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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION

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The Bose Foundation School...

Baidyanath Saraswati, Shivashankar Dube & Ram Lakhan Maurya

Recollections in Workmanship

 Ram Lakhan Maurya

When the Bose Foundation took up the management of the old school at the Annapurna Shikshalaya, we had intended that this primary school would become a centre for multiple talents. We wished the seeds of knowledge, the sense of nationality and the best human qualities to grow in our children. Our chief aim was to shape the form of initial education for the children, born in distressing poverty, with an initiation into a feeling for beauty in them, encouraging the understanding of their inner culture and its purposes, developing in them new images of initial education as well as initiating them and their mistresses into willing and lifelong service to humanity.

The challenges were big but our ability was limited. When the Bose Foundation had started the school, it was not getting any financial assistance such as grants from the government and other sources. The school was running on its own limited efforts and little income. After more than sixteen years even now we do not ask for government grants or financial assistance. People feel surprised that this school has been continuing for almost two decades despite its financial difficulties.

Around the school live poor weavers, oppressed labour connected with the Banarasi sari enterprise, ‘untouchables’, and a financially invalid and suppressed collection of people from the scheduled and backward castes. Most children at our school come from such families. Most cannot study beyond completing primary school. Their parents have neither the liking nor the means for their children’s education. Now an incident from the last month: with a two-year-old child in her arms and holding the fingers of an eight-year-old girl, a veiled Muslim lady from a weaver family came to get the girl enrolled into the school. It was now the month of September and children were enrolled in July. She said that the girl’s father and grandparents did not care to have her educated. The parents inquired, as they never studied nor did their parents, what this girl would do after her education. They went on ignoring it every year with such statements. The girl is already eight years old. If she was educated she would have some abilities and wherever she would go she would make her famous, otherwise she would lose her reputation. Out of exasperation she had therefore come out of home. She heard that in view of Gandhi’s centennial, enrolment was made this year without fees in this Foundation School and so she had come with her.

Our greatest challenge was to develop a liking for education in the children and guardians from an environment confronting financial problems, to grow a mutual understanding in children from different faiths and languages as well as cooperation and accord, and to diffuse knowledge in the atmosphere of their traditions.

So far in the school’s unrestricted management the willing cooperation of some of our dedicated voluntary workers has been a great contribution. In our school greater attention is given to the teaching of dance, drama and music. In the celebration of rituparva, the festival of the season, we have built a tradition. At the spring festival cultural programmes with dancing, singing and drama performances run for two days. Our children take part in the competitions in drama and the other arts. They have become well-known everywhere for their excellence in cultural programmes. At many competitions at the city level our children have been awarded the first place in competing with children from large and well-known convent and English-medium schools. Trophies have been taken.

We have never introduced salaried teaching for the children’s art education at our school. Residents of Banaras established in the arts of dance and music come to our school to train the children without salary.

For general education also we have the cooperation of many great teachers. Among the teachers invited to our school are academics from universities and colleges as well as learned scholars from India and abroad. They have been teaching the children without salary. As an invited teacher Inger Wiklund of Karlstad University in Sweden has been teaching the children English for the last four years.

Wherever former pupils of Sarojini Vidyakendra may be studying, they maintain an intimate relationship with their old school. Whenever a celebration or assembly is arranged at the school, they come uninvited and give us their assistance. It is our former pupils who take the responsibility for tasks from stage-building and choreography to the welcome of the guests.

On the last full moon the former pupils of the school gave a new expression to their own dedication and interest in service to the school. In July 1995 some pupils together opened the former pupils’ association (see Appendix-2). Now their number has increased to over fifty. On this occasion many programmes of service to the public were announced. They also announced free classes in the evenings for the educationally weak and backward children of the Sarojini Vidyakendra and from the very next evening classes began operating. In this our age such unselfish service from children is rarely witnessed.

The kind of experiment with which this school is involved is difficult and time-taking. But we have good feelings about the work. I wish to place on record some of my most memorable experiences.

The school’s spring festival was close. The children were occupied with the preparation of their own programmes. A girl called Parvin Banno was playing the role of Sona, the dancing girl’s daughter in the historical drama Deepdan. She was always engaged in practising the dance. I saw her rehearsal always and encouraged her to work hard. She had made her role the object of her reputation and went on practising for hours.

