Reaching out to and from The Valley

With Satish Inamdar, a great friend who has always made me welcome at The Valley School

With Satish Inamdar, a great friend who has always made me welcome at The Valley School

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.

I'm never quite sure how much the monkeys learn whilst hanging out around the classrooms of The Valley School

I’m never quite sure how much the monkeys learn whilst hanging out around the classrooms of The Valley School

Pupils and staff all learn together in a music workshop

Pupils and staff all learn together in a music workshop

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

6 thoughts on “Reaching out to and from The Valley

  1. Dear Richard,
    You hit the nail on its head when you said that we (at Valley) have a long way to go to become an even more inclusive school. It is a continued challenge for all of us here to make learning accessible to all students and adults. To ask ourselves,”Who are we leaving out?” To help each other understand children and their behaviour, understand adults and their behaviour, rather than label children or adults as being ‘difficult’ or ‘violent’ or ‘special’. To work with each other harmoniously keeping one focus– the children, rather than our egos, and hurt feelings. To challenge the assumption that children who enter school under RTE will need special education, but that all of us will need education in dealing with diversity, of culture, class, language, values, and other human conditions. I have requested Dr. Inamdar to have your blog available to all teachers to read and discuss in our weekly ‘study meets’ as you and other readers discuss many of these oh so relevant issues we face each day.
    Jaai’s mural on the banner of your blog looks gorgeous!

  2. Hi Bharati,
    I’m glad that you like the banner on the blog. The Valley is a place that I hold very dearly from my times there. I have many pictures that bring back happy memories of walking through the grounds with Satish, meals with Sushama and Radha and days in classrooms and with teachers. I do hope to visit as often as I can in the future.
    It is particularly difficult for schools like the Valley to fully embrace an inclusive approach. The pressure from parents, trustees and others to maintain the status quo will always be strong. We must not condemn this, because what the Valley has achieved is unique and precious. Because of the school’s influence it has been possible to start the village education project and this is having a great effect upon the lives of children and families. However, none of us can afford to rest on our laurels. Much remains to be done and it is through dialogue to create greater understanding that this will be achieved.

  3. Richard, reading about the Valley School location brought back nostalgic memories of my early schooling experiences in Kenya. I wanted to comment (and commend) and the Valley School administration on their use of the term ‘differently abled children’ on their website. I think the positive connotations of the phrase is far more powerful than the oft-used term ‘disability’ which, as the prefix ‘dis’ implies, relates more to a state of negation of abilities. I think it is essential, as practitioners, that we should be inclusive in our language as well, and not just our practice.

  4. Hi Saneeya,
    As you rightly say, the choosing of language is very important and we often struggle to find terms that are appropriate. A focus on abilities rather than deficiencies is always easier if we can find the right terminology to use.

  5. I could not help thinking of Steiner schools as I watched the video about the KEEP programme. Steiner children grow up in educational communities where sensitivity to aesthetics and the natural world is nurtured, where children learn social responsibility by experiencing it and where every child is respected and genuinely valued as a unique individual. How interesting that Krishnamurti and Rudolf Steiner had such different life experiences yet such similar values.

  6. Hi Jane,
    Perhaps you should visit The Valley School and see it for yourself. There is something interesting about schools built around a particular philosophy that perhaps leads staff to become driven to provide a particular kind of education. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It is interesting that the schools built around the philosophies of Montessori, Steiner, Froebel, Krishnamurti and Tagore have survived a long time, whereas others have come and gone.

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