guided by a team of enthusiastic teachers and other professionals.
A commitment to maintaining the cultural heritage of India is an important feature of The Valley School where the construction of an art village has enabled pupils to explore their creativity through pottery, music and other media. On my last visit a group of Dhrupad musicians were encouraging children to explore sound and understand the complexities of singing the refrains within the Hindustani classical tradition. All this while monkeys leaped across rooftops and swung amongst the trees surrounding the lessons with their high pitched chatter and the ever present wall lizards scurried from behind cupboards and pictures hung around the classroom walls.
The Valley school website states a philosophy founded upon the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti. The educational aims of the school are stated as:-
- Relationship between the student and the teacher- is human to human rather than position to position.
- Emphasis is on learning and facilitation and not teaching and absorbing.
- Recognize the fact that each child is unique and one size does not fit all !
- Methodology and pedagogical techniques that ensure that there is no hierarchy of knowledge and suitable for differential learning capacities and learning speed
- Art, music, dance and sports form an integral part of the learning process
- Learning from nature is facilitated by the bounty all around
There are many sentiments expressed here that sit well alongside the promotion of inclusive schooling. Not least the recognition of the individuality of each child and the emphasis upon facilitation and learning which are characteristics of many schools that have endeavoured to reach out to a more diverse population.
During many visits to The Valley, I have been provided with the warmest hospitality by Satish and his lovely wife Sushama. During my stay I have had opportunities to talk with teachers and share ideas about the values that we share within education. Indeed many of the teachers there and former teachers who having served at The Valley have since established other educational institutions and have become good friends and colleagues with whom I am fortunate to work on a regular basis.
Critics of The Valley School may point to the fact that pupils are drawn from a narrow sector of privileged society and that the wonderful facilities provided at the school are not available to the majority of Indian children. This may largely be the case but we should be critical only when schools such as this do not take any responsibility to support others within the community who do not have such opportunities.
Over my years of visiting The Valley I have come to recognise that many of the teachers working there are eager to reach out to the wider population and to provide learning opportunities for children who are otherwise denied chances to reach their potential. Early seeds were sown in The Valley by my good friends Jayashree, Bela and Harsha and their work is being continued by others. A unique initiative is The Kaigal Environment and Education program (KEEP) whereby staff and children from The Valley School work with local people in the Kaigal Valley in the Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh on environmental projects. Here the children from local tribal groups and villages are involved in learning projects supported by staff from The Valley School affording opportunities for young people to learn from each other’s vastly differing life styles and experiences. Whilst this may not be inclusion in the ways that we have interpreted it in western societies, the video link here demonstrates how children who have otherwise been denied an opportunity to formal schooling are now becoming effective learners.
Change takes a long time and my good friend Satish knows that I will never rest easy at The Valley School until such time as they have overcome some of the challenges they face in becoming a more inclusive institution. As in many schools there is resistance to overcome and apprehension amongst many associated with the school. The hope that Satish holds towards creating a more equitable education system remains firm and is an inspiration to others, and his friendship is something I treasure greatly. He has worked hard in his efforts to share a vision for a more just society not only through his work at The Valley School, but also through the many talks he has given across India and internationally.
The experiences that are provided to pupils attending The Valley should become a model for all educators and I hope that Satish and his colleagues will forge ever stronger links with other teachers and former colleagues in Bangalore for the promotion of a more inclusive society. Much remains to be achieved and strong leadership from educators like Satish will be needed in order to realise the vision that many of my colleagues in Bangalore share.
The following links will enable you to see some of the excellent work being undertaken through The Valley School