On the first day of the festival Deepdan was staged. Parvin had filled her role with life. The spectators were thrilled with her dancing. When the curtain came down after the dance, the entire makeshift auditorium rang with the clapping of hands. Parvin’s happiness had no limit. Moved by her own success, she came running breathless to me in full make-up among the spectators and asked, "Master saheb, how was it?" I was unable to say a word and kissed her forehead in blessing.

Now the story of a day. I was taking the lesson in moral instruction for the children of class V. I made them understand the greatness of obeying one’s elders. At the end of my talk I said that children should obey their parents. I asked a pupil if he followed his parents’ instructions. The pupil stood up and said, "Sir, my father returns home drunk every night, quarrels with my mother and beats us too. Sometimes he sends me to get his drink on credit. Should I obey his instructions?" I could not do anything with him at that time except express my sympathy. During the midday break I said at the day’s meeting with the mistresses that it was not enough to explain a moral to children with good words. We ought to take into consideration our personal conduct as well, as they learnt through the imitation of their elders.

A child in the nursery was in the habit of eating other children’s lunch without their knowledge. When some children would get busy in their games on the grounds at the midday break, this child would take out their lunch and eat it. One day he was caught. The children took him to the teacher. He was told that one must not take another’s article without consent. Stealing was bad. When a child close by heard the teacher, he said, "Sister, in his childhood even Lord Krishna used to steal curds, but people worship him". The teacher was unable to answer.

Sarojini Vidyakendra, in Gauriganj, Bara Gambhir Singh ward, is a sensitive area. After the destruction of the Babri masjid the condition of this area became even more delicate. However, the environment has no particular influence on our school on the borders of this area. People connected with both communities respect this school as a multi-denominational centre.

At the time of Saraswati Puja, the worship of the goddess of learning, children from every community at our school install and worship the image and make offerings. On the occasion of Holi an assembly is arranged and so also for Id. At Id we also visit the children’s homes, offer our greetings and consume the sewai dish.

Once at the time of Id the atmosphere was a little tense. None of the teachers could visit the children’s homes. At the school the next day the ayah told the teachers, "A few children had come with sewai. They were very sad when they could not get any of you. They have left sewai for all of you". I felt a happy satisfaction in me with the sweetness of the children"s feelings.

An incident from the last Holi. The school was closed after the completion of the Holi celebrations. It was evening, the dust of coloured powder was floating in the air above the streets and the atmosphere was filled with excitement. At such a time it was not safe for women to go out of home. However, two Muslim girls of our school went out with coloured powder and arrived, crossing the lanes and the streets, at the home of a schoolmistress about four furlongs away. Seeing them so late in such an atmosphere the schoolmistress was very worried. She asked, "Why did you come out at this time?" A girl said, "Sister, you were not at the school for the Holi celebration. That is why we have come to see you".

The schoolmistress wondered what their parents would have thought if anything had happened to such innocent girls. Surely they had come out without their parents’ consent. The mistress gave them some snacks to eat and sent them home with her brother.

An established, well-known and rich Muslim family engaged in the sari trade lives in the neighbourhood of our school. We came to know that the head of the household had just returned from his pilgrimage. The school decided to invite this religious person to meet the children. His presence was requested on a special day. The children collected in the Gandhi room at the school. Some of our friends and colleagues were also present. A famous social worker friend and follower of Gandhi and Vinoba welcomed him and delivered a long thoughtful talk in his honour. The children garlanded him. Those who came with Haji Saheb also took photographs. Haji Saheb was filled with emotion. It was the first occasion in this area when such a welcome and assembly had been arranged at a school in honour of a person on his return from pilgrimage.

Haji Saheb narrated his recollections of the pilgrimage. At the end he promised the school a donation of twenty-five rupees every month. We thanked him profusely for his generosity.

After a few months an image of the goddess of learning was installed at the school on the occasion of Saraswati Puja, as in other years. The children worshipped for two days and received the offerings. During those days Aruna-di was the ayah at the school. She was an old lady without artfulness and was loving and attentive to all with a very clean heart. She thought, "The school received a donation of twenty-five rupees from Haji Saheb, who is also a member of the Vidyakendra community. As everyone received the offerings, he should also get some". She went to Haji Saheb’s home with a plate of offerings. She came across Haji Saheb accidentally. She said, "I’ve brought offerings from Saraswatiji. Please take them".

Haji Saheb was filled with anger. With a scowl he ordered her to go out of the premises. Aruna-di never understood an affront. She was unable to understand the cause for Haji Saheb’s displeasure. Little did she know that in Haji Saheb’s religion, offerings to the deities of other religions were considered sacrilegious! She came back crying.

