The Sadhana English School in Kule, about 15 kilometers from the college, is the only Waldorf school in rural India.
Waldorf schools, part of an education movement based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophical theories, began in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. The schools offer an alternative attitude towards education where experiencing the world is the most vital part of education: Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head . Nowadays it is usually a preferred kind of education for modern, educated, middle-class and above parents, conscious about the role of the school and hoping to prepare their children to the demands of the world in the best way possible. In Kule this approach confronts the local context, with unimaginable problems for the majority of Waldorf School’s students worldwide: malnutrition, illiteracy, scarce health care… One may say that in such an environment it is the “basics” that should be provided primarily and that implementing a system developed in the satiated West does not make any sense in such extreme conditions. In my opinion, such an approach is entirely wrong as one of the most significant aims of education is providing a variety of opportunities despite one’s social background.
Since September I have had the opportunity to visit the school every week and give English classes in small groups (1-3 people) to the young teachers who work there. Thanks to the personalized character of this Triveni activity, I discovered a lot about the school. It is run independently from the government and was established in 2009 with donations from Japan and Germany. There are 104 students from three to six years old in three grades (junior / kindergarten / senior kindergarten and first grade) and every year a new grade is added (the current first class consists of only seventeen students, the first students admitted to the school). The fees are Rs 900 a year which include meals during class time and transport (provided by a yellow school bus donated by the Mahindra company). The walls are colorfully painted, here and there hang quotations from Rudolf Steiner or posters with the English alphabet. There are no desks in any of the four classrooms, a characteristic of Waldorf schools worldwide.
On Saturday 26 March the school organized an Open Day for parents of both present and prospective students, in order to give them a clear overview of the atmosphere of the place. “In the government schools the pupils generally refer to teachers as “madam” or “sir” whereas here the children say “thai” (sister) and “dada” (brother. “The place is more like home” remarks Ravindra Jadhuv, one of the teachers. “We do not put pressure on children, we leave them freedom to do what they want and be active” agrees Reshma Jori, the youngest, only 20-year-old, employee. As pioneers, they have to overcome many obstacles. The main concern of parents is homework. They disapprove that we do not give lots of homework like other schools and keep comparing the students with their peers from government schools, where much focus on study is given. The parents do not always understand the concept of “learning by doing” and complain that kids learn how to read and write later than in the state schools. “We ask them to be patient and explain that we are trying to do it better and that it takes time” says Ravindra. “I think the Open Day and the art exhibition was a success, because we showed the parents that their children have different kinds of activities here, such as knitting or sports. They came to know what is happening and how it is different.” says Harshali Shejule expressing her joy. Since Saturday she is extremely busy filling admittance forms from parents from many surrounding villages. Another teacher, Laxmi Mahindrakar, whose own children are studying in the Sadhana School also considers the event successful: “The parents really liked the children’s activities. We encourage them to admit their kids here.”
Although the student’s artwork looks confusingly similar, and the educational equipment long present elsewhere, such as computers, whiteboards or projectors is unaffordable, the school manages to plant Waldorf ideas in a new and rather challenging ground surprisingly well. Hopefully its development will continue and soon many other rural areas will follow this extraordinary example, giving new opportunities to the youngest generation in Indian rural villages.