From that day Haji Saheb stopped his grant of twenty-five rupees to the school.

Of the children’s sweetness, love, kindness and fellowship as well as human qualities there are many sweet and sour experiences which cannot be narrated within the limits of paper.

Appendix-1

The Bose Foundation School: Seen Through Western Eyes

Sarojini Vidyakendra

Inger Wiklund

I have been working as a visiting teacher at the Sarojini Vidyakendra (SVK) The Bose Foundation School, since 1991, teaching English, participating in all kinds of cultural and extra-curricular activities, observing the working of the school or simply delighting in its unique atmosphere. Here I would like to present in short some of the ways in which I have found that SVK differs from other schools, Indian as well as those of my own country, Sweden; ways in which this humble and materially poor school could serve as a model to the richer schools of the developed world.

Small is beautiful: Education on a small scale. Although it would be much wiser from an economic or commercial point of view for a private school like SVK to admit large numbers of students, SVK insists on keeping classes small, with usually not more than twenty students in a class, there being only one class or section in every grade. Small and few classes contribute to an atmosphere of informality and affectionate intimacy in the classrooms. All teachers know all students, and every individual student knows and interacts with all other students of the school.

School as a family: The feeling one gets at SVK is not that of a school, of a formal educational institution, but that of a large family. The students are all sisters and brothers to one another, the older children naturally guiding and helping the younger ones. Teachers are referred to as older sisters, didis. SVK reaches out to the homes of its students and establishes bonds and relationships that usually last long after the children of a particular household have left school. In this way problems of ‘weak’ or ‘troublesome’ students can be traced to their roots in their homes, and encouragement is given to and pressure exerted on families to let their children go on to higher education after leaving SVK.

Teaching as service: The teachers at SVK are encouraged to see teaching as a service to humanity and not as a way of making a living. They do not receive a regular salary but a very small honorarium. As a result, the staff of SVK is always made up of honest, sincere and dedicated individuals whose selfless work seems to have made a definite impression on the students. On their own initiative, two young former students of the school are now teaching and giving free tuition at SVK.

Cultural integration: Hindu and Muslim, high and low caste children, all study together at SVK. The school works actively to eradicate any feelings in the children of communal, religious or racial divisions and to instil in them instead an appreciation of basic human values. Religious festivals of all communities are celebrated collectively at the school.

Emphasis on culture and the arts: All schools include the teaching of the fine arts in their curricula but SVK, following Tagore, places an unusually large stress on the teaching of music, art, dance, drama, etc., as a means of making learning attractive to the students. Several months may be dedicated to the preparation of a cultural programme, awakening in these children from culturally poor homes a love of the fine arts.

The Children of Assi

The Transference of Religious Traditions and Communal

Inclusion in Banaras

Marc J. Katz

Since 1986 I have observed over one hundred hours of classroom in Banaras schools. On only two occasions did I witness teachers dramatically engaged in traditional-style story-telling without the use of classroom texts. Both of these teachers were unusually active in their teaching methods and naturally outgoing in personality. One of the teachers was at the Sanjay School and taught the second and third grades where she used this story-telling method with vigour, but only rarely. The other teacher was well-known for her story-telling ability and often engaged the smaller classes of the N.K. Bose School in ‘activity’ interacting with her stories. She even encouraged her students to interrupt her performance and make observations and put relevant questions to her. Occasionally her story-line would turn into a song. She gesticulated with her arms. She interchanged serious drama with humour. Her story-telling methodology was highly reminiscent of the traditional katha story-telling performances that are an everyday occurrence in the temples and on the ghats of Banaras. She claimed that she was encouraged by her colleagues. And although her story-telling method was almost identical to the well-known traditional performance of katha, she was considered unusual. I was told that she was ‘experimental’ and definitely in line with the intentions of her employer.

The N.K. Bose School is an educational institution for both Hindu and Muslim children of poverty. The school was started by the anthropologist, Professor Baidyanath Saraswati, who lists the school’s primary objectives as "the development of aesthetic taste and cross-cultural understanding and evolving new perspectives in primary education". Dr Saraswati refers to his school as a ‘lab school’ where it is possible to experiment with varying teaching methods.

A Socio-Anthropological Micro-Study of Sarojini Vidyakendra

An Experimental School in Varanasi

Joyce Hubert

Sarojini Vidyakendra is an experimental school administered by the Nirmal Kumar Bose Memorial Foundation, a foundation for socio-anthropological research.

The Foundation operates on the principle that instruction, via the collection and assessment of data, can lead to constructive action. To achieve this, an outreach programme to the children’s homes is aimed at amassing vital statistics about the students’ families and homes; and at gleaning the religious and social attitudes that prevail there. The administration is also keenly interested in testing the children to determine the extent of their supra-rational and rational training.

To foster unity in the children’s lives the administration has devised a school day that is four to five hours long. They encourage the student to utilize the remainder of the day assisting their families in the family business or with household duties. The interviews revealed that this is indeed the case: all of the children participate regularly in the maintenance of the household.

Dr B.N. Saraswati, General Secretary of the Foundation, has stated that social advance is evident in the comparison of traditional and modern educational techniques. Both techniques are employed at the school. Classes in traditional dance, drama, and music reinforce traditional religious values. Many of the songs that are taught to the children are Hindu devotional songs; the dances are for the most part narrative in style — enactment of the Ramayana or other stories about Hindu gods and goddesses. Other songs and dances have regional and folk sources. Some of the texts are socially oriented: the lyrics extol the virtues of hard work and adequate nutrition, or relate the official ideology of India, i.e., Muslims and Hindus can and want to coexist peacefully. The modern educational devices are in the form of class methodology. The students are permitted a fair amount of freedom, which is a Tagorian concept. They are also taught Western science, English, and mathematics. In this way they receive instruction relevant to the socio-political exigencies of the contemporary world.

The educational ideology behind Sarojini Vidyakendra lies between that of Tagore and that of Gandhi. Between the ideologies of these two men, one highly sensitive to the realities of physical suffering and the other sensitive to disembodied suffering, lies the ideology behind Sarojini Vidyakendra. By interweaving data, empirical evidence, educated analysis, and philosophic ideas, the Foundation aims at the evolution of a learning situation which is at once pragmatic and poetic.

Books are distributed to the students during class time and are collected at the end of each class. Many of the books are torn. They are stored in a cabinet in a dark, dank cubicle that functions as the library, teachers’ sitting room, and kitchen. The few musical instruments that the school owns (wooden percussion instruments, a harmonium, a few tambourines) are also stored in this room.

In this cubicle, a delightfully colourful elderly woman, employed by the school, prepares chai, snacks, and sometimes meals for the administration, teachers, and guests. She does this squatting upon the floor over a kerosene stove situated next to a water tap. During ‘tea time’, about midday during the student’s recess, the teachers sit upon a low wooden bench in this room and drink the chai prepared for them.

No meals are provided to the children. However, they can purchase glucose biscuits from the kitchen employee for a few paise. Otherwise, the children must wait to eat until they return home at the close of the school day.

The school day varies with the seasons. During the hot season the school day begins at 7.30 and ends at noon. During the cold season, December until March, when the school is too cold before the sun has warmed the building’s walls, classes run from 11 until 3. Classes meet six days per week. Each day is divided into seven half-hour periods, and a recess of one half-hour. The latter was somewhat surprising to learn, as ignorance of the school structure led me to believe that the class duration depended upon the attention and interest of the students. The latter is partially true, and if the students are particularly interested they will remain in the class after the gong has been struck indicating the period’s end.

The children’s families pay monthly fees of ten rupees. For this small fee the children derive some of the benefits of a private school, i.e., small classes and individual attention. However, for the families of the children, ten rupees are not so easily attainable.

Although the physical aspects of the school are dismal, the spirit is warm and bright. In fact, upon first exposure to the classes and general atmosphere, the school seemed to be comfortably chaotic. The children do freely move around during classes, especially during music and performance classes, but generally their activity does not seem to be detrimental to the learning process.

Corporal punishment, i.e., physical discipline by striking a student, is illegal in many of the United States, and if not illegal in other states, a substantial number of people find the practice to be abhorrent. When two of the teachers were informed of the position of corporal punishment in the U.S., they exhibited surprise and curiosity. One teacher indicated that she thought that corporal punishment was necessary in India: ‘The students are so wild’. The second teacher did not verbalize her opinion, but observation of her limited use of the stick reveals her position.

Whether the teachers enjoy teaching or not, whether it is morally correct or not to strike a child, is almost secondary to the fact that the children enjoy themselves in the school. They frequently linger at the close of the school day, until they are asked to leave. Without hesitation they met us at the school on Sundays, to take us to their homes. They are quite comfortable coming and going from the school at any time during the day or week. Never have I observed either in government schools or private schools in the U.S. such informality in the school situation as I have at this school.

Saturday is seminar day. On this day classes focus on performances. Students perform dances, songs, or recite poetry for each other and their teachers. At the first seminar that I attended, the student performed individually before the other students, administrators and guests. The performances seem to be by rote, as they performed with their eyes averted from the audience. However, it has become apparent over time that the students’ confidence increases as they perform repeatedly before their classmates and teachers. The rote memory comes alive with the interaction between the memory and its life before others.

I have observed very few academic classes. Those that I have observed, with the exception of one class, have been English and math classes for the younger children. The children were seated on the floor as they transcribed by note method from the textbook into their copy-books. When their work was complete they presented it to the teacher, who was seated by the door, for correction. The only additional academic class that I did observe was a math class for classes IV and V. The children were namby-pamby throughout the room: some were standing, others were seated. The teacher wrote mathematical problems on the blackboard. It was an exercise in algebraic thought. The children were expected to solve the problems without the aid of pencil and paper; they would shout their guesses to the teacher. Much excitement ensued when the teacher explained the mathematical principle.

The children were solemn and reserved during the ceremony. They observed a ten minute meditative interlude in absolute silence . . . quite surprising to see a group of four-to eleven-year-old children silent for such a prolonged period.

Appendix- 2

Founder Members of the Pupils Association

of the Bose Foundation School,

Varanasi, July 1995

Sl. No. Name Address Bhelupura Ward Schooling Years
1. Sri Vijaya Kumar B3/198 Shivala Ghat  Five
2.  Sri Manoj Kumar B7/29-5B, Devariyabira Seven
3. Sri Om Prakash Pal B8/26 Bara Gambir Singh Four
4. Ms Parveeen Bano B9/37 Gauriganj Five
5. Ms Suraiya Bano B9/37 Gauriganj Four
6.  Ms Meenu Kumari B9/51 Gauriganj Seven
7 Ms Padma Kumari B9/51 Gauriganj Five
8. Ms Laki Kumari B9/51 Gauriganj Seven
9. Sri Nasir Khan Lodi B9/61 Gauriganj Five
10. Ms Tasneema Rizavi B9/68 Gauriganj Four
11 Sri Ranjeet Chatterjee B11/1-A Gauriganj One
12. Sri Satyajeet Chatterjee B11/1-A Gauriganj One
13. Ms Amita Chatterjee B11/1-A Gauriganj One
14. Sri Amjad Khan B11/19 Gauriganj Seven
15. Sri Manish Sharma B12/8-B Gauriganj Five
16. Sri Bablu Visvakarma B12/19-A Gauriganj Five
17. Sri Shamashad Khan B12/23-A Gauriganj Four
18. Sri Bablu Jayaswal B12/36-A Gauriganj Seven
19. Ms Baby Naz B12/43 Gauriganj Seven
20. Ms Soni Rani B12/62 Gauriganj Six
21. Ms Munna Rani B12/62 Gauriganj Six
22. Ms Farha Khanam B12/62 Gauriganj Four
23. Sri Deepak Jayaswal B12/67 Gauriganj Seven
24. Ms Aparna B12/80 Gauriganj  Five
25. Sri Ramesh Kumar Chaudhary B15/69 Faridapura   Seven 
26 Sri Mahesh Kumar Chaudhary B15/69 Faridapura  Seven 
27. Sri Suresh Kumar  B15/69 Faridapura Seven
28. Sri Anil Kumar Verma B20/1-9 Bhelupura Seven

 

References

Gandhi, M.K., 1938, Hindi Swaraj or Indian Home Rule. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

———, 1947, India of My Dreams. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

Gill, Eric, 1983, A Holy Tradition of Working. Suffolk: Golgonooza Press.

National Policy on Education 1986 (with modifications undertaken in 1992). New Delhi: Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Education.

Newsletter, 1978, 1, 1. Varanasi: N.K. Bose Memorial Foundation.

Nurullah, Syed and J.P. Naik, 1951, A Student’s History of Education in India. Bombay: Macmillan & Co. Ltd.

Saraswati, Baidyanath, 1975, Kashi: Myth and Reality of a Classical Cultural Tradition. Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study.

Sinha, Surajit, 1986, Nirmal Kumar Bose: Scholar Wanderer. New Delhi: National Book Trust.

Vaudeville, Charlotte, 1974, Kabir. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